DJI has refreshed its wildly popular and successful S and SC gimbals with even more features to help filmmakers get impossible shots.
DJI has rolled out extensive refreshes to its popular Ronin-S and Ronin-SC units, the new RS 2 and RSC 2 camera stabilizers. One interesting surprise is that they were rolled out together, unlike the original models which were released about a year or so apart. This gives us the ability to compare them head to head to see which one makes more sense for which types of filmmakers, so you can get a better idea of what you might want to invest in.
What they are
This means you can mount your camera to them and they will smooth out shots. They do this by actively working to keep the horizon level and smooth out pans and tilts when controlled by an operator. You usually work with the most stripped-down camera possible, often just a body, a battery, and a lens.
Hugely popular in the last decade, stabilizers allow for a host of shots following actors into and out of spaces, up and down stairs, and doing amazing action sequences with a smoothness not previously possible with pure handheld. This isn't a warning about the Ronin line specifically, but just about all gimbals for those who might be new to stabilizers—they aren't magic.
If you want a completely stable "tripod" feeling shot, that's hard to get with a stabilizer. Stabilizers take some practice to get used to, and they work best when used with fluid action shots. They also work best with a bit of momentum. Slow, creeping shots are still best on a dolly. Even if the stabilizer can handle it, often the operator can't. So keep practicing.
RS 2 vs. RSC 2
The RS and the RSC have always been targeted at slightly different parts of the market, and with the RS 2 coming in at nearly twice the price of the RSC 2, that makes sense.
The RS 2 is designed for someone who might have a primary camera, but needs the flexibility to work with a variety of other cameras easily. Think a busy owner/operator with their own Sony a7S III, who also might go out on jobs where they are asked to rig a Blackmagic Pocket 6K, a Panasonic S1H, or maybe even or a Canon C70. Since it has a payload limit of 10lbs, there is even a scenario where a RED Komodo (2lb body) with a lightweight prime could fit, though it would be tight physically.
The RSC 2 is both physically smaller and a bit less adaptable to a variety of cameras. The RS 2 has longer arm adjustments, which means that if your camera is a little long, wide, or front/back heavy, you're going to have more room to maneuver the camera and get it balanced. The RSC 2 has a lower weight limit of 6.6lbs, which is still pretty hefty, but remember those figures are upper limits. You'll likely be happier with a smaller camera package that isn't at the limit of what the motors can handle.
The real limitation comes in adapting to a variety of camera setups. The RSC 2 is smaller, and that means the arms are shorter, so it is going to do best with a camera that is already naturally well balanced and compact. DJI mentions cameras like the popular Panasonic S1H with a 24-70mm zoom lens will pair well with the RSC 2.
However, put on a PL adapter to your S1H and start putting on some vintage cinema primes that push the weight forward (like the Arri Master Prime 40mm, which weighs 5.1 lbs all by itself), and the RSC 2 is no longer the gimbal for you. Even with a lightweight camera body keeping the overall weight under 6.6lbs, you are going to be frustrated, since the camera balance is so far forward the RSC 2 is going to strain to balance it. The RSC 2 is targeted at the operator who can predict, reasonably well, what camera they'll be using most of the time. If you own an a7S III, an S1H, or a Blackmagic Pocket camera and your own lenses, and that is what you shoot on the vast majority of the time, you are going to be well covered by the RSC 2.
If you need flexibility, consider the RS 2 instead.
What about Ronin 2?
With the RS 2 being able to run an ARRI Master Prime with a Komodo, it might be tempting to think the RS 2 is cutting into the market share of the Ronin 2, which is 8x the cost. However, while you can fly some pretty payloads with the RS 2, the top of the market is going to stick with the Ronin 2 for a while since it is more robust.
There are a few key things that even the RS 2 doesn't deliver you get when you go up to Ronin 2. The most obvious is that massive 30lb payload limit. That's going to cover a cinema zoom, not just primes. Believe it or not, there are DPs who love to rig a short Angenieux in a stabilizer, and for things like car work where you might not be able to get your hands on the gimbal, it can really help with reframing.
The Ronin 2 is going to cover bigger camera bodies like an Alexa Mini LF, a URSA Mini Pro 12K, a Varicam LT, or a vintage RED ONE MX. And it's got the length in the arms to adapt to it.
