Sitting between the superb ZHIYUN M3 and Smooth 5, the M2 S is the perfect balance of the two in every respect. Design-wise, it’s very similar to the M3, yet in size, it’s closer to the Smooth 5.
However, when you look at the material quality of the M2 S, it’s instantly apparent that this is a lower model than M3; it’s still well made, but the finish of the plastic isn’t nearly as nice as the M3 and closer to that used for the still excellent Smooth 5.
While the finish is a step down from the ZHIYUN M3, it’s still good, and the size and design mean that it easily slips into a larger backpack front pocket or an inner section. As with the M3, it comes in an identical white backpack which is of very high quality, and while not my style, certainly does the job and appeals to the younger audience.
The gimbal performs well, holding a GoPro, Smart Phone or smaller mirrorless with the kit lens without issue. For something so lightweight, this is impressive.
Unlike the larger gimbals mounting a mirrorless camera is just tipping the balance on weight. Still, I found it was powerful enough to hold a Sony A7 III with 35mm f/1.4 (Not on the compatible list) – although this is the upper end of the weight limit and does restrict the speed of reaction for the motors.
Going for something a little lighter such as the 35mm f/1.8 does give a little more headroom on balance and the speed of reaction.
With the ZHIYUN Crane M2 S, the company has everything covered for serious filmmakers and something to fit every budget. The Smooth 5 is excellent for those just starting with a budget of less than £200; then the Crane M2 S comes in at just under £300, and the M3 at just under £400 each, offering the next stage of control.
Built-in modelling lamp
Fully featured app
Limited camera control
Low max payload limit
What is Zhiyun Crane M2 S?
Hot on the heels of the Crane M3 comes the smaller M2 S, a meeting of the larger M3 and Smartphone only Smooth 5. The design is very Crane, and in looks, it reflects the styling of the larger M3, but in size and weight, it’s closer to the Smooth 5.
Like the M3, the M2 S has been designed to work with Smart Phones, Action Cameras and small Mirrorless cameras. Price-wise it sits bang in the middle of the Smooth 5 and the M3, and at this end of the market, that £100/$100 price difference can make a huge difference to someones pocket.
Essentially the Crane M2 S is the lighter weight sibling of the M3; it does most of the same things but is slightly more limited by size and the weights of larger cameras.
It offers basic control over your camera, start and stop recording in the case of the Sony A7 III, a built-in video lamp that comes in handy, and a fully-featured comprehensive app for iOS and Android.
If you’re looking for a cheap gimbal for your Smartphone and camera and you’re on a tight budget, then the M2 S is the gimbal for you.
Tilt : 320º
Roll : 320º
Pan : 360º
Dimensions : 240 x 68 x 150mm
Weight : 549g
App : iOS and Android
Battery runtime : 10h 35 mins
Charge Time : 1h41
Modelling lamp brightness : 1000 Lumen 5 levels of brightness
Payload limit : check compatibility list as a rough guide
Build and Handling
ZHIYUN’s build quality is always good, with the company carefully pitching the materials and features at very specific price points. Sat next to the M3, and it’s obvious where those cost savings are with the quality of the materials and features being a slight step down; however, place it next to the Smooth 5, and you can see a set-up.
The M2 S is a good balance between build and features, especially when you consider the price, and the fact that this small gimbal has the power to provide stabilisation for most compact mirrorless cameras with a lightweight lens.
Overall the build quality and attention to detail are excellent; the buttons and switches on the handle are plastic for the most part but don’t feel overly plasticy. The main gimbal arms are all metal and very high quality giving a good balance to the build and design.
As with the rest of the ZHIYUN range of Crane gimbals, the set-up for an action camera, Smartphone or camera is very simple. Use the appropriate mount and adapter to bolt into the base of the chosen device, or clamp it in the case of the Smartphone, and then attach it to the gimbal.
The quick-release baseplate is one of the nice features that ZHIYUN has crossed over from the M3. This V-slot style plate enables you to attach and disconnect the camera from the gimbal quickly. It also features plenty of safety features that mean it’s very unlikely that you’ll accidentally release the camera.
Once the camera is positioned on top of the gimbal, it is a case of balancing. Because of the small size of the gimbal, there isn’t a great deal of adjustment for each device which makes it easier to balance than larger alternatives. I did find that, unlike the larger gimbals, I couldn’t always find that absolute balancing point, especially with the Smartphone. In this case, I balanced it as well as I could and switched it on.
Switching on and the gimbal comes to life; in the case of the action camera and Camera, which were both balanced OK before switching on, everything worked fine. The Smartphone while not perfectly balanced levelled out fine, and any worries that the slight imbalance would upset the gimbal came to nothing.
Back to the camera. When first mounting, I used the gimbal unadjusted direct from the box. However, once the app was installed and the motors’ came to life I realised that the motor power needed to be adjusted in the ZY App. Once the motor power had been altered from low to high the gimbal’s balance instantly became far more robust. I also realised that plugging in the camera through the USB to the gimbal enables the gimbal to automatically recognise the camera, in which case the options and motor power are set automatically.
The app is at the heart of the use of the gimbal. While the features of the action camera and Smartphone are limited compared to the camera, it still enables plenty of flexibility.
At less than £300, the M2 S is packed with high-end features, and the only real limitation is the weight of the cameras it will support. If your camera does tip that weight balance, it’s a step up to the slightly larger and more expensive M3.
