Gimbals are becoming ever more popular in the production world. Some are in the $10000 price tag range, (like the MoVI with accessories) down to a few hundred (like the Zhiyun Crane). Many manufacturers are making them in all shapes and sizes. In this article we are going to talking about the Smooth Q smartphone Gimbal by Zhiyun Tech.
Check out a little video I shot with it
For those of you who don’t know what a gimbal is: it’s a motorized computerized device that does its best to counteract the movements a person may make to keep a camera as level as possible. Due to balancing, weight and motor strength some gimbals can accommodate only certain weight ranges. The smooth Q can handle most smartphones, but that’s about it. I’m using mine on an iPhone 6+ and i find that I am hitting the limit in terms of this particular gimbal. Using additional lens attachments on my phone is not possible.
Coming from a stedicam.
I own and been using a stedicam for the last 6 months or so, but I never really got that comfortable with it. I found my Glidecam to be challenging when balancing and rebalancing through the day. I felt ok with it, and know it takes time to work with it but still fit limited by it. For one a stedicam rally requires stamina when operating. it can get a bit tiring. The other part it was a little bit limiting. If i was planning a stedicam shoot, I was spending a lot of time setting it up getting the weights right choosing my lenses etc. I also couldn’t get certain movements and angles with the stedicam as I always had the counterweight bar to get my center of gravity.
Smooth Q first impressions:
I was a bit skeptical when I unpacked the Smooth Q. I had never heard of Zhi-yun Tech, but was in the market to test the waters of gimbals. I have been really looking at options like the Ronin, the Optimus, and a few others, but wanted to see just how a gimbal can stabilize my footage. So naturally I figured I would test out a smartphone gimbal. While looking them over I was looking at the DJI Osmo Mobile. But at several hundred dollars it seemed like too much investment when I could spend that on a larger one for my day to day cameras.
So the smooth Q popped up and was at $150. I’ll be honest. I was hoping to be disappointed. In my mind I figured i was betting on this being a bad purchase that would leave me disappointed. Let’s be realistic: it was a $150 gimbal by a no name company vs. a $300 gimbal. I placed the order and it came in just a day or so from their official Amazon store.
I unpacked it and noticed it came in this peculiar little case. Its not necessarily a soft case, but its definitely not a hard case. Its somewhere in between. Inside was the Smooth Q, a little booklet with very little instruction that didn’t really make much sense, and a usb to micro usb cord. took a minute to set up and I was off and running. So the moment of truth- How did it stack up? Was it any good? well for those of you that spent a lot on a mobile gimbal- the Smooth Q is great! I would say it easily rivals the dji Osmo mobile. and we will talk about that in a little bit.
The smooth Q features a rotating stretch clamp to hold phones up to 7.8 oz and a max width of 5.5 inches. It looks like it can be mounted vertically or horizontally. I’ve actually only used it horizontally because that’s the way I produce and watch television. There’s 2 buttons: a power button which doubles as a mode button, a shutter button, a zoom in out, and a flat thumb stick. There’s a 12 hour internal rechargeable battery that can be charged by the micro USB. this port reported also does double duty with certain phones for the zoom feature but I haven’t been able to find any documentation on that. On the bottom is a full size usb. In a pinch the smooth Q can also be used to charge other devices and phones while in operation.
Actually using the SmoothQ is fairly straight forward with a key caveat: make sure you have your device balanced the right way. According to the information I found you need to have the mobile device placed in the clamp and pull the extension arm so the device points straight down. If you don’t do this step, the motors will run too hard trying to keep the device balanced and can burn itself out. Once you have that set up thought you can just turn it on and go. By default the gimbal will pop into action and should balance immediately. It takes less than a second and you are instantly balanced and ready. By default the mode you are in will keep it centered and steady. when you turn the handle the camera will also follow the turn smoothly. Using the thumb stick in this mode give you a tilt up down control which is very useful moving from a high to low angle. The thumbtack feels just sensitive enough to get smooth movement. Surprisingly it has a full 360 degree turn radius. By hitting the mode button once you can lock it into a follow position. no matter where you turn it will hold steady. in this mode the thumbtack controller will pan left and right. The third mode will let you change the angle of the camera diagonally.
