Zhiyun CRANE 3S Pro Review

December 18th, 2020 icon / message-square 2

When I heard the Zhiyun Crane 3S and CRANE 3S Pro were rated for cameras up to 14.3 lbs (6.5 kg), I wanted to see if they could live up to their specs. I tested the CRANE 3S Pro in two different scenarios. First with my 5 lbs (2.3 kg) Sony A7s ii rig and then with my 12 lb (5.4 kg) Varicam LT. So let’s dive right in!

Last month I was the DOP on a music video shoot and my second camera operator brought his Zhiyun Crane 3S. It performed well and I was impressed with the ergonomics. I like that instead of carrying it with both hands out front, it is carried more inline, with one arm in back that can lock against your side. This gives extra support and is a little less strenuous on the arms. The inline layout also makes going into an underslung position very simple – and when in underslung, it is also easier to operate.

After the shoot I went back to the office and did some research. That’s when I found that Zhiyun offers a Crane 3S Pro version, which has a lot of attractive extra features. So, I wanted to test the Crane 3S Pro to see if it can live up to its specs.

Further below on this review, I go over all the features and modes of the Crane 3S Pro, but I figure most people are going to be more interested in the tests, so I’ll lead with that.

Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro flying a Sony A7s ii

With my A7s ii rig coming in at 5 lbs. (2.3 kg), I assumed that flying it would very manageable… and it was. Operating the Crane 3S Pro with a lighter DSLR is not a problem. It was really intuitive and easy to manage with several different shooting modes to choose from. Because the motors are so strong, they do need to set to “low” when flying a lighter rig, and it is crucial to properly balance your camera. There are several good YouTube videos that step you through the balancing process.

Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro
Image credit: Scott Leslie

I put the Crane 3S Pro with my A7s ii to a real-world test. I shot an EDM event with this rig and I was impressed with how it performed. With other gimbals that I’ve used, there is usually something that acts up or needs to be tweaked during a shoot. I was surprised that the only issues I had with the Crane 3S Pro during the shoot was from my own operator errors. Because of its inline layout, I was able to shoot for over 20 minutes straight by occasionally resting the extension arm on my waist to take some of the load, and help with focusing.

Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro flying a Varicam LT

Rigging my Varicam LT to the Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro was trickier than I thought it was going to be.

The Crane 3S and 3S Pro come with an arm extender for larger cameras, which gives more clearance to the back of the gimbal. However, it was not quite enough clearance for my camera.

Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro with Varicam LT
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro with Varicam LT. Image credit: Scott Leslie

The main issue is that the body of the Varicam LT is long. When balancing in the standard configuration, the back of camera kept hitting on the Crane 3S, even after installing the arm extender. After a lot of trial and error, I was able to get it to work by removing the camera battery, repositioning the Varicam control module and switching to a lighter lens. I powered the camera externally through the Crane 3S Pro’s battery (it has an additional 14.8V D-Tap out). Unfortunately, the Varicam is a battery hog and Zhiyun’s battery only lasted about 20 minutes. The additional D-tap port on their battery is really meant to power accessories, not a large camera. If I was planning on shooting in this configuration, I’d need to rig an additional external battery.

Once I did get it rigged and turned up the motor strength to high (there’s also an “ultra”), the Crane 3S Pro was able to handle the camera and it worked nicely, but it was HEAVY! Rigged this way, I would only be able to do short takes before tiring out. Unless your very strong, I can’t see operating a large camera on any gimbal without some sort of supportive rig. I had expected it to be heavy, so I borrowed my buddy’s EasyRig. To rig the Crane 3S Pro to an EasyRig you need to flip it upside down and mount an eye-bolt at the base, where you can attach the EasyRig.

Rigging it upside down completely changes the balance, so you’ll need to rebalance all the axes. This ended up being a very good thing because once I rebalanced, I discovered that I now had extra clearance and I could add back the battery. This made for a very workable gimbal rig, giving easy access to both the wireless follow focus and to the zoom.

The Zhiyun Crane 3S

The core of the Crane 3S Pro is, of course, the Crane 3S gimbal itself, which can be purchased by itself or in the “Pro” package. The “S” in Crane 3S stands for SUPER motors, which 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.

On the Crane 3S, the handle is detachable with two options provided: TransMount EasySling Handle and the TransMountSmartSling Handle. The SmartSling handle has an OLED control panel, for direct camera and gimbal parameter adjustments. From here, shooting modes can be changed, the cameras ISO, f-stop and shutter speed can be adjusted (on supported cameras), and you can access the setup menus. The zoom rocker is also positioned at the base of the SmartSling handle.

Zhiyun Crane 3S
Zhiyun Crane 3S. Image credit: Scott Leslie

The EasySling handle can be used in place of the SmartSling handle, although I don’t know why you would want to lose the functionality of the SmartSling handle. The EasySling handle can also be used to extend the base. This is how I used it. It makes for ease of use when picking up and setting down the gimbal.

On its base sit the focus dial and joystick controls. These are well positioned for easy access during shooting.

Each axis (pan, tilt and roll) has its own locks which makes balancing easier. You can choose from unlocked to half locked (where the lock will click in when moved to the correct position with a little bit of play) to fully locked. I do like the extra thought and engineering that Zhiyun has packed into the Crane 3S

It also comes with a phone holder and an arm extender, which I used with my Varicam LT setup.

