Hands-on review: Zhiyun Weebill-S gimbal
Image credit: Jonathan Wilson
A perfectly portable powerhouse gimbal for stable video shoots.
With many people now choosing a DSLR or mirrorless camera for all their still photography and video needs, the market for high-performing gimbals that help deliver the best, most creative and stable footage has mushroomed in recent years.
Zhiyun is one major player in this arena, alongside main rivals DJI and Moza, plus others. Zhiyun has released over a dozen different gimbals since 2014, from the smartphone-oriented Smooth Q2 to professional gimbals such as the Crane 3S which is designed to support heavier camera setups with extended lenses.
This latter kind of setup would be overkill for most consumer and prosumer users - e.g. any set-up and situation where you might realistically be advised to wear a back brace for shooting video for hours on end. What most people want is a gimbal that offers plenty of power and flexibility, but which doesn’t look like you arrived in a truck with a crew.
The Zhiyun Weebill-S is the Chinese company’s latest offering for this mid-range customer. Building on the success of its Crane Lab gimbal, the Weebill-S takes design cues from its older sibling but presents them in a more compact form factor. Zhiyun is calling the Weebill-S a ‘Tiny Giant’. This is intended to convey the relatively diminutive form factor of the Weebill-S, whilst simultaneously underlying its strengths (incidentally, a weebill is in fact Australia’s smallest bird, a bit like a European sparrow or wren).
Unboxing the Weebill-S is encouraging, with an overall feeling of quality and attention to detail. A sturdy foam box in two halves neatly houses the gimbal and all components that you need for immediate operation (it's an idea to photograph the contents when you first open the box, so you can put everything back in the right place later - see photo below). There is no actual carry case supplied - nor, as far as we can tell, one available to purchase at time of writing - so the foam box could prove important to you long-term. Alternatively, as the Weebill-S folds down to be no bigger than a piece of A4 paper, a decent camera bag or backpack can easily accommodate it plus a few accessories.
The delivery includes the gimbal, a quick-release plate, a variety of connector leads and two heavy-duty batteries. The latter provide up to 14 hours of runtime and can also simultaneously charge your camera, so all-day shooting should be feasible. We certainly never ran into any power issues during our extended testing.
The Weebill-S is not noticeably heavy (it weights just under 1kg, without a camera) and even with a camera attached it never becomes unwieldy. The gimbal features the popular two-in-one quick release plates (Manfrotto/Arca-Swiss), enabling an easy setup and fast transitions between equipment without the need for constant re-balancing. There is also a riser plate included in the delivery, should you need a particular camera to be elevated slightly above the quick release plate.
The Weebill-S has a new 'Axis Lock' design, with a redesigned lock switch on each axis to make balancing and storage easier. This makes it easier to fine-tune the crucial balancing process, as you can balance one axis and lock this in place, then tackle the next axis and so on. Once they're all locked, you're good to go and you can leave your camera on the gimbal as you move around and nothing should change. When you're ready to shoot, simply unlock the axes and the gimbal can do its stabilising thing.
Once you've successfully balanced your camera, you can also leave the mounting plate attached, giving you freedom to shoot with or without the gimbal as circumstance demands. The plate is relatively unobtrusive, so never feels too much in the way of hands and fingers, and when you want to use the gimbal again, your camera is already set up for perfect balance.
One caveat regarding balancing and operation - applicable to all gimbals - is that the bigger and heavier your camera payload, the higher the chance of some limitations of movement at certain angles. We didn't experience anything significant with our test Canon 760D camera, but some users with more elaborate camera-lens-filter set-ups have reported issues, especially when switching gimbal handling modes.
The Weebill-S is ideally suited to mid-range DSLR and mirrorless cameras with native lenses. Given the uprated strength of its motors, the Weebill-S can also handle more elaborate, esoteric and heavier kit configurations, but obviously the permutations here are endless, so if you have a specific niche camera set-up you should research this aspect more carefully. There are plenty of reviews online, which cover most camera configurations.
