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Zhiyun Crane M3 review

Technology news and gadgets

A kid who can do anything? 

There are many electronic stabilizers on the market designed for a specific range of devices. Some work with cameras, others with smartphones, others with action cameras, however, there are no truly universal steadicams. More precisely, it did not exist before that time. In today’s review, I will introduce you to a new product from Zhiyun, which, frankly, simply amazed me with its incredible versatility and at the same time compact form factor. But let’s start in order. So, welcome – Zhiyun Crane M3!

The Crane M line has always been versatile, in fact. Steadicams of this line were intended for smartphones, action cameras and compact cameras. The key word here is “compact”, because the power of the motors did not allow working with most cameras with interchangeable lenses. The company says the new Crane M3 is now capable of working with 90% of existing mirrorless cameras. Looking ahead, I will say that this is true, but the nuance lies in the lenses. Everything is simple here, even a large “adult” steadicam, capable of working with all cameras, will not withstand every lens. However, incredible versatility is far from all the “chips” of the device.

Appearance and main features of Zhiyun Crane M3

The Zhiyun Crane M3 has a completely new design. It has become more modern and stylish. Probably some of you will find it controversial to make the device white. Yes, the new Crane M3, at the time of writing, is only available in a white exterior with black accents. Initially, I also doubted, but after working on a few shoots, I realized that white is something new, and the classic black cases of steadicams are really boring. In general, I like this style. 

Build quality and materials are excellent. The plastic is not glossy and has a nice texture. At first glance, it may seem that the plastic gets dirty quickly, but this did not happen during the entire testing period. For ease of holding, a rubber pad is provided.

Compared to the previous model, the novelty has gained both in size and weight. At the same time, the grip has become much more comfortable. Now the device weighs 730 grams, which is 230 grams heavier than its predecessor.

The first thing that catches your eye is a large 1.22-inch OLED color touchscreen display on the body. Now control of modes is available not only with the help of physical buttons, but also through the touch menu. 

Some interesting innovations

Finally, there are axle lockers, which have become a kind of standard in the industry. Let me remind you that the Crane M2 had only one lock on the pan axis, which was intended to lock all axles during transport, rather than to simplify balancing. Locks on each axle now greatly simplify balancing, which will be especially useful for beginners for whom the Crane M3 will be the first electronic stabilizer.

The next interesting innovation is the integrated LED light source. A similar solution first appeared in the Zhiyun Smooth Q3 mobile steadicam, a review of which can be read here. Initially, the presence of such a flashlight in the M3 gave me a feeling of “toy”, but when I turned on the lamp, I realized that it can actually be useful in certain situations.

Despite its rather compact size, it is very powerful – the effect of light is noticeable even outdoors in cloudy weather, let alone shooting indoors with dim lighting or outdoors in the evening.

According to the manufacturer, the built-in LED lamp gives a maximum luminous flux of 950 lumens at a distance of 1 meter, and a color rendering index (CRI) of 90+. In addition, the flashlight has the ability to adjust the color temperature – 3000-5400K, which is also very useful.

Close to professional instruments

Moreover, the LED source is equipped with a magnetic system for attaching color filters. Thanks to these filters, you can also correct the color gamut. The set comes with 4 light filters – red, yellow, orange and blue.

The Zhiyun Crane M3 has one additional 1/4-inch mount on the body for a variety of accessories, such as an on-camera monitor, bringing the gimbal closer to professional instruments.

However, this mount can be used not only for additional accessories, but also for attaching a tripod-tripod, which makes working with the gimbal more comfortable both in landscape and portrait orientation.

Another new feature is the Crane M3 has built-in batteries. On the one hand, this is a minus, on the other, a plus. The downside is that in the event of a discharge, you cannot continue working right away by simply replacing the battery. But the plus is support for Power Delivery technology, which allows you to charge a fully built-in battery in 2 hours (an indicator for a 25-watt charge). I used a 40 watt charger and the steadicam charged in even faster than two hours. By the way, the power adapter is not included in the package. 

Plus, here the steadicam is able to feed from a power bank during operation. According to the company, the device can work up to 8 hours on a single charge, in practice we got an even higher figure, and we worked with a fairly heavy setup Nikon Z6 and a Nikkor Z 24-70 / 4 lens.

