There are plenty of single-handed gimbal stabilisers out there, but the compact Crane M3 still manages to stand out and impress. It’s less forgiving with larger mirrorless cameras, and forget using a 24-70mm on the front of your camera, but that’s not what this gimbal is about. Equipped with an action camera, mobile or A73 with 35mm. The Crane M3 is the serious solution for many just getting into filmmaking, and the accessories and expansion options make it a superb investment choice.
Easy to set up and use
Limited weight option for mirrorless camera users
Expensive compared with the M2
What is the Zhiyun Crane M3?
Zhiyun has been quickly updating its range of gimbals, with the excellent Crane 3S, Weebill 2 and now the Crane M3, replacing the Crane M2, the smallest and lightest in the range.
The Crane M3, despite mechanically being similar to the rest of the range, is very different. Firstly the white rather than black finish gives this gimbal a new and stylish look. The M3 is aimed at a younger and, dare I say it, less experienced audience than their other products, and while its actual function is similar to the rest of the range, the cameras it’s designed to handle are quite different.
If you’ve ever tried to pop an action camera or mobile phone on top of the gimbal, then you’ll probably see all axis shaking violently due to the lack of weight; you’ll even find that some small mirrorless cameras and lens combos are similarly underweighted. However, these small cameras are exactly what the M3 has been designed to be used with.
While it will cope perfectly with the small, lightweight form of your mobile phone or action camera, it will also work with your mirrorless camera as long as it’s not too heavy.
It is the first gimbal to bridge the gap between the small handheld mobile stabilisers and professional gimbal rigs, and it spectacularly does this.
Build and Handling
Recently, there’s been a huge and welcome change in the gimbal and drone markets, with companies such as Zhiyun ditching much of the plastic packaging and giving the customer something a little more useful inside the cardboard box.
In this review, I’ve taken a look at the Zhiyun Pro-Kit, and for your £649, you get an incredible amount. Not only is there the small gimbal which is perfectly suited for anything from your mobile phone, action camera to mirrorless camera, but you also get the built-in modelling lamp and extension base that enables you to plugin the quality shotgun mic. There’s also the bag that has had a generally mixed response, some like it and others, not so much, including me. Let’s say I’m not the target audience for this bag.
A bag for the youths
Thankfully I have a few youth photographers and videographers who could give their opinions on the bag and gimbal. The result of that consultation is that the gimbal is a massive hit the bag, not so!
It’s not just the style of the bag that doesn’t feel right for the Pro Kit. While it is nicely made, it doesn’t fit all the kits. The microphone is longer than the height of the bag, so it doesn’t fit in.
Then there are a few of the bags design elements, such as the large front flap, which is pointless and the two expandable side pockets that are still too small to fit a water bottle or anything useful.
This is a real shame as everything else is incredibly well designed, and it’s not even as if the bag feels cheap. When it comes to the actual materials and quality, they’re excellent.
The Crane M3 Pro Kit
Leaving the bag well alone, the rest of the kit is incredibly well thought out, and thankfully it’s all so compact that it will easily fit in almost any sized backpack or messenger with ease.
The kit comes with the gimbal, including the built-in modelling light, filters, Type-C cables for various cameras, handheld tripod, expansion base, microphone and cables.
The new gimbal is a thing of beauty; the colour and graphics work well and help split this away from the standard black gimbals that we’ve come to expect. The whole design looks fresh.
Size-wise, the M3 is considerably smaller than other gimbals, making it a great option for many videographers who find the likes of the Crane 2s and even the WeeBill 2 still too heavy to use for any amount of time.
Zhiyun has addressed many of the complexities of professional gimbals and their ease of use to make the M3 as easy to balance as possible.
A new quick-release plate lets you bolt in the base plate to your camera and then click it directly into the Gimbal. THere’s no fine adjustment as you would find with the larger gimbals.
While this first step is quick and easy, the rest of the balancing process follows the usual axis balancing, which does take a bit of time. You also quickly find out that using one of the larger lenses, such as the 85mm f/1.4 with the A73, tips the max payload limit as does the 24-70 f/2.8, but scale down the 35mm f/1.4 or 24mm f/1.4, and you’re back in action.
Balancing the small M3 doesn’t take too long, and unlike the larger Crane models, I found that once I’d finished with the Gimbal, the size meant that I could leave it set up and folded away without the need to pack it down completely.
This means that the next time I needed it, I could unlock the axis and click in the camera, making the set-up time less than a minute compared with up to five for most other gimbals.
