When I heard that the Zhiyun Crane 3S and CRANE 3S Pro were designed for cameras up to 6.5kg, I wanted to see if they could meet their specifications. I tested the CRANE 3S Pro in two different scenarios. First with my 2.3 kg Sony A7s II rig and then with my 5.4 kg Varicam LT. So let's dive right in!
Last month I was DOP on a music video shoot and my second cameraman brought his Zhiyun Crane 3S. It went well and I was impressed with the ergonomics. I like it, instead of carrying it with both hands in front, it's worn more inline, with an arm in the back that can reach against your side. This gives additional support and is a little less strenuous for the arms. The inline layout also makes it very easy to get into an underlaid position – and when it's in an underlaid position, it's also easier to use.
After the shoot, I went back to the office and did some research. It was then that I discovered that Zhiyun was offering a Crane 3S Pro version that had many attractive additional functions. So I wanted to test the Crane 3S Pro to see if it met its specifications.
I'll cover all of the Crane 3S Pro's features and modes later in this review, but I think most people will be more interested in the reviews, so I'll start with that.
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro flies a Sony A7s ii
With my A7s II rig at 5 pounds. (2.3 kg) I assumed that flying would be very manageable … and it was. Operating the Crane 3S Pro with a lighter DSLR is no problem. It was very intuitive and easy to use, with different recording modes to choose from. Because the motors are so powerful they must be set to "low" when flying a lighter rig, and it is important that you properly balance your camera. There are several good YouTube videos that will walk you through the balancing process.
Photo credit: Scott Leslie
I put the Crane 3S Pro through a real test with my A7s ii. I shot an EDM event with this rig and was impressed with the performance. With other gimbals I've used there is usually something that works or needs tweaking during a shoot. I was surprised that the only problems I had with the Crane 3S Pro while shooting were due to my own operator errors. The inline layout allowed me to shoot directly for over 20 minutes, occasionally placing the extension arm on my waist to take some of the load and help focus.
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro flies a Varicam LT
Upgrading my Varicam LT to the Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro was more difficult than I thought.
The Crane 3S and 3S Pro are equipped with an arm extender for larger cameras that offers more space on the back of the cardan frame. However, there wasn't enough space for my camera.
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro with Varicam LT. Photo credit: Scott Leslie
The main problem is that the Varicam LT has a long body. When balancing in the standard configuration, the rear of the camera hit the Crane 3S even after the arm extender was installed. After much trial and error, I was able to get it working by removing the camera's battery, repositioning the Varicam control module, and switching to a lighter lens. I supplied the camera with power externally from the Crane 3S Pro's battery (plus 14.8 V D-Tap). Unfortunately, the Varicam is a battery hog and Zhiyun's battery only lasted about 20 minutes. The additional D-Tap connector on the battery is actually intended to power accessories, not a large camera. If I wanted to take photos in this configuration, I had to attach an additional external battery.
After I upgraded it and turned the motor power to high (there is an "Ultra" too) the Crane 3S Pro was able to handle the camera and it worked fine, but it was HEAVY! Manipulated in this way, I would only be able to take brief shots before getting tired. Unless you're very strong, I can't see a large camera operating on a gimbal without a supporting rig. I was expecting it to be tough, so I borrowed EasyRig from my buddy. To attach the Crane 3S Pro to an EasyRig, you have to turn it over and attach an eyebolt to the base to which you can attach the EasyRig.
If you turn it upside down, the balance changes completely so you have to rebalance all axes. This was a very good thing because when I got my balance back I found that I now had extra space and could add the battery back in. This resulted in a very functional gimbal rig that allowed easy access to both wireless tracking focus and zoom.
The Zhiyun crane 3S
The core of the Crane 3S Pro is of course the Crane 3S Gimbal itself, which can be purchased individually or in the “Pro” package. The “S” in Crane 3S stands for SUPER motors that can take a payload of up to an impressive 14.3 lbs. (6.5 kg). The build quality looks solid with machined aluminum and plastic.
The handle of the Crane 3S can be removed with two options: TransMount EasySling Handle and TransMountSmartSling Handle. The SmartSling handle has an OLED control panel for direct setting of the camera and gimbal parameters. From here, you can change the recording modes, adjust the ISO, aperture and shutter speed of the camera (for supported cameras) and access the setup menus. The zoom rocker is also located at the base of the SmartSling handle.
Zhiyun crane 3S. Photo credit: Scott Leslie
The EasySling handle can be used in place of the SmartSling handle, although I don't know why you'd want to lose the functionality of the SmartSling handle. The EasySling handle can also be used to expand the base. That's how I used it. It makes it easier to use when picking up and putting down the gimbal.
The focus wheel and joystick controls are located on the base. These are well positioned for easy access while recording.
Each axis (pan, tilt and roll) has its own locks to make balancing easier. You can choose between unlocked, semi-locked (where the lock clicks when it is put in place with a little play) and fully locked. I like the extra thought and technique that Zhiyun put into the Crane 3S
It also comes with a phone holder and arm extender that I used with my Varicam LT setup.
What makes it "Pro"
The PRO version also comes with the following additional accessories: the PowerPlus battery, the TransMount transmission transmitter, the focus and zoom motors with the lens toothed rings and a range of different wiring options.
The PowerPlus battery offers a longer run time (up to 18 hours) and a stronger motor torque, which is better for larger cameras and fast movements. The battery is connected via a V-mounting plate with a quick release and there is an additional 14.8 V power connection for your camera or accessories. This addition is great for powering your monitor or other accessories, e.g. B. a transmount receiver.
