Whether we like it or not, video has become a part of our everyday lives. We now take it for granted that the ability to shoot good enough quality video resides in our pockets. But shooting stable video is still very difficult to do handheld. That’s where a good stabiliser or gimbal becomes an essential piece of equipment.
I was very excited to try out the Zhiyun Smooth-Q4 smartphone stabiliser and see just how good it was. I ended up taking it on a few short trips to see how it would hold up quite literally ‘in the field’. I tried it using my rather geriatric but still going strong Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 Android phone.
The Smooth-Q4 boasts several features. First, let’s take a look at what’s included. It’s a small handheld device that folds up neatly enough to fit in a large pocket (men’s pocket that is, not the teeny tiny pockets on women’s clothes) or small bag. It comes in a nice compact zip-up case with elastic to keep everything in place.
Inside the case, you’ll find the gimbal, a small 3-legged stand for setting it on a desktop, cables, instructions, and a magnetic light plus coloured filters for mounting on the top of the gimbal should you need more light.
The gimbal comes in a slightly clinical light grey colour. This of course prompted hilarious questions from my friends asking if I was about to go do a pelvic exam when they saw it.
The Smooth-Q4 has an impressive battery run time of approximately 15 hours. That’s actually pretty great in my opinion, and really takes away the stress of worrying about having to charge it in the middle of an outing. My DJI Osmo 3 doesn’t have nearly so good a battery life. The Smooth-Q4 also charges rapidly reaching a full charge in just two and a half hours.
It weighs in at 370g without the phone and has an extendable ‘selfie stick’ style rod that telescopes neatly in and out of the main handle. It’s 215mm long which isn’t much but is enough to create a different vantage point.
The magnetic LED light is a nice addition, particularly for those using this for vlogging. It’s powerful and can be controlled via the wheel on the gimbal handle, ranging from ‘is it working?’ to ‘my retinas are being burnt out’ in terms of the brightness scale.
The device has several different modes available as well, other than just being a run-of-the-mill stabiliser. A trigger on the handle allows you to pan and tilt with ease. You can control the zoom via the wheel, and a button on the back starts the Follow Subject mode. Three taps changes the phone from an upright to a horizontal position. Super useful for those creating multiple format videos for different social media apps.
The gimbal can be activated via hand gestures meaning that you can easily film yourself from a distance. And the app also includes timelapse, hyper-lapse and dolly zoom modes, along with still photos and panoramic images.
Setting it up is easy, although with six different things to unclip it’s not quite straight out of the bag ready each time you want to use it. You also have to download the ZY Cami app before you can properly use the gimbal for the first time. The app connects to the device via Bluetooth and enables more of the finer controls and the ability to use pre-made templates.
After creating an account, giving away all of my personal details, signing up to receive multiple emails and feeling like I’ve just sold my firstborn child, I’m ready to go.
My initial thought is that it’s not particularly light. When I mounted my smartphone on top after a short time my hand started to become quite tired. It’s definitely heavier than my DJI Osmo 3. I do admittedly have quite a chunky phone, however, so a lighter (newer) one will make a difference here.
Connectivity and Cami app
The app usually found the device fairly easily with no issues. However, it did drop connectivity often. When that happens you have to try to use the 8-button press to reset it (8 pushes? really?). Which may or may not work effectively. I usually just ended up turning everything off and on again, that did the job.
The app just doesn’t seem very stable and has a ton of bugs. After using the gimbal for a while I kept on getting prompts to update the app. It never actually recognised that I had done the update. The constant reminders eventually got annoying and after a while the features like the hand gesture and follow subject failed to work. Mostly down to the failings of the app.
Range of motion and basic controls
The range of motion is pretty wide, giving you plenty of scope for large pans and tilts. If your phone is on the larger side then that can occasionally be an issue. But generally, the motion was smooth enough. The speed is automatically set to medium for the pans, tilts and zooms which was a little fast for my liking. You can however go into the manual controls in the app menu and change the speed of these to your liking. You can also select a sports mode for very fast-moving subjects.
I did find the overall controls to be easy to use, however, I needed to change the pan and tilt direction for it to feel intuitive. It is set up in the reverse to what felt correct for me, but again that is easy to change in the menu.
