HomeReviewHohem iSteady M6: your next holiday companion

Hohem iSteady M6: your next holiday companion

With help of APEXEL lenses

It’s my 3rd motorised gimbal for mobile phones from Hohem. The first one de-throned DJI Osmo Mobile thanks to the greater portability. Hohem iSteady X2 iterated on the same design and included a Bluetooth remote to a mix. Both are very decent stabilisers, which I used on my holidays. Hohem asked me to try Hohem iSteady M6 early. If only they had offered to pay for my Morocco trip.

Hohem iSteady M6 and me

I decided to take Hohem iSteady M6 to Marrakech. I’m taking a gamble, as I don’t know how will it perform. It’s a perfect opportunity to put it to a test and shoot much better footage that I could acquire from boring, winter-clad (and by winter I mean damp and cold) UK. As I’m writing this part of the review before my trip, nothing stops me from checking the features out.

Hohem iSteady M6 comes in a dedicated carrying case. It’s not the most portable gimbal in their selection as it doesn’t fold much (it lets you lock the axes with a button), but it feels like professional equipment. It’s partially made of high-quality plastic to keep the weight in check – but holding it in my hands, I can’t shake off that premium feel.

The difference in the number of buttons, knobs and controls is simply overwhelming at first. These are not here to confuse you, but to reinforce one of the most important messages that Hohem iSteady M6 carries: app-less use.

Previous iSteady models relied on the Hohem app to access advanced features, Hohem iSteady M6 makes me feel like the app is optional. Don’t worry, the app Hohem Joy is also available – it’s useful for some other purposes.

Controls

My attention at first is focused on the giant encoder wheel. Next to a dedicated OLED panel, this is the biggest change from other models. The wheels control the focus pull (needs app), roll axis and brightness and colour of the RGB light in the AI add-on.

Next to it, I found A-B buttons used to save (long press) the gimbal’s positions and allow timelapse movements from A to B (double click). It’s nice to see this without digging into app options. Unfortunately, the A-B time is set via app only – I’d love quick time adjustments using the scroll wheel.

The front of the handle brings the display, a 4-direction joystick and a mode button to toggle between different stabilisation modes. Speaking of which, a trigger, conveniently located under your index finger enables S (sport) mode for more aggressive tracking/stabilisation. It also doubles as a toggle and multiple presses move the joint off of the gimbal to the back so it doesn’t get in a way of ultra-wide shots – shit is super clever.

The record button does what it says on the tin, but when pressed twice, it will toggle between the video and photos. When clicked twice, it will also switch back and forth between front and back cameras. What’s also neat is the ability for the gimbal to wake up the Android phone into camera mode – no unlock required! I was also able to use the zoom in/out ring to switch between all 3 lenses on my phone.

The last button is the self-explanatory power button, which also comes with a sleep mode (double tap).

The phone clamp can be rotated by 90 degrees for vertical videos, but there is also a clever way (not in POF) of moving your wrist to get the phone to the same position – it’s very quick and handy for a quick vertical snap – you will sacrifice up and down controls in that mode.

The biggest change

My complaint about other iSteady gimbals I covered in the past was about how crucial the Hohem app was to access some of the more interesting features like tracking. I wouldn’t mind it as much, but the app wouldn’t mirror all options available to my camera app on the phone (mainly lens choice, FPS and resolution).

The issues still persist in the Hohem Joy app, but it’s no longer this relevant thanks to two things – rich controls – available at your fingertips and the AI magnetic tracking sensor with RGB light (they really need a catchy name for this add-on).

This gizmo adds AI tracking to whatever trendy app you want to use to shoot your videos and enables gesture controls (👌 to start, ✋ to stop, ✋🤚 – re-frame). As the add-on is omnidirectional, it works facing in and out.

400g of “I don’t give a damn”

All this awesomeness is complemented by the Hohem’s ability to hold up to 400g of payload. Before I hear you say that your phone isn’t this heavy, there are interesting uses for all that power.

It comes in handy when moving at speed (not that I condone cycling at 60km/h with a Hohem M6 in your hand if you value your phone, the gimbal, your bike and perhaps even your life), but it will take a hurricane to knock your phone of the centre. I risked it for a biscuit and stuck the gimbal through the window of a car travelling at that speed. I got it back intact with neat footage.

