Not satisfied with killing off the pocket camera, smartphones are now supplanting some DSLRs as the preferred device for capturing photo and video. For many, the trade-off in size and weight just isn’t justified, especially with recent advances in computational photography. While smartphones typically take great photos these days, there’s still room for improvement where video is concerned. This is especially true when it comes to video stabilization — enter the mobile gimbal. This is the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review.
What does the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 do?
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is a smartphone gimbal, meaning it clamps onto your phone and physically stabilizes it to counteract bumps and shakes when shooting video. Combined with the optical or electronic image stabilization you get in most modern smartphones, the result is ultra-smooth footage. You can also use it for taking photos, especially those that require steady hands like night mode shots or long exposures. You can see some sample footage shot during this Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review down below.
Anyone who regularly shoots video on their smartphone should at least try a mobile gimbal.
Who is it for?
Originally, smartphone gimbals were geared towards mobile creatives: vloggers, YouTubers and so on. But considering how much we all shoot video on our mobiles these days, and the rather obvious desire for it to be as smooth as possible, mobile gimbals are kind of for everyone.
Given the affordable, compact, and easy-to-use nature of most gimbals, I’d argue that anyone who regularly shoots video on their smartphone should at least try one. Whether you want to go so far as to invest in one yourself depends on how much you want steady video footage.
Zhiyun Smooth-Q2: How do you use it?
Locking your phone in the gimbal is as simple as sliding the clamp open and popping your phone in then latching it to the gimbal. There’s no tricky balancing or calibration required; just power it on and the gimbal instantly finds its level. Minor adjustments can be made using the small joystick, but nine times out of ten you just power it on and go. This is great compared to the time-consuming and fidgety demands of a mirrorless or DSLR gimbal.
When paired with the ZY Play app, you can set the Smooth-Q2 on a tripod to capture effortless time-lapses and panoramas or take it with you for buttery hyperlapses and object tracking. If you’ve used any app-supported Zhiyun gimbal in the past, you’ll be familiar with the features enabled by the ZY Play app; and even if you haven’t, they’re all pretty self-explanatory. I unfortunately wasn’t able to access a version of the ZY Play app with support for the Smooth-Q2 during my time with it. The Smooth-Q2 will presumably be added to the list of supported gimbals in ZY Play soon.
Despite being stuck using the Smooth-Q2 like a “dumb” gimbal, I was still able to pair the gimbal to my smartphone via Bluetooth. While that didn’t open up any special gimbal controls or ZY Play shooting options, I was still able to use the gimbal’s shutter/record button to control my phone’s default camera app. During the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review period, this worked just fine.
How big is the Smooth-Q2?
Compared to most other smartphone gimbals, the Smooth-Q2 is tiny. The handle measures just 12cm and the entire gimbal is only 20cm long. It can hold up to 260grams, which is more than enough for any smartphone. That payload means you can use the Smooth-Q2 with a smartphone and an attachable lens, and a phone in a case is no problem either.
Even though the Smooth-Q2 doesn't fold up like the new DJI Osmo Mobile 3, it's barely any bigger.
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 weighs next to nothing. At just 430 grams, it’s ultraportable and even though it doesn’t fold up like the new DJI Osmo Mobile 3, it’s barely any bigger. Despite not folding, the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is less than 5cm taller than the folded Osmo Mobile 3, and 8cm shorter when the Osmo Mobile 3 is unfolded for use.
Dimensions for comparison:
- Zhiyun Smooth-Q2: 204 x 102 x 41.4mm
- Osmo Mobile 3 folded: 157 x 130 x 46mm
- Osmo Mobile 3 unfolded: 285 x 125 x 103mm
How’s the build quality?
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is made of aluminum, which is a nice upgrade from the plastic Smooth Q (and most other mobile gimbals). The rubberized grip is just big enough to fill your hand comfortably, and there’s only a power button, record button, and small joystick to contend with.
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2's aluminum build is a nice upgrade from most other mobile gimbals.
Its lightweight nature makes it easy to use for long periods of time, unlike the larger Zhiyun Crane I use with my mirrorless camera. Like larger Zhiyun gimbals, the build quality is excellent, with nicely machined parts, a functional industrial aesthetic, and no unnecessary gimmicks.
It’s also a power bank
There’s a 4,500mAh battery and a USB-C port on the handle for charging. Unscrew the cap at the bottom of the handle to remove the battery or replace it.
There’s a micro-USB port on the gimbal arm, which allows you to power your phone, an external mic, or light, but I unfortunately didn’t have a micro-USB to USB-C cable on hand to try it (the only cable included in the box is USB-A to USB-C). You’ll get between 12-16 hours per charge depending on how heavily you’re taxing the motors. Of course, that number will decrease dramatically if you’re using the gimbal to reverse-charge your phone, but it’s nice to know the gimbal doubles as a power bank if you ever need it to.
