Shortly before Christmas I acquired a handle for the camera from the Mi Drone, essentially allowing me to use it as a (very, very basic) miniature steadicam arrangement, similar to the DJI Osmo or any number of stabilisation handles available for the GoPro and other action cameras. The handle itself is pretty cheap (I think it cost me about £40 from Gearbest) as it doesn’t actually contain any stabilisation hardware itself, just a battery to power the camera and some simple controls. The gimbal itself simply unclips from the drone and clips to the handle; I really like the modular design of the Xiaomi Drone, and this is the perfect example of how it works.
The battery charges up off USB rather than a proprietary charger like the drone, and though I’m not sure of the capacity battery life seems good – after 15 minutes or so of wandering around the woods mine is still showing full charge. The controls are simple – there’s a little thumbstick on the back to control the camera’s pan and tilt (though rotating the handle will also turn the camera), there’s a dedicated still photo button and a video button that doubles as power on / off. On the front there’s a little slider to adjust the exposure and a multifunctional trigger. Double clicking this will recentre the camera and triple clicking apparently locks pan and tilt, though I’ve yet to try this.
The handle has three modes – upright, where you hold it with the camera at the top, torch, where you hold it horizontally like a torch and upside down which is the inverse of upright. Interestingly using it in upside down mode returns upside down footage, despite that being the way the camera is oriented when flying the drone.
But the billion dollar question… Is it any good? Well, I’ve only had a short trial so far and I’ve not tried to capture any specific shots, but initial impressions are good.
Naturally all the negative points of the camera on the drone carry over – there’s no option for manual control of the camera and there’s no way to add ND or any other filters. The handle does add a microphone but to be perfectly honest they may as well not have bothered – I’ve left the sound on the video above, but apart from a couple of sniffs all it’s really captures is the incessant whirring of the gimbal (which isn’t actually that loud at all, it’s just very close to the mic). There’s a 3.5mm jack which I assume is for an external mic but to be honest if you want half decent audio you’d probably be better using a separate audio recording device.
Build quality is good – it feels similarly sturdy to the drone, and that’s a good thing. The buttons are all nice and positively clicky though the whole thing could be better ergonomically – as my long suffering wife commented it’s essentially the shape of a dildo with a camera on top. The thumbstick and trigger are easy to reach, the video and photo buttons are a bit trickier but I mainly envisage using it for video where I’ll be starting recording then just leaving so that’s not really an issue for me. The DJI Osmo does seem to have had a bit more thought put into its design but then it costs over five times as much so that can be forgiven. The Xiaomi also misses a phone holder on the handle, though there are two tripod threads (one on the bottom and one on the side, slightly oddly) so it wouldn’t be too tricky to add a cheap one from eBay if you feel the need. I found it fine just holding the phone. I’ve not tried the tripod threads yet but they should give plenty of options for mounting the handle to things like bikes, cars or even tripods, if you need a static shot.
Stabilisation is – surprisingly enough – as good as when it’s hanging off of a drone, which is pretty damn good. I’d be interested to do a side-by-side test with an Osmo or similar, but I’d be willing to bet money that the quality is broadly similar. As you’ll notice from the video you still get a definite ‘bob’ when walking, as the gimbal only stabilises rotational movement rather than lateral (though it will help smooth that out too) – but if you want that level of stabilisation then you’ll need a much fancier steadicam rig, and you’re not going to get that for £40. In fact I doubt you’d get it for the £360 I’ve spent on the drone and the handle combined.
So based on initial impressions I would tentatively recommend the Xiaomi handle, as long as your expectations are realistic. But to think that you can get this entire setup – drone, camera and handle, plus a memory card – for less than the cost of a GoPro capable of 4K and a Karma Handle is actually pretty incredible. Yes there are downsides, not least the lack of manual camera controls and any kind of weather sealing but if you’re on a budget then the benefits are potentially huge.