The Ronin-S In-depth Review: Changing the Game
The DJI Ronin-S is finally here, which means that DSLR camera users now have access to pro-level handheld camera stabilization. The Ronin series has become a standard tool on movie sets of all sizes, and this latest addition brings excellent camera stabilization technology to its most compact design yet. So small, in fact, you can use it with one hand!
My name is Chris, and as a writer, I try to use photos and videos to bring the audience to the world that I invite them into. And that's exactly what I tried to achieve with the Ronin-S.
Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at what it’s like to use the Ronin-S in the wild. This gimbal is ideal for videographers that shoot anything from weddings to travel documentaries, but what about me? I am not a professional videographer, but I love sharing photos and videos that I take with my DSLR camera. With a chance to bring a cinematic quality to my footage, I decided to test the Ronin-S in the dynamic, fast-paced action of CrossFit.
CrossFitTM is a sport that involves a planned workout, a variety of exercises, and a high level of intensity. Because of these factors, the Ronin-S and its ability to film different scenarios on the fly make it an ideal choice for filming. With four athletes to volunteer as my subjects and a blistering workout – rooftop run, rope climbs, dumbbells, and gymnastics – to demonstrate, we were ready for the task.
Ronin-S? Check. My trusty Canon 70D and beloved EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens? Check. Let’s go!
Set up in a Cinch
Like we covered in our previous unboxing article, everything you need to film smooth video from your DSLR is packed neatly in the hard foam case. Several quick-locking and twisting levers make for a tool-free assembly in no time.
As for setting up the Ronin-S with your particular camera model and lens, there is a specific step-by-step process that ensures correct balance along each axis. Luckily, DJI has a set of tutorial videos for the Ronin-S that show you each step in detail.
I followed along with my camera setup and was able to dial in the right balance in about five minutes. In order for the shutter/record button to function, the included RSS cable is made of a sturdy, pliable material so you can point it towards the camera's infrared sensor camera and stay in place.
The Ronin-S will finish the process with Auto Tune, which calibrates the strength and torque of the motors to ensure optimal gimbal performance with the mounted camera setup. What’s great about the Ronin-S is that you can quickly initiate Auto Tune by holding down the front trigger and M button for a few seconds. As an incredibly important step for stabilization, having this function ready to go on the buttons was incredibly helpful. Auto Tune will finish in less than a minute, and you’ve got yourself a finely-tuned DSLR gimbal!
To complement the Ronin-S, the Ronin-S app on my phone gave me access to a ton of customiation and filming options. Here, you can use a virtual joystick, set up panoramas and timelapses, and customize pan, tilt, and roll axis behavior for the three user profiles. The default parameters were more than good enough for me, so I didn't need to made adjustments; I just wanted to start filming!
Classic Handheld Stabilization
Traditional sports cinematography involves a large camera on a tripod, which unfortunately creates a certain disconnect from the game. While a static shot guarantees that the entire playing field is perfectly in the frame, it removes the viewer from the pure athleticism on display.
With this in mind, first and foremost on my to-do list was getting on my feet to film the athletes from a more personal perspective.
Athletes were moving in and out of the gym from station to station at their own pace, giving me a myriad of different scenes to film at any moment. One person would begin a rope climb, while two people were hanging from the pull-up bar. Fortunately, the design of the Ronin-S gave me total freedom to switch from athlete to athlete instantly.
In one shot, an athlete was working on his dumbbell movement just as the golden hour crept through the window. I took advantage of this moment of dramatic lighting to circle around him. In terms of handling, the grooved shape and rubber exterior kept the Ronin-S from slipping, and the extended grip provided comfortable two-hand operation for a steady walk. With a smooth end result in the footage, I’d say this first test was a success!
Picking up the Pace
Some shots require the camera operator to keep up with an athlete running downfield. A panning shot can capture the scene from a distance, but a handheld gimbal would allow the operator to run alongside their subject with smooth video. However, a traditional professional gimbal would require dual handles, keeping the operator from running quickly and safely enough to keep up with the action. How about the Ronin-S?
The rooftop run portion of the workout gave me my first chance at pushing the gimba's limits. I had first held the Ronin-S with two hands, but breaking into a run made me swing my free arm for balance while the other filmed. Facing the camera towards the lead runner, I was able to film him with just one arm. At two meters away, I stayed close enough get details about his body language and convey exhaustion.
While it was nice to follow one runner, I had three other athletes nipping at his heels. To get a shake-free pivot of the camera from the leader to them, I took advantage of Sport mode, which makes the gimbal behave more actively in following the direction you point it. All I had to do was hold down the M button and as long as my thumb was resting on it, I could continue running with the Ronin-S in one hand, keeping up with whichever athlete I wanted to film.
High, Low, and Everywhere in Between
The angled roll motor is one of the main painstaking design decisions that went into the Ronin-S. Instead of a traditional 90°, this motor design frees up the user to a wide range of handling angles and keeps the camera screen in view.
One part of the workout I knew would provide the perfect test was the rope climb. I wanted to record from a lower angle to add a greater depth to the ascent. By holding down the front trigger, the Ronin-S locked the gimbal in place so I could raise the camera as the athlete ascended, and then quickly drop when he came down from the rope. Suddenly, a three-foot drop became a superhero landing! Maybe hard on the knees, but great for the shot!
Although the action of a game is confined to the time and field of play, the magic moments that players and fans live for usually happen out of nowhere. An acrobatic interception. A trick play. A once-in-a-lifetime goal. With plenty of key features accessible directly on the handle, the Ronin-S is also adept at scenes that change in a flash.
One particular shot that I wanted to capture was a transition between exercises. It’s in these moments that one can get a glimpse of an athlete struggling to finish the workout, but pushing forward with determination.
With the Ronin-S standing on the tripod, I was able to tap the M button select user profile with a more appropriate joystick setting to frame up the athlete perfectly. As she got off the pull-up bar and walked to her dumbbell station, I was able to as quickly double-tap the front trigger to recenter the gimbal, switch to a user profile with a quicker responsiveness, and fold the tripod as an extended grip. Within seconds, the Ronin-S transformed without skipping a beat.