Zhiyun Smooth 4 full review

The choice of smartphone gimbals is ever expanding and Zhiyun is another company with plenty of experience in making camera stabilisers.

The Smooth 4 is inexpensive and has a substantial redesign compared to the Smooth 3. There’s a large wheel on the side which you won’t find on other gimbals which is for zoom and focus, and there are plenty of buttons on the front so you don’t have to tap on the phone screen while shooting.

Is the right gimbal for you? Let’s get into it.

Smooth 4: Price & availability

The Smooth 4 costs £109 from Amazon, or $119 from Amazon US.

That makes it one of the cheaper options, and a good £20 cheaper than DJI’s Osmo Mobile 2.

It comes with a polystyrene-type carry case and a fold-up mini tripod which attaches to the base and allows the gimbal to work hands-free for taking panoramic photos and video time-lapse.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 review

Smooth 4: Features & design

So we’ve mentioned the wheel, but that’s not the only unusual design aspect.

On most gimbals – in fact every other one we’ve seen – there’s a joystick on the front. That’s used for adjusting the pan and tilt of the camera manually, but there isn’t one on the Smooth 4.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 review

Instead, you have to hold the trigger on the back and then move the handle in the direction you want the camera to turn. The trigger has two buttons and the lower one is for slower, smoother movement, but holding the upper one allows the gimbal to move much faster which can be useful when you want fast transitions.

It takes some getting used to, and we still prefer a joystick even after testing the Smooth 4 for a couple of weeks.

We’d be happier to accept the system if the handle and trigger were more ergonomically designed. Instead of a cylindrical design, Zhiyun has gone for a rectangle which isn’t comfortable to hold, particularly because it’s wider than it is deep. Rotate it 90 degrees and it’s much more comfortable to hold, but the buttons and trigger aren’t reachable.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 review

The trigger is also a bit too high when holding the handle lower down, where it’s more comfortable, and too low if you hold it higher up so you can reach all the buttons.  It’s not a complete deal-breaker, but it’s surprising to find such unergonomic handle design.

There are probably a few too many buttons, but one you will use is the switch just above the power button. It toggles between pan-follow and lock, but remember you still have to hold the trigger if you want to tilt the camera up or down.

The phone clamp has strong springs which hold your phone tightly, but it’s quite tricky to get the phone in there in the first place. You can unscrew the clamp and rotate it 90 degrees so your phone shoots in portrait mode if that’s what you want.

A nice feature – which all gimbals should have – is a retaining clip which holds the arms in place in the closed position. It’s also a switch, and puts the gimbal to sleep when you close it. However, it still suffers from the same problem as some rivals: if you extend the arm to counter-balance taller, heavier phones, you can’t close it as the motors hit each other. This means you have to unscrew and reset the arm every time you want to put it to sleep or pack it away.

Zhiyun provides a micro USB port near the phone clamp for charging your phone, but provides no cables to do so. So you’ll have to source your own.

Software

The ZY play app is available for iOS and Android, but you can’t use all the features on Android. Also, some capabilities will be limited by your phone model.

Use the ZY play app and you get access to the full range of features, but some aren’t really worth bothering with. Zhiyun makes a big deal of the Vertigo feature, which uses the zoom wheel to re-create the effect from the film of the same name.

The problem is that, unlike on DJI and Parrot drones which also have this dolly zoom effect, the Smooth 4’s is cumbersome to set up and relies on your skill at zooming and walking backwards which means you’re unlikely to get good results. Plus, the zoom isn’t smooth: it’s jerky. As with other gimbals, zoom is purely in software and can’t use your phone’s telephoto camera.

The ZY play app offers subject tracking, but as we’ve found with others, it’s simply not as good as DJI’s implementation and doesn’t reliably track people, especially if they’re moving quickly across the frame. That's surprising as we've heard great things about the tracking system on the Smooth Q.

The good news is that, thanks to a partnership between Zhiyun and FiLMiC, the excellent FiLMic Pro app is fully compatible with the Smooth 4 and instantly paired with it on the iPhone. This means you can use the zoom/focus wheel - something that wasn't possible just a few months ago. You can also use switch between standard, telephoto and selfie cameras and select Reticles, Full Auto and Manual shooting modes.

If you’re serious about shooting good video, and you must be if you’re reading a gimbal review, it’s well worth investing in this app and all of the Smooth 4’s buttons work with it.

Performance

We tested with an iPhone X and found it fitted well in the Smooth 4’s clamp. The iPhone XS Max is a little too big and heavy and even at full extension, the arm couldn’t properly balance it, so must have used more battery power to keep it horizontal.

As mentioned, it can take a while to adjust to using the trigger when you want to tilt, but persevere and you can get the desired results. What we couldn't get used to was the gimbal regularly going floppy when moved too quickly when using the ZY play app. We also had a couple of connection issues where it could see it in the list of devices, but wouldn't immediately connect.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 review

For all our gripes about the Smooth 4’s design, it produces wonderfully stable footage. Whether you're stood still, walking or even running, the Smooth 4 lives up to its name and allows you to shoot usable video where the phone on its own simply wouldn't be able to cope. 

You might find it's best to use your phone's native camera app to get access to all the available modes. For example we found we couldn't select 25fps in the app at 1080p or 4K, but using the native app we could. It does mean you can't use the gimbal's buttons, though, so it's not a wonderful workaround.

Verdict

Not simply a clone, the Smooth 4 offers some features you won't find elsewhere but although the ideas are commendable, execution could be better. It still does a good job at stabilising your phone's video though.

Ultimately, the saving grace is the price: if it were any more expensive we’d recommend you buy the Osmo 2. But if you want to save a little money, it will do a good job.

Specs

Zhiyun Smooth 4: Specs

  • Dimensions: 123x105x328mm (WDH)
  • Weight: 547g
  • Max phone weight: 210g
  • Max phone width: 85mm