Rangefinder vs SLR: Pros and Cons of each and Comparison

One interesting discussion in the camera world is the difference between rangefinder vs SLR cameras. SLR cameras are undoubtedly the king of the camera industry today, but it seems that rangefinder cameras can take really good pictures, too, and in some cases, better than SLR cameras.

So that begs the question: how come SLR cameras are more dominant?

In this post, we’ll compare rangefinder and SLR cameras, and take a look at their pros and cons.

Leica M9 18MP Digital Range Finder Camera (Black, Body Only) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

Rangefinder cameras

Rangefinder cameras took a foothold in the camera market in the 1950s.

Rangefinder refers to the focusing mechanism used in these cameras. The camera uses two lenses to line up an image and once they line up, you’ll have a nicely focused, crisp image.

Unlike SLRs, in which you’re looking through the lens, rangefinder cameras have you compose your shot through a small viewfinder on the top right of the camera.

There are actually three windows in rangefinders. The top right window is for composing the shot, the window on the left is for capturing the image. When you focus the camera, the images from these two windows will line up.

In high end cameras, you’ll find a third window as well which is for extra light. This adds to the crispness of the image.

Rangefinder camera pros

Better pictures

The biggest difference between rangefinders and SLRs is that there is no mirror in rangefinder cameras. In SLRs, the mirror has to kick up every time you press the shutter button, and to accommodate the flipping mechanism, the lenses need to be a minimum size.

In rangefinders where there is no mirror, wide-angle lenses can be made in such a way that the elements of the lens can be in very close proximity to the image plane.

This results in less distortion and sharper images.

Additionally, the mirror mechanism can cause vibrations, which are non-existent in rangefinders. Finally, rangefinder cameras focus much sharper in wide lenses.

Size and weight

Since the lenses are so much simpler and smaller, the overall weight of rangefinder cameras is much less. The size also shrinks because there’s just not that many elements to fit in the mechanism!

More efficient shutter mechanism

One of the biggest ironies of the SLR camera is that your viewfinder has to black out at the very instant you wish to capture! This is because the mirror flips up, blocking the light from the viewfinder and letting it onto the sensor. This is why you’ll end up with so many eyes closed and funny faces in shots with flashes!

With a rangefinder camera, you can see everything as the picture is taken, so you’ll know then and there if you need to take a second shot.

Note: While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, especially since you can just review the image right away on a digital camera, in film cameras, this would have been huge!

The absence of the mirror also results in a much quieter shot. SLRs can be noisy!

Finally, a little-known issue about SLRs is that there is a tiny bit of lag! Because the mirror has to get out of the way to let light onto the sensor, there is a tiny fraction of a second lag between the moment you click the button and the image is actually captured.

Rangefinder camera cons

Separate viewfinder

Since the viewfinder and the lens are not exactly aligned, there is a slight difference in WYS vs WYG. In every day use, that’s not going to make much of a difference. We used to use point and shoot cameras built this way for the longest time and were pretty happy with the way photos turned out.

However, if you’re shooting macro or have a long lens where the lens element is very far from the body, it’s going to make a big difference and you may notice that shots are not aligned as you had imagined.

Also, depth-of-field is hard to perceive since the viewfinders are always in focus.

Another issue that the separate viewfinder leads to is that if your lens is long, it may actually block part of your view in the viewfinder!

Limited number of lenses

Rangefinders don’t have a really wide variety of lenses available. SLRs by comparison have a lot more variety. However, some may argue that you don’t need so many lenses and you can get perfectly good shots with a regular lens too!

Limited focus capacity

Although we noted above that rangefinders actually focus very well, the caveat is that the crisp focus happens with wide lenses. Long lenses, not so much.

Another issue with focusing that these cameras face is that you can only focus in the center of the image. SLR cameras have much more flexible focusing capabilities.

Finally, good luck taking macro photographs with rangefinders! You can’t focus any closer than half a meter or so. And even then, as noted above, the viewfinder and the lens will no longer be aligned.

Related:

How to use rangefinder cameras

SLR cameras (and dSLRs too)

SLR stands for single-lens reflex, meaning a mirror is used to reflect light from the main lens into the viewfinder. A prism is used in the middle to flip the image right side up again.

Even though rangefinders seem like they are superior cameras, SLRs are actually a lot more versatile and they’ve taken over the market.

Related

SLR camera pros

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG, or what you see is what you get is one of the biggest advantages of SLR cameras. The image in the viewfinder is exactly what the lens sees, right down to the focus and bokeh of the image.

