Tyson V. Rininger's Blog

TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!

Gyroscopically Speaking

An example of a Kenyon-Labs KS-6 gyroscope kit, sans Pelican carry case.

When most of us make large purchases aimed toward our craft, it’s difficult to justify the uncool things like tripods, batteries, strobes, filters and the like. So imagine how difficult it was when I plopped down $2800 for a gyroscopic egg thingy that will only make my camera heavier.

Kenyon-Labs, the most well known, and probably only manufacturer of portable cinema gyros, offers six different mainstream models; the KS-2, KS-4, KS-6, KS-8, KS-10 and KS-12. Photographers and DSLR videographers will most likely narrow this selection down to three, the KS-4, KS-6 or KS-8.

The KS-4 unit falls on the smaller end of the gyro scale and is designed to support a camera and lens combo weighing up to 4lbs. This may prove to be quite limiting and not allow for your gear to grow if not already using slightly heavier pro-level equipment. The KS-6 will support up to 6lbs which should fill the need of the average user. Even bigger is the KS-8 which can support a fairly heavy mass of 8-12lbs, but weighs over 5lbs by itself. With all that in mind, I chose the KS-6.

The Kenyon KS-6 gyro comes complete with a massive battery, AC and DC adapters and of course the gyro, all contained within a hard Pelican travel case. Lightweight, it’s not. At almost 3.5lbs for the gyro itself, it weighs more than most cameras like the Nikon D4 at 2.6lbs and the Canon EOS-1D MkIV weighing 2.7lbs. The battery is just slightly smaller than the one you’d find powering your car and comes with Scoliosis-inducing shoulder strap. Holding the entire unit can be a bit unwieldy with it’s combined weight, including a lens, reaching 8lbs or more.

Despite these rather small drawbacks, a gyro is an amazing tool and contrary to physics, it enables a camera to float in your hands.

Although you can certainly use your camera vertically with a gyro attached, a much better solution would be to take advantage of a camera-rotating flash bracket such as this and then cut off the grip, which will end up only getting in the way.

When you first attach the gyro to your camera you’ll find it a bit difficult due to the lever-type rod and its inability to rotate a full 360 degrees continuously. Add to it the slight fumbling of joining two bulky objects. A good solution is to add a quick release plate right off the bat so the gyro will simply snap on and off the camera.

Another limitation you’ll notice is that the gyro is intended to remain beneath the camera  aligned perpendicular with the lens. If you plan on shooting verticals, this could prove to be a little awkward. A simple solution is to add a rotating flash bracket and cut off the flash bracket part. A basic bracket that won’t set you back too much can be found here. A slightly more advanced bracket can be found here, but you may want to think twice before breaking out the hacksaw.

Now that everything is assembled and the gyro has been turned on, it will take about 20 minutes for the unit to spool up to its working speed of approximately 20,000 RPM. The first thing you’ll notice is the gyro wanting to fight you with every sharp movement you make. One of the most important little tidbits about using a gyro is its rate of turn limitation, in this case about 20 degrees per second. If you swing the camera with a gyro attached any faster than that, the spinning motion of the gyro will try to stop you. There will be a slight learning curve toward avoiding this effect.

An example of a Nikon D7000 video rig utilizing a stability grip with over sized focus ring, 7″ HD monitor, shoulder support and KS-6 gyro. The gyro alone doubles the overall weight of the set up, not including the external battery pack not seen in the image.

Another issue to be aware of is fatigue. As you’ve probably noticed, I repeatedly mention the combined weight of things. Holding a camera/lens/gyro combination may not be a big issue for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but eventually it will begin to weigh heavy on your mind, pun intended. If there is a means of supporting your rig through a series of bungee cables or other creative method, it may be worth giving a try.

And finally, bulk. While it’s an incredible tool and definitely makes a difference in the final product, it can be rather large and at times, impractical. Photographing from a tight cockpit or at an unusual angle, like in a contorted position, may illustrate its limitations. Photographing from a designated camera ship with a large door and a comfy seat, would be ideal.

Despite the limitations; price, bulk and weight, once you’ve used a gyro it’s difficult to imagine not using one. It’s a necessity for video work and can save the day during those turbulent evening aerial shoots. Undoubtedly one of the best investments in uncool things I have ever made.

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7 responses to “Gyroscopically Speaking

  1. Frazer mann May 4, 2012 at 12:48 AM

    That looks pretty sweet. Looking forward to seeing some of ur pictures taken while using it.

  2. Fredrik Naumann May 4, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    What perfect timing for this post! This Sunday I get to try a used KS-4 which I am being offered to buy. It is the first used one I have ever seen offered in Norway. From what I read I am slightly concerned the KS-4 will be too small, but at least I’ll get to test it first. I’ll be using a Canon 5D with 16-35, possibly a 24-105 or a 70 – 200.

    • TVRPhoto May 4, 2012 at 11:41 AM

      Used gyros certainly don’t pop up often. Sounds like a great opportunity. Your setup may work fine with the KS-4, though using the 70-200 might stretch it’s limitations. Either way, have fun!

  3. Randy Radzavich May 7, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    I just wanted to clarify a couple of things.

    First thing is the shoulder strap style battery set-up is the old style. Our new style is a belt pack.

    Secondly, a gyro can take between 7 and 15 minutes to get up to full speed. Each gyro is hand made and therefore each one can have different characteristics (noise level, start-up speed, etc.)

    Using a KS-4 gyro with the 5D is Ok with a light lens in many situations, but in a helicopter there are many more forces working against you, so going up to the KS-6 or KS-8 may be recommended.

    We do testing of gyros for free, so if a used gyro comes up for sale and you have doubts, request to have the gyro checked out by Kenyon Laboratories and we will supply testing paperwork to reflect the operating condition of the gyro and accessories. Also worthy of note: A gyro that is not working or is working less than perfect…even in pieces…can be rebuilt for $500 (this pertains to KS-2, 4, 6 and 8 models only).

    You can find us on Facebook or contact us directly through our website.

    • TVRPhoto May 7, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      Randy, thank you for your contributions and product update. It’s great to hear from someone representing the company. I purchased my KS-6 from you guys about 4 months ago and it was complete with shoulder strap battery. Happy to hear it’s now a belt pack. Keep up the great work!

  4. Franny More May 22, 2012 at 6:19 AM

    Hi i am reading this blog for some time. I just want to say that i am satisfied by quality of information provided by the author.

  5. Dave Cleaveland June 14, 2012 at 3:01 AM

    Hi Tyson,

    Good article, and I’m glad I found you on Google+. I am an aerial photographer and last summer, I had two of my clients request video work. After much research, I purchased a two axis (two KS-6′s, one on the Y axis, and one on the X) gyro. I have a battery for each unit. When I fly, it has to be a helicopter, as I can’t seem to fold myself and the whole unit into a 172. It works great, and I’ve shot enough video to almost pay for the unit. The problem is, here in Maine, there aren’t a lot of people who are willing to pay for me, my cameras, the gyro, and a helicopter…

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