On the subject of motors, the Weebill-S has much stronger motors than the Crane Lab and an improved and upgraded '8th Instune' algorithm for snappier responsiveness to help eliminate camera jitter in fast-moving situations. The autotune function instructs the gimbal to deliver the appropriate motor power for the camera and lens combination you choose to run, with three levels of torque for the stabiliser. It's also possible to adjust the speed and other parameters of each axis directly using the dial on the handle of the Weebill-S.
Zhiyun claims the new motors provide a 300 per cent improvement in torque and a 50 per cent increase in responsiveness - big numbers, any way you slice them. Zhiyun cites camera and lens combinations such as the Sony A7Ⅲ with an FE 24-70mm F2.8 or a Canon 5D MK IV with EF 24-70mm F2.8 as examples of serious kit that can easily be balanced and stabilised atop the Weebill-S. We've seen a camera/lens combination weight of around 2kg suggested as a sensible ballpark for the Weebill-S. YMMV.
Stabiliser modes available include Pan Following Mode (PF) (the camera pans left/right following the movement of the stabiliser, with the tilt and roll axes locked, although operating the joystick manually enables control of the tilt axis); Locking Mode (L) (which locks the movement of all three axes; again, the joystick can manually override tilt and pan); Point of View Mode (POV) (whereby all three motors can rotate 360° to follow the movement); Follow Mode (pressing the trigger button at the back means the camera pans and tilts, following the movement of the stabiliser, while the joystick controls the rotation of the roll axis); Go Mode (press the Fn Button allows the camera to pan and tilt, following the movement of the stabiliser at fast speeds, but keeping the roll axis locked); and finally Vortex Mode (double-pressing the POV mode button tilts the camera at a 90° angle and pans to follow the movement of the handle with unlimited 360° rotation, keeping the roll axis locked).
Essentially, any way you want to shoot, the Weebill-S has got your back. Whether it's a straightforward tracking shot or something altogether wilder (the 360° and Vortex modes are heaps of creative fun), this gimbal can keep pace with your ideas.
One of the coolest features of the Weebill-S is its handling. It's a simple enough innovation, but the ability to choose between either holding it upright in front of you or in 'underslung' mode - where the camera is essentially shooting from knee/ankle-height - is very convenient and makes creative shooting more straightforward to execute. All you have to do is unscrew the handle and reattach it where you want it: top or bottom. This handle also doubles as a built-in stand, so you won't necessarily always need a separate tripod (even though there is a thread adapter to take one, should you need it): you can simply fold out the handle's three legs. All told, it's a mini ergonomic triumph.
Shooting operation of the Weebill-S is straightforward. There are physical controls directly on the main handle, with a small LCD display (showing both gimbal and core camera settings, such as ISO, F-stop and shutter speed), a record button, a POV button, the joystick/scroll wheel, menu navigation buttons, power button, a 'Go' button and Locking or Pan Follow Mode button. All the common actions are right there under your thumb and fingers for easy access.
Camera focus can be controlled in one of two ways: either electronically or by mechanical focus/zoom control via the control wheel on the Weebill-S. By attaching the included cable (not the longest in the world, it has to be said, so make sure it's snugly connected), you can control camera focus and zoom precisely. In our experience this worked well, the servo motors precisely refining image focus. You might not need to touch your camera at all once it's mounted on the gimbal. It also allows for creative refocussing mid-shot, e.g. going in and out of focus to achieve a blurred fade, which is great and very convenient direct from the gimbal.
More options - as well as all of the above - are opened up if you use the Zhiyun Play app (iOS or Android). We previously used the Play app with the Smooth Q2 for smartphone control of the gimbal and image preview. With the Weebill-S, this smartphone sidecar expansion offers even more (the app isn't required: the core functions of the gimbal work absolutely the same with or without the app).
Panorama, Timelapse, Motionlapse and Long Exposure Timelapse are additional creative options in the app, as well as onscreen controls for motor strength, calibration and the Scene Mode.
