The 3-axis gimbal market continues to evolve at an incredible pace. Herewith, a walk-off between two of the smallest, least expensive double-handled gimbals you can buy today: the CAME-TV Mini 2 and the DJI Ronin-M. Even so, it's a bit David vs. Goliath, don't you think?
In The Beginning
1) The MōVI M5 is the bomb, but the 7800 is a credible alternative, bringing high production values within reach of one-man bands – the footage looked great at somewhere between one third and one quarter the cost of the M5, with a set of tradeoffs that will appeal to some but not others;
2) The M5 was much more sophisticated with remote second operator capability and software fine tuning, easier to balance with its tool-less setup, more streamlined in its design, and offering superior customer support;
3) I really, really hate leaf blowers (the machines, not the people); and
4) I still had much to learn about audio.
A New Walk-Off
Fast forward six months, and the world has moved on (I still have trouble with audio and I swear the interlacing you see at points in the video is something else — but hey, another story for another time).
CAME-TV is now shipping its Mini 2, and it is a quantum leap over the 7800. They’ve managed to run all of the wires inside the tubes for a much cleaner look; it’s now tool-less; and it is dramatically smaller and lighter. There’s something to be said for the wider spacing of the handles on the 7800, but the mini 2 feels not one but two generations beyond it and is $100 less. If you were thinking about the 7800, the Mini 2 is a compelling update.
But that’s not all that has happened over the last six months.
DJI came out with – and is now shipping – the Ronin-M [B&H | Amazon]. It, too, is the smaller version of a bigger brother — the original Ronin [B&H | Amazon] — but MUCH more aggressively priced relative to its sibling: at $1,399, it’s more than $1,000 less expensive than the original Ronin, and within spitting distance of the Mini 2’s price (though you have to add $169 to the price of the Ronin-M for a wireless thumb controller similar to the one included on the Mini 2).
Still, with the base Ronin-M configuration you’re not only getting a second generation DJI gimbal – you’re getting a wireless controller and a free iPhone app – DJI Assistant – which allows you not only to auto-tune balance, but change parameters like speed and follow angle so easily that what frightened me when we did the original walk-off now looks like a walk in the park.
I guess it’s time for War of the Gimbals, Walk-Off Round 2.
CAME TV Mini 2 vs Ronin M 3 Axis Gimbal Comparison: It's a Walk-Off!
At the end of the day, you can see why the Ronin-M costs more, and depending on your circumstances, you may be persuaded to spend the extra $300. It feels like a generation beyond the Mini 2 in terms of just about every single detail, from the quality and thoughtfulness of each latch and adjustment which help make setup so easy, to an auto-tuning and fine-tuning app, to the robustness of the motors and frame, all the way down to a more usable stand and a more robust and better finished battery charger. You get a sense of occasion when you first open the box and behold the Ronin.
You don’t get quite the same sense of occasion with the Mini 2, even as it is light years ahead of its older brother and, truly, not far off the Ronin-M. Part of the Ronin’s $300 goes to high-touch and presentation in addition to its functional capabilities, all of which are outstanding.
And this is a big but: the Mini 2 is not only cheaper, it is much smaller, much lighter, balances very quickly (in this particular case, faster than the Ronin-M, but chalk it up to luck) and delivers great footage.
I tested both gimbals with two different lens/body combinations (Canon Rebel SL1 with Canon EF-S 10-18mm IS STM and the Sony a6000 with new Sony 28mm f/2.0) – and just for good measure I threw in an Apple iPhone 6 with native lens and camera app. The only post work I did was cuts and transitions – no software stabilization of any kind, no exposure or sharpness tweaking. Straight out of the cameras.
The weight difference between the Mini 2 and Ronin-M is so great that I preferred the Mini 2 to the Ronin-M as the thing I actually had to shoot with. On the other hand, the Ronin-M is a class act, and for many the price difference will be worth it, especially considering the ability to use dual operator mode and fine-tune parameters right from your smartphone.
But the weight difference between the Mini 2 and the iPhone 6 is proportionally even greater still, and it balances even faster, raising a whole host of other questions – you simply can’t dismiss the iPhone 6 as a filmmaking tool [link: www.iphonerevolution.com].
Guys like John Lasseter and JJ Abrams don’t.
It’s all a bit confounding, really, but then again no surprise: the Ronin-M is the more polished and robust of the two gimbals, but neither translates into better footage except under very specific circumstances. It seems to me that factors other than which gimbal you select will determine the ultimate quality of your footage (I'm glad I've started the switch to Sony, but wow, the iPhone is crazy good).
Yes, there are a number of improvements to the Mini-2 I’d like to see:
- I’d like the cross-bar to go away. Maybe it’s necessary for rigidity, but it makes it more difficult to mount the camera, and it potentially limits what camera/lens combo you can use. Fortunately, it handled the Canon Rebel SL1 and Sony a6000 with precisely the lenses I’m likely to use with a gimbal, but only just.
