By Gabe Strong - G-Force Productions Digital Cinema
First off, just to be clear, I am not being paid for this review. I did not receive the gimbal for free as some reviewers do. I paid the same price as anyone else that buys this gimbal (you can find it from $529-$599 on Amazon.) So Accsoon is not influencing me in any way. I'm just giving my honest opinions on the gimbal. With that out of the way....let's get on to the review!
I'm going to be like that annoying neighbor and blame drones. But unlike him, I have a reason outside the usual "someone must be spying on me.....stupid drones."
You see, drones have been so popular with filmmakers not only because of their ability to get aerial views that were previously impossible or cost prohibitive (a Tyler mount and helicopter rental were the 'old school' options), but also because of the silky smooth footage that they gave you. It was like your camera was gliding on tracks.
This smooth footage is directly attributable to the 3-axis gimbal that holds the camera on the drone. In fact, older drones which did NOT have gimbals, honestly gave you pretty crap footage. It was only once the 3-axis gimbal was introduced onto a drone, that their popularity 'soared'.
No gimbal? Jello footage with extra wobble!
It didn't take long for companies to introduce a handheld version. The Movi M10 by Freefly was the first one I am aware of, and it was pretty expensive ($14,995 when introduced.) But as is usually the case with technology, before long, competing companies were everywhere and now handheld gimbals are 'the' accessory to have, well, right after you buy a drone anyways.
Most filmmakers and video companies have not only a drone, but some sort of a handheld gimbal. Also, as mirrorless cameras became even better (Sony A7III, Panasonic GH5, BlackMagic Pocket Cinema camera, and many others), single handed 'pistol grip' style 3-axis gimbals were introduced to work with these smaller cameras.
Now some of you may have been working in video long enough to remember the Merlin Steadicam. This system used counterweights to try and deliver a mini 'Steadicam look.' My main issue with this older system was the 'pendulum' effect you'd get, as it was just too 'touchy'. It was almost impossible to keep a level horizon.....especially when going around a corner.
This was sort of the 'forerunner' for the modern single handed 'pistol grip' gimbals for small cameras. I found this old B&H video promoting the Merlin - it's interesting as it really shows you how good the tech is in these new 3-axis gimbals.
Can you spot the rare sighting of a level horizon?
One newer gimbal which has been drawing a lot of attention is the Ronin-S. It is made by DJI who draws on their obvious experience creating gimbals for drones and earlier two-handed gimbals like the Ronin-M. The Ronin-S, however, is one of the 'pistol grip' style one-handed gimbals.
These one handed gimbals are similar to the Merlin, except instead of using weights to counterbalance the camera, there are three motors doing the 'heavy lifting'. One reason the Ronin-S received so much attention was that it put the back motor lower than the standard single-handed gimbal, so as not to block the view of the screen on a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
But DJI is far from the only company to do this. Some of the other gimbals which also have the angled back motor are: the Pilotfly 45, Nebula Slant, the Ikan Pivot, Ikan DS2-A Beholder, the Feiyutech A4000, and the Accsoon A1-S.
This feature is really nice though, because not only does this give you an unobstructed view of the camera's screen (for cameras where the screen cannot flip out to the side), but it also allows you to balance more camera and lens combinations, since you can slide the camera back farther, without the possibility of the camera hitting the back motor.
Another feature of the Ronin-S is a screw-in tripod on the base of the gimbal, so that you can balance it (or take a break from holding the gimbal) pretty much anywhere. The Accsoon A1-S also has one of these tripods.
Looking for a DJI Ronin-S Alternative
Recently, I was able to mess around with a Ronin-S on a shoot I was working on with another company and it seemed to work really well with the GH5 camera that they were using. The only real downside to the Ronin-S that I noticed was that it was a fairly heavy rig......and especially with one handed gimbals, it's nice to have as light of a rig as possible.
So when I began to look for a gimbal for my company, I wanted something like the Ronin-S with all or most of its features.....only I also wanted the gimbal to be lighter than the Ronin S!
