In the world of automotive journalism, photographers and videographers pull out all of the stops to get the right shot or capture the perfect moment. The sort of gear that these photographers and videographers have to capture that those moments is seriously impressive, with sliders, rigs and drones that look like they came off of a Spielberg set. However, one of the most commonly used piece of gear used in automotive journalism is also one of the most affordable and most effective — the gimbal. We recently tested one over the past couple of test drives we’d done and it turns out that a good gimbal can make me, an amateur at best, actually not half bad.
The rig we tested was the Feiyu Tech SPG Plus Gimbal Rig for iPhone. The SPG Plus is a three-axis stabilizing handheld gimbal rig and is designed to work with iPhones. It features two vertical handles on either side of the gimbal, both of which are covered in a grippy rubberized coating, so your hands never slip, nor do they fatigue from having to squeeze the handles harder to hold on. It’s also really well weighted in hand, so filming for long periods of time is a breeze. There are also 1/4-inch screw ports at the bottom of each handle, making hooking up tripods, camera flash or microphone very easy.
It also feels as if it’s built very well and feels high quality. The entire rig is made from solid-alloy aluminum, so it’s not only strong and durable but lightweight. And we can seriously attest for its durability, as it’s been in the trunks of cars that, well let’s say weren’t driven delicately. It’s also been on a lot of shoots and been properly used. Despite all of that, has nary a scratch or imperfection and every rotating axis works flawlessly. It’s quite impressive, actually.
The cradle which holds the iPhone in place is also very strong. In fact, it’s almost too strong, as it can sometimes be difficult to actually get the iPhone in there. However, once it’s in, there’s never a worry of it sliding or falling out, even when it’s rotated upside down or on its side. You can always have complete confidence in it holding your expensive phone. Once the iPhone is in the cradle, it comes time to balance the back axis. Thankfully, it’s incredibly easy. There’s a knurled knob on the back of the axis that unscrews and then the entire cradle slides left and right. So you just adjust the balance of the phone until it stays level and screw the knob back in. It’s a breeze.
Once the phone is balanced, you won’t need to adjust it again until you either change iPhones or add a heavy attachment to it. So you really only need to do it the first time, which is nice.
When you turn the Feiyu Tech SPG Plus on, the iPhone cradle swivels into place and it’s time to pair the phone to the gimbal rig. This is probably the most difficult part of using the SPG Plus, as the software can be a bit difficult to use. There’s a free app to download to your iPhone and that allows you to pair your phone with the gimbal. Once paired, the app acts like a typical camera app, where you can adjust different levels of exposure and focus. The app itself works quite well and is easy to use. The difficulty can come from its Bluetooth pairing, which can be a bit finicky sometimes. It will sometimes unpair from the phone inexplicably, which can be frustrating while trying to film a car.
Though, the app’s difficulties are seldom and aren’t too big a concern. Once paired and working, though, it works really quite well. On the right handle, there’s a joystick that can swivel the iPhone completely 360-degrees, on both its X and Y axis. So you have an infinite amount of control over where the iPhone is pointing, all from your right thumb. It’s really easy to use and it’s actually fun to use. If I has shown this gumbal to five-year old me, my younger self would pass out. Mostly because I would be seeing myself from the future, but also because this gimbal is a cool piece of tech. Where the Bluetooth pairing comes in handy here, though, is the fact that you can control the shutter button from the SPG Plus’ right handle. So no need to actually work your iPhone. Easy peasy.
It also has a few different functions. One of them keeps the iPhone facing straight ahead, no matter where you turn it. This allows you to just walk and point the camera where you want and it keeps it smooth and stable. The other main function is its ability to fix the camera on a certain object, like a car for instance, and as you walk around, the camera will continue to follow the subject. Which is a cool feature. It can also flip 180-degrees with the double tap of the power button, back and forth, so you can flip to selfie-mode and back very quickly.
There’s one other small criticism I have and it’s with the battery life, which can be quite short. So you don’t get a ton of filming time before it starts to die. I’ve only been able to get a little over an hour out of it, during heavy use. When you consider the fact that it’s working three-axis stabilizing equipment, it’s understandable that its battery dies pretty quickly. And over an hour of heavy use isn’t a small amount, but it can be problematic on a full day of shooting.
Having said that, though, the Feiyu Tech SPG Plus is an awesome tool for any automotive journalist. It works well, allows you to get great, smooth shots and it even looks good. But it’s not only good for car journalists, it’s just great fun to use and can capture some really awesome moments. The SPG Plus isn’t exactly cheap, at around $299. However, it’s a high-tech piece of kit and it’s made really well. It isn’t some plastic toy, it’s a solid aluminum, three-axis stabilizing gimbal rig and it’s good enough for professional grade use.