Digital image and video stabilization features have been included in modern smartphones for a while now, with each new generation offering improved correction for jumps and jitters that typically occur during handheld shooting.

Still, even the latest handsets can't quite match the benefits that can be gained from using a motorized mount specifically designed to reduce vibration and unwanted shake.

Smartphone gimbals are made for just this purpose. Phone gimbals look similar to selfie sticks, but incorporate special motorized axes that keep shooting balanced and steady by adjusting for tilt, roll and tracking movements.

gimbal 01
One brand that's been steadily gaining plaudits for its gimbals is Zhiyun. The Chinese firm's gimbals in its Smooth range have been noted amongst video aficionados for their robust design, multiple operational modes, and relative affordability compared to the competition. Here, we looked at the company's latest Z1-Smooth II ($329) to see what advantages a gimbal offers for iPhone owners.

Design and Features

The Smooth II 3-axis stabilizer is designed for phones with screen sizes up to seven inches, and comes supplied with a counterweight to balance phones with a lens attachment or those with weightier screens (5.5-inches and above).

Also in the box is a USB to micro-USB charging cable, a 3400mAh rechargeable removable battery, a quick-start user manual (English), a foam camera protection sticker, and a set of 'contact us' QR codes.

gimbal 02
The mount is made from a tough aluminum alloy that feels sturdy yet surprisingly lightweight. The axes flop about a bit when the device is powered off, so it pays to be careful when you're carrying it around (especially with a phone attached), but it still feels like it could take a few knocks.

gimbal 03
Phones are mounted using the manually adjustable clamp that runs off the tilt axis, which extends from the central roll axis. A thumb screw on the back of the mount lets you tweak the level, based on your phone's center of gravity. The clamp has quite a bit of force, so I wouldn't recommend putting an iPhone into it without a bumper or case, but there's plenty of give to accommodate for this.

gimbal 04
The gimbal has three operating modes that work in different ways to counteract your movements and create smoother, more stable video (more on these below).

The operating modes are controlled from the handgrip by pressing down on the joystick, which also functions as a standby button. There's a separate power switch (which can also start/stop video recording when connected to the iOS app over Bluetooth), an LED power indicator, a micro-USB port, and a shifter lever for camera zoom and front/rear camera switching when using the app.

gimbal 05
A cap at the end of the handle screws off to provide access to the replaceable 18650 battery, which charges inside the gimbal when the device is plugged into a power source via USB. At the bottom of the handle is also a 1/4-inch screw thread for attaching the gimbal to a tripod, extension rod, or other camera equipment.

Performance

Getting going with the gimbal was easier than I expected, and the quick-start guide was clear and helpful. Sliding an iPhone 6s into the mount was simple, and didn't require me to use the supplied counterweight, which is needed if you want to use any of Apple's 5.5-inch iPhone Plus models. I extended the clamp with my hands, slipped in the handset in the correct orientation, and was good to go.

gimbal 06
Pressing and holding the power button for three seconds turned on the device, which raised the phone into a level horizontal or "landscape" position. Repeating this turns off the gimbal, which makes the mount fall down limply. This is why it's important to apply the foam camera protection sticker to the pan motor axis, because the phone screen can knock against it unless you power off with the gimbal pointed down towards the floor.

The default Pan Following mode offered instant, no-fuss video stabilization, enabling 360-degree freedom of movement at the lower (pan) axis while keeping the horizon level. This allowed me to control the panning direction of the shot from my wrist while the tilt and roll axes corrected for any unintentional wonkiness.

gimbal 07
From there, a single press of the joystick enabled Locking mode, which locked the left and right panning motion and kept the camera forward facing regardless of which direction I moved my arm. Panning in this mode is controlled via the joystick, so as long as I didn't press left or right on it I was able to move around freely without affecting the shooting angle, and even come into shot for a selfie, before completing a full 360-degree rotation around the static upper mount.

Pressing up and down on the joystick in both the above modes allowed me to control the vertical tilt of the camera and move the shot up towards the sky and down to the ground. The only drawback is that there isn't any way of controlling the speed of the tilt in these two modes, however the Smooth II compensates for this lack with a third mode, activated with a double press of the joystick.


This activates Pan and Pitch Following mode. Now if you bring your wrist in up towards your face or lower it towards the ground, the tilt axis smoothly adjusts to follow the angle of the gimbal at the same speed. The roll axis compensates similarly if you rotate your wrist left and right.

