Hands-on review: Zhiyun Smooth Q4 smartphone gimbal
Image credit: Zhiyun
Gimbals are becoming like the smartphones they're typically paired with: a new model every year, always with new features and enticingly restyled cosmetics. Should you upgrade?
With the Smooth Q4, Zhiyun is pitching its latest smartphone gimbal at "on-the-move lifestyle, fashion, filmmakers, live-streamers, vloggers and influencers". You know, the TikTok, Insta and YouTube generation.
This latest three-axis stabiliser is designed and equipped for fast filming capabilities and unbridled creative output, from midnight to high noon.
The Smooth Q4 directly succeeds 2021's Smooth Q3, which was a very decent unit and did the Smooth Q rep no great disservice. Not that Zhiyun keeps all its gimbal eggs in one smartly branded basket. This year alone has seen the launch of the Q4's big brother, the Smooth 5 (no Q); the bigger brother, the Crane M3 (reviewed at the start of Q3, arf!), and the biggest brother, the Weebill 3 (the pro-level, DSLR don).
This might seem like a blunderbuss approach to hitting a target market, but to be fair this wide range - and each generation of - these gimbals is designed to address specific needs and niches.
Each model has a core demographic in mind, but with subtle overlap in certain areas, which neatly keeps Zhiyun's feet in all gimbal camps, like a gimbal-based Venn diagram. In part, this is demanded by its competitors and retail rivals, such as DJI, with each company one-upping the other with each new release, inevitably handing back the baton to play catch-up with the next iteration.
In the annals of Zhiyun's gimbal history, though, the Smooth Q4's direct ancestor is the Smooth Q3. What are the big changes this time?
A price bump, for one. Where the Smooth Q3 checked in at £85 for the Standard pack or £105 for the Combo, this time around you're looking at £107 or £149. That is a bigger price hike than we were expecting for a smartphone gimbal, given that the RRP of the much larger Weebill 3 only increased by around £30.
Of course, as we're all painfully aware, the price of pretty much everything is rising faster than we'd like. The price of something new actually going down would be headline news in itself.
So, a price increase such as with this Q4 is partly down to inflation, but also partly down to manufacturing and the boxed content. The Combo package (a noticeable trend with Zhiyun's gimbals) is the better deal all round. The Standard box provides the standard experience: gimbal, tripod, USB-C cable. That'll get you started, no question, and in a stripped-down sense, these are all the core essentials you really need.
For the extra £42, the Combo box adds to the Standard bundle the carry case, a wrist loop, the magnetic fill light and colour filter set (as seen on the Smooth 5), and a one-year membership card for 'Zhiyun Prime' (which, amongst other things, is required if you want to export your footage in 4K). All of which is 'nice to have' - not essential, by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely very useful to have with you to fill out your filming options. Zhiyun Prime, for example, is $20 a year if bought as a standalone purchase, so its inclusion in the Combo box may help make that a more cost-effective choice.
That adjustable magnetic light and its colour filters also offer more creative possibilities. We liked this snappy, magnetic light with the Smooth 5 (and the similar, if stronger, built-in version in both the Crane M3 and the Weebill 3) and we like it here, too. It's also double-sided, which means you can illuminate your surroundings in more than one direction. While an illumination rating of 141 lux is no comparison to a dedicated light stick, it can definitely still help with your close-up work in dark spaces.
The Q4 has also undergone a little reengineering and restyling. The brand-new arm design is now more foldable than its predecessors and accordingly takes up less pocket or bag space, while the new ergonomic shape gives it a more natural and reassuring feeling in the hand, especially with the rubberised grip. There's no need to screw or slot anything into place: you simply unfold it, boom, done. Time saved.
It's also now an extendable design. More than just a selfie stick extension (mercifully), the built-in 215mm telescopic rod gives you the ability to shoot video from new angles and elevations, whether that's POV filming or, indeed, selfie mode.