The general motion is not especially smooth, considering that this is supposed to be a gimbal which creates smooth footage when walking. You would definitely want to use some additional stabilisation in post to help with that. Unless your phone already has that built in that is. Mine apparently does not. Below is a walking not-so-steady-cam type shot example:
Similarly, I found the robotic pans, tilts and zooms to be ever so slightly jerky. Again that could be my phone and not the gimbal. Below is a simple pan example:
All bets were off though when using the extended selfie stick. The unevenness increased a lot with the stick extended and the gimbal appeared to have some issues with keeping itself the right way up. There were several moments when it just went berserk, flipping around like a seal chasing fish in a harbour.
One thing the selfie stick is great for though is when it’s used stationary on a desk for vlogging. Coupled with the light you’ve got a very quick and easy set-up for taking videos at a flattering height.
The LED light is a nifty feature though a little bright in my eyes for my liking. Again it’s great for on-the-go vlogging. The coloured filters are a little powerful for many situations but could be useful I suppose in the right circumstances. A word of warning: the app imposes quite strong beauty filters automatically in selfie mode. These can easily be modified or turned off in the menu.
Follow and Hand Gestures
The Follow Subject initially worked well. Of course it has it’s limitations and works best on a horizontal plane. It didn’t especially like having to follow on an up and down axis. But that is to be expected really. Below shows the Follow Subject feature working:
Similarly, the begin recording with hand gestures initially worked very well. The device recognised the palm or V sign easily, then started a count down to record.
Both of these things failed however after a little while when the app stopped updating. It is a pity that you are stuck with using the app in order to use even these basic commands. Here’s me trying to get the Follow Subject feature to work:
Panorama and Dolly Zoom
The panoramic shot I must say is an absolute joke. I could not get it to achieve one single worthwhile shot, and it’s near impossible to know where to point the gimbal for the first image. Unlike the DJI Osmo mobile 3 which creates near perfect panoramic shots effortlessly.
Similarly I couldn’t for the life of me get the dolly zoom to work. At least, I think it sort of worked, however just retreating backwards wasn’t fast or smooth enough to really make this work effectively. I think it’s important to actually use some sort of dolly to really achieve this effect. Nice gimmick, a bit underwhelmed by it though. Watch below for my pathetic attempt at a dolly zoom at the Castillo de Zafra:
The timelapse and hyperlapse features worked well, though could definitely profit from some stabilising in post processing.
The smart templates, in my opinion, are where the Smooth-Q4 really excels. Or could excel at least after an update. There are several pre-made templates that you can download which have approximately four different scenes with pre-set gimbal moves. You simply choose how long you want each segment to last, point the gimbal and press shoot.
The results are a sort of real-time video edit, complete with transitions and suitable cheesy music. There is also an option to create your own custom template where you can choose from a menu of different gimbal movements. From diagonal pans to spins and tilts, it’s pretty fun to play around with.
This is really where this device comes into its own, particularly for people travelling who want to capture short little vignettes which are instantly edited and ready to upload to their favourite social media.
Now, remember I did say ‘could excel’. The biggest frustration for me is that these templates only work in horizontal mode. Yes, that’s right. The feature most perfectly capable of churning out ready-made TikTok videos and Instagram reels doesn’t accept the vertical format. Whether you like it or loathe it, vertical video is here to stay. I cannot stress enough how utterly stupid it is of Zhiyun not to allow that in their smart video templates.
As it is, I won’t be using this feature all that much. If it allowed vertical video shooting I’d be using it constantly for making annoying little reels. So perhaps that’s a sigh of relief all around then I hear!
The Smooth-Q4 is a capable gimbal. It has some nice features, and works well out of the box, without having a steep learning curve. It would definitely suit anyone travelling who wants to shoot short, informal and fun videos without spending a lot of time post-processing.
Like with all smartphone gimbals, the newer and better your phone, the better your results are going to be. I did feel that to really take advantage of all this has to offer, I probably need to upgrade my smartphone. However, even though my phone is four years old, it still worked well with the gimbal.
The addition of the light is a nice touch, however, it can only do so much. It’s a tiny direct light source. Obviously, I don’t need to tell you that having a larger softer independent light source is always going to produce better results. But in a pinch, this works.
However, in today’s world which seems to be already filled with about 3 million and forty-nine different gimbals, for the price, it has to do better than that.
Ultimately, I wanted to love this gimbal, but the frustration around the app made me not enjoy using it. Zhiyun, please please update the smart templates so that they will allow shooting in vertical mode. With the intended audience for this device, it would be absolutely brilliant. If that happened I could learn to love this stabiliser.
The Zhiyun Smooth-Q4 pack with the LED light is available to buy now for $149.