Handheld gimbals to stabilize your video recordings seem to be gaining popularity by the minute. The days of paying a stranger $25 to cut a custom stabilizer from a meter of aluminum pipe are far behind me, and it's a welcome sign that there are now gimbals to mount a smartphone, action camera, small or mid-sized camera, large rigs for heavy pro cameras, and there are even gimbals that come with integrated cameras. Since we've got a couple of small, mirrorless camera owners around our office, I decided to take a look at the new Moza AirCross 2 3-axis handheld gimbal to find out how easy (or difficult) it is to set up and get started.
Setup, Balance, and Power On
The basic AirCross 2 model includes multiple camera control cables, a lens support, an L-bracket, a mini tripod, and a quick-release plate, which is pretty much what you need to get started. The gimbal comes in a custom-cut foam case with a handle, which is convenient for carrying the gimbal around, especially if you'd rather not buy a new case right away. The case is rather rigid, and I worried about breaking something because the slots are so tight it is hard to insert and remove the components easily.
If you're like me, I like to jump right in and do a blind setup to see how intuitive a product is without first reading up. But since each gimbal manufacturer can have a variety of custom designs and quirks, and motors can be finicky, I decided that I'd first peruse Moza's, setup info and documentation. This was mainly for operation instructions, but I also wanted to make sure I had all the components I needed. While the AirCross 2 can balance any camera rig up to 7 lb, it only supports a limited number of camera models if you want to use the camera control function, so I made sure to procure a compatible camera, the Sony a7 III. The supported cameras are listed on the back of the box and it is helpful to peruse the Moza website, as well. Moza has posted some handy YouTube videos to help you set up your gimbal, if you need additional visuals.
The first step was to balance the camera without powering on the gimbal—note that the gimbal will not turn on properly unless it is properly balanced. I made sure the battery was charged with the USB Type-C cable, installed the L-bracket and the camera plate base, affixed the camera plate to the camera, and mounted the gimbal on its mini tripod. The three axes each have locks, which should be in locked position prior to balancing. If you haven't configured a gimbal before, it helps to follow what the photo on the box looks like, because gimbals tend to fold every which way when they are packed up. Once the camera was mounted on the L-bracket, as each gimbal axis was unlocked I moved each balance slider back and forth until the camera was balanced in place. The sliders are a bit tight, so it may take some elbow grease to get just the right position. Initially I tried the heavier Sony FE 2.8 24-70 GM zoom lens, which took some time and fine adjustment to get perfectly balanced. Though the 24-70 balanced without much issue, it was much easier to use a smaller lens such as a 35mm prime, since balancing took less time and effort.
Once all the axes were balanced and unlocked, the gimbal was ready to be switched on using the button on the Wheel on the side of the handle. Moza's Wheel and the Dial terminology can be confusing when you’re reading the manual, so keeping the diagram in front of you when learning operation is helpful. The gimbal then auto-configured and balanced the camera more finely, and there's also an autotune function in the configuration menu (accessed by a long press of the red button on the back Dial) which can provide a more accurate balance when sitting on a flat surface.
Pan, Tilt, and Get Rolling
The joystick on the back of the gimbal below its OLED screen instantly allowed pan, tilt, and roll control, and each movement was very smooth and responsive. My first impression was that the motors are very, very quiet, which is helpful on sets where noise is unwelcome. However, once you start moving around and challenging the motors more, the noise gets a bit louder, so plan your movements carefully. Still, the motors are mostly silent compared to some older gimbal models.
When I started to move around, it felt a bit too heavy to use with one hand. The gimbal specs state the whole gimbal weighs about 2 lb, but after you add the battery, the tripod, and a camera up to 7 lb with its various accessories, it can weigh up to 10-12 lb, so be prepared for a bit of arm fatigue. The bottom of the handle features standard 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 mounting threads, so finding additional support accessories shouldn't be a problem.
Get the Latest Update
Another step I usually take when receiving a new electronic item is to update it to the latest firmware, so once the gimbal was on and balanced, I downloaded the Moza Master app onto a smartphone, which is available from Google Play or Apple's App store. As of this writing, there have been issues reported with later versions of Android, such as 9.0 and the Moza app, so I played it safe and downloaded it onto Android 8. The gimbal can also be upgraded via Windows or Mac using a USB cable, but the support docs only list Windows 7 or 8 compatibility, so be aware of your options before you start, and check the Moza website for support for your setup.
