Hands-on review: Zhiyun Weebill 3 professional DSLR camera gimbal
Image credit: Zhiyun
Zhiyun updates its Weebill series with a focus on ease of use and new built-in enhancements for every filmmaker.
Like the changing of the seasons, you can almost set your calendar by Zhiyun's gimbal updates. We previously reviewed the first two iterations of the Chinese firm's Weebill gimbal range. It's been one a year, every year, like clockwork.
Sure enough, summer 2022 has arrived and here's the Weebill 3, right on time. What's new with you, Weebill fella?
Let's get this out of the way first: the price is a little higher than Weebill 2, although actually not by much - and the extras (especially with the Combo kit) help assuage and offset that increase in cost. We're only talking £20-30 more this time around for either version. That's fair. It's certainly nothing like the hike in our energy bills, that's for sure.
As for the gimbal itself, the headline features this time around are the new 'Sling 2.0' system and wrist rest for more comfortable handling from any angle, especially over long filming sessions; a built-in adjustable light; a built-in cardioid microphone with noise cancellation; a new Quick Release plate system, and a more powerful battery.
It should immediately be pointed out the Standard Kit does not include the sling handle, extendable sling grip, wrist rest, nor the generously proportioned duffle-style backpack. So, quite a few of the headline features, then. If any of these features interests you, the Combo Kit is your only option.
For the purposes of this review, we are reviewing the Combo Kit, as supplied to us by Zhiyun. This is obviously the more expensive of the two options - and thus naturally the choice that Zhiyun would be happiest with you making - but it probably does offer the better return in terms of overall experience, options and flexibility, especially if this is your first pro gimbal or you're upgrading from an older gimbal that is showing its age. There's an £80 difference between the two kits, for what it's worth. We'll leave that thought with you for your consideration.
Comparing the previous two Weebill gimbals to Weebill 3, we're struck by how a set-up that seemed perfectly acceptable as recently as a few months ago can have its limitations or (mild) frustrations, such as they may be, made clearer by its reworked successor(s). Not that any new product necessarily renders all predecessors redundant. If you already have a gimbal that is ticking the boxes for you, whatever its vintage, that's great. What tends to happen between iterations is more overall refinement than seismic change, anyway. If you've ever found yourself wishing that X, Y and/or Z were better/lighter/stronger/included, a new gimbal might just turn your head.
Herewith the Weebill 3, with its lighter, sleeker, more streamlined body and operational concepts. While both the original Weebill and Weebill 2 were solid gimbals with much to love (and we still use both, in one situation or another), the third entry in the series is probably the best so far. That's an obvious relief: there's nothing more disappointing than an 'upgrade' that actually sees the product line going backwards (something that is, regrettably, more common in the consumer technology field than perhaps it should be).
Some people will bemoan the disappearance of the flip-out video touchscreen that features on the body of the Weebill 2. Sure, it was nice to have. Did we always use it? No. We can watch the video playback from the back of our cameras instead as a monitoring source.
With Weebill 3, the only screen for visual feedback is the 1" (actually 0.96") LED square at the top of the handle, directly in the middle. It's right where you need it to be and this does help streamline the overall silhouette of the gimbal, with no awkward appendages as with the flip-out screen. Even with the Weebill 3's more 'basic' screen, you can still access the essential camera and gimbal controls from here.
It feels like Zhiyun's designers have looked at how the majority of people use their pro-level gimbals, which are the core features, what hardcore users really want and need, then simplified the hardware accordingly to address this demographic.
This has resulted in an excellent fusing of form and function, although in some respects it isn't necessarily great news for left-handed users, as the gimbal and all controls are patently laid out for the right-handed majority. Joystick, buttons and dials are placed for natural, easy access with thumb and forefinger and it works beautifully - for right-handers. Southpaw people might have to adjust their approach or, indeed, look elsewhere entirely.
Whichever your dominant hand, Weebill 3's Sling 2.0 design is intended to introduce minimal physical distraction during long shoots. Already lightweight (1.1kg) and compact (approximately the size of a piece of A4 paper, when folded), the construction uses a mix of metal or plastic where most appropriate to keep the gimbal strong but easy to handle. The Sling 2.0 system introduces a restructured L-shape handle to aid with greater stability when self-standing, a new padded wrist rest, and a repositioned, extendable sling grip.
These updates are estimated by Zhiyun to provide 40 per cent more support to your wrist by shifting the weight onto your arm, which in turn reduces fatigue. With the sling grip moving to the bottom of the gimbal, this also helps produce better, more stable footage when shooting from a low angle. That little wrist rest also delivers comfort results way beyond its size. The benefits of the Sling 2.0 system overall can be appreciated with any size camera, but the larger the rig, the greater the relief.
The grip also features thumb buttons, a mini joystick for movement, plus a finger trigger and a wheel that can be customised to control certain parameters of either gimbal or camera. A list of supported cameras (for direct control from the gimbal) is available on the Zhiyun website. The ability to customise multiple buttons and controls on the Weebill 3 allows you to make your controls unique to your set-up, which is another potential productivity boost.
The Weebill 3 also introduces a built-in microphone and a light, the latter of which will be familiar from Zhiyun's Crane M3. The light is powered by 'Lumen Amplifier' technology, adjustable from 2600k-5400K via a physical dial on the gimbal body, with a stated peak luminous flux of 1000lm (the Crane M3's max. was 800lm). Colour filters are also included with the Combo Kit. It's not a floodlight that will fill a room, but for closer filming - a talking-head piece to camera, for example - in a situation where the available illumination is unsatisfactory, indoors or outdoors, the gimbal's light can assist in best capturing the moment and saving a shoot.
