Freefly Movi gimbal is designed for smartphone filmmakers

Freefly Movi
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

When it comes to gimbals, the Freefly Movi is basically the name of the game — at least, for professional users. The original Movi paved the way for handheld, powered stabilizers — but the $15,000 device was aimed squarely at professional studios. While Freefly continued to innovate at the high end of the market, other manufacturers quickly realized there was demand for smaller, cheaper gimbals designed for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and smartphones.

With the new Movi, Freefly has finally taken its turn at building a consumer-oriented gimbal, and the company’s years of experience building large stabilizers for Hollywood has paid off here. It’s interesting — and perhaps a bit confusing — that Freefly recycled the original Movi name, while its higher-end products all carry modifiers, like Movi Pro and Movi XL. So, does this new gimbal, which bears the cute tagline of “your cinema robot,” really live up to that name? We spent a few days with one to find out, and — spoiler alert — the short answer is, yes.

Design and stabilization

The Movi looks strikingly different from other gimbals, with a long base that connects at a right-angle to the handle that extends upward alongside the phone mount. Most gimbals place the handle directly below the mount, which lets the camera pan a full 360 degrees without obstruction.

Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

However, the Movi’s design keeps the entire package much more compact and is about half the hight of other phone gimbals. Its larger base also makes for a stable platform that lest you set the gimbal down on any flat surface, without the need for a tripod (but it does have a standard 1/4-inch tripod thread if you want to use one).

While the exterior is plastic, it feels very solid and well made. Freefly also says that while the Movi is not submersible, it can withstand a light rain or a trip to the beach, so you won’t have to worry if a dark cloud starts to roll in during your shoot.

Freefly’s years of experience building large stabilizers for Hollywood has paid off here.

Mounting your phone couldn’t be easier: Simply squeeze the paddles on the spring-loaded clamp to open it and insert your phone. You’ll need to make sure the phone is balanced on the roll axis, which might require a bit of repositioning, but this is easy to do. The Movi supports a wide range of phone sizes.

We tested it with an iPhone 7 Plus with a case on and it worked perfectly. (Note: The Movi can physically support Android phones, but full compatibility is offered only with iOS at this time.)

Inside the handle are two 18650-size batteries powering the Movi for up to eight hours. The batteries are removable, but you can also charge them simply by plugging the Movi in via USB-C. To maximize battery life, make sure to balance the phone as perfectly as possible to avoid making the motors work too hard to keep the phone level.

As expected, stabilization is very good in all the normal use cases, from stationary pans and tilts to moving follow shots. Getting high-angle shots with the Movi is a bit more difficult than with other gimbals due to the side-mounted handle, but otherwise we found it to be very comfortable in use. As with other 3-axis stabilizers, you still get some up and down bobbing while walking with it, but it’s not bad.

Advanced features, awesome app

While the main purpose of a gimbal is to stabilize handheld shots, combining those powered motors with the flexibility of software opens up a world of creative possibilities. You can use your phone’s native camera app, but the Movi app lets you enable multiple different modes to achieve different effects, from barrel roll shots to the Hyperlapse-style Movilapse mode.

One of our favorite modes is Echo, which allows you to set A and B points by pointing the camera and pulling the trigger at each point. The gimbal then automatically repeats the move with perfect smoothness.

Even without all the advanced modes, the Movi app is one of the best out there and it works flawlessly with the physical controls on the gimbal. The Movi uses a Bluetooth connection that is easy to set up and automatically reconnects every time the gimbal is powered on. On the front of the handle are two buttons, one to start and stop recording and the other to perform custom actions that are dependent on the mode you’re in (such as setting A and B points in the Echo example above or for locking the roll axis in the default Majestic mode).

The backside of the handle has five buttons that offer one-touch access to a variety of functions, including video playback, switching between front- and rear-facing cameras, and adjusting and locking-in exposure compensation (a feature we really appreciated).

Freefly currently does not have plans for an Android app, but we hope this changes as this is currently the Movi’s bigggest limiting factor.

On the phone itself, you have quick access to video frame rates and resolution, as well as on-screen controls that duplicate the functionality of most of the physical buttons. It’s a very intuitive, well-thought-out interface that also offers many advanced options within its menus, including the ability to custom tune the stabilization attributes

The only oddity to be aware of is that you can’t switch between 24 and 30 frames per second using the primary framerate menu on the main screen. To do this, you need to choose either 24 or 30 as your base framerate within the settings menu.

Sample video shot using the Freefly Movie and an iPhone 7 Plus Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

We did encounter a problem with the record button not working consistently, but after reaching out to Freefly about it, we learned that this was a known issue on the earliest production units which has since been remedied with a redesigned part. It is unlikely that you will encounter the issue in the wild now, but if for some reason you have one of the first copies of the product, you may need to exchange it, which Freefly is offering to do for free.

Compared to the competition

The Movi may be a smartphone gimbal, but it is unmistakably targeting a higher-end user than other such devices. This is reflected in the $299 price. If you’re just a casual user, that’s probably too high — especially when the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 retails for just $129, is fully compatible with Android, and offers vertical video support (laugh all you want, but it’s a real thing now).

For advanced users, though, nothing beats the Movi. It offers a wealth of powerful controls via the iOS app with effortless connectivity and physical buttons that let you keep a clear view of your shot while making adjustments. Perhaps not everyone will like the radical design with side-mounted handle, but we grew very accustomed to it over time and definitely appreciated the ability to set it down anywhere.

According to the FAQ, Freefly currently does not have plans for an Android app, but we hope this changes in the near future as this is currently the Movi’s bigggest limiting factor. For now, as long as you’re on iOS, the Movi is the best smartphone gimbal for advanced videographers, and while it’s not cheap, it should be worth it for those users.

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