More importantly, you can add more gear to it. Two cleverly included 1/4″ tripod nuts can support microphones, and lights and still balance everything nicely. There are two more tripod nuts (one at the side and one at the bottom of the handle) to add even more gear or extra handles to support your device.

400g may not be enough for DSLR, but it’s plenty for a GoPro or a similar action camera. You’ll have to figure out the mount points (a 3D printer comes in handy if you want to make an adapter for the vice jaws) but overall Hohem M6 cares very little about balancing your load. As long as you don’t overbear a single stepper, you can get away with pretty much anything ridiculous.

I had a go with a recently received for the review Akaso Brave 7 (review pending) action cam. The included front-facing screen made trusting the AI tracker even easier. As the action cam was wide enough to fit inside the phone vice, I didn’t even have to do anything special to mount it. Voice controls did come in handy, as the phone grip had obscured some of the buttons. In short – you can use this gimbal not just with phones – your creativity is the limit.

Extra lenses (from APEXEL)

To test this, APEXEL sent me a set of lenses to try. Unfortunately, their 5in1 set hasn’t arrived in time for my holiday, but I got to test how the gimbal and APEXEL lenses work together. You may wonder, why put extra lenses on a camera that already comes with 3? Not all sensors are made equal and my ultra-wide and telephoto are not as impressive as the main shooter – unable to film in anything better than 1080p60p. I could also tell that my ultra-wide sensor doesn’t handle the details that well especially in the dark.

You can modify how your lens feels and still shoot using the best-performing sensor. In my case, the 8K capable camera of Xiaomi Mi 11. This gallery shows you how you can transform a single camera on your phone with APEXEL lenses:

  • 170° Ultra Wide Angle
  • 110° Wide angle
  • 195° Fish eye
  • Macro 10x
  • 2x Telephoto

I tried these with the gimbal after my return and despite the rather big appearance of some of the lenses, Hohem iSteady M6 had absolutely no problem keeping the phone steady. The tension screw on the lenses definitely helped keep everything together while moving around. Thanks to the adjustment of the lens position, centring it on the sensor was easy, and it took seconds to change one lens to another.

A big shout out to APEXEL for providing me with these to assist with a review. You can check their 5in1 set ($49.99) and 200x magnifying add-on here ($39.99) Overall the lenses are pretty neat, but you’ll spend some time making sure each lens is perfectly centred on the camera lens. Otherwise, your pictures will feature various artefacts: vignetting, aberration and lack of focus.

Let’s go to Morocco

It took me a while to learn all the bindings, but after 2 days of active use, I developed muscle memory for all the functions. Unfortunately, I left the flexible USB-C cable at home and I was not able to test the Hohem iSteady M6’s ability to charge my phone as I shoot. 2600mAh may not sound like much, but on holidays, far away from civilisation, every little helps.

I can not understate how useful this would be, as I found myself depleting the battery of my phone roughly halfway through the day. All the pictures and videos taken on holidays in sunny destinations at 100% screen brightness are never kind to the battery durability of my Xiaomi Mi 11.

I had a couple of hiccups, mainly by selecting the wrong mode or not thinking too much ahead of each video/picture – but I never felt let down by Hohem iSteady M6. Yes, it was a pain to carry at times, but the footage recorded with it is more than enough to compensate for the extra weight. I went over for 7 days, and I found enough space for clothes, a laptop and the Hohem iSteady M6 (no checked-in luggage).

When not shooting videos, the extra reach thanks to the handle with tripod extension came in handy when taking selfies. This is also when the lack of a dedicated shutter gesture became apparent. I ended up setting a 3-sec timer to get these shots.

The only finicky thing that I’m yet to figure out is the quadruple press of the trigger. In theory, it should take the gimbal from a horizontal to a vertical orientation, but in practice, this also depends on Hohem iSteady M6 orientation in the 3D space. Sometimes, the gimbal would refuse to get into a vertical position if the movement would breach the movement limits of individual steppers. Trying it 2-3 times with different hand positions usually solved the issue and Hohem iSteady M6 would switch over to vertical shooting.

