If Freefly’s MoVI M5 is the BMW of 3-axis gimbals, CAME-TV’s 7800 is the Hyundai: an ambitious, low-priced alternative inspired by the original that offers a legitimate set of trade-offs, and can definitely get you from points A to B.
After many months of MoVI M5 envy, we jumped at the chance to get our hands on CAME-TV’s M5 competitor, the dramatically lower-priced, 3-axis gimbal 7800 ($1,298 vs $3,995 for each manufacturer’s base kits).
But first thing’s first: while pretty much nothing short of spectacular, that CAME-TV 7800 price is not quite apples-to-apples – which is OK. But you do need to know the difference.
For $1,298, you get the fully assembled 7800 along with battery and charger. For $3,995 (SKU: 950-00029), you get the M5 along with 2 batteries and charger; a balancing stand; a remote controller for dual operator mode; and a hard case with custom foam. Our 7800 arrived in a nice custom-insert zippered case along with balancing stand ($1,380), but more about those later.
Why lead off with price before even talking specs?
You know why: price is what makes the CAME-TV 7800 so interesting. But to focus on price only is to miss what makes the 7800 a legitimate alternative to the M5.
Both gimbals are targeted at the same class of camera: a video DSLR/ILC like the Canon 5D Mk III, Panasonic GH4 or Sony A7s. The M5 is spec’d to carry a maximum load of 5 lbs., while the 7800 is spec’d at 3 kg (6.6 lbs.).
When you place the gimbals side by side, the first things that strikes you are the similarities in size, weight, configuration, and materials quality – while not identical, they are pretty darned close. The 7800 seems to be built from carbon fiber very much like that used on the M5, with both coming in at a petite 2.2 kg. The wires in both are routed through the inside of the fiber tubes, making for very clean appearances.
MoVI M5 operator and bud Mike Greenberg of Konspiracy Studios joined me for this comparison, and was pleasantly surprised by his first impressions of the 7800.
But almost as quickly, the differences between the two become just as clear.
While the M5 is tool-less (easy, hand-operated latches allow for quick balancing adjustments), the 7800 relies on hex screws for all but front-to-back and side-to-side adjustments. This is a big difference during initial setup and when switching cameras or lenses (it took us about an hour to set it up the very first time, and I confess I dropped the hex driver more than once) – but is actually not a big difference if you only work with one camera/lens combo and store the gimbal as is once you’ve dialed in the balance.
Is that a big “if?” Depends on what and how you shoot – and whether or not you acquire and use the custom-molded, semi-rigid CAME-TV case.
The M5 comes with sophisticated software and built-in Bluetooth connectivity to your computer to allow for fine-tuning the balance, speed, responsiveness, and angle of movement. It’s a great feature, but it is also a double-edged sword as it takes time to get it right.
By comparison, the 7800 arrives pre-programmed with no need for tuning at all. The 7800’s simplicity in this regard may be the superior approach for you – or not, once again depending on what and how you shoot. We appreciated it.
We’d suggest forgetting about the CAME-TV case because we found that it only stores the 7800 as it comes from the factory: once adjusted, we could not place the gimbal back in the case and close it. With this written, the fit wasn’t quite perfect in any event – though the case was zipped closed when it arrived, the top handle was a little too long for the molded interior, resulting in a noticeable protrusion in the case. Fair enough: the CAME-TV factory case is one of the reasons the 7800 costs less. The Freefly’s M5 comes with the renowned Pelican hard case — with a little more room to store it as you adjusted it.
The CAME-TV case we received also contained a mold to store the legs for their balancing stand, but we found this to be another example of good intentions dashed by less than optimal execution.
We actually had to remove the monitor bracket on the top bar in order to seat the gimbal into the stand, and even then it was still a bit awkward. And we wished it were taller. The stand consists of aluminum legs with painted iron brackets that you screw together for a pressure fit, and while it’s definitely much better than nothing, you then have to take it apart if you want to store it back in the case.
The stand for the M5 worked better and was built better, but this is not a make-or-break distinction.
