Steadicams and gyro stabilizers are amazing tools; they can make camera movements look as smooth as if they were done using a dolly or a crane. But, they are also bulky, heavy, and can be difficult to learn to use successfully. Perhaps worse, while high-quality cameras have gotten smaller—you can take a GoPro almost anywhere on Earth—stabilization rigs have generally not followed suit.
Enter drone maker DJI with their Osmo camera and stabilizer. Essentially, DJI has taken the camera, stabilization gimbal and smartphone app from their successful Inspire 1 drone lineup, and adapted them for handheld use, the idea being that you now have a high-definition, stabilized camera that is easy enough for anyone to use and can fit into a case the size of a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. The Osmo costs $589.
Front view of the Osmo.
The DJI Osmo could, tongue-in-cheek, be described as a camera and gimbal on a stick. The design of the Osmo is fairly straightforward: the camera and gimbal sits on top of an ergonomic grip. Controls for power, record, photo, gimbal lock/re-center and camera direction are in easy reach of your thumb and index finger. A folding smartphone mount hangs off the left hand side of the Osmo. It securely holds your phone and swivels to allow high and low viewing angles.
The Osmo’s Zenmuse X3 camera and 3-axis gimbal are almost identical to those used on DJI’s popular Inspire 1 drone. In fact, Inspire 1 owners can purchase the $270 Osmo handle kit and move the Inspire 1’s camera and gimbal over to the Osmo. The Osmo camera cannot be used on the Inspire 1, however. Like the Inspire 1, DJI has given the Osmo the ability to switch the X3 out for their Zenmuse X5 camera and gimbal. The X5 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount so the image quality is even better (though the overall weight of the camera/gimbal will increase as you mount larger lenses). If you want an even larger, more color-gradable file, DJI’s forthcoming X5R camera supports RAW video recording and a Log, or flat, color profile. Other Osmo accessories include a vehicle mount, bike mount, tripod, extension arm and cold shoe accessory mount.
The DJI Go app on your iOS or Android smartphone is used as the Osmo interface for anything beyond the physical control buttons. While its most obvious function is as a viewfinder, the app also allows for full control over camera settings, image/video playback, transfer and even some editing. A particularly interesting option is the ability to tap and drag your finger around the screen to control the camera direction as if you were using the Osmo’s joystick. This could be useful for situations such as remote mounting the Osmo onto the hood of a car, for example.
Back view of the Osmo.
This camera is powered by Sony’s 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel sensor. It can record in 4K (4,096 x 2,160 at 24 fps or 3,840 x 2,160 at 30 fps/24 fps). It also offers 60 fps at either 1080p or 720p, and even 120 fps at 1080p. The f/2.8 lens’ field of view is about the same as a 20mm lens on a full frame DSLR and has a 94-degree field of view (FOV). As a point of comparison, this is about the same FOV as you would get with a GoPro at the “medium” view setting.
Performance is generally very good. As can be expected with a wide angle lens, there is some slight softness in the corners, but it is nothing to be concerned with in my book. Outdoor and well-lit footage is sharp and brilliant looking. Low light footage can suffer from noise, which is to be expected with a sensor of this size. Anyone filming in extremely low light situations may be better served to look at the Zenmuse X5/X5R.
What We Liked
The best thing about the DJI Osmo is that it’s easy to use. Once you have your phone set up and connected, you can start filming smooth camera footage right away. The learning curve for the Osmo is lower than for any stabilizer on the market. Some of this is because of the integrated nature of the system; there is no balancing cameras with different lenses or hooking up external video monitors. Some of the ease of use is simply because the Osmo is excellently designed. Now, as with anything, practice makes perfect. The more complicated your camera movements are, the more you will need to learn how the Osmo’s gyros respond to various speed and direction changes. But the bottom line remains that you can hand the Osmo to almost anyone and within 5 minutes of instruction, they can be filming successfully.
The Osmo’s light weight and compact design make it less work to operate and transport than any other stabilizer we have used.
What We Didn’t Like
The Osmo’s audio performance is subpar. In addition to not being a particularly high-end mic, the motor noise from the gimbal is very noticeable, enough so that DJI itself indicates that the internal mic is really just reserved for reference or backup audio. The good news is that there is a 3.5mm input allowing you to add an external mic. You will want the cold-shoe mount however, or you will be trying to juggle the Osmo in one hand and the mic in the other. Additionally, battery life on the Osmo is not a strength. DJI claims you’ll get an hour of shooting time from a full charge, but that may be generous. You will want to get extra batteries for any extended filming.
How it Compares
Stabilizers are, by and large, cumbersome beasts. While the newer gyro stabilizers may be more compact than the older broadcast-style Steadicam vest mounted rigs, neither are particularly easy to carry, set up or store. The Osmo could not be more different. Its light weight and compact design make it less work to operate and transport than any other stabilizer I have used. Perhaps equally important, the Osmo’s size is both stealthy and unthreatening compared to traditional stabilizers. I was free to film undisturbed in locations where a larger unit would have attracted unwanted attention.
Josh Root, a Washington State-based photographer, writer and editor, is also the former editor-in-chief of photo.net. He is passionate about his wife and two sons, fast lenses, fly fishing and loves a strong coffee.