You can use any kind of lens and you’ll always see an accurate image in the viewfinder.

Focus on any point

Especially with digital SLR cameras, you have the ability to focus on any point in the frame, not just the center. dSLR cameras often have a little grid overlaid in the viewfinder which you can use to spot focus too. This makes them really good for macro photographs such as jewelry photography.

Use any lens you want

Because SLRs are so flexible, you could use conceivably any kind of lens, even a telescope! It does not matter what kind of lens you use because as long as the lens itself is focusing well, the image will come out the way you expect.

You can also use macro lenses, and since you’re looking through the lens itself, the image you see is exactly what you will click.

The same goes for fisheye lenses which can let you capture a much wider field of view.

SLR camera cons

Wide angle lenses not as good as rangefinders

Wide angle lenses tend to be flatter, and because the lens needs enough space inside to avoid the mirror mechanism, manufacturers have to use something called a retrofocus system to get these to work. As a result, SLR wide angle lenses will experience a lot more distortion.

More mirror problems

The movement of the mirror also results in a very minor but sometimes noticeable vibration, especially in low-light shots with slower shutter speeds.

What’s more, because the mirror has to get out of the way once you click the button, there are actually two mechanisms taking place: first, the mirror has to move, and second, the shutter has to open and shut. There’s a tiny fractional-second lag, which may be an issue for some applications.

Size and weight

Rangefinder cameras are really nice and sleek, whereas SLR cameras are quite bulky. One of the main reasons I don’t take my SLR everywhere is because it’s just too much of a hassle to carry!

Especially if you are using bigger lenses, they can get quite cumbersome to transport, especially in tight spots.

Excessive features

While not exactly a con, the huge number of settings on the dials of most modern dSLR cameras can be overwhelming and if you find yourself shooting in auto mode or manual mode most of the time, all the settings in between can seem superfluous.

Difficult to focus in low light

Most SLR cameras have a little LED light that helps you focus in low light. This is because you really can’t see much in low light to be able to focus your shot correctly, and this is also why autofocusing takes longer in low light than in bright daylight.

Electricity consumption

SLRs and indeed dSLRs are quite power hungry and you’ll drain a battery within a few hours of shooting. To last a whole day on the job, you’ll need a few spare batteries too.

Rangefinder cameras on the other hand have very few electrical components and a single battery can last for a really long time.

Why you should get a rangefinder camera

If you’re concerned about weight and portability, rangefinders are definitely better.

Landscapes, wide angle shots, and nature shots(not animals) are best shot with rangefinder cameras.

They’re also really handy to just throw into a backpack or suitcase for traveling.

Why you should get an SLR camera

SLR cameras are really versatile, and they’re ideal for shooting fast objects and action(sports, kids, your kids playing sports).

They’re also really good at taking macro and extreme zoom photographs, as the composition is aligned with what you see in the viewfinder.

And if you’re shooting in a studio, SLRs are great too.

Good SLR and rangefinder cameras

Obviously, the two cameras are very different and the applications are also quite different.

However, you can shoot good landscapes with SLRs, though perhaps not to a ridiculous degree of professionalism, unless you use a really stable tripod.

In todays market, I think that the wider availability of SLR cameras and accessories designed for SLR cameras makes them a better bet for the average consumer/prosumer.

The only time I’d recommend getting a rangefinder camera is if you really know what you are doing and have a very specific use for it.

Plus, digital rangefinder cameras are super expensive and can burn a serious hole in your wallet. You can find second-hand 35mm rangefinders in decent condition, but with each passing day, developing and indeed finding 35mm film is getting harder and harder.

Leica M9 18MP Digital Range Finder Camera (Black, Body Only) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
  • It has 2-years warranty
  • Newly developed cover glass to elimate infrared light contamination , no IR filters needed.
  • 18 megapixels which allow the full 35mm format.
  • First Rangefinder camera with a 24 x 36 mm Format Sensor.
  • Custom designed CCD sensor for optimal performance.

