Gear Review: Zhiyun Smooth 3 – The perfect gimbal for your automotive videography

Lifestyle | July 20th, 2017 by 1
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The life of an automotive journalist in 2017 is significantly different than a decade ago. The online consumption of media has not only changed the …

The life of an automotive journalist in 2017 is significantly different than a decade ago. The online consumption of media has not only changed the way we interact with automotive content, but has also sparked innovation in the field of photography and videography. Years ago, the creation of video reviews involved massive rigs, cameras and large crews, but today, the simplicity, lightness and high-quality digital equipment is what makes video creation so exciting. The ever growing social medium has also brought with it the desire for easy-to-use and light equipment which can turn anyone into a content creator, within seconds.

Our day-to-day duties at BMWBLOG not only involve sitting behind a desk and producing content (boring at times), but also being in the field, shooting reviews, publishing to social media channels or attending car events around the world. And that implies traveling light and using the best and most user friendly equipment we can get our hands on. The latest product to join our automotive gear is the Zhiyun Smooth 3 gimbal for smartphones.

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Over the past 10 years, smartphone cameras have really jumped forward and the quality of modern smartphones is often comparable to professional equipment. Many people are no longer buying cameras, they’re just sticking with their mobile devices for taking pictures and recording videos.

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But with that, comes the issue of stabilizing your image and providing that smooth experience, so when it comes to shooting video-on-the-go, nothing is better than having a gimbal to hold your smartphone. Some companies like Apple even have stabilization built into their phones, which surprisingly works very well. With the help of a gimbal these shots could look just like a drone flying through the air, delivering a professional look to your videos.

Design And Quality

The Zhiyun Smooth 3 has a thin cylindrical main body and it’s made entirely of high-quality aluminum making it quite light at just 525 grams (18.25 ounces). The ergonomics allow for a natural grip, while the controls, such as the pan joystick, are easily reachable. Compared to other gimbals, the bottom of the handle houses the battery which is removable and can be replaced in the future, if needed. It offers around 14 hours of use time and it can be charged via a USB-A to micro-USB cable.

The Smooth 3 has a built-in counterweight system, meaning that you don’t need to use any counterweights like on some other gimbals, therefore, you won’t have any trouble at fixing your iPhone 7 Plus on it. The phone grips are filled with rubber so they will hold the phone safely in place without damaging or scratching its exterior.

User Modes

Smooth 3 features two thumb screws which are used to balance the smartphone before powering the device. The setup only has to be made once, as long as you don’t change the type of phone. Powering on the gimbal and you will notice the little motors taking over holding the phone perfectly level. It continuously corrects itself during movement, so your focus can remain on the video creation rather on the adjustments. The gimbal holds the phone in landscape mode, but if you want to use the phone vertically, you simply need to unscrew the screw holding the phone cradle to change the position.

There are three selectable modes which can be changed by pressing or double-pressing the M button on the handle. Each mode serves a specific purpose, with some great for fast action footage, while others ideal for social media sharing of more static content. The “Following Mode” adjusts the gimbal based on the movement of your iPhone, left, right, up or down. The “Pan Following Mode” locks the forward and backwards rotational movements, so the phone is always vertically fixed. You can still use the joystick to pan up and down, and for many, this is the ideal mode for every day use. The third and final mode, “Locking Mode” locks the horizontal and vertical axis, so the phone points always in the same direction as the gimbal movement. This is the perfect mode for interviews or by capturing “static” frames.

You can also shoot panoramic mode, Time Lapses and long exposures and you’re able to start/stop a video directly from your grip just by hitting one button. This is extremely useful if you’re doing a live video on Facebook and want to avoid the whole awkwardness at the end of the event.

To test the Zhiyun Smooth 3, we first headed to Le Mans, France, for the 24 hrs race which gave us the opportunity to not only test the gimbal’s features in a day or night environment, but also during fast pacing action. We’ve tried all three different modes throughout the weekend, which truly allowed us to test the complete feature set. The image quality under low light conditions usually suffers from pixelation and vibrations, but as you can see in the video below, the image quality is what you’d expect from a professional rig. The fast pace racing action was another great way to test the Smooth 3.

You can use the gimbal either with your stock camera app or with the ZY Play app and control the phone over the Bluetooth using the buttons. The Zhiyun-developed app offers additional features compared to the stock Camera app, like Object Tracking which can be used “to draw” a box around a subject and the app will help keep it in view at all times. This makes it also perfect for video interviews where you can track the individual’s face or eyes. The app also allows you to easily switch between video and photo modes. There are plenty of other features inside the app, from different resolutions to a manual mode to shoot, by adjusting the ISO, white balance, shutter speed and focal length.

We also had the chance to test the Smooth 3 gimbal during the BMW X3 launch in Spartanburg, by simply doing a walkthrough of the new SUV. The result can be seen in the footage below.

Another example of the gimbal’s great stabilizing features can also be observed in the footage of our BMW 1M.

We’ve used the Zhiyun Smooth 3 for over a month now and it has continuously delivered on our expectations. It’s premium, it’s robust, has plenty of features and most importantly, great battery life which can get us through a day of shooting or a day an auto show. At the end of the day, the price of about $300 may sound steep for some, but the Zhiyun Smooth III has everything you’d need in a gimbal.

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