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro. Photo credit: Scott Leslie
The TransMount Transmission Transmitter is a wireless HDMI transmitter that sends a 1080p30 video signal to up to three mobile devices (phone, iPad, etc.) and to a TransMount Transmission Reciever (not included). It can be cleverly attached under the camera plate with a quick pressure release. It has an internal battery that lasts up to 1.5 hours. However, power connections are built into the cardan slide through which the transmitter can draw power from the PowerPlus battery. In my testing, I found that around 5 to 6 frames of signal had some latency, which isn't terrible, but you should be aware of that. The signal also occasionally froze me, even after switching channels. It's pretty good for an inexpensive video transmitter, but it's not your top end gear. That being said, a high-end video transmitter costs more than a thousand dollars. I see Zhiyun now offering a TransMount Image Transmission Transmitter 2.0 which I assume is better.
Finally, the follow focus and zoom motors worked fine for me. They'll attach to their camera plate, which is compatible with the Bogan gear you likely already have. You can adjust the speed in the menus, but I wish the top speed was a little faster. The focus seems to land inconsistently on the focus wheel, so you cannot make repeatable focus marks.
I also bought the Zhiyun Transmount Receiver and a SmallRig arm separately. That way I can use my little HD monitor which is a suitable monitor and is much better at focusing.
The ZY PLAY app
The ZY Play app is well designed and offers some additional functions in the Crane 3S Pro. With the app you can:
- Control the focus and zoom. That works pretty well. For me it was nice to take a shot but not so good to operate while on a shoot.
- Change the ISO, aperture and shutter speed of the supported cameras. Unfortunately my cameras were not supported.
- Change the radio channels. It is tuned to automatically find the best channel, but I got a few dropouts in my office so I switched to a different channel which improved my signal significantly. A helpful graph is displayed showing which channels are being used more than others.
- Change the gimbals recording modes
- Change the motor, focus, and zoom settings
- View a histogram, false colors, zebras, focus peaking, a LUT, grid, crop marks, and more.
There are also camera control settings that can be used to control the camera using a digital joystick. For me it was super difficult and basically unusable, but maybe it will be easier for the players out there. You can also set it to motion control. That's super cool. Rotating, panning or tilting the phone controls the camera directly. So you just look at the picture on your phone and move your phone over to what you want to frame. It's really smooth and very intuitive to use your camera.
Play ZY app. Photo credit: Scott Leslie
There is also a function in the app that allows you to select an object. The camera then snaps onto that object and holds it in the center of the frame when it moves. For example, you can select a person's face and when they move around the room the camera will follow. When I tested this function, the camera was a bit jerky in its movements. It could be because my lights are shining towards the camera. I'm not sure.
Like most gimbals, Zhiyun's Crain 3S Pro offers a variety of shooting modes including Pan Follow (PF), Follow (F), Lock (L), Point of View (POV), Go Mode, and Vortex (V).
FOLLOW PF – PAN
In the PF mode, all axes except the swivel axis are blocked. Your camera will stay straight when facing down or tilted to one side. Use this mode when you don't want your shot to lean, e.g. E.g. when you take a jib-style shot that rises from your actor's feet to his head.
F – FOLLOW
In F mode, the roll axis is locked while both pan and tilt are unlocked. This mode pans horizontally and tilts up and down to follow your movements.
Recording modes on the Crane 3S Pro. Photo credit: Scott Leslie
L – LOCK
In L mode, all axes are locked – pan, tilt and roll. In this mode, use the joystick to frame your subject and the camera will continue to point in that direction regardless of your movements. This is a good mode for following someone in a straight line.
POV (POINT OF VIEW
In POV mode, all axes are unlocked, including the roll axis, so you can get Dutch angles when tilting sideways. Use this mode for a better music video or when you create discomfort while pressing something.
GO mode is similar to Follow mode except that the camera is much more responsive and less hovering. I like this mode. It is a kind of handheld / gimbal combination that enables quick action and movement.
V – VORTEX
V mode enables 360 degree casters when the gimbal is in the shelter position. Think of the shot in Inception, where the camera rotates along with the walls.
There is also a RE button on the SmartSling handle that is used to rebuild the gimbal. It's very convenient.
Zhiyun's Crane 3S Pro is a great gimbal for the price, especially if you're trying to fly a heavier camera. As mentioned earlier, it's rated for cameras up to 14.3 lbs. (6.5 kg). Although I didn't test it at the high end of its weight limit, I tested it on my 12 pounds. Varicam LT and it went fine even though it was hard. For larger cameras, unless you are really strong, you'll need a weight support like the EasyRig.
In the summer of 2019 I was DOP for the feature film Full Out 2, which will be released on Netflix this January. On this film, my B-cameraman flew the same Varicam LT on a Ronin 2. The Ronin 2 was a great gimbal and worked well, but the Ronin 2 costs over $ 8,000. It's great to have a lower cost, far from a robust solution that many owner operators can achieve.
If you are looking for an affordable gimbal that can carry a heavy load, give the Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro a look.
Zhiyun is offering the following vacation package through December 31st.
- CRANE 3S: $ 739.00 $ 629.00 (Savings: 15%)
- CRANE 3S EasySling Kit: $ 649.00 $ 549.00 (Savings: 15%)
- CRANE 3S Pro Kit: $ 1,149.00 $ 999.00 (Savings: 13%)
Links: Zhiyun website
What do you think? Have you ever used one of these Zhiyun gimbals? Or a completely different brand and model? Share your experience in the comments below!