The DJI Ronin 4D, when DJI announced this new camera, the world of youtube camera experts went berzerk for the peculiar camera. Except for a handful of sane reviewers, every voice on the internet talked about how wonderful and brilliant the DJI Ronin 4D was and how it would change filmmaking forever. Now, this is not a post to poo-poo the DJI Ronin 4D. Nope, it is to review the camera attached to all the DJI Tech and figure out how often the 4D is pulled from the case for the next shoot.
DJI loaned me the Ronin 4D for about four weeks. Just enough time to ramp up my learning curve for an incredible piece of equipment. Sometimes, it was long enough for me to wish I could keep the Ronin 4D with me. Other times, I was looking forward to sending the camera back so I could move on to another project. The befuddling nature of the DJI Ronin 4D is at times it giveth beautiful imagery, and other times you set it down to shoot with something else.
Then… I looked at the footage. I sat in wonder at the 2K 120fps footage of my 4-year-old daughter running in the field behind our house. This wasn’t 6K footage or 4K, but 2K, and I was still impressed, not because of resolution or lens characteristics but because the camera helped me capture a moment usually much more difficult to do well. When it comes to the DJI Ronin 4D, it really is all about that z-axis.
Understand that the DJI Ronin 4D will be one camera of several on hand for a medium to large corporate shoot or documentary style shoot or rented for projects needing its features set on a lower budget commercial. Now, I wrote a lower budget commercial because any national brand-sized commercial with a decent budget will either hire a Steadicam operator or a Gimbal operator for a full-size DJI Ronin to hold an ARRI, Red, or Sony. I could count my past projects where the DJI Ronin 4D could have helped to have on hand but now I work in a Corporate Healthcare setting, and we sometimes shoot in-house and occasionally hire outside vendors.
The uniqueness of the DJI Ronin 4D is the camera’s best asset and what gets in the way. Shooting Steadicam or gimbal-style shots and need to move the camera well and smooth, then the DJI Ronin 4D is your camera. Need to shoot a handful of interviews; the 4D will make your shoot a little challenging.
Let’s dial into the features of the DJI Ronin 4D. ActiveTrack. LiDar Focusing, 4-axis stabilization, and loads of ND filter options are highlights for me.
The full-frame Zenmuse X9 camera supports interchangeable lens mounts, including DJI’s proprietary DL mount and several short flange focal distance mount units. The key here is “units of short flange focal distance,” which can limit lens options. The downside of the DJI Ronin 4D is the choice of lenses. DJI’s lenses are decent, and you can use Leica M mount lenses for higher-end productions. Lenses are a known limitation for most users of the DJI Ronin 4D.
The DJI Ronin 4D and its full-frame Zenmuse X9 camera deliver high-quality video at high ISO(dual native ISO of 800/5000), high frame rate, and 6 or 8K resolution in imaging. Know that I only tested the 6K version. I feel like DJI really nailed the full-frame Zenmuse X9. It is an incredible camera, and I hope ProRes RAW makes a return to the 4D soon.
The internal video codecs for the DJI Ronin 4D are decent too. Users can record in H.264 and Apple ProRes. The Ronin 4D I tested had the option to record ProRes RAW, but I understand that the ProRes RAW is no longer an option. Knowing the 4D couldn’t record ProRes RAW anymore, I focused almost exclusively on ProRes. In my honest opinion, it is a shame because ProRes RAW gave the most bang for the codec buck.
The Zenmuse X9-6K claims to have over 14 stops of dynamic range. In an unscientific test, the dynamic range feels close to 14 stops if a hair less in real video shooting situations. I usually use a camera with a stated 16 stops of dynamic range, and I missed the extra stop or two of dynamic range. If I had to choose between resolution and dynamic range, I’d take dynamic range.
With a dual-native gain of EI 800 and 5000, the DJI Ronin 4D records videos in rich color grades with minimal noise. The higher ISOs are not noiseless, and the 5000 ISO looked good. I’m glad to see cameras capable of going up to and over 3200 ISO. Confidently dialing up the ISO to 3200 or higher in a documentary world is great.
DJI came out with a proprietary color science for the Ronin 4D called, the DJI Cinematic Color System (DCCS) and it is said to deliver natural skin tones and great color. I think DJI got the skin tones right which is the most important element of color to me.
The X9 camera comes with built-in ND Filters. HUGE HUGE Deal for built-in ND Filters for a camera like the DJI Ronin 4D. How many times have you, as a shooter, balanced your Gimbal camera only to remember you need an ND filter on the lens. The X9 has nine built-in physical ND filters, from ND 2 to ND 512.
4-Axis Stabilization System
The 4-Axis stabilization system is, in my opinion, the number one reason to choose the DJI Ronin 4D. The X9 Zenmuse camera is good, but it isn’t better than what is already on the camera market.
The added Z-axis provides the active vertical stabilization for the X9 Zenmuse camera. The active stabilization works with dual forward and downward visual sensors, a dual ToF sensor, and a barometer to eliminate vertical camera shake. With this single feature, DJI gives us a reason to choose the Ronin 4D. And, it is oh so good too. This is where the combined tech in the Ronin 4D adds up to an incredible package. The sum of its parts is greater as a whole for the DJI Ronin 4D. The engineering here is astounding.
