The days of needing specialized, persnickety tools and weeks of training to “fly a camera” are, for the most part, over, especially when dealing with smaller cameras. It’s the details that make the difference, and it’s in the details where the Zhiyun Crane 2 shines. Robust and thoughtfully designed, you can unpack and shoot with a stripped-down package, or build up your rig to take advantage of all the Crane 2 offers. One of the more interesting aspects of the Crane 2 is the ZY Play app, powerful and useful, which I'll discuss later.
I've been working with gimbals and, I wonder, what is it that separates one from the other? How do you choose? It seems the defining choices concern weight capacity, battery life, comfort, and functionality. I've worked with the Crane v2 (not to be confused with the Crane 2) gimbal in the past, but I wasn't a huge fan, because it had a very small-diameter handle. That would seem to be a good thing, but I found that I had to work harder to hold onto a slimmer gimbal handle than I do with a heftier one. Thankfully, the Crane 2 is appropriately beefy, and not fatigue inducing, which was the first nice surprise.
It’s Dark, and that is Good
Opening the box revealed a carry case, with all the components tucked inside. The batteries charged quickly and I was ready to go. The Crane 2 is almost entirely black when assembled, except for one small bright red highlight, where the handle/battery cover threads on. Sure, there are some grayish index markings on the balance plate but, otherwise, an elegant semi-gloss black. It just feels right. I don't need the brightly colored accent knobs on the adjustment levers, I just want something that is simple, easy to use, and helps me get the shots I want. This is where the Crane 2 excels.
The Big Stuff
The Crane 2 has an OLED info screen, a joy stick, a menu dial, mode button, a power on/off button, and a focus control wheel. There are three modes: Pan Following, Following, and Lock. You can invert easily enough, which doesn't require a mode, just a simple maneuver, and boom—you are inverted. Maneuvering the gimbal back to upright position is simple enough. Pressing the mode button toggles you between the three modes. It will also put you in “selfie” position and take you out again very easily. Best of all, if you manage to make the gimbal go wonky, holding down the mode button will reset it to ready position without restarting.
The menu wheel presents you with a variety of options: sensitivity, motor, camera, calibrate, and reverse. I will say that I was shooting with a Panasonic GH5, and I put the motor up too high, from the default of low. Don't do this—there is no need to peg things at 11 in this business. The gimbal started to shake badly when the motor was on high, so unless you need to change things, the default settings work well. You should take some time to play around with the settings, of course, but out of the box, the gimbal is good to go for most of what you might require of it. There is also the downloadable app that allows you to fine-tune the gimbals settings, and we’ll discuss that soon.
The gimbal has a camera-connection port, and you can use the included cables to connect your camera to the gimbal and gain control. With the GH5, control was limited to start/stop by pressing the menu dial, although if your camera is set to autofocus mode, the menu dial can be used, pressed halfway, to activate the autofocus, then pressed all the way to act as the start/stop trigger. If you are using a Canon or Nikon camera, you can even realize electronic focus control and camera parameter settings to control focus through the gimbal itself. In the future, I'd like to see more integration with the Panasonic cameras.
More than Just an App
The ZY Play app runs on iOS and Android. I used the iOS version. While the Crane 2 gimbal is easy to set up, the app requires a bit more attention. The first thing you will notice is that the app works with a variety of Zhiyun gimbals, so once you launch it, swipe to find your gimbal. Connection is easy, via Bluetooth. After that, though, it becomes more complicated. Take your time pressing all the buttons and exploring. The app allows you to access the same settings found on the gimbal, but it also does significantly more.
Tap on the icon that looks like an abstraction of the gimbal, on the same row with the app's home button, which looks like a house. This menu offers “Scene Mode,” “Application Mode,” and “Remote Control.” Application mode is the one that interested me, because using it, I can select an area of the image on the phone and have the gimbal track it. That is, I can make the gimbal follow the phone movements, without having to access the joystick remote on the app. This is going to take some practice, and it took me a while to figure out how to set this all up, so I'll share with you what I learned and spare you some trial and error.
On the iOS app, when you are in the apps screen, there is a photo trigger/video start/stop “button.” To the left is a slider for photo/video. On the other side of the screen is an icon of a house, and next to that is an icon that looks either like a filmstrip with sprockets or a box with frame guides. Select Photo on the slider next to the start/stop button—you will know you are in the right position when the icon next to the house no longer looks like a filmstrip. If it looks like a filmstrip, then when you press it, it will show you default, slow motion, time lapse, and moving time lapse. We want the other menu, the one that looks like a box with frame guides. Open that menu and then (I like to) set it to panoramic, which becomes important when you get an error message suggesting you set the camera to landscape mode. I believe they want you to select panoramic, when the app asks for landscape mode—setting it to panoramic stopped the error messages. At this point, you will want to activate the Bluetooth function; we have already paired the phone with the gimbal when we started, but trust me, find the white Bluetooth icon, tap on it, and when it finds the gimbal, the dialog box will close and the Bluetooth icon will be blue. You are ready to go.
Go to the icon that looks like a DSLR, next to the icon that has the frame-guide box, open it, and select Manual mode and Grid. I like the grid and diagonal. Now you are ready. On the other side of the screen, there should be an icon that looks like a round target. Press that and the center turns red. You should be able to see an image from your phone’s camera. Select and drag a box with your finger around a point. The gimbal will now move on its own, trying to get that selection to the center of the screen. Mount your device on top of your camera, select an area as above, and now your Crane 2 will track that as you move, one-person motion tracking for super-smooth moves and no overshooting or jerking a joystick. Pretty sweet. When working this way, I did find it useful to up the sensitivity and motor power to middle, but with practice you will figure out your best settings.
The Crane 2 is more comfortable to use, for me, than the first Crane. It is well thought out, easy to use as a simple gimbal, but with the addition of the app, it goes from a simple stabilizer to an advanced production tool that opens creative possibilities. Have you worked with the Crane 2 or tried the app? Please feel free to share your thoughts and any useful tips below.