Zhiyun Crane M3 Smartphone Gimbal Review
Product Name: Zhiyun Crane M3
Product Description: The Crane M3 can handle a payload of up to 2.2kg, which is around 5 pounds give and take, and that’s a lot of muscle for such a compact gimbal. That payload gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to deciding what camera or cameras you can mount on it. And that’s what I think is key to deciding whether this is the right smartphone gimbal for you.
Offer price: 350 - 650
Easy to Use
The big question is, who is this gimbal for? Is it as good as it seems and everyone is raving about it? The short answer is yes, this gimbal is a great gimbal for smartphones. If you are someone who films using both an APSC camera and a phone, this would be an amazing gimbal for you because it gives you a lot of flexibility. If you film with your phone only, this is also a great gimbal. It future proofs your purchase in case one day you decide to upgrade to a compact camera or even a mirrorless camera for that matter.
Easy for vlogging
Settings adjustments on the gimbal itself
All axis are lockable
Lightweight and compact
Roll axis bar locking problems
Random motor shaking
User Review( votes)
Zhiyun Crane M3 Smartphone Gimbal Review
The Zhiyun Crane M3 can handle a payload of up to 2.2kg, which is around 5 pounds give and take, and that’s a lot of muscle for such a compact gimbal. That payload gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to deciding what camera or cameras you can mount on it. And that’s what I think is key to deciding whether this is the right smartphone gimbal for you. And yes, it can handle a Sony A7S3, although pushing it and right at the very limit, but in my opinion, this gimbal is probably better suited to compact APSC type of cameras, lightweight camera setups or smartphones. So, if filming on a phone is your thing, this gimbal is probably all you’re ever gonna need for years to come. Could this be the best smartphone gimbal in the market?
This is a good gimbal. The Zhiyun Crane M3 feels really nice, it’s plastic but you can tell it’s quality plastic if there is such a thing. But you definitely feel you’re holding something of a certain quality. The locking motors are sturdy and easy to engage in, which also makes me think that the components inside are good. It honestly feels really good when you hold it and you can clearly see that every aspect of this gimbal has been well thought out and designed. Someone has put some time and good work into this gimbal. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and I’ve had a blast, but there is always a but, it’s not perfect and although for a lot of people this could be the ideal gimbal, for others it might feel a bit too much.
Balancing this Zhiyun Crane M3 gimbal is super easy. The 2.2Kg or 5lbs payload means it can easily handle whatever accessories you throw at it, it’s as simple as that. So no need to worry anymore about whether a phone case or a lens is too heavy or not. Whatever you want to use, this gimbal will handle it. Balancing is fairly quick and easy and a really nice touch is that all axis bars have markings on so you can easily find the sweet spot for the payload or camera set up you plan to use. I personally really like that. And once balanced correctly, all movements are really smooth, whatever mode you choose. Zhiyun provides the gimbal with a camera base plate and a phone mount, and this phone mount is actually really sturdy. The phone is literally going nowhere. And If on the other hand, you use a larger case like this one, which is what I like to use with my phone, you can simply screw the case to the baseplate and that’s that. This is a heavy case for a smartphone but the gimbal can handle it without a problem. Honestly, I have been well impressed by the overall performance of this gimbal.
Setting things up
The best thing about the Zhiyun Crane M3 is that every setting possible can be adjusted within the gimbal itself. You get this fairly big LCD touch screen that is actually quite responsive. The menu is super simple to navigate and making adjustments is really quick and simple. You honestly can’t go wrong. No other gimbal that I know of in this price range offers anything like this. You literally don’t need to use the Zhiyun app at all, which is ideal for anyone using 3rd party apps like Filmic Pro, and will also save you a lot of time and hassle. And one thing that I find really cool and actually very useful is the balance section on the LCD. It shows you if any of the axis is slightly off or incorrectly balanced. What you want is all the sliders in the middle when in the resting position so if you have an axis incorrectly balanced, you’ll see a colored bar on either side. So, if you see that, you know that you have an axis incorrectly balanced and it’s really easy to correct it. As a matter of fact, you could probably balance the whole thing just by using this menu, although it’s probably not intended for that but to give you a visual reference that everything is ok.