Fujifilm X-Pro 2 Mirrorless Digital Camera, Black (Body Only)
  • Newly-developed 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor reduces moiré and false colors to dramatically improve image quality and X-Processor Pro engine increases response times, achieves faster AF, lower noise and better color reproduction
  • Advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder featuring a Multi-Magnification function that automatically switches view-finder magnification according to the lens and simultaneous EVF over OVF display
  • Electronic shutter maximum speed of 1/32000 sec and a focal plane shutter with a top speed of 1/8000 sec. with flash synchronization of up to 1/250 sec.
  • Intelligent Hybrid Phase detection AF with 273 selectable AF points, Dual SD Slots. Operating temperature is minus 10 degree Celsius to plus 40 degree Celsius
  • 16 Film simulation modes including the new ACROS monochrome mode and Grainy effect

Bestseller No. 1
Canon EOS Rebel T7 Digital SLR Camera with Canon EF-S 18-55mm Image Stabilization II Lens, Sandisk 32GB SDHC Memory Cards, Accessory Bundle (Renewed)
  • Introducing, New Rebel Series DSLR Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T7 - Predecessor to Canon EOS Rebel T6 with 24.1 MP vs 18 MP. Bigger JPEG & RAW buffer which gives you speed with the image formats.
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  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens with EF-S Mount lens - 29-88mm (35mm Equivalent) - Aperture Range: f/3.5-38 - One Aspherical Element - Optical Image Stabilization - Stepping Motor, Internal Focusing System - Supports Movie Servo AF Feature
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EOS Rebel T100 Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens Kit + Expo Basic Accessories Bundle
  • Bundle Includes : Canon EOS Rebel T100 Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm iii Lens + 64GB Memory card + High Speed card reader + 3Pcs Filter set (58mm) + Cleaning lens pen + Fiber Cloth + Manufacture Accessories (International Version) (No Warranty)
  • Powerful 18 Megapixel sensor // Canon Camera Connect App: share instantly & shoot remotely via compatible smartphone //
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Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera Bundle with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 is II Lens + 2pc SanDisk 32GB Memory Cards + Accessory Kit
  • This Camera Bundle Kit comes complete with all manufacturer supplied accessories and includes:
  • The EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera from Canon has a 24.1MP APS-C CMOS Sensor and DIGIC 4+ Image Processor. It has a 3.0" 920k-Dot LCD Monitor with Full HD 1080/30p Video Recording capabilities. It offers sharp details, accurate colors and low-noise imaging in both bright and low-light shooting situations. The Rebel T& can continuously shoot up to 3 fps.
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Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm is II Lens Bundle + Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Lens and 500mm Preset Lens + 32GB Memory + Filters + Monopod + Professional Bundle
  • This Canon Camera Bundle comes with Manufacturer Supplied Accessories and One Year Seller Warranty.
  • Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera - 24.1MP APS-C CMOS Sensor - DIGIC 4+ Image Processor - 3.0" 920k-Dot LCD Monitor - Full HD 1080/30p Video Recording - 9-Point AF with Center Cross-Type Point - ISO 100-6400, Up to 3 fps Shooting - Built-In Wi-Fi with NFC - Scene Intelligent Auto Mode - Creative Filters and Creative Auto Modes
  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens is a sleek and flexible option for everyday shooting. Spanning a 28.8-88mm equivalent focal length range, this lens covers wide-angle to portrait-length perspectives + Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Lens + 500mm f/8 Telephoto Preset Lens
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Canon Digital SLR Camera Kit [EOS Rebel T6] with EF-S 18-55mm and EF 75-300mm Zoom Lenses - Black, full-size
  • Equipped with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC to make wireless sharing of photos and videos between compatible devices Easy and convenient
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  • Comes with a large, 3 0-Inch LCD monitor with 920, 000 dots shows fine details and provides easy viewing
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Canon Digital Rebel XT DSLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 Lens (Black) (OLD MODEL)
  • 8.0-megapixel CMOS sensor captures enough detail for photo-quality 16 x 22-inch prints
  • Includes Canon's EF-S 18-55mm, f3.5-5.6 zoom lens
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  • ISO 100 6400 (expandable to H: 12800) for shooting from bright light to low light compatible with eye Fi cards Multimedia cards (MMC) cannot be used
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SaleBestseller No. 10
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  • Fully compatible with Canon's photo and video storage device: The Canon Connect Station CS100. Focal Length 4.3(W) 215.0(T) millimeter (35 millimeter film equivalent: 24 1200 millimeter). Normal: 2.0 inch (5 centimeter) - infinity (W), 4.3 feet (1.3 meter) infinity (T). Auto/Manual: 0.0 inche (0 centimeter) infinity (W), 4.3 feet (1.3 meter) infinity (T). Macro AF: 0.0 inch 16 feet. (0 50 centimeter) (W)
  • 16.0 Megapixel High Sensitivity CMOS sensor delivers state of the art imaging performance
  • Full HD video at 30p for notably smooth and lifelike quality

9 Best Canon FD Lenses(including zoom lenses)

Canon FD lenses are amazing lenses that have withstood the test of time. Even though some Canon FD lenses are over 30 years old, they still do an amazing job and take fantastic photos. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the best Canon FD lenses currently available.

