The DJI RS2 is the latest top-of-line single-handed gimbal offering from DJI. It features a lot of innovations, small and large, that add up to a satisfying user experience. The RS2 is shown here mounted to a jib arm, showing its flexible configuration capabilities compared to most one-handed gimbals.
Let’s Talk About Gimbals
This will be more of a brief overview and user impression of the DJI RS2 Gimbal than an in-depth 5,000-word review because I’m space limited for a blog entry. I’ll be honest, I’m normally not a huge fan of gimbals for production. I much prefer the look and feel of good handheld camera work over the somewhat mechanical, robotic feel to the motion produced by gimbals. It seems though, that these days, I receive quite a few requests from clients specifically for gimbal work. I’ve been shooting with the Zhiyun Crane 2 for the past few years and, overall, I like the unit. It does have its limitations though, namely its size and weight capacity. My main gimbal camera is the Fujifilm X-T3. I like its small size and weight and its ability to shoot 4K in 10-bit Log. The Fuji lenses are very nice quality as well. The Crane 2 is well suited to my main gimbal camera, but often, clients want me to shoot with larger and heavier mirrorless and DSLR cameras. This has been an issue for the Crane 2 at times.
Horses For Courses
I’ve never understood so many users’ desire to mount and use their “A” larger and heavier camera on a one-handed gimbal. Anyone who has actually shot with a gimbal realizes very quickly that mounting a four to 10 pound digital cinema camera, lens and battery on a single-handed gimbal is a very bad idea. Balancing it will be difficult. Movement will likely be restricted because of the camera, lens or battery hitting some part of the gimbal in certain movements. Most significantly, no matter how good shape you’re in and how buff your arms are, holding a heavy gimbal out and away from your body is a form of isometric weight load that nobody, regardless of their strength, can do for very long without shaking and straining their back, core and shoulders. It’s a bad idea all around. Yet a huge portion of shooters insist on trying to mount full-size RED camera rigs, C300 MKIIs and MKIIIs, Sony FS7s and even FX9s on a single-handed gimbal. Trust me, just don’t. If you need to mount a large and heavy camera rig on a gimbal, you need a much larger, heavier-duty gimbal that can mount to a vest and arm like a Steadicam-like system. Keep your one-handed gimbal to mirrorless and DSLRs type cameras. OK, rant over.
I Need A New Gimbal
I recently was on a shoot, attempting to grab some shots of a car engine being worked on. The car’s hood was up and two technicians were accessing and changing out parts of the engine. I was utilizing my Crane 2 with my Fujifilm X-T3 with the XF18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS LM lens, a pretty lightweight and small camera rig. In the middle of the shoot, the tilt motor on the gimbal gave out, allowing the camera to just flop down. The gimbal was still on and the other axis motors were still functioning, but the tilt motor just stopped working. On this shoot, I was counting on holding my gimbal above the technicians and getting a moving birds-eye view of the activity taking place under the car hood. This was a perfect situation to utilize the gimbal as there really wasn’t any other way to get the shot the client wanted. There were no ladders or rolling platforms to get the camera into the position needed. I own a jib arm, but the arm would have gotten in the way of the engine technicians to obtain the angle the client wanted.
I tried changing out the Crane 2s batteries for a freshly charged set. The tilt motor would work but then just stop working, allowing the camera to flop back to its balance point. I’ve owned and used the Crane 2 for about three years and it’s been great, especially with a small and light camera like the X-T3. A few months ago, I had a client who wanted to mount a Sony A7 SIII using the rather large and heavy Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8 lens via a Metabones adapter. I did the research and the combination was under the Crane 2s rated weight limit, but I discovered that the rig barely fit onto the mounting plate and was almost impossible to balance the rig with this camera and lens combination. This was a perfect illustration of just because you’re under the gimbals weight limit, that doesn’t mean that the gimbal will actually function and support a particular larger, heavier and longer rig.
It was obviously time to retire the Crane 2. I haven’t had luck in actually having many Chinese products like gimbals and lights repaired out of warranty. Sadly, they mostly seem to be somewhat disposable once your factory warranty runs out. Still, three years of use and income generation on a $500 gimbal isn’t bad. I researched the latest one handed gimbals and quickly narrowed my choices down to either the new DJI RS2 or the Zhiyun Crane 3s. Both seemed to have both advantages and disadvantages over the other. Both have been on the market for a while, so there are plenty of YouTube comparisons and shootouts and lots of well-written reviews of both. In the end, I decided to go with the DJI RS2 (the previous version was called the Ronin S, but for this new model, DJI shortened Ronin S2 to RS2. Confused yet?). The Crane 3s seems like it’s just as capable and has greater weight capacity, but it’s physically larger, heavier and bulkier than the DJI RS2.
Since I primarily utilize my small Fujifilm X-T3 as my gimbal camera and don’t want to mount my Canon C200 or C300 MKII, the extra weight capacity really wasn’t needed. The menus and interface on the Crane 3s also seem a bit primitive and harder to navigate than the slicker 1.4-inch touchscreen interface of the RS2. I ordered the RS2 Pro Kit and waited for delivery. The Pro Kit comes with the DJI Raven Eye—a small, wireless video receiver that has some neat tricks up its sleeve. More on this later.
