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MōVI, Ronin & IKAN Gimbals – all you need to know

Introduction

This is definitely the time of the Gimbal.  

Ever since the incredibly stable images produced from the first MōVI 10 system went viral in 2013 from an operator doing his best to unseat the camera, the word Gimbal has entered into the vernacular of the filmmaker.  Steadicams had been around for a long time but you had to have a trained operator – so if you couldn’t afford a Steadicam, then it was clear that you needed to hire a Gimbal. (You still need training to use and balance a Gimbal effectively but they are much quicker to master).

It is worth mentioning that Gimbals are NOT the panacea of steady shot systems and as such, are not a replacement to the Steadicam.  Steadicams are still the preferred tool for supporting long takes, have a higher payload capability and offer great versatility.  Their design means that operators can hold them for longer durations and are still the preferred system for top-end Dramas, Features and long takes.  Saying that though, modern Gimbal systems offer even greater versatility – more on this later.

The Gimbal systems developed from the model radio control aircraft technology (RC) originally, using many of the same parts and rather unsatisfactory connectors for DC power and control systems and as a result, the original systems were rather flimsy and more consumer than professional – a far cry from the solid Broadcast and Film grip systems and Steadicam Vests that we were all accustomed too.

Having spent a lot of money at the outset, accessorising and modifying the early MōVI and DEFY systems to use professional batteries and distribute D-tap power and building flight cases which could hold fully built systems and running bespoke training programmes, the systems were still prone to failing on location, which was less than satisfactory for both VMI and its clients.

However, over time, these system improved, as did the aerial drone systems that they evolved from, with MōVI releasing the much improved MōVI M15 in 2014 which was much more solidly built than the first M10, had a greater payload capacity and a superb remote control interface too and then also came the DJI Ronin Gimbal and again in 2016, the single-handed operation Ikan EC1 Beholder System.

VMI carry all 3 of these systems, as they do slightly different things and are best suited to differing applications.  Some operators prefer the MōVI movement, which some describe as more refined than the more Ronin but takes longer to master.   

The DJI Ronin, at 4.2kg, is heavier than the MōVI M15 but is exceptionally easy to balance and to master and has a payload capacity of 7.25kg.  The regular DJI Ronin can practically only balance cameras up to Canon C300 but our long arm modification (DJI Ronin Extension-arm Gimbal system) corrects this and, in common with the the MōVI M15 is capable of flying such cameras as Sony F7, F5, F55 and/or Angenieux short zooms as well. 

The MōVI M15 (weight 2.5kg) has a 6.8kg payload capacity and can balance quite long camera configurations.

If however, you are looking to shoot with a DSLR camera, then seriously consider the Ikan EC1 Beholder system.

Gimbal Systems are versatile

Unlike Steadicams, Gimbal system can be used by multiple operators by transferring them during the shot.  They can be passed from one floor of a building to another, transferred through windows and doorways and even down manholes!  

The built-in ‘majestic modes’ allow the system to pan simply by pointing the rig in a given direction and this subtle control is fully programmable on both systems. (This is a trade-marked MōVI term but the Ronin offers a similar program).

If required, they can be configured in different ways in a matter of minutes and work suitcase mode (sideways, Ronin only), upside down to gain height, or close to the floor.  They can be controlled either using a thumbwheel controller (Ronin) or remote control (RC controller (Ronin) or MōVI Controller (M15 only)) for a separate operator to control the pan/tilt function.  

It is worth mentioning that these setups can be configured extremely quickly (minutes), compared with Steadicam, which takes substantially longer to reconfigure from high mode to low mode for example.

They can be used as remote heads and both the MōVI M15 and also DJI Ronin can be mounted to tripods (upside down) as a stabilising device, or indeed, on a crane/jib as an inexpensive stabilised remote head, though control is not as refined as professional custom-designed systems, like the Libra and Flighthead.  The Movi M15 requires the Freefly Toad in the Hole quick release mount for this application.

What about using a DSLR camera - use the IKAN EC1 Beholder

2016 saw the introduction of the single-handed operation IKAN EC1.  This is a very compact gimbal with a single handle for one-handed operation (though VMI kits include a 2 handed grip arrangement which allow the user to shoot for longer without tiring).

It features a 2.2kg payload capacity, so it is ideally suited to working with DSLR cameras and lenses.

It has many cool features such as lock mode for super-smooth camera stabilisation in 3 axes; point & Lock mode so that you can quickly lock your camera into any position and then stabilise the camera whilst holding that new direction; audio inversion mode - simply flip the camera upside down and you work effectively in underslung mode; multiple focus modes to decide whether the system follows your pan movements only, pan ant tilt or all 3 etc.

