Mobile video content creation has been on a steep rise for the past few years. From the humble beginnings of Vine, right through to TikTok, people are creating so much more content on a daily basis than ever before. But, you’ll also notice that when you shoot video with your mobile phone, most of the time it’s probably being done handheld, and while the in-built stabilisation of modern mobile phones can cut out most that off-putting camera shake, it doesn’t get rid of it completely, especially if you’re in the midst of action. This is where a product like the Zhiyun Smooth X comes in.
The Zhiyun Smooth X is classed as a portable device, simply because it is so small. The gimbal itself when folded down to its smallest size measures at roughly 15cm, which is small enough to fit inside your backpack when you’re off on a trip somewhere. I wish I had something as small as this when we visited CES at the beginning of this year. Would have saved a lot of space lugging around heavy equipment.
The gimbal itself unfolds in three sections, which aid in its 2-axis stabilisation. There’s movement on the handle, as well as movement on the top clamp, where the phone is held in place. The stem itself can rotate into two different positions. One that sits at 90° and the second that sits at 180°.If you pull apart the gimbal handle, then it extends to a maximum of 53cm turning it into a somewhat unique selfie stick gimbal. The base of the stick also bends too, so you can get some real selfie action going on.
On the handle are two buttons and a thumbstick although the two buttons will really only work when you’re inside of the Zhiyun companion app. If you tap the left button once, it will recentre the phone, and two taps will swap between a vertical and horizontal viewpoint, which is a feature that’s going to be popular with the TikTok crowd out there. One tap on the right button activates the recording, and pressing it again stops recording. Or, with the partner app, the camera responds to gestures to control the gimbal, so you don’t need to press anything if you didn’t want to.
The thumbstick moves the head of the gimbal left and right and also rotate it. Because the Zhiyun Smooth X is only a 2-axis gimbal, there’s no yaw which is a little bit of a disappointment. On the right side of the grip there is also a zoom rocker which if you’re using your right hand, is easy to reach with your thumb. If you’re left handed, then you might struggle a bit to reach comfortably.
Lastly, the power button can be found halfway up the stick, which is a nice place for it, and avoids any accidental presses while in use. There’s also a battery indicator light which shows how much juice the Zhiyun Smooth X has left.
The app is definitely an interesting one indeed. It has everything you would expect for a mobile phone camera, like a standard mode with the ability to shoot in 720p, 1080p and 4K at 30fps in the standard mode, timelapse mode at the same resolutions, hyperlapse with a max resolution of 1080p and a max speed of 30 times the shot video, a photo mode and a panoramic photo mode. For some reason, on Android, a slow-motion feature is missing, which is a little disappointing. Not being able to produce some smooth slow motion action shots seems like a missed trick. It is apparently available on iOS devices as I’ve seen when researching the gimbal online.
In reality though, I found the actual stabilisation of this gimbal a mixed bag, especially for action shots as seen in our running test. Granted, it’s night and day difference between handheld and actually using the gimbal, but there is a jerky motion in vertical movement, and this comes down to the fact that the Zhiyun Smooth X is only a 2-axis gimbal. It’s missing that yaw feature, and it’s noticable. If it had this capability, then the footage would look a lot smoother. The gimbal worked far better when using it for those slow panning shots, where slow movements are used, or even when walking.
What the Zhiyun partner app does do, is have the ability to track a moving subject. However, in reality, I found this to be pretty inaccurate. Bare in mind I was using a Google Pixel 4 XL. When I was tracking myself walking from left to right, and also running from left to right, the app had issues actually tracking me, especially when I neared the side of the screen. Also, if I ran fast, the app would lose me all together. The app and gimbal also overcompensated a lot, and decided I was still moving, even though I had stopped within the frame.
There’s a few beauty modes too that’ll smooth out your skin and make yourself look skinnier in the face, although it wasn’t good enough to completely eradicate the double chin and lastly, you can stick some rosy cheeks on too.
The last feature of the app aids you in creating short movies with decent transitions between each scene. The scenes consist of 2.5 seconds or so for each segment, and you can add as much footage as you want to the editor, but of course, keep it short for social media use. This editor feature is perfect for those wanting to make quick and easy edits for social media use. The partner app gives you the ability to add your footage to Zhiyun’s own made templates, or even allows you to stick your own transitions in there between scenes. Don’t expect any kind of Premiere Pro type quality edits here. The user interface is a little fiddly, especially when it comes to shortening the clip you have selected, but it does the job. And to be honest, if you put some time in planning your shoot, then you’re definitely going to get a nice little video to share online.
There is a lot to love about the Zhiyun Smooth X gimbal, and its aid in creating smoother footage is definitely there, but it does come with its problems. For me, a Y-axis, or yaw movement is a must, especially if you’re going to be using this for run and gun action. Also, the fact the tracking was quite poor, meant that it would be hard to recommend this to someone who’s going to require the entire frame to capture action, like a skateboarder or gymnast for example who would flip across the frame. This will however, suit people who are part of the TikTok audience down to a tee, if all they’re going to be doing is some simple dance steps in front of the selfie lens, or even vloggers who are more than often going to be walking and talking to to their phones, or those wanting to capture their trips in a slightly smoother, more cinematic way.