Despite my inability to operate a Steadicam well, compounded by the motor shake I induce with every one-handed, cell-phone-type motorized gimbal I've tried so far, once built and set up, the Freefly MōVI Pro Handheld Bundle allowed me to make smooth and cinematic camera moves in a reasonable amount of time.
Although there is a mode for a single operator, ideally this motorized stabilization system works best as a two-operator unit, with one operator providing the motive power, and the second operator controlling pan/tilt/and roll wirelessly. So, I enlisted the aid of a Brooklyn College film student, Sukhdeep Sing, to assist me. I expected the unit to be heavy, and I'm not as spry as I used to be, so I planned on having Sing do all the lifting while I used the wireless remote control as I reclined comfortably in a chaise lounge. As it turns out, the MōVI Pro was far lighter and easier to carry than I expected. Plus, with the feet mounted, it was easy enough to find a flat piece of ground on which to set it down between takes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The MōVI Pro Handheld Bundle comes in a large box containing the three main components: The MIMIC, which is the remote control, the gimbal stabilizer, and the MōVI Ring Pro, which is a carbon fiber ring to which the gimbal attaches. The ring serves as both a stand and the handgrip by which you hold the system. Please note: there is some assembly required—very little, in fact—but you do want to assemble the items correctly. This leads us to the most boring part of the gear: the owner’s manual. READ IT. It seems daunting, but it isn't that big of a deal, and the diagrams will certainly help you be sure you've put it together correctly. For example, the support feet should be mounted on the ring so that the ring leans forward about 4 degrees when set on a flat surface. This is something that isn't obvious unless you read through the manual.
Once you've attached the support feet to the ring, the 3-axis stabilizer mounts very simply. I want to point out that although there is no physical key way, you want to mount the stabilizer so the release buttons are perpendicular to the ring; otherwise when you power it on, the stabilizer will tend to point the camera toward the support ring and not forward into a clear shot. Not a big deal, because you are going to be controlling the angle at which the camera points during a shot anyway, but it is better for stability when you place it down on a flat surface between takes.
I want to jump ahead and discuss the MIMIC, which is the remote-control system included with the MōVI Pro. Although the original MōVI systems were originally designed to work with RC-like remotes, and you can use select RC remotes to control the MōVI Pro, the beauty of the system is that you can just hold on to the handlebars, pan, tilt, and roll them, and the camera in the gimbal will follow your motions. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but it is much simpler than trying to control multiple axes by joystick. Maybe you are great at using joystick remotes, but I am not, and having this intuitive way of controlling the camera gives me tremendous confidence and comfort while shooting. One caveat to the MIMIC is that it is an extremely powerful 2.4GHz transmitter, and if you get it too close to the MōVI Pro, it will overwhelm the receiver and start making the motors twitch violently. I accidentally “tested” this several times, and can confirm that it does happen—and it is quite unnerving. The simple solution is to keep the MIMIC Controller at least three feet away from the gimbal-stabilizer.
Let’s get back to the gimbal-stabilizer system, which features two battery mounts, the electronic control panel, and pre-wired electronic control ports and power outlets—all of which keep the design simple, clean, and less likely to snag a cable and ruin a shot. The electronic ports allow you to attach an optional, as in not included, FIZ (focus, iris, zoom) lens control motors. Of course, if you already have your own FIZ system, or even just a wireless focus control, you can use that instead. After you've mounted the gimbal to the Ring, and locked the safety, just mount your camera, balance and go. The C-300 I had planned on using wasn't available, so instead I went with a Sony A6300 and a Veydra 25mm lens. The MōVI Pro supports camera packages up to 15 pounds, and the manual has recommended cabling guides for the RED EPIC and SCARLET, Alexa Mini, Canon C-series, Sony F5/F55, and Blackmagic Design Cinema camera, so I was sure that I would be within the weight limit.
The MōVI Pro offers two points of contact for mounting your camera, one of which is an included accessory shoe mount that attaches to the hot shoe of the camera. The second is the included baseplate that slides into the camera support/electronic platform. I felt most comfortable with this since I was also working with a Cinegears wireless follow focus system, which is not the smallest or lightest out there.
The MōVI Pro comes with a plethora of mounting screws and three different length 15mm carbon fiber rods, as well as a rod bracket that attaches directly to the included camera plate. My combination of camera and lens required a quick trip to my AKS kit (All Kinds of Stuff) for some spacers and a longer 1/4"-20 mounting screw to mount the camera on the camera plate. This is to be expected because the lens center to bottom of camera height of the A6300 matches a still camera design and doesn't follow the cine standard. Once I had camera, lens, and follow focus motor mounted, it was a simple matter of balancing the setup and powering up the rig.
One of the pleasant surprises of the MōVI Pro is that it comes set up with simple defaults that get you up and going fast, so you don't need to tweak every electronic parameter to start shooting. But as you get more advanced, and start making more complex moves, there are parameters you can adjust to tune the rig. But, since I am a beginner, I stayed with the default settings and navigated to the autotune setting and let it do its thing. This is noisy, and I'm guessing that it is tweaking the motor parameters based on the default autotune setting of 70. It takes a few moments, but once finished, you can pick up the rig and as you move the stabilizer does its job, and is dead quiet, if a soundman isn't pointing a microphone at it—those people can hear a fly buzzing ten miles away.
Another useful screen on the MōVI is the balance screen, which shows you just how close to balance you are. You want to be as close as possible to dead center, because the farther away you are from center, the harder the motors are working, which will eat up more battery. Another adjustment is for motor stiffness settings that allow you to tweak the holding power of the motors, which affect how well it handles and smooths out jolts. The better you get with the MōVI Pro, I suspect the more you will adjust these features. By the way, adjustments can be made from the back screen on the stabilizer itself, on the MIMIC controller, or from a free downloadable MōVI Pro app for iOS or Android, make sure you download the MōVI Pro app, and not the MōVI app. For you drone pilots, there is another configuration of the MōVI Pro, the MōVI Pro Aerial Bundle, which allows you to mount the MōVI Pro on a Freefly ALTA drone.
I enjoyed working with the Freefly MōVI Pro, both as part of a two-person team, or even by myself when I put it in majestic mode and could control the tilt and pan axis by my movements, well, influence the tilt and pan might be a better term. When operating via the MIMIC controller, it was simple and intuitive, although I do recommend a wireless monitoring solution when using the MIMIC, and the handlebar type grip even has a built-in 1/4"-20 mounting stud. In two-person operating mode, it really was lightweight and easy to fly, which gave me a great range of motion. In either operating position, using the MIMIC controller or carrying the camera and stabilizer, I could quickly achieve smooth cinematic camera moves that were very intuitive and dare I say, enjoyable to create.