Small, handheld camera gimbals have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years, with companies springing up all over the place to compete in this new market. One of the biggest names in the camera stabilization game has long been DJI, a brand known for its unstoppable innovation in the drone space that has also made both large gimbals for professional filmmakers and ultra-portable smartphone gimbals for consumers for some time.
Yet, DJI had seemingly ignored the coveted middle ground of the single-handle gimbal for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. While its Ronin-M was geared toward these devices, the wide, dual-handle setup made it considerably less portable than models from the likes of EVO, FeiyuTech, or Zhiyun. But DJI isn’t out to be the first or the cheapest; it’s out to be the best. So while it may be late to the race, it has entered riding a strong tailwind with the new Ronin-S, the company’s first single-handle gimbal that can support more than your phone — a lot more.
Worth the wait
The first thing you notice about the $699 Ronin-S when you lift it out of its snug styrofoam case is how incredibly robust it feels. The gimbals we’ve tested in this price range have always felt well-made, but the Ronin-S takes the cake. The handle is weighty and wrapped in a grippy rubber surface with a slight indentation for your index finger. Unlike the handles of other gimbals, it’s not cylindrical, instead using a slightly more rectangular shape that improves ergonomics. The handle is also quite long, perfect for holding with two hands — something that is improved further by attaching the included mini tripod as an extension of the grip.
The three-axis gimbal itself is also one of the largest in this class and can support up to 8 pounds — a staggering capacity for such a device, above even the 7-pound limit of the already impressive Zhiyun Crane 2 and well beyond what DSLR or mirrorless cameras will require. This leaves plenty of room for lenses, microphones, or other camera attachments. As we’ve seen on some other gimbals, the Ronin-S also uses an angled roll motor, which makes it easier to see the LCD screen on the camera while filming.
A bit confounding is the fact that the batteries are not removable, which is in contrast to most of the other competing gimbals out there. On the plus side, battery life is a respectable, if not class-leading, 12 hours and charge time is just 2.5 hours over USB-C. Strangely, the USB port is on the gimbal, rather than the handle, so you will need to keep the unit assembled to charge it.
The Ronin-S makes exciting high-speed chases and fast pans ridiculously easy to pull off.
Still, the design and materials alone are enough to warrant high praise, but this isn’t just a better-built gimbal than most; it’s also more useful. At the top of the handle you’ll find the usual assortment of controls, including a four-way joystick, mode button, record start/stop button, and front trigger. But in addition to these, an electronic follow focus wheel is mounted on the left of the handle — to our knowledge, just two other single-handle gimbals offer this feature, the Crane 2 and the EVO Rage3, both of which retail for $749. With compatible cameras, this allows you to dial in manual focus without attaching anything to the lens or physically touching the camera at all. Just plug the gimbal in to your camera using the supplied cable and you’re ready to go. In short, it’s awesome — so long as you have a camera that supports it.
As of this review, DJI lists many Canon and Nikon DSLRs as fully compatible, as well as two Panasonic models: the Lumix GH5 and its video-focused fraternal twin, the GH5S, the latter of which served as our test camera for this review (it’s also the ideal camera to test with, as it doesn’t have internal image stabilization). Unfortunately, no Sony cameras support the follow focus feature — at least, not yet. We reached out to DJI about the issue, and a representative confirmed the company is in talks with Sony to hopefully add expanded functionality soon. For now, Sony users can use the Ronin’s record button to start and stop recording, but that’s it. (Interestingly, both EVO’s and Zhiyun’s solution to this problem was simply to release a mechanical follow focus drive that attaches directly to the lens.)
For even more control, the Ronin-S is compatible with a number of accessories, like the Force Pro motion remote that makes the gimbal mimic the movements of a remote operator. There are also attachment points on the handle for microphones, lights, or monitors.
When we first picked up the Ronin-S, our immediate response was to be concerned. At 4.1 pounds, this thing is heavy. We worried about how we would hold up after prolonged use as muscle fatigue has been a real issue on past gimbal shoots. Much to our surprise, even after an hour of running around — often literally — we still felt pretty good.
There are so many options for fine-tuning the performance of this gimbal that you could spend an entire day just fiddling with the settings.
Part of this is due to the fact that we were using a relatively light camera; had we been shooting with a Canon 1D X Mark II, or anything remotely close to the Ronin’s 8-pound limit, this would likely be a different story. But something also has to be said for how well balanced the Ronin-S is. It’s heavy, yes, but the weight is distributed well. At least with a GH5S mounted to it, it’s not terribly top heavy, so you won’t lose energy just in holding it upright. The ergonomic grip and long handle, particularly with the tripod attached, helps with this.
The bulk of our testing was done in a mountain bike park and involved a variety of different camera movement styles. Here, we came to appreciate two features of the Ronin-S very much. First, the high-torque motors were more than enough to handle the GH5S and 12-60mm f/2.8-4 lens, even with imperfect balance. This meant that we could shoot at any focal length in the zoom range without having to re-balance the gimbal, with no noticeable reduction in performance. To be clear, you should always correctly balance a gimbal for optimal results and battery life, but in run-and-gun situations like ours, it was nice to be able to zoom in and out and depend on the Ronin-S to compensate automatically.
Second, having one-button access to what DJI calls “sport mode” was a godsend. Sport mode sets the motors to respond instantaneously to your inputs, essentially setting the dead band to zero and the speed to maximum. Simply hold the M button to engage it. This worked exceptionally well for panning shots when trying to follow our mountain biker through a twisty set of berms.
We were impressed not just by its performance and usability, but also the fact that DJI managed to deliver such a refined and complete gimbal for $699.