Much the same is true of the built-in "Hi-Fi microphone". It probably won't entirely replace your dedicated 'pro-mic with furry wind sock' hardware, but recordings made using this gimbal's built-in cardioid capsule mic with noise-cancelling functionality are totally useable. They might need a little post-production sweetening, but the same is often true with many standalone microphones. It's a real plus to always have a decent mic with you, if you want to travel light.
With both the light and the mic, they're absolutely good enough if you don't have another option available. They might save you having to buy additional equipment, if you don't have some already, and they can also save the day if you forget to pack your favourite accessories. The fact that both are built-in means you're never without them.
Of course, none of these features would be much use if the core functionality of the Weebill 3 as a camera gimbal weren't right on the money. Accordingly, Zhiyun said it has focused just as much on improvements to the operational side of things. The company talks up its "10th-generation algorithm" as being "a big step forward" in eliminating even the slightest of wobbles in footage to capture the most stable recordings.
The performance of the Weebill 3's motors certainly seemed smooth and reliable during our tests, with very little noise or 'chatter' during periods of constant movement. The Weebill 3 offers all your classic gimbal movements: tilt range of 310°; roll range of 340°; pan range of 360°.
The Weebill 3 also introduces improvements to Zhiyun's 'Quick Release' dual-plate system, making it quicker and more convenient to balance a camera once, then remove it with the plates for storage and transport. Next time you come to use the gimbal, the balancing is already done.
The three axis-lock controls are nice and firm, and going through the initial balancing process is straightforward. There's even a little magnetic wrench attached to the Weebill 3 to help with the balancing, which is a nice touch. Once it's done, it's done.
This system worked well for us, although obviously if you frequently chop and change between camera bodies and lenses, including lens length, you may have to fine-tune the balance occasionally. As it happens, there is a handy 'Auto-Tune' mode on the gimbal, perfect for these occasions, which definitely assists in smoothing out any little motor hiccups. Very helpful.
Zhiyun has also boosted the battery this time around to a 7,800mAh internal system (comprised of three 18650-standard 2600mAh batteries), although no one is likely to get the claimed 21 hours of runtime from a single charge. Consider reliably getting around half that with intensive, real-world, full-function use and you'll have a truer picture of what you'll need to plan an all-day shoot.
The battery is also, once again, built-in and not easily swappable or replaceable, so there is a trade-off here. With support for PD Fast-Charging, as well as pass-through charging of attached cameras (5V/1A), at least you can keep the gimbal running from a powerbank and a full recharge can be completed in around two hours from a wall socket.
We took the Weebill 3 along to the Airbourne airshow recently, a free flying event held over the sea directly in front of Eastbourne beach. It's a very popular event for aviation enthusiasts in the area, and beyond, as evidenced by the forest of very long zoom lenses in situ at the end of the pier.
With the Weebill 3, testing it with a few cameras (models from Nikon, Canon, Sony), we were able to capture some very nice, solid, stable and cinematic aerobatic footage of the fly-past presentations from the likes of a Lancaster Bomber, a Spitfire, various modern fighter jets, wingwalkers, the Red Arrows and more. Following extremely fast-moving, extremely close-up aircraft smoothly across the sky is a challenge for any camera and gimbal, but the Weebill 3 didn't let us down. When filming fast-moving subjects, such as planes or cars, holding down the trigger will kick in the gimbal's 'Go' mode, whereby the motors become even more responsive to your body movement.
Aside from the core performance of the gimbal, which is excellent, the main attraction with the Weebill 3 is its disingenous simplicity. Much like a swan on the water, there's a heck of a lot going on inside the hardware to outwardly make everything appear so effortless.
Who is it for? Obviously, vloggers, freelance videographers, film production companies, and committed hobbyists. We've also met people who use exactly this sort of gimbal (other brands are available…) for filming public events, marches and demonstrations. They're documenting critical moments in time; conducting videography for the ages. That audience wants, and needs, a professional gimbal that just lets them get on with their day, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum return. The Weebill 3 can do the job, no question.
Understandably, it is difficult to directly compare gimbals without having long-term access to multiple models simultaneously. Equally, with such a vast range of camera bodies and lens lengths on the market, each person's use-case can be unique. Fortunately, there are very few genuinely bad gimbals on the market at this level today, so really any final decision comes down to features, look and feel, but primarily performance.
Suffice to say, for most people the Weebill 3 represents a very solid choice. The motors are strong enough to support any reasonably large DSLR set-up and the algorithms are sufficiently fine-tuned to smooth out your footage. There's an ergonomic layout and feel to the controls, so natural muscle memory is easily acquired with use. The Combo Kit helps you bundle everything you need for mobile filmmaking - camera, gimbal, lenses, accessories, even your sandwiches - into one hefty duffle bag, so you're good to go and fully equipped at a moment's notice.
With the various refinements and additional features Zhiyun has introduced with the Weebill 3, this release is more focused on performance and productivity, streamlining both hardware and software, rather than a long list of eye-catching but arguably extraneous bells and whistles. The Weebill 3 unobtrusively sits in your hand and simply empowers you to get the job done. Sometimes, that's what you really need most from your equipment.
Standard Kit, £449; Combo Kit, £529
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