The camera I was planning to use as my 'gimbal camera' was a Sony A6500. The A6500 does not have a flip out screen, it can only tilt up and down, so it's fairly important to have the angled motor so that you can view your screen while filming. Other features of the Ronin, like its hefty payload, the included tripod, and the 'Inception' or 'Infinite Roll' mode (which allows you to rotate 360 degrees) are also really nice.
Honestly, I really liked the Ronin S, except for the weight. Call me shallow, I wanted something as close to the Ronin-S as possible, but much lighter!
Accsoon A1-S Gimbal
As I did my research I came across the Accsoon A1-S gimbal. It has the angled motor. It can hold cameras up to 3.6kg or around 7.9 pounds. It has the screw-in tripod on the bottom so you can balance it anywhere. Battery life claims to be 12-15 hours. No tools needed to setup your camera. All the features of the Ronin-S.
But, it is significantly lighter than the Ronin-S. As a bonus, it can also control the zoom of any Sony power zoom lens from the handle of the gimbal......perfect for walking forward while zooming out or vice versa to get that 'dolly zoom' effect. Ok, that might be a stretch, but for quick B-roll shots it's nice to be able to change focal lengths on your lens.
With the Sony 18-105mm PZ lens it will also kick in the 'clear zoom' function, giving you a total zoom range of 18-210mm using the zoom controller on the gimbal. And since the zoom is internal, the gimbal easily compensates for any small weight distribution change, allowing you to use the zoom at any focal length while on the gimbal, without having to rebalance when you change the zoom.
Total cost for this gimbal is $599, or $100 cheaper than the Ronin-S (although I have seen it on Amazon since I bought it for even cheaper, at $529.) I took the plunge...and hit 'order.'
Balancing the Accsoon A1-S Gimbal
When I received my gimbal, I quickly opened it up, and balanced it as best as I could. Then I turned on the gimbal. A blue light came on indicating it was in 'standby' mode, but the motors did NOT turn on (for your info, the blinking green light indicates the battery status....the more blinks of the green light, the more power left on the battery.)
The blinking blue light is the one that indicates which mode you are in......pan follow, follow, lock mode, 'Inception' mode, etc..... I tried switching modes, turning it off and on again, moving the joystick, recharging the batteries, literally everything I could think of. Nothing changed, the gimbal would not turn on and I just got the 'blue light of doom'.
Here is a video showing you exactly what this looked like. Note, the camera is balanced, but that is due to me balancing the three axis - the motors are not on and never come on.
Ater waiting impatiently for the gimbal to arrive... and when I got it, it didn't work!
This is the exact situation that people dread. You went ahead and bought something from an unknown company and now you need support.
My first problem was finding out how to contact them. I had bought the gimbal through Amazon so I went back to Amazon and found an 'email the manufacturer a question' type button which I used to send an email. Within 15 minutes, I had a reply in my email box directing me to their Facebook page where I could open a DM (direct message) to chat with tech support.
Now, I will note that due to the time difference between Alaska and Hong Kong, I usually had to initiate contact around 11 at night and stay up a couple hours to work through some things. It was also a week-long holiday in Hong Kong. Allowing for all that, plus the probability of English being the 2nd language of the person who was helping me, I felt pretty good about the speed with which they helped me.
They had to email me a program to run on my computer while hooked up to the gimbal, but the program wouldn't run so they ended up having to email me drivers as well. Unfortunately it was a Windows only program and I'm a Mac shop, so I had to borrow my wife's laptop.
This whole process took a couple days, but eventually the problem was diagnosed as non functioning motors. As soon as that diagnosis was made, a new gimbal was shipped off to me. I really have to say, Accsoon showed that they are going to take care of their customers if there is a problem. To me, that is a very important quality for a business to have.
I don't expect perfection and I understand mistakes can be made. But it's how you deal with those mistakes and take care of your customers that is important. Accsoon gets high marks from me for understanding this!
After receiving the new gimbal, I charged the batteries and started it up. This time everything worked perfectly.
