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Zhiyun Crane M2 review: Smoothly does it

Jonathan Bray
20 Jul 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
199
inc VAT

A well-designed gimbal for mid-sized mirrorless cameras, smartphones and action cameras but isn’t the easiest to use

Pros 
Well made
Stabilises cameras up to 720g
Lots of shooting modes
Cons 
Fiddly to setup
App is unintuitive
Expensive
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Effective image-stabilisation is a big selling point in smartphones and action cameras these days but nothing quite beats the fluidity and professional look that a motorized gimbal can bring to your video.

The Zhiyun Crane-M2, with its three-axis stabilisation and host of features, does more than just smooth out shaky video, however. It’s packed with creative features and is flexible enough to stabilise not just lightweight action cameras and smartphones but larger mirrorless cameras as well.

READ NEXT: The best GoPro to buy today

Zhiyun Crane-M2: What do you get for the money?

Although £199 is quite a lot to spend on a gimbal - there are plenty of smartphone and action camera gimbals on the market for under £100 - the Zhiyun does give you quite a lot for your cash.

Inside the box is the gimbal itself and selection of accessories: one mini tripod, which attaches to the bottom of the gimbal’s handle; a USB-A to USB-C cable; a wrist strap; and a spring-loaded clip for holding your smartphone safe and secure. All this is packed into a high-density foam carry case that protects the gimbal and its accessories from damage during transport.

It’s a nicely designed and well-thought-out product. It isn’t too big or heavy, it’s comfortable to hold, even with a heavy camera mounted, and all the controls – a joystick for controlling camera movement, plus trigger, record and mode buttons – are sensibly positioned so they’re easily reached with your thumb or forefinger.

There’s even a tiny monochrome OLED display for accessing the gimbal’s various settings and displaying which of the various different shooting modes is in operation currently.

The Crane-M2 is packed with other features as well. There’s a microUSB port to keep your phone charged. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to capture footage and zoom in and out using the controls on the gimbal’s handle. It’s also possible to do the same over Wi-Fi with your mirrorless or compact camera, although you’ll need to own a compatible camera for this to work (you can see a full list here).

Perhaps the most compelling argument for spending this much on a compact gimbal like this, though, is its ability to accommodate larger, heavier devices than smartphones and action cameras.

By adjusting the motor strength to high, you can attach cameras weighing up to 720g to the Zhiyun Crane-M2’s mounting plate, which means, as long as they fit, you can stabilise some quite beefy cameras.

Zhiyun Crane-M2: How easy is it to set up and use?

If you’re new to gimbals, the Crane-M2’s setup process might take a little while to get your head around; it’s certainly not as simple as the DJI Osmo or one of Zhiyun’s more basic gimbals to get started with.

Each time you mount a different phone or camera it needs to be rebalanced before being switched on. This involves a rather fiddly process of sliding the gimbal’s three arms back and forth until the device is roughly balanced. Fortunately, once you’ve got used to doing this, it’s an easy enough process to repeat.

It might take you a little longer to get accustomed to the Zhiyun Play smartphone app, however. Even the initial pairing proved tricky. You’d think presenting a list of products and letting you choose the right one would be the simplest thing in the world, but no. The app inexplicably splits products into several different categories and even then hides most behind the click of a different context menu. It took me lots of tapping and swiping around to actually find the Crane-M2 in the app’s labyrinthine menus.

That’s a shame because there’s plenty you can do with the app once you’ve worked out how to pair your phone. The motion timelapse mode is particularly good fun: it allows you to record a timelapse video while automating the movement of the camera from one point in your scene to another for a more dynamic-looking result.

There are others, too, including slow motion and panorama modes plus the ability to control the motion of the gimbal remotely from your phone’s touchscreen, if you have a mirrorless camera or action camera mounted – handy for reframing if you don’t fancy getting up from your chair continuously.

Again, however, there are some truly bizarre usability issues here. If you want, for instance, to customise the path the phone follows when shooting motion timelapse clips you have to exit from the main screen and put the app into “camera mode”, and set up your waypoints. Then you hit continue and, finally, go back to “smartphone mode”, select Motion Timelapse mode again and tap Start. What a faff.

Zhiyun Crane-M2: Shooting modes and performance

If you’re using a regular camera with the Zhiyun Crane-M2 you’ll be able to bypass the app for everything except for firmware updates, since the main shooting modes and functions can be accessed directly using the gimbal’s own controls. The advanced automated modes described above (motion timelapse, panorama and so on) only work on smartphones.

There’s still plenty to play around with here, however, with six shooting modes to choose from. The default, indicated by the letters PF (pan follow), is your basic point and shoot mode. Here, the camera follows the direction you point it in, keeping it dead level, and allows you to adjust the tilt axis using the joystick.

Click the M button and you get to L mode (locking) which gives you joystick control over pan and tilt, keeping the camera dead level. Then you have POV (point of view), where you control all movements of the camera with the handle - pan, tilt and even roll.

Next up is Go mode, which is a more responsive version of POV but keeps the camera level, locking off the roll axis. Vortex mode flips the camera so it points vertically up, then lets you push the joystick left or right to create an interesting spiral shot.

Full-follow mode keeps the camera level but pans and tilts with the motion of the handle. In any mode, you can triple-tap the trigger button to swivel the gimbal 180-degrees and pop it into vlogging (selfie) mode.

Performance is impressive. Motion was kept smooth and steady whether I was standing still, walking or even jogging with the gimbal held in one hand. It’s smoother than the built-in stabilisation of even the best smartphones and, more importantly, a mile better than the stabilisation you’ll get with most compact and mirrorless cameras.

There’s less of a difference between footage stabilised on the Crane-M2 and the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) you get on a decent action camera. It is worth remembering, however, that you’ll still get better image quality overall if you use the Crane-M2. This is because EIS crops the image slightly and compensates for movement by using the extra pixels surrounding the crop as a buffer zone, thus reducing image quality overall.

Zhiyun Crane-M2: Should you buy it?

The Zhiyun Crane-M2 isn’t the cheapest gimbal around and if you only want to smooth out footage from your smartphone or action camera, there are better choices.

The DJI Osmo Mobile 3, for example, is a great choice for smartphone owners. It’s half the price of the Zhiyun, comes with a host of creative shooting modes of its own, plus it’s much easier to use and set up.

However, if you want something that’s more flexible to use with your more serious cameras, and that can be used with your smartphone and action camera as well, the Zhiyun Crane is a decent choice. Just be aware that there will be a bit of a learning curve with the setup and with the rather unintuitive app.

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