Zhiyun Crane-M3 review

The need for affordable gimbals is increasing every day thanks to the popularity of social sites like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Zhiyun is one company that has been leading the gimbal charge. Their new gimbal, the Zhiyun Crane-M3, is hoping to turn some heads with its unique feature set.

Pros
Compact and lightweight
Build quality
Easy to use LCD
Quick charging, long lasting battery
Easy to balance
Perfect for APS-C, micro four-thirds, action cams and phones
Built in light
Nice price point
Cons
Mileage will vary with full-frame cameras
Only a few cameras can be controlled via the gimbal
Zhiyun Crane-M3 — Technical specifications

All technical specifications for the Zhiyun Crane-M3 are from the product listing page at B&H Photo:

Number of axes: Three (Pitch, Roll, Yaw)
Rotation ranges: yaw (pan) 360°, pitch (tilt) 309°, roll: 333°
Camera mounting screw: 1 x 1/4″-20 Male
Connectivity ports: 1 USB-C power) input, 1 x USB-C (power/control) output, mic input
Wireless: Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi
Display: 1.22″ OLED Color Touchscreen
Battery: Built-in 1150mAh, runtime approx. 8 hours
Operating temperature 14 to 113°F / -10 to 45°C
Weight 2.2 lb / 1 kg
Zhiyun Crane-M3 — Kit options

The Zhiyun Crane-M3 is available with three different kits. For $369 you can get the Zhiyun Crane-M3 standard kit. This kit comes with a gimbal, a mini tripod, a light filter, USB-C to Sony control cables, a USB-C to Micro-USB charging cable, a USB-C to Type-C charging cable and an EPP Carry Case.

The $449 Zhiyun Crane-M3 Combo Kit includes everything above but adds a backpack and a phone clamp. The $649 Zhiyun Crane-M3 Pro Kit comes with everything previously listed and a boom microphone.

Zhiyun Crane-M3 — Ergonomics and build quality

The Zhiyun Crane-M3 is a small gimbal that’s designed to be used with some full-frame, compact system cameras, action cams, and smartphones. The Crane-M3 is just 11.4 inches tall and weighs 2.2lbs. This makes the gimbal great to hold and use for long periods and it makes it easy to transport. The Crane-M3 is a sharp-looking gimbal too. It’s white and black with red accents, and it pops.

There are controls located around the whole body of the gimbal. The back of the gimbal houses the 1.22 inch touchscreen, a joystick, a mode button and a button to start/stop recording. On the left is a 1/4-inch thread for accessories and the fill light control wheel. A power button and USB-C charging port are on the right. The front houses an adjustment wheel, and a trigger. The base of the gimbal is home to a connector for the microphone pod. All of the controls can be reached with one hand. It’s a great design.

The gimbal head is nicely laid out and all of the lock switches are easy to find and use. The fill light sits at the front of the head and the quick release for the plate is easily identifiable thanks to its bright red color. You’ll also find another USB-C connector and a mic input on the gimbal head. Overall the Zhiyun Crane-M3 feels great in the hand.

Build quality

The Zhiyun Crane-M3 is a well-made gimbal. The body of the Crane-M3 is made entirely from plastic. It feels tough and sturdy enough to withstand lots of use and the occasional bump. The rubber grip doesn’t provide any cushion when you grip it, but it does provide plenty of traction. All of the controls feel nice as well. The buttons are clicky and the dials turn smoothly.

The gimbal head is an all-metal affair. All of the machined parts feel nicely made and robust. The load capacity for the Zhiyun Crane-M3 isn’t listed anywhere, which is odd. Still, I felt comfortable when I had my Lumix S5 and a 20-60mm zoom attached. The Crane-M3 isn’t weather-sealed, though. So, don’t try and use it in inclement weather. Overall, the Crane-M3 feels solid enough for its target audience which includes vloggers, YouTubers and Tik Tokkers.

Balancing the Crane-M3 is painless

Few things in life frustrate me more than trying to balance a gimbal. However, after I psyched myself up to balance my camera on the Zhiyun Crane-M3 I found that this is one of the easiest gimbals to balance.

Each of the three axes has a lock and you just unlock each axis as you balance it. The axis locks feel nice and secure and the thumb locks you use to loosen or tighten the adjustment sliders feel great too. Making tiny adjustments is easy as the various parts glide around smoothly. I had various cameras and my iPhone 11 Pro Max all balanced within a minute or two of mounting them.

