The Zhiyun-Tech CRANE-M3 is a small gimbal that packs a big punch.
When I first heard about the CRANE-M3, I won't lie—it took me a moment to understand its specific purpose, or at least what specifically it was bringing to the table amid Zhiyun's already fantastic line-up of gimbals.
It's so small, you kind of assume it would really only be good for maybe phone gimbal work, or perhaps maxing out with point-and-shoot style cameras with a built-in lens. Although I knew that Zhiyun already had some offerings available for that type of shooter, so I wasn't really sure what the point was. That was—until I started using it.
For travel shoots and vlog-style content alike, this thing will give your mirrorless camera those smooth shots without weighing down your backpack.
The CRANE-M3 is so much more powerful than it looks. The motors on this thing are rock solid and easily the most responsive motors that Zhiyun has released yet.
My main concern with a small gimbal like this is that because of the size you won't get as much smoothness as you might expect. Heavier and bigger things just tend to be easier to keep smooth. With the CRANE-M3, the motors are somehow just so responsive that you can get very surprisingly smooth shots at all times. Kind of one of those things you have to try to believe.
I used this gimbal mainly with a Fuji X-T4, with lenses that were probably on the higher end of what this gimbal will allow (including an X-Mount to EF adapter), and it held up to the weight surprisingly well. I even ran it the majority of the time almost purposefully unbalanced, just because of the lenses that I own.
As that case may be, If you are a mirrorless shooter (Sony a7 IV and the like) you're going to love this thing, especially if you're shooting with native lenses.
Handy Inputs and Outputs
One thing that I really love about this gimbal is that they've included some really handy inputs and outputs for making the use of an external microphone much less of a hassle.
Pictured below, there is a dedicated mic line output that you can run directly to the camera so that you can keep your mic separate from all of the motors. There are also the usual camera control outputs that you're used to seeing with their previous gimbals as well.
With the optional audio input module that goes directly into the bottom of the rig, you can plug your microphone straight into the gimbal, then run your audio from the little output on the top, and you have a really nice compact audio setup without dealing with balancing your microphone along with your camera and lenses.
I've always done this frustrating process of trying to run a mic cable from a mic (mounted to a side handle or Israeli arm) and into the camera directly, which means that your range of motion is severely limited. With this setup, you can have the full range of motion, clean sound, and whatever microphone setup you like to use.
However as you may notice above, Zhiyun also has a new microphone available, which comes as part of the pro package. The microphone package comes with a handy coiled audio cable that plugs directly into the expanded camera control/audio module.
Other Handy Features
The CRANE-M3 also includes a built-in LED light.
This is a fully dimmable high CRI LED light that is also bi-color. There is a little knob right on the side of the gimbal that allows you to control all of this. This would obviously be super useful for any sort of walk-and-talks or showroom floor type coverage. However, I got more use of it personally just as a nice utility light when I was out in dark areas in the field.
The quick-release system with the CRANE-M3 is also really intuitive, fast, and swappable on a camera-by-camera basis. If you want to swap between your mirrorless camera to your cell phone, you can do it without touching a single screwdriver. It's a really well-thought-out system that is very modular.
It has a built-in battery, which can run for around 8 hours depending on your setup and can also be operated simultaneously while charging (you can charge with an external battery bank during use).
Who Is the CRANE-M3 For?
The CRANE-M3 is the ultimate vlogging and travel gimbal. It's super light, it's super powerful, and it's very modular.
One thing I've learned in the last couple of years is just how much I need to embrace the new wave of super high-quality smaller setups. You can get the same quality now from a tiny little 3-pound setup that you can get from a giant fully kitted-out cinema rig, and that's just becoming more and more true.
If you're doing any sort of travel vlogging or remote doc work, I'd highly recommend giving this little powerful gimbal a try.
The CRANE-M3 Pro Kit (with all accessories) comes in at about $650.