Zhiyun Crane M3 Package and Accessories

There are three kits in total: Standard Kit, Combo Kit and PRO Kit. As standard, you will find a foam case with stabilizer and a small tripod handle. In addition, the stabilizer comes with a universal quick release plate, a charging cable, three cables for controlling the camera (USB-C to MicroUSB, USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to MULTI) and, as I said, four light filters. 

The Combo Kit option includes a smartphone holder, the foam case has been replaced with the stylish TransMount EasyGo Backpack, and a slightly larger tripod handle, which is more comfortable to work with. The backpack bag holds not only the stabilizer itself with accessories, but also a small camera, such as a Nikon Z fc with a standard 16-50 lens.

PRO Kit, as you might guess, is the largest package. There is a TransMount EasyGo Backpack, a large tripod handle, a smartphone holder and two more unique accessories – the TransMount Expansion Base and the TransMount Shotgun Microphone. Also in this configuration there are two audio cables – 2.5 mm to 2.5 mm and 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm. Let’s figure it out.

TransMount Expansion Base is actually a very interesting and unique solution. The base is attached to the bottom of the steadicam. There is a contact pad for this. This solves several problems at once. Firstly, to connect a microphone to the camera, a special connector is used on the steadicam platform, which reduces the load on the motors, simplifies balancing, and now there is no need to place a microphone radio receiver on the camera.

Many very useful posibilities

Secondly, you can now connect any professional microphone with a large jack. It seems to me that it would be very great if large professional stabilizers would acquire such an opportunity. And thirdly, there is an additional 1/4 inch mount, which expands the possibilities for installing additional equipment, as well as a parking space for placing a Bluetooth transmitter.

The Bluetooth transmitter is another new accessory. In fact, the solution lay on the surface. This transmitter attaches to the camera and allows you to control the parameters of the camera from the gimbal without wires. This is really convenient. The transmitter has a built-in battery that infects directly in the TransMount Expansion Base.

Also, along with the new stabilizer, branded platforms for the most popular cameras were presented. The essence of the pads is that, with their use, balancing becomes easier and faster, and these pads do not cover the camera compartment with the battery, this makes replacing the battery very quick and does not require unscrewing the quick-release pad and, accordingly, subsequent rebalancing. 

Balancing Zhiyun Crane M3

Let’s talk about balancing. A properly balanced camera on the gimbal not only increases the battery life, but also improves the stabilization quality. I will show the whole process using the example of a Nikon Z fc camera, however, the principle does not depend on the device, be it a smartphone or an action camera. 

So, to begin with, we fasten the included tripod handle and set the steadicam on a flat surface. Next, we remove the axle locks, move the shoulders to the working position and fix it again. 

We fasten the platform to the camera. If you install a smartphone, then we install the smartphone in the holder and only then we screw the pad to the holder. The action camera is easier – just screw it to the 1/4 ” mount. It is important, in the case of balancing a camera or smartphone, the platform should not protrude much beyond the right edge of the device, ideally it should be equal to this edge. I was pleased that the quick release plate has a convenient screw that can be tightened without using a screwdriver or a coin. 

To attach the platform to the steadicam, a more reliable lock is used than in the M2. Now it is not enough just to press the button, before that it is necessary to move the fuse aside. Thus, accidental pressing and, as a consequence, the camera falling out is excluded.

Currently not all cameras support control from the Crane M3

After installation, you need to remove the lens cap, extend the lens to the working position (if a parking mechanism is provided), and also set the focal length at which you are going to work and screw on the light filter. Next, we connect all the cables – an audio cable for connecting a microphone through the base and a cable for controlling the camera from the grip of the gimbal. 

It should be noted that the length of the cables is such that they slightly overlap the camera screen, this should be taken into account. Currently, not all cameras support control from the Crane M3, for example, Z fc and Z6 did not work for us. I am sure that the list of compatible cameras will continue to grow in the future. 

All preparatory steps have been completed. We start balancing. Unlock the tilt axis and loosen the clamp. Moving the camera forward / backward, we reach a stationary position of the camera, then clamp it. 

Next, we turn the camera / smartphone upside down, loosening the clamp on the tilt shoulder, we achieve balance and clamp it again. After that, I recommend flipping the camera back and checking if the balance is out of balance in this position. If all is well, then move on.

