When you need a reliable, commercial grade multi-camera/lens 3 axis gimbal for handheld/aerial productions there is truly only one option under $5000, the Freefly Systems MōVI M5.
When an AV pilot goes professional, the stakes get high. Sure there are cheaper gimbal options that can work but the big question is, will those gimbals work every time? If the gimbal does fail, is there customer service and support available quickly and efficiently? This is a major concern because when a person goes professional, the equipment has to perform. If it fails, the client will be upset, the production could be put off schedule and the pilot will probably not get to work with that particular company again. So the big question is, would one trust their company’s reputation to an “Ebay special” 3-axis gimbal? Personally I would not. Especially when there is a reliable, convertible (handheld/aerial) solution that has the renowned Freefly Systems’ exceptional quality, customer service, and reliability a professional expects.
Out Of The Box
The Freefly Systems Mōvi M5 comes double boxed. An outer “throw away” box, and another custom fit box that can be used as a case until the owner decides to get a hard case for their M5. Upon opening the box the first thing that strikes the eyes is the beautiful carbon the M5 is made of. It is seriously the nicest carbon fiber I have ever seen. Taking the M5 out of the box for the first time, I immediately noticed the attention to detail Freefly Systems uses to produce the most professional 3-axis gimbal possible. Every wire is protected and secured. The motors are beautiful works of art. The entire gimbal has that “Apple computer” sleekness emanating from it. There is no question you are holding a quality piece of gear. Included with the M5 is pretty much everything you would need for basic operation. Two hex drivers, two 4S lipo batteries, a lipo battery charger, The rails to lock the camera into the M5, a tuning stand and basic instructions. There is a link to the Freefly Systems website to download a comprehensive manual. Let’s take a look at some unboxing pics.
The Freefly Systems Mōvi M5 is packed with some impressive but more importantly very usable features. Let’s take a look:
MAJESTIC MODE (PAN/TILT)
Patent pending Majestic Mode allows for a single operator to intuitively control the pointing of the gimbal by moving the handles without compromising the stabilization of the image. The gimbal takes the operator’s movements and intelligently converts them into stabilized pan and tilt movements. This allows for very low profile single operator setup and accurate framing in tight situations.
LIVE WIRELESS TUNING & GRAPHING
A next generation stabilized gimbal deserves a fast, intuitive and user friendly GUI (graphical user interface). The MōVI features a real-time bluetooth connection to the gimbal, which outputs all pertinent performance data and allows for live adjustment of any of the gimbal parameters.
REMOTE FIRMWARE UPDATABLE
The MōVI stabilized camera system is firmware updatable. When Freefly adds a new feature on Friday night, you can be shooting with it on Saturday morning. As the system is used in varying cinema applications, Freefly is constantly inventing new solutions for the rigors operators face in using the system to execute demanding shots.
Capturing on-camera audio is no problem with the MōVI, as the system is virtually silent. Because the entire motor / drive system was designed in-house, we were able to reduce the noise frequency signature of the gimbal to a virtually inaudible level.
CUSTOM DIRECT DRIVE MOTORS
High torque and lightweight are two attributes that don’t usually go together. When we started to design the MōVI system, we knew that no off-the-shelf motor could deliver the performance needed, while keeping the weight low enough to allow the system to be mobile, portable and agile. Drawing on years of brushless motor design experience, Freefly was able to create a remarkably lightweight motor that still has enough torque to handle larger camera packages.
USER ADJUSTABLE SHAKEY CAM
In some instances, camera movement / shake is a desirable aesthetic choice. The difficult part is quantifying the amount and type of ‘shake’ to effectively convey the emotion of the scene. The MōVI overcomes this limitation by allowing the user to define variable noise filters that mimic the user’s movements. Being able to control the level of ‘noise’ is highly useful, as it can be difficult for a human operator to accurately maintain a consistent level of camera movement, especially while keeping a compelling frame. With the patent pending MōVI noise filter, the camera operator can focus on framing and the MōVI takes care of the rest consistently and repeatably.
As an aerial videography guy, the handheld features of the M5 seemed attractive, but not all that important to me. Boy was I wrong. The hand held aspects of the M5 are straight up amazing. Suddely shots that I never though possible, are possible and quite easy to obtain. The ability of the M5 to steady moving walk up’s, swirls and other moving shots are mind blowing. I have become such a fan of the hand held 3-axis gimbal that I almost don’t want to fly the Movi M5 any more. (Unless I can buy another and keep one handheld at all times!) I now think of shooting video in completely different ways. Shall I ride my bike chasing my dog for a really cool shot? YES! Should I dust off my old roller blades and chase the local running team down the street? YES! Or should I get permission to skateboard through the local museum getting incredible shots of the displays. what ever you can drew up it’s all possible with the Movi M5! The Movi M5 can quickly light a creative fire in a persons mind. And the fact that the Freefly software/GUI is so easy to use, even a novice to 3-Axis gimbals can feel like a pro in a relatively shot amount of time and get great shots!
