Zhiyun Crane M2 Review with Fujifilm X-T30


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Introduction

After switching from the Panasonic G85 to the Fujifilm X-T30 for video work, I knew that I was going to miss the IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation). So, one of the first things I had to buy was a gimbal.

After researching the gimbals that were available, I decided on the Zhiyun Crane M2. It’s small, light, has a good battery life, and is one of the cheapest gimbals available with enough grunt to carry the X-T30 and lens.

Fujifilm X-T30 – 383g (with battery and SD card)
Fujifilm XC 15-45mm F3. 5-5.6 OIS PZ – 136g
Total weight: 519g

The maximum payload for the Crane M2 is 720 grams. Since The X-T30 and the 15-45mm kit are so light, they are well under that with over 200 grams to spare.

First impressions were very good. I was impressed with the build quality, and the gimbal was as compact and as light as I’d expected, making it easy to slip into a small bag.

Charging is via USB and takes a couple of hours, after which you get about 5-6 hours of use with the X-T30. You can also charge it using any USB power bank while out in the field.

Zhiyun Crane M2 in case
Zhiyun Crane M2 in case

Balancing the X-T30 was pretty simple. It took about 10 minutes following the tutorial on Zhiyun’s YouTube channel and it’s something you only need to do once unless you’re using the gimbal with multiple different devices. When using the 15-45mm lens, it needs to be balanced with the camera turned on, since if you balance the camera with it switched off, it would be front-heavy when the camera turns on and the lens extends outwards.

Performance

Walking normally with the gimbal, the footage is quite smooth although you do get a bit of up down movement, kinda like the head bobbing effect in fps games. If you walk deliberately slower and more carefully, you can get smoother footage. What little movement is still visible could quite easily be smoothed out in post.

Using the gimbal upside down in underslung mode, with the camera very close to the ground works well and means you’re able to get some nice low angle footage. Some of my favourite shots are achieved with the gimbal attached to a tripod. It’s capable of producing some very smooth pedestal shots (moving upwards vertically from the ground) and some decent approximations of traditional slider shots.

Another nice feature is something Zhiyun calls the vortex mode, which spins the camera around its central axis for rotating shots. However, because fuji’s tripod screw hole is’t centred in the middle of the lens as it is with most cameras, the centre of rotation isn’t in the centre of the image as it would be with Sony or Panasonic for example.

Issues

It’s not possible to balance the Crane M2 with a microphone attached to the camera, not even a small microphone like the Rode Videomicro or the Boya BY-MM1.What Zhiyun recommends is to use the screw mount on the handle to attach a microphone. So I bought an articulating arm from smallrig to attach the microphone. This works, but it means you now have a cable going between the handle and the camera , limiting the functionality. You can’t use vortex mode any more, for example. It also blocked the pan axis of the gimbal, due to the thumb screw pointing directly down when tightened, hitting against the smallrig arm I was using for the mic.

Another issue was the software and support. I use macOS. If you go onto Zhiyun’s website, go to the download section, then change the language back to English from Russian, which it defaults to for some reason, then select the Crane M2, you’ll find a USB driver and calibration and upgrade tool available for both macOS and windows, along with the latest version of the firmware.

Your instinct would naturally be to download the USB driver first, install that, and then install the upgrade tool. However, if you dig a little further into the manual, you’ll find that the USB driver isn’t actually needed, neither for macOS nor for Windows 10. This begs the question, then, why have it on the website?

When I first bought the gimbal, I was never able to get Zhiyun’s software to connect, with or without the USB driver, so I had to keep running the firmware that it shipped with for the first three or four months. Eventually a new version of the update and calibration tool was released and I was finally able to upgrade the firmware. However, if you#re running Catalina in dark mode, you won’t be able to see any of the text, due to the tool using white text on a white background. so you have to change back to light mode first.

Joystick and record button on Crane M2
Joystick and record button on Zhiyun Crane M2

On the side of the Crane M2 you’ll find a zoom rocker switch for controlling the camera zoom, and underneath the joystick you’ll find a button to start and stop recording. None of these camera controls work with the X-T30. I was quite excited when, late last year, Fujifilm announced that new firmware was soon to be released for both the X-T3 and the X-T30 with gimbal and drone control. when the new X-T30 firmware eventually arrived last month, a new connection mode option was added which according to the manual, allowed control of the camera from drones and gimbals. However not other information was provided regarding which gimbals and drones the new features worked with.

After installing the new firmware I hound that I now had the new options available on my X-T30 under connection settings. With USB Movie Shooting Auto turned on, When connecting the camera to the USB-C port on the gimbal, nothing happened at all, and when connecting the camera to the Micro USB port here on the tilt axis, I was able to charge the camera using the gimbal, but still had no control.

Being able to power the camera from the gimbal is nice, but I’d recommend caution before trying even that. Because after leaving the camera charging for about 10 minutes, the gimbal motors stopped working completely. It still powers on, but the gimbal remains limp, and even updating the firmware has had no effect. So, the gimbal has to be shipped off to Germany for repair.

Zhiyun Crane M2 charging via USB-C
Zhiyun Crane M2 charging via USB-C

Conclusion

So, would I recommend buying the Crane M2 if you’re a Fuji user?

No, not really. If you’re just looking for a small, cheap gimbal and don’t mind that you’ll have no control over the camera, then perhaps, but it comes with caveats. I was relatively happy with the performance during the 6 months or so that I used it, but the lack of camera control is a real issue, as is the lack of software updates and sketchy support.

There are other gimbals much better suited for use with the X-T3 and X-T30. The Moza Aircross 2 and the DJI Ronin SC are now available for only slightly more money, and give you full control over Fujifilm cameras, as well as having a higher load capacity giving you more flexibility to use some of the bigger, heavier fuji lenses. That means there’s really no reason to choose the Crane M2 unless price is your only concern.