However, best of all, there is pretty much negligible setup time, so if you want to shoot quickly and be extremely portable whilst using a DSLR camera, then this should be an obvious choice of gimbal for you. Watch the amazing IKAN EC1 in use

Gimbals are Hard Work to use, no? - not with the right support!

All of these systems are operated with your arms in front of you, supporting a Gimbal plus camera system, so they are extremely arduous to use (save money in the gym!).

Gimbal systems when fully configured are a very heavy and you will need to rest after a long take and we have scrutinised all of the various options on offer before deciding to stock the Ready Rig to support the weight during use.

This is an excellent fully featured stabilising vest for MoVI, Ronin or equivalent Gimbals and can support up to 14kg (30lb).  What is clever is that it features a clever universal fitting mechanism making it suitable for all systems and will make operation of a Gimbal system far less arduous for the operator.

Also, unlike other systems, you now have the option of being able to lower or raise a built unit from the ground or elevated position, fully supported without increasing the user's footprint, so that you can still fit through a conventional doorway.  

As already mentioned, if you are using the IKAN EC1, a single-handed operation is quite tiring for long takes.  VMI's kit includes the optional dual handlebar kit which makes shooting far less arduous.  With a 2,2kg payload capacity, it is too light to use any assisting devices such as Ready Rig though.

Here is an interesting work-around that one of our clients designed recently.  By taking a regular cine saddle and 'wearing it' around the operator's neck, this creates a useful plaftofm from which to support an Ikan EC-1 beholder rig.  The idea was to create a means to support a single-handed  gimbal for a long shooting sequence.  It looks very promising!

 

 

 

 

Another approach is to use a Steadicam-type arrangement with a VMI custom Zefyr clone vest with articulated arm.

It has been modified by VMI with a clever universal fitting mechanism making it suitable for all systems and with the 15kg payload capacity, it is capable of holding such cameras as the Sony F55, RED Epic, C300, C300 II, Canon 5D etc.

We really like this vest as it allows fully unhindered operation of elavated or low-level operation, is easy to configure and adjust and importantly does not increase the operator's footprint.

Also, this can be used in regular or underslung modes, to permit lower angle shots with comparative ease.

 

 

Use Slimmed-Down Cameras

An important consideration is that you don’t have to have cameras like EPICs or Canon C300s completely configured with side-handles and viewfinders.  The weight saving of leaving these non-essential bits out these will enable you to set up the system more easily and as a consequence, they will also be less effort to use too.

Easy to set up?

Practice does make perfect but the overriding benefit for using a DJI Ronin or DJI Ronin long arm system is the simplicity with which it is set up from the flight case.  It is quick to teach and simple to setup and balance, providing you master the fundamentals first and follow a few simple guidelines.  The MōVI M15 is less tolerant to imperfect setups and as a result, it takes longer to set up and balance prior to use.

Easiest of all if the IKAN EC1, which due to its simplified design and small payload capacity, is pretty much ready to shoot out of the box with no real fine tuning required, however, it only has a 2.2kg payload capacity, so is only suitable for short DSLR camera setups.

Learn to use a Gimbal first

There used to be a widespread belief that whilst Steadicam systems needed a lot of bespoke training and practice, Gimbals were more like iPhones – intuitive to use and no training required… Sadly, this is not true!  Gimbals take practice to master, so give yourself time.

We at VMI have learned to set up these devices and have used them successfully based solely on the manufacturers training videos and have arrived at the conclusion that to be able to ‘fly’ these devices correctly, any training needs to be self-taught at an individual level as group sessions or an on-set technician will not be as involving or comprehensive as learning to balance and control these devices yourself.

In the same way that Steadicams tend to be owner/operator, these devices require practice both in set up and use that can only come from quiet ‘face time’ with the rig and the training videos. Equally because there are some build elements of these systems borrowed from the Model RC world, some of the components are not as robust as the professional imaging world would expect and again quiet practice time will be beneficial to the end user, especially not to cause any damage.

The two main attractions of these systems are unique camera positioning and a market perception of pricing (ie a lot cheaper than a Steadicam rig). By recommending to clients that they hire out the rig and all necessary support kit for at least one day before the shoot if they are a first time or inexperienced user in order to self-train, 

VMI can support the market price perception of these devices without requiring additional on-set support or attend one of our training courses - read below.

It is very much the case with these (and any future similar) rigs that the onus is on the end user to become comfortable and proficient with the set up and operation, and that it is certainly not possible to pick up one up out of the box and be able to use it successfully with a bit of phone support from the rental company.