This mode also changes the function of the joystick's up/down direction, which now allows you to manually adjust the angle of the phone. This gives you some degree of rotational control either side of the standard landscape position (about 25 degrees, give or take). It doesn't quite roll the camera into a portrait position, but you can use the gimbal to shoot portrait if you hold it parallel to the ground in any of the three modes.


Pressing the joystick once again takes you back to the default mode, while pressing and holding puts the device into standby mode, which can be used to calibrate the gimbal if the tilt/roll/pan angle of the camera deviates slightly from a level position. The calibration process is simple: place the gimbal on a level surface and keep it stationary for 30 seconds. This was performed once and I didn't have to do it again.

Pressing the joystick again from standby immediately returns the device to normal operation. This proved useful for conserving battery between shots without having to constantly power on and off, which involves a few seconds' delay as the gimbal configures balance. On that note, I found the battery more than capable of standing up to a couple of days' use, and Zhiyun's stated five- to seven-hour battery life actually felt quite conservative.


While it's not a complicated device to operate, there is a moderate learning curve involved in making the most of the Smooth II's functions – I dedicated an afternoon to playing with it (see videos), and came away feeling like I had a fair enough grasp of its modes to use them in test shooting. All of the motors and modes functioned silently throughout, so there was no risk of picking up mechanical sounds on my footage. Bear in mind the device has no specified waterproofing, so I would advise against using it in wetter climes.

Bluetooth and Apps

The Bluetooth functionality of the Smooth II is supported by the company's iOS apps, Zhiyun Camera and Zhiyun Assistant (both English), although there's relatively little instruction included on how to get the best out of them. That said, they're not cryptic by any means, and with a bit of fiddling I soon figured out the controls.

camera-app-gimbal
The camera app is for shooting video/photos, includes ISO, balance, and exposure settings, and has an option to turn on/off the iPhone's built-in stabilization mode. With the gimbal connected to the app via Bluetooth, the buttons on the handle control your iPhone's camera, which turned out to be a lot more convenient than tapping the phone's touchscreen. Just be sure to give the app access to your photos, otherwise it won't save your footage. Meanwhile, the Assistant app features an axis monitor and lets you upgrade the firmware, as well as offering finer calibration controls, but these weren't something I had to bother with.

gimbal 10

Bottom Line

Smartphone gimbals are still a niche device, but the Smooth II is a solid, attractive option for anyone wanting to enhance their home/family movies or add a more refined look to video projects. It definitely steadied my test movies over the course of a single afternoon and gave the footage a more watchable, professional feel without the need for any post-processing, and the learning curve wasn't too difficult either. With additional testing and a better grasp of gimbal technique, I'm sure production values could be raised a lot further.

The device's performance was impressive overall, as was its battery life, and the price, while not exactly cheap for a phone accessory, is very competitive compared to other gimbals, especially considering the technology this one packs. My only real gripe is that no stowing/carry case is included in the box.

Pros

  • Strong, lightweight design
  • Very good stabilization modes
  • Bluetooth connectivity via app
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Sparse app instructions
  • No case included
  • Expensive for a phone accessory

How to Buy

The Zhiyun Smooth-II 3 Axis Handheld Gimbal Camera Mount comes with a one-year warranty and can be ordered on Amazon for $325 or directly from Zhiyun for $289 plus shipping via the company's Facebook store.

gimbal
Note: Zhiyun supplied the gimbal to MacRumors for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.

Tags: review, Zhiyun

Top Rated Comments

Ancaster Avatar
64 months ago
I heavily researched different smartphone gimbals for my 7+ and ended up buying one of these. There's no way I could reproduce the fluid effects handheld without one. I'm gonna love it on our upcoming cruise.

Go to the dji forums and read the complaints about OIS and also how the app failed another guy documenting a big moment at his friend's wedding.
If you have a late model iPhone with OIS, it cannot be turned off, the dji gimbal tries to counteract it and you end up with shakiness around the edges. Both dji and FiLMiC pro turn off software IS, turning off hardware OIS is not possible. The dji tech mods have no other answer. The only solution is to use the telephoto lens on a 7+ that has no OIS at the expense of narrow FoV.
It is less pronounced on the Smooth II, a dji forum member linked video evidence, and a separate youtube commenter who has both confirms it. Zhiyun's app works great, bluetooth connection for button start/stop, different settings for video, face detection, and app guided calibration.