Zhiyun Crane-M3 — Ease of use

The Crane-M3 is one of the easiest gimbals to learn and use. As mentioned above, balancing is easy. The touchscreen is bright and it’s very responsive. This makes swiping through menus and selecting options a breeze.

The controls are well laid out and are intuitive. Most of the buttons and dials control a few different functions. You activate various functions by single, double or triple pressing. Remembering how many clicks to put the gimbal into selfie mode for example is perhaps the hardest thing to learn. Still, you’ll get it down after a short while. The joystick allows you to quickly move the gimbal up, down, left and right, and the control wheel lets you rotate your camera easily.

Feature galore

The menu system is well laid out and is easy to navigate. You can quickly select whether you want to be in follow, pan, lock, pov, vortex, selfie or portrait mode. Selfie mode is great for vloggers, while portrait mode is perfect for those who make content for Tik Tok, YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels.

Another great feature is the built-in video light. This sucker gets bright and it can help you keep noise levels low in dark situations The power of the light can be controlled. You can also control the temperature of the light between 2600K and 5400K. There are also four different color gels. Battery life is also stellar. The battery charges in just two hours, and Zhiyun claims the battery lasts for eight hours. Based on my usage and where the battery indicator sits now, I would say that’s accurate.

If you get the Pro Kit you’ll also get a high-quality handheld mic. The mic connects to the base of the gimbal via an accessory connector and you then connect your camera to the mic input on the gimbal head with the included cable. The mic is wired which means you’ll be limited in how far you can move away from the gimbal, but it works well. If you have a camera operator this can free you up to easily conduct interviews or walk and talk.

Camera compatibility

The Crane-M3 will allow you to create super-smooth footage. I used the gimbal with the Nikon Z fc, an Olympus E-M10 Mark IV and an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and had no issues whatsoever. It worked flawlessly and the results were fantastic. Zhiyun says that the Crane-M3 can handle full-frame cameras too, however, your mileage may vary.

I loaded up my Panasonic Lumix S5 with various small primes and while the motors in the gimbal handled the weight just fine, the camera was too big to fully rotate. The eyepiece hit the back of the gimbal. Zhiyun provides a compatibility list that shows what full-frame cameras and which lenses will work. In some cases, you have to remove the eyepiece. So, if you use a full-frame camera look at the compatibility list first. Stick to smaller APS-C, micro four-thirds, action cams and smartphones, and you should be fine.

The list of cameras that can be controlled via the Zhiyun Crane-M3 is small and is limited to Sony cameras. If you use a Sony camera you’ll enjoy being able to start and stop recording and being able to control exposure values via the controls on the gimbal itself. Everyone else, you’re out of luck unless Zhiyun adds more cameras to the mix. You can see the control compatibility list here.

App control

You can control the Zhiyun Crane-M3 with the Zhiyun iOS and Android app. It’s very easy to connect the gimbal as the app automatically finds the device. You can then use the app to pan, tilt and roll, select all the different modes, make motor adjustments, and if your camera is compatible, you can start and stop recording. You also update the firmware of the gimbal via the app as well. The app is easy to use and is another nice feature.

Zhiyun Crane-M3 is compact and powerful

The Zhiyun Crane-M3 has proved to be a solid gimbal in terms of ergonomics, build quality, and it’s overall performance. The Crane-M3 is easy to set up, it’s easy to use, and it will allow you to create silky smooth videos. There are plenty of modes to suit all sorts of creators, including vloggers, documentarians, and those who use social media sites like TikTok.

At $369 for the base kit, the Zhiyun Crane-M3 represents good value for money and will be a fine choice for anyone who uses Fujifilm X-Series cameras, Canon M series cameras, Sony APS-C cameras, most micro four-thirds and APS-C options and phones.

However, if you want to splurge, you can opt for the Combo kit for $449 or the Pro Kit for $649. These kits will get you even more accessories to make content creation easier. Just remember to check the compatibility list if you use full-frame cameras or maybe opt for a different gimbal like the Manfrotto MVG220 or MVG460. Overall, I have been impressed with the way the Zhiyun Crane-M3 handles itself. It will be a valuable tool for many years to come.

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