The ActiveTrack Pro allows shooters to track subjects in the frame. The tracking even works from a long distance, but the closer you are, the better the results. When shooters get used to the feature, they can likely make great use of it. I found the ActiveTrack Pro to be okay. I am accustomed to using a gimbal a certain way, and the ActiveTrack Pro made me re-think my approach.
LiDAR Focusing System
Ronin 4D includes a LiDAR focusing system that offers a more user-friendly and universally accessible focusing experience. There are three focusing modes: manual focus, autofocus, and DJI’s own Automated Manual Focus. In all honesty, I feel like I’m not the best at reviewing a focusing system. I have leaned so heavily on modern camera autofocus tech that it is becoming embarrassing. I mean, when it works, it works.
LiDAR Range Measurement
The LiDAR Range Finder can cast up to 43,200 ranging points within 10 meters. Another advantage of LiDAR is to realize faster focus speed without relying on visible surface textures or compromising image quality. What DJI is trying to help you do is avoid over-correcting an out-of-focus image. When used with a small camera team, the LiDAR range measurement seems like it could be a great feature for ACs. It was less helpful for a solo operator, but I see the tech and who may use it more.
LiDAR Waveform – Manual Focus
LiDAR Waveform allows Ronin 4D to handle manual focus with ease. This assistive focusing tool displays LiDAR ranging data on the main and remote monitors in a simplified top-down view. I liked using the LiDAR waveform to pull focus. If shooting a commercial, I can see the uses. When shooting a documentary, I found myself staring at the LiDAR Waveform when I might have needed to look at my composition. This brings me to a point to address: there is a lot of technical information on the screen of the DJI Ronin 4D. Sometimes I like far less on my monitor.
I am all down for great autofocus. I feel like DJI gets about 80% there to great autofocus. So, I will label the DJI Ronin 4D’s autofocus a good, not great, but good. Part of the problem is DJI’s lenses. I love to get close to a subject, and the minimum focus distance on DJI’s lenses meant I had to keep backing away from my subjects.
Automated Manual Focus
In the automated manual focus mode, also called Hybrid Focus, the focus wheel on the right grip will rotate automatically when the focus point moves, allowing users to jump in and focus manually. I think the idea here is spot on, but I am not the right one to test it. My shoots are usually less complex and with few subjects or movements.
Wireless Transmission & Control System
The Ronin 4D uses the DJI O3 Pro video transmission technology that provides long-range transmission with ultra-low latency and improved anti-interference technology. It also enables remote camera control to give users a unified shooting experience.
The transmission range is 20,000 feet (6KM) and outputs an ultra-low latency 1080p/60fps feed to remote monitors. It also features AES 256-bit encryption for protected video feeds. O3 Pro supports the DFS frequency band and 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz with frequency hopping, which improves stability and anti- interference performance. This system also supports one transmitter with multiple receivers and allows users to switch feeds quickly between multiple Ronin 4D cameras.
And it interfered with my wireless microphones on one occasion. When I wore a wireless mic and held the DJI Ronin 4D to my chest or near the mic, the two wireless systems interfered. Once I held the DJI Ronin arm’s length away, the interference stopped. This, obviously, is not a big deal at all but is something to consider and test before shooting. I changed my wireless lavalier’s frequency, and all was good.
The High-Bright Remote Monitor
A 7-inch, 1,500-nit ultra-bright display with the wireless video receiver is a top-notch accessory. No complaints from me about the High-Bright Remote Monitor. It’s also compact and lightweight and has a quick setup. This monitor comes with a built-in gyro sensor that turns the High-Bright Remote Monitor into a motion controller for motion-controlled camera movement.
The High-Bright Remote Monitor can control everything remotely, like focus, gimbal movements, start/stop, and even camera settings.
The DJI Ronin 4D supports three kinds of storage: USB 3.1 Type-C SSD, CFexpress Type-B storage cards, and the new DJI PRO SSD 1TB. It would be best if you only went for the DJI PRO SSD because it opens the camera to all the best frame rates and resolution options.
The DJI Ronin 4D comes with a 5.5-inch, 1,000-nit High-Bright Main Monitor. I thought the Main Monitor was bright enough and more than large enough for my needs. The way the monitor mount can articulate is great. DJI did not skip on the Main Monitor or its mount.
I found it interesting to see a spot to place wireless XLR receivers on the DJI Ronin 4D. Ronin 4D’s built-in microphones support 2-channel 24-bit audio recording. It also has two 3.5mm jacks on the body and two XLR ports on the Expansion Plate. I found that the XLR audio inputs sounded good, but I’m not a sound recordist or mixer.
DJI Ronin 4D Batteries
DJI Ronin 4D uses a TB50 Intelligent Battery like Ronin 2 and Inspire 2, which offers up to 2.5 hours of shooting time and can be fully charged within just 1.5 hours. I loved the TB50 Intelligent Battery because the batteries lasted a good amount of time and were easy to swap out when needed.
I loved the DJI Ronin 4D in some situations, and in others, I set down the camera to pick up another. This is why I find the DJI Ronin 4D so curious. The level of engineering in the Ronin 4D is absolutely amazing. There is so much the DJI Ronin 4D can do, and how much the camera can elevate your imagery should not be taken lightly. Yet, this DJI Ronin 4D is not the perfect camera; no camera is actually. What DJI has done is pretty wild; on their own, the X9, the Z-axis, the built-in NDs, and the LiDar focus assist are pretty cool, but when these pieces of technology are cobbled together into one of the weirdest cameras ever built, it all works out so damn well.