The first smartphone gimbal I ever purchased was a Zhiyun Smooth C back in 2016. Smartphone gimbals have come a long way since then, particularly from Zhiyun. So today we’re going to be taking a look at the Zhiyun Smooth X folding smartphone gimbal.
It’s a 2-axis smartphone gimbal that offers some unique advantages over its competitors in this sector. Of particular note is its small size. This is one of the smallest smartphone gimbals I’ve seen when folded, and easily slips into a pocket. It also has a built-in selfie stick, allowing you to capture more of the scene in the shot when vlogging or travelling.
There are two versions of the Smooth X available. One is the basic Smooth X gimbal on its own, or for an extra $10 you can get the Smooth X Package deal which includes a case and a tripod. Here I have the package. Both options are currently on sale for Prime Day right now.
Interestingly, despite being the smallest smartphone gimbal I’ve ever seen (although the new Smooth XS is slightly smaller), it comes in possibly the largest case. Whereas other gimbals like the Hohem iSteady X (review here) and Moza Mini MX (review coming soon) come with a little pouch, the Zhiyun Smooth X comes with a fairly large semi-hard shell case.
A little case like this is fantastic when you’re travelling and want to make sure it stays safe in your backpack, carry on or personal item (it’s got a built-in lithium-ion battery, so it can’t go in your checked luggage), and it has a mesh pocket in the lid for storing your extra bits. It might be a little inconvenient when actually out and about walking around to shoot with it, though, as it doesn’t slip into your pocket.
Also interesting is the fact that the Zhiyun Smooth X does have a little slot where you can attach a wrist strap. But unlike the Hohem iSteady X, one is not included with the Smooth X. Wrist straps are inexpensive and easy to find online, but including one with the gimbal would have been a nice touch – and would’ve probably made up for the lack of a soft pouch.
But with those things out of the way, everything else is quite positive. The gimbal itself is small and easily fits in your pocket when you’re out and about, so you don’t really need the case anyway. The tripod, while plastic, has long feet, which makes it very stable when rested on a solid surface.
Also inside the case, you get a printed manual and a Type-C USB cable for charging. We can score a point for Zhiyun here, because this one’s actually a silicone-coated cable emblazoned with Zhiyun branding, meaning it should be able to stand up to much more use and abuse than the generic plastic-coated USB cables that come with some other gimbals.
Unfolding the gimbal is a little counterintuitive at first, as you have to actually rotate and then “bend” the handle in order to unlock it. You’re not actually doing any damage or taking any risks here as the bit you have to bend is part of the gimbal’s selfie stick hinge mechanism. Once you get used to it, unfolding and setting up is a breeze.
On the front of the gimbal, there are two buttons and a joystick. The button the left allows you to switch between pan follow and lock modes with a single press, or between horizontal and vertical orientation with a double press. Next to that is the record button, which we’ll get back to in the use a little later on. The joystick allows you to pan the camera left and right or rotate it clockwise or anti-clockwise. Remember, it’s a 2-axis gimbal, so there’s no tilt axis.
Just off to the size of these is the zoom slider, which seems to work quite well with my phone, although it won’t automatically switch to a telephoto camera when you want to zoom in. It simply uses your main camera with a digital “zoom”. On the arm of the gimbal above the pan motor is the power switch, along with four LEDs giving you an indication of the battery life left in the gimbal.
As with just about every other gimbal today, you need to activate the gimbal with a smartphone app before its first use. Unlike most of Zhiyun’s other gimbals, though, the Smooth X doesn’t use the ZY Play app. Instead, it uses a new app called ZY Cami.
Activation is simple and painless and once completed, the gimbal comes to life.
Using the Zhiyun Smooth X
The “claw” on the end of the Zhiyun Smooth X is one of the first I’ve tried that doesn’t pinch the side buttons on my phone when I mount it in – even when using the giant OnePlus 7 Pro inside the Ulanzi case. It balances very quickly and easily, too, and I can position it in any way I like without it wanting to rotate off to another angle.
