You might already be familiar with DJI's gimbals, but rival Zhiyun actually carries more models — particularly those designed for mirrorless, DSLR and cinema cameras. Now, it has released the three-axis Crane M3 designed for mirrorless cameras, with some interesting new features like a tiny LED light and a built-in screen.
The Crane M3 is about the size of a water bottle and offers tilt, roll and pan axes with locks for each. It works with smartphones and 90 percent of mirrorless cameras, Zhiyun notes. It has a smart new white and black chassis that the company says delivers a better gripping and user experience. It also offers upgraded motors with stronger torque than the original Crane 3.
A key feature is the quick-release design with different plates that lets you change rapidly between different sized cameras (action and mirrorless, for instance), without the need to rebalance. It also has a quarter-inch adapter so you can connect a professional microphone to an expansion base and run a second cable to the camera. A mic or other accessory can then be attached to a quarter-inch threaded expansion port. Zhiyun is even selling its own shotgun mic in one of the packages, or you can connect other models.
The most noticeable feature, though, is an 800-lumen 6 watt dual-color LED light. It's designed for "impromptu low-light shooting," Zhiyun notes, with full stepless dimming control and temperature settings via a control wheel. The light is softened with a translucent filter, though it's largely designed for run-and-gun shooting.
Other features include Bluetooth (or USB-C) control of supported cameras and a joystick and wheel to control, roll axis, aperture, shutter and ISO. If you'd rather not set controls using the smartphone app, it also offers a 1.22-inch full-color interactive touchscreen to change mode settings (portrait, vortex and go modes), as well as follow speed. It also shows camera operational status, gimbal connection and battery levels.
Zhiyun sent me a unit to try out, complete with the expansion plate, so I attached a Panasonic GH5 II. While some functions weren't working (like the camera app), it was one of the easier gimbals to balance that I've tried and it's certainly easy to detach and attach the camera using the quick release plates. The ability to connect a microphone away from the camera is also smart, reducing complexity and rebalancing, though you'd need some accessories to attach a decent-sized microphone.
Operation was smooth, with controls well placed for manual operations. The touchscreen was nice, though it's relatively easy to hit it by mistake — I did so once and accidentally changed the language. The lighting feature works great in a pinch, but because of the small size, it casts some harsh shadows. Hopefully all the features I didn't get to try, including app support, will be available soon.
The Zhiyun Crane M3 is now available to order starting at $369 (£369) for the standard package, $449 (£449) for the combo package with a backpack, cellphone mount and Tripod Plus, or $649 (£649) for the Pro package, including all the above plus the TransMount Shotgun Microphone and TransMount Expansion Base.