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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: Not quite ready for prime time

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
159
inc VAT

The Zhiyun Smooth 5 shows plenty of promise but is let down by unreliable software

Pros 
Excellent stabilisation
Physical controls
Full 360° panning
Cons 
Unreliable StaCam app
Bulky design
Premium price
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The Zhiyun Smooth 5 is a three-axis smartphone gimbal aimed squarely at prosumer-level mobile content creators. While in-camera video stabilisation has come a long way in recent years, for video makers looking for creative camera control as well as cinema-smooth footage, nothing quite compares to a dedicated mechanical gimbal.

Shunning the trend toward smaller, lighter and foldable stabilisers, the Smooth 5 is built with demanding users in mind. It features a chunky build, large grip and a wealth of physical controls that enable users to adjust their settings on the fly, right from the handle.

Its bulky design won’t be for everyone, however, and with a launch price that positions it at the top of the market, the Smooth 5 will need to get everything right in order to compete with the likes of the DJI OM5.

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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: What do you get for the money?

For £159 the Standard Zhiyun Smooth 5 Kit comes with the gimbal, a mini tripod and a USB-C charging cable. Alternatively, for £209, a Zhiyun Smooth 5 Combo Kit is also available, which includes everything from the standard kit plus a wrist strap, magnetic LED fill light, a set of coloured filters and a custom carry case.

The Smooth 5 stands 311mm tall without the optional mini tripod attached and weighs 615g. The handle offers a range of physical buttons, including a joystick, a rotating directional pad, a trigger button and a large rubberised thumb wheel. There’s also a small display that highlights the current mode.

Theres' a USB-C charging port on the rear and a USB-C outlet at the top of the device that can be used to charge your smartphone on the go. There are also magnetic connection points for mounting the optional fill light accessories.

The gimbal can be used standalone – simply mount your phone and power it up – or paired to your phone via Bluetooth, where it can be used in conjunction with a compatible app.

Zhiyun offers a few native apps for both Android and iOS, including the standard ZY Cami and the more advanced StaCam apps. These applications allow you to dial in your phone’s camera settings, adjust the gimbal's behaviour and access creative modes for creating time-lapses and panoramas.

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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: What’s new?

The Smooth 5 provides a number of welcome upgrades over its predecessor. Full 360-degree panning is now available, enabling the Smooth 5 to shoot vortex shots. The maximum supported payload has increased from 210g to 280g and it’s also compatible with Zhiyun’s magnetic fill lights.

The Smooth 5 benefits from a wider range of physical buttons too, including a new joystick and a small light-up display that shows your current mode and allows you to switch modes without needing to open up the Zhiyun app.

It is, however, 55g heavier than its predecessor and, with a launch price of £159, it’s considerably more expensive than the £95 Zhiyun Smooth 4.

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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: What do we like?

First and foremost, the Smooth 5’s stabilisation easily ranks among the best I’ve tested. Video footage is rock steady, camera movements glide and clips shot while moving feel as if they’re floating. While noticeably heavier than some other smartphone stabilisers, the Smooth 5 still balances nicely and the extra weight helps keep it steady in the hand.

The extensive range of physical controls is very welcome and, provided you’ve paired it with one of the compatible apps, allows you to tweak almost all your camera and gimbal settings, and navigate app menus right from the grip. The built-in mode selection display is also a bit of a game-changer as it enables you to toggle between the various gimbal behaviour modes without having to dive into the app settings – especially useful if you’re not recording with a Zhiyun app.

There are behaviour modes for panning, tracking and following, POV (point of view) and, uniquely for a smartphone gimbal, there’s a vortex mode that allows for full 360-degree rotation shots. While you may not find yourself shooting wild vortex shots all that often, it’s certainly a nice creative tool to have at your disposal.

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Zhiyun’s ZY Cami app offers built-in modes for photos, videos, time-lapses, hyper-lapses and panoramas, along with a Hitchcock-esque dolly-zoom feature. As far as camera settings go, ZY Cami is rather basic, at least on the Android version, offering simple frame rate and resolution presets and exposure compensation but it’s fairly intuitive to navigate and pairs without a fuss.

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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: How could it be better?

While the ZY Cami app is fine for casual video clips, if you’re looking to invest in this sort of gimbal you’ll almost certainly want a little more camera control. This is where Zhiyun’s advanced StaCam app comes in and is also where things start to come a little unstuck.

StaCam offers granular camera setting control, an exposure histogram, focus peaking, zebra stripes, overlays and even LUT support, all controlled using the Smooth 5’s physical buttons and dials. Unfortunately, despite trying StaCam on a Google Pixel 5, Xiaomi 11T Pro and Huawei P20 Pro, I was unable to get it to perform properly. StaCam would frequently drop frames, resulting in choppy, unusable footage, regardless of the selected framerate or resolution.

While it’s possible that it works flawlessly on some devices – I haven’t tested the iOS version – based on my experience I certainly cannot recommend it for the kind of serious work the Smooth 5 is aimed at.

The Smooth 5 is now supported by Filmic Pro on both Android and iOS, with full support for all of its physical controls so you don’t have to solely rely on Zhiyun’s camera apps. Filmic Pro is, however, a third-party application and long term support may not be guaranteed. It’s also not a free app; at the time of writing it costs £12.99.

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There’s also no getting around the fact that it’s a very chunky unit. While its bulk may afford it a little extra stability, the fact that it barely folds down means it’s not very travel-friendly – it requires the same size compartment in my camera bag as a professional 70-200mm zoom lens.

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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: Should you buy it?

If the stars align and you get Zhiyun’s companion StaCam app to function consistently – or you pair it with a compatible third-party camera app like Filmic Pro – the Smooth 5 is one of the most capable smartphone stabilisers for advanced users.

It has a solid build, produces incredibly smooth video footage, features a whole suite of well-positioned physical controls and the built-in mode switching function is a real standout.

Unfortunately, at this price point, there are just too many frustrations for me to give it a wholehearted recommendation. Its inconsistent first-party app performance will likely turn off the demanding users it's primarily aimed at, while its high price and cumbersome design make it very hard to justify over DJI’s smaller, lighter OM5 or considerably cheaper OM4 SE for more casual users.

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