We suggest passing on the factory stand and balancing the 7800 on a pair of light stands. The handles are hollow and open ended at the bottom, and we found this approach works well.
But don't despair: let's talk about how the gimbal itself actually works.
Because the fact of the matter is, it works well.
Another place where the 7800 economizes over the M5 is in operation. It is single operator only (unless you want to DIY a solution) with no remote controller – unlike the M5, which appears to have been designed from the outset for dual (or even triple) operator mode.
But the 7800 makes up for this with a well-thought-out thumb-operated joystick which falls easily to hand. It is a lovely surprise.
Push the joystick in toward the top bar on which it’s mounted, and you’ll hear a click and then a confirmation tone: suddenly, you’ve got the equivalent of the M5’s majestic mode for panning. Click the joystick twice and you’ll get another confirmation tone: now you’ve got majestic mode for panning and tilting. Click the joystick three times and you’ll once again get a confirmation tone, but now you’ve got full manual control via the joystick and can pan and tilt as you see fit (the manual control is also available in majestic modes).
The combination of the 7800 with the little Canon Rebel SL1 and Canon’s 10-18mm IS STM lens was a bit of a revelation for Mike, who typically works with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and his recently acquired Sony FS7: “Wow. This is light. That lens is sharp. The footage looks really good.”
The key with the 7800 is to get that balance right. If you don’t, you’ll get vibration as the motors work extra hard to compensate (equally true of the M5, actually). And one of the easiest ways to get the balance wrong is to mount the camera on the gimbal the wrong way. Just make sure that the lever for the quick release plate is at the front, closest to your subject (another way to double check is to make sure the hex screw heads are at the top of the bracket that attaches the cage to the motor nearest the on-off switch).
We weren’t able to flip the 7800 over so that the handles sit below the camera –we’ll need to spend more time with it before we’re comfortable that both the 7800 and we are capable of operating in that mode. But using it as one normally does – and using it from the top handle for very low angle shooting (“briefcase” mode) – was a breeze.
You want silky smooth movement? The beauty of the 7800 is that you can get it – and we did. As we mentioned in a first look-piece we did on the 7800 awhile back, we worked with our other gimbal expert Sophie Parker to put the 7800 through its paces, and it was exhilarating.
We also shot with both gimbals in a gently falling snow outside our set where we did the accompanying video review at Philly Photo Studio in Philadelphia, and that’s when Mike was most impressed. His bottom line: “It really looks like you can get similar results from both gimbals.”
But Is It For You?
We’re all familiar with the 80/20 rule, and for many planet5D readers – those for whom 3-axis gimbal movement is an occasionally-used arrow in their one-man, DSLR quiver — the CAME-TV 7800 is more like the 95/30 rule: you can get 95% of the value that the M5 provides for just over 30% of the cost.
It’s a compelling proposition.
But for others it is not the right tool, and it really forces one to think through value for money.
The difference between good and great can sometimes be precisely what that 5% margin offers and precisely what the shoot calls for: dual or triple operator mode (gimbal movement; camera movement; and separate focus pulling); custom-tuned responsiveness; rapid on-location camera and lens changes; and robust technical/after sales support.
In these instances (where the primary cost to getting the shot is the operator and everyone waiting for him or her) the thoughtful design touches and capabilities built into the M5; high-touch customer service; the proven robustness – and confidence – borne of battle-testing on innumerable location shoots; and a population of experienced operators with this particular gimbal can truly pay for themselves.
The difference between these two gimbals is thus not simply the cost of manufacturing or a specific margin requirement or even the footage in many circumstances: it is fully-loaded value – and to each his own.
But make no mistake: you can get absolutely great results with the 7800, and we’re delighted that CAME-TV has built a “gimbal for the rest of us.” When you strip away the nice-to-haves (or again, must-haves for high-end productions) and compare the two gimbals in most basic operation, the 7800 definitely holds its own.
I guess we now need to check out the Ronin and Defy, huh?
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)