After struggling for weeks to get my Nebula 4000 stabilizer balanced, I finally gave up; and it’s been gathering dust in my closet now for over a year. While there were several pistol grip stabilizers on the market built specifically for action cameras like the GoPro, the Nebula was the first capable of handling mirrorless cameras like the Lumix GH4. Many other stabilizers, mostly emanating from China, have appeared since: but even though they offered tool-less design, 360 degree rotation and sundry other enhancements, many users complained about difficulty balancing their cameras. Furthermore, some of the more popular models sell for upwards of $1,000.
After watching a few video reviews of the Zhiyun Crane (some by filmmakers inexperienced with stabilizers, others by professionals looking for an alternative to cumbersome two-handed gimbals), I decided to purchase one. I bought mine from Coog Tech – they responded to my inquiries very quickly, and delivered the device almost immediately upon receipt of payment. The parcel arrived in Vietnam only a couple of days later. I had a chance to play with it a bit this morning, and can vouch for the gimbal’s integrity: it is rock-solid, whisper-quiet, and baby simple to balance. It also sports a handsome, all-metal design, with exceptional fit and finish. I was able to balance both my Panasonic Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 zooms in a matter of minutes. Lightweight zooms like the latter are ideal for use with stabilizers, as the front element is fixed, eliminating the need to re-balance every time focal length is changed.
Aside from enabling smooth tracking shots, an added benefit of using a gimbal is extremely crisp images: without a stabilizer, even minor camera shake destroys sharpness. I am overjoyed that I didn’t purchase the Ronin M, which would have been a hassle to lug around, or the Zenmuse X5R, which runs in the neighborhood of $4,000 or so, including lens and SSD. In fact, as good as the DJI Film School videos showing off the X5R are (I highly recommend watching all of them), there isn’t a single scene that couldn’t have been pulled off with the Zhiyun, with better results and far less time in post. That is because the X5R accepts a limited number of lenses, and the RAW files require hours of post-processing. And finally, a pistol grip stabilizer can go places where a two-handed unit like the Ronin M would be prohibited. I was allowed to bring the Zhiyun with me into the Saigon Central Post Office, a historic site where security guards are normally vigilant not to allow anything but compact cameras.
It’s really incredible that in the three short years since the Freely Movi created such a stir at NAB, we’ve got tools as good as this that are within the reach of serious hobbyists and independent filmmakers. The Zhiyun Crane sells for only around $650 and can handle loads up to 1.2 Kg. Anyhow, I’m super excited about this and hopefully, I’ll be sharing some of the videos I make with the stabilizer in the following weeks.