First Look: DJI Ronin RS3 Combo

It seems everyone wants / needs a gimbal these days and so the various manufacturers are all bringing out new models of their fare almost weekly.

From the smallest smartphone to cameras like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Pro 6K, there is a suitable gimbal from any number of manufacturers such as DJI, Zhiyun and Feyutech.

However, the first thing you need to ask, is do you need one? I have come across some comments in various newsgroups that seem to infer if you have one, all your worldly video problems will be solved.

But no, the reality is that gimbals do have their limitations, and in some situations, the traditional dollies and jibs etc still are a better solution. I don’t expect I will be switching back to my Steady Stick (ostensibly a pole with a weight on the bottom and a Manfrotto head on the top) any time soon, but my CameraGrip jib still has its uses.

DJI RS3

One of the major players in the gimbal marketplace is DJI and the company recently released its RS3 model of which there are 3 players – the base RS3, the RS3 Combo and the RS3 Pro. For this review I have the RS3 Pro configuration which is the same as the basic RS3 except for the inclusion of an extra handle (for the so-called “briefcase” mode), a focus motor and a bag.

The RS3 Pro on the other hand increases the gimbal’s capacity (weight of camera it can handle) from 3Kg to 4.5Kg and has longer arms for physically larger cameras. Finally an optional LiDAR rangefinder system allows for more accurate focussing and is similar to that on the radical Ronin 4D.

Assembly

Assembling the RS3 from the case is a 2-minute job, if that. The tripod legs are expanded, the main column (which contains the battery) screwed on and tightened and then the gimbal slotted into this. Finally, the base plate is added and the quick release plate attached to your camera which is slid into position on the arm and locked.

Balancing

As with any gimbal, the first thing you need to master is the balancing sequence.

If you have never used a gimbal before, this is a procedure you must go through every time you add a camera to a gimbal. The procedure involves sliding each of the x, y and z axis arms into a position so that when all the arms are unlocked, the camera will sit in any position without moving.

A new feature is a small cog wheel on the base plate allowing fine tuning of that axis’ balancing.

The first time you do it, it seems quite daunting – and can be downright frustrating! There are a number of online videos that will help and the one I used is shown below. Helpfully, it takes you through each step in the right order, and I promise, for first time users will save you a LOT of time.

One nice thing with the DJI RS3 is that once you have camera balanced, you can take it off and replace without a rebalancing procedure due to the clever quick release plate used.

Note that if you change any aspect of the camera, such as changing lenses, adding anything to the body etc or of course, switching to a different camera, you will need to re-balance.

After balance, an auto-tuning option on the touch-screen LCD is selected so that the RS3 can apply the correction tension on to each motor in the arms, dependent on the camera weight. It will also check on the balance and if not within parameters alert you to do a manual re-balance.

After the second or third time, you should be able to perform the balancing procedure in minutes.

Another nice feature of the RS3 is that when you power it off, the arms will automatically swing into the locked position and lock for travel. A side benefit of this is that when you power the unit on, it will reverse this process meaning that you can never forget to unlock an arm.

Controls

At the heart of the RS3 is a colour touch screen LCD.

At the top of the LCD, as you can either connect the RS3 to a camera via Bluetooth (when supported by the camera) or USB-C cable, a second icon on the touch screen is for Camera status.  A battery level is also displayed here (a full charge takes around 2.5 hours, and you can get up to 12 hours usage from the RS3 depending on what features and functions are used)

In the main icon list you can choose one the various modes in which to place the RS3 such as Pan Follow, Pan Tilt Follow and FPV which lets the gimbal pan, roll and tilt, as well as the speed of follow (fast / medium / slow / custom). A camera icon, when green, shows the gimbal is balanced, but if there is an error, a slight imbalance will turn this yellow and a critical one turns it red.

The axes which are unbalanced can then be displayed to allow for correction. A quick check on-the-fly can be performed by tilting the whole gimbal 15 degrees and then checking this icon.

If you swipe upwards on the LCD screen, a second page has settings for the joystick speed and smoothness, changing the front dial functions (focus motor, zoom, ISO, aperture, shutter speed etc for cameras that are compatible), dial speed and smoothness and whether to reverse the dial functionality.

The button labelled M can be set to screen lock or photo capture from this page as well.

Swiping upwards from the main menu gives further configuration options for screen lock, Bluetooth connectivity and Silent mode and a whole bunch of system settings for calibration, auto checks, mode settings and more.

Below the LCD screen is a physical joystick to control pan and tilt and a slider on the side above the power button physically mimics the Pan settings on the LCD main menu.

Of course, no self-respecting device these days operates without the addition of an app, and so it is with the DJI Ronin family that includes the RS3. The DJI Ronin app (Android and iOS) has a duplication of all these commands and more.

Operation Modes

The way the DJI RS3 is built, in addition to the “Briefcase handle” supplied with the Combo kit (but not the base RS3) allows you to operate the unit in several different ways depending on the required circumstances.

The most obvious of course is the “Upright” mode where the gimbal is just held vertically. “Flashlight” mode places the gimbal at 90 degrees to the horizontal with the camera pointing straight ahead. “Briefcase” mode is similar, but the addition of the handle makes it more comfortable to operate in this way as you are in a two-handed operation and not single handed.

Finally, “Underslung” mode has the camera hanging below the gimbal which again is held vertically.

Take note by the way, the DJI RS3 is NOT waterproof or water resistant.

The DJI RS3 Combo costs $999. The base RS3 is $799 and the RS3 Pro is $1299 (pre-order) and RS4 Pro Combo $1599

Afternote:

I was going to include some initial footage shot using the RS3, but the current camera I have that is supposed to be 100% compatible is not behaving. I am awaiting info on whether there is a firmware upgrade for either, as in both cases, supposed menu items are missing to allow the correct setup.

Stay tuned

Balancing Tutorial:

 

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