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Zhiyun Smooth 4 Review: see if it’s the new Osmo 2

Great, but not for everyone: an in-depth look at the Zhiyun Smooth 4

The Zhiyun Smooth 4 has been immediately proclaimed a death sentence to the DJI Osmo Mobile 2. It comes as no surprise, given that Zhiyun and DJI are the two behemoths of the gimbals market. Their flagship products are in the same price range, but the Smooth 4 is more feature-packed. Undoubtedly, it has good chances of stealing the market from its main competitor.

This review is going to be relatively long, so please get comfortable! We’ll discuss what this gimbal can do, take a look at the control scheme and different filming modes. In the end, I will pass my judgment.

zhiyun-smooth-4-is-a-3-axis-gimbal-in-box

What’s the purpose?

Many of the modern smartphones feature excellent cameras. Naturally, more and more people bid farewell to traditional equipment. Who needs heavy cameras and video recorders, when a usual phone can provide an unbelievable photo and video quality?

However, every budding videographer has encountered the problem of jitter. No matter how good your phone’s image stabilization may be. Moving around with the camera will unavoidably make it shake, and even if you stand still, the normal jitter in your hands might take away from the footage quality.

Luckily, there’s such a thing as phone gimbals or stabilizers specifically designed to deal with this problem. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is a 3-axis gimbal, which means it can move your phone along three axes (pan, tilt, and roll). The camera stays level by moving in the direction opposite to the unwanted shakes. This results in smooth, professional-looking footage.

Without going further into technicalities, I hope now you clearly understand why you might need a gimbal.

kit-of-smooth-4

Getting acquainted with the Zhiyun Smooth 4

The gimbal’s package doesn’t try to win you over with sophisticated design. It’s a grey case made of styrofoam, which feels light but solid. Later on, it can be used when traveling, so don’t throw it away.

Included in the package are a charging cable and a mini-tripod. A detailed user guide is only available online. In the box, there’s just a quick start guide (environmental concerns are cited as the cause).

The charger is USB-C, which is still not as common among gimbals as you might expect. Unlike the Osmo Mobile 2 and many other models that stick to the Micro-USB, Zhiyun is commendably embracing modern technology.

Even at the first glance, this gimbal seems to be more complicated than others. It features a great number of different buttons and dials, while the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 only has basic controls. One can also notice it’s bigger than most stabilizers these days.

The gimbal arm can be easily locked and unlocked, which is a sensible feature to include. By restricting the gimbal, you can prevent it from rotating freely when not in use and avoid potential damage. Don’t forget to do this while traveling.

On the bottom, there is a 1/4-inch thread connector. Thus, you can easily mount the gimbal on the native tripod extension as well as any other standard supports.

The body is made of black plastic. By default, that means the build quality is not very impressive. However, I did like the design. A blue battery indicator and a metal band with the brand name look quite fancy.

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Compatibility

The Zhiyun Smooth 4 has an adjustable spring-loaded clamp, rubberized to protect your phone from scratches. I tested it with different-sized phones and didn’t encounter any problems. All you have to do is open the clamp and put your phone inside. Its claws will grip your phone securely once you let go.

The weight of your phone also shouldn’t be an issue. An acceptable payload of up to 210 g is enough for most of modern phones, even the likes of the Samsung Note 9. Unfortunately, you might face some balancing problems as you near the limit. They became quite noticeable when I mounted the iPhone XS Max with its weight of 208 g. With a heavy phone, especially in a case or with lenses attached, you’ll have to use a gimbal counterweight. Note that it’s not included in the package.

align-the-phone-in-the-zhiyun-smooth-4-gimbal-manually

When first using the gimbal with a new device, take care to balance it well. Of course, the gimbal will level your device automatically. However, there might be extra exertion on the motors that will result in overheating and reduce the battery runtime. Here’s how to prevent this. Hold the gimbal upright or attach it to the tripod and put it on a flat surface. Don’t turn it on yet. Put your phone into the clamp. At first, it will be tilted. To fix this, loosen the clamp’s screw and slide the clamp to find a position in which your phone sits level. Then tighten the screw again and turn on the gimbal. Don’t worry if it sounds complicated, there are lots of helpful tutorials on Youtube.