Now more than ever, FD lenses are a steal to pick up considering that purchasing a new set of lenses can cost quite a lot of money. You can pick up some second hand FD lenses for far cheaper and if you get a bundle of lenses, you’ll have a huge array of photographic opportunities in front of you.

There are quite a few types of FD lenses so we’ll check them out, and also talk about what to look for when getting a lens.

Why buy a Canon FD lens?

FD lenses are really easy to use and great for shooting video as the aperture adjustment and focus rings are fully manual. This gives you the greatest level of control, and if you’re shooting video, you can change the aperture and focus as you are shooting.

This is not possible to do with modern lenses.

However, this means there is a trade-off as well: since these are older lenses, there’s no autofocus, you’ll have to set the aperture manually every time, and there’s no image stabilization.

Additionally, because they’re older lenses, you’ll need to buy them second hand, and that means the body or the lens may have scuff marks and you’ll need to give them some TLC.

Best Canon FD Lenses: 9 to choose from

1. Canon 1:2.8 28mm lens

Canon Lens FD 28mm 1:2.8

The Canon 1:2.8 lens is a fairly simple, straightforward lens. It’s not too fancy, but does the job really well. It’s made of a hard plastic called polycarbonate. Even though it is plastic, the construction is still very solid and when you hold it in your hand, it does not feel low quality in any way.

The tough construction makes the lens suitable for use in tough environments and it can easily survive a ding or drop here and there.

You should be aware though that the center of the subject will be extremely sharp and crisp, but the edges tend to lose a little bit of the focus and may appear softer or blurry.

2. Canon f/1.4 50mm Lens

Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD Manual Focus Lens

Canon’s 50mm FD lens shoots really clear and crisp images and because of the manual focus and aperture, it’s ideal for videography. You can get an indie film effect really easily if you use this lens.

The aperture can go really high on this lens, all the way up to f/1.4, but at that point, the image will start to go soft. Even though you can go so high, try keeping it a little lower in the f/2 and f/3 range for ideal shooting.

It’s a little bit on the heavy side but that actually adds to the quality feel of it. Just be mindful of the weight when you attach it!

Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD Manual Focus Lens
  • Compatible with all Canon FD-Mount Manual Focus Cameras such as AE-1
  • Manual Focus Only. It will not auto focus on any camera.
  • Fast f/1.4 aperture
  • Comes in either breech mount or bayonet mount

3. Canon 100-300mm FD Zoom

Canon Zoom Lens FD 100-300mm f5.6 for Canon A-1 AE-1 AT-1 Film SLR

Number 3 on our list is an FD lens with zoom capability. The closest it can focus is 2 meters, which is quite impressive. Additionally, the magnification makes a huge deal.

Even though it looks quite imposing, it is in fact quite light and you won’t really notice the extra weight any more than you would on a similar sized lens.

The zoom is all the way from 100 mm to 300 mm. That makes it ideal for shooting really awesome portraits and even for wildlife photography.

Note: use a tripod for best results.

Canon Zoom Lens FD 100-300mm f5.6 for Canon A-1 AE-1 AT-1 Film SLR
  • Quality Canon Telephoto Zoom Lens with FD Mount
  • For Film SLRs such as F-1 A-1 AE-1 AT-1 AV-1
  • Powerful Zoom from 100-300mm
  • Great for portrait to wildlife photography

4. Canon FD f/4.0 70-210mm Zoom

Canon FD 70-210mm f/4.0 Zoom Lens

The next lens on the list is another zoom lens, but this time, the zoom is from 70-210mm. The above lens had a minimum focus distance of 2 meters, whereas this one can focus up to 0.44 meters close. The effective zoom is 3 times (70 x 3 = 210).

At 70mm, this lens is really good at capturing macro photographs, much more so than the 3rd lens on our list. As such, this FD lens falls in a sweet spot between something that’s capable of up close shots and can zoom quite a bit too.

The one issue is that in some cases, you’ll experience some aberrations.

Canon FD 70-210mm f/4.0 Zoom Lens
  • Medium telephoto to full telephoto
  • Offers more than above average optical performances and easy portability
  • Compatible with all Canon manual focus film cameras that accept FD-mount lenses
  • Zoom ratio of 3X and closest focus distance is 0.44 meter

5. Canon FD f/4 200mm

Canon FD 200 mm F/4 MF Zoom Lens(S/N:103852)#47903

This FD lens from Canon is another awesome piece of equipment in an already awesome lineup, partly due to the 7 elements inside. It focuses smooth, fast, and the focus ring allows you a high degree of accuracy

The glass used in this lens has a very high refractive index. It is ideal for shooting fast-paced action, such as sports or following a subject in a documentary.