To mount and balance a camera and lens the operator no longer need tools! (Ok, you need a set of tools to mount the camera mounting rails to the camera,but they are included in the box, but after the rails are mounted the operator no longer needs tools) To balance the camera, simply un-latch the clasps and move the camera around until it balances out. The online instructions take the user step by step through the proper way to balance the camera. Following the directions will yield a very well stabilized camera even with the system off. Also, unlike the many Alexmos gimbals available, tuning the M5 to a new camera and lens takes just a few minutes. Freefly Systems has used a proprietary gimbal control board and software. So tuning the M5 is a very easy process. Once the operator picks an axis to tune, that axis is pulled up on the GUI and the “gain” is increased until that axis starts to buzz. Once the motor is buzzing, the operator simply backs down the numeric value by 5 – 7 numbers until the motor is silent and steady. That’s it. That axis now has a fairly good basic tune.
I have found that 90% of the time this quick simple tune is completely sufficient to yield great results! are working on numeric value until that axis starts to buzz. Once you hear a buzz you back down five or six points and that axis is 99% tuned! Doing this process three times yields a very nice functioning tuned gimbal! Yes folks, the days of spending 2+ days tuning your gimbal are over. And to make things even better Tabb from Freefly told me recently that a future version of the MOVI GUI will include auto tuning! That’s right, balance the camera, hit “tune” and go film! AMAZING!
Testing the Movi M5 in the handheld mode
This video I did for Flyinggiants.com’s Joe Nall coverage contains quite a few Movi M5 handheld shots. This was just three days after I received the M5. I hardly had any time to read the instructions let alone get used to the rig. I basically took it out of the box, balanced my camera, did the tuning procedure and went for it. And the M5 still performed amazingly well. The center of the video contains a golf cart ride that literally took 8 minutes and was sped up 16x. With most hand held shot this at this speed the shot would be an unwatchable mess. But with the M5 we can compress 2 miles down to 15 seconds!
Flying the Movi M5
Now this is why I desperately wanted the Movi M5 FLYING IT! I have been working with, tuning, re-tuning, re-working, rebuilding, rethinking Alexmos based two and three axis gimbals for the better part of two years now and honestly they have almost cost me to lose my mind. What makes sense for one gimbal does not work for the next. One board works one way, the next another. I’ve been looking for a professional, reliable gimbal that can take multiple cameras and lenses for quite some time. A gimbal that will not be out of usefulness once the next new mega 4K camera comes out. And the Freefly Systems M5 fits the bill! Since I first saw the M10 I knew I had to have one of their gimbals but at the $15,000 price point the M10 was completely out of my range. At $4999 the M5 is not cheap but when you purchase the M5 you know your are getting quality and that it will work. And considering that the M5 is made by the company who brought the world the Cinestar line of multi rotors, you can expect that flying this gimbal was part of the design process and not nearly an after thought.
To make the M5 flyable you have to purchase the $299 multi rotor conversion kit. This kit contains landing gear legs, a carbon pan tube, screws and the classic Cinestar gimbal mounting plate. (So any of you with HL upgraded Cinestar 8’s should be able to mount the M5 right up!)
Although a single operator could set up the M5 to fly in Majestic mode, the M5 is truly perfect for a two man operation. The smoothness of the M5 almost demands that it has it’s own camera operator. Freefly systems has made this very simple for anyone with a Spektrum or Futaba radio. Both systems work extremely well with the M5. I chose to use my Futaba Super 8. With one simple sBus connection, in about 5 minutes my M5 was properly set up and working. The tuning in aerial mode is the same as it is in handheld. Using your tablet you select “aerial mode” in the GUI, and then start tuning the M5. TIP: the entire rig must be off the ground to properly tune the pan axis. I highly recumbent suspending your machine from bungie cords from some rafters or a tree and then proceed to tune your 3 axis’. By suspending the machine, your tune will be a lot closer to what it should be when the rig will be flying in the air. Also, it’s impossible to tune the pan axis with the rig sitting on the ground so keep that in mind. Once again the Movi M5 proved to be very easily tunable, and the results of flying it were astonishing.
The Freefly Systems Movi M5 is not a cheap gimbal. But like the old saying goes, buy expensive and cry once, buy cheap and cry many times. You get what you pay for and what you are paying for with the M5 is perfection. The more I get familiar with the M5 the better and better it gets. Also Freefly Systems is not just leaving well enough alone, just this past week a new firmware wads released that AUTO TUNES the gimbal. YES, you simply hit “tune” and it does it for you. I could go on and on about how good the M5 is, but instead I’ll say the following. If you are in the position where your commercial work is held up by your current gimbal on occasions and you are looking for a solution that will work each and every time. A solution that can grow with your camera and lens choices or even with your clients needs, the M5 is your gimbal. Both the handheld and aerial aspects of the gimbal are flawless and produce beautiful footage. I hope to eventually purchase a send M5 so I can leave one in aerial mode and one in handheld mode at all times.
Congrats FreeFly, you have a serious winner.