The gimbal stabilizer world has recently split into two groups. On the one hand, there are simple, lightweight gimbals made for small cameras like the Panasonic GH5 or Sony A7SII. And on the other hand, there are beefy gimbals for full size cameras like the Canon C100 and C300, Sony FS5 and FS7, Blackmagic URSA, and most professional DSLRs with standard lenses.
If you're using a small camera for your gimbal work, then you're in luck. There are many great manufacturers making gimbals for this consumer driven market, and whatever you get, you can typically take it out of the box and begin flying your camera on your video productions right away.
But if you want to use a "heavyweight" rig, or any camera/lens combo weighing over 4 lbs, your choices become a lot more limited. There's the Letus Helix Jr and Helix Standard, the Freefly Movi M5, M15, and now the Movi Pro, the DJI Ronin and Ronin M, and an assortment of knock offs that can be used with heavier cameras.
Then, once you decide on a heavyweight gimbal, you begin the journey of rigging it out, adding an external monitor, as well as diving into the science and art of balancing and PID tuning.
This can be a frustrating ordeal lasting weeks or months, and the community of support is severely lacking, mostly because this group of gimbal users is made up of professional operators, who are often too busy working jobs to find time to help the average videographer on the web.
At this point, many videographers might simply give up on using a bigger camera on a gimbal, and instead go the route of a small, mirrorless B-cam for their gimbal needs. But, if you've stuck it out, balanced your rig, tuned it to perfection, and then taken it out for a spin around the park, chances are you've come to this frightening realization:
Holding a gimbal for more than a few minutes at a time is really, really hard.
So what is the videographer to do?
An Easyrig will take all of the weight off your shoulder, arms and forearms, and direct it to your hips.
Trusted by many professionals around the world, Easyrigs are known to be good investments. But a Vario 5 goes for about $5,000.
The other issue with an Easyrig is that it is not meant to stabilize walking shots. In fact, it's known to emphasize the up and down motion of walking or running with a gimbal even more than when using a gimbal on its own.
Flowcine Serene and Puppeteer
The Serene is a two-axis spring arm stabilizer that goes on the end of the Easyrig. It counters both up and down motion, as well as side to side vibrations.
The Flowcine Puppeteer also attaches to the end of the Easyrig and smoothens out the roll and tilt axis. It can also work independently on a gimbal without an Easyrig.
Together, they make up an engineering marvel that eliminates unwanted motion on all 3 axis, even while running. But they also cost an additional $4,000 or so, in addition to the Easyrig, and your gimbal, and camera, etc.
Though there is a B&H bundle that combines the Vario, Serene, and Puppeteer for discount.
There are cheaper alternatives out there, such as Atlas Camera Support, or even DIY gimbal support backpacks that use fishing rods.
Many camera operators swear by the ReadyRig GS, which is fairly affordable at $2000.
But most of us aren't dedicated camera operators on sets. We are one or two person crews, on documentary and corporate shoots, who want gimbal footage for the occasional shot to add spice to an ordinary shoot.
And looking at these elaborate setups, you wonder if all of this is even worth it? Maybe you should just stick with a GH4 on a Helix Jr?
Finally, we have an alternative to the highly complex, bulky, and expensive systems out there that ease the weight of the gimbal. Letus has introduced the Exo17 - which will tentatively retail for $999.
We're lucky to have been loaned a preproduction model of the Letus Exo17, to test out before the design and manufacturing is finalized. Please be aware that this is a preproduction model and that the final version may see several changes.
Letus has designed the Exo17 in a way that makes it attractive for one or two person crews on the go. You can clip yourself into the vest without help from an assistant, and then you simply place your arms on the support cups and you're ready to go.
With a hex key, the arm rest cups can be adjusted vertically and horizontally, making it easy for different operators to make on the fly changes based on their body size and support preferences. The vest and hip harness can be adjusted with velcro.
On each arm of the Exo17 there is a tension spring that can be independently adjusted from zero tension all the way to up to supporting camera and gimbal rigs over 20 lbs. Adjusting the tension towards the plus side is a simple turn of a hex key, but if you want to loosen tension you may want assistance.
Like the Letus Helix and Helix Jr, simplicity of design and ease of use is something that Letus is striving for with their newest offering. Letus usually files patents for their products, which helps them stand out as innovators in the video production industry, while protecting their intellectual property.