Sync Motion is another nice touch that allows you to control the movement of your gimbal by physically moving your smartphone or tablet in whatever direction you choose for the gimbal to replicate. Some DJI gimbals have a similar function, called Force Mobile, and Sync Motion is Zhiyun's response. It works well and you'd be surprised how often you can find a use for it. An obvious application is that the app and your smartphone can act as a remote control for both camera and gimbal if you want or need to work at a distance from them.
However, the real power of the app and smartphone combo is unlocked if you are also using the TransMount Image Transmission Module, an optional accessory. This Transmission Module is a wireless transmitter, capable of HD image at 1080P, 30fps, direct to a smartphone or tablet at a distance of up to 100m. It enables a whole gamut of professional image control features (Histogram, Pseudocolor, LUT, Zebra Stripes, Clipping, Reference Line, Focus Peaking, Monochrome Display, Mirror Image), as well as professional real-time monitoring and livestreaming.
The Module is mounted onto the gimbal underneath the quick release plate, which is neat enough, although you are obviously adding more weight and complication to your mobile setup as it sprouts an increasing number of cables and antennae.
The ViaTouch 2.0 software system is pretty cool, as you now have direct touchscreen control over so many image and shooting functions, bringing together the controls for camera, gimbal and smartphone. You can also now use the SmartFollow 2.0 function, which allows precise object tracking simply by tapping the object on the phone screen and the gimbal will handle the rest. There is also Sync Motion, a motion sensor control system that allows real-time monitoring and synchronous motion control at the same time.
The Transmission Module can also be used as a standalone HDMI wireless image transmitter for any suitably equipped camera, which is a nice fringe benefit. It has its own rechargeable battery and accepts HDMI signals, so isn't limited solely to use with the Weebill-S.
If you also happen to add the TransMount Image Transmission Receiver to your Weebill-S package, you can have a professional monitoring solution, transmitting your footage to up to three different devices, including professional HD monitors. With the full TransMount Image Transmission Package, you can also live stream direct to social media channels. Note: you don't need this Transmission Receiver unit to view and monitor on a single device; it is only required for output to an HDMI monitor.
These extras really up the ante in terms of what the Weebill-S is capable of in terms of professional film-making, although they do increase the complexity of the set-up, as well as the weight and the cost.
While image transmission is built-in with the Crane gimbal, and its DJI counterpart, Zhiyun has obviously taken a more modular approach with the Weebill-S. If you feel like you don't necessarily want the ViaTouch functionality immediately, or that you don't need the professional monitoring solutions, you can buy the basic Weebill-S package and be perfectly content with that. Down the road, you have the option to expand your set-up as your burgeoning film-making needs dictate. There are also bundle prices available from Zhiyun which include various add-ons, such as the TransMount Wireless Remote Controller.
All this transmitter/receiver action somewhat deviates from the core appeal of the Weebill-S. A lot of users are simply looking for a high-performance, eminently portable gimbal for their camera, one that exhibits intelligent and thoughtful design touches. If it also has some additional app-driven smarts, cool. The Weebill-S definitely scores highly on all these points. Expansion options down the road are a nice to have, meaning people can start with the base gimbal package and it will grow with them.
We've had a blast filming with the Weebill-S, testing it in a variety of situations and locations. It always performed impeccably and the results were solid. We never felt like the gimbal was struggling to keep up or lagging behind our movement. Only the more extreme, rapid gestures - done deliberately to try and catch the gimbal out - caused it to break a sweat and noticeably destabilised the image.
With the Weebill-S, the price is right and the form factor is spot-on for its intended market, the foldable design and minimal weight absolutely encouraging you to carry it with you more often. The strong motors of the Weebill-S also promises a degree of longevity for the gimbal vis-a-vis being able to cope with any upgrades you might make to your camera equipment.
If you're looking for a gimbal to steady your DSLR or mirrorless camera work, the Weebill-S is a serious contender at a fair price.
Zhiyun Weebill-S, £329
Zhiyun Weebill-S Zoom & Focus Pro Package, £387
Zhiyun Weebill-S Image Transmission Pro Package, £519
[Prices correct at time of publication]
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