Accsoon Smartphone App
I found there is also an app on your phone which allows you to control the gimbal. It has a variety of settings. One of the first things you can do is check the balance and see how good of a job you have done.....the better balance you have achieved, the less work the motors have to do.
The app also allows you to use motion time-lapse, motion control, panorama and ultra wide modes. You set the position of the camera, enter a keyframe and then move the camera to its next position, set another keyframe, and repeat until you have your 'motion path' set.
You can program it for how long it takes to move from one keyframe to another, and if using the motion time-lapse, how often it will take a picture....1 frame per second, 1 frame every 5 seconds, etc....
The app really works well and you can also control the motion of the gimbal from a virtual 'joystick' on your phone, in the same way that you control it from the built in joystick. This might be useful if you were doing two camera interviews and you were manning the other camera, for example.
Accsoon A1-S Gimbal Demo Footage
Unfortunately during the time between getting the nonfunctioning one and getting the functioning one, I had injured my right hand and arm. But hey, it's a one handed gimbal after all, so I decided to shoot some example footage using my left hand.
So please note, I am not an experienced gimbal operator and this was actually my first time ever using a gimbal... (although I used to shoot with my Merlin a decent amount so I know some of the shooting techniques), and this is using my left hand.
I know that slow motion footage isn't nearly as useful when watching test footage but I had to use a little as it just looks so cool! Don't worry, there is plenty of regular 24p footage in the video. As a matter of fact, there is probably so much example footage that you will be insanely bored before the end of the video.
Finally, a quick word about gimbals. You may notice a little bit of vertical 'bobbing' movement in this footage. This is not a criticism of the Accsoon A1-S gimbal but rather something that is common to ALL 3-axis gimbals.
The gimbal is correcting for the pan, tilt and roll axis but it cannot correct for the 'bobbing' motion that occurs when you walk. Thus, you must learn the 'ninja walk,' sometimes called 'heel/toe,' or you must use your arm as a 'spring like' stabilizer to take out any up or down motion.
There are also accessories out there with springs built in, which claim to help get rid of this bobbing motion. The good thing is, the more you use the gimbal, the better you get at removing this motion. When you first try the gimbal, you may be disappointed in your footage because of this 'bobbing.' Don't worry, keep working on it and you will get better. Trust me, I've only used it a couple times and I already see the footage looking better and better each time I use it.
Enough with that....here's what you want to see!
Accsoon A1-S footage
PROs of the Accsoon A1-S Gimbal
- Fairly light gimbal (around 2 pounds) especially compared to the Ronin-S.
- Slanted back motor gives you view of your screen and allows you to mount more camera/lens options.
- 3.6kg (7.9 pound) payload gives you a lot of options as far as cameras and lenses you wish to use.
- Strong motors (same payload as the Ronin-S!) means that you don't get 'micro jitters.' This also allows you to touch the camera without making the gimbal 'panic.' For example, you can use the touch screen focus on the back LCD panel of the Sony A6500 and the gimbal doesn't care at all that you are touching the camera.
- Very good battery life.
- Tool less adjustments for everything.
- Built-in tripod lets you balance the gimbal anywhere. This also gives you an extended handgrip when you fold the tripod legs in, so you can operate using both hands for extra support.
- Easy operation.
- Great app gives you motion timelapse ability with multiple keyframeable points, panorama mode, ultra wide angle, and motion control modes, a virtual joystick to control the gimbal remotely, the ability to adjust parameters for smoothness or strength of motors, a 'balance indicator' screen which shows you how close you are on your initial 'balance' and an 'auto tune' setting to set the motors for the payload which you have put on the gimbal. It also has an 'update' screen allowing you to update firmware on the gimbal through the wireless bluetooth connection to the phone and app.
