I don’t know about most people, but my hands are never steady enough for shooting videos. I’ve seen many of my videos spoiled because of my inability to hold the DSLR stable, even with OIS (optical image stabilisation) built into the lenses.
The problem, of course, is that the design of the DSLR is not really made for shooting videos – unlike purpose-built camcorders, the DSLR is made to be held up to the eye and not at arm’s length.
On top of that, OIS in DSLR lenses are only made to compensate for shake from two axes – minor side to side and up and down movements, and not for rotation and tilt.
Enter the Osmo, drone-maker DJI’s video recorder which comes with an electronically controlled mechanical gimbal head for stabilising video.
This camera is essentially from one of DJI’s drones, adapted for handheld use.
In typical DJI fashion, the Osmo comes in a nice little case that looks like it was meant to house a tiny violin. The case unzips to reveal the device with a bit of space for an external microphone or extra battery.
The Osmo itself is a funky-looking device – it looks like an alien weapon with a single orb on top.
It has no monitor of its own – you supply the monitor in the form of an Android or iOS smartphone and the Osmo connects wirelessly via WiFi to the DJI Go app.
First off, it’s important to note that because the gimbal head is fragile when not powered up, DJI has built in a series of locks that prevent the joints from being bumped and damaged.
Before use, you need to unlock these joints in a certain order or risk damaging the front of the camera.
Otherwise setup is fairly straightforward – you can get it up and running in a few minutes.
Like many things which connect wirelessly, there were occasional connection issues – the first time I connected my smartphone I only got a black screen even though everything seemed to be working.
Reconnecting fixed the problem. Fortunately, the issues were few and far between and other than the extra time needed to connect to the smartphone, the Osmo worked fine.
The camera starts up in fully automatic mode but you still have quite a bit of control – you can tap on the screen to lock exposure, focus or adjust the shutter speeds and ISO settings.
The Osmo also has a built-in microphone but you’re better off plugging in an external one because the built-in unit tends to pick up the motor sounds of the gimbal head.
The review unit we got came with a small microphone that plugs in to the front of the device which does a much better job of not capturing the servomotor sounds.
Apart from the options available on your smartphone, the Osmo itself has some physical controls integrated into the handle – you get a gun-like trigger on the front, a little joystick for the thumb and two other buttons next to it.
The joystick controls the camera’s tilt and pan, but contrary to what you may think, the little trigger on the front doesn’t start or stop video recording, as photo and video capture is initiated by the two buttons next to the joystick.
Instead, it’s actually a shortcut to a number of functions. For example, holding down the trigger will lock the camera in the current direction it’s facing even if you rotate the camera handle.
A quick double tap on the trigger will swiftly turn the camera 180° so it looks directly at you instead of forward – it’s called Selfie mode for obvious reasons.
Finally, a quick triple tap on the trigger will reset the Osmo’s camera so it faces directly forward.
Record in 4K
I used the Osmo to track a subject while he was walking and later running and it managed to cancel out all the shakes due to me walking and running to keep up with the subject.
It was rather amazing, as I have never been a very steady video camera operator. You can check the videos we recorded at youtu.be/vRd4B9K3GLo.
DJI offers a number of video recording options, including UHD (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) at up to 30fps or true 4K (4,096 x 2,160 pixels) at up to 25fps.
The 4K video quality looked impressive and similar to the results from DJI’s Phantom 4.
DJI also offers a number of “flat” picture options that allow professionals to get the most dynamic range so that they can edit the video during post production to look exactly the way they want.
If you’re not keen on shooting 4K, however, pick lower resolutions such as 1080p at up to 120fps and 720p at up to 60fps.
Still images can also be taken at 12 megapixels – photos taken with the Osmo looked good but won’t rival those taken with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Whether you're using an Android device or iPhone, video isn't streamed to your smartphone at high resolution – what you’ll see is a relatively low-resolution stream that's just good enough for you to frame your shot and assess the exposure.
My one complaint is that the 980mAh battery of the Osmo only lasts about 45 minutes to an hour at most – while this is enough for casual recording, you would be safer carrying an extra battery or two or risk running out of power before the event is over.
Also, while the Osmo is running, your smartphone will drain its own battery since it's acting as a monitor and streaming video over a wireless connection. In most cases you'll probably run out of battery on your smartphone before the Osmo, unless you have it connected to a power bank.
The Osmo was impressive – the 4K video quality was very good and, more importantly, looked like it was shot on an expensive Steadicam rig.
The price, while not very cheap, isn’t that expensive as most camera stabilisers (without the camera) cost as much as the Osmo.
While DJI should have made the battery a lot larger to extend recording beyond 60 minutes, it is not a deal breaker because you can always buy extra battery packs.
The Osmo is definitely worth a look if you’re tired of shooting videos that look like they came out of one of the found footage movies such as the original Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project.
Pros: Great video quality; good stabillisation, handy manual controls.
Cons: Short battery life; built-in microphone picks up motor noise from the gimbal unit.
Sensor: 12-megapixel Sony Exmor R 1/2.3in CMOS sensor
Viewfinder: None – uses your smartphone
Lens: 20mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent)
Shutter speed: 8secs - 1/8,000sec
ISO range: 100-3200 (video), 100-1600 (photo)
Shooting modes: Manual, auto, slow motion
Video format: Up to 4,096 x 2,160 pixels at 25fps in MP4/MOV
Battery: 980mAh lithium polymer
Interface: DJI Go app on Android or iOS
Dimensions (W x H x D): 61.8 x 48.2 x 161.5mm
Rating: Four stars
Review unit courtesy of ECS ICT Berhad , (03) 6286-8222.