Content creators have long been searching for affordable solutions to meet their creative needs. For those starting out, usually, the first place they reach is their phone. Phones are easy to use, easy to set up and are quickly closing the gap between traditional and mobile filming. For those wishing to up their creation game without necessarily taking out a small loan, the creative minds over at Zhiyun have released the newest iteration of their Smooth Q Cell Phone gimbal series.
The Smooth-Q3 boasts some impressive features and attempts to offer a one-stop shop for creators on the go. Over the past week, I’ve spent some time with the latest gimbal in the Q series and I have some thoughts. Does it hold up to all it claims to do? Is it really the one-stop shop for creators on the go? Grab that coffee, kick back and check out our review of the Smooth-Q3 from ZHIYUN.
- Current Price: $89.99 (Amazon)
- Battery Runtime: Max - 15 hours, standard - 7 hours
- Charging Time: 3 hours
- Operation Temp: Max: 45?, Standard: 25?Min: -10?
- Stabilizer Axis:3
- LED Fill Light:Yes
- Tilt Range: Max: 80°, Min: -260°
- Roll Range: Max: 170°, Min: -170°
- Valid Payload:Max:280g, Min: 150g
- Net Weight: 340 g
- Phone Used: Galaxy Note 10
Design and Build
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q3 is a solid piece of tech. The base kit came with the gimbal, mini tripod and charger cable in the box. The company also offers a combo kit that comes with everything I received as well as a nice carrying case and a 1-year ZY Cami Prime Card (it essentially unlocks additional creative features for the free app).
The gimbal has a matte grey finish and is accented by contours in the plastic giving the whole gimbal a sharp look. Logos can be found on the slide arm and both swivel joints. A slightly darker shade of grey, each logo pops nicely against the lighter background. I like the look. It’s clean, simple and functional.
The slide arm is an interesting approach to handling a compact design. Unlike many other cell gimbals I’ve worked with, which typically unfold to ‘open’ up, the Smooth-Q3 has a set screw that can be loosened. Once released the slide arm extends to allow the gimbal its full range of motion. The design is smart. When compacted it has a smaller footprint in my bag than other gimbals.
The USB C charging port is a welcome change from micro USB. My only complaint here is that the included cable itself is quite short. To charge it you’ll need to set a PowerBar or extension cord up on a desk to keep your gimbal off the floor while charging. Speaking of charging, I found the charge time to be between the 2.5 and 3 hours time that the packaging suggests. The battery capacity measures at 1300mAh and translated to about 6-9 hours of use during my testing.
The gimbal itself is impressively solid and fits well in my hand. I found the button layout to be exceptionally easy to use with each button easily accessible with my thumb and index finger. Most of the buttons on the Q3 serve multiple functions and although a bit daunting at first to remember, actually becomes quite convenient after a couple of hours of use.
I want to highlight one of the smartest design decisions ZHIYUN made with Smooth-Q3; the inclusion of a LED fill light. This little LED sits on the top side of the phone mounting bracket and is impressively powerful in low-light situations. Holding the touch sensor on top of the LED for 3 seconds activates the light. A quick tap of the same sensor rotates through three different light settings allowing you to adjust on the fly. It also swivels 180° to accommodate the front and back camera on your phone.
The mini tripod unfortunately isn’t nearly as impressive. Compared to the Q3 itself, which is solid and sturdy, the tripod feels too lightweight. The hinges for the pods are loose and easily open up and close even when you don’t want them to. This translated into a few frustrating moments while moving the gimbal/tripod to set up a new shot, as the feet would unintentionally close back up and I would need to reset the whole tripod before continuing.
It’s by no means a deal-breaker as the tripod is removable so any standard tripod or monopod will connect to the bottom of the gimbal. The fact that the base kit even comes with a tripod is a bonus as most I’ve worked with haven’t actually included one.
The Q3 comes with Zhiyun’s own ZY Cami software. It’s a free app on both Android and Apple. This app is what connects your phone to the gimbal but it does more than that. The Cami software also has a full-fledged editing suite as well as offers a host of additional filming options (more on that in a moment) and settings that your standard cell camera software might not.