Aperture wise, the lens performance is quite adequate and you’re able to capture a decent photograph even if light is a little scarce.

Canon FD 200 mm F/4 MF Zoom Lens(S/N:103852)#47903
  • Canon ZOOM f=200 mm
  • FD MF LENS MADE IN JAPAN φ52
  • MPN:Canon FD 200 mm 4

6. Canon FD 35-105mm Macro Zoom

Even for second hand lenses, you may find that the Canon FD Macro Zoom lens is a bit on the expensive side. Perhaps this is because this lens was just more expensive in general, or that it is now harder to find.

Either way, sporting a wide range of aperture and a fast shutter speed, it shines amongst zoom lenses. Wherever you’re shooting photographs and in whichever situation, this lens will not let you down.

Overall, it’s well built, solid, and you have two rings to adjust the zoom and the focus.

The macro mode can leave a little bit wanting some times, but on the whole, it’s great value and performance.

7. Canon f/2.5 135mm Zoom

CANON FD 135mm F/2.5 S.C. MF Zoom Lens(S/N:64435)#47275

This lens has been going strong for nearly 50 years! Even though the lenses are so old, you’ll still find most of them to be in great shape. This is one of the earlier lenses to be made of plastic, but even so, the build quality is really solid.

Plastic is light, so you can actually use this to your advantage as the lesser weight will let you carry it around with more comfort.

The manual focus ring is really accurate and you can fine tune as you wish, but at really high apertures, you may sometimes experience slightly softer pictures. For best results, you’ll need a more mid-range aperture.

CANON FD 135mm F/2.5 S.C. MF Zoom Lens(S/N:64435)#47275
  • 135 mm f/2.5: introduced in 1971 as one of the first lenses in the new Canon FD mount.
  • Like all of the very early Canon FD lenses, it does not indicate the type of coating on the front lens ring. All lenses from 1971
  • (indeed, from the very early 1950s forward) were coated in one form or another.[1]
  • 135 mm f/2.5 S.C.: The marking for Spectra Coating (SC) was added in 1973.

8. Canon f/5.6 100-200mm 11150 lens

Canon 100-200mm f5.6 FD 11150

This Canon FD lens is a classic “budget” FD lens. It’s pretty standard by most respects, but you’re getting an FD lens for a pretty decent price that has a small degree of zoom functionality.

The maximum aperture only goes up to f/5.6, so if you’re shooting a lot of indoor or low light shots, you may struggle if you don’t use a flash.

It’s a pretty big lens (though not to the point where it is difficult to carry around).

Really, the only reason we’re recommending this lens is that it’s super inexpensive compared to the others and it’s FD after all.

Canon 100-200mm f5.6 FD 11150
  • 100-200mm
  • 1:5.6
  • Aperture: 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32
  • No.: 178548

9. Canon f/4 FD 35-70mm

Canon FD 35-70 mm F/4 MF Zoom Lens(S/N:172187)#47900

Finally, the last lens we’d like to bring to your attention is the Canon f/4 FD 35-70mm lens. It’s a pretty old lens but it’s still going really strong even after all these years.

The max aperture is f/3.5 at 35mm, and f/4.5 at 70mm. While this is fine for most well lit indoor areas, in darker areas or at night, you’re not going to get good performance out of this.

Overall, it’s a really light lens that does the job well.

Canon FD 35-70 mm F/4 MF Zoom Lens(S/N:172187)#47900
  • Distance scale: (m) 0.5 (35mm at 0.5m, 0.08X magnification) (70mm at 0.15); 10 OO (ft) 2 - 30.OO
  • Focusing mechanism: Rotation of front lens group
  • Zooming: Rotation of zooming ring; Minimum aperture: f/22 . A
  • Diaphragm: Automatic; Filter size: 52mm; Hood: W-62
  • Length x max. diameter: 85.5mm x 68mm; Weight: 315g

Related

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need an adapter to mount this lens?

In most cases, yes. Since these are older lenses, they will not work without an adapter on newer cameras.

How much do Canon FD lenses cost?

Canon FD lenses can be found for quite cheap. Since you’re buying second hand, many of the lenses you’ll find will be quite a steal compared to brand new lenses with similar specs.

However, since they are older lenses, you’ll be giving up some of the advanced features like autofocus and stabilization.

What is meant by aperture?