If your phone isn’t included in the official list of supported devices, most likely this means some of the functions won’t work.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 and GoPros

This is unofficial, but the gimbal is also compatible with GoPros. I tested it with my action camera. It fitted well into the clamp and worked fine, but far from perfect. Many of the gimbal’s features and buttons don’t function properly with a GoPro, so I wouldn’t recommend this combination.

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Operating the Zhiyun Smooth 4

Lately, gimbal manufacturers have been vying to minimize the number of buttons, but the Smooth 4 proudly defies that trend. There are loads of different controls on the grip, most of them easy to reach with a thumb. The majority of the time you’ll be able to adjust things like exposure or resolution without touching your phone.

The big handwheel on the left has two modes, switched by a specific button. You can use it to adjust either the focus or digital zoom. Few gimbals have physical focus controls, so I have no doubt this will gratify advanced users. As for the zoom, it’s incredibly smooth, with none of the jerkiness quite common among gimbals.

The central button turns the camera’s flash on and off, which is also convenient. I didn’t use it a lot, but I can certainly imagine situations where it might come in handy.

There are also controls for adjusting resolution and exposure, toggling between the front and back camera, changing the camera orientation, switching gimbal modes, taking photos, starting and finishing video record.

Having all of these features at your fingertips definitely saves time, making your everyday life as a content creator much easier.

The only pitfall I’ve found is the fact that most of these functions won’t work unless you use the official manufacturer’s app. It’s quite well-designed, and some problems pointed out by Android users have been eliminated in its latest version. However, I’d definitely prefer an independently working gimbal.

No joystick

Unlike most of its competitors and even some of its predecessors, the Smooth 4 doesn’t have a joystick for panning and tilting the camera. In this regard, it has taken a cue from more traditional DSLR gimbals and premium phone stabilizers like Movi Cinema Robot.

Is that a problem? Not in my opinion. Personally, I don’t quite understand why this feature has become an industry-standard in the first place. I’ve never found it convenient. Besides, I have much more fun adjusting the camera position with my own hand.

However, the lack of a joystick might inconvenience someone who is used to this feature. Just take note of that.

 

gimbal-modes

Zhiyun Smooth 4 gimbal modes

As a 3-axis gimbal, the Smooth 4 has three working modes.

  1. Pan and follow. In this mode, the gimbal follows the operator’s movements along the pan axis (left and right). However, it keeps the camera level by counteracting any up and down motions.
  2. When this mode is activated, you can move the camera along the pan and tilt axes. However, the roll axis is locked. If you move the camera back and forth, the gimbal will respond with equal and opposite motion.
  3. In this mode, all three axes are locked, so the camera orientation doesn’t change at all. This is perfect for filming concerts or shooting from a vehicle.

PhoneGo Mode

If you press the rear trigger at the grip, the gimbal becomes more responsive by speeding up its motors. This model called “PhoneGo” is quite useful when you need the camera to follow quick movements without any delay.

Software features

The ZY Play app offers a number of interesting modes and effects to spruce up your photos and videos. Here are some of the things it can do:

  • 180-degree and 3 x 3 panorama shots. By the way, these don’t work very well while handheld, so it’s preferable to use the tripod.
  • Various time-lapse modes, such as freestyle time-lapse, hyper-lapse, motion timelapse, and slow motion.
  • Vertigo effect, also known as Dolly Zoom. It’s a cool trick that makes the background morph in size while the foreground seems to stay the same.
  • Intelligent face and object tracking. After activating the face tracking mode, an AI-powered mechanism will keep your face in the frame. This is great news for vloggers who need to move freely in front of the camera. You can also choose any other object to track by framing it on the screen.

There are also different filters and access to a bunch of fine settings.

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An alternative app

Most of the Smooth 4 owners record their videos via the ZY Play app, necessary to get access to all of the available features. Luckily, it is one of the best gimbal apps at the moment. It didn’t start out strong on Android, but most complaints have been handled by now.

However, having to use the official apps is a nuisance to many people. Let’s face it, they are not the most convenient for video record, to put it mildly. Personally, I’m willing to forego some of the gimbal functions if it means I can use better software.

