Zhiyun Crane 3 Lab DSLR Camera Gimbal
- Lots of options
- Premium build quality
- High weight limit
- Small lag to smartphone
- Can be tricky getting smartphone to connect
- Position of joystick is awkward
The all in one Handheld Stabilizer for DSLR Cameras
The Crane 3 Lab is the newest addition to the Zhiyun family of gimbals. It is considered their flagship product now and it’s a beast of a camera accessory. I’ve had some past experiences with ‘basic’ gimbal units and I can say for certain that the Crane 3 Lab is definitely ‘next level’ equipment. The device has a unique design and can handle weight loads of up to 10.14 pounds. One of the reasons I was so happy to be able to test it out was because Zhiyun has carved out a niche market for themselves as a designer of well-made but affordable gimbals as well as other types of camera equipment.
The Crane 3 Lab is designed to ‘redefine the camera stabilizer’ as we know it. It features a versatile structure that makes it easy to handle or fold away and store. It has integrated wireless FHD image transmission (the only gimbal in the market to have this feature), focus & zoom control, touch control, and an all-inclusive control panel. The stabilizer was also designed to be compatible with many brands and models of DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It has a longer axis to accommodate larger cameras with heavier payloads. Zhiyun defines Crane 3 Lab as “versatile and ergonomic” and has designed it so that users can operate the gimbal in the underslung position without too much effort. It’s designed with professional filmmakers in mind.
- Canon: 1D Mark II, 5DS, 5DSR, 5D Mark IVIIIII, 6D Mark II, 6D, 80D, EOS R
- Panasonic: GH4, GH5, GH5S
- Sony: A9, A7R3, A7M3, A7R2, A7S2
- Nikon: D850, Z6, Z7
One of the more unique and functional features of the Crane 3 Lab is its crafted latch design. Each axis has a latch on it so that you can lock it into place. It’s great for being able to fully balance the gimbal before use and for travel. The Crane 3 Lab is also masterfully designed to work alongside the entire ZY Ecosystem.
The motors within the gimbal are aviation-grade motors which feature a 50% noise reduction and 100% increase in motor torque from the Crane 2. With the upgrade made to this newest version of the Crane, the gimbal has the ability to mobilize focus and zoom control synchronically. You also have an all-inclusive control panel included on the control stick. The handle has an OLED screen to monitor settings and with it, you can perform several tasks including mode switch and camera control.
Another unique feature to the Crane 3 Lab is the integration of the ViaTouch control system, which allows smartphones to act as a monitor and touchscreen control for the gimbal. The Crane 3 Lab supports video streaming up to 1080P and is compatible with most Android and iOS systems. There are many different accessories you can pair with the Crane 3 Lab to make it a complete system. I have outlined the accessories that are included with our kit below. The current (as of this article being published) retail prices are listed next to the name of the item.
OUR KIT INCLUDES:
- Crane 3 Lab ($899)
- TransMount Servo Zoom/Focus Controller (Max) & TransMount Servo Follow Focus (Lite) ($174)
- TransMount Phone Holder with Crown Gear ($49)
- TransMount Quick Release Base Plate ($19)
- TransMount Multifunctional Camera Belt ($24)
- TransMount Quick Setup Kit (2) ($19 each)
- TransMount Telescopic Monopod with Locking Buckle ($139)
- TransMount Multifunctional Gimbal Bag ($159)
Two of the accessories you can add-on are the TransMount Telescopic Monopod with Locking Buckle and the TransMount Multifunctional Gimbal Bag. Both pieces are extraordinary and very high-quality. The Gimbal Bag is heavy-duty enough to keep your camera and its gear in it. The dividers are all one piece instead of smaller sections so it’s a little more difficult to configure for lots of gear but you can fit your camera and lens into the bag along with the gimbal and its accessories. The Monopod is also very high-quality. It’s lightweight and very easy to use. The feet lock into place and can be removed if you want to use a single foot instead. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but I think it rivals other monopods from brands like iFootage and Manfrotto.
