Our verdict of the Zhiyun Crane 3 LAB:
While heavy, the unique rear handled design makes it easy to hold as well as removing the need for inversion on underslung shooting. Batteries last all day, and the built-in HDMI wireless transmission to the ZYPlay app is fantastic. If you can only buy one bit of video kit for all your DSLR needs, this should be it.
Zhiyun already dominates the gimbal market at every level. The Crane 2 was widely regarded as the best DSLR gimbal by videographers the world over. The Crane 3 is a radical redesign, but it’s an absolute winner. This is the essential bit of kit for videographers everywhere.
Join as we take a closer look, and at the end of this, we’ve got a complete set to giveaway to one lucky reader!
Zhiyun Crane 3 Specs and Pricing
Inside the main box, you’ll find:
- Crane 3 LAB gimbal body
- Tripod handle
- Quick release plate, with lens support
- Three 18650 rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries
- Battery charger, with two micro USB inputs for faster charging
- Hardshell cable case
- HDMI and camera connection cables for various types of cameras
Also of note is the carry case, made of reinforced polystyrene. It’s tough enough to take out and about, though I wouldn’t try putting into checked luggage as is. It’s capable of storing both the core set, as well as the two servo motors, phone mount, and a spare set of batteries (not included).
The package comes with camera connection cables for nearly every kind of camera out there. Precisely what can be controlled is going to depend on your make and model, but if your camera is compatible in any way, or supports HDMI out, you can be sure the cables to do so are included.
The core set costs around $900, though the $1200 Creator’s package offers better value for money if you play to purchase the optional components. The full Creator’s package includes:
- Light follow-focus servo
- Strong zoom servo
- Transmount phone holder
- Camera belt
Each servo includes two rubber gears to fix to your lens, a USB-C connection cable, and tube to mount the servo to the quick release plate.
We were sent the Creator’s package to review, minus the monopod and belt clip. However, all the core features referred to in this review relate to the main Crane 3 LAB. The phone mount is a convenience, and not strictly required to use the remote control app features or the wireless HDMI transmission.
Without a camera mounted, the basic Crane 3 LAB set weighs around 4.1lbs. That’s a lot, and after my first 30 minutes testing the device, I was already feeling the pain. Frequent breaks are necessary, but that’s not a problem since the handle helpfully doubles as sturdy tripod legs. In addition, the unique design of the Crane 3 helps to mitigate the weight issue. The three 18650 batteries provide around 8 full hours of use. So if you’re worried about battery life, don’t be. Your energy with run out well before the batteries do!
Zhiyun claim the motors in the Crane 3 have 100% more torque than those in the Crane 2, while being 50% quieter. I certainly can’t hear them, and the added torque means a greater payload than previous models too.
Rear Carry Arm
Uniquely and perhaps my favorite feature, the Crane 3 has sprouted a non-detachable arm that extends at the back of the device–most gimbals opt for a simple monopod-like pole design. Holding a stick is not ergonomic. The Crane 3 LAB, on the other hand, is very comfortable to hold two-handed, despite actually being heavier than competitors.
The other benefit is that it enables you to switch to underslung mode effortlessly for low angle shooting, without needing to perform an awkward “inversion”. It’s perfectly balanced for holding one-handed in this mode. I can’t understate how simple and useful this is!
Setup and Balancing
There are four points that need to be balanced when setting up the gimbal each use. Each axis can be individually locked off to aid in doing this, via an easy to find red latch. The tilt axis should be balanced with both the camera pointing forwards, and upwards (hence, four points to balance in total). Balancing is quite a daunting process the first time you do it, but you quickly become accustomed to it, and should be manageable in 5 minutes or so.
Remember that any servo motors (and even the cables) will affect the center of gravity, so these should be fitted before performing balancing. The better balanced your gimbal is, the less work the servos will need to do to counter motion, and the more power efficient it’ll be. I’d suggest performing balancing without anything attached the first few times though as you get used to the process.
The best way to understand these shooting modes if you’re unfamiliar is to watch the review video, but here’s a text breakdown.
- PF (Pan Follow): the default mode because it’s the most commonly used. The tilt axis is locked (controllable by the joystick), while the pan axis smoothly follows your motion.
- F (Full Follow): both the pan and tilt axis follow your motion. Rotation is locked.