What makes it “Pro”

The PRO version also comes with the following extra accessories: the PowerPlus battery pack, the TransMount Transmission Transmitter, follow focus and zoom motors with the lens gear rings, and a bunch of different cabling options.

The PowerPlus battery pack gives you extended runtime (up to 18 hours) and stronger motor torque, which is better for larger cameras and rapid motion. The battery attaches via quick release V-mount plate and there is an additional 14.8V power port for your camera or accessories. This addition is great for powering your monitor or other accessories, like a Transmount Reciever.

Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro
Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro. Image 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 in the package). It cleverly attaches with a quick pressure release under the camera plate. It has an internal battery that lasts up to 1.5 hours, but there are built in power ports on the gimbal sled which allow the transmitter to receive power from the PowerPlus battery. In my tests, I found that there is some latency in the signal of about 5 to 6 frames, which isn’t terrible but it’s something you should be aware of. The signal would also occasionally freeze up on me, even after changing the channels. For a low-cost video transmitter, it is pretty good, but it is not your top end gear. That being said, a high-end video transmitter costs a thousand plus dollars. I do see that Zhiyun now offers a TransMount Image Transmission Transmitter 2.0, which I assume is better.

Finally, the follow focus and zoom motors worked well for me. They attach to their camera plate which is compatible with the Bogan gear that you probably already have. In the menus you can adjust the speed, however I wish the top speed was a little faster. The focus seems to land inconsistently on the focus wheel, so you wouldn’t be able to do repeatable focus marks.

I also purchased separately Zhiyun’s Transmount Receiver and a SmallRig arm. This allows me to use my smallHD monitor, which is a proper monitor and much better for pulling focus.

The ZY PLAY app

The ZY Play App is well designed and unlocks some additional features in the Crane 3S Pro. From the app you can:

  • Control focus and zoom. This works pretty well. For me it was nice for setting up a shot but not to so good in operating during a shoot.
  • Change supported cameras’ ISO, f-stop and shutter speed. Unfortunately, my cameras were not supported.
  • Change the wireless channels. It comes set to automatically find the best channel, but at my office I was getting some dropouts, so I switched to a different channel which significantly improved my signal. There is a helpful graph that is displayed that shows which channels have heaver use than others.
  • Change the gimbals shooting modes
  • Change the motor, focus and zoom settings
  • Display a histogram, false color, zebras, focus peaking, a LUT, grids, crop marks and more.

There are also camera control settings that can be set to control the camera via a digital joystick. For me, this was super hard and basically unusable, but maybe for the gamers out there, this will be easier. You can also set it to Motion Control. Now this is super cool. Turning, panning or tilting your phone directly controls the camera. So, you simply look at the image on your phone and move your phone to whatever you want to frame up. It is really smooth and super intuitive way to operate your camera.

ZY Play app
ZY Play app. Image credit: Scott Leslie

There is also a feature on the app that allows you to select an object and the camera will then lock onto that object, keeping it in center of the frame when it moves. For example, you can select someone’s face, and as he/she moves around the room the camera would follow. When I tested this feature, the camera was a little jerky in its movements. It may have been due to my lights shining towards the camera. I’m not sure.

Shooting Modes

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).

PF – PAN FOLLOW
In PF mode all axes are locked except for the pan axis. Your camera will stay level when pointed down or tilted sideways. Use this mode if you don’t want your shot to tilt, like if you’re doing a jib style shot raising up from your actor’s feet up to his head.

F – FOLLOW
In F mode the roll axis is lock while both the pan and tilt are unlocked. This mode pans horizontally as well as tilts up and down to follow your movements.

Shooting Modes
Shooting modes on the Crane 3S Pro. Image credit: Scott Leslie

L – LOCK
In L mode all the axes are locked – pan, tilt and roll. In this mode, frame up your subject/object with the joystick 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, allowing you to achieve Dutch angles when tilting sideways. Use this mode for a more music video look or when creating unease while pushing in on something.

GO MODE
GO mode is similar to the Follow mode except the camera is much more responsive and does less of a float. I like this mode. It’s kind of a handheld / gimbal combination that allows for fast action and movement.

V – VORTEX
V mode allows for 360-degree barrel rolls when the gimbal is in underslug position. Think of the shot in Inception where the camera spins along with the walls.
There also is a RE button on the SmartSling Handle which recenters the gimbal. This is very handy.

Conclusion

Zhiyun’s Crane 3S Pro is a great gimbal for the price, especially if you’re trying to fly a heavier camera. As stated, it is rated for cameras up to 14.3 lbs. (6.5 kg). Although I didn’t test it at the very top end of its weight limit, I did test it with my 12 lbs. Varicam LT and it performed well, although it was heavy. With larger cameras you’re going to need some sort of weight support like the EasyRig unless you’re really strong.

In the summer of 2019, I was the DOP for the feature film Full Out 2, which will be on Netflix this January. On that film my b-camera operator flew the same Varicam LT on a Ronin 2. The Ronin 2 was a great gimbal and worked well, however the Ronin 2 costs over $8,000. It is great to have a lower cost, all-be-it not as robust solution, that’s within reach of many owner operators.

If you’re looking for an affordable gimbal that can carry a heaver load, you should give the Zhiyun Crane 3S Pro a look.

Holiday Promotion

Zhiyun is offering the following holiday deal 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 used one of these Zhiyun gimbals before? Or a completely other make and model? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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