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Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: An average smartphone gimbal priced into irrelevance
Zhiyun Smooth 5
Retail price: $169.00$169.00 at Amazon
What we like
What we don't like
Professional videographers all know that a great smartphone gimbal will totally change the quality of your mobile video content. In the prosumer world of smartphone gimbals, two names usually come up the most: Zhiyun, which only makes gimbals, and DJI, which is primarily a drone company. The Zhiyun Smooth 5 is the latest and greatest from the former brand.
As usual, it’s difficult not to compare the Smooth 5 to the latest competing product from DJI, which in this case is the OM 5. Usually, Zhiyun severely undercuts DJI when it comes to the price of its gimbals, but that’s not the case this year. With the two products existing at the same price tier now, how does the Smooth 5 stack up? That’s what this Zhiyun Smooth 5 review will hopefully answer.
What you need to know about the Zhiyun Smooth 5
- Zhiyun Smooth 5 (Standard): $169 / £159 — Comes with gimbal, charging cable, and tripod stand
- Zhiyun Smooth 5 (Combo): $219 / £209 — Comes with gimbal, charging cable, tripod stand, fill light, and carrying case
The Smooth 5 launched on November 15, 2021. At launch, it was available in the United States and the United Kingdom, but will slowly roll out to more countries over time.
The most notable upgrade for the Zhiyun Smooth 5 over the Smooth 4 is the introduction of a control stick. It’s pretty astonishing that the Smooth 4 lacked this integral feature, but better late than never!
Outside of the new control stick, the rest of the controls remain mostly the same, albeit in a whole new configuration. Instead of almost all the buttons being on the front, they are spread all around the handle with the distinctive focus/zoom wheel retaining its spot on the left.
Another new addition is the inclusion of two magnetic fill light connectors, one on each side of the smartphone clamp. By connecting Zhiyun’s proprietary lights to these two connectors, you can shed some light on your subject without needing to figure out how to clamp a third-party light to the gimbal. This is a very welcome feature, even if the base model does not come with a fill light. You will eventually be able to buy the light on its own for $36, but Zhiyun didn’t have availability for us on that at the time of writing.
Other than these two new changes, the Smooth 5 is remarkably similar to the Smooth 4. It’s still a three-axis gimbal with sturdy construction. There’s still a 1/4-inch tripod mount on the bottom of the gimbal and the ZY Cami app is still needed for almost all aspects of operation.
Speaking of the ZY Cami app, here’s what you can do with it:
- No resolution settings
- Glamour filters
- 720p at 24fps or 30fps
- 1080p at 24fps or 30fps
- 4K at 24fps or 30fps
- Glamour filters (but not at 4K)
- SmartFollow (active tracking)
- Clone Mode (place multiple versions of the same person throughout the image)
- Dolly Zoom
- Auto tracking: choose target receding/approaching
- Use zoom wheel for manual control
- 720p at 24fps or 30fps
- 1080p at 24fps or 30fps
- 4K at 24fps or 30fps
- Hyperlapse (moving timelapse)
- 720p at 5x / 10x / 15x / 30x
- 1080p at 5x / 10x / 15x / 30x
- Smart Mode
- Similar to DJI Story Mode
- Create short edits with music by following a template
The new control stick works as expected. Using the stick, you can tilt the camera or rotate the base, depending on the direction you push. As mentioned before, we’re not sure why the Smooth 4 didn’t have this, but it’s nice to see it on the Smooth 5.
The fill light feature is probably the best aspect of this device. In the Combo package, you get one fill light. That light has four color filters, all with magnetic connectors. You simply snap the fill light to the magnetic connectors on the outside of the smartphone clamp. A long press of the light bulb button on the gimbal’s controller turns the light on/off.
There’s no need to worry about charging the light itself because it leeches power from the gimbal. It’s also hot-swappable and reversible, so you can snap it off and have it face the other direction on either side of the clamp in seconds.
The zoom/focus wheel on the left side of the gimbal also gets refined with the Zhiyun Smooth 5. The button to swap zoom/focus controls is now in the center of the wheel, which is much better than the random face button on the Smooth 4. Zooming and focusing using the wheel is very intuitive and produced great results in my testing using a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
What’s not so good?
The most glaring overall problem with the Zhiyun Smooth 5 is how un-user-friendly it is. If you picked this up as a first-time user, you would no doubt be completely lost. There are so many buttons, triggers, and controls, and only a few of them make their function(s) obvious.
