We live in an interesting time, one where anyone with a camera and an idea can turn into a content creator. Whether you’re angling to become an influencer, shooting videos for posterity, or creating an online series for personal accountability, your phone is the most important tool in your arsenal.
Depending on what you’re planning to, or currently recording, a gimbal could be right up there in terms of value. When it comes to gimbals for smartphones and DSLR cameras Zhiyun is one of the bigger brands in the space.
We’ve had a chance to spend time with one of its more recent models, the Smooth 5. Available for $169 on its own or $219 as part of a bundle, the Zhiyun Smooth 5 is a 3-axis smartphone gimbal.
Setup & Design
The setup process is fairly simple, taking just a few steps to unlock the tilt, pan, and roll axis. The pan axis lock, for its part, is a physical switch on the rear just above the USB-C port. The tilt and roll axis mechanisms unlock by rotating the arm to move the nub from its beveled lock.
When you expand the smartphone clamp you’ll find it has rubber braces on on each side and when you insert your phone it’s done with the rear cameras facing from you. The clamp has soft rubber that embraces your phone without any scuffs, and a deeper ridge helps to secure bigger devices.
The gimbal houses a number of buttons and dials, including the large focus/zoom wheel on the left side. Also present are the power button, function button, and a threaded hole for a stabilizer or extension bar.
On front side of the gimbal you’ll locate the mode indicator light, menu, mode, and capture buttons, a joystick, adjustment wheel and center fill light button. Four buttons around the wheel adjust resolution/frame rate, ISO/exposure, display and photo album.
Once powered on, the Zhiyun Smooth 5 motors will attempt to balance things, and it does a fairly solid job of it. In nearly every instance we found it calibrated properly and quickly. Should you run into an issue, or feel it’s not precise, you can move the arms or reposition your phone to fine tune things.
Now that the phone is good to go, turn on the ZY Cami app on your phone so you can control the experience. That is if you want to get the most from your gimbal. You can use the gimbal with any camera app you want, but using the one that Zhiyun recommends works best with the Smooth 5. Which brings us to the software aspect.
While you can use the gimbal alone as a stabilizer or tripod for your phone, you’ll get more control, effects and options in the ZY Cami app. Available for both Android and iOS, it provide settings for capture and editing, including pano, dolly zoom, hyperlapse, and time lapse.
The primary reason to use a smartphone gimbal is to capture smooth video content, and the app does that very well. Using Pan Follow Mode you’ll find the tilt and roll axis motors are locked, with the pan axis following any movement.
Follow Mode locks the roll axis and follows subjects with the tilt and pan axis motors doing the work. Lock Mode locks all three of the motors. There are a few other options, too, so feel free to play around with it.
The ZY Cami app has a rather interesting editor that lets you edit captured video directly from the phone. Options here include standard stuff like trimming, adjusting speed, reverse the image, and rotation as well as adding music, stickers, or subtitles, zoom, filters, and color adjustments.
If you purchase the Zhiyun Smooth 5 as part of the combo package, you’ll get a year of Prime service for online editing, templates, and cloud storage. Zhiyun also provides user guides and tutorials in the mobile app; content from different creators is also available should you need a little inspiration.
Performance and Conclusion
We shot a number of videos using the Zhiyun Smooth 5, trying various phones to see if that made a difference. As it turns out, using the app on a semi-recent handset yields pretty much the same results.
All of the handsets we tried fit snugly and securely in place and, in nearly every instance, without having to remove the protective case. The different weights in phones and button orientations did not seem to present a problem either as the gimbal is designed with that in mind.
The Zhiyun Smooth 5 folds down into a compact unit that travels rather easily. It fits well in a bag or tucked into a backpack and the build quality signals to us that it’s not likely going to fall apart on us anytime soon.
We’ve spent time with more simple (read: fewer features) gimbals in the past and might recommend them for a first-time user or someone who’s not looking for much. It might be a bit overwhelming if this is your first foray in the world of gimbals.
On the other hand, we invite you to give yourself some time to learn the features and functions of the Smooth 5. There are a lot of controls and options at your disposal and once you get to understand them, you’ll find they can be rather valuable for content creation.
If you’re looking for a smartphone gimbal with a solid set of tools and capabilities, you’d be wise to consider the Zhiyun Smooth 5. There’s something to be said about getting what you pay for, especially if you’re deliberate about creating specific shots or videos.
The Zhiyun Smooth 5 is available for $169 in a box that includes the stabilizer/gimbal, a tripod attachment, and the USB type-C cable. For $219 you’ll also pick up a wrist strap, a fill light, a set of four light filters, a membership card, and a protective bag.