- I’d like to see the stop ring on the roll motor (used to prevent wires from tangling or breaking) modified or removed and an alternative solution found, as unless you loosen the screws and reposition the ring, it prevents the Mini 2 from going into underslung mode or being balanced without a stand (briefcase mode works well, with the only proviso that you switch it on when you’re already holding it that way).
- I’d like to see a real Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate on top of the base plate to manage pitch (this is true for the Ronin-M as well) which would allow me to balance the camera and lens combo, then release it to change a battery or card without having to line up the markings as before. In fact, the latch to tighten the quick release plate on the Mini 2 sometimes prevented the plate from sliding into place without a little help.
- I’d like to see a battery life indicator.
- I’d like to see the levers a little larger and a little more rounded for better leverage and comfort (and just a few millimeters further away from the joystick, which prevented me from loosening the grip without first loosening and moving the joystick).
- I’d like CAME-TV (and again this applies to DJI as well) to figure out how to move the camera/lens combo up and down during pitch balancing so that only one latch is needed.
- I’d really, really like a folding, collapsible stand so that I don’t have to assemble and disassemble it on location. And even if they don’t do that, make the top tubes a little longer (they’ll have to change the bracket holding them in place to do this) so that the rear control box doesn’t make contact with the vertical tube.
- I’d like a really simple yet complete and well-executed instruction manual.
In the category of “nice-to-haves:”
- I prefer the thumb controller of the 7800 – it’s easier to manipulate.
- I prefer the latch designs of the Ronin-M for pitch balancing.
- I love the Ronin-M control for yaw adjustment, which is exceptionally fine-grained, as it should be.
- I’d love to have an app to fine-tune the Mini 2 – I believe all of the hardware is already on board to support this.
- And yeah, a more robust battery charger is probably a good thing, along with an extra set of batteries.
Which leads us back to the Ronin-M.
The Ronin-M first begs the question, “why would I ever want the original Ronin?” The only reason I can think of is if you need to carry more weight than the 3.6kg (8lbs) of the M: the original Ronin will handle up to 7.3kg (16 lbs). That’s a big difference.
Otherwise, just like the Mini 2, the Ronin-M is a no brainer: for less money and less weight than its bigger brother, it’s capable of delivering stunning footage.
Are there things I’d like to see improved on the Ronin-M?
- While the stand is great, I’d prefer not to have to assemble and disassemble the Ronin-M itself on location. I much prefer the Mini 2’s ability to go back into its own case requiring only the tool-less removal of its top handle. I suppose this is doable now (you can leave the Ronin-M assembled), but then I’d like a case that would let me put it back in pre-assembled and balanced for next time.
- I’d like a _” threaded hole in the Ronin-M’s top handle for a monitor – just like the Mini 2’s – so I don’t have to assemble the included but unthreaded clamp that comes with the Ronin-M.
- Just as for the Mini 2, I’d like to see the Ronin-M’s two roll adjustments reduced to two single levers instead of the four there now, along with the fine-grained control present in the Ronin-M’s yaw adjustment.
- Just as for the Mini 2, I’d like to see an Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plate on top of the base plate to manage pitch, which would allow me to balance the camera and lens combo, then release it to change a battery or card without having to line up the markings as before. On the other hand, for $50 you can add it yourself: there’s no cross-bar to get in the way.
- I wish the Ronin-M were smaller and lighter.
- It would be greedy of me to wish for an even lower price. I can’t bring myself to do it.
But let’s get real: either one is freaking amazing as it stands right now.
So Which One Should You Get?
The Ronin-M begs a second question: is it close enough in price to the Mini 2 that it’s a Mini 2 killer?
If you are a one-man (or woman) band, money is tight, you don’t like complexity (or you do: you can download BaseCam software and then tune to your heart’s content), you’re a backpacking filmmaker, or you fatigue easily, the $1,088 Mini 2 is a great gimbal, a fantastic value and the better choice. It is so small, light and simple that you can put it in a backpack and get going, though the current stand really is a pain. The Mini 2 balances easily and can yield great footage. In these two regards, it gives away little to the Ronin-M.
On the other hand, if $300 isn’t a big deal for you, your camera/lens combo won’t fit the Mini 2, you plan on using a dedicated camera operator, you need the extra seconds that the Ronin-M’s superior tool-less-ness and swappable battery packs may give you (once you assemble the thing), you want to easily customize your settings via an app, you don’t mind the extra size and weight or in fact prefer it — or you just want the security of a much more established company — the Ronin-M at $1,399 is an absolute stand-out in the increasingly crowded gimbal field. I think the Ronin-M is at least MoVI M5 killer.
In the end, if you can get your hands on either of these gimbals, take the time to learn how to use them and apply them appropriately to telling your stories, your production values will soar. It’s simply a question of what you want to do and what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
My hat is off to both DJI and CAME-TV for really upping the game for the entire gimbal industry with these two units.
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)