Monday, May 20, 2024
Gadgets

One gimbal to rule them all


Recently, gimbals designed for mirrorless cameras have been getting smaller and smaller, to the point where they’re about the same size as smartphone gimbals like the Zhiyun Smooth 5S.


With the hardware being so similar, wouldn’t it be nice if you could use the same gimbal for your phone and your camera? Well, Hohem thinks so, and the new iSteady MT2 is capable of stabilising either a mirrorless camera, smartphone or action camera. It’s the Swiss Army knife of gimbals.

If you opt for the “Kit” version, you also get an AI Vision Sensor included. This allows the gimbal to track subjects using gesture controls, without the need for a smartphone app, it could be a bit of a game changer for those that film themselves a lot.

The question is, is it any good? I’ve been putting it through its paces over the last few weeks, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Hohem iSteady MT2

Hohem

Hohem iSteady MT2

Recommended

Smartphones, GoPros and mirrorless cameras, the Hohem iSteady MT2 takes them all. What’s more, it can track people using any of these devices, thanks to a unique standalone AI tracking module. I think it’s probably the best robot camera operator you can find today.

Pros

  • Compatible with cameras, phones and action cams
  • Standalone AI tracking
  • Excellent build quality and ergonomics
  • Long battery life
Cons

  • Fiddly to set up
  • Only works with relatively lightweight cameras

Design

  • Dimensions: 225x105x309 mm, 653 grams
  • AI Vision Sensor with RGB fill-light
  • Storage bag, mini-tripod, mounting brackets and camera cables

As I mentioned in the intro, the iSteady MT2 comes supplied either with or without the AI tracking module and there’s about a $50 difference in price between the options. If you haven’t purchased a Hohem gimbal in the past, you’ll definitely want to choose the option that comes with the tracker, as it’s one of this gimbal’s stand-out features. The reason it can be purchased without the AI tracker is that the MT2 is compatible with the tracker that comes with the iSteady M6 smartphone gimbal, so users of both can save a bit of cash.

Hohem iSteady MT2 Kit

Elsewhere, the included accessories seem to be the same across both options, and it’s quite a comprehensive kit. You get a nice-looking carrying case, a compact tripod, the appropriate mounts for a camera, smartphone and action camera, and no less than eight USB cables for connecting to various camera makes and models. A full list of camera compatibility can be found here.

As for the gimbal itself, it feels sturdy and well built. It’s a similar size and weight to the Zhiyun Smooth 5S, which is a lot larger than your typical smartphone gimbal, but given the fact that this can support full-size mirrorless cameras weighing up to 1.2kg, that’s incredibly impressive.

It’s finished in a dark-grey/black colourway, with shiny orange accents throughout. I like the look, personally, it’s professional enough while still having a bit of personality to it – but I can imagine others being less taken with the orange.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (10)

The control layout is pretty traditional – there’s a focus wheel on the left-hand side and a joystick along with a mode and record button next to where your thumb rests. Around the back, there’s a trigger for your forefinger.

What’s slightly more unusual are the A and B buttons on the left-hand side, and these are an awesome addition. They allow you to set start and stop points for motion timelapses without using an app, and that’s something I’d love to see included on more gimbals.

For the most part, the controls are pretty confidence-inspiring. The buttons are clicky and the control wheel has a good amount of resistance to it. The joystick is a little looser than I’m used to, but it’s not too tricky to control with a bit of practice. The only part that’s below standard is the tiny little zoom rocker that encircles the record button – this control just feels a little on the flimsy side, but it’s not a control that I find myself using much anyway.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (32)

There’s an OLED display above the controls and it displays your current mode, battery level and Bluetooth connection status. You can also access many of the settings using this small display, but you’ll have an easier time if you pair it to your smartphone.

The gimbal mechanism is quite familiar if you’ve ever used a stabiliser designed for mirrorless cameras. It’s adjustable on every axis to allow you to achieve the perfect balance, and while that looks complicated at first, you’ll get the hang of it fairly quickly. Crucially, there are quick-release latches on each axis, and this keeps things from flopping about when you’re transporting it.

It uses both an L-bracket and an arca-swiss plate for mounting, and this had me scratching my head at first, but after consulting the manual it all started to make sense. These mounts are to allow for vertical shooting, and even when you’re shooting in landscape, the L-bracket is in play. It’s quite logical once you get your head around it.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (19)

Performance

  • Max payload: 1.2kg
  • 360-degree panning, 200-degree roll, 290-degree tilt

As you may have gathered from the last section, setting up is not exactly quick or hassle-free. But when you get the hang of it, the vast array of quick-release levers make it much quicker than the gimbals of years past. It’s worth noting, though, that you do need a few minutes and a level surface to get things right – don’t plan on switching back and forth between cameras, smartphones and GoPros in the field, it’s a little too involved for that. If you’re sticking to one main capture device, you can leave it mostly set up between uses, pop the camera into place and off you go.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (2)

I tested the gimbal with my Vivo X90 Pro, GoPro Hero 11 Black and Panasonic Lumix GH6. In all cases, the gimbal proved easy to balance, and dealt with the weight just fine. I was really surprised that even the GH6 with my heaviest lens, the Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4, was able to be balanced easily – even if I was reaching the limit of some of the axes. That setup weighs in at a meaty 1.17kg, and the motors didn’t seem to struggle at all, so Hohem’s claims of 1.2kg payloads are very much real.