On turning on the gimbal and loading the app, the gimbal is detected immediately by my phone over Bluetooth. As with most gimbals when you take them out of the box, the angle is a little off, but calibration is simple.
All you need to do is screw the mini tripod into the 1/4-20″ socket underneath, stand it on a level surface and hit Auto Calibration within the app. It then does everything by itself and only takes about 15 seconds.
The app is fairly simple but offers you the ability to shoot standard photos and video, or you can go live to various services (no specific mention of Facebook and YouTube – although it can do it), shoot 180° panoramas, timelapse or hyperlapse.
The panorama feature is pretty cool. With it selected, you hold the gimbal, hit the record button and the gimbal then spins to the extreme left and shoots a series of seven images, rotating to the extreme right as it goes. Once it’s shot them all, it combines them into a single panoramic shot.
From the different shooting modes, you can also choose the “Smart” shooting mode. This is an interesting feature, and something I haven’t seen on a gimbal before.
It’s essentially a collection of pre-scripted short videos. You shoot your clips when prompted, and it edits them all into a neat little final video. But it’s not just clip duration. It actually has pre-scripted camera movements and zooms. So, it might pan, and then zoom in on a subject, and then do a “vortex” type spin.
Each clip is shot in sequence, and you get the option to retake a shot if you want to do it again. If you’re happy with it, you click next and move onto the next shot. Most of them seem to have four shots, but at least one has six. And once you’ve shot them all, it spits out a video for you to post to social media.
Unfortunately, perhaps, all of the Smart mode sequences are landscape orientation. So, if you were hoping to use this particular feature for your TikTok or Instagram Stories, then you’re out of luck – for now. But if you’re posting to Facebook, or want to watch it back on a TV, they’re pretty fun.
One of the big unique selling points of this gimbal is the fact that it’s not just a gimbal. It’s essentially a super high tech selfie stick. Remember what I mentioned about having to “bend” the handle to open the gimbal up? Well, that’s all part of the selfie stick mechanism.
The whole head mechanism that holds your phone is on one end of the stick and handle is on the other. This allows you to always keep your camera straight and level when shooting those selfies but it also offers other advantages… Like being able to see over crowds (ok, perhaps that’s more of an advantage for next year).
When in selfie stick mode, it’s easy to switch between shooting photos or video. A double press of the record button switches it between photo and video mode and a single press either shoots a photo or starts and stops a video recording (depending on the mode you’re in).
You can also switch between the front and rear camera by triple-pressing the record button. And, of course, the button next to it allows you to switch between horizontal and vertical orientation at will.
This means that you never really have to worry about touching your phone if you’re just shooting selfies and vlogging. All of the common controls you’d use for that kind of thing are right there at your fingertips in the handle.
Unlike some other smartphone gimbals, the Zhiyun Smooth X only communicates with the ZY Cami app – at least on Android, it might be different with the iPhone camera app. But on Android, it doesn’t even act as a simple Bluetooth trigger for other 3rd party camera apps to shoot a photo or start & stop video. So, you are forced to use the ZY Cami app, although it seems pretty stable, and featured enough for the intended market for this gimbal.
The ZY Cami app also adds gesture control, which is a handy way of shooting a photo or starting and stopping video recording when you’ve set the gimbal down somewhere and you’re in front of it, out of arm’s reach and unable to even see the screen. All you need to do is give the camera a high five or a V symbol with your fingers and it will find you and automatically start tracking your face as it records. If you move, the gimbal spins around to follow you.
If you’re filming something else, you can also use the object tracking to target the subjects you’re filming. Whether you’re moving, they’re moving, or you both are, it will do its best to keep the subject you’ve drawn a box around in the centre of the frame – and it seems to do the job quite well.