As with other gimbals, holding the trigger on the Ronin-S will lock the camera into its current orientation, essentially ignoring your inputs to maintain a steady shot. While not a unique function to DJI by any means, it is still one we used often while running alongside our subject. Even moving over rough terrain, the Ronin-S had no trouble smoothing out our erratic motion. It’s worth mentioning that three-axis gimbals can’t counter up and down movement, so walking and running shots will introduce a “bobbing” motion into the footage. You can reduce this by shooting in slow motion, and when we overcranked the GH5S to 60 fps (to play back at 24), the result was a nearly perfectly smooth tracking shot. The Ronin-S has a maximum operational speed of 75 miles per hour, so it really comes should come as no surprise that it wasn’t challenged by an on-foot sprint.
We also got caught in a freak rainstorm during our test, and the gimbal continued to power through the shoot after getting drenched.
The Ronin-S makes exciting high-speed chases and fast pans ridiculously easy to pull off, but it’s also worth mentioning how valuable a tool like this can be for more subtle tasks. Things like stationary telephoto shots can be incredibly difficult to pull off with a handheld camera, but a gimbal makes it simple. Or, if you want to add a touch of motion to a shot, it’s also smaller and lighter than a tripod and slider combination. Need a high-angle shot? Just put the Ronin on a monopod and now you have a camera crane — again, without all the bulk. The point here is that you don’t need to be an action sports enthusiast to find value in this kind of tool; any type of filmmaker, whether you shoot weddings, news, or vlogs for YouTube, will benefit from having a gimbal.
An app built for power users
Beyond the standard use as a stabilizer, the Ronin-S offers a wealth of features for creating time-lapses, panoramas, and tracking shots, all of which are accessed via the Ronin mobile app. These features are what really sets a powered gimbal apart from the likes of a Steadicam or Glidecam, which simply rely on mechanical balance rather than electronic motors. Those motors can move the camera in very precise, repeatable patterns.
Time-lapse mode is basically an intervalometer for your camera; you can select the interval, desired duration, and frame rate, and then the app will do the math and trigger your camera automatically. “Motionlapse” mode, however, is where things get interesting. Beyond the standard time-lapse settings, here you can set up to five keyframes to create a motion path for your time-lapse. The app automatically plots the course between those points and the gimbal takes care of camera movement and triggering throughout the process.
One thing we encountered after messing with the settings was an increase in motor noise.
The one thing we found lacking in the motionlapse settings was any sort of way to set the speed or a hold time at any of the points. These are features that are built into the “track” mode, however, which is essentially motionlapse but for real-time video. Here, you can set up to 10 keyframes for camera movement, but can also select a “stay time” and “duration” at each point. So if you want the camera to move very slowly to point 2, then hold there for 10 seconds before rapidly panning to point 3, you can do it.
Landscape photographers will appreciate panorama mode, which greatly simplifies the process of making a multi-shot panorama. The app asks for your sensor type, focal length, and desired amount of overlap between shots, then you simply drag the corners of a rectangle to select the size of your panorama. The app calculates the number of shots needed and all you have to do is press the start button.
Panorama mode won’t actually stitch the images together for you — the app is connected only to the Ronin, after all, not your camera — but it does give you a set of photos that will be perfectly spaced for automatic stitching in Photoshop.
Even if you don’t plan on doing any time-lapse or panoramas, you’ll still want to keep the app handy. DJI offers a wealth of manual overrides to all the settings on the gimbal. Want to reprogram the joystick to roll instead of pan? You can do that. Want to change the speed, smoothing, and deadband of each axis individually? You can do that. There are so many options for fine-tuning the performance of this gimbal that you could probably spend an entire day just fiddling with all the settings. This won’t be necessary for most people, but power users will certainly appreciate it.
One thing we encountered after messing with the settings was an increase in motor noise. This turned out to be due to having the strength of the motors turned up too high. If you encounter this problem, the “auto tune” feature in the app is the easiest way to fix it. This takes a short time to complete, but will automatically set the stiffness and strength of the motors to the best settings for your camera. For us, this all but removed the motor noise, but heavier payloads may have a different result.
The one complaint we have about the app is that it feels like it was designed by engineers for engineers. The control settings, for example, are labeled “channel 1,” “channel 2,” etc., rather than using descriptive terms like “joystick” or “trigger” — or, you know, just showing us pictures. It’s also a bit complex overall, so be ready to take some time to study it. Fortunately, you can tap the information button if you ever feel lost, which does a decent job of explaining the different settings on each screen.
The DJI Ronin-S carries a one-year warranty.
With its best-in-class capacity, build quality, and features, the Ronin-S is nothing short of a new benchmark for single-handle camera gimbals. We were impressed not just by its performance and usability, but also the fact that DJI managed to deliver such a refined and complete product for $699. It may not be a revolutionary product, but we are very happy that DJI took the time to get the Ronin-S right, and we look forward to the planned additional camera support and accessories in the future.
Is there a better alternative?
No, but there are cheaper alternatives if you don’t need the robust build quality and capacity of the Ronin-S. The FeiyuTech A2000 is a good choice for smaller cameras, with a recently improved payload capacity of 5.5 pounds. It’s also important to reiterate that not all of the Ronin’s features will work with every camera, so its maximum value depends on what brand and model you shoot. The EVO Rage3 or Zhiyun Crane 2 both offer mechanical follow focus attachments that will work with any camera and lens combination, so there may be more value to you there.
How long will it last?
This is the best-made gimbal we’ve ever tested in this class, so we expect it to hold up to professional levels of wear and tear. That said, it is impossible to judge the lifetime of the motors in a short review period, and this type of product tends to be used in some more extreme conditions that could shorten its life — but that is true of any gimbal.
Should you buy it?
Absolutely. DJI has delivered a masterpiece with the Ronin-S, and it will only get better from here.