All gimbal modes can be set through the LCD screen. You get the usual modes, follow, lock, pan follow or tilt-lock, POV, vortex or inception mode, Go mode, which is like sports mode, and then vertical or portrait. What else can you say here really? I mean, they’re all really well implemented although I’d say that if vertical or portrait is your thing, I don’t think this is the right gimbal for you. Yes, you can do it, but pretty much for just grabbing a quick shot here and there, not for long term filming. And although you can mount the tripod it comes with on the 1/4inch thread on the side of the gimbal, and that helps a bit, things starts to look a bit funny and I just don’t think this gimbal is designed for vertical filming, really. For vortex, I always recommend people to shoot at 60 frames per second and then slow down in post, because this is the kind of shot that if you do it quickly, it’s just uncomfortable to watch. If you press the M button you can switch between pan follow, lock and follow modes and if you press twice you enter POV. These are probably the 4 modes that most people will ever need to use and I am not surprised that those are the ones Zhiyun mapped out to change quickly using the M button. For the rest of the modes, you change going into the LCD, but all can be done very quickly. Is it well implemented and responsive? Yes, there is no lagging at all so the moment you select the mode you want, the gimbal enters that mode immediately.
Size and build
It’s pretty remarkable what Zhiyun has done with the Zhiyun Crane M3 in terms of size and build. It’s a lot smaller than I ever imagined, way smaller than the Smooth 5 or the G6 Max. And that is a surprise because this gimbal packs some muscle inside. Is it the kind of gimbal you can fit in your pocket? Well, yes if you have big pockets but I don’t think this is the kind of gimbal you want if that is what you’re after. The overall build is good and you can feel the quality of the components. Way better in my opinion than the Zhiyun Smooth 5. But then again, this gimbal costs almost 3 times as much so you would expect that. All axis are lockable and the actual locks are really good. They don’t slide or become loose and you do feel confident that the gimbal is safe when locked. And one thing I really like is the tripod that comes with it. It’s a really long little tripod, which makes the whole thing way more stable when the gimbal is on. As a matter of fact, the legs are so long that you can easily use it as a sort of extension stick when in vlogging mode
The ZY Play app
Personally, I think this gimbal is perfect for use with a 3rd party app like Filmic Pro for the simple fact that you can access and adjust all the settings on the gimbal itself. Zhiyun gives you the ZY Play App, which allows you to manually control the ISO, shutter speed and so on, but they’ve made the options so small to access, that it’s actually hard to set them correctly. The App doesn’t have a tracking feature and that might put some people off but on the other hand, you get the option to control the gimbal remotely for those situations when you might want or need to control the gimbal at a distance. Most people will probably never use that feature, but it’s nice to know the option is there if you ever need it.
Now, you might open the app and decide that you are totally cool with it, I mean, it does what a camera app is supposed to do, but I expect most people to be using a 3rd party app. Simply because you get a much more extensive range of features than you get over the Zhiyun app. Unless maybe when doing time-lapses, where using the Zhiyun app might actually be handy and easier to set up.
One of the best uses for a gimbal is time lapses because you can introduce movement in the shot rather than keeping the camera static. You can get some really cool and creative moving shots that otherwise you would need some pretty expensive gear to replicate. The problem with using gimbals though is that the moment you get a little bit of crosswind, they move or shake a lot because they are so lightweight and flimsy, they literally just can’t handle it. Not with the M3 though, this gimbal is solid and the motors are strong and reliable, so if your footage is shaky because of wind, the weak point will be your tripod, and most likely the base plate. Setting up time-lapses on the ZY app is really easy and even though you get a number of keyframable points, most people will probably never need to use more than 2 points, to be honest. And just as the Smooth 5, you get to option to adjust the interval and duration of the timelapse, and you also get a reading of how long the playback will be at normal speed. What is also really cool about it is that you can set the gimbal to remote operation and then set the start and end points remotely so you can do the timelapse using your preferred 3rd party app. I myself use Filmic Pro and the range of settings that I get are phenomenal so if you rather do the timelapse with your camera app and not with the ZY Play, at least you get the option to easily do it, and that is brilliant.