ZY Cami app Shooting modes
We’ve already spoken about the Pano mode a little earlier, so there’s no real need to go over that one again, except to say that it’s probably one of my favourite modes on this gimbal.
As a photographer, I use my phone a lot for location scouting, and the Zhiyun Smooth X is small enough to slip into my bag without adding any real impact to the weight. When I get to a new location, I can stick my phone on the Smooth X, put it into Pano mode, and get a nice 180° photo of the scene to add to my personal location database for future reference when I need a place to shoot for a particular idea.
Photo and video are pretty self-explanatory and we’ve already looked at Smart mode, too. Let’s tackle live streaming. The only streaming services listed specifically are Chinese service, Kwai and cloud multi-streaming service, Restream, but there’s no mention of Facebook or YouTube.
It’s a tricky one for me, this, because yes, you can just cast to Restream and have that send out your feed to Facebook, YouTube, or wherever, which is very handy. But there’s no specific easy “Facebook” or “YouTube button”. It does have RTMP streaming, though, which might confuse some newer users.
You can actually stream directly to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Twitch and other services by manually entering in the RTMP details directly, although this isn’t that obvious to inexperienced users and the details might be difficult to easily find when you’re out in some random location with only your phone (which is sitting in the gimbal and not easily accessible to go searching around the web for server and login info).
For newer users, I’d probably suggest just going the Restream route or using the dedicated Facebook or YouTube app to stream to those platforms.
We’ll do the Hyperlapse mode next, as this one’s fairly simple. Here you can only shoot 1080p or 720p, and you can speed up your footage by a factor of 5x, 10x, 15x or 30x. Presumably, the resolution is to account for stabilisation and framing issues while you move.
But once you’ve set your resolution and speed, actually making the hyperlapse is as simple as just hitting go and moving, then hitting stop when you’re done.
Somewhat awesomely, the hyperlapse mode also supports object tracking, which means that you can move around buildings while keeping your subject framed centrally in the shot the whole time. Or have it targeted on a person or vehicle in front of you that you might be following, keeping them still in the frame while the world whizzes by.
Why, yes, that is a bright green 3D printed Deadpool head. Thank you for noticing!
The regular timelapse feature is also quite nice. Here you get to choose between a shot interval and a duration for which you wish to shoot. You also get to shoot these in 4K, as no stabilisation is required.
If you want to shoot an image every 0.5 seconds for 1 minute, for example, you’d get 120 photos, or 5 seconds of footage when played back at 24fps. If you want to shoot an image every 30 seconds for an hour, likewise, you’d get 120 photos. The intervals range from 0.5 to 60 seconds and the total duration ranges from 1 minute to 5 hours (or infinity, if you’re not moving the camera).
Yes, you read that last sentence right, you can actually animate camera movements while shooting timelapse. It’s fairly simple to do, too. You set up waypoints for the camera to move through by using the joystick on the handle and hitting the + button on-screen. You can set up to five of them, and then it goes through them once you hit record.
The waypoints only work on the pan axis, not the roll axis, which is a little disappointing as it means no vortex swirly timelapses. And as cool as those would have been, just being able to do quick and easy smooth horizontal timelapse pans is a very useful feature.
The Zhiyun Smooth X is clearly aimed towards the younger social media crowd. It works equally as well for those who like to post their quick clips to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat as it does for those who like to vlog, shoot selfies or see over crowds at large events (again, an activity for next year).
The creative options of the Smart mode built into the app allow you to very quickly and easily shoot some impressive short clips for social media with very little effort and no editing application required.
And while the live streaming might be a little awkward if you want to go to Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, the fact that it has a built-in stabilised selfie stick and lets you quickly flick between horizontal and vertical orientation for different platforms is going to be a huge bonus for those who like to walk and talk while they live.
While you could use the Zhiyun Smooth X just to document what you see and what’s going on around you, it is primarily focused towards those who really want to be a part of the content themselves. So, if that’s what you want in a gimbal, this is probably the best option I’ve tried so far.