If our smartphones have definitively ousted compact digital cameras at low prices, they are also used a lot today for filming. With generally decent images on mid-range devices or simply excellent – with the mass arrival of 4K video – on premium models. Smartphones have become fearsome little handheld camcorders. With one detail, however, the stabilization of the image which is often still sorely lacking. And this is where stabilized poles, also called “gimbals”, come into play. We received for review the Feiyu SPG, a model distributed by PNJ Cam at 299 euros. A rather high price, which the manufacturer justifies in particular by the fact that this SPG is compatible with a wide variety of smartphones … and action-cams.
Mixed results on the accessories supplied
First contact with the pole: it gets a bit stuck! It is more specifically the content of the box that bothers us. First, in addition to the micro USB cable, we would have liked to find an AC adapter to recharge the SPG battery. As it stands, you have to settle for recharging (sometimes very slow) via the USB port of a computer. You can use the charger of your smartphone (and even an external battery) provided you do not lose the micro USB cable delivered. Indeed, the connector is not very wide to fit properly in the charging socket of the pole.
A criticism that can be moderate, however, by the fact that the autonomy of this pole is quite suitable. It can vary depending on the movements of the user and the weight of the smartphone, but we estimated it to be around 7 hours in use. Suffice to say that your smartphone or your action-cam will surely give up the ghost.
Still on the accessories side, the Feiyu SPG comes with a fabric case on which we have a mixed opinion. Positive first: unlike a rigid box, this bag allows it to be easily stored in a bag (for example) without adding too much weight. The pole still weighs 420 grams alone and you have to add 60 grams for the case.
But also negative: this soft case will not effectively protect the SPG from a major shock, for example when a baggage drop. Note however that this stabilizer accompanied us in our backpack – rather well loaded – for several days and that it did not suffer from the pangs of everyday life in public transport. Nevertheless at 299 euros, we would have liked a better quality case, as small, but in a slightly more robust material.
However, we appreciate the wide opening of the support of this stabilizer. Between 4.5 cm and 8 cm, it is capable of accommodating a wide range of action-cams and smartphones. In this case, we reviewed this pole with an action cam Garmin Virb Ultra 30 as well as with a Samsung Galaxy S6, a Galaxy S8 and even the “monstrous” Huawei Mate 9.
It should also be noted that it is possible to screw the handle of the SPG onto a tripod or an extension thanks to a screw thread provided at the base of the handle of this mini-pole.
Simple and quick installation
Balancing the pole is fairly easy thanks to a wheel on the SPG. This step, mandatory on this type of stabilizer, consists of installing the smartphone in the support and then finding the point of balance with the pole off.
The second step in the installation is to connect the smartphone via Bluetooth to control the recording from the button on the SPG. Obviously, this operation does not concern action-cams, on which recording must always be activated manually.
At this stage of the installation, we notice that the screen on the back of our action-cam is partially hidden by the support. It will therefore be necessary to go with the feeling (which is not downright complicated, especially when filming in wide-angle), or use the image feedback on the smartphone (or action-cam, if you have ‘a model offering this function).
Rather well stabilized videos
The videos filmed with the various smartphones mentioned above are generally well stabilized. We first reviewed the SPG while walking. The rebound movements corresponding to the stride of our steps on the ground – at a rather steady pace – are very well erased by the stabilizer. The smartphone stays horizontal while our hand holding the pole operates rather abrupt movements.
The result when coming down the stairs is also quite impressive. Obviously, in this case we see the image of vertical shaking, but it is much better than when you hold the smartphone in hand.
Whatever the shooting done with the SPG, the joystick that responds to the pressure of the thumb allows for fluid camera movements, more or less fast. A gentle pressure rotates the support slowly while a greater one orders a rapid movement. However, you have to take the “boost” because the sensitivity of the joystick requires going really slowly for slow movements. Anyway, the SPG is very pleasant to use when recording videos that are certainly “posed”, but made at arm’s length. It is child’s play to film a landscape or even a person without fluttering the image.
There is another significant point: the robustness of the motors. While we shake the pole quite violently, the smartphone obviously moves, but the stabilization ends up putting the image straight.
Some functions and slowness
The most complicated thing about using the Feiyu SPG is to master its few functions – a matter of habit – and to get used to its slowness. The functions first. In addition to the joystick, the boom has another button to activate various functions. In this case, a quick press switches from free mode to a mode called “lock” in which the line of sight of the smartphone is locked. We can thus rotate and move with the pole, the framing remains substantially unchanged, provided that we do not go beyond the mechanical limitations of the motors integrated in the stabilizer. A quick double press of the button returns to a free mode and three quick presses rotate the smartphone 180 degrees. A configuration that allows you to film yourself, selfie, with great stability. Finally, four quick presses of the button completely reset the boom to its 0 position.
The slowness encountered on the Feiyu SPG can be more annoying. When you want to quickly change the frame by turning, the stabilizer performs slower movements. We must therefore give him time to shoot, too, to get the right framing. A constraint that we acquire over time and which, ultimately, makes videos more pleasant to watch.
An application that does not work
The mobile application, compatible with iOS and Android, is supposed to partially justify the price of 299 euros for the SPG. Its main function is to provide control of the orientation of the pole from the touch screen of the smartphone. In this case, if the pole is installed on a tripod, it becomes possible to rotate his head from a distance. But there is a catch. If this app is available on the stores of Apple and Google, it did not work on any of the six smartphones with which we reviewed it. (5 on Android and an iPhone 6 Plus). On Android, the pole is seen by the application, but it is impossible to connect to it and on iOS, the smartphone does not even see the pole while the iPhone is well connected to it in Bluetooth.
After several days and several requests, we had no explanation or solution from Feiyutech, except that the company is working on an update of the application.