Also, due to the very nature of the shots and circumstances these devices will be working in, the client needs to understand this and take full responsibility for any loss of shooting time and any damage caused by inexperienced operation of the rig. This allows us to pass on a lower cost to the end user and provides timely training ahead of any prospective shoot.

Compatibility Issues

These Gimbal system are not yet compatible with all lenses as yet, as many PL lenses are too heavy for Gimbal systems but we have found that with appropriate lightweight cameras we have tested SuperSpeeds, UltraPrimes, CP2s, Mini S4s and Cooke S4s without issue, though worthy of mention is that the MōVI M15 and extension arm Ronin version will give greater versatility of lens choice.

Whilst most DSLR primes lenses will work, you need to be careful with DSLR zoom lenses, as some (such as Canon 24-70 L USM EOS zoom) have moving internal elements,which affect the centre of gravity through the range of the zoom and this affects the balance of the unit, rendering the unit unuseable. Please enquire for more details.

Also ARRI Alexa Plus/Classic etc are not compatible either with either system, though Alexa Mini (especially with integrated WLCS system)is a perfect companion for either system, as is the RED EPIC Dragon or lighter weight RED EPIC Dragon Carbon Fibre camera.

We find that the Canon C300EF or C300 Mk II camera with 16-35 EOS zoom is an ideal combination which has a useful zoom range and the RED EPIC fitted with CP.2 primes or Zeiss ZF DSLR primes also works extremely well.

Whilst the systems now have up to 7kg payload capacity, it remains a fundamental truism that the lighter the setup, the easier the balancing is and the less arduous they are to use, so don’t fit and use unnecessary peripherals that you don’t need!

The larger Gimbals are less forgiving for very light cameras, so if you plan to shoot with a DSLR camera, then the IKAN EC1 Beholder is the obvious choice , unless you plan to heavily accessorise them, in which case the Ronin or MoVI are better suited and will cope with the additional payload requirement.

Essential Accessories

Once you have affixed and balanced a camera to a Gimbal system, then you are ready to shoot and don't need any other accessories but several accessories can make yours a better and more functional experience! 

All of these are optional but all are fully compatible and mounting points for these peripherals are provided for all VMI systems, so that you can choose them with confidence that they will work.

These include wireless follow focus systems, wireless video senders, external recorders, on-camera monitors and a floor stand rig.

- The TV Logic 5.6" monitor is the monitor of choice for these systems for its size and performance and bridge-mountings are provided to mount the monitor if you don't want use the camera's own LCD display.

- Instead of a small external monitor, you may wish instead to use a recorder with built-in monitor for both of these functions, such as Atomos Shogun or Convergent Odyssey 7Q recorders.

- Wireless Lens control systems allow a focus puller to operate focus. Compatible are Hocus Axis 1 LCS or Preston FIZ Lite.  Note that the Hocus Axis 1 interfaces directly with the MōVI Controller, so that the focus can be adjusted by the controller settings.

- You may want to have a Director's monitor and this must by design be wireless, so we provide either the Teletest Telesend device, which is small but HDMI input only, so compatible with DSLR cameras such as Canon 5D, Canon C300 and also RED EPIC. For HD-SDI use, we have many wireless video links which can be supplied with a wide range of monitors but is not supplied with one as standard. The Teradek clip is an interesting option which is iPad compatible and draws very little power but is HDMI input only.

- C stand with K clamp and sandbag is a very useful rig for resting the camera and device. The sandbag is necessary to drape on the arm of the C stand to counterbalance the weight of the device.   Trust me, you WILL be grateful to have a floor-mounted platform to rest the fully built rig during use if you don’t have a table top for the supplied holder.

 - Wireless video links.  These days, the ubiquitous Teradek Bolt has become the Teradek Bolt 600 and is ideally suited to Movi and Ronin installations, as the transmitters are very small and lightweight.  However, if using the IKAN EC1 single-handed gimbal, then this suits the Teradek Clip system with HDMI input much better and which has iOS compatibility for monitoring (iPhone/iPad etc). 

Fully Accessorise Your Camera When Balancing… including removing the lens cap!

The balancing of the Gimbal system is an essential skill that you must master.  An ill-balanced unit will make the motors work too hard and drain your battery too much, prevent the unit from working properly and possibly burn the motors out, to mastering this skill is essential.  

An important note is that you will need to fully accessorise your camera with all peripherals before balancing. Even a memory card, lens cap or camera battery will be sufficient to unbalance the camera, so be clear as to how you want to use the camera and accessorise it fully ahead of the balance process to save you time!

