Review: Zhiyun Smooth Q3 – The Smartphone Filmmaker’s Secret Weapon
The world of cinema has evolved over the past 10 years with the introduction of the smartphone as a viable and effective storytelling device. No longer are we restricted to the extremely pricey cinema cameras of Hollywood. The rest of us now have the power to film high-quality indies sitting right in our pockets.
There have been entire productions shot entirely on iPhones and Androids. The quality of these cameras provides the wanna-be Spielbergs and Tarantinos with a foot in Hollywood’s door and a chance to showcase their talent.
But there’s one problem.
A good camera on a good smartphone is not enough to capture professional-quality shots. Sure, your new iPhone might put out a beautiful and vivid picture. However, unless all your shots are going to be from a tripod (read: borrrrrinnng!), you’ll want to start stabilizing your camera. Enter the gimbal… and not just any gimbal.
Say hello to my little friend.
Enter the Zhiyun Smooth Q3
For the newbie mobile filmmaker, the actual camera and lighting solutions usually get all the attention. That quickly changes once they realize that their very well-lit, 4k action shot looks like it was filmed on a bumpy brick road by a cameraman hopped up on too much caffeine.
The Zhiyun Smooth Q3 is a 3-axis gimbal that stabilizes your camera and keeps your picture smooth. For many, it is the missing link and catalyst that will move you from amateur to indie filmmaker. In comparison with other smartphone gimbals on the market, the 3-axis Zhi Yun Smooth Q3 gives them a run for their money.
Let’s break it down and look closer now at the awesome Zhi Yun Smooth Q3.
Aesthetics and Ergonomics
Zhi Yun ships the Smooth Q3 with a USB-C cord for charging. (You will need the actual charging block. Unless you’re still using a Nokia from 1999, you very likely have one (or too many) in a drawer or plugged into a wall at home.) The Smooth Q3 Combo packaging also includes a wrist strap, a nice roomy storage case, and a ZY Cami Prime card. (The review product received was the standard (not combo) package, so the case is not officially reviewed here.)
The actual Smooth Q3 stabilizer is packed collapsed and detached from the tripod/handle portion.
This product is a neutral gray color. On the top of the bracket that holds the phone, there is a rotatable light that can turn 180 degrees if you want to light yourself up in selfie mode instead of another subject. The handle converts into a sturdy tripod. Overall, this is a very unintimidating piece of equipment and, so far, a great first purchase for novices to level up with.
To set up, the tripod/handle is easily screwed into the stabilizer body. There is a thumbscrew on the side of the handle that you loosen. Once you’ve done this, you then need to extend the stabilizer arm. Simply pull the handle back away from the main gimbal portion until it clicks into place. After the click, tighten the thumbscrew back up. Next, unlock both motors in the gimbal by rotating each segment (there is one in what I’d call the elbow and one in the base of the expanding bracket that holds the phone) clockwise until there is another little snap and they loosen. Et voilà! You are now a cinematographer extraordinaire! (Well, at least you’ve just taken a big step in the right direction.)
Let’s talk ergonomics now. It’s quite obvious that the Zhi Yun engineers were determined to make a product that could be used tirelessly for hours at a time. There is just enough thickness in the handle diameter to make this comfortable to hold without it feeling unnecessarily bulky or heavy. The longer you use this, the more you’ll appreciate the fact that it’s not as heavy as it looks (nor is it flimsy). It is solid and has no problem holding the larger, heavier phones out now.
On the front and back of the handle are soft-textured rubber grip pads that make it easy to hold for long periods, even if your hands get a little wet, sweaty, or just plain tired. It’s very comfortable to hold. Every button and control (on/off, a multi-function trigger, camera zoom, record, stabilizer joystick, and mode) is within easy reach for one-handed operation.
All-in-all, the Zhiyun Smooth Q3 is off to a great start for this review. First impressions: a solid 5 out of 5.
How Does the Smooth Q3 Perform?