Set the tilt axis lock and remove the roll axis lock. On the roll motor, remove the clamp and move the camera left and right until balance is achieved. Clamp and lock the axis.

Balancing the pan axis

The next step is balancing the pan axis. This stage is often neglected even by professionals and it is wrong. After removing the lock from the axis, tilt the steadicam to the left and right, the camera should remain motionless. By loosening the clamp on the axis, we achieve the balance of the camera. Then we clamp and block the axis.

Ready! At first it may seem incomprehensible, but it is enough to go through all these steps once and you will no longer have any difficulties. It is imperative that before turning on, do not forget to unlock all three axes. After switching on, I recommend performing an automatic calibration.

During automatic calibration, the gimbal selects the optimal power for each motor, it takes less than a minute, but the result is a perfectly balanced device without unwanted deviations during shooting.

After auto-calibration, you can run a balance check.

Zhiyun Crane M3 Control

The location of the controls has become more ergonomic. There are more different “buttons and knobs”, plus a large touchscreen display has appeared that expands the control options.

On the rear panel there is a classic trigger – holding turns on the GO mode. Double pressing returns the camera to its original position. Triple pressing turns the camera 180 degrees. The strange behavior of GO mode should be noted. I’m used to the fact that when I hold the trigger, I can immediately change the angle of the camera. However, now the activation of this mode occurs with a delay. This causes some inconvenience. Hopefully this is just a software bug and will be fixed in a future firmware update. 

Also on the back is a functional wheel that controls one parameter of a compatible camera – shutter speed, aperture, ISO, zoom. The wheel function is configured in the menu. In my opinion, it would be correct to add here also focus control of compatible lenses. 

Comfortable

On the front panel there is a joystick to control the position of the camera. The joystick responds to speed, so we can quickly change the position of the camera, and we can very smoothly. It’s comfortable. 

The “M” button is responsible for switching the operating modes of the steadicam:

short press switches between PF / F / L modes

  • Double click – POV / Vortex mode
  • Puts the steadicam into standby mode and also displays it 
  • The red button is respectively responsible for the start / stop of the recording. 

And finally, the touchscreen display. Here you can select all the same shooting modes that are available through the “M” button, as well as enable the “Portrait” mode, which is available only through the touch menu (we’ll talk about portrait photography below). The display also shows the current operating mode and battery level.

The Info tab includes language settings (only Chinese and English are available for now), system information, and a factory reset button. 

Shooting with Zhiyun Crane M3

The stabilizer can shoot in all modes classic for such devices. Our test took place under rather extreme conditions for a gimbal, as we used a Nikon Z6 camera with a Nikkor Z 24-70 / 4 lens. With this setup, it is not possible to properly balance the camera, as the viewfinder rests on the roll motor even if the eyecup is removed. Nevertheless, the power of the motors allows holding the camera without any problems, which, frankly, amazed. Moreover, even on the maximally extended lens at a focal length of 70 mm, the stabilization is ideal. Here is an example of 70mm wiring with matrix stabilizer disabled.

Zhiyun Crane M3 has a separate portrait mode that can only be activated through the menu on the display. In this mode, the camera flips up and the operator can shoot video in portrait orientation. However, this mode is not available with our setup, as the viewfinder prevents the camera from flipping over. In fact, the Crane M3 can work in any mode in portrait orientation and it was a revelation to me.

In this case, we get not only a more convenient location of the camera and convenient sighting, but also the ability to work even with our dimensional setup. 

Conclusion

The Zhiyun Crane M3 is a very interesting device. Steadicam really amazes with its power! The Crane M3 can work without any restrictions with a classic-sized full-frame camera and a compact lens, such as the Nikon Z6 with the Nikkor Z 40/2 lens. But even the Z6 with a 24-70 / 4 lens turned out to be absolutely capable of it. At the same time, working with light “cameras” such as a smartphone or an action camera is not a problem. 

I was pleased with the built-in LED light – it is very powerful for its compact size and can be a lifesaver in extreme shooting conditions. Moreover, this flashlight will be useful not only for shooting on a smartphone, but also for professional cameras. 

Zhiyun continues to delight consumers with innovative solutions. Zhiyun Crane M3 at the moment can be called the most versatile and at the same time compact device. 

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