DJI Ronin

The first thing that you notice about the DJI Ronin Gimbal system is its High Build Quality.  Extremely durable, it is manufactured from Aircraft-grade aluminium and you notice at once that this elegantly made device has no loose cables at all and is pre-wired with 2 x 12V D-Tap power outlets to enable you to power both the camera and its peripherals.

The power draw is quite low and you ought to achieve around 3 hours use per battery powering the Gimbal alone but if you power a hungry camera, with all of the wireless toys and monitor, then you might only expect 10 mins per battery change.

It is very easy to balance and unlike other systems, has a good tolerance to being roughly balanced, which is useful if a rapid setup is required.

It weighs 4.2kg without the camera and will cope with a payload of 7.2kg. It is a well-designed system which works very well with the following cameras that we have tested:

- Sony A7s, Canon 5D Mk2 & Mk3 and all DSLR form factor cameras

- Canon C300EF and C300PL

- Blackmagic camera

- Alexa Mini

- RED EPIC Dragon and RED EPIC Dragon Carbon Fibre (they do work but better on the long arm system)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DJI Ronin Extension arm system

We took the original design and modified it with an extension arm version, which allows the rig to accept longer bodies and allows you to use the following cameras:

- Sony FS-100

- Sony FS 700

- Sony FS-7 with small prime

- Sony PMW-F5

- Sony PMW-F55

- RED EPIC with Optimo/Alura short zoom

Ronin Thumbwheel controller as standard

Additionally, we have modified all of our Ronin systems to incorporate the Thumbwheel controller as standard, which permits pan/tilt operation from the frame.

The Ronin can be configured to work in multiple Modes of operation:

UNDERSLUNG MODE: The default gimbal operation is the Underslung mode. The camera can be comfortably held low to the ground, at chest level or anywhere in between. This mode is also used when the Ronin is suspended from a camera jib or crane.

UPRIGHT MODE:  Flip the gimbal over to bring the camera closer to eye level for a higher perspective without straining to lift it. Use this mode when sticking the Ronin out of a car’s sunroof or when trying to shoot over a crowd of people.

BRIEFCASE MODE: When a slimmer gimbal profile is needed, i.e. when moving through doorways or narrow paths, Briefcase mode is ideal. It allows the gimbal to be held to the side and close to the legs, much like a briefcase.

THUMBWHEEL CONTROL: In this mode, the operator can control the pan/tilt function using the thumbwheel control on the unit.  

RC CONTROL: In this mode, a remote operator can control the pan/tilt function using the radio control handset supplied with the unit.

Important points about the DJI Ronin system

 

MōVI M15

The MōVI M15 is a heavier-duty version 3 Axis Gimbal System designed to carry larger payloads than the MōVI M10, so suitable for large and small cameras enabling Steadicam-type shots on carbon-fibre/aluminium frame, supplied with Freefly Controller.  

It is a handheld 3-axis digital stabilized camera gimbal, for large payload cameras with brushless technology for refined use.  However, at only 2.5kg weight without the camera, it is very light and can carry a 6.8kg payload.

 - Lightweight – just 2.5kg weight with largely Carbon Fibre construction and 6.8kg payload capability.

 - Alexa M, Red Epic, Sony FS7, Canon C300/C500, Sony F5/F55.

 - Easy to tune with autotune function on the App (tablet supplied with device)

 - Can be tuned to exact smoothness and responsiveness.

 - Has two different modes: Majestic (Follows every single op move), Smooth Track (Follows left and right while tilt stays in same position)

 - M15 can be rigged on the jib and used as a remote head

 - More refined operation compared with Ronin..

 - Very well responds to operators movements.

 - Angienieux zooms can be used in certain setups

 - Versatile to set up as there is no exact camera accessory mounts on the rigs.

 - Critical setup – the system is intolerant to a badly balanced camera system, so correct setup is crucial.

The MōVI M15 has been improved on the original MōVI M10 design with:

Freefly MōVI Controller included now as standard with M15

Freefly MōVI Controller included as standard

MōVI Controller gives full control of the rig and camera accessories in one unit (MōVI remote, focus unit)

Phone/tablet app is not needed when MōVI Controller is in use as it gives complete control over the whole rig.

We have also bundled this with the Freefly MōVI Controller which makes remote operation much easier using a joystick operation for panning with simultaneous focus control to operate a remote follow focus unit and this interfaces seamlessly with the Hocus wireless lens control system too.

