Gimbal-stabilised handheld 4K video could make all the difference to YouTubers - hands on with the DJI Osmo
There’s no question that DJI is best known for its Phantom drones, but the Chinese company has also found success in the film industry with its professional-grade Inspire range of ‘aerial photography platforms’ – again, drones to you and I, which combine drone flight with three-axis stabilised 4K video capture. That technology is now coming to people on the ground in the form of the Osmo, a gimbal stabilised 4K video camera disguised as a selfie stick. Compared to handheld filming on a smartphone, or even a head/body/board/cycle-mounted action camera, the footage Osmo captures should be beautifully smooth in all situations.
“Traditional handheld cameras are either shaky or require bulky stabilizers that are difficult to set up,” Paul Pan, DJI’s Senior Product Manager, said at the US launch. “The Osmo moves the experience of handheld filmmaking from capturing what happened to sharing expressive, smooth video that shows what an experience was like.”
We got the chance to try one out at the UK launch last night, in order to bring you some first impressions.
The Osmo uses the same camera module as the one found on the Inspire, which has a 1/2.3in sensor capable of 4K video capture and 12-megapixel stills, with a 94-degree field of view. Because it’s designed for hand-held use, the sensor has been set up for 1-meter focus, rather than the infinite focus setup found on the Phantom and Inspire drones. The camera module can also be exchanged for the professional-grade Zenmuse X5 or Zenmuse X5r sensors for videographers looking for a cheaper alternative to a full rig.
The sensor comes attached to the same 3-axis gimbal that stabilised the Inspire and attaches to a handheld trigger grip that lets you film incredibly smooth, cinematic video without the need for a full Steadicam rig. The trigger grip is relatively lightweight, with buttons within easy reach to control recording, still image capture, power, and smooth camera panning. A trigger will lock the gimbal in place, letting you focus on one subject while moving around it, and tapping the grip multiple times will switch between modes, including ‘follow’, ‘flashlight’, ‘underslung’ and ‘selfie’. It has an on-board stereo microphone, but a 3.5-millimeter audio jack will also let you hook up an external mic for professional sound.
There’s also an accessory mount on the left side of the grip that will let you attach a tripod, a bike mount, or an extension arm, which can hold your smartphone for live view video recording using DJI’s companion app. The fully metal arm extends to support virtually all handsets, including larger phablets. It’s a shame that this makes it difficult for left-handed users to hold the Osmo, and according to DJI representatives no version for southpaws was planned. It’s a bit like using a digital SLR camera, however – lefties will soon adjust to the right-handed layout. It’s all very intuitive and the quick locking trigger lets you concentrate on getting the shots you want, rather than fiddle with multiple controls.
As well as live view, connecting a smartphone over Wi-Fi will give you access to video controls including ISO, resolution, shutter speed and aperture, and let you pan the camera by swiping the screen. Range should be around 25m, which means you could bolt the Osmo onto a car mount and control video recording from the passenger seat. You can record at 24, 30, 60, or, in a first for a DJI product, 120 frames per second for slow-motion footage, albeit at a maximum 1080p resolution. There are even 360-degree panorama and 180-degree selfie panorama modes, where one button in the app can force the Osmo to rotate and capture multiple images, stitching them together into a 360-degree photo. DJI expects sixty minutes of 4K recording from a single charge, with footage saved to microSD cards.
While the Osmo is impressive in action, it remains to be seen who will actually buy one. Professional videographers will already own the expensive Steadicam rigs or gimbals needed for stabilised filming, which will let them use their own cameras and lenses too. At £549 it’s out of the reach of many people, especially when a selfie stick and a smartphone with a hyper lapse app can do a similar job for significantly less cash, but for amateur filmmakers and YouTube creators looking to give their productions a more professional look, it makes a lot of sense.
The DJI Osmo is available to pre-order today, with the first units expected to arrive on the 15th of October. Prices start at £549 in the UK, with the X5 and X5R camera modules costing significantly more. We’re hoping to get hold of one very soon to give it a full review.