- You can start and stop recording from the gimbal handle, as well as move it with the joystick if you are in 'all lock' mode. In a normal 'follow' mode it will follow your hand movements as you pan and tilt the camera. You also have a 'zoom' setting which allows you to control Sony power zoom lenses. On my Sony G 18-105mm power zoom lens, it also would allow you to keep zooming into 'clear zoom' territory and so you'd get an 18-210mm zoom with the zoom control on the gimbal handle. This is great when you are 'run and gun' shooting B-roll which is exactly where this gimbal would excel with its light weight.
- 360 movement on all axis allow you to go into 'underslung' or 'flashlight' mode without stopping and resetting the gimbal. In fact you can start in 'underslung' mode and 'crane up' without pausing, to give you a fake 'crane' shot.
- Battery and SD card door is unobstructed so you can change batteries and cards without taking the camera off the gimbal.
- Nice included carrying case. Packs up pretty small, would be a great travel gimbal.
- Support when something goes wrong with the gimbal was actually quite good.
- Buttery smooth footage looks fantastic!
CONS of the Accsoon A1-S Gimbal
- You cannot power the camera off of the gimbal battery. Some gimbals allow you to do this, which is very nice when using mirrorless cameras that eat through the batteries.
- Handle is aluminum without some sort of rubber 'handgrip' or otherwise contoured to your hand (reminds me of a 'Mag light' flashlight handle). It works fine but a handgrip might be nice....
- Zoom control seems to be backward (push towards T to go wider and push towards W to get tighter). At least with my Sony A6500 and 18-105mm Sony G power zoom lens.
- Ronin-S and some others have a 'trigger' which allows you to pull it to make the gimbal go into 'lock all' mode. When you release the trigger it goes back into 'follow' mode where the gimbal will follow your pans and tilts. This can be nice as it allows you to get some 'combo' shots where part of the shot is locked off like a slider or crane shot, but part of it follows your movements. Trying to switch modes from 'lock off' mode to 'follow' mode doesn't really work to do this.
- The buttons and joystick are the only parts on the gimbal made of plastic. Everything else is metal or aluminum. But the buttons and joystick are pretty important (the ability to switch modes or turn the gimbal on and off.)
- No screen or easy way to tell which mode you are in. You have to remember which color light corresponds to which mode.
So a final word on gimbals. I found that when I was first flying my drone that I needed to set every setting on the gimbal to be very slow and smooth. Then I needed to slow the heck down! I wasn't trying to race the drone, and I found that for most purposes, less was more.
In other words, if you move too fast, the footage doesn't look as nice. You often get a 'jerky' gimbal shot in there as you start to lose framing on the shot and have to correct and reframe the shot.
It is hard to correct a shot when you are rapidly losing framing without making the gimbal 'jerk' a little. This is one reason that slower and smoother is the way to get much more 'cinematic' looking footage. It allows you to be slow and smooth with your gimbal movements as well. And when using the Accsoon, I basically need to learn to slow the heck down!
Unless you are doing a 'tracking' shot where you are following a walking subject, you will almost certainly want to move slower than you think you should. Most camera movement that we see in the movies are fairly subtle (this is discounting chase scenes and such.)
This is one reason that sliders were and are popular. Even a 24 inch slider can give you enough travel to make a shot look cinematic. And it is easy to keep a slider shot nice and slow. You really have to work at it with gimbal shots as you sort of 'default' to whatever your walking pace is. And your walking pace is almost certainly too fast for many things. Test a variety of speeds, but if you are not trying to 'keep pace' with a faster moving subject, the slower speeds seem to work better.
Any questions, let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.
Gabe Strong owns and operates G-Force Productions Digital Cinema, based in Alaska's capital city.
(For all readers of the Chicago Tribune, Alaska's 'actual' capital city is Juneau as opposed to Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, which is where a recent, (Nov. 30, 2018) decent sized earthquake caused some embarrassment for different media outlets from the lower 48.)
He has created work for various media outlets and other clients including American Eagle, Al Roker Entertainment, Disney Channel, Good Morning America, CNN, National Endowment for the Arts, and many others.
He has 'never' taken the advice of various other media outlets and driven Minnesota Drive 'north to Alaska' and then 'south to the Aleutian Islands.'
Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org