Pressing the button 3 times quickly will spin the camera to a 180 Degrees. Press again and it spins back. A handy feature for those that maybe looking for a Vlog platform.
The build quality of the smoothQ, while solid, feels very cheap and plastic compared to other options out there. The plastic material no doubt lightens the overall weight of the device, and it feels cheap, but sturdy at the same time. the addition of the standard 1/4 20 mount at the bottom makes attaching this to any tripod or compatible light stand very easy. Why would you want to mount a stabilized gimbal at all? lets get into that-
Using the Smooth Q gimbal-
Actually using the smoothQ gimbal is really straight forward and easy. If you have ever used a cellphone to shoot, it seems like instant magic. You dont need anything other than a device and the smoothQ.
Zhiyun tech however DOES have a nifty app to do a few tricks.
Theres technically 2 different apps that technically do some different things. The ZY assistant lets you connect to the gimbal and calibrate it, check the max pitch roll and even remote control it. The remote control is a nifty feature but you would need a second device to connect to it other than the one attached to it, and you dont have a way to monitor whats happening then.
The Other app is the ZY Play app. It has some different modes that let you set color filters and also a calibration in a better layout. the same remote control feature and something very interesting that I havent used, setting up a RTMS live streaming link address.
Theres a photo mode a video, a timelapse and a Moving timelapse.
Using this on the iphone, I found the timelapse to be buggy. Even when viewing it in landscape mode and starting a timelapse much of my finalized timelapses would show as portrait mode cropping the left and right sides. Additionally I got better results using the standard iPhone camera app for timelpase. It just looked better, worked better overall.
Even when walking without trying to really keep steady I got some great results using the Smooth Q in NYC
Check out the video- I was walking normally just holding the smoothQ in front of me.
That being said, the Moving timelpase is an amazing! By using the joystick and point the gimbal in a certain direction and setting the point, and moving the head to a different direction and tilt and setting another point, programmed the SmoothQ to automatically move from point a-b-c etc over the course of a timelapse. This is a great feature that lets you set your device down and have it create some great movement in timelapses. The drawback to the app is it saves all photos and videos in the app iteslf away from the rest of your camera roll unless you specifically save them out from the ZY play App.
Lastly, it has a great Face detection- but oddly only in the assistant app. I couldnt ever get it to work in the ZY Play app which I found to be strange. When it is activated though it works better than i imagined.
Using it for shoots-
If you are commited to using your device for shooting be aware of the limitaions of the device. You cant compare the footage coming out of a Red Helium or an Alexa or a Black Magic camera or even my a7s to the footage you will get out of your Smartphone but thats not really the point. For making your instagram, or youtube videos, or vlogs, this smooth q gimbal really adds to the look and production value of your videos. I especially like the moving timelpase feature and using the gimbal with the iphones Slow Mo modes to get extremely smooth motions. Even if you are shooting 1080 at 60 frames the kinds of movements you are able to get out of this are great. I’ve absolutely used it as a b cam for some small productions and for the price it was a great investment.
I will say the day i received it, they announced a $20 dollar price drop which means you can get it for a bit less today.
Some final notes-
I don’t know why but after a couple weeks sometimes one of the motors will just kind of go limp and give out. Im unsure if I’m using this too much or what the situation is, but Im hoping that this gimbal lasts more than a couple months. Be aware of where you buy it from and make sure they have a good return policy. If this turns out to stop working, I will be sending it back through Amazon.
If you are looking to pick one up yourself- You can grab one from:
Load Capacity Maximum Weight: 7.8 oz
Maximum Width: 6.5″
Maximum Run Time Up to 12 hours
Roll Axis Range: 320°
Controllable: ± 30°
Tilt Axis Range: 320°
Controllable: -135° to +185°
Pan Axis Range Range: 360° (unlimited)
Controllable: 360° (unlimited)
Weight with Battery 15.9 oz (450 g)