For some two decades, Steadicams and
their imitators have been the cutting
edge of mobile, off-tripod camera support
with little challenge from new technology.
However, at last year’s NAB Show a
newbie called MoVI finally emerged with
a stabilization system in a much different
form. Instead of supporting a third bionic
arm (with the help of an exoskeleton like
the Steadicam), the MoVI product is more
tuned in to the DSLR rig than the Steadicam
with which it competes.
Long before it began shipping late last
year, Freefly Systems’ MoVI M10 was hailed
as a game changer by production pros of
many stripes and the product has generated
buckets of buzz.
The true genius of MoVI is in how it
repackages existing technology into something
that’s new, effective and exciting
those of us wanting an alternative to tripod-
based camera support. In some ways,
it’s a high tech Rube Goldberg variation on
a tricked-out DSLR shooter’s rig. It can be
operated either with both hands on a short
handlebar or with only one hand via its top
handle. The remote controller in the MoVI
package is the same one used to control
quadcopters and other UAVs.
In many respects MoVI is unique in
its design and composition. At heart it’s a
triple-axis, digital gyro-stabilized camera
support system with a continuous 360-degree pan range and 180-degree tilt and roll.
Slew rates range from 0 to 150 degrees per
For two-handed operation the handgrips
on each end of the “handlebar” are
equipped with soft, textured rubber for a
comfortable grip. And at only 3.4 pounds,
MoVI is in the lightweight range, yet supports
cameras weighing up to 12 pounds.
These include the RED Epic, Canon’s C300
and Sony’s F7, among others. The low
weight is largely due to the use of the latest
high tech materials such as an ultra-light
steel alloy and carbon fiber.
Part of MoVI’s magic is software-driven,
with its concise menu navigated from an
Android Bluetooth-Windows connection
on a GUI-equipped pad.
There are three control modes: majestic,
stabilized and stabilized slew. Majestic
is operator stabilized via a gimbal base.
The stabilized mode requires no operator
control and basically operates on autopilot.
The stabilized slew mode enables remote
control of pan, tilt and roll axes with the
Spectrum DX7s remote controller, which
is part of the MoVI 10 package.
However, before MoVI is operated in any
of these modes the camera must be manually
balanced in all three axes: pan, tilt and
roll. To become buoyant enough to “fly,” the
camera’s center of gravity must be precisely
determined so that it can be neutralized.
Once it’s properly balanced, your camera
should remain suspended in virtually any
shooting position and at most any angle.
Achieving such a degree of stability
requires maximizing the “stiffness” of the
pan, tilt and roll axes with the GUI.
MoVI’s configuration also provides control
of pan and tilt speeds, with attention
given to the “smoothness” of their endings.
Pan and tilt each get their own smoothness
and window levels, allowing users to start
a move quickly and then end it slowly and
smoothly, or vice versa.
MoVI’s camera platform can tilt up or
down—as much as 75 degrees—from a
central hub. It’s controlled by a brushless
motor and gimbal to keep it level (or at predetermined
angles) while shooting. This is
set via the pan and tilt smoothness menu;
otherwise, MoVI will try to keep the camera
Camera movement can be controlled
remotely via the Spectrum DX7S. This controller
has its own pan, tilt and roll controls
which largely override those set with the
MoVI GUI. A pair of joy sticks control separate
functions (pan/tilt on the right and
roll/pan speed on the left.) There’s twoposition
switch below each that lets you
decide which to control at a given time.
MoVI comes with compact 2.6 Amp,
14.8 Volt lithium-potassium batteries
that can power it for two to three hours.
However, a word of caution is needed in
connection with these batteries. Although
they’re quite potent, they’re also vulnerable
to damage and can be rendered unrechargeable
if you aren’t careful. You must diligently monitor the three LED indicators
associated with the main motor.
Freefly recommends swapping batteries
once the charge level drops from three
LEDs to two, even though it’s possible to
still power the unit for some time before
dropping to a single LED, a level at which
it’s possible to damage the battery if recharging
is not initiated.
Independent powering options are also
Think of MoVI as a pricy hi-tech sports
car—something that will wow you when
well it’s well tuned, but will disappoint you
otherwise. MoVI’s magic all revolves around
proper tuning, and this begins with determining
camera’s center of mass for pan, tilt
and roll axes. Freefly roughly illustrates each
stage with a single sketch and terse description
in their “Quick Start Guide.” For more
detailed information on balancing, users
should download and read the pertinent
section in the user’s guide. I was fortunate
to receive some live tech support by phone
and this proved invaluable.
