REVIEW : IKAN Beholder DS-1 Gimbal

IKAN DS-1 : Source - IKAN

IKAN DS-1 : Source - IKAN

Anyone shooting moving video knows the perils of shaky cam.  We've all seen The Blair Witch Project and no one needs to see more of that kind of nausea inducing motion.  The IKAN Beholder DS1 Gimbal is designed to keep your camera steady and offer smooth movements when shooting handheld, although you can tripod mount it just to use it's movement capabilities.

Setting the unit up requires a lot of patience.  My test camera was a Canon 5Ds that I had to borrow because all of my regular cameras were too tall to be usable.  The DS1 can handle up to 3.8 pounds according to the documentation but you are limited by the physical camera size.  The DS1 requires you to balance the camera and lens combination in three axes and this is a manual process.  I found completing the balancing to be time consuming and very finicky.

Sadly while the product feels really well made, the documentation is very poor.  My evaluation unit had no documentation at all, so I had to go online to find some.  The manufacturer documentation is sparse and translates poorly.  Fortunately, there is YouTube and others have figured things out. 

The camera mounts to a plate that connects to the gimbal.  It is a sliding dovetail that looks like it could be Arca Swiss compatible, but it isn't.  It's proprietary.  I get why, likely due to the balancing requirements, but the world really doesn't need yet another camera plate format.  Mounting a regular DSLR to the standard plate, you immediately discover that balancing will be impossible.  You need to use the secondary plate, identified in the documentation as being for "balancing difficult cameras" and for the most part in figuring this out, you are on your own.  Being able to do balance visioneering in three dimensions will be very helpful to you.  

When I finally got the 5Ds and my 24/1.4 mounted and balanced (I have to rebalance for each lens, and do it again every time I mount the camera).  I was able to turn the device on and not have it freak out.  When the grip isn't moving too much it's quite decent actually.  I tried standing and holding the camera as one might for a run and gun interview without a rig, and I think it's fairly good.  I also tried a series of walking shots, and despite being trained to walk with a CINE camera, the video was still too shaky for my taste and would need stabilization to be applied in post.  As the whole unit is quite heavy once the camera is mounted and rather awkward to hold. In what I do, my primary use case would be to create value for a moving camera operator.  I cannot recommend this for that use case.  A Glidecam or Steadycam or Ronin or MOVI will cost a lot more, but the video quality difference is orders of magnitude better.  You still have to deal with the weight, but it's not all in your hand.   I had heard of people using the unit for B roll to do doorway peaks and the like.  I can only presume that they nailed the balance perfectly and move like Baryshnikov.   I was not so successful partly because of less than optimal balance and that I have the grace of Frankenstein's monster.

Full size Canon DSLR with CINE lens  : Source - Google Images

Full size Canon DSLR with CINE lens  : Source - Google Images

There is a tiny joystick on the grip that allows you to pan left and right as well as tilt up and down.  The pans are really nice and very smooth.  The tilts were very constrained by the size of the camera and while down was ok, up was very limited and because the movement is slightly behind the joystick in time synchronization, resulted in some nasty chatter when the unit tried to keep moving past the end of its range because I had held the stick too long in that direction.  Practicing the shot before making it is required unless you plan on overshooting a lot and editing out piles of chaff.

Thus my primary conclusion is that while the unit is rated for a full size DSLR without battery grip, this is a poor use case.  It might be just fine with a Sony A6300 or Lumix GH4, or something of light weight and small form factor.  Second, you cannot touch the camera while the gimbal is live so manual zoom and manual focus are not usable, thus your camera will need really sprightly autofocus in video and if you must zoom, a remote power zoom control for a lens with built in power zoom.  A mirrorless that shoots good video and has really good autofocus might be a good choice here, presuming it is small enough to allow full movement.  I would like to try this unit with a Lumix GH4 or something similar because while I think the idea is great, but I was definitely using the wrong camera.  A Canon 80D with their excellent dual pixel AF might work out, although the physical size leads me to suspect that movements would be limited.  Whichever camera you choose you will want to have a remote wireless start/stop control because there is a measurable  amount of wobble correction that occurs whenever the camera is touched.  That may necessitate an assistant or the spontaneous growth of an extra arm and hand.

Build quality is very good, and the rechargeable batteries have good run time, although charging them via USB is an overnight exercise.  I did receive an AC adapter with my eval unit but it failed to charge the battery at all.  Once you understand how the fittings work, tuning the unit is not hard but it remains awkward because everything is always moving.  You do not make adjustments while power is on because you could wreck the servomotors.  Each axis moves freely and this is what makes positioning and balancing such a charming exercise.

The device firmware is updateable, and there is a second USB port for manufacturer use only.  The battery fits into the bottom of the handle and the battery cap is very precise and screws on easily and does not loosen off on it's own.

Given the position of the first arm, you will not be able to see the LCD of your camera very easily and flipping the LCD out may limit movements.  There is no place to mount an external monitor and the connecting cable would interfere with the movement.  Conceptually the idea is great as the device is nice and small, but in my testing, I cannot recommend it for a single operator using full sized DSLRs.  It takes more training to use a Glidecam or Steadycam, but the video results are better.  A Ronin would be significantly better in terms of movement control, but more cumbersome and lots more expensive.

Sony a7 on a Beholder : Source - Google Images

Sony a7 on a Beholder : Source - Google Images

The concept of the IKAN Beholder DS-1 is a good one.  Getting started with it was a real pain, and the need to rebalance for every camera mounting or even lens changes gets tedious.  Using zoom lenses whose length changes during zoom will require rebalancing.  Your video camera must have superb Autofocus, and you will need to overshoot because you will have a lot of discard footage.  Movement using a DSLR was still bouncy, but to be fair, I was using a large full frame DSLR, a smaller mirrorless might have handled things much better.

I have included some short live footage shot with the Canon 5Ds mounted on the DS1.  The video is as recorded on the 5Ds, not my favourite camera to begin with, and of extremely basic video capability.  It's what I had available, and I certainly would never recommend that camera for any kind of vaguely serious video.  What appears to be lens breathing in the clips is the autofocus system hunting back and forth, because the 5Ds is a traditional DSLR and lacking Canon's superlative Dual Pixel AF, autofocus in video is slow and painful.  

Thanks for reading and until next time, peace.