Dec 26, 2023

Zhiyun Crane

The Zhiyun Crane-M 3S is a top-notch gimbal option for vloggers and content creators aiming to enhance their footage quality, regardless of whether they use a mirrorless camera or smartphone. This gimbal strikes a perfect balance between lightweight design and impressive power, accommodating various mirrorless camera and lens combinations. With user-friendly controls, including an ample array of buttons, dials, and a convenient mini touch screen for settings, it is an ideal choice for beginners. Footage captured with the Crane-M 3S is exceptionally smooth, surpassing handheld shooting and in-body/lens stabilization. While single-handed operation with mirrorless cameras can be physically demanding, its robust and modern construction exudes a stylish appeal, although a darker color variant might make it even more desirable.

Very easy and fast to set up

Solid and well built

Super smooth and steady shooting

Easy to switch between modes and styles

One-handed use is limited with most cameras

Touch screen registers a lot of accidental touches

Wish it came in a black option

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Zhiyun Crane series of handheld camera stabilizers has rapidly gained widespread popularity among videographers and filmmakers. Launched only in 2016, they have quickly become renowned for advanced features and compact design, with a more wallet-friendly price than other rivals.

Versatility is a key characteristic of the Zhiyun Crane series, as it is compatible with a broad range of cameras, from smartphones, to mirrorless cameras to lightweight DSLRs. Zhiyun has continuously refined and expanded the Crane series, introducing models with improved capabilities and ergonomics. With its affordability, user-friendly interface, and impressive performance, the Zhiyun Crane has become a go-to choice for videographers of all levels of expertise.

The Crane-M 3S comes in as a replacement for the Crane M3, the newer model keeping the general design of the Crane M3 but expanding on its performance with improvements in battery and load capacity.

Load capacity: List of compatible camerasDimensions: 284.2 x 74.5 x 163.5 mm (54.01 x 2.93 x 64.37 in)Weight: 705g (1.55 lbs)Battery life: up to 7.5 hoursCharging time: 2 hours USB-C PDOperating temperature: -10 to 50 ºC (14-113 ºF)Features: built-in 1.22-inch touchscreen display, built-in bi-color LED fill light, 360-degree pan, 305-degree tilt, 314-degree roll rotation, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0 shutter control

The Zhiyun Crane-M 3S offers an array of impressive features for filmmakers and videographers. Its three-axis gimbal system ensures stability and balance, allowing for smooth footage even during movement. Designed with portability in mind, the Crane-M 3S is compact and lightweight, weighing just 705g including the battery.

The Crane-M 3S has a strong payload capacity capable of carrying a wide range of mirrorless camera and lens combinations, including popular configurations like the Sony A7 III and 24-70 f/2.8 lens. Its strength and size can accommodate a lot of different devices, from phones to mirrorless and even lightweight DSLR cameras. Setting up the Crane-M 3S is quick and easy, thanks to Zhiyun's use of its simple and efficient lock and balance adjustment system.

The Crane-M 3S offers multiple shooting modes, including pan follow, locking mode, following mode, and POV mode. The M 3S also offers a number of manual controls including a multi-directional joystick, and a panning wheel. There are also options in the settings for photographers looking to create automated panoramic images or time-lapses.

The built-in rechargeable battery of the Crane-M 3S delivers a runtime of up to an estimated 7.5 hours when used with a camera and lens of a similar weight to a Sony A7 III and 24-70 f/2.8, and can be charged in 2 hours using USB-C PD. Additionally, it supports wireless control through the dedicated ZY mobile app, enabling remote control and customization of settings, as well as wired or Bluetooth shutter control with compatible cameras.

The build quality of the Crane-M 3S is much better than its relatively affordable price tag would suggest, it feels solid and really well designed, the main body is made of a sturdy feeling plastic with a soft grip, while the 3-axis stablizer is made of metal. Like other Zhiyun gimbals, you can lock the axis in place when travelling, which also helps when initially balancing the camera during setup, these locks are strong and secure, and didn't come loose as I carried it around in my backpack.

The sliders for balancing the gimbal are thankfully less stiff than previous gimbals, in the past I have had trouble moving them the minute amounts needed to perfectly balance the gimbal as they wouldn't budge, which then caused me to exert too much force and move them too far. The Crane-M 3S sliders are all much more forgiving and slide back and forth with minimal effort. All the sliders lock with thumb-press levers, which are good at staying put while shooting, but did all easily get unlocked while transporting the gimbal in a bag.

There are several function buttons on the main handle, these control the different shooting modes available on the 3S, there is also a wheel on the side to control the fill light brightness and color, and a custom wheel on the front for smooth panning. These buttons and wheels feel a little plastic-y, with a bit of a rattle and mushy feedback when pressed, but they all have worked flawlessly in my time with the gimbal, they just don't feel especially premium.

