Four Things We Can't Stop Thinking About for the Ronin 4D

The 4D is a dramatic refresh on digital cinema camera design, but there are some features that we feel folks are sleeping on while bowled over the marquee new tech.

The new DJI Ronin 4D is a camera that keeps bubbling up in our thoughts. It achieves that wonderful sensation of feeling both "surprising" and "inevitable," which is the goal not just for the ending of a movie, but also the next evolution of technology.

The more we think about it, the more we believe there are a few key details that folks are sleeping on in their conversations about the camera.

Here is our list of four things we think are interesting but not getting enough attention about the 4D. If you don't remember the 4D, here is its launch video.

1. You can only get the wireless receiver with a monitor

For a long time in video, if you wanted wireless video, you had to use an external box you mounted on a monitor. Then, a few years ago, SmallHD and Teradek really improved the situation with an integrated wireless receiver/monitor that made for a smaller, easier-to-work-with unit.

Built-in wireless receiver, powered off one battery—life is just better. With the new 4D, it seems like things are changing yet again.

The new wireless system on the 4D seems to only have a receiver with a built-in monitor. From what we can tell at this point, there is no other receiver. So even if you want to run the video to your 50" Plasma, you are getting a receiver that has its own 5" screen built-in. That unit has SDI out and USB-C control and HDMI out and appears super robust, but it also comes with a monitor, whether you need it or not.

This is super cool. It never hurts to have more monitoring options, assuming they are giving a nice-looking image. If you are trying to figure out why the image isn't making it to your monitor, it's good to see where in the chain the issue is, and if you can see the picture on the receiver but not your monitor, you know the issue is cabling, not wireless.

The combo monitor/receiver was immensely novel a few short years ago, and now it seems to be the default.

2. Vertical stabilization with a ground sensor

While in a lot of ways you can think of the 4D as a "very sophisticated DJI Osmo," it's more than that.

Not to insult the Osmo; it's a super fun unit and offers up a ton of fun options, including bike mounting or crane shots at the end of the Charters Pole, that we've used even on some pro gigs. But the 4D is doing a sophisticated version of that, and more. It's doing a vertical stabilization, with a ground sensor.

This gives you smoother, cleaner shots even when running along with your subject. Something we used to practice for hours when learning to be operators is now smoothed out. Even one of the issues with learning to use a gimbal, how to minimize the up and down from your steps, is smoothed out with a combination of that vertical Z-axis arm and a ground sensor.

Of course, you'll still need to have some smoothness. It's only inches of vertical stability, not feet. But for a lot of work, especially rigged to items like cars and bicycles, this is going to be a complete game-changer even more than the stabilization on the head.

That in and of itself is huge, but adding to that the vertical bar is the killer app that will make this a new kind of camera that you learn to use in a new way.

3. You have your ports with the stabilization

One of the biggest drawbacks to stabilizing your camera is how hard it is to get things in and out of that camera.

Wireless video, and especially audio, getting mounted to the camera can be complicated on the smaller gimbals that are so popular at the moment. Most productions want some sort of audio running into the camera for a speedier post workflow. With this unit, you finally separate out the "stabilization" head from the "ports" body, and you can easily mount an audio receiver onto the body to get your audio from the mixer straight into the camera to speed up post. Or to mount a timecode Lockit box for instant post sync. 

4. China is now a serious player at the top end of the market

According to the "rules of internet lists" you always need an odd number of things, but in honor of the 4D having a "4" in the title, we went with four things. And this "fourth" thing is possibly the thing with the biggest reverberations outside the film industry.

There has long been a sort of general wisdom of business reporting that goes something like this: "Sure, China is making stuff, but they mostly make knock-offs and mass-market things, and they aren't yet really ready to compete at the top end of most markets."

And, often, it's true. There isn't a Chinese luxury car brand (yet). China doesn't have a major high-end processor designed in-country (yet). But in the last few years, we've started to see Chinese manufacturers make moves aiming squarely at the top end of the marketplace. 

In the "digital cinema camera" market the top end is dominated by firms in the US (RED), Germany (Alexa), and Japan (Canon, Sony, Panasonic). But the DJI 4D, with its 8K resolution, integrated workflows, dual native ISO, and high-end launch content, is clearly aiming squarely at the top of the market. It'll get used for action and sports, of course, but if you look at all the marketing materials, it's aiming for "narrative cinema" and it stands a chance of breaking into it.

This is, frankly, huge. It's the first real competitor for the top end of the space from China. Yes, there is Kinefinity, and we know some folks who own and love their cameras. But, while it's not fair to call them a knockoff, they are clearly at least influenced by RED camera design. A Kinefinity is closer to a RED than RED is to an Alexa. And Kinefinity doesn't have an international base of stores and repair facilities like DJI has built over the years, which is essential to service the more demanding professional market.

The DJI 4D is a completely novel approach to a cinema camera design, which is often how manufacturers from new territories break into the top of a market. Honda became Honda because of the CVCC, and it seems highly possible that DJI is going to break its way into a very competitive space with the 4D.

Those are the things that have been ruminating in our heads as we really take in the 4D over the last few weeks. What about the 4D has been sitting in your mind?     

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