We put four popular models from DJI, Hohem, Moza, and Zhiyun through the paces and picked the one we like best. Here's what we learned.
Left to right: Moza Mini MX 2, Hohem iSteady V2, DJI Osmo OM5, and Zhiyun Smooth 5
By Jesse Will
Maybe you have aspirations to quit your day job and become a professional YouTuber. Or maybe you think your dance moves are good enough to make a TikTok worthy of going viral. Or you just want to get a polished recording of your daughter dancing across the stage in the school production of “Annie.” In any of those situations, you’re going to want the smoothest, cleanest video possible.
And that means it might be time to buy a smartphone gimbal.
Let’s assume you’re using a smartphone, because, hey, that’s the video recorder you almost always have near at hand. While phone footage has improved dramatically of late, thanks to better low-light performance, sharper cameras with multiple focal lengths, and better image processing (including formats like ProRes), your videos can look even better with a gimbal.
What’s a gimbal? A handheld device that steadies your smartphone as you shoot, ensuring velvety smooth footage and making your cinematic efforts look more, well, cinematic.
For roughly $100 to $200, you can buy a gimbal that will help you capture sophisticated panning shots that once required bulky tripods or hulking Steadicams. The output looks so polished that even directors like Steven Soderbergh have embraced the device: A few years ago, he used a prior version of the DJI Osmo below and an iPhone to shoot the feature film “High Flying Bird.”
Wielding a phone instead of a camera rig was “one of the most liberating experiences” he’s ever had as a filmmaker, he has said.
With that in mind, I set out to find the best smartphone gimbal for would-be cinematographers like you, selecting four popular models with similar features, specs, prices, and availability. Then I spent almost a month shooting with them in Texas and California, using an iPhone 8 and an iPhone 13 mini.
To gauge the smoothness, I took video while walking, running, and descending stairs—employing both the gimbals’ apps and the iPhones’ native camera app—then compared the footage on a laptop. I also evaluated features like motion tracking by shooting moving cars and panning around fixed objects in a park.
Here are the results.
Editor's Choice: DJI Osmo OM5
Photo: Jesse Will
Cost: $159Where to buy: Amazon, Best Buy, DJI
In my view, DJI’s latest gimbal, the OM 5, is the best choice for most amateur shooters. The folding design is compact and lightweight (at just under 300 grams), despite concealing a nearly 9-inch (215-millimeter), built-in extension rod that enables you to film from a more diverse array of angles. None of the other models has this feature.
And while the gimbal’s app isn’t perfect (you’ll groan every time it suggests one of the software’s scripted shooting templates, until you turn the feature off), I find it to be among the least glitchy, with an active customer service arm that can help you troubleshoot problems.
Other gimbals require some fussing to get them balanced and ready to shoot, but I had the OM 5 ready to go in seconds, simply by unfolding it, fixing the phone in its magnetic clamp, and turning it on.
In terms of steadying shots, the Hohem and the Zhiyun models featured below produced ever-so-slightly smoother footage in my apples-to-apples walking and running comparison. But the minimal trade-off is offset by the OM 5’s ease of use, portability, and more polished software. Even the battery life—the shortest in our sample group at a manufacturer-claimed 6½ hours—is sufficient for essentially a full day of shooting.
The Pro Choice: Zhiyun Smooth 5
Photo: Jesse Will
Cost: $169Where to buy: Adorama, Amazon, Zhiyun
The Smooth 5 belongs in a slightly different class from the other gimbals here: It’s bigger and heavier (at 615 grams, more than twice the weight of the OM 5), and it offers advanced controls, status lights, and an oversized dial for zooming in and out.
Getting it ready to run requires a bit longer than other models—you not only have to unlock a few of the arms but also often need to switch a toggle and manually balance the arm that holds your smartphone.
That heft and build allows the Smooth 5 to carry a slightly heavier payload, including phones up to 300 grams, versus the OM 5’s 290-gram limit. For reference, even the massive iPhone 13 Pro Max weighs just 240 grams, but some videographers utilize add-on smartphone lenses from companies like Moment, which can tack on weight.
The extra control, combined with the fact that the phone mount starts off in a horizontal orientation (native to YouTube) rather than the more selfie-minded vertical orientation (native to TikTok), gives the Smooth 5 a more professional feel.
The design allows a greater range of movement than you get from the other gimbals here, so your phone’s camera can tilt higher or lower for more extreme angles.
And the gimbal does excel at making your footage look as though it was captured by a dolly.
However, shooting with the model’s ZY Cami software leaves much to be desired: It’s glitchy and intrusive, and it seems more set on getting you to share videos on the product’s own social network than helping you get great footage. As a result, you’ll most likely find yourself forgoing some features to shoot in your phone’s native camera app.
The Budget Pick: Hohem iSteady V2
Photo: Jesse Will
Cost: $111-$129Where to buy: Amazon, Hohem, Walmart
It’s alive! Unlike the other gimbals on our list, this one has some hardware smarts—an onboard vision sensor, namely—that allows it to track faces or objects even without using the gimbal’s proprietary app to shoot.