As for the stabilisation, it’s hard to fault, especially when using a heavy setup like that. All the classic cinematic sweeping moves are possible with the MT2, and if you enjoy the trippy Inception-style rolling shots, the infinite panning capabilities mean that you can do so endlessly. It couldn’t quite manage the vortex roll with a 1.2kg chonker clamped into place, but with a smartphone, GoPro or a lighter camera, it does just fine.

Where this gimbal really shines, though, is with its AI tracking module. And I mean that quite literally, as the module also has a built-in RGB fill light. As usual, though, this tiny light source is best avoided unless it’s you’re only option, it’s just not large enough to create a flattering fill. Still, it beats using your phone’s torch, and the RGB functionality is a fun addition, if not especially useful for me.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (6)

Obviously, it’s not the light I’m excited about, it’s the tracking. While the majority of smartphone gimbals have offered this functionality for a long time, it has always relied on having the brand’s proprietary app running on your smartphone. There are drawbacks to that, and they’re especially common on Android. I’ve often found that gimbal apps won’t let you use all of your phone’s cameras, or sometimes certain resolutions are off-limits, and sometimes it just doesn’t record at the same bitrate as the phone’s native camera app.

With a standalone AI tracking module, the Hohem iSteady MT2 can be used with your native camera app and still retain all of that tracking goodness. More exciting than that, though, is the fact that it works with mirrorless and action cameras, neither of which can run apps – so have previously missed out on such features.

Of course, this only matters if the tracking is reliable, and I’m happy to report that it’s up there with the best of them. You control it using hand gestures, an OK sign starts the tracking, an open palm stops it, and framing your face with L-shaped hands adjusts your position in the frame. The hand gestures are recognised quickly and quite reliably, and there were only a couple of instances during my testing where I had to try the gestures more than once.

What impressed me the most with the tracking is that if you go behind something, blocking yourself from view, the gimbal will find you again when you reappear and resume tracking as normal. It’s an exceptionally handy tool for anyone that frequently films themselves. The only real limitation is that you’re stuck with tracking people in the standalone mode, you can’t latch on to an object like you can using the app.

Software and battery life

  • 3-hour fast charging, up to 17 hours of runtime
  • Hohem Joy app for iOS and Android

The iSteady MT2 boasts up to 17 hours of battery life in ideal conditions. In reality, you’re unlikely to achieve quite that number, but it’ll still last more than long enough for the majority of shoots. Plus, when it’s drained, it’ll only take three hours to get from flat to full. The MT2 also has a USB-C power output next to its mounting point, so you can use the gimbal’s large battery pack to keep your phone or camera topped up while filming, which is a convenient addition.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (25)

The gimbal pairs with the Hohem Joy app for either iOS or Android. Once paired, you can either control the gimbal remotely, which is great when you’re using it with a camera, or you can use it to record if your smartphone is mounted to it.

If you’re using the app for remote control, you’ll be able to control its movement with an on-screen joystick or use the motion sensors in your phone to control the gimbal by physically moving your phone. The latter is a neat party trick, but not something I personally find too useful. The on-screen joystick, on the other hand, is excellent. It’s responsive, speedy and easy to use. You can also use the app to set up motion timelapses, and you have a little more granular control than doing so with the gimbal standalone.

If your phone is mounted for recording, you can use the Hohem Joy app and your smartphone’s camera for tracking, negating the need for the AI tracking module. You also get access to the usual suite of smartphone gimbal tools, including things like hyperlapse and timelapse modes as well as shot templates, panoramas and beauty filters.

Hohem iSteady MT2 (21)

All in all, it’s a pretty solid app, there’s no sideloading nonsense that you’ll need with DJI’s gimbals, and it’s not as bloated and confusing as the Zhiyun dual-app system. The only real issue I experienced is that occasionally some text would appear in Chinese, though I’m sure that will be fixed in an update soon enough.

There are also a few shortcomings on certain Android phones, like not being able to access the wide and telephoto cameras, which is almost always the case with smartphone gimbals. The great thing about this product, though, is that virtually all of the features are available without the app, so it doesn’t matter nearly as much.

Verdict

The Hohem iSteady MT2 is the most versatile gimbal that I have tested to date. It’s on the pricey side, at least compared to most smartphone gimbals, but the fact that it works with cameras adds so much value – and it’s certainly cheaper than buying two gimbals. Add to this the excellent standalone AI tracking capabilities, the likes of which I’ve never seen from a competing brand, and you have a product that stands out as offering something truly unique.

In-built stabilisation on smartphones and action cameras is getting to the point where it almost negates the use of an external stabiliser, and the IBIS on mirrorless cameras is getting extremely impressive, too. This means that the tracking functionality offered by gimbals is quickly becoming one of the most compelling reasons to own one. If that’s the case for you, then the iSteady MT2 has got to be the way to go, no one else is offering the ability to track across multiple devices without the need for an app, as far as I’m aware.

Of course, it’s not perfect, the 1.2kg max payload, while impressive for a gimbal of this size, is quite limiting. There aren’t many full-frame camera and lens combinations that’ll keep you under this weight. However, if you’re using a compact APS-C camera like the Sony A6700, or even something even smaller like the ZV-1 II, then it’ll work perfectly.

If I had to pick one gimbal to have in my arsenal, this would be the one. It’s much more adaptable than smartphone-specific options, and the fact that it can reliably track people with any device and no need for an app makes it the best robot camera operator around.



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