I also learned that the gimbal was a great conversation starter on organised trips – as I was the only person in the group kitted out like that. As soon as I powered the Hohem iSteady M6 on, I could see the dazzled faces of my older fellow travellers trying to come to terms with that I move my hand, but my phone reminds in the same position in the 3D space. For them, it was all close to magic!

Tracking

AI tracking was great from what I can tell (it’s harder to tell how it performs if you don’t have a preview). The inspected footage always had a subject in the frame and other than a couple of sudden re-positions (mandated by my actions) – I couldn’t fault it.

It doesn’t handle situations where multiple people are present in the frame. Even if enabled by a single person with a gesture next to their face, AI gets confused when looking at more than one face and the AI face track jumps from face to face – which is visible through sudden gimbal movement. This applies to filming someone in a crowd as well as trying to film a tracked selfie of me and my partner walking by my side. I have a feeling that the AI recognises a person rather than a face – which explains eager tracking handover from one person to another.

Shortcomings

None of the things I’ll mention are deal breakers, some could be even fixed with a firmware update. As no product is perfect, it’s time for some criticism.

There is nowhere sensible to store the AI unit on the gimbal. Magnets will keep it in place, but it’s easy to detach it in the bag, or what’s more annoying while clamping your phone to the gimbal. If the module would be a bit bigger, you could use the phone jaws to keep it secured, but as it is… you have to make sure your pockets will do. I’d love to see a snapshot/video start/stop gesture for remote operation.

The small tab responsible for keeping the roll axis in place got rounded before I even ended up my Marrakech trip. It won’t hold the axis in place while stowed away. It’s not like it saves you space, but this bit should be made from reinforced plastic.

The wheel controls are simply underutilised. I would love the ability to map the wheel to any of the axes (not just the roll) and use it to add custom time for timelapse. That flexibility would be appreciated. I hope to see the options for this in a firmware patch. Considering the inclusion of the OLED display, I’m surprised Hohem didn’t include a menu with options to navigate through.

App and other observations

I had a little time to play (a day) before I had to take it with me on my holiday. I left the instructions behind hoping I would figure everything out. The truth is, I missed some control schemes and I struggled harder than I would otherwise, so do take time and read the instructions front to back. It is what makes this gimbal genuinely exciting to use. If not for a couple of functions, it would make the Hohem Joy app completely redundant.

To my knowledge, without the app open, you cannot control the focus pull. It’s a shame. The app suffers from very similar shortcomings featured in each iSteady model. With that said, some options are worth visiting.

Tracking

Apart from AI addon tracking, the app can use your phone camera to track faces and objects. I have a feeling that object tracking in particular has improved, especially its ability to regain track of the object after it moved out of the frame. It’s also very attentive and you have to try hard to lose track.

Extra gestures are also available through the app – starting and stopping the video (✌,✋) which enables full remote controls. Ideal for anyone travelling alone.

Pre-sets

Other than access to camera settings and gimbal configuration the app offers a small selection of movement pre-sets. These range from 360 rotations, time-lapses and panoramas. You will find more funky ones in the Moments category – but these are very moment specific.

There are 2 new modes I haven’t seen since my other iSteady reviews. CloneMe and Smart Dolly Zoom. One takes pictures of you in multiple places in a panorama mode, the other one tries to track the object while performing the dolly zoom.

Battery

I was in Marrakech for 7 days. I used it extensively and I only charged it once on my trip, mainly as silly me left the gimbal in my bag on standby overnight. It will easily last you 3-4 days of heavy use – less if used as a phone battery top-up. It can be charged while in use, and the conveniently placed 1/4″ nut on the handle could be used to add a power bank.

Final thoughts

There is no denying that my Moroccan videos wouldn’t be as awesome without a gimbal. It’s not the most portable gimbal from Hohem (iSteady X2 takes the crown), nor the cheapest one ($209.90 without a discount) but it brings more to the table than previous models. I can see myself taking it with me on my next holiday. Unless you are hell-bent on taking a DSLR with you, a gimbal such as Hohem iSteady M6 should be a must-have accessory in your travel bag if you care about video. Let me know your thoughts in this Reddit thread.

🆓📈💵 – See the transparency note for details.

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