DJI RS2 Pro Kit First Impressions
Unpacking the RS2 Pro Kit, I was struck by how organized DJI had made the handy nylon carrying case. The case is well organized with bespoke nylon pockets for each of the larger, bulkier attachments and accessories, with smaller, zippered pockets for the various cables and connections and the Raven Eye transmitter. When you’re on a real shoot, in the field and are under time and other pressures to get up and shooting as quickly as possible, organization goes a long way in reducing your stress.
Assembling the gimbal, I was struck by the sleek construction utilizing carbon fiber arms. I like the idea of carbon fiber for the arms, largely because on previous gimbals I’ve owned, the metal on metal of the various tie downs on the arms results in a difficult time performing the small adjustments necessary to balance a camera on the gimbal. The coated carbon fiber on the RS2 seemed to be a bit smoother and easier to perform micro adjustments with. To that same end, the camera tilt balance can be adjusted by a small, metal knurled knob, allowing easy micro adjustments on the camera tilt axis. Each axis arm has its own mechanical lock too, which makes balancing a breeze compared to other gimbals I’ve used. Nice work, DJI, you’ve lessened the pain of setting up and balancing, which is always a tedious but necessary part of setting up a gimbal.
Once you’re balanced and turn on the gimbal, you go into the top level page on the gimbal’s touchscreen interface and go to “Calibration.” Activating this setting allows the gimbal to fine-tune itself on each axis. Calibration only takes a few seconds but seemed to produce good results as it optimizes motor strength for the load each time you calibrate the gimbal. If you haven’t used a gimbal before, balance is everything. You can’t just slap your camera onto a plate, turn on the gimbal and start shooting without carefully balancing every axis. With the RS2, DJI has made this entire process much easier and quicker than any other gimbal I’ve owned, and I’ve owned five of them over the past few years.
DJI RS2 In Use
I found that the default settings for the follow function on both pans and tilts to be too responsive out of the box. I also found the joystick controls to be far too direct and responsive for my taste. While you can try to tweak and adjust these settings in the gimbal’s menu, I found it much simpler and quicker to download the DJI App and make the tweaks and adjustments on my phone. I highly recommend you do the same and then take screenshots of how you adjusted all of the controls and archive them. In the event that you’re on a shoot, boot up the gimbal and for some reason it defaults back to the stock settings, having a visual record of how you customized your settings could be crucial.
In general, I found that shooting with the DJI RS2 was quite easy and a pleasant user experience. The gimbal was heavier than my Crane 2 but not oppressively so. I ended up ordering two SmallRig accessory arms for the RS2. The DJI RS2 comes with an accessory arm to turn the gimbal into a two-handed rig, but the use of the included accessory arm requires you to use the included tripod as a handle. If you take off the tripod and are using it as a handle, this means that you can’t set down the rig anywhere until you unscrew the tripod you’re using as a handle and screw it back to the bottom of the gimbal. I think DJI should have included a separate handle for the extension handle, but they didn’t. So I ordered a SmallRig accessory second handle/arm and it works great. I also ordered an extension arm to mount my Atomos Ninja V and a microphone to the gimbal. The DJI RS2 features two special NATO mounting points on the right and left side of the main gimbal body, allowing for a wide variety of handles and other accessories to be attached. Nice touch.
I also like that DJI is making other base units that fit into the gimbal where the battery handle inserts into the body. This allows the RS2 to be used on car mounts, sliders and larger drones. I don’t know if I’ll ever need to use any of these mounting systems, but it’s reassuring to know that if that type of project comes up, I’m covered. Overall, I found that the DJI RS2 is smooth, responsive and fairly intuitive to use. I mainly bought the RS2 to simply shoot stabilized footage, but if you’re so inclined, the DJI RS2 offers a huge variety of Hyper Lapse, Time Lapse and remote follow modes that add visual variety to your shooting styles. That brings us to the Raven Eye.
What Is The Raven Eye System?
Raven Eye is a small video transmitter that attaches to the bottom of the RS2 underneath the camera plate. It has its own internal battery system. You basically run your camera’s HDMI output into the Raven Eye and the Raven Eye is able to interact with and even control the DJI RS2 via your mobile phone or tablet. The Raven Eye can even follow the orientation of your phone, allowing you to remotely obtain shots that would be difficult to shoot with you in the location physically. You can draw a box around a subject on your phone screen, and the Raven Eye and RS2 can track the subject as they move. Perfect for those presenters who like to roam the stage constantly while presenting. The Raven Eye also allows you to function as the gimbal “mover” with a second person remote operating the gimbal’s tilt, pan and roll remotely. It’s very slick and works well. If you’re buying the DJI RS2, definitely spend the money on the Pro Kit that comes with the Raven Eye.
Wrap Up On The DJI RS2
Overall, I was very impressed with the DJI RS2. It represents the current state of the art in one-handed gimbals in my opinion. I don’t have space to go into all of the finer points, but I anticipate that it will serve all of my gimbal needs for the next few years. It’s easy to use, nicely made and DJI has really listened to users’ requests and made numerous small touches that add up to a very satisfying user experience.