More than just that, it has the interfaces and connections to make for a more robust integration into a larger and more time-crunched set. You can power your camera from the gimbal, which is a tremendous benefit both for making the camera easier to balance and also for making it easier to work.
You also get internal SDI routing from the gimbal out to the handles, which is perfect for hooking up a wireless video system to send signals back to video village. The RS 2 has a solution for that with RavenEye, but it's one that doesn't scale well to a larger set. That said, the RS 2 is still amazing for its price point. But if you're a Ronin 2 owner, there's nothing to worry about.
The improvements in this generation can be broken down into two categories: physical body and handling.
First, the body. The RS 2 is a major step forward and starts to look more like a little brother to the Ronin 2 than like a revision of the original RS. With beefier arms, clearer markings, individual lock switches for each axis (pan, tilt, and rotate), the RS 2 definitely feels robust.
In addition, the follow focus knob is moved from a handle on the side of the unit to a wheel in front, to be operated by the index finger. This took a bit of getting used to, but was actually a very smart decision and one we found gave us a lot of control when using the unit.
This generation also gets an on-handle screen, which is interesting. It's amazingly useful for handling settings, switching between modes, and seeing the status of your gimbal. It can also be rigged to see video from your camera, but it was just too small to make that an incredibly useful feature. It is nice to have, but it left us wishing it was just a little bit bigger.
We didn't even think about this with the original RS, but it's one of those things that if you give someone an inch, they want a mile. Now that there is a monitor there, we want more real estate for it.
In terms of operations, one of the marquee features announced by DJI is the Titan Stabilization algorithm. It's an AI predictive technology that optimizes to your specific shooting style over time. In practice, it's supposed to help stabilize shots as you progress as an operator.
In reality, it allows you to adjust all the parameters you are used to adjusting to dial in the personality. As you grow in sophistication as an operator, your settings are still there to change as the shot calls for it. If there's something to the AI operating analysis, it's subtle. The one thing we did notice was that it felt ready to go faster than most gimbals, and more predictable right from the start, which is a nice thing.
DJI has redone the case for these models, moving from an ultralight styrofoam to a more durable zippered nylon. More than just changing material, the new case is a slightly different form factor, smaller in footprint while being slightly heftier. The biggest benefit here is twofold. First, the new case is more flexible. The old case had dedicated slots for gear, and you'd often find yourself spending time trying a variety of different options to get things back where they belong. There wasn't a lot of room for extra things like additional cables and set screws.
The new cases have a plethora of pockets where incidental items that might make your life easier can easily be stashed away. This, combined with the helpful diagrams for how to mount the big pieces, make it a faster and more convenient setup.
Beyond that, the size is much more convenient for running and gunning. It easily slides into most large backpacks, which is something the wide and slim case wouldn't do before, which makes it easier to carry it with you on truly independent-style shoots.
One of the biggest frustrations many have with gimbals is the inability to monitor the image remotely without an expensive zero-delay wireless kit.
DJI solves it with RavenEye, which is included in the Pro Combo. Designed to mount smoothly onto the gimbal beneath the camera, and power up with the gimbal, this little unit can deliver video image both to the handle of the gimbal and to the smartphone app.
If you have RavenEye set up and running on your phone, you get more than just an image on your screen for monitoring. You can also control the gimbal and bring up a host of traditional tools like focus peaking, false color for exposure, and more.
One odd quirk is that turning on the RS 2 turns on RavenEye, but turning off the RS doesn't turn off RavenEye. This isn't a huge deal. While the RavenEye has an internal battery it also draws power from the gimbal, so it's not like you'll run into an empty RavenEye when shooting.
More ways to control
By far the most common way to operate a gimbal is to control physical placement in space, and also pan/tilt/rotate, with a single operator. However, if you have the manpower, it can be a real benefit to have a single operator holding the gimbal while another operator handles the pan/tilt/rotate controls.
While a variety of remote control solutions have always existed for the top-of-the-line models, at the indie level there has traditionally been less choice. That is one area where DJI has put a lot of work in the RS 2 and RSC 2, with three different ways for external control, two of which are surprisingly useful.
In addition to the two methods, you can also bring up a touch button in RavenEye for pan/tilt that matches the thumbstick. We found this less than ideal, though I suppose someone could get good with practice. The two interesting remote options are mass-market gaming controls and Force.