The touchscreen is a really nice little feature, it is by far the easiest and most intuitive way I have controlled a gimbal yet. The menu system is really easy to follow, and although the choices of settings aren't overwhelming for this gimbal, there is an in-depth level of customization available for anyone wanting absolute control. My only issue with the touchscreen is that it is very easy to accidentally touch it while using the gimbal, I found several times when putting down the gimbal I had managed to go several pages deep into the menu system or had started changing settings. A lock screen might be a useful addition to a future model.

The looks of the Crane-M 3S might be divisive, while I think it looks great, I love the look of Zhiyun's products and the 3S is cool and very stylish and fits the brand perfectly. However, I also am torn as it doesn't look as professional as I might want for every shooting situation. The gimbal is clearly designed for vloggers and content creators first, with a noticeable stand-out design, but I also wish it was available in a sleeker and more demure all black version, it would just be nice to have the option. If you opt for the combo bundle, you will also be treated to a carry case/backpack, which although surprisingly premium quality, it's quite feminine/childish and not my thing at all, I wish I just had a regular case option.

I honestly cannot fault the Crane-M 3S performance, from initial setup the gimbal is an absolute breeze to use. The setup processing is incredibly simple, you lock the axis in place, attach the camera and then unlock one axis at a time balancing the camera weight until each is perfectly aligned. Admittedly I am an experienced stablizer user, but I managed to have my Fujifilm XT-5 balanced in less than a minute after taking the gimbal out of the bag. Once you have the camera all perfectly aligned, the 3S can then run a calibration check to fine tune the motors for your particular camera load.

Above: watch how the Zhiyun Crane-M 3S performs against the camera's handheld IBIS when walking and running.

During shooting the M 3S is comfortable to hold, and one handed shooting is possible depending on your camera and lens combination. I found with the Fujifilm XT-5 and Fujinon 24mm f/1.4 lens I could hold the gimbal in one hand, but only for short bursts, for the majority of the time, I used a two handed setup with the tripod attached to the bottom as an additional grip. If you plan to shoot with something lighter, or a smartphone, then you should have an easier time of one-handed shooting. You can also attach the tripod grip (or anything with a ¼ inch screw) to the side of the gimbal for an alternative way to hold the gimbal steady.

Footage shot with the Crane-M 3S is superb. My camera has decent in-body image stabilization and lenses with optical stabilization, but I could not get anything as smooth and stable shooting handheld as I could when the camera was on the gimbal. Panning shots are silky, but where the gimbal really shines is during more heavy movement like walking or running where the gimbal takes the worst of the jolts and bumps.

The stablization modes including pan, pan follow, POV and lock all work exactly as expected, for inexperienced gimbal users, it might take a while to fully be at one with each stablization mode as they offer very different control, but for anyone familiar with gimbal shooting you will be able to jump right in and start creating. The Crane-M's joystick also provides smooth movement, with three speed settings. I found it easy to get a smooth sweep, although the wheel on the front of the gimbal is my favorite method to to get a slow and steady pan while static.

Finally, a quick mention of the fill light, the light is actually deceptively powerful for such a tiny little light. The variable color temperature is super useful, and the light can be dimmed too. The light is quite harsh, and will cause some shadowing, especially on faces, but having any light in low-light situations is better than having nothing.

The Zhiyun Crane-M 3S is one of the best gimbals you can buy if you are a vlogger or content creator looking for an effective and affordable way to step up to more professional looking footage on your mirrorless camera or even your phone. The gimbal is light, yet powerful, capable of taking most mirrorless camera and lens combinations. The controls are also intuitive, with plenty of buttons and dials for quick controls and a really useful mini touch screen for settings, it is a great gimbal to start with if you are not an experienced user.

Footage is smooth and a step up from handheld shooting, even with in-body and lens stablization, results from the M 3S were just more stable, especially with heavier movement. However, one handed operation with mirrorless cameras is very straining. The Crane-M 3S is very well built and looks very modern and stylish, although I do wish it was available in a darker option too.

The biggest competition Zhiyun has in the gimbal space is from DJI, with the closest version to the Crane-M 3S being the DJI RS 3 Mini, which offers a similar set of features and functions for around the same price.

There are also several brands on Amazon that sell gimbals and stabilizers, although when you are attaching a very expensive camera to a piece of equipment, it is often wise to go with a reputable brand.

Read more: Find out more about the best DSLR gimbals for mirrorless and SLR cameras or the best smartphone gimbals for iPhone and Android.

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Gareth is a photographer based in London, working as a freelance photographer and videographer for the past several years, having the privilege to shoot for some household names. With work focusing on fashion, portrait and lifestyle content creation, he has developed a range of skills covering everything from editorial shoots to social media videos. Outside of work, he has a personal passion for travel and nature photography, with a devotion to sustainability and environmental causes.

Load capacity: Dimensions: Weight: Battery life: Charging time: Operating Features: Above: watch how the Zhiyun Crane-M 3S performs against the camera's handheld IBIS when walking and running. Read more: Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1 Sign in here Join now for unlimited access £1 / $1 / €1 Sign in here