That means you can employ gesture control to start or stop filming or change the gimbal’s shooting orientation from landscape to portrait mode, all while using your phone’s dedicated camera app. (This doesn’t allow you to sidestep Hohem’s ecosystem entirely, though. You still have to download the app and register your device to use it.)
The iSteady V2 is the most compact gimbal in this review and weighs the least—263 grams—so it’s easily packable, if a bit delicate-seeming. It features 9 hours of battery life per charge, according to Hohem. There’s also an onboard LED light. It’s not strong enough to brighten a whole scene, but it can take away some of the shadowing on your face in a selfie video.
Performance-wise, the iSteady V2 proves very adept at doing the basic work of gimbal-ing: It was among the best at capturing smooth and steady video from a walk. But the software lags behind that of the other models. The object-tracking feature had more trouble than the three alternatives in maintaining a fixed point when I was shooting in the late afternoon sun in the Mojave desert. The footage captured in the Hohem app took on strange tones compared with the stuff shot on the iPhone’s camera app, too.
The Problematic Pick: Moza Mini MX 2
Photo: Jesse Will
Cost: $109Where to buy: Gudsen
The battleship gray Moza Mini MX 2 feels substantial in the hand, with good reason: It boasts a 2,000-milliamp-hour battery good for 24 hours of use, according to the manufacturer—by far the longest in our sample group. Even better, you can plug your phone into it and use it as a battery bank. (The Hohem model above also has this option.)
While those features are useful, the one Moza touts the most is the motorized mount, which automatically clamps its rubberized grip safely around your phone, sensing when the device is secure.
In theory, this allows you to mount the phone with only one hand. In practice, though, you need a second hand to press the power button, so I find the feature’s utility to be somewhat dubious. It’s slower than just mounting the phone manually, too. Worse yet, I couldn’t always get the clamp to open and close on demand. At times, I actually had to push the phone out of it.
The MX 2 features fewer buttons than other models, so you find yourself touching the screen more often to access features, and while there’s a light to show you how much battery power remains, there’s nothing to reveal what shooting mode you’re in. The gimbal’s shallow pistol-grip can feel a bit awkward in the hand, as well.
For as stripped down as the model may seem, though, it delivers on the functionality you expect from a gimbal, from gesture control to “Inception” mode, which spins the phone’s camera in a circle, creating a barrel-roll effect similar to scenes from the Christopher Nolan blockbuster.
How Smartphone Gimbals Work
Much like drones, handheld gimbals rely on a suite of accelerometers, gyroscopes, and brushless motors to self-balance and keep your phone steady as you move. An IMU—or “inertial measurement unit”—records the phone’s motions on three axes: pitch, or tilting up and down; yaw, which is rotating from side to side; and roll, the kind of rotation a plane performs when it dips a wing (which allows some gimbals to create the Inception mode’s spiraling, barrel-roll effect, mentioned above).
While you shoot, a gimbal’s software uses an algorithm to determine whether each of the movements it detects are intentional, so it can counteract the shakiness of an unsteady hand with its three silent motors, while understanding that you’re recording your child’s sprint from home plate to first base in the Little League championship game. (Otherwise it might just keep your phone aimed at the batter’s box.)
The smoothing effect is like that of a rolling dolly shot. It makes it look like the camera is floating through the air.
In addition to the IMU and three motors, gimbals share other commonalities: Each has a grip you hold like a tennis racket, along with a clip to secure your phone to the motorized arm. While the grips usually don’t extend, holding a gimbal like a “selfie stick” does allow you to access more dynamic angles. It’s easier to shoot close to the ground, for example, even while walking.
Each of the four models I evaluated have a battery that recharges via a USB-C cable and a series of buttons and triggers that can stop and start recording, zoom in or out, pan up or down, and more.
Use the Tripod to Film YourselfIn addition to acting like a selfie stick, each gimbal comes with a small folding tripod matched with a ¼-inch thread hole, so you can set the device on a table, the ground, or a taller tripod, and capture your on-camera greatness without help from anyone else. The gimbals even allow you to track motion, such as a person—maybe you—dancing in the kitchen or a dog running across the yard.
Dig Into the Manufacturer App for Trick ShotsSome of the cooler gimbal-enabled shots are tucked inside the gadgets’ proprietary apps. That’s where you’ll find the barrel-roll-like Inception mode (noted above) and “hyperlapse,” which creates sophisticated time-lapse videos of, say, a 2-hour walk shortened to 10 seconds.
Don’t Abandon Your Phone’s Native Camera AppWhile you can’t access those special modes or track motion (except with the Hohem) outside the gimbal’s app, there are definite upsides to shooting with your phone’s native camera app.
For one, these gimbals do their main job—stabilizing a shot—perfectly fine with the phone’s app.
Two, the gimbal-maker apps all tend to be buggier than the phone apps.
And three, in some instances, the gimbal apps store the footage you’ve shot in the app itself instead of your phone’s camera roll, so the recording might not get safely preserved if you back up your photos to the cloud.
This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ Outside the Labs reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings.
OurOutside the Labs reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity, and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article may not currently be in CR’s ratings, they might eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.
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