The rush to the top of the Handheld Gimbal game, the Letus Helix has been introduced

Letus Helix Camera Gimbal SystemAs I’ve stated in past posts, I’m a huge believer in camera stabilization gimbals.  I was first introduced to using them with the aerial cinematography work I’ve been doing over the past couple of years and we recently began “playing” with the BG Flex F10 Pro Gimbal in handheld form.  It’s amazing how stable these gimbal systems make the most complicated shots look and the aesthetic feel of the motion is new and exciting in itself.

Starting in 2013 with the announcement from Freefly Systems of their MōVI System, the idea of gimbal stabilized cinematography has be the hot topic of everyone in the industry it seems.  With their product being first to market and the attention that they received, the MōVI M10 and M5 systems were priced at a premium and it was guaranteed that other manufactures would come out this year with competing products.  Enter Letus, DJI and a host of others at NAB 2014 where the newest gimbal systems were introduced.

The Letus Helix 3 Axis gimbal was introduced with an expected price point of $3975 and is currently taking pre-orders.

According to Letus, they have been working on developing the Helix for the past 3 years and employed a few great ideas that are unique to their design, most notably is the approach to Optically Centering the camera and the fact that they flipped the traditional camera gimbal design and deviated from the top mounting that you see with gimbals that were originally designed for aerial flight.  These 2 developments could drastically simplify the operation of the gimbal system as Letus states “Because we balance every thing around the optical center of the camera, setup is crazy fast. You can be up and running in a matter of minutes, not hours. Helix is designed to be a tool anyone can pick up and use easily.”  They have simplified the design by reducing the overall weight of the unit (currently approx.  5 lbs) and streamlining the rear design by reducing the amount of wires dangling about awkwardly in the rear control box and wrapped around the cross bars.  It is definitely a more self contained design than any of it’s current competition.

But at the end of the day, all that really will matter is the performance of the unit with different varieties of camera systems mounted to it and if Letus delivers on the promise of fast and easy setup.  The performance of the control board (32-bit MCU — ARM Cortex M4) will be a critical component to the success or failure of the Letus Helix.

Final Thoughts on the Letus Helix

Letus Helix Camera GimbalThe price, promised specs and design make this a new item to keep your eye on.  They seem to have covered all of their bases with the design and if they are successful with creating a fast and easy setup system, then this may be a winning camera gimbal system.  I’m curious how the counter balance weights that are seen extruding from the base of the design will be used and how important they will be to the balancing process of the gimbal.  Also, I am not a fan of the battery belt approach that they are taking in the demo video and would much prefer an on board power system.  After using a hand held camera gimbal system over the past few months, the one guarantee you have is a constant need to pick it up and put it down throughout a shoot day and the external batter belt/bag option will be nothing but a problem to contend with.  However, I’m sure if Letus doesn’t design something specifically for the Helix that a third party onboard power supply can be found to adapt to the unit so I shouldn’t be to critical of this point.  One major issue I see is that with the redesign and desire to deviate from the traditional top mount design, is that there doesn’t appear to be a centered top handle option.  This is something that I will surely miss as I find myself often hand-holding with one hand from the top handle.  However, there will most likely be a simple fix for this by adding a cross bar from the handles on either side but I do think this is a major flaw in the re-thinking of the top mount systems.

Video Coverage of the Letus Helix at NAB 2014

Newsshooter at NAB 2014: New Letus brushless gimbal solutions from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

 

Letus Helix Specs:

  • Weight: TBD (Currently ~5 pounds)
  • CNC milled 6061-T6 Swiss sourced aluminum
  • Black anodized finish
  • 16 pound weight capacity
  • Wire routing grooves in frame for clean design
  • Slip ring on roll access providing 360 degree free range of motion for power and HD-SDI to camera
  • Rear ports: HD-SDI out, Joystick in, 8-18v Power in
  • Top slip-ring passthrough ports: HD-SDI in, 8-18v Power out (optional HD-SDI replaced with 5v power out)
  • Blue LED power indicator / menu button
  • 5 internally stored profiles for adjusting response rates
  • Optional remote control via RC transmitter or BlueTooth transmitter (details coming soon)
  • Hot shoe mount in top center of Helix
  • 1/4-20 mounts on top and bottom of each side handle
  • 1/4-20 mount on front plate for optional support rod mounting via bracket
  • Ratcheting thumb screws throughout for fast adjustments

— BaseCam Control Board Specs:

  • 32-bit MCU — ARM Cortex M4. Effectively calculates the complex tasks for 3-axis stabilization.
  • Allows camera control with the RC or analog joystick.
  • Use several switchable profiles for different modes of operation
  • Supports variety of RC protocols: PWM, Sum-PPM, spektrum and s-bus.
  • Battery voltage monitoring, compensating voltage drop in the PID-regulator.
  • Low battery alarm (output to 5V active buzzer).
  • Increased number of inputs for controlling signals + 3 additional reserved input/output AUX1-AUX3.
  • Can supply up to 1A current for external devices on the 5V power line.
  • Dedicated UART-socket to connect optional Bluetooth module
  • Reverse-polarity protection, overheat and overcurrent protection
  • USB interface for a PC connection, to configure, control and upgrade firmware.
  • Graphical user interface to manage the settings. Windows / OS X / Linux versions.
  • Control through the Serial-protocol using dedicated API.
  • Improved attitude estimation algorithms
  • Second IMU that increases the short-term precision of the stabilization 10x-30x times.