When it comes to smartphone gimbals, there are plenty of cheap options out there. But two companies really stand out: Zhiyun and DJI. In this post, we’ll talk about and review the Zhiyun Smooth 4 gimbal. Is it a viable competitor to the DJI Osmo? Let’s dive in and have a look in this review.
Why do you need a smartphone gimbal?
Gimbals are essentially mechanical stabilizers for cameras. With a gimbal, you can take silky smooth video in which your hand movements and vibrations are completely invisible. The gimbal works with 2 (or sometimes 3) motors than compensate for any sudden movements.
Gimbals have long been used in filming and cinematography, and since smartphone cameras are getting better and better and more capable of taking stunning photographs and recording 4k video, in many cases, you no longer need bigger cameras to take great photos, especially on the go.
Once you start taking videos with a gimbal, you’ll never want to take videos by hand again. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 has three axes: pan, tilt, and roll. These are the three directions your camera can move in: tilting up and down, tilting side to side, and tilting back and forth.
The motors will spin just enough to negate any movements you make, resulting in smooth video free of any shakes and vibrations.
Stabilization is especially useful when you’re walking and filming at the same time. Holding the camera in your hand will show all the movements from your walking, but if you use a gimbal, it will look really fluid and smooth.
When you receive the Zhiyun Smooth 4, you’ll get two accessories with it: a USB-C charging cable and a small, folding tripod. If most of your stuff is USB-C, you’ll be a happy camper. However, if you still have stuff that uses micro USB, then you’ll need to carry an extra cable.
However, it’s not that big of a deal 🙂
Upon first glance, the handle of the Zhiyun Smooth 4 may seem a little intimidating given the myriad buttons there. Most gimbals including the DJI Osmo are quite simple in terms of controls, and just 2-3 buttons do everything.
There is a LED battery indicator and the gimbal arm locks into position when you want to store it, so it doesn’t swing around everywhere like other gimbals do when they are not powered on.
Overall, the construction is plastic, which is not all that bad considering it cuts costs and keeps the device quite lightweight.
1. Pan and follow
In pan and follow mode, the camera will maintain the horizon. This means that any up/down shakes and movements will be canceled out by the gimbal, but if you turn the camera left or right, the camera will move with your arm.
2. Follow mode
In follow mode, both pan and tilt will move(smoothly, of course). This means that you can turn the camera up/down/left/right and the motors will follow. However, if you try to tilt the camera left or right(spinning it), that movement will be counteracted.
3. Locked mode
In locked mode, the camera will hold whatever orientation it is in and you won’t be able to change its direction – any movements will be counteracted and the angle and position will be maintained. This is good for using when you’re walking or running and want to get a straight, smooth shot.
In PhoneGo mode, the gimbal will become more sensitive and the result is even more smooth, which is good for capturing video when there are a lot of sudden, jerky changes in direction.
To activate PhoneGo Mode, there is a little trigger on the back side of the grip.
There is a companion app for the Zhiyun Smooth 4 called ZY Play, which lets you get creative with taking photos using your gimbal.
You can take single photos using a button on the gimbal, you can take panorama shots(the gimbal can turn really smoothly to capture a lot of imagery), as well as timelapses and a special mode called Vertigo.
How to use the various controls
As you can see from the image above, there are a LOT of controls for you to play around with on the Zhiyun Smooth 4. This means you can actually change a lot of settings mid shoot without having to touch your screen, allowing for even more smoothness.
The large dial on the left is for controlling focus and digital zoom. This is quite a unique feature to the Zhiyun Smooth 4 as it’s rare to find a gimbal that allows you to mess with the focus.
The lightning bolt button in the center, as you can guess, is to turn the camera flash on. As you’re taking videos, if you wish to use a bit more light, just press the flash button to activate the phone’s LED flash.
At this point, you may be wondering how the gimbal manages to control so many features across so many smartphones.
