Smartphones have led to an all-new way to enjoy photography. The process led to an all-new term – selfie – and an all-new accessory: the selfie stick. Sometimes that idea can be expanded, and that is what brings us to the Zhiyun Smooth-XS Gimbal.
Setting Up the Smooth-XS
A gimbal is a device that uses motors and sensors to steady the camera. The Zhiyun Smooth-XS Gimbal can work like a very small tripod to keep the camera steady or can be used as a selfie stick as well. Once you start pouring over the options, you realize the possibilities for this gimbal can be limitless.
Included in the box is:
- Gimbal (two pieces)
- Carrying strap
- USB-C charging cord
- Drawstring bag
- Instructional card
I always like it when devices come with USB-C capability, and it seems like more and more are, such as this device. The instructional literature was not enough to set it up or use it. It was just extra information the company wants you to know. It’s okay to have extra information and/or have instructions online or with an app, but it would help if that were labeled as such.
There are scan codes on the pamphlet so get the “activation tutorial” and “user guide.” The tutorial, however, is the app that is needed to pair and use the gimbal. The user guide is the most comprehensive material you will find for the Smooth XS Gimbal. However, to set it up, you need the app.
One thing you will need to refer to often is the diagram of the buttons and movable parts on the Smooth XS Gimbal. They all work in conjunction with each other to perform different functions. This is what leads to a learning curve for the device – there’s a lot to remember.
Before using the gimbal for the first time, it needs to be charged fully to activate the batteries. There is a USB-C charging port on the top half of the gimbal, which is called the stabilizer. Once the four indicator lights near the charging port turn white, the stabilizer is fully charged.
Slide the pan axis motor down the vertical arm of the stabilizer so that the contacts line up. Long-press the power button until the lights are steady to turn it on. Screw the bottom part of the gimbal, the tripod, into the stabilizer. At this point, either leave as is like a selfie stick or use the tripod to set it upright on a table, counter, etc.
Open the Zy Cami app that you downloaded when you scanned the code. Follow the prompts to set up an account and choose whether to allow it to use your location. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on on your phone, and follow the prompts to pair your phone, then log into your account to activate the gimbal.
Using the Smooth-XS
Make no doubt about it that the Smooth-XS is capable of doing many cool things. Yet again, there’s a learning curve with much to remember to use it, and you also have to have the right type of phone.
To use your phone with the Smooth-XS, you first need to mount your phone in the phone clamp. Rotate it 90º clockwise. The directions say to put your phone in with the camera to the left. But when you do that, there’s a blind spot. The camera needs to be to the right.
I first used the Smooth-XS with my iPhone 7. It had a bad selfie camera on it, so it wasn’t the best to use. You can see in the above two images shots I took of our sliding glass door: one landscape and one portrait. Once the gimbal turned the phone to portrait, there was a blind spot there on the right.
It’s also important to have the phone balanced. When you leave the clamp unlocked, which you need to do to move back and forth between portrait and landscape, the phone won’t move correctly and won’t be straight unless it’s balanced left to right. Additionally, an unbalanced phone uses more battery.
All control of the Smooth-XS is done from the controls on the stabilizer. Mostly it’s controlled through different combinations of the Mode and Photo/Video buttons, including switching back and forth between pan follow mode and standby and portrait and landscape. The joystick moves the camera around manually. There is also a Zoom slider on the side and a button that is steady or flashing to show which mode you’re in.
If the camera is in pan follow mode, the axis on the stabilizer and the phone clamp are unlocked, allowing for free movement. It has to be taken out of pan follow mode to set anything up, as it will start spinning around even when you have it in your hand.
It was difficult to remember which button combinations did what and whether it would work in standby or pan follow mode. I couldn’t always get it to perform the way I wanted it to.
Additionally, as I said before, I started with my old iPhone 7. Once I upgraded to the iPhone 12, I got great pictures with the better camera, but I could not get the phone balanced in the clamp. My case, which is lightweight, gave it too much girth. Additionally, I couldn’t move it further to the side, as I’d be covering the volume buttons. My iPhone 7 with a case did not have the same balance issues.
Additionally, some phones with volume buttons that work as camera shutter buttons don’t need the app to take pictures. Using the controls alone will work through this. Despite the fact my volume buttons work as shutter buttons, I could not operate my camera through the Smooth-XS unless I was in the app.
There is also an option if your hands are busy doing something while on camera to operate the Smooth-XS with a hand gesture. However, while it says it will work with photos and video in the instructional material, the option isn’t offered when taking photos, only video. By holding up a V with your fingers or waving your palm, you can get a video to start recording. Because it needed the app to work, this option did work on my phone.
Using as a Tripod vs. a Selfie Stick
The Smooth-XS can be used as either a tripod or a selfie stick.
When used as a tripod, the legs are spread out to balance it and set the height. It can either be used in locked mode or pan follow mode. If using the joystick to move it around, it has to be in pan follow mode. The joystick can move the phone 290º to the left and right and can move it up and down.
If you keep the tripod legs folded, you can pull down right below the motor on the stabilizer and extend a pole to turn the gimbal into a selfie stick. It will move with you as you walk when it’s unlocked and in pan follow mode. It leads to a more natural video than a more stationary selfie stick. All buttons work the same.
Within the Zy Cami app, there are also options for editing photos and video. Just choose the file to upload, and you have the typical editing functions form photo/video editors, such as adding music, subtitles, cropping, adding stickers, etc.
You can pick up a Zhiyun Smooth-XS Gimbal for yourself at a 16%, paying just $74.99.
Overall, there is just so much to the Smooth-XS, almost too much to be covered within a review. It just has so many different functions and has so many innovative functions, such as the pan follow mode.
But the multitude of function is an advantage as much as a disadvantage. It’s hard for it to truly excel at these functions when there are just so many. It’s a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. However, you can’t deny that it’s a fun product to use if you have the time to learn how to use it.