If vlogging is your thing, obviously you can use the front selfie lens but if you care about quality, you want to use the rear lens or lenses. The main wide lens usually is the better lens but the ultra-wide is the lens that more often than not you’ll want to use. The Zhiyun Crane M3 makes it really easy, you just tap three times the reset switch and the gimbal turns around so you’re facing the rear lenses. This is how you want to vlog because the quality of the rear lens or lenses is so much better than the front selfie one by a long margin. If you are filming in low light, I recommend that you add an ultra-wide lens to the main wide. Your low light shots will be much better and the gimbal can handle whatever accessory or lens you put on so, in that regard, you have nothing to worry about. And although you don’t see yourself on a screen, it’s hard to be off-camera on an ultra-wide, especially as you can use the feet or tripod that comes with the gimbal as a sort of extension stick to add an even wider field of view. After a while, you get used to it and you don’t really need a screen. If anything it distracts you from looking directly into the lens.
But one thing that this gimbal gives you that is amazing for vlogging is a built-in LED light. The light is actually quite bright and you can easily dial up and down the intensity, this is so good honestly. Not only that but you can also change the color temperature, and I think this is really great because it’s not the same using the light during the day than at night time. Simply hold the button down and it will switch from brightness to temperature, and you can then dial up or down whatever temperature you want, it’s as simple as that. This is really well implemented by Zhiyun and, you know, the fact it’s built-in means you don’t have to worry about forgetting it.
You can clearly see that in normal circumstances, the noise floor of the Zhiyun mic is far from ideal and nowhere near as good as other mics. But if you add a relatively inexpensive mic booster in the cardioid setting, it’s just about ok. This should give you an idea as to whether the mic is good or not. Is it useful to have the mic with the receiver attachment? I’d say yes, if you do live interviews and, for instance, you’re a reporter working on news stories and you need to have stabilised footage and at the same time the ability to record interviews, on the go, without any delays setting up, I’d say then this is a great option. And you can use whatever microphone, not just the Zhiyun one, because of the extension mount, so you get that flexibility. I would have loved if Zhiyun has made the receiver to be a wireless receiver, and for the mic to have a built-in transmitter. That would make the proposition really interesting because you wouldn’t need to deal with a cable, but then again, it’s all about price and what people might or might not be willing to pay, I guess.
The not so good
After using the Zhiyun Crane M3 for a few weeks, there is only one thing that I find irritating, although it’s something I can easily work around, but still, irritating. They tried to make the gimbal so compact that in doing so, the roll axis bar has to be always all the way in to lock it. And this is a real problem if you have your phone nicely set up and you want to transport it to another location, lock the motors and go. Well, you can’t do that, you just physically can’t do it. I guess it’s a compromise you have to live with so you get a smaller overall size. You can always set the gimbal in sleep mode and walk around until your next shot but some people might find this far from ideal. Some people might be ok, some people might not, but this is worth mentioning. And that’s that, this is all the negative I have to say about the rig. Overall, it’s a really good gimbal.
So, the big question is, who is this gimbal for? Is it as good as it seems and everyone is raving about it? The short answer is yes, this gimbal is a great gimbal for smartphones. If you are someone who films using both an APSC camera and a phone, this would be an amazing gimbal for you because it gives you a lot of flexibility. If you film with your phone only, this is also a great gimbal. It future proofs your purchase in case one day you decide to upgrade to a compact camera or even a mirrorless camera for that matter. Simply because the gimbal can handle up to 2.2Kg in payload. That’s a lot of room for growth in terms of cameras, accessories or whatever you want to mount on it. Should you go for the pro version over the standard? Are the mic and extra accessories worth the few extra hundred dollars? The main benefit from the standard to the combo is the extra-long tripod, but that’s a lot of money for a mini tripod. The bag is actually of very good quality so if you are someone who likes to travel light and can imagine only needing that small bag to carry a gimbal and a couple of accessories, because you literally won’t be able to fit any more, then the bag is great. It all comes down to what you are likely to need and use. The pro kit comes with a microphone and input adaptor. This is a tough one because I can only recommend it if you genuinely see a practical use for it, like interviewing people on the go as you film. If you decide to go for the microphone, you’ll want to get a mic booster so that you can get a decent signal and volume.
But if you think of this mic as a competitor to Sennheiser’s, Audio Technica’s or other microphones manufacturers, then think twice. I am being honest here, I don’t need to sugarcoat it, you’ve listened to the samples so you make up your own mind. Personally, I think for most people the standard set up is all they’ll ever need because the main thing you want is the gimbal and all the other accessories you can buy separately as or when you need them. Bear in mind though that if you buy the standard over the combo, you won’t get a smartphone mount and the tripod will be a small one, not the big one that you see in this video.
Zhiyun Crane M3 and Smartphone Video Tutorial
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