The answer is, well, that you can only use these features if you’re in the ZY Play app. This means all videos and photos must be shot using the app if you want to use these button controls.
If you’re fine with just choosing a shooting mode and then using your phone’s native camera app, that will work, but the buttons won’t function. That’s a trade-off that many folks don’t mind, especially considering that the native apps are often much more robust(especially in the case of phones like the new iPhone).
Additionally, many gimbals have a little joystick that you can use to adjust the pan and tilt of the camera from the gimbal controls itself. This gimbal, interestingly enough, does not have a joystick. It’s not a huge trade-off, but sometimes being able to make small adjustments comes in very handy.
It is not a dealbreaker by any means, but if you like to use the joystick, you’re going to miss it here.
FiLMiC Pro App
As I mentioned above, the button controls can only be used with the native ZY app. Zhiyun has opened up their ecosystem to the FiLMiC Pro app as well, and this app also integrates nicely with the gimbal controls.
What’s more, the app is a really full-featured videography and photography app that lets you shoot really good videos and photographs, so you’ll actually enjoy using it!
For example, I personally don’t like to use the standard apps that gimbals are meant to go with – I just prefer the stabilization and using my own camera app. FiLMiC Pro ticks both boxes in that it is an app of my choice and it works well with the gimbal.
How well does the Zhiyun Smooth 4 work?
From what we’ve seen, the Zhiyun Smooth works wonders for stabilization. Whether you’re walking, running, or driving down a bumpy road, the Zhiyun manages to eliminate all visible shakes and vibrations. The stabilization is really top of the line and can really be considered a benchmark to check other gimbals against.
The lithium ion battery powering the gimbal work for up to 12 hours. 12 hours is a pretty long time especially for a gimbal and it’s more than enough for a day of filming. It’s ideal for using while traveling, too. Once you get home, just charge it up and it’s ready to go the next day.
Using the Zhiyun Smooth 4
The phone clamp can turn into portrait mode and landscape mode so you can shoot selfies and portrait videos as well. Just shoot and upload to your favorite app, whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, or Tiktok.
The tripod is really handy, too. Being able to fold it open and closed allows you to both use it as an extension of the grip, as well as place it on a surface as you film(great for filming yourself for a vlog, for example).
Overall, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is a really nice gimbal that does not break the bank. For the price point and the features it delivers, you really can’t go wrong. It does its main job really well: stabilizes video, it’s fast, it’s quiet, and if you use a compatible app, there is a myriad of options you can control entirely from the gimbal itself.
However, the buttons can also feel overwhelming, especially if you’re just looking for a simple gimbal without too many bells and whistles.
The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 really is the only thing left to compare this gimbal to, and considering it is actually a little bit more expensive, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 really gives it a run for the money.
- 👍👍【Filmic Pro】The official APP for Smooth 4 is called ZY play. But Filmic Pro has best in class support for Smooth 4, you can use Filmic Pro as an alternative to ZY play.
- ✅✅【MUST KNOW】Counterweight is required for heavy phones such as iPhone 13 Pro Max, search B07G56PZYQ on Amazon for counterweight. Newer model Zhiyun Smooth 5 will work with heavy phones such as iPhone 13 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, search B09JKCVHRX or B09JKBTDGF for Smooth 5
- ✅✅【MUST KNOW】Balance the gimbal before use: Slide the smartphoone in as close as possible to against the tilt axis motor. Loosen the Roll (Y) Axis Thumb Screw (which is on the back) to adjust the gravity center by sliding the horizontal arm.When phone stays in level in power OFF status, it is balanced.We recommend you VIEW the video tutorials, There are lots of tutorial videos on YOUTUBE that will help you master the gimbal.
- 👍👍【PhoneGo Mode】PhoneGo Mode for Instant Scene Transition。【Control Panel】Integrated control panel design,Focus Pull & Zoom Capability
- 👍👍【Time Lapse & Object Tracking】Time Lapse Expert and Object Tracking available, Supports Two-way Charging with Longer Runtime