Back to basics
The best camera for video
The Zhiyun Crane 3S is a heavy duty powered stabilising gimbal for larger mirrorless, DSLR or cinema cameras. Zhiyun is already well known in this area, but the Crane 3S is a total redesign from previous Zhiyun gimbals with the addition of detachable handle options, a large 6.5kg payload, an updated axis-locking system, external power input, and the ViaTouch 2.0 motion control system. It's an update to the previous Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab, but with a payload increase of around 45%.
This is a heavy duty gimbal designed for cine gear that's a step up from regular 4K mirrorless cameras or DSLRs. It also has some carrying innovations, introducing a detachable second EasySling or a more expensive SmartSling handle. The EasySling is for more comfortable upright use (you can fix it to back or use it to extend the vertical grip) and underslung use, while the SmartSling has its own control panel and screen for direct and more convenient camera and gimbal adjustment. You can even use both handles together.
The removable handle means the Crane 3S packs away smaller and is easier to transport than the previous Crane 3 Lab.
Build and handling
The Crane 3S is an extremely sturdy gimbal built on a heritage of innovation with magnificent motors and a brand new modular design, which aims for wider application and intuitive control.There’s no doubt that this particular model is aimed at high end filmmakers with larger setups.
There is no way to sugar coat it so let's start off with the main problem for filmmakers shooting handheld – this a heavy gimbal. Even using a smaller mirrorless camera, I wasn’t able to hold onto it for very long before I felt that I needed to put it back down. What you need to keep in mind is that the Crane 3S weighs in at about 2.47kg, and that’s with no attachments. My camera setup (Fujifilm X-T3 and 16-55mm f/2.8 lens) weighs around 1.3kg. This gives an all-up weigh of around 3.37kg. That may sound like much but if you try holding that weight out in front of you for a few minutes, you will soon be needing a rest.
Could you max out its full payload with something like a Sony FS7 or RED and still consider it a handheld run and gun style gimbal? Probably not. Or if so, only in short bursts. But the extra payload capacity and power does make a difference. I did appreciate being able to use my most versatile lens (the Fujifilm XF 16-55mm f/2.8) on a gimbal for the first time, something I’ve never been able to balance on my smaller DJI Ronin SC.
The best way to use this gimbal for a run and gun style video shoot (such as the film below) is in it’s undersling mode. In this mode everything felt a lot more natural, the handled grip at the top was not only much easier to shoot with, but a perfect way to carry it about. I never use my smaller gimbal down low in this way because it’s just not very practical to hold. The Crane 3S, however, is ideal for ground level shooting and perfect for skateboarders or extreme sports shooting, for example.
All that being said, it's clear just how strong this gimbal is, and where it's going to be most effective. If I was working on a larger production or fixing the camera to a jib arm on a chase car I wouldn’t hesitate to make sure this was one of the priority pieces of equipment for the crew – especially with the ability to control it using the updated ViaTouch 2.0 iOS or Android smartphone app via Bluetooth 5.0 for remote motion control and to manage the gimbal settings and movement remotely.
You will almost certainly need to use an external monitor of some kind. The size of the Crane 3S means your camera ends up being quite far away from your face, and its screen quite hard to see.
Here's a video we shot with the Zhiyun Crane 3S.
Once you’re set up for shooting, the Crane 3S offers you a selection of different modes:
PF (Pan Follow): Smoothly follows movement on the horizontal place, but with the fixed vertical position for panning. This is the most useful mode for the majority of shooting, and you can tilt the camera with the joystick.
F (Follow): The camera has both pan and tilt as it follows your movement.
POV (Point of view): This also allows for rolling of the camera.
V (Vortex): In sling mode, you can continuously roll the camera which creates a spinning shot.
L (Lock): The camera stays locked in position no matter how the gimbal is moved, making for a very stable shot.
Go: The motor speed responsiveness is increased to follow fast motion.
I had some fun trying out all the different modes, and the Vortex mode in particular was fun. I could imagine using it to create music videos, but would advise using it sparingly. I expect it would be pretty uneasy to watch constantly, but a cool option nonetheless.
POV is also great, it gives a more visceral movement, allowing the camera to tilt side to side just as your head would, and would be great for a gritty drama film.
All of these controls are on the back handle, which can be slightly tricky to read as it angles down towards your waist. This handle would also be a great place for the joystick rather than the main central column (but maybe that's where all the wires are). There are more additional buttons on the right of the main central unit, but these are almost impossible to reach while holding the gimbal unless you switch both of your hands around which is pretty tricky without again putting it down.
One of the main aspects of the Crane 3S is that it is a modular design, and although this adds weight it’s a strong point. With nine separate mounting positions, you could really shape the Crane 3S to work perfectly for you or your team. Being fully customisable is a massive plus. The modular design also means it folds down to a pretty decent size and comes in a compact carry case for ease of transport.
Overall, I was very impressed with the performance and smoothness of the camera movements on the Zhiyun Crane 3S, together with it's big payload and long battery life. This isn’t a gimbal you’d take out with you all day, but should still be thought of as an important and considered part of your film-making equipment. There may be times when it proves an absolutely key tool in your setup.
Zhiyun deserves credit here. It is constantly improving its products and has been at the forefront of innovation and features when it comes to gimbals. Zhiyun has certainly thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the Crane 3S, and there is no denying that it is very feature rich. Despite all of the features, however, it’s nice that you don’t need to use any of them if you don’t want to.
The company has managed to make a gimbal that can be used to get smooth and steady footage and handle a huge range of cameras. The performance and smoothness of the camera movements are impressive. It has a great payload capacity and long battery life. It is heavy to carry as a run-and-gun gimbal, however, so this isn’t something you’d take out with you and use all day. But if you need to shoot handheld or ground-level video with cine gear that's a step up from a regular mirrorless camera, this is the tool for the job.
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