The included manual is of little help in this regard because the English translation isn’t great. There are also no video tutorials or guides in the ZY Cami app. Even I, a guy who’s reviewed multiple smartphone gimbals (including one from Zhiyun), got incredibly frustrated trying to figure out how to carry out the most basic of operations, such as quickly returning the gimbal to its default position. Once I figured stuff out, it worked as expected. But there is a steep learning curve here.
Another problem is how long it takes to get up and shooting. From the device’s locked state, you need to unlock three of its motors by physically pushing these elements to dislodge them from their locks. Then, you need to snap in your smartphone and manually alter the weighted bar to accommodate your phone’s unique size/weight. Then, you power up the gimbal and see how you look. If you need to tweak, you continue to troubleshoot until everything is just right.
If you were in a fast-paced shooting environment — like a wedding or your kids’ soccer game — that cumbersome setup time could mean missing important footage. This would also force you to set up the gimbal at the beginning of a shoot and do your best not to alter anything until the end.
If you've never used a gimbal before, this is not the gimbal for you.
There is also no way to automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode. To do so, you need to manually rotate the smartphone clamp. Not only could this mess up your setup, but the time it takes to do that could cause you to miss moments. Thankfully, you can auto-swap from the front camera to the back camera with a double-tap of the shutter button on the gimbal controls.
Let’s talk about the ZY Cami app you need to use to get the most out of the Smooth 5. Put simply, it’s a hot mess, especially on Android.
Pay a visit to the Smooth 4’s page on Amazon and you’ll see tons of negative reviews from Android users about how the app crashes, doesn’t connect to the gimbal, or just flat-out doesn’t work. Meanwhile, iOS users appear to not have many of these problems.
Unfortunately, you need to use the ZY Cami app to get the most out of the gimbal. For example, the terrific zoom/focus wheel didn’t work with the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s native camera app during my testing. That means in order to use it, you would need to shoot through the Cami app exclusively.
Related: The best smartphone accessories
The app also has terrible English translations, with some features still showing Chinese text (see screenshot above). The whole thing is a chore to navigate and use, and severely depletes the enjoyment of shooting with the Zhiyun Smooth 5.
Zhiyun Smooth 5 review: Should I buy it?
At $99, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 was easy to recommend. It didn’t fully compete with the then-latest DJI offering, but it undercut its price significantly. Now, though, the Zhiyun Smooth 5 isn’t just as expensive as the latest DJI OM 5 ($159) but is actually more expensive at $169. That makes the Smooth 5 incredibly difficult to recommend.
The DJI OM 5 has multiple advantages over the Smooth 5. It folds up for easy transport and has an extendable arm. It has a magnetic clamping system that makes connecting/disconnecting your smartphone fast and simple. It’s extremely intuitive when it comes to operation. The DJI Mimo app, while not perfect, is light years ahead of the ZY Cami app. And DJI even makes a fill light clamp you can buy separately, so it can still pull off that trick.
We recommend waiting until the Smooth 5 goes on a significant sale. It is not worth $169.
The only thing you don’t get with the DJI OM 5 is the delightful zoom/focus wheel of the Smooth 5. Pretty much everything else about the DJI OM 5 is superior to this, and it costs $10 less.
If you are not interested in the OM 5, the DJI OM 4 SE ($119) is probably the best smartphone gimbal on the market when it comes to value. It would be perfect for beginners and pros alike.
If you are totally sold on the Zhiyun Smooth 5 for whatever reason, we recommend waiting until it goes on a significant sale. It is not worth $169, nor is the Combo package worth $219.
Top Zhiyun Smooth 5 questions and answers
Q: How heavy a smartphone can I use?
A: The Smooth 5’s payload is 320g, which is enough for almost any smartphone.
Q: How big is the battery and how long does it take to charge?
A: There’s a 2,600mAh battery in the Zhiyun Smooth 5. Zhiyun says it can last up to 12 hours in ideal conditions and about 4.5 hours in power-intensive cases. It takes about two hours to charge using a 15W charger.
Q: What are the mechanical ranges of the Zhiyun Smooth 5?
A: It’s 309 degrees for tilt, 300 degrees for roll, and 360 degrees for pan.
Q: What is the peak brightness of the Smooth 5 fill light?
A: It produces 580 lumens of brightness with a color temperature range of 5,300k-5,700k. There is no way to control the brightness output of the light.