Dobot Rigiet review
Phone cameras and action cameras are now offering the sort of video quality that you’d be happy to use them to make a home video, or something for your YouTube channel.
However, few have really good stabilisation. iPhones with optical stabilisation are pretty good, such as the 6S Plus and 7 Plus, and the latest GoPro Hero 5 Black and Session also improve a lot on their predecessors.
But even then, a handheld gimbal can produce the kind of smooth, stable video you’re more used to seeing from drone footage or even in movies.
Dobot is a Chinese company based in Shenzhen that’s previously made robotic arms. The Rigiet uses some of the tech and expertise the firm gained from those products.
Dobot sent me two pre-production samples (including a second more refined one) to try out, so this review is based on those, not the final units which will ship in June.
Dobot Rigiet: Price
If you buy a Rigiet during the Kickstarter campaign you’ll pay as little as $144 (approx. £112). After the campaign, the expected price will be $259. Converted to GBP and adding VAT, it works out at around £240.
As it will ship from China, you’ll also have to pay import duty, so the price could work out very similar to DJI and GoPro’s gimbals.
Dobot Rigiet: Design
The Rigiet is similar in design to the DJI Osmo. It has three precision motors which control roll, pitch and yaw – exactly the same as you’d find on a three-axis drone gimbal.
Phones up to iPhone ‘Plus’ size will fit in the clamp: you might have to remove it from its case if it isn't a slim one.
You can also use the clamp for a GoPro with an appropriate mount – one is included in the Rigiet GoPro bundle.
The handle has a rubber grip and is slimmer than the Osmo’s handle. There’s a small plastic joystick which doesn’t feel as nice as DJI’s metal one, and the two slider buttons on the side are also plastic.
However, these are minor complaints: overall build quality is excellent and the unit feels reassuringly heavy (but not too heavy to use for extended periods).
On the left is a micro USB port which can be used to charge the gimbal and there’s a second port on the motor next to the phone so you can charge your phone from the gimbal.
Dobot reckons the 2600mAh battery will last three hours. That’s ages and I had no problems shooting for around two hours – by that point my iPhone was running out of power.
I do have a couple of other gripes, one of which is that there’s no easy way to mount it to anything else, such as your body, a helmet, a bike or a car. If you have some GoPro mounts and a tripod mount accessory, it might just be possible, but don’t forget that it’s really designed to be handheld or fixed to an actual tripod.
On the back of the handle is a tripod mount which Dobot says has been designed to work with all tripods. It clearly doesn’t have a Manfrotto tripod in its test centre as, although the quick-release plate attaches fine the Rigiet can’t be used as the Manfrotto’s mount fouls the arm directly on top of the handle and stops it moving.
The other concern is the single status LED. You have to use the manual – or remember the many flashing sequences – to figure out what it’s trying to tell you. Several labelled LEDs would have been better.
Depending on which bundle you buy, you can get extra batteries but at the moment there’s no carry case. I’d like to see the option of hard-shell case like the Karma Grip’s as this is a relatively delicate, precision device which needs protecting and not shoving in your rucksack.
Dobot Rigiet: App
Technically you can use the Rigiet without an app – that’s how it can stabilise a GoPro of course.
The upper switch has three positions. In the middle it locks the gimbal so it keeps the camera pointing the same way no matter how you move.
In this mode you can use the joystick to pan and tilt, or you can move the phone with your hand to the position you want.
The joystick is progressive, so moving it a small amount makes it move very slowly. Taking it to its furthest travel it moves quickly.
And to quickly reset it to the centre, just press the joystick inwards as if it were a button.
For automatic panning and tilting, you put the switch in the ‘up’ position, while for pan only move the switch all the way to the bottom.
If you use an iPhone or Android handset you can install the Rigiet app which connects via Bluetooth and gives you extra shooting modes and allows you to use the start/stop button for recording video and taking photos.
To select a shooting mode you use the lower switch which is sprung and returns to the middle. Pushing it upwards switches between the main and selfie cameras.
Aside from plain photo and video modes there are extras which make the gimbal a whole lot more useful.
One is panorama. There are three choices, but they all move the phone automatically to take a series of photos and then stitch them together. It works really well.
Another is motion time-lapse. This is relatively hard to set up, not least because – currently – there are no tutorials or first-time-use help within the app. You can set the interval time and number of shots between each position, but this flexibility means you can get the gimbal to move pretty smoothly between two or more points.
You can’t really hand hold the gimbal in this mode, so you will need to use a tripod.
The slo-mo mode isn’t amazingly useful since you can shoot successful slo-mo videos hand held.
But one final trick is auto tracking. This is exactly like DJI’s Active Track: you draw a rectangle around your subject and the gimbal will then turn to follow it as it moves. And as with DJI’s version, it works well until the subject moves too quickly and out of the frame.
If you’re walking and filming someone else, it’s great. And it even works on other things, such as pets and cars.
Currently the app doesn’t support the iPhone 7 Plus’ second camera for 2x zoom, but you can hold the lower switch up or down for a couple of seconds to zoom in and out digitally on any phone.
Also, and annoyingly, all photos and videos are saved within the app itself. You can select clips and download them to your Camera Roll but there's no editing or capability within the app. Plus, I also discovered it doesn't support File Sharing within iTunes for quick transferring of footage for editing on a PC or Mac.
Dobot Rigiet: Performance
The big question, of course, is how does it perform. And the short answer is very well. Like other handheld stabilisers it can’t do much about the up-and-down motion as you walk or run (you’d need a proper steadycam for that) but it still manages to iron out a lot of it to give decently smooth footage.
Just as putting a top-quality camera in the hands of an amateur doesn’t mean they’ll end up with top-quality photos, it’s the same with a gimbal. You’ll have to put some time into practicing and thinking about how you want your shots to look in order to get really good footage.
In the ‘locked’ mode, for example, you can move slowly to emulate a ‘slider’ shot, while the pan mode is good if you’re walking around.
Take a look at some of the video I took with the Rigiet – as an amateur – using an iPhone 7 Plus. The initial clip is shaky because I'm running down a steep hill at speed!
The video below shows the difference between an iPhone 6 (with no optical stabilisation - only software help) and the Rigiet. The unassisted version is shown on the left.
Dobot Rigiet: Specs
- Three-axis gimbal
- Three-axis gimbal
At the early bird prices, the Rigiet is a bargain. It’s pretty much as good as the DJI Osmo Mobile for a third of the price. So if you’ve been thinking about buying a gimbal, get your order in quick. Once the campaign is over and the price jumps up, it’s not such a straightforward decision. If it does end up working out at £300 once you’ve paid all the import fees and VAT, you’d be forgiven for buying from one of the big brands.