A quarter-inch thread on the bottom of the handle means you can quickly mount the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 to a tripod. You will be able to shoot app-assisted timelapses and smart panoramas once the Smooth-Q2 is added to the ZY Play app. It also means you can attach a monopod or other small tripod to get smooth crane shots as you’ll see in the first clip of the video below.
Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review: What’s it like to use?
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is much easier to use than my big gimbal for my mirrorless camera. The larger gimbal requires delicate balancing of the camera before operation and it’s heavy and relatively awkward to use. The Smooth-Q2, on the other hand, takes about five seconds to set up and its operation is very straightforward.
You can use either the ZY Play app or your phone’s regular camera app to capture footage. When you’re done shooting, all the footage is already on your phone for uploading to social media. The latch on the gimbal arm means you can quickly detach your phone to post a video and then pop it back on in an instant.
The Smooth-Q2 takes about five seconds to set up and its operation is very straightforward.
Button operation is dead simple, too. Long-press the power button to turn the gimbal on or off, click it once for battery status, click twice to recenter the motors, and three times to swing your phone around into selfie mode. There’s a shutter button to snap photos or start video recording, and a clickable joystick for manually adjusting the camera angle. Click the joystick to cycle through the different gimbal modes, and double click to return to the previous mode.
What shooting modes does it support?
There are five basic shooting modes on the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2, all of which will be familiar to existing gimbal users. They are: Pan follow mode; Lock mode; Full follow mode; POV or Roll follow mode; and Vortex mode. Here’s what they do.
- Pan follow (PF): Twist the handle to the left or right to have the phone pan in that direction, but tilt remains locked (you can set the angle manually with the joystick).
- Lock (L): What I call “chicken head mode,” where the smartphone remains pointing in the same direction no matter which way you move the handle.
- Full follow (F): Like Pan Follow, but you can also make the phone tilt up and down by pitching the handle forwards or backwards.
- POV: Like Full follow mode, but adding roll follow as well. Twist the handle to pan the phone, tilt the handle forwards or backwards to pitch the camera up or down, and tilt the handle to one side or the other to roll the phone into a Dutch angle.
- Vortex mode (POV lights flashing): Allows you to rotate your phone in a circular motion using the joystick, great for getting those spinning barrel shots. Just hold the gimbal as if you were holding a flashlight when in this mode.
Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review: Is it any good?
Throughout my time with the Smooth-Q2, I found its movement to be very smooth and balanced. Even when cycling over bumpy roads or walking up and down stairs, I was impressed by the smoothness of the video. The motors were fast and reliable, and the ZY Play app allows you to change the speed of the motors to your liking.
Like all gimbals, you can’t completely eliminate all evidence of footsteps because your arms naturally bob up and down as you walk, which subtly changes the perspective of what the camera sees. Given time and practice, you will learn a more advanced gimbal technique that’ll allow you to capture super-smooth video.
The Smooth-Q2's motors were fast and reliable and I was impressed by the smoothness of the video.
I did encounter a few jitters here and there, but only in the captured video, not in the gimbal’s motors. Some of those were due to the electronic image stabilization on my Pixel 3 fighting with the gimbal’s mechanical stabilization (usually when shooting rolling shots). In those cases, you might want to turn off your phone’s video image stabilization — if that’s possible — to allow the gimbal to more fully do its thing.
One thing to be aware of with the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is that if you use a wide-angle lens, either on your phone or as an attachable lens, you’ll have to switch the phone’s orientation around to avoid being able to see the roll motor in the frame. The same is true of Moment’s anamorphic lens.
To get around this, simply take your phone out and clamp it back in facing it in the wrong direction. Then triple-tap the power button to enter selfie mode so the gimbal buttons and phone screen are facing you. You’ll still be able to shoot but part of the phone’s screen will be covered by the gimbal motors.
My only other “complaint” is that although Zhiyun says the Smooth-Q2 supports vertical video, the only way I could figure out how to do it was to enter POV mode and hold the handle horizontally to roll the phone into vertical orientation. Compared to the convenient vertical video shortcut on a gimbal like the Osmo Mobile 3, that might be a big deal or it might not.
Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 review: Is it worth the money?
Absolutely. If you know you want a mobile gimbal already, the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 is a great buy. The Kickstarter is already funded, but there are still early bird offers that put the Smooth-Q2 at $109 (RRP $139).
While I heartily recommend the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2, keep in mind there are also a couple of folding mobile gimbals available in the same price range. The $119 DJI Osmo Mobile 3 just launched and there’s also the $99 Feiyu Tech Vlog Pocket to consider. I’ve not used either of those to be able to make a direct comparison in terms of quality and features, but the market for mobile gimbals is definitely looking rock steady.