Build quality for the M3 is also excellent; you can see and feel that Zhiyun has worked on the product design of this model. It feels like a real step up and is starting to depart from the raw engineered feel of previous Cranes.
One feature that appears on all kits is the built infill light. This is small but surprisingly powerful and can be operated directly from the Gimbal. This is a great addition, and the quality of the light is exceptional; what’s more, Zhiyun has seen fit to include a series of coloured filters in the box.
There are plenty of options on the Crane -M3 grip when it comes to control. There’s the addition of the usual joystick; this is a little lighter in weight in quality than the larger Cranes. Next to this are the M and – buttons; these again feel a little lighter weight than other models. Above these is the small touch screen, and this is a real show stopper when it comes to quality and use.
The screen, while small, gives you direct access to options and settings and is fast and easy to navigate. It’s just really well thought out and boosts the use and workflow of the Gimbal.
As well as the gimbal, there’s the audio expansion. This comes into play once the extension base is fitted.
The shotgun mic is surprisingly weighty and plugs with an XLR to phono lead directly. The shotgun mic can then be handheld and used by an interviewer or presenter.
The size of the Crane M3 makes it instantly appealing. It’s small enough to fit neatly into my standard camera bag without the need to upscale the backpack. It’s also completely devoid of a faff when setting up.
Setting up the Crane M3 takes a couple of minutes; if the adjustment is straightforward and despite the size, it motor’s pack in a serious amount of power.
There are instant limitations to the Crane M3; it is, after all, designed to carry action cameras, mobile phones and small mirrorless systems rather than a full-scale filming kit.
That said, it can still very capably hold a Sony A7 III with 35mm f/1.4 comfortably. Fitting any camera or phone is easy with a single click fit base plate that attaches directly to the camera’s base and then into the gimbal itself.
Once the camera is in place, the usual adjustments can be made to the axis balances for the X, Y and Z. Maybe because of the small size; these adjustments are really easy. I found balancing the M3 a relatively simple process. Balancing the phone (iPhone 11 Pro) or action camera (Akaso Brave 8) proved just how straightforward the process was.
Stabilising a mirrorless camera
Using the Crane M3 with a mirrorless camera was the port of call, and after a few lens experiments, I found that the 35mm f/1.4 was the way to go when it camera to stabilisation. Anything larger pushed the limits of the motors, which for a gimbal of this size was not surprising.
The Crane M3 is surprisingly powerful in use, and despite the compact nature of the axis arms and closeness to the camera, the LCD screen was clear and visible.
At the time of writing, there are still some updates required to the firmware to ensure full compatibility with the Sony A7 III that will enable full control and the use of the microphone.
At present, camera control needs to be done through the on-camera controls, but the Gimbal is equipped with a focus or mode dial along with shutter and other direct camera control.
These controls are all reflected in the app, and I’ll bring you a full update once these are all working.
Used as a standard gimbal stabiliser, the Crane M3 does an amazing job. The size makes it extremely agile, and the fact that it’s so light makes it a pleasure to use.
Mobile phone and action camera stabilisation
Using the Akaso Brave 8 and iPhone 11 Pro showed just how versatile the gimbal is and the additional control over the two cameras compared with the in-camera stabilisation is huge.
The two cameras look rather small in a gimbal of this size, but compatibility is welcome. It means that you can easily switch between mirrorless, phone and action camera as needed.
While this concept might seem alien to many of us, if you’re starting, this is a gimbal that will grow with you by using your phone to a mirrorless system.
On the side of one of the arms is the small modelling light. This packs in some serious power and the brightness can be adjusted with the dial on the front of the gimbal handle. It’s surprisingly useful, and dialled down helps push light into the scene, making it ideal for interviews and direct vlogging.
In use, having this light built in so you don’t need to rely on any accessories is again another major benefit of this system.
The Crane M3 is great looking gimbal; its small size and power make it a formidable filmmaking tool that will suit all sorts of videographers and photographers.
Using a small mirrorless phone or action camera on the same gimbal is a great feature and far more useful than you would initially think.
Performance-wise the power of the motors is impressive, smoothing out the usual handshake and wobble associated with handheld footage. It’s also incredibly easy to use with the direct controls on the handgrip.
Likewise, popping on an action camera or mobile phone again enables a smooth and powerful stabilisation experience.
There are a few quirks at the time of writing, direct camera control from the grip doesn’t work for the Sony cameras, and the mic input also has a few noise issues. I’m assured that these factors will be sorted out with firmware.
As it stands, the Crane M3 is still a great gimbal; its small size makes it easier to handle than most other stabilisers out there. It’s also by far the best looking gimbal yet.
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