Out of the box, the Crane 3 Lab is really easy to go get to know. With no accessories on it, unfolding it and getting it balanced with our Canon 5D Mark IV was much easier than I anticipated. I love that each of the axes has an individual lock on it that ensures that the axes don’t move unless you want them to. I really like this as a feature because it allows the gimbal to act as a camera stand if you want it to. Once you have the camera balanced, you can start shooting with the Crane 3 Lab. If you happen to have any or all of the accessories listed above, you can add those in at this point. I actually tried to put everything together before balancing the gimbal the first time and I had a hard time getting the camera balanced with everything added in. So, I stripped it all down and started from scratch. I found that it was much easier to balance the gimbal for shooting after it had been balanced with just the camera.
Each piece of the set-up has its own set of instructions for adding it into the rig. All the pieces attach with thumbscrews, which are both a blessing and a curse. As I began setting up the parts, I found that the screws would get in the way of each other. The one that was a particular nuisance was the thumbscrew that tightens the quick release plate to the gimbal. In order to tighten it all the way, you have to move the Servo Zoom/Focus Controller out of the way. I ran into this as a problem several times — especially when I had to rebalance the camera unit. It’s really tricky to balance the entire camera unit with all the accessories because it gets to be very front-heavy.
As easy as the Crane 3 Lab can be to use once you get used to it, getting it completely set-up and operational can be really confusing for beginners. It’s not that beginners can’t use it, it’s just that you need to practice with it before taking it shooting for the first time. I would recommend getting the gimbal balanced and the accessories that you plan to use added on and simply walking around your house with it. I wouldn’t even worry about shooting until you are comfortable with the way it moves and you know which controls do what. That way you aren’t trying to learn while you shoot. When you are shooting you should be able to concentrate on the quality of the image you are capturing and not which button does what. Zhiyun provides a lot of tutorials on YouTube and it’s a great resource even for people who are familiar with gimbal use.
Another element of the set-up process is the Firmware update. This is an area where I ran into some problems the first time I tried to complete it. I found the available firmware update after I had connected to the Crane 3 Lab as a WiFi network using my phone. I saw a banner at the top of my phone’s screen that stated a new firmware was available. I started the update and found that you have to keep the app open and your phone from going to sleep otherwise the update will fail. I actually failed the first couple of times I tried to complete the update because I moved away from the update screen within the app. You have to stay on that screen until it completes 100% or it will fail.
After all the set-up, firmware updates, and initial testing was completed, we took the Crane 3 Lab out for a ‘real’ test drive. On an unusually mild day in late January, we took the gimbal out to a local park and tried some basic moves with it while we walked around the area. The Crane 3 Lab performed admirably and we were very surprised to find just how easy it was to use. Once you set a mode, you can simply tell your camera to record and then walk with it. The Crane 3 Lab excels at basic moves like this but it will also provide you with a way to shoot more complicated boom-style moves, too. You will see sample video clips from the Crane 3 Lab that demonstrate just want it can do for your video recording. We shot an example of what a short walk would look like as a handheld and as a stabilized shot using the gimbal. It’s really quite telling when you see the two clips side by side. I would personally choose to use the Crane 3 Lab every time I’m doing a walking shot after seeing what it can do.
In addition to the park visit, we also took the gimbal into our downtown area where we found lots of activity including a group of skateboarders. They were in the middle of a street where they were attempting different tricks on their boards. It was a lot of fun to follow them as they skated down the street and jumped with their boards. I’ve had some experience with capturing very active video before (people running, skating, jumping, and doing various stunts) and I would have loved to have this gimbal available at that time.
One interesting feature we discovered that you can do with the Crane 3 Lab is what we refer to as “Robot Mode”. The Canon 5D Mark IV has an Auto Focus mode that will lock onto a subject and keep it in focus — even if it moves. If you pair that with the Pan Follow mode, you can actually set the Crane 3 Lab on its tripod (or a larger tripod if you wish) and have it follow a subject around as they talk on camera. The camera was able to move freely on the Crane 3 Lab’s axes and the results were really quite amazing. It won’t work if you move too quickly through the frame, but if you make slower movements, the camera can detect you and therefore, the gimbal will follow your movements. We actually tested this added feature with a television show and it worked beautifully.
I have very few complaints about the Crane 3 Lab system. It’s really an amazing camera stabilizer. The battery life does suffer if all the accessories are attached and I do wish the joystick was placed somewhere other than at the top of the tripod base but aside from those issues, I really didn’t find a lot of problems with the system. The Crane 3 Lab is the system I would recommend to any videographer looking for a well-built, feature-rich gimbal.