While considering a smartphone gimbals for my phones, two brands immediately came to mind, DJI and Zhiyun. Zhiyun makes gimbals/stabilizers for cameras and smartphones. It smartphone models have the Smooth product name and for the past couple of months I have been testing out the Smooth Q3.
The Zhiyun Smooth Q3 is available for $89 or $109 if you want the combo package that comes with some additional goodies; storage bag, ZY Cami one-year prime service card, and a wrist strap. The zippered carrying/storage case itself is worth the $20 additional price. The Smooth Q3 is reasonably priced and also a great first gimbal if you are interested in improving your smartphone video results.
Also: Best camera phone 2021: Take the best photos and videos
Gimbals provide 3-axis stabilization with internal motors that activate after you mount your phone and then turn on the gimbal. The gimbal stabilizes tilt, pan, and roll while also providing various controls on the gimbal to pan, zoom, and move through various camera options. You smartphone is connected via Bluetooth to the gimbal and smartphone software help guide you through capturing content with interesting perspectives. The gimbal also acts as a selfie stick or even as a tripod and is an essential tool for video creators.
- Compact gimbal
- Included tripod attachment
- Powerful smartphone software
- Battery life not as long as expected
- Lots of options may be confusing at first
The Zhiyun Smooth Q3 is very close in size to the DJI Osmo Mobile 4/5, but is also more affordable. Its smaller form factor makes it easy to pack the case and gimbal along with you everywhere. The Smooth Q3 also comes with a tripod attachment for the bottom that serves as an extended rod for holding on to the gimbal too. The tripod base is very wide and creates a stable platform for using the gimbal hands-free.
Take the gimbal out of its package and charge it up via USB-C. I highly recommend you view the Quick Start Guide that will show you how to full unlock, extend, and setup your gimbal for use. It’s just a few steps to setup the hardware, including sliding up the main vertical arm and tightening the screw, rotating the tilt axis fixing buckle, and then rotating the roll axis fixing buckle that has the smartphone mounting bracket attached to it. Slide apart the smartphone clamp, it has rubber braces on either side, and insert your phone with the cameras facing away from you.
One thing to note about the vertical arm screw is that this is not intended to fully lock the vertical arm so don’t crank down too hard on the vertical screw. It is used to adjust the smoothness of the slide slot and lock in the contact points so that power flows to the motors throughout the rest of the gimbal.
Prior to turning on the gimbal, you can perform a bit of manual balancing. In landscape orientation, move the phone left or right within the phone clamp until it is steady and almost level with the ground. In portrait mode, you can actually slide the phone mount itself left or right, there are metal bars between the two clamp pieces that slide left to right in the mount, until it is almost level to the ground. You do not need perfect balancing since the gimbal will align everything when turned on, but it helps to get the balance close so that you don’t have the phone awkwardly positioned or the gimbal working too hard to maintain balance.
There is a LED light above your smartphone, when in landscape orientation, that can be rotated 180 degrees so you can use the light while recording selfie videos too. Tapping and holding on the top of the light turns it on and then tapping it toggles through three levels of brightness. The integrated light is a great feature we do not see on the DJI competitor.
Also: Best Android phone 2021: Top expert picks
On the back side of the gimbal handle is the power button and trigger button. The USB-C charging port is on the right side with the zoom rocker on the left side. On the working face of the gimbal, accessible and controllable with just your thumb while you hold the gimbal, are indicator lights, mode button, capture button, and a directional joystick.
Four of the buttons have multiple actions access with single, double, or triple presses. The trigger button is one of the most used with a single press toggling on/off Smart Follow mode, a double press repositioning the phone to center it, and a triple press switching your phone between landscape and portrait orientation. A press and hold of the trigger also toggles PhoneGo mode. Explore the multiple button options for the mode button, capture button, and power button. The joystick simply moves you left, right, up, or down.
- Light: Integrated LED with 180 degree rotation and three brightness levels
- Smartphone capacity: 150 to 280 grams
- Battery: 1300 mAh for 7-15 hours of battery life and three hours to fully charge
- Dimensions (folded): 45 x 154 x 180 mm
- Dimensions (unfolded): 90 x 127 x 279 mm
- Weight: 340 grams
You can use the gimbal alone as a stabilizer for your phone, but you won’t experience all of the special effects and creative options unless you use the included software. The ZY Cami software is available for Android and iPhone models and provides you with a full capturing and editing alternative to the camera software on your phone. There are options for video, photo, pano, dolly zoom, timelapse, hyperlapse, and smart options.
The main use of a smartphone gimbal is to capture video content and the mode button on the gimbal is focused on this experience. Pan follow mode (PF) means that the tilt and roll axis motors are locked and the pan axis follows the movement of the stabilizer handle. The joystick is used to control tilt and pan axis in this mode. When Lock mode (L) is enabled the three motors are locked and will not follow the movement of the stabilizer handle with the joystick again controlling tilt and pan. In Follow mode (F) the roll axis motor is locked with the tilt and pan axis motors following the movement of the stabilizer handle.
The Point of View mode (POV) is pretty radical in that all three motors follow the movement of the stabilizer handle. Vortex mode is accessed from either the POV or PF modes with the POV indicator light flashing while in this mode. PhoneGo mode is enabled by pressing and holding the rear trigger button. The F indicator flashes when this mode is enabled and in this mode the camera pans and tilts following the movement of the stabilizer at fast speed while the roll axis is locked.
The ZY Cami app also has a powerful editor that lets you fully edit your captured content right on your phone. You can trim your video, add music, add subtitles, add stickers, change playback speed, reverse the video, zoom, rotate, add filters, modify colors, and more. The Prime service, one year is included with the combo package, provides you access to online editing, online video storage, and more templates for advanced editing of your videos.
User guides, tutorials, and content from other creators are all contained within the ZY Cami app. Viewing other content is good for inspiration and for providing ideas of how you can improve your content too.
Experiences and conclusions
I shot videos using the Zhiyun Smooth Q3 with a OnePlus 9 Pro, Google Pixel 5a, and TCL 20 Pro 5G. My Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has too odd of a form factor to work in the gimbal, which was expected. The phone clamp securely held these phones and the rubber inserts protected the finish on the phones. You can even mount your phone in a case if it is not a bulky case.
The Smart Follow mode was very impressive where a green box appears that you place on your subject and then the gimbal follows that subject wherever they move. This is also useful when using the tripod to record yourself doing things in front of the camera.
The panoramic mode with the tripod is awesome since you can set the Smooth Q3 down on a stable surface, enable pano in the software, and then hit record to watch the gimbal work with your phone to capture a perfectly aligned pano shot. I always seem to move up or down a bit when I try shooting these just with my phone.
The dolly zoom option is an interesting effect that we’ve seen in movies in the past and it’s sometimes called the Hitchcock effect. You move towards or away from the subject while zooming in the opposite direction. This effect was used on Chief Brody in Jaws to great success. The smart/template options were also fun as they give you some filters and methods to experiment with easily where you simply select the template and then shoot the video.
Overall, I was very satisfied with the Zhiyun Smooth Q3 gimbal’s performance, price, and powerful shooting/editing software. The light is a great addition and it’s a fairly compact gimbal. While Zhiyun advertises 7-15 hours of battery life, my experience was that the 7 hours is more typical and should be expected. That said, that’s plenty of time to capture video content all day long.