In our opinion, this is a well-designed system which works very well with the following cameras that we have tested:

Additional MōVI Features:

Majestic Mode (Pan/Tilt)

Patent pending Majestic Mode allows for a single operator to intuitively control the pointing of the gimbal by moving the handles without compromising the stabilization of the image. The gimbal takes the operator's movements and intelligently converts them into stabilized pan and tilt movements. This allows for very low profile single operator setup and accurate framing in tight situations.

Translation Compensation

The system features patent pending translation compensation, whereby the system will automatically adjust the camera angle to maintain a consistent frame. This is useful in situations where the camera will be moving so fast that no human operator could possibly keep up. The MōVI can accurately adjust the frame hundreds of times per second to keep the subject in frame as the camera translates.

Live Wireless Tuning & Graphing

A next generation stabilized gimbal deserves a fast, intuitive and user friendly GUI (graphical user interface). The MōVI features a real-time bluetooth connection to the gimbal, which outputs all pertinent performance data and allows for live adjustment of any of the gimbal parameters.

Remote Firmware Updatable

The MōVI stabilized camera system is firmware updatable. When Freefly adds a new feature on Friday night, you can be shooting with it on Saturday morning. As the system is used in varying cinema applications, Freefly is constantly inventing new solutions for the rigors operators face in using the system to execute demanding shots.

Drift Free Horizon

The proprietary control algorithms developed for the MōVI utilize a very high accuracy GPS. This GPS allows for acceleration correction when the gimbal is used outdoors or has a GPS signal. This feature is useful when used on cars and helicopters where sustained extreme accelerational forces can cause non-GPS aided systems to drift.

Silent Drive

Capturing on-camera audio is no problem with the MōVI, as the system is virtually silent. Because the entire motor / drive system was designed in-house, we were able to reduce the noise frequency signature of the gimbal to a virtually inaudible level.

Shot Recorder

The system has the ability to record the exact camera position, height, pan, tilt and roll angle to assist the VFX team in post-production.

Custom Direct Drive Motors

High torque and lightweight are two attributes that don't usually go together. When we started to design the MōVI system, we knew that no off-the-shelf motor could deliver the performance needed, while keeping the weight low enough to allow the system to be mobile, portable and agile. Drawing on years of brushless motor design experience, Freefly was able to create a remarkably lightweight motor that still has enough torque to handle larger camera packages.

User Adjustable Shakey Cam

In some instances, camera movement / shake is a desirable aesthetic choice. The difficult part is quantifying the amount and type of 'shake' to effectively convey the emotion of the scene. The MōVI overcomes this limitation by allowing the user to define variable noise filters that mimic the user's movements. Being able to control the level of 'noise' is highly useful, as it can be difficult for a human operator to accurately maintain a consistent level of camera movement, especially while keeping a compelling frame. With the patent pending MōVI noise filter, the camera operator can focus on framing and the MōVI takes care of the rest consistently and repeatedly.

Attach to Jib/Crane

Attach to Jib/Crane with the Toad in the Hold Quick Release Mount

VMI Gimbal Training

VMI now provides Gimbal training courses which offer a discount on your first hire.  Visit VMI Training for available courses.

 

 

Conclusion

These are very versatile systems which are an alternative to Steadicam but not a replacement to them.  

They have their own idiosyncratic advantages to make them suitable for particular applications and they are tremendously versatile for working in multiple setups and formats (suitcase mode, upside down, majestic, thumbwheel, radio control etc).

It is crucial to be adequately trained on them prior to use and to leave sufficient time for setup and break down.

Whilst they now have up to 7kg payload capacity, it remains a fundamental truism that the lighter the setup, the easier the balancing is and the less arduous they are to use, though the new IKAN single handed gimbals are suited to very light camera setups and so are correspondingly easier to operate too.

They afford very steady images with lots of shot variation and the differences between these systems is both subtle and subject to the preference of the operator.

Barry Bassett/Klim Jurevicius

Revised Ovtober 2016

 

 

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2 comments
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Andrew 1 month ago

This is a good article but i think it should adjust the bits on training. Steadicams had been around for a long time but you had to have a trained operator In conclusion... It is crucial to be adequately trained on them prior to use and to leave sufficient time for setup and break down. Also about it being for people who cannot afford to pay an actual camera operator, and get someone cheaper I'd not great either. But otherwise am informative article.

Jonathon Sendall 1 year ago

I tried the L'Aigle Exoskeleton and this is a fantastic option with a lot of the gimblas as it allows low down up to high shots with ease. I used one with a Helix for a number of hours without getting tired at all. Hope you guys get a few of the Exo's in for hire as I would definitely use it.

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