Zhiyun sent AH the new Crane 2S Pro Kit for review including every single possible optional accessory. The Zhiyun Crane 2S is mainly for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Even though many modern cameras and lenses have built-in stabilization, professionals and content creators still prefer gimbals for extremely stable handheld video.
Zhiyun has refreshed pretty much their entire gimbal lineup in 2020 including the new Crane 2S. Here at AndroidHeadlines we reviewed the updated smartphone gimbal Smooth XS back in October. Retail price of the Zhiyun Crane 2S is $599 with the Pro-Kit costing $849.
The Crane 2S features improved responsiveness, a vertical quick-release mount for social media content creation, and axis locks for easier storage, setup, and balancing. Moreover, key functions of the gimbal are easily accessible via the screen and controls on the handle. Pre-set cinematic modes such as time-lapse, motion-lapse, and panoramas require pairing with the Android or iOS app.
Zhiyun Crane 2S hardware looks and feels premium
The materials used in making the various parts of the 2S feel premium and the build quality is superb. I have a background in machined metal components and the Zhiyun 2S looks like an aerospace tolerance precision-crafted device. The fit, finish including the anodized surface are top quality and a joy to look at.
One thing to note is that the grip is large but that is because it contains three 2600 mAh batteries. The outer surface of the grip has the carbon fiber texture to aid in gripping the gimbal. However, it is not that grippy in real life. I personally would have preferred that Zhiyun put the same rubberized texture surface that is on the tripod on the grip as well.
The control buttons and dials provide good feedback and are easy to manipulate during the regular use of the gimbal. One issue that is common to most gimbals is that the rear arm blocks the LCD on the camera. That issue is also present with the Crane 2S. However, the optional phone holder with a camera capable of wireless transmission can overcome this hurdle. So this is one issue to keep in mind in terms of the overall design of the Crane 2S.
To summarize the hardware, the build quality is excellent. However, there are a couple of minor issues that impact overall performance. First is that the rear arm covers the camera LCD screen. Second issue is that the grip is a bit large and lacks texture.
Features including battery life
Crane 2S is compatible with a wide variety of cameras specifically DSLR and mirrorless cameras. For serious cinematography, the higher version Crane 3S is better suited to handle the heavier cameras. Zhiyun claims high load capacity for the 2S but for some weird reason though the rated payload capacity is not in the spec sheet. However, the list of cameras that are supported is 18 pages long so chances are pretty good that your camera is on the list. Zhiyun does advertise support for large cameras such as the BMPCC 6K, Panasonic S1H, Canon EOS 1DX Mark II, Nikon D850 to name a few.
One new feature is the 'Axis Locking Mechanism 2.0'. This new locking mechanism has a two-phase locking design. There is one for each axis arm and is relatively easy to use specifically due to the marked slider locks. Additionally, the modular design prevents any swinging motion during travel or storage.
Speaking of axis mobility, the mechanical and tilt ranges are from -80º to 135º, roll -35º to 35º, and pan -180º to 180º. This results in amazing versatility while using the 2S and helps to prevent bounce as you approach the gimbal's rotation limits.
As far as mounting the camera goes the Crane 2S features a new FlexMount System. This allows secure mounting of the camera with a double safety mechanism. An additional feature here is the ability to adjust the tightness of the safety lock based on personal preference.
In the smartphone era, more people watch video on mobile devices versus traditional TV or computer monitors. To capture great quality vertical video, Zhiyun 2S has a vertical quick-release mount and a safety lock on the tilt axis. For vertical mode, it is advisable to use the lens support to prevent the lens from leaning down. Also smaller DSLRs need the camera backing base which is what I did with my old DSLR camera.
There are three batteries (18650 mAh Li-ion) powering the Crane 2S and Zhiyun claims up to 12-hours of standard runtime. For my entire review time, I didn't have to recharge the Crane 2S. Of course, professional filmmakers might need charging every day.
Another update is the new 0.96" OLED screen. The new screen offers a larger viewing area and allows quick scrolling through the menu along with rapidly switching modes. Finally, there are multiple mounting points on the Crane 2S to allow for full creative adaptation.
Once the camera is mounted you can mount a lot of extra accessories on this Crane 2S. This includes mounting accessories for a smaller vlogging camera and even a smartphone. There's a sling grip handle to help stabilize the two cameras and the smartphone as well. Rounding out the accessories is a Focus/Zoom Control Motor and an Image Transmitter. The image transmission gadget comes in handy during team collaboration where one person is handling the gimbal and the other one is controlling the features remotely on the ZY Play app.
Lots of attention to focus options from a features standpoint
CRANE 2S has a lot of options for focus. The gimbal supports digital focus control via the built-in focus wheel on the grip. Zhiyun has improved the rotation dampening of the focus wheel with this new version. Digital focus control is however available for a specific set of cameras and lenses. It is best to refer to the Camera Compatibility List for all compatible cameras and lenses.
With the optional focus/zoom control motor Zhiyun is claiming ultra-low delay and high precision to capture the shot. My lens was only 3X and so I had limited options in fully testing out this option. Again I stress that it is best to look at the compatible camera and lens list prior to purchasing this optional accessory.