Feature-wise the basic list reads much like M3 with the gimbal supporting action cameras, Smartphones and mirrorless cameras fitted with a lightweight lens. Although on the features, whereas the M3 offers the accessories module that clips to the base, the M2 S doesn’t offer this option.
The first thing you notice about the M2 S is the weight; it’s incredibly light and a complete contrast to the original single-handed mobile gimbal stabilisers such as the Crane that only appeared a few years ago; this means that it’s more suitable for the masses and easier to use over long durations. The ZHIYUN M2 S gimbal only weighs in at 549g.
A feature that I liked on the M3 was the small light, and here on the M2 S, it’s just as small and bright. The lamp offers 1000 lumens of illumination with five levels of adjustability. While the LED light is cool in colour temperature, ZHIYUN includes a selection of four filters that can be used to create different lighting effects.
One of the big features that sold me on the M3 was the V-Shape quick release, this again appears on this small gimbal, and I’m hoping the design will transfer to the larger gimbals when they upgrade.
What’s clever about the quick release design is that action cameras and smartphones can mount directly onto the V-Shape quick release, while a camera can mount onto an additional mount for even more flexibility.
This dedicated quick release plate for use with Mirrorless cameras is an additional purchase and looks like a great idea. The plate features a quick slide-out release plate which is ideal if you mount and unmount the camera from one device to another.
Being small means that it’s comfortable to hold, and the grip features direct controls for the different modes such as Pan Follow (PF), Lock (L), Follow (F), with Point of View (POV) and Vortex (V) modes being selectable through the app. You also have the joystick, shutter button, light operation and trigger all in easy reach.
On the handle is the small 0.66-inch display that enables you to check which mode you’re in and adjust settings for the gimbal directly.
If your camera is compatible, one nice feature for mirrorless users is the ability to control the shutter through the handle controls. A connection is made by connecting a USB-C cable from the back of the gimbal to the camera; it’s all nice and simple.
Alongside the gimbal, ZHIYUN has once again supplied the small backpack. As before not my style but a nice touch.
Through the test, I used the ZHIYUN with the GoPro Hero10 Black, iPhone 11 Pro and Sony A7 III with 35mm mounted. The first thing to note is that the speed of set-up and balancing is one up on most other gimbals. The GoPro, Insta360 One R or iPhone, all mount quickly with a small amount of adjustment to get almost the right balance.
The only issue with the action cameras and smartphones is that you need to use the device’s screen and app to control the camera rather than being able to control it through the handle.
This isn’t a huge issue, and the performance from the small gimbal is superb. If you’re wondering why you would bother to use a gimbal with the action cameras when their stabilisation is so good, one point would be the comfort of holding the cameras. The gimbal enables an easy change of position to get low or high angled shots. You also have the advantage of knowing the camera is always pointing forward rather than up and down. Of course, there’s the follow-me mode and vortex, which are just difficult to do handheld, however good the stabilisation.
Switching over to a mirrorless camera and the balancing process takes a little more time but is still relatively straightforward and successful 99% of the time. If you get it wrong, you get the usual shake as you start to move the camera around.
The balance of the camera is a little more sensitive than when used with a smartphone or action camera, as the camera’s weight is closer to the top end of the weight limit. While this isn’t an issue, you need to ensure the balance is good before starting.
I found that any lens larger than the 35mm f/1.4 would tip the scales, and even that was pushing it, which is why it’s not on the compatibility list. However, using a smaller lens such as the 35mm f/1.8 was a perfect fit.
There’s little to fault with the small gimbal, you get full control over the shutter release through the handle, and while the movement may be a little limited compared with the larger gimbal, it does an amazing job.
Also, due to the size, the pan arm does cover the back of the screen slightly, but for the convenience of the ZHIYUN M2 S, I’m not that bothered.
When I first opened up the small ZHIYUN M2 S, it struck me that the size and weight of the M2 S were similar to the Smooth 5, yet this small gimbal was able to carry a mirrorless camera.
Through the test, I warmed more and more to the ZHIYUN M2 S; mainly, its small size meant that it was easy to transport and always available to use.
Couple this with a Smartphone or action camera, especially the Insta360 One R and you have a powerful filming rig. It’s incredibly easy to balance and use, and while I did use it with a Sony A73, I found that it’s coupling with either the iPhone 11 Pro or Insta360 gained the best results.
Using the two smaller options, the control and ease of use just made it a quick go to filming solution, and the fact that it was so quick to balance meant that there were no issues when it came to time and use.
Used with a mirrorless camera, and there were limitations, but again the compact size meant that the gimbal and its cable sat comfortably in a side pocket of my kit bag, ready to be used whenever needed.
At the price, I like the ZHIYUN M2 S a lot, it’s worth every penny for what it does, and the build is suitably solid and offers plenty of flexibility. The M3 may be a better choice if you’re filming with smaller mirrorless with small fixed focal length lenses, smartphones and action cameras. However, if you mainly shoot with a smartphone or action camera and sometimes with a small mirrorless the compact size, price and features of the M2 S make it an ideal solution.
To finish, what I like about ZHIYUN is that the company has thought hard about the people buying and using these gimbals, they’re thinking about budgets. £100 difference between the Smooth 5, M2 S and then the M3 might seem small to professionals, but that monetary leap is huge for many up and coming filmmakers. To have the choice of this quality gimbal at these price increments is just fantastic.
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