(I would advise anyone planning to use
MoVI to learn as many basics and tricks
from a MoVI expert, as some key details are
glossed over in the guide and tutorials and
can cause frustration. A good example of
this is the importance of keeping MoVI as
still as possible when flipping on the power
switch; if this isn’t done, the unit may not
boot up and perform properly despite your
best balancing efforts.)
I learned that small movements are best
achieved when balancing your camera on
the pan, tilt and roll axes. Sometimes a millimeter
or two either way can make the difference
between being perfectly balanced
or out of balance. Balancing the pan axis
is the trickiest procedure, requiring a good
bit of time to do properly.
I learned that when tuning MoVI you
need to be sure that both the GUI and
MoVI batteries are fully charged, because
if you lose your connection between the
two in mid-stream you’ll likely have to
start over. Connecting MoVI and the GUI
happens seamlessly in auto mode once
Freefly Config is opened. If properly connected,
you’ll see several green windows
on the left edge of the GUI’s main window;
however, if your boot goes awry,
those same windows may turn red and
flash error messages. This happened to me
when I rocked the MoVI in its cradle by pressing the power switch a bit too hard
during boot up.
Once everything is connected, tuning
the MoVI is a matter of pushing for the
highest stiffness levels that it will accept
before vibrating audibly. While 100 is a
prime target value for pan stiffness, I only
got there once or twice, having to drop
to 90 when the MoVI started vibrating
as I picked it up. The key thing to bear
in mind is that the better you balance the
MoVI, the higher the stiffness levels it will
accept, resulting in higher overall stability.
After working through the balance and
other issues I was finally ready to try the
full range of vertical, horizontal and diagonal
camera angles and moves showcased
in some of the MoVI demo videos (starting
and stopping suddenly and smoothly
transitioning to a series of different camera
moves including pans, tilts, rolls and more).
I found that a wide-angle lens and high
stiffness really helped when tracking fast
moving subjects up close. This combination
allowed me to switch between high
and low angle shots, pans and tilts, often
while tracking a subject that frequently
changed speed and direction. I was able
to move fluidly between high and low angle
shots and vice versa, often capturing
events from a bird’s eye view.
I quickly learned that a well-tuned
MoVI opens the door to a new, ultramobile,
impactful shooting style that can
raise the production bar on everything
from documentaries and unscripted projects
to features and commercials.
A well-tuned MoVI is an amazing, powerful
new tool; however, every technology
has its weaknesses and MoVI is no exception.
The biggest problem I encountered
was battery power. Somehow I inadvertently
discharged the batteries to the
point where they couldn’t be recharged.
Although the lithium-potassium batteries
pack a good punch, they are rather fragile
as I discovered when I accidentally ruined
In fairness, the MoVI does provide a
detailed warning not to drain a battery
below three Volts. However, there isn’t
a clear warning that the user is nearing
this threshold. Apparently once a single
LED begins blinking, it’s too late. Freefly
advises recharging batteries when they’re
barely half discharged (down to two of
the three green LED illuminated), but this should be printed in boldface due to
its big implications, particularly if you’re
counting on recharging in the field to get
through an assignment.
I also found the use of a microphone
somewhat problematic, as standard shotguns
can bump into the MoVI’s handle
and bias the center of gravity. Freefly recommends
removing external mics, leaving
you with only an onboard mic option—
not great if you’re shooting interviews.
MoVI is a revolutionary camera stabilizing
system optimized for compact “squarish”
digital cine-style cameras and can provide
the kind of shots needed in high-end
However, the MoVI system has many
moving parts and must be well-tuned for
optimum results. A comprehensive userfriendly
interface and training is critical
and there are some gaps to be filled here.
Once well-tuned, though, MoVI can enable
an experienced camera person to
consistently capture a wide variety of creative
and fluid shots with moving or still
Doubtless, many producers of documentaries,
features, and events will want
to try out a MoVI and then likely become
hooked on its magical moves. The only
problem may be in deciding between the
MoVI, a new camera, or a modest new car.
Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media,
and specializes in wildlife and
outdoor subjects. His work regularly
appears on the Discovery Channel, The
Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other
networks. Contact him at eagleye11@
Feature productions, commercials,
episodic television, special events,
sports, news and music videos
Lightweight, multifunctional, works
in high to low angle shots, as well
as 360-degree shots, easy learning