Connectivity and ZY Play App for Android
Using the gimbal via a smartphone requires the ZY Play App version 2.6.6 for Android via Play Store. Additionally, to activate and set up the gimbal you need to log in or create an account using the ZY Play app. Downloading the app and creating an account takes a couple of minutes. Upon first connection, the app indicated a new firmware update. In less than 10 minutes the ZY Play app updated the firmware and the Crane 2S was ready for use.
Connecting the Crane 2S to the camera is wired or wireless depending on the model. Control is feasible via the screen and dial on the 2S. I tried controlling the gimbal using the phone mounted on the attachment and found that to be a bit more easy and intuitive. But it's nice to see that there are options for people with different preferences.
The calibration menu in the app does make that task somewhat easy and the process isn't too hard. But the instructions on performing the calibration aren't the clearest.
For my camera, the lowest strength setting works best. It's great to see that the Crane 2S can accommodate much heavier cameras as well despite not disclosing payload. Once calibration and basic settings are out of the way using the gimbal is quite simple as the screenshots from the app indicate.
The camera button lets you select Panorama, Time Lapse, and Trajectory Photography. Tapping the logo next to the three dots on the right-hand side allows for various follow and lock modes including POV and Vortex for those cool spiral clips. Another nice thing at least on paper is that the Android app seems to have features similar to those on iOS app.
Overall use case review of the Zhiyun Crane 2S
First off using the Crane 2S with one camera is fairly quick and easy. I don't think that the setup time was too cumbersome for a DSLR compared to say a smartphone gimbal like the Smooth XS. All the levers have a satisfying click in terms of unlocking or locking things in. Additionally, these locks make it easy to use the gimbal and also in terms of storage and travel.
As soon as power is turned on the Crane 2S deftly parks the camera in the correct starting position. The movements are fluid and smooth without any noise whatsoever and the motor is powerful to hoist the camera like a lightweight ping pong ball.
During regular use, the arm in front of the camera LCD is an issue but I guess you just learn to live with it and move on. There is however a lot of clearance especially with my smaller DSLR so this issue wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. But with a larger camera, I can see this being an issue. However, all is not bad because the higher arm allows for slightly higher flexibility in adding accessories or a second camera in the case of the 2S. If the LCD view is critical then I think having a mobile phone as a monitor is something you should definitely consider.
Now there is a workaround that Zhiyun offers if your camera doesn’t have a flip screen and the gimbal motor is obstructing your view of the screen. The extension on the back arm can be removed using the allen wrench key in the box. Once that extension is out of the way the LCD visibility improves dramatically. Just note that the instruction manual is a bit sparse on this description.
With one camera on the Crane 2S, the performance is excellent. Having mostly used mobile phone gimbals I was pleasantly surprised how well the Crane 2S handles a heavier camera. My level of expertise in terms of using a gimbal is between a beginner and intermediate. So for folks with a lot of gimbal experience will be better able to appreciate how fast the 2S reacts and is ready to shoot pictures or video.
A gimbal is all about stabilization and the Crane 2S is rock solid in that department. The motor will compensate for any minor error in balancing the camera in terms of slack which is a great bonus. The Crane 2S is primarily for larger cameras and lenses and there seems to be plenty of room to keep the camera from bumping into the motor. However, since my camera is smaller and older, I didn't encounter any issues whatsoever.
Took me a little while to figure out how to mount my Sony ZV-1 just to try out the DualCam Extension Module. But as you can see in the pictures it is definitely possible so if certain scenarios demand the use of two cameras this is a good accessory to have handy. The smartphone mount and the sling grip handle are easy to install and use.
Testing the new flex mount system which allows switching from horizontal to vertical video is a breeze. Just remove the camera from the horizontal plate and press the top gold button and slide the camera with the plate in. Really quick and easy. During the test, this ease of setup became quite obvious.
Another aspect of the Crane 2S that is really nice are the extremely sturdy locks on the various arms. These help in storage and travel and once shooting is over to help keep the camera in a steady position versus dangling from the gimbal.
Once the gimbal is powered on you notice the decent size screen to help navigate the menus better. And the controls and power button are in a convenient location for a quick start. The Pan Follow Mode is the one that will see the most use. Then there's Lock Mode but that requires joystick use on the gimbal to make any further movements once locked.
For Follow Mode, you can tilt and pan but that is by moving the main handle around. I am a novice but a few YouTube videos are sufficient to learn the various modes. Then there's the POV mode which should come in handy while filming moving subjects. And since it is so easy to go to vertical with the fast switching on the Crane 2S, the Vortex Mode should let you create really cool Instagram stories with spiral effects.
Zhiyun Crane 2S Conclusion
As someone who primarily reviews mobile tech gear, the Zhiyun Crane 2S is quite intimidating during initial setup and use. But over the review period, it is clear that this is an easy to use gimbal, especially with one camera. Overall the gimbal does its job well, the app has a decent amount of preset modes. And there are accessories galore available for serious filmmakers. If you are looking for a versatile yet easy to balance gimbal, the Zhiyun Crane 2S should be on your list.