As with the Weebill 3, the dominant hand anticipated by Zhiyun's designers is again the right one, in order to most comfortably adust the Q4's multi-function control wheel, mounted to the left at the top of the handle. When you're holding the Q4 in your right hand, a thumb or finger can comfortably reach around to make smartphone camera adjustments such as adjust brightness or focal length. Meanwhile, the primary three control buttons (two buttons and a joystick, really) sit squarely in the middle of the handle, equally accessible for either hand.
There's no screen on the Q4; just four simple lights to indicate which shooting mode you're in. In practice, this is enough, giving you easy and direct access to the most-used operations with minimal distraction. There's also a switch to instantly flip between landscape and portrait, which is another timesaver.
These subtle but welcome refinements to the Smooth gimbal design show Zhiyun deftly improving the real-world use of the Q4, with its users in mind, rather than piling on superfluous additional features. At a glance, you can easily check the gimbal's mode and phone orientation, with the core controls always right under your thumb.
Being a smartphone gimbal, more of the Q4's functionality is unlocked via the ZY Cami App. This app has been a staple adjunct of Zhiyun's gimbals for several years and now with the Q4 come 'Intelligent Shooting Modes', whereby the app and gimbal will automagically do a lot of the creative heavy lifting for you, and SmartShooting functionality, which guides users in how to best move the gimbal and camera according to a template video. This is very useful for those new to smartphone videography, with the app acting like a virtual tutor. It won't be for everyone, but it will be ideal for some.
The app also offers SmartFollow 3.0, which ensures the desired subject is always held in the centre of the frame, tracking them when and where appropriate; Gesture Control, which can initiate shooting with a simple hand movement directed at the camera, and Live Stream Master, which handles face-tracking duties. There are also in-app camera tricks, such as Dolly Zoom, Timelapse and Hyperlapse, plus new support for 4K/60fps. From the app, six shooting modes are available, which will be familiar to most gimbal users: Pan Follow, Lock, Follow, Point of View (POV), Vortex and Go.
Using the Q4 for filming was as solid and - appropriately enough - as smooth as with previous Zhiyun gimbals we've tested. The motors are strong and quiet; the hardware is sturdy; the physical controls are well-thought out, and the software side offers comprehensive control. The three-axis system is easy to set up and balance your phone and it performs consistently, from use to use. Camera work is held steady and the footage stabilised. These are the baseline requirements for any gimbal and the Smooth Q4 nails them.
It's not perfect: no gimbal is (yet). There are various caveats in use concerning smartphone payload (Zhiyun states a maximum of around 280g, although some users have reported good results with 300g+), in terms of handset size, case thickness and additional lens attachments, all of which can impact the Q4's functionality. Full 360° rolls are also not possible due to the positioning of the phone clamp and handle relative to the gimbal's body. The stated mechanical ranges for the Q4 are 338° for tilt, 338° for roll and 331° for pan. There can also be a few niggles with the ZY Cami app, which doesn't always behave itself impeccably when certain actions are triggered.
Documentation for the hands-on functionality is also rather scanty, with less than fulsome explanations about all the various multitaps of the hardware buttons and the behaviour of the scroll wheel. Some trial and error will be inevitable here - or a few hours watching YouTube tutorial videos. It's a shame, because there are a lot of 'hidden' features here. Once you have mastered it all, muscle memory takes over and you can more instinctively unlock the Q4's full potential while you shoot.
The Smooth Q4 is another fine gimbal from Zhiyun. Whether you jump on it now or not probably depends on what hardware you already own. For a first-time smartphone vlogger or filmmaker, the Smooth Q4 is ideal. Professional results made easy. Equally, anyone currently using a cheap and cheerful no-name gimbal would appreciate the step up in quality in all aspects. Existing Zhiyun enthusiasts with a Smooth Q2 or Q3 considering an upgrade also wouldn't be disappointed if they took that leap today - although we all know that the Q5 is (almost certainly) coming next year.
Bottom line: if you're shopping for a good-quality, best-in-class smartphone gimbal, you're probably going to be looking at either Zhiyun or DJI. Rival products aside, and all pros and cons considered, the Zhiyun Smooth Q4 would serve you well, no question.
Standard £119; Combo £149
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