What does it take to make a camera stand out? Some companies go for specs, some go for looks, some go for versatility. DJI went for all three with the Ronin 4D.
Build Quality and Design
The Ronin 4D combines a camera and a gimbal into one package. In doing so, DJI is able to make the rig more lightweight, better balanced, and offer improved stabilization and control. It’s constructed of carbon fiber and aluminum-magnesium alloy and overall with the DJI 35mm f/2.8 lens mounted, I found it to be an appropriate amount of weight to balance out stability with comfort.
Buttons and controls are laid out on the left side of the camera as well as on the monitor with the implied reason being the operator’s right hand will be holding the top handle. The Ronin also comes with left and right handgrips that feature controls on each. There is nothing cheap feeling about these buttons and scrub wheels, and DJI nailed the tactile experience throughout the camera. There are small, purposeful details found everywhere and it’s shocking that this is the company’s first go at anything of this style.
The monitor is a 5.5-inch, 1,920 by 1,080-pixel touchscreen display with 1,000 nits of brightness. It’s a perfect size for a gimbal where a big, rotatable screen is always helpful for monitoring but there needs to be a balance with how much weight it adds and just how much room it takes up. The picture quality looked good from my experience and it had the clarity to be able to discern subject sharpness by eyeballing it.
The touchscreen responsiveness was on point, even with gloves. I did some shooting with the Ronin 4D when the temperature was in the 20-degree Fahrenheit range and didn’t see any ghosting issues or sluggish behavior.
Capable of shooting in 6K ProRes RAW and ProRes 422HQ up to 60 frames per second and up to 120 frames per second in 4K, the Ronin 4D is no slouch in its video performance. At specific high frame rate thresholds, the camera will force a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
There are a couple of options available to deal with this, and considering this is a 6K-capable camera it’s actually not so bad. First, just use the “cinematic” 2.39:1 aspect if it suits the project. This is the simplest, most obvious option since no matter what is shot it will fit into any finished resolution. The other option is to shoot 6K for a 4K project, or 6K and 4K for a 2K project. The 2.39:1 aspect in 6K will fit into a more standard 16:9 aspect in 4K and still have some wiggle room for frame adjustment or cropping.
The Zenmuse X9-6K sports a full-frame sensor the company claims to have 14-plus stops of dynamic range with dual native ISOs of 800 and 5,000. Pushing the D-log color profiled files in editing reveals its strengths, and I can confirm natural gradations and the ability to save considerable information in the highlights and shadows.
As a gimbal-infused camera setup meant to be handheld more often than not, sensor readout speed and its rolling shutter effects can come into play as the sensor whips about. While I do see some bending of straight vertical lines, I need to be aggressive in order to make them appear and I found the results to be about on par with any other cinema-style camera I’ve used without a global shutter.
While there are many interesting components to the Ronin 4D, it’s the “4D” in the name that obviously DJI feels is a highlight. Most gimbals compensate for pitch, roll, and yaw, but it’s the Ronin 4D that can compensate for up and down movement (Z-axis) as well. This doesn’t have to be active all the time, and there’s a dedicated “4D” button on the side of the camera for easy toggling.
In my testing, the 4D compensation is remarkable. I’m not much of a gimbal operator myself and even I could make relatively smooth shots without really bringing my attention to stability. The video below was taken when I was simply walking around different terrain and specifically not trying to focus on getting super clean, stable shots. Behind the camera, I’m moving about casually with mostly one hand on the handle. I wanted to see if feasibly anyone could pick this camera up and go.
To my eye, plus knowing just how much I was hopping around the forest floor and rocks and whatnot, the stabilization was the real deal. I think to really clean up these shots, I’d fine-tune my panning settings in the camera’s menu, but otherwise, the actual 4D Z-axis movements were nullified.
With that in mind, I went a little more crazy and started running around with the camera. Now, I’m probably the goofiest looking runner you’ll find and still the footage looked smooth as can be. At the end of the sequence shown below, I took it to the final step and just started shaking the camera like a true maniac. There were three stages of low, medium, and high intensity shaking. Yes, you can finally see some shake in the clip, but on any other camera and gimbal system, the picture would be an absolute blur with nothing discernible in the frame.
Autofocus is another area where DJI took a unique approach. The Ronin 4D is equipped with a LiDAR system in a module that sits up near the lens and calculates the distance from a subject to the camera’s sensor.
In practice, autofocus was hit and miss. The worst part may be the implementation where it will jump very unnaturally to attain new focus. I didn’t find any menu setting available to get it to chill out for slower transitions. For non-human subjects like my dog or just walking around in scenery, the autofocus is unreliable and messy.
That said, the autofocus really shines when it comes to filming people. Whether I’m at the edge of the frame, far away, my back turned, walking all around, it doesn’t seem to matter and the Ronin 4D keeps the autofocus locked on. Something I wasn’t able to test was how it handles more than one person in the frame, and I wonder if it would be problematic with jumping around. I suspect so, or at least it is likely more difficult to get it to choose the right person to follow. You can drag a box around the subject to track on the touchscreen display, but from what I saw that only tells the gimbal what to follow and does not affect the autofocus targeting.
The LiDAR system benefits manual focus as well by reporting the distance information in a graphical display. By matching what the camera reports the focus distance of the lens is to the focus distance that the LiDAR is sensing, I have a very handy assistive feature. At the end of the sequence below, I’m using this depth metering option to try my best at keeping manual focus while watching a DJI High-Bright Remote Monitor.
A Stunning Display of Technological Craftsmanship
I know this camera isn’t going to be for everyone and isn’t designed to be, but I think it means something when I say that I wish everyone could try it out at some point because they will enjoy it for what it manages to accomplish.
That leads me to think about perspective. Say you’re looking to get your first camera rig and the Ronin 4D happens to check many of the boxes. I think for someone like that who gets used to this camera, going to any other camera system in the future is going to be annoying. For that situation, they’ll probably be losing more than they would gain in making the switch. On the flip side, the rest of us are probably looking at the Ronin 4D with our heads cocked because it doesn’t follow the rules of being a boxy cinema camera that we restlessly build upon.
Are There Alternatives?
The DJI Ronin 4D takes a completely new approach toward offering a full package of products designed from the start to compliment and work with each other. The alternative to this would be going the traditional route in buying everything independently — the camera, the gimbal, the five-inch monitor, and so on — and having a little more independence on the setup.
Honestly though, there isn’t a package deal that works this well together other than what DJI has here. It is, for now, truly unique. Even though it’s not cheap at $11,499, I have to think that anyone who attempts to build a similar system a la carte is going to find themselves spending at least that much and none of those parts will work together quite as well as what DJI has in the 4D.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. The DJI Ronin 4D is too unique and too well designed to look past. It’s not perfect in all areas all the time, but it’s a package deal and one that has no competitor right now. Even if there were, I have a hard time imagining any other company going as hard as DJI did for this one nor succeed nearly as well.