Aperture means the amount of light being let into your lens. A smaller aperture number means the lens is open more, and a higher aperture number means the lens is less open, letting less light in. This is a point of confusion for many photographers!

Zoom lenses or prime lenses?

Zoom lenses and prime lenses are two different types of lenses. Which one should you get really depends on what and how you are shooting.

If you’re shooting closer subjects, a prime lens will do the trick just fine, and you’ll also be able to get bigger apertures. Zoom lenses are great if your subjects are far off and you need to get in close, but you will sacrifice the aperture a little bit. The more you zoom, the less the aperture will get.

Are FD lenses well built?

Back in the day, manufacturers used to build things to last! Most lenses had metal housing which was incredibly durable and could survive years and years. Ironically, newer lenses don’t have such a long lifetime because manufacturers use rubber and plastic parts to cut costs. Oh well!

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Canon FD lenses are extremely high quality lenses and great for shooting video. If you use your SLR camera to shoot video, then an FD lens will give you a lot of flexibility and let you get really creative with your shots. Plus, with the wide variety available, there’s no limit to the kinds of shots you can create.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 Review: An awesome smartphone gimbal

When it comes to smartphone gimbals, there are plenty of cheap options out there. But two companies really stand out: Zhiyun and DJI. In this post, we’ll talk about and review the Zhiyun Smooth 4 gimbal. Is it a viable competitor to the DJI Osmo? Let’s dive in and have a look in this review.

Zhiyun Smooth 4 Professional Gimbal Stabilizer for iPhone Smartphone Android Cell Phone 3-Axis Handheld Gimble Stick w/ Grip Tripod Ideal for Vlogging YouTube Vlog TikTok Instagram Live Video Kit

Why do you need a smartphone gimbal?

Gimbals are essentially mechanical stabilizers for cameras. With a gimbal, you can take silky smooth video in which your hand movements and vibrations are completely invisible. The gimbal works with 2 (or sometimes 3) motors than compensate for any sudden movements.

Gimbals have long been used in filming and cinematography, and since smartphone cameras are getting better and better and more capable of taking stunning photographs and recording 4k video, in many cases, you no longer need bigger cameras to take great photos, especially on the go.

Once you start taking videos with a gimbal, you’ll never want to take videos by hand again. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 has three axes: pan, tilt, and roll. These are the three directions your camera can move in: tilting up and down, tilting side to side, and tilting back and forth.

The motors will spin just enough to negate any movements you make, resulting in smooth video free of any shakes and vibrations.

Stabilization is especially useful when you’re walking and filming at the same time. Holding the camera in your hand will show all the movements from your walking, but if you use a gimbal, it will look really fluid and smooth.

Overview

When you receive the Zhiyun Smooth 4, you’ll get two accessories with it: a USB-C charging cable and a small, folding tripod. If most of your stuff is USB-C, you’ll be a happy camper. However, if you still have stuff that uses micro USB, then you’ll need to carry an extra cable.

However, it’s not that big of a deal 🙂

Upon first glance, the handle of the Zhiyun Smooth 4 may seem a little intimidating given the myriad buttons there. Most gimbals including the DJI Osmo are quite simple in terms of controls, and just 2-3 buttons do everything.

There is a LED battery indicator and the gimbal arm locks into position when you want to store it, so it doesn’t swing around everywhere like other gimbals do when they are not powered on.

Overall, the construction is plastic, which is not all that bad considering it cuts costs and keeps the device quite lightweight.

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1. Pan and follow

In pan and follow mode, the camera will maintain the horizon. This means that any up/down shakes and movements will be canceled out by the gimbal, but if you turn the camera left or right, the camera will move with your arm.

2. Follow mode

In follow mode, both pan and tilt will move(smoothly, of course). This means that you can turn the camera up/down/left/right and the motors will follow. However, if you try to tilt the camera left or right(spinning it), that movement will be counteracted.

3. Locked mode

In locked mode, the camera will hold whatever orientation it is in and you won’t be able to change its direction – any movements will be counteracted and the angle and position will be maintained. This is good for using when you’re walking or running and want to get a straight, smooth shot.

PhoneGo Mode

In PhoneGo mode, the gimbal will become more sensitive and the result is even more smooth, which is good for capturing video when there are a lot of sudden, jerky changes in direction.

To activate PhoneGo Mode, there is a little trigger on the back side of the grip.

Photos

There is a companion app for the Zhiyun Smooth 4 called ZY Play, which lets you get creative with taking photos using your gimbal.