Above the controls on the front of the handle are four LEDs. They indicate the current battery life and the follow mode that the gimbal is in. Adjustments to the camera position can be made ad hoc by using the integrated joystick. These lights are labeled PF, L, F, and POV. Here’s what those modes mean:
- PF – Pan Follow – this mode allows you to move the handle around at various angles while keeping the camera level. For example, if you rotate the handle upward to the right (counterclockwise) or left (clockwise), the handle will rotate around the camera as it remains in place, maintaining a level horizon. However, as you rotate the handle left and right, the camera will move with it.
- L – Lock – the three motors in the gimbal are locked in the current position, which keeps the camera in that position regardless of how the handle is rotated or translated (moved on an axis). This mode is different from PF in the fact that the left and right handle movement is also dampened for the camera. This mode can also be activated while in the follow (F) mode, by double-pressing the mode button.
- F – Follow – once the camera is in locked (L) mode, click the mode button again, which locks the roll axis motor but enables the tilt and pan axes.
- POV – Point Of View – all three stabilizing motors work together to follow the handle movement.
In each of the modes, the appropriately named Smooth Q3 works flawlessly. It’s amazing to think of how the three motors work in unison to keep your video smooth. It’s highly responsive. It’s pretty much impossible to beat the performance of the Smooth Q3 for the money that you’ll pay for it.
Stabilizer and Tracking
When you move the stabilizer from a vertical position to a 180 vertical position where what was at the top is now at the bottom, the camera does a little spin to reset its position. Honestly, it’s a move that is going to be rarely attempted, if at all during filming… so it’s not much of an issue, but simply a limitation to be aware of. It may actually be an intentional thing. Zhi Yun may have caused this reaction to occur to keep the gimbal out of the view of the camera, especially when filming in the underslung position (where you’re holding the gimbal downward, such as for shots where the camera is at ground level).
Tapping the trigger puts this into active tracking mode, where the stabilizer will focus and follow a specific subject with the camera. This seems to work relatively well and I’m sure will continue to improve in its accuracy over time and new updates.
The integrated fill light at the top of the Smooth Q3 has three brightness levels. It emits a nice warm tone and can be turned around to use during selfie-facing videos.
No, this isn’t going to replace your pro-level lighting system by any means. However, it certainly is nice to have the extra light to supplement your phone flash. It is more than sufficient for subjects within a close range. (Most amateurs likely haven’t invested yet into serious lighting, so they’ll benefit from this feature.) This bright LED light, especially in the highest setting, is a nice cherry-on-top feature that Zhi Yun already added to an already exceptional gimbal product.
Regarding battery life, let’s put it this way… you’re likely to tire out before it does. You’ll get a full shooting day out of this, easily getting 12 to 15 hours out of one charge. It’s very impressive that it’s able to use three independent motors to keep your picture smooth clear up until the Martini shot.
ZY Cami App
While there are plenty of great features on the Smooth Q3, the ZY Cami app opens up a bunch more. The app has additional shooting modes such as a dolly zoom mode, time-lapse, hyper-lapse, slow-motion, and panoramas. Start recording by using simply using a gesture, such as an open palm. For those of you lone wolves who do your own filming, the app also has face-tracking. As you move around, the camera will turn to keep you in view. You can also fine-tune your shutter speed, ISO, frame rate, resolution, and other settings.
For performance, I rate this a solid 4.75 out of 5. A minor quarter-point ding for the active tracking algorithm, as it occasionally gets a little confused. I’m sure, though, that this will eventually improve in the future… so simply keep your ZY Cami app updated.
The market for smartphone gimbals is maturing and there are many options to choose from. It can be a little daunting to find the “right” one. However, Zhiyun makes this decision a no-brainer.
This gimbal is great! It is a very well-designed must-have for anyone getting serious about their phone videography skills. With a low price point of $89 US retail on the official website, this is easily the best purchase out there right now for affordable gimbals. (In a hurry? Receive it overnight by using one-day shipping through Amazon Prime (at least where I live) through Zhiyun’s official Amazon store.) At this price point, the Zhi Yun Smooth Q3 can’t be beat.
With a score of 9.75 out of 10, I highly recommend taking advantage of the free overnight shipping on this one. :-) If you can afford it, I highly recommend getting the combo version to get the storage case and wrist strap. Once you’ve used this awesome device a time or two and appreciate the value, you’ll want to take very good care of it.
After all, with this, you’ll be one smooth operator.