Lastly, this is a 3-axis gimbal. If you walk, ninja technique is a must, no smartphone gimbal corrects vertical bounce. That is unrelated to the OIS shakiness we're talking about.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mrbossman Avatar
64 months ago
There are major stabilization issues with the DJI Osmo & the iPhone 6 or 7. The automatic image stabilization cannot be turned off on iOS devices which leads to unusable footage as it in effect double stabilized. I would assume this is the same for all mobile phone gimbals when using an iPhone.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
roboats Avatar
64 months ago
DJI Osmo Mobile is better, plus it has a far better companion app, I know from experience. Plus it's cheaper at $299
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macrescue911 Avatar
64 months ago
Isn't DJi also a Chinese company?
Yes it is :)
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BellaPass Avatar
64 months ago
I own the DJi osmo mobile - 299 and twn times better quality.

This Chinese knock off junk is simply that, knock off junk.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Michael Scrip Avatar
64 months ago
The sample footage sucks. You can see the bounce when the operator is walking. I don't need the gimmicky battery powered stuff. Just need a steady, smooth phone holder, and it clearly isn't that.
You can mitigate the bounce by holding your arms loose yet steady and using the ninja walk.

But the real point of these gimbals is eliminating the horizontal rotation that makes the image wobbly.

So while you might still get the bounce... without a gimbal you'll get bounce and a wobbly image.

I don't see how not using a gimbal will result in smoother images.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Begins Preparation for iPhone 13 Production Ahead of Fall Launch

Monday June 28, 2021 3:29 am PDT by
We're just a few months away from when Apple is expected to reveal the 2021 iPhone, dubbed the "iPhone 13." In preparation for its launch, it has been pulling in shipments of different components needed to produce the new iPhones, according to a report from DigiTimes. In years past, Apple released its latest iPhone lineup, alongside a new Apple Watch, during a September event at Apple Park....
studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
bluetti eb70 main

MacRumors Giveaway: Win a Bluetti EB70 Portable Power Station and 200W Solar Panel

Friday September 3, 2021 11:13 am PDT by
For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with MAXOAK to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a Bluetti portable power station and an accompanying solar panel. Bluetti makes a range of portable power station options that are useful for camping, emergencies, power outages, off-grid living, and similar situations. The Bluetti EB70 is a solid middle of the road option that offers 716Wh and...
apple privacy

Apple Publishes FAQ to Address Concerns About CSAM Detection and Messages Scanning

Monday August 9, 2021 1:50 am PDT by
Apple has published a FAQ titled "Expanded Protections for Children" which aims to allay users' privacy concerns about the new CSAM detection in iCloud Photos and communication safety for Messages features that the company announced last week. "Since we announced these features, many stakeholders including privacy organizations and child safety organizations have expressed their support of...
macos catalina legacy system extension alert

Apple Begins Warning Users That 'Legacy System Extensions' Won't Work With a Future Version of macOS

Wednesday March 25, 2020 9:53 am PDT by
Apple has shared a new support document that indicates kernel extensions — which it calls "legacy system extensions" — will not be compatible with a future version of macOS because they "aren't as secure or reliable as modern alternatives."System extensions are a category of software that works in the background to extend the functionality of your Mac. Some apps install kernel extensions, which...
General Spotify Feature

Spotify Pauses Plans to Add AirPlay 2 Support to iOS App [Update: Spotify Clarifies]

Friday August 6, 2021 9:07 am PDT by
See update at bottom of article Spotify this week confirmed that its plans to add AirPlay 2 support to its iOS app have been placed on indefinite hiatus. In an online discussion forum post, a Spotify representative said the streaming music service had been working on supporting AirPlay 2, but the company has paused the efforts "for now" due to "audio driver compatibility issues." The...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...
Pixel Stand 23W 668x445

Google Pixel 6 Rumored to Support 23W Wireless Charging, Beating iPhone 12's MagSafe

Wednesday September 1, 2021 1:54 am PDT by
Google is rumored to be working on a new wireless charging stand that could deliver 23W of charging power to its upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones, according to a leaked inventory image published by Android Police. Image via Android Police. If true, that would beat the iPhone 12's maximum 15W wireless charging speed (or 12W on ‌iPhone 12 mini‌) using Apple's MagSafe charger, and...