You can take single photos using a button on the gimbal, you can take panorama shots(the gimbal can turn really smoothly to capture a lot of imagery), as well as timelapses and a special mode called Vertigo.

How to use the various controls

zhiyun-s4-control-2558851

As you can see from the image above, there are a LOT of controls for you to play around with on the Zhiyun Smooth 4. This means you can actually change a lot of settings mid shoot without having to touch your screen, allowing for even more smoothness.

The large dial on the left is for controlling focus and digital zoom. This is quite a unique feature to the Zhiyun Smooth 4 as it’s rare to find a gimbal that allows you to mess with the focus.

The lightning bolt button in the center, as you can guess, is to turn the camera flash on. As you’re taking videos, if you wish to use a bit more light, just press the flash button to activate the phone’s LED flash.

At this point, you may be wondering how the gimbal manages to control so many features across so many smartphones.

The answer is, well, that you can only use these features if you’re in the ZY Play app. This means all videos and photos must be shot using the app if you want to use these button controls.

If you’re fine with just choosing a shooting mode and then using your phone’s native camera app, that will work, but the buttons won’t function. That’s a trade-off that many folks don’t mind, especially considering that the native apps are often much more robust(especially in the case of phones like the new iPhone).

Additionally, many gimbals have a little joystick that you can use to adjust the pan and tilt of the camera from the gimbal controls itself. This gimbal, interestingly enough, does not have a joystick. It’s not a huge trade-off, but sometimes being able to make small adjustments comes in very handy.

It is not a dealbreaker by any means, but if you like to use the joystick, you’re going to miss it here.

FiLMiC Pro App

As I mentioned above, the button controls can only be used with the native ZY app. Zhiyun has opened up their ecosystem to the FiLMiC Pro app as well, and this app also integrates nicely with the gimbal controls.

What’s more, the app is a really full-featured videography and photography app that lets you shoot really good videos and photographs, so you’ll actually enjoy using it!

For example, I personally don’t like to use the standard apps that gimbals are meant to go with – I just prefer the stabilization and using my own camera app. FiLMiC Pro ticks both boxes in that it is an app of my choice and it works well with the gimbal.

How well does the Zhiyun Smooth 4 work?

From what we’ve seen, the Zhiyun Smooth works wonders for stabilization. Whether you’re walking, running, or driving down a bumpy road, the Zhiyun manages to eliminate all visible shakes and vibrations. The stabilization is really top of the line and can really be considered a benchmark to check other gimbals against.

The lithium ion battery powering the gimbal work for up to 12 hours. 12 hours is a pretty long time especially for a gimbal and it’s more than enough for a day of filming. It’s ideal for using while traveling, too. Once you get home, just charge it up and it’s ready to go the next day.

Using the Zhiyun Smooth 4

The phone clamp can turn into portrait mode and landscape mode so you can shoot selfies and portrait videos as well. Just shoot and upload to your favorite app, whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, or Tiktok.

The tripod is really handy, too. Being able to fold it open and closed allows you to both use it as an extension of the grip, as well as place it on a surface as you film(great for filming yourself for a vlog, for example).

Final thoughts

Overall, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is a really nice gimbal that does not break the bank. For the price point and the features it delivers, you really can’t go wrong. It does its main job really well: stabilizes video, it’s fast, it’s quiet, and if you use a compatible app, there is a myriad of options you can control entirely from the gimbal itself.

However, the buttons can also feel overwhelming, especially if you’re just looking for a simple gimbal without too many bells and whistles.

The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 really is the only thing left to compare this gimbal to, and considering it is actually a little bit more expensive, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 really gives it a run for the money.

Sale
Zhiyun Smooth 4 Professional Gimbal Stabilizer for iPhone Smartphone Android Cell Phone 3-Axis Handheld Gimble Stick w/ Grip Tripod Ideal for Vlogging YouTube Vlog TikTok Instagram Live Video Kit
  • 👍👍【Filmic Pro】The official APP for Smooth 4 is called ZY play. But Filmic Pro has best in class support for Smooth 4, you can use Filmic Pro as an alternative to ZY play.
  • 👍👍【Control Panel】Integrated control panel design,Focus Pull & Zoom Capability
  • ✅✅【MUST KNOW】Balance the gimbal before use: Slide the smartphoone in as close as possible to against the tilt axis motor. Loosen the Roll (Y) Axis Thumb Screw (which is on the back) to adjust the gravity center by sliding the horizontal arm.When phone stays in level in power OFF status, it is balanced.We recommend you VIEW the video tutorials, There are lots of tutorial videos on YOUTUBE that will help you master the gimbal.
  • 👍👍【PhoneGo Mode】PhoneGo Mode for Instant Scene Transition
  • 👍👍【Time Lapse & Object Tracking】Time Lapse Expert and Object Tracking available; Supports Two-way Charging with Longer Runtime

STM vs USM For Photography: Which Canon Technology is better?