To Zhiyun’s credit, they have left your options open. If you don’t like the companion app, you are free to use FiLMiC Pro as an alternative. Now, this is awesome professional-grade software and a sheer pleasure to use. FiLMiC is Zhiyun’s official partner, so the app is integrated with the gimbal’s controls. You do have to pay for it, but it’s a worthy investment if you are an advanced user ready to take your content to the next level.

filmic-pro-app

Stabilization quality

The Zhiyun Smooth 4’s stabilization performance meets the loftiest expectations. It’s just as good as the Osmo Mobile 2’s, if not better. I’ve tried to walk and even run with the camera, which caused no shaking whatsoever.

The motors are very quick to react to any movements. In the phone mode, they become even more responsive, which is helpful if you want to really bring out the speed in your films.

The battery

The gimbal runs on two lithium-ion batteries. Their charge level is indicated by LED lights on the grip. There are four of them, so the low battery signal won’t just hit you out of the blue.

In terms of battery life, the Smooth 4 is one of the most powerful gimbals on the market. It can last up to 12 hours in a row, which is enough and to spare for most people, including vloggers. Fully charging from zero takes about 2 hours.

It’s also great that the gimbal supports 2-way charging. This means it can charge your phone via a USB port on the tilt axis while in use. You can also charge the stabilizer by a power bank at the same time if there’s no power outlet in the vicinity. All of this should be enough to ensure that dead batteries never ruin your plans again.

Smooth 4 back view

The filming process

The gimbal allows to shoot both in portrait and landscape modes and easily switch between the two with a dial on the back. This will come in handy to Instagram vloggers who use the portrait mode a lot. The motors work silently, so you don’t have to worry about mechanical noises ruining your footage.

The tripod made my life easier, too. I mostly used it to extend the grip’s length when taking low-angle shots. Without it, I’d have to bend down a lot.

Despite all of the perks, I didn’t enjoy the filming process as much as with other popular gimbals of the last generation. Somehow it just didn’t feel right in my hands. Its ergonomics has much to improve: a wide rectangular grip is definitely not a perfect choice.

The control system is a bit confusing. The number of buttons feels somewhat excessive, even though the markings are quite clear and intuitive. Instead of focusing on more creative tasks, I found myself constantly thinking about the buttons and trying to remember which does what. As I’ve said above, physical controls save your time, but not from the get-go. Be prepared for a steep learning curve.

Zhiyun-Tech SMOOTH-4 Specs

Weight19.29 oz / 547 g
Color optionsWhite & Black
Folded dimensions L*W*H12.91 x 4.84 x 4.13″ / 328 x 123 x 105 mm
Battery LifeUp to 12-hour runtime | ability to use an external power pack
Battery charging time
3,5 hours
Mechanical Range300° of pan, 240° of tilt, and 240° of roll
Maximum payloadSupports smartphones weighing up to 7.4 oz
Compatible phone widthUp to 3.35″ in height
Charging porttype-C
Supported  payload & Devices
Weight – 0.16 – 0.46 lbs (75- 210 g)

Height – 2,4 – 3,35″(620 -850 mm)

Software
Native – ZY Play (IOS 9.0 + & Android 5.0 +)

Alternative – Filmic Pro (IOS & Android)

Verdict on Zhiyun Smooth 4

Advantages 🤩

  • Great stabilization performance.
  • Responsive and noiseless motors.
  • A great choice of shooting modes.
  • Physical controls for adjusting many settings.

Disadvantages 🙁

  • Some features don’t work without the companion app.
  • Complicated control scheme.
  • Not much in terms of ergonomics.

All in all, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is a great stabilizer, quite capable of winning sales from its dominant rival, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2. These two are definitely the best in their price range.

choose-between-dji-osmo-mobile-2-and-zhiyun-smooth-4

How to choose between them?

If you’re an advanced filmmaker seriously interested in the technical nuances of the craft, you should probably go for the Zhiyun Smooth 4. Its physical controls enable you to make lots of fine adjustments without touching your phone while filming. It will be great for honing your skills and getting more creative with your footage.

If you’re a total beginner or a casual user who doesn’t like thinking about the gimbal while recording, you might find the Smooth 4’s controls too complicated. Due to its size, it’s also a bit awkward to lug around. If you’re always on the go, you might want to consider more compact models. In this case, I’d recommend the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 which is smaller, easier to figure out, and better in terms of ergonomics. Another option is Zhiyun’s own Smooth Q, which might be superior in terms of value for money.

Rating: 4/5

If you are looking for the best handheld gimbals for iPhone and Android, check out my new article about the top-6 best stabilization devices for smartphones available in the market in 2021.

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