- L (Lock): otherwise known as the “chicken head” mode, in which all axes are fully locked, regardless of your motion. The camera stays pointed in one direction only.
- POV (Point of View / Roll Follow): so-called because it mimics the human point of view, and is therefore suitable for first-person movie making. This mode is very similar to Full Follow, except the rotation axis is permitted for 45 degrees left and right, just as a human head can.
- Vortex: double tap the FOV button to enter Vortex mode, which is just as insane as it sounds. The gimbal will immediately point your camera upwards. Adjust your stance so it points forward, and the gimbal joystick allows for full 360-degree continuous rotation.
- Go (“Crazy Dog”): Hold down the Go button and keep it held to temporarily activate Crazy Dog mode, in which both pan and tilt axis will be working on overdrive to follow your motions much faster than normal.
There are a lot of buttons on the Crane 3, and it’ll take a good while to learn them!
ZYPlay App and Wireless HDMI Transmission
Assuming your camera supports HDMI out, the Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab includes another killer feature: built-in wireless transmission at full HD quality to the ZYPlay app on your smartphone. Given how much an external monitor with a wireless transmission system can cost, this adds an immense amount of value.
A selection of different HDMI cables is included in the package to suit all major camera makes. Your camera may differ, but the process on my Panasonic GH4 was a simple case of plug and play. Plug the cable in, open the ZYPlay app, wait 30 seconds for it to connect, and you have a secondary viewfinder.
This is immensely helpful, particularly when trying to film difficult angles that would otherwise be impossible to see your on-camera viewfinder. And even if you can see it without difficulty, having the larger screen of a smartphone is great too, as well as being able to easily angle it away from the sun.
To facilitate the wireless HDMI transmission to your smartphone, the Creator’s package includes a beautifully made phone mount that screws onto the side of the gimbal; either next to the rear controls or down by the follow-focus dial. It’s also available separately, but know that it’s merely a convenience and not necessary to use the built-in HDMI transmission–there is no circuitry inside it to enable features. If you want to place down the gimbal and use the app for remote control or have someone else nearby to view the action, that’s fine too. When not in use, the phone mount can be unlocked and folded over, ready to snap back into place when needed without detaching it from the gimbal.
The ZYPlay app doesn’t just act as a remote viewfinder though: it also passes on full control of any remote camera features your camera supports, as well as follow-focus and zoom servo controls if those are fitted to the gimbal, and the gimbal joystick. And with your phone’s processing power, it adds object tracking functionality. Simply tap the tracking button in the bottom left, and drag around the object you want to track.
In general, I found the ZYPlay app to be reliable, the only exception being when a firmware update was found and I could see no way to ignore it. At the start of a shoot, this was annoying. The process was automatic, but slow, requiring a restart of the gimbal. Outside of that, connecting to the gimbal was flawless, and HDMI transmission was plug and play–but your camera make and model may vary, so check the compatibility tables before purchase.
Situated around the rear of the gimbal is a full set of buttons and menus to adjust various parameters of your camera, assuming your camera both supports remote control, and that you have the control cable plugged in. This is another instance where support will vary significantly by camera make and model. In my case, the Panasonic GH4 only supported control of the shutter button–ISO adjustment, mode selection, all needed to be done on-camera. It also supported focus select, but since I mostly shoot in VFR high frame rates, autofocus wasn’t available anyway. Again: check compatibility tables if these are critical features for you. The lack of control passthrough didn’t feel like a big issue for me, but your feeling might be different. In general, Sony and Canon cameras have more control support, but may either require additional steps for HDMI transmission or may not support that feature at all.
Should You Buy The Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab?
The Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab is, without doubt, the best DSLR videographer gimbal around. It handles the biggest of cameras and the biggest of lenses–up to 10lbs. But it isn’t just the most powerful yet. The rear handle design is unique, more comfortable for two-handed use, and makes underslung shooting a breeze.
If you’re only going to buy one bit of kit for your DSLR video shooting bag to handle a huge variety of shots and give you a professional edge, this should absolutely be the one.
Thanks to Zhiyun, we have a complete set (as reviewed) to giveaway to one lucky reader: the Crane 3 Lab gimbal, one of each of the servos, and a phone holder. Enter below for your chance to win this amazing prize, and good luck!
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Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab & Accessories Giveaway
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