The instructions for upgrading the firmware are straightforward. By holding down both buttons on the gimbal handle, it launched into BOOT MODE on the OLED display, and then the app connected via Bluetooth without issue. A popup instantly asked if I wanted to update, and it took about 5 minutes. It didn't seem to make any difference to configuration options, but I went from v. 0.2.3 to 0.3.5, likely for some stability enhancements.
App Configuration, Operation Modes, and Effects
The configuration menu on the gimbal itself seemed a bit clunky, so having the app for configuration is essential. You can fine-tune the gimbal's balance manually or via auto-calibration, set the speed and sensitivity of your pan, tilt, and roll functions, set buttons and wheel functions, reverse controls, and even set motor functions to lower output for lighter cameras to conserve battery. You can set the front trigger button on the handle to perform a variety of tasks such as one, two, or three clicks for various functions such as re-center, pan, tilt, follow, or turn around into Selfie Mode. Back in the gimbal's config menu, make sure to note the three save slots where you can save your custom configurations when you need to switch back and forth quickly.
You can also configure and enable various modes, such as Inception Mode (named for the film that uses heavy roll FX), which is a neat effect that orients the camera in-line with the gimbal handle and can do 180 or 360° automatic rolls. The effect is especially powerful when using the Moza Slypod, which can automatically extend while the camera is doing rolls (check out our Slypod review for more on that combo). FPV Mode allows 360° motion on all its motors, and Sport Gear Mode allows fast tracking with high power provided to the motors for the best stability. Motion-Lapse and Time-Lapse are more advanced modes that allow you to preset a path for the camera to follow over time, and object tracking will keep the camera pointed at a preset object using your smartphone's gyroscope. For the most accurate tracking, it is recommended to have the smartphone mounted on top of the camera and lined up with the camera's lens, since the smartphone's camera is the one doing the tracking.
One of my favorite sections of the app is Remote Control, which gives you remote power over the pan, tilt, and roll controls, as well as quick speed control, Selfie Mode, and quick re-center. It also has a fun "mimic motion" mode, which uses your smartphone's gyroscope to control the camera motion simply by moving your smartphone in the directions you desire. This mode requires you to have the gimbal mounted or have a second operator so both hands are freed up to control the phone. The Remote Control screen also lets you control camera functions such as run/stop and shutter, once you connect your camera.
Camera Control Functions
Which camera control functions are supported depends on the camera model you are using, so check out the manual for the compatibility grid. The Sony a7 III only supports run/stop and shutter, but there are other Sony and Canon models that allow electronic focus control. The iFocus-M focus motor is advertised as supported by the AirCross 2 (not tested with this model at the time of review), so if you need external focus control, check with Moza for compatibility options and any required firmware updates.
Using the included Multi-C cable included in the box, I plugged the USB Mini-B end into the top of the tilt axis and re-powered the camera and gimbal. The Dial button on the back of the handle is the control trigger, and you can configure how many presses perform which function. I set one press for record / stop and two presses for shutter, which worked as advertised, but it often took several button presses, since it had a laggy response time. When I tried the same functions using the Remote Control screen on the Moza Master app, the response time was much faster.
The battery life is surprisingly stable after using it for several hours. Axis motors work harder with movement, so the more you move the gimbal, the shorter the battery life, though with minimal movement and leaving it mostly in Sleep Mode, I wouldn't be surprised at the 12-hour life reported by Moza. It can take up to 2 hours to charge fully, so it's best to leave some time for charging before a shoot. Speaking of Sleep Mode, I saw this mode a lot. Balancing gimbals can be a tricky business for the motors, and if they get taxed a bit too much or pulled too hard in a certain direction, the gimbal will go instantly into sleep mode. Make sure to conserve your movement and make sure to turn it off whenever you add or remove weight, or else the motors will shake and strain, then drop back into Sleep Mode to save the motors from damage.
Overall, the gimbal was a bit challenging to set up without some assistance, but it turned out to be one of my favorite small-camera gimbals for its smooth, quiet operation. Its metal construction is durable but can get heavy, though it's light years beyond my old, makeshift pipe-gimbal setup.
Peruse the Moza AirCross 2, its accessories, and its related kits on the B&H Photo website and in the B&H Photo SuperStore when you're in New York City. Have you used the AirCross 2 or any of Moza's other gimbal gear such as the Slypod? Let us know in the Comments section, below.