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Fstoppers Reviews the Zhiyun Smooth-Q3: The Best Smartphone Gimbal To Date

Fstoppers Reviews the Zhiyun Smooth-Q3: The Best Smartphone Gimbal To Date

The capabilities of smartphones when it comes to photography and videography have improved to a degree where they are legitimately useful tools for professionals and enthusiasts alike. I got my hands on Zhiyun's Smooth-Q3 to put it through its paces, and the results surprised me.

I'll be honest, when Zhiyun reached out to me about testing their Smooth-Q3, I was interested but didn't expect much. Firstly, it's a gimbal for smartphones, not for dedicated cameras, which saps a little of the excitement for me. Secondly, it is $89, which is so cheap for a gimbal I was prepared for it to be barely better than my phone's built-in stabilization software. Nevertheless, Zhiyun has a good reputation in the industry for creating great gimbals, and while the Smooth-Q3 wasn't what I would have reached for, it was certainly worth trying. After all, for under $100 for the base unit, it wouldn't have to do much to be worth the meager investment.

What Is the Smooth-Q3?

The Smooth-Q3 is a 3-axis smartphone gimbal with a built-in LED video light and a number of smart controls and tracking modes. It also boasts gesture control, on-gimbal zoom control, a dolly style zoom, and an impressive app with a lot of functionality that I will get to later in the review.

Who Is It For?

I am, in many ways, the wrong sort of person to be reviewing the Smooth-Q3. While I am interested in gimbals and even ones designed for smartphones, the target market for this product is clearly the influencer crowd. That said, however much the word "influencer" has grown to make me cringe a little, there is plenty of crossover in demand for that crowd and professional photographers. For example, behind-the-scenes footage is popular and either requires deeper investment in equipment or harnessing what you already have. For me, I would be inclined to use my iPhone 12 Pro Max as it has strong video specs, so a gimbal designed to make capturing dynamic video intuitive and straightforward is appealing even if I'm not who the product is aimed at.

Specs and Features

The Smooth-Q3 gimbal is a compact, folding, 3-axis (pitch, roll, and yaw) stabilizer. It has both landscape and portrait modes, a built-in and rotatable LED video light, advanced subject tracking and following modes, a dolly zoom mode, gesture control, and more. It also uses a phone app, which as I say, I will come back to later, as it's worth discussing.

The Smooth-Q3's load capacity is 0.6 lbs, which is 280 g. This is more than enough for almost every smartphone on the market; my iPhone is the largest iPhone and comes in at 226 g. The port is USB-C for charging and wired connectivity, while wireless is achieved via Bluetooth 4.2. The battery capacity is 1,300 mAh, with an estimated runtime of 15 hours, though you would be hard-pressed to get that under ordinary use. That said, I was impressed by the battery life, and it was never close to being an issue, albeit without using the LED light.

The Mode button on the gimbal body changes between L (Lock Mode), F (Follow Mode), POV (Point of View Mode), V (Vortex Mode), and PF (Pan Follow Mode). There is also a button on the back of the unit, which allows you to track, reset, and alter the orientation (portrait to landscape, for instance) easily.

Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Value

The build quality is decent. It's not of the standard you may have seen with gimbals aimed at dedicated cameras, but for it to be portable and light, it has to sacrifice somewhere. That's not to say it felt fragile in any way, but I can't imagine it would survive many falls. This sounds like a strong criticism, but it isn't when you pitch the build quality against the value. The fact this piece of kit is $89 is staggering to me. If I had been told it was $250, I would have said that was probably a fair price. I have spent more than that on a single filter. So, while the build quality isn't anything to excite you, the value is.

With regards to ergonomics, I was again impressed. If it's your first time using a gimbal, you may struggle a little to begin with. I had a friend try using it, and he had never held a gimbal before, and while the basics were straightforward, any manual panning or more complex movements were a little tricky for him. However, it doesn't take long to master some of the functions, and the placement of the joystick and mode select buttons were perfect for my hand.