One thing that we haven't talked about in our previous coverage of the Ronin-S and SC units, since it was released mid-cycle, is the update that allows for controlling the unit with a gaming controller like an XBOX 360 or PS4 gamepad.
This is actually a pretty good integration for crews where you want one person operating the head while another moves it in space. For particularly complicated shots this can be a real game-changer, especially since the game controller is customizable.
We tested it with the PS4, and our favorite part was the ability to separate out pan and tilt and the ability to turn off roll entirely. This way you will never get an accidental tilt when doing a pan. Every action will need to be deliberate in order to work. If someone out there has a way to mount your phone to your gaming controller, it could be a great way to see your image via RavenEye and control the gimbal.
The other interesting way to control the gimbal is with Force, a feature that showed up in larger gimbals in the past. You literally pan and tilt your phone, and the gimbal pans and tilts to match. Take this one step further and mount your phone to a tripod, and you can operate shots just like you are used to with the tripod, only to have all your actions match up on the gimbal.
The combination of Force and RavenEye is what makes it so great here. Mounted on a tripod or in hand, it feels incredibly natural and intuitive to how we've been practicing operating for years.
The entire follow focus system as a whole is a major improvement. The motor appears to be the same, and it still connects with a simple USB-C cable, but the interface has been redone and moved to your index finger.
The systems also support focus and zoom control vis RSS feed over USB. This means that for cameras that support it (stills/video cameras with motorized zoom and USB-C ports), you can plug in your camera to the gimbal and control focus and zoom without having to use the external motor. To take advantage of it involves the use of the Ronin app on your phone.
One small frustration that isn't DJI's fault is keeping the camera aligned with only a single screw hole in the bottom of the camera. Cameras should have two screw holes where possible these days, and many that can, still don't. Side-by-side screws could even become a thing since it would still allow two mounting points. Or using something like the Fathom Cage that's designed to hold the camera securely even if there is only a single screw point.
The issue is that the motor for focus sometimes pushes the camera to the side, no matter how tight you get the single mounting screw. You can, and should, use the accessory lens holder, since it can help keep the camera aligned straight onto the platform and keep the motor attached.
Areas for improvement
One thing that is a very, very, very minor tweak but worth considering is the lockdown nob for the sliding baseplate. You need this knob open in order to balance the camera, but when you close it, it changes the balance of the camera. You can predict for it, and it's easy to get used to, but it seems like maybe it would be cool if DJI could design a mechanism that didn't change the balance.
Maybe an up and down switch? Or a spring clamp? This is only worth mentioning since, with some setups, the knob also interfered with the focus motor bar.
A bigger dream would be a dual-motor setup. Focus is obviously absolutely key to working with a gimbal, as you really can't do cool moving shots without some way to control focus. But now that focus is so slick, a second motor setup that would allow for iris control would be amazing. The ability to walk from inside to outside and do an iris pull on an affordable gimbal would be great.
One major frustration is the setup of RavenEye on the phone. You need to turn on Bluetooth to connect to the gimbal, then turn off Bluetooth and connect to a new WiFi network to connect with RavenEye. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's actually incredibly frustrating to constantly switch back and forth between the app and your settings to get things set up correctly.
It also occasionally left us in the wrong mode or setting for what we wanted to do. Ideally, this needs to be improved so we can leave Bluetooth on and use RavenEye over WiFi at the same time.
Another item worth noting is the screen on the RS 2 could be a little, or even a lot, larger without interfering too much with weight or even size. If you are going to have it, might as well make it super useful.
DJI remains the class leader in this market. It is just astounding the pace of innovation that they have brought to this arena and how good these stabilizers are becoming. Most of our frustrations are simply new expectations created by how well the units already perform. Now that focus is so good, we want iris control too! It's a real hedonic treadmill.
But if you stop for a second and look at how much functionality you are getting for under $1,000, it's absolutely astounding.
If you know the camera you are going to be shooting, and it fits in the RSC 2, that probably makes the most sense. Small, very affordable, and capable of great things.
If you are a freelancer working with a variety of shoots, or want to work with cinema primes, the RS 2 is an affordable upgrade. Both will treat you incredibly well.