On many Canon lenses, you’ll either find STM or USM written which specifies the kind of motor that the lens uses for focusing. In this post, we’ll be talking about the difference between STM and USM and which is better for photography.

STM stands for stepping motor, which is a very smooth but slightly slower way of autofocusing.

USM stands for ultrasonic motor, which is faster and what Canon used to use in most of their lenses. These motors are not as smooth or quiet, though.

Where did STM and USM come from?

Originally, autofocus systems were operated using a motor that sat in the body of the camera rather than in the lens. A mechanical gear would connect the motor to the lens, and the motor inside the camera would rotate the lens to achieve a desired focus.

Back then, there were plenty of big camera manufacturers: Canon, Nikon, Yashica, and Pentax. Of these 4, Nikon, Yashica, and Pentax used a similar design to keep the motor in the camera body.

Canon designers decided to try another method by putting the motor in the lens. As it turns out, Canon’s designers hit the nail on the head and their system was far superior to the others. Eventually, everyone else switched to a system based on Canon’s(with their own tweaks, of course).

Related:

How did we get to STM and USM lenses?

Canon lenses today use one of three kinds of motors: a STM motor, a USM motor, or a regular DC motor.

DC or direct drive motors

Even though most Canon lenses have STM or USM motors, if your lens does not specify it, it probably has a DC motor. a DC motor is the bottom of the pile in motors: there’s no smoothness of STM, no speed of USM, but it can do the job and as a budding photographer, it may not matter to you.

USM or ultrasonic motors

Ultrasonic motors are the most popular kind of autofocus motors and most Canon lenses use these. Ultrasonic vibrations are converted into rotational energy which is used to move the lens. For this to work, you need two loosely coupled rings. By vibrating one of the lenses, the other will rotate.

One ring is on the body, and the other ring is on the focusing part of the lens. USM motors have the advantage of speed. If you need to click really fast, the USM motor can keep up really well. You can also make small manual adjustments without having to turn autofocus off.

Ring USM motors

Even USM motors are of a few different types! Ring USM motors are the most common variation of autofocus motors in Canon lenses.

The motor itself is quite powerful and allows for a level of exact precision. You don’t need any mechanisms to reduce the speed of the motor. Additionally, once the motor has found a good position, you don’t need to keep applying power to it to maintain that position.

They are also very responsive, and it’s no surprise that Ring USM motors are the most common kind of motor found in Canon lenses.

Micro USM motors

Micro USM – as the name suggests – is a much smaller motor so it can fit into much smaller lenses. These are also cheaper so where micro USM motors are used, the price of the lens is less as well.

Micro USM uses a motor similar to the regular USM motor, but in this case, it’s not directly connected to the focusing rings. Instead, gears are used which actually makes it a hybrid between an old school autofocus system and the newer USM system.

Nano USM

Canon’s latest development is Nano USM, which is a high speed autofocus mechanism that is just as good as the regular USM and just as quiet and smooth. It’s probably the best kind of lens to use for everyday photography and even video.

You can shoot good, smooth video in which your camera focus keeps up with your moving subjects. Of course, it will shoot really good photographs, too.

STM or stepping motors

STM motors as you read above are smoother and quieter than USM motors. If you’re looking to shoot videos as well as photos, you can’t go wrong with a lens that uses STM motors.

Because it’s so quiet, your microphone won’t pick up any of the internal noises in the camera and you’ll be able to capture more of the actual subject’s sounds.

Stepping motors are called stepping(or stepper) motors because they can execute very tiny movements down to 0.1mm, and they can do them really fast. In fact, stepper motors are used in 3D printers for this very reason.

The small and precise movements are ideal for keeping up with the constantly changing focal length required when shooting videos.

This system is totally electronic and there are no gears or rings involved.

Gear STM

Smaller lenses using STM motors use gears to change the focus.

Lead-screw STM

Lead-screw motors are used in larger lenses(where you have more space). Lead screw motors are even more quieter and can achieve faster speeds than gear STMs.

Which one should you get?

For professional applications and for shooting higher quality photographs, USM lenses remain the undoubted champion.

For amateur photographers who also shoot lots of video, STM lenses shine – they’re totally silent and can deliver really crisp video. The focus speed is a bit slower but that allows for more smoothness.

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