The App

Zhiyun recommends you use the ZY Cami app with this gimbal, and I duly obliged. I didn't think I would include much about the app — I imagined it being largely a basic tool to aid the gimbal — but it's worth discussing, as it combines with the Smooth-Q3 for a holistic solution.

The app has a mini-editing suite built-in, which allows you to do most basics of video editing. You can trim and alter the clips, add music and effects, add text, change the speed, zoom, crop, filters, colors, and so on. While you're not able to go in depth, it can do more than enough to quickly create even longer videos without having to leave your phone. There are also templates you can download that plug some nice transitions into your footage and slice the timeline up to fit the music. I couldn't edit as much with the templates as I would have liked, but I created the below video in minutes (albeit without working out how to change the text). In fact, I believe that if someone were to challenge me, I could record, edit, and upload a video using one of these templates in about 15 minutes. For popular apps like TikTok or YouTube Shorts, that's one heck of a selling point.

If you pay a subscription (because, of course, there's a subscription model) for Zhiyun Prime, you also get access to live streaming, SMART templates, online storage, advanced filters, and most significantly, 4K exporting. The above video was capped at 1080p, which was a shame. That said, the monthly membership is only around $2 per month and less if you pay annually.

With regards to shooting within the app, you have reasonably good control over the settings and some built-in post-processing, including some live-action retouching on faces, which might be of interest to influencers, but it wasn't to me. There are also some fun shooting modes, like Hyperlapse, which I can see having some useful applications.

Testing the Stability

These clips are a bit rough, but there was no sense in heavily editing them for test purposes. In the first clip, I am walking like I have defecated myself in order to act as a sort of gimbal for my gimbal, trying to remain as steady as possible. In the second clip, I am standing upright and walking how somebody who films vlogs might, and I make little effort to steady myself as I move. In the third clip, I am running the route without looking at the gimbal. In all three videos, there is a strange stutter at the start. I didn't notice this until I was loading the videos onto my PC, but I believe this is my iPhone causing the issue, not the gimbal.

When I was recording these videos, my thought process was this: the waddle-walk was going to be the best by far, the walking upright clip would be interesting to see how stable it is, and the running clip was pointless. After all, it's an $89 gimbal for smartphones. In actuality, I think the running clip is by far the most impressive. You can use the second clip to gauge how fast I normally walk, and you should be able to tell that I am running at a decent pace in the third. This blew me away and shows just how much quality you're getting.

What I Liked

  • The price: $89 is an absolute steal in my books. If your phone can film in 4K, you can turn it into a strong tool in your arsenal for such a low outlay.
  • Intuitive controls: it doesn't take much to learn how to use the gimbal effectively.
  • Button layout: there aren't many buttons, but they're in the right place and the right size for me. If you have large hands, you may struggle more than I did, but it's generally well laid out.
  • In-app editing: you can turn around a good video on the fly and within minutes. If the templates were a little easier to customize (I think this is behind the subscription), it would be superb for vloggers, BTS work, and shorts.
  • Size and weight: when packed down, it's small enough that it takes up very little space in your camera bag.

What Could Be Improved

  • When using the smarter modes (Follow, for example), I would often get small jerks of the gimbal.
  • I would argue the iPhone 12 Pro Max might be a touch too big for the Smooth-Q3.
  • To create truly great, dynamic footage, you will have to put some practice in.
  • Using the joystick in unison with some of the smart tracking modes led to some unexpected movements — this could easily be a user error.

Final Thoughts

I have three primary takeaways with the Smooth-Q3. Firstly, the price is ridiculous and I don't know how they're making a profit from it. Any shortfall of the gimbal can be overlooked by virtue of the low price as the flaws just aren't significant enough. Secondly, the skill ceiling for mastering this gimbal is higher than I thought it would be. I don't count this as a negative per se, but I had to try multiple times to pull off dynamic and creative moving shots. It isn't tremendously difficult, but the smart modes working in conjunction with the joystick make for a bit of a learning curve. Thirdly, with how small it can pack down and how light it is, it would be an easy addition to your bag without much of a sacrifice. The Smooth-Q3 is a fantastic device.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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