Most notable are time-lapse, Smart Follow 3.0, and Dolly Zoom. The Timelapse feature is pretty straightforward to use and works great. It does a time conversion on the fly while recording so you always know how long the finished footage will be.
Smart Follow is a feature I’ve used before. The Smooth-Q3’s 3.0 version works exceptionally well actually. I ran several tests and it had no problem keeping up with the marked object on the screen.
Dolly Zoom is another interesting feature that comes with the ZY Cami software. It allows you to simulate a dolly zoom that you traditionally need a whole dolly set up to use. In practice, it worked pretty well. It only took a few moments to set up and the results were okay. It’s an interesting feature that might be helpful in very specific creative situations but overall I wasn’t blown away by the results.
Finally, the Cami software comes with an easy-to-use editor for quick clip creation. It feels a bit basic compared to some other software out there. However, for quick, easy edits it’s actually pretty handy to have around. There is even a template editor making it incredibly easy to produce a video. I was able to produce the clip below using nothing but the template editor. It took less than five minutes and would be a nice tool for Instagram or TikTok posts.
The ZY Cami software boasts a host of other features from editing, gesture controls and streaming. However, there are two catches. The first is that some of these advanced features like gesture controls and Ultra-wide framing are dependent on the type of phone being used. Not all phones will be able to make use of all the features that the software is capable of. This is more of caution as you are shopping. Be sure to check ZHIYUN’s full list of phones for compatibility on their website.
The second catch is that some of the most interesting features for creators are behind the ZHIYUN Prime membership. Streaming, for instance, offers a couple of free options, but for anyone using Youtube, Twitch or Facebook you’ll need to rely on Restream to get up and running. Unfortunately, to take advantage of Restream you’ll need to be a ZHIYUN Prime Member. You can purchase a 1-year membership as part of the combo bundle on the official site or through the ZY Cami app. It will set you back 24.99 for the year.
I found it a bit frustrating that the very feature that would get most creators excited to use this product is tucked behind a paywall. I appreciate the desire to offer customers additional quality of life options but putting functional streaming behind a paywall when it’s advertised as one of the big features doesn’t sit well with me.
Filming and Function
Filming with the Smooth-Q3 is a good experience. The 3 Axis system works really well and the auto-calibration is quick and accurate. I didn’t run into any stuttering and movement was smooth and seamless while filming.
There are 6 different modes offered with the Gimbal. Some of the standard fares include Pan Follow Mode, Lock Mode and Follow Mode. Each works well and functions as I would expect. The Q3 also includes three other modes; two of which I found interesting. The Point of View, Vortex and PhoneGo modes.
Point of View mode is interesting as it essentially forces all three motors to follow the moment of the stabilizer handle. This creates a pretty unique effect actually and makes for some interesting transition clips. The Vortex mode, from what I can tell, does the exact same thing as POV mode. The three motors all follow the movement of the stabilizer handle.
PhoneGo mode is a bit different. While holding the trigger down the camera pans and titles to follow the movement of the stabilizer at a quick pace. All the while the roll axis remains locked. It essentially allows you to create a “found footage” effect without taking your phone off the gimbal.
I only have two real complaints about filming. The first is that within the ZY Cami software I was locked to 1080p at 30fps. My phone is capable of shooting in 4K at 60fps but for whatever reason, I was locked in at the 1080p, 30FPS. Again this could be an issue of phone compatibility as in several of their online tutorials they demonstrate 4K filming.
The second issue has to do with connectivity. More than once I ran into issues where the Bluetooth connection would drop while shooting. Thankfully you can actually reconnect while shooting without leaving the screen and the gimbal remembers the last setting used. It was still frustrating to have to reconnect in the middle of filming. I tested my phone on another gimbal I have on hand to make sure my Bluetooth wasn’t the issue. I had no dropped connections with the other unit.
The ZHIYUN Smooth-Q3 is a smartphone gimbal trying to do it all at an affordable price point. At $89.99, it potentially offers everything you would need to get started in content creation. However, features locked behind paywalls, compatibility issues and connection problems stop it short of being the perfect gimbal for content creators. If you fall under the compatible phones list, it’s worth taking a closer look at.The product described in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.