Since this is a preproduction model - made in time for the NAB 2017 announcement - Letus still has more surprises in store. At some point, there may be a hands-free accessory that attaches to the Helix 4th axis bar, which would allow you to take your hands off your Helix Jr or Helix Standard while wearing the Exo17. Here's a 3D rendering of what that may look like.:
Letus Exo17 Gimbal Support for Helix Jr and canon c100
We had a short amount of time to play with the Letus Exo17 and our Helix Jr and Helix Standard. For a "heavyweight" rig, the Canon C100 on a Helix Jr is actually pretty lightweight. We keep the rigging simple, avoiding the use of an external monitor, and often we have the ultra lightweight Canon 10-18mm on the C100.
But while this camera/gimbal setup can be easy to hold for the few shots you might need on an average shoot, like any gimbal it does get tiring after a while. You may not notice it while shooting, but your arms and hands can start to shake and jitter when they're tired, and that can visibly show up in your footage.
How long is a long time with this rig? At the beginning of the day, we can usually hold this for a good 15-20 minutes without setting it down. But after lugging around gear and shooting for part of the day, we start noticing arm jitters during a 3-5 minute music performance.
So this is where the Letus Ex017 can be a huge help. You can keep your Helix Jr on for a long time, perhaps even walking around an event with it, without exhausting yourself and your energy. And the nice thing is you can take the Helix off any time to shoot without the Exo17, which makes shooting in briefcase mode a breeze, or when going for those high to low jib-like sweeping shots.
Wearing the Exo1 , we could comfortably hold this rig without sweat for much longer than we've been able to without a gimbal support. Along with our C300 handgrip modification, you could use this setup for all types of shoots, not just on commercial sets. And with the Canon 18-80mm compact servo, you could even control zoom with your right hand on the grip, along with toggling AF on/off, and adjusting aperture, ISO, and white balance.
This could be a very interesting combination, and we're looking forward to giving it a try when we have the Canon 18-80mm in our hands for a test shoot.
As with the C100 and Helix Jr setup, the other advantage to using the Exo17 with a heavier rig is that the overall footprint continues to be compact and not overly distracting. So if you're a documentary or wedding shooter who has avoided the Easyrig for fear of intimidating your subjects (or taking attention away from the bride), then the Exo17 could be a great solution for you.
When we first laid eyes on the Letus Exo17, we were thrilled that somebody had finally developed an alternative to the bulky, complicated, and expensive Easyrig or Easyrig alternative gimbal support system. With the Exo17, you could actually use it inside of a small car, or in small spaces, without feeling like an oversized cyborg.
And it's especially important to note that the Exo17 is intended to be used with any gimbal, not just the Letus Helix line. In fact, positioning the armrest cups so that they sit under the upper arm allows you to hold the gimbal out in precisely the way you would hold a Ronin, for example. So, this could be a breakthrough product for Letus in that they're targeting users outside of their current customers.
The thing we're waiting to see is how the final design changes the overall comfort of the Exo17. Right now there's a placeholder comfort pad on the inside of the main front unit, but the final design should incorporate better padding in the front, and more support around the hips as well as the shoulder area.
But no matter how much padding they add, you still have to be aware that this won't suddenly make carrying a 20lb gimbal effortless. You're taking the pressure off the wrists and forearms, and relocating the weight to your shoulders and back. This will keep you from getting overly exhausted and shaky while shooting, but with a heavy rig, you will probably still hurt a little when you get home. Also keep in mind the Exo17 itself weighs nearly 8 lbs, adding to your camera and gimbal weight.
Lastly, a word on the spring arms. Letus has designed the Exo17 to not only support your gimbal, but also to mitigate the up and down motion as you're walking. Theoretically, the springs should work their magic by countering your arm's motion as you move forward and up and down. That may be the case to some extent, and we're eager to try it out on a real shoot, but truthfully there's no magic elixir to fixing up and down motion. Nothing will replace good ninja walking skills when using camera stabilizers.
But as a gimbal support unit by itself, the Exo17 is really promising. And with the hands-free unit coming down the way, this could end up being the big thing that rocks the gimbal world this year. So maybe, just maybe, you could finally use a gimbal with your C100 or C300, FS5 or FS7, or your big DSLR, without having to hit the gym every day.