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DJI Osmo Pocket review: Rock-steady Eddie

Jonathan Bray
10 Dec 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
329
inc VAT

Small and perfectly formed, the DJI Osmo Pocket is a powerhouse of a pocket video camera – GoPro, watch out

Pros 
3-axis stabiliser gives rock steady video
Lots of useful modes to play with
Shoots at up to 4K 60fps
Cons 
No wireless built in
Not waterproof without case
Lacks a tripod thread
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Best known for drones like the Mavic Air, the Spark and the Phantom, Chinese firm DJI has been busy branching out of late: it now also counts stabilisers for mobile phones and pro cameras in its range, as well as the world’s best quadcopters. The DJI Osmo Pocket is the latest product in its non-airborne range: an action camera attached to a tiny mechanical, three-axis gimbal, enabling shake-free video in the smallest of packages.

This is a camera aimed at the discerning YouTuber or vlogger first and the action sports market second – it’s not waterproof outside a case – but the £329 price undercuts the GoPro Hero 7 Black significantly, so GoPro has every right to be concerned. It seems DJI is after GoPro’s lunch.

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DJI Osmo Pocket review: What you need to know

Just like GoPro’s flagship camera, the Osmo Pocket records at 4K and at frame rates of up to 60fps. It’s also capable of capturing super-cool timelapse videos and 12-megapixel photographs, just like the GoPro. It’s also small enough to stick in your pocket and has a tiny touchscreen again, just like the GoPro.

But the Osmo Pocket is very different. For starters, it has a very different form factor, one that’s more camera-on-a-stick than camera-in-a-matchbox like the GoPro. That means it’s a touch more awkward to mount wherever you want. It isn’t waterproof like the GoPro, either, so you have to put it a waterproof case if you want to shoot underwater.

The big difference between the two, however, is the way they deliver smooth video. While the GoPro Hero 7 uses computational, digital stabilisation – which is very effective, by the way – the DJI employs a tiny, motorised three-axis gimbal just like the mechanisms used to stabilise the cameras on drones like the Mavic 2 Zoom.

The result is that you can record amazingly smooth, stable, professional-looking video without having to lug a bulky tripod around with you. But that’s not the half of the Osmo Pocket’s talents

DJI Osmo Pocket review: Price and competition

Let’s look at what competitors there are on the market before examining the DJI Osmo Pocket’s full list of capabilities. First up, it’s cheaper than the GoPro Hero 7, which currently costs £380. That’s impressive, given the features on offer.

But the GoPro isn’t the only competition the Osmo faces. There’s also a huge number of smartphone gimbals to choose from, which add similar features to the camera already in your pocket – you can pick up a good one for less than £100. The negative is they’re much bulkier and more fiddly than a dedicated camera like the Osmo Pocket.

DJI Osmo Pocket camera: Features and design

And that’s the main attraction here. While DJI will be selling accessories that will allow the Osmo Compact to compete in the action camera space against the GoPro, its design makes it more of a vlogger’s tool, something more convenient with which to replace the more unwieldy mobile phone and gimbal setup.

In that, it achieves precisely what it sets out to. And it’s the size that’s the most impressive thing about this camera. It really is tiny: the camera unit measures 38 x 29 x 37mm and this is perched on top of a small handle that’s a mere 95mm tall and 27mm wide. Even when it’s slotted into the supplied hard plastic cover it’s only a fraction bulkier. Indeed, the whole shebang weighs a mere 117g, less than most modern smartphones.

Despite the small size, though, the Osmo Pocket turns out to be remarkably capable and easy to use. The camera itself has a 1/2.3in sensor with 1.55um pixels, similar to the GoPro, except that the Osmo’s f/2 aperture is larger and delivers superior low-light performance.

The camera can shoot 4K footage at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps for slow-motion footage. It can also snap photographs at 12 megapixels and records everything to a microSD card that slots in at the left-hand side of the handle. DJI doesn’t include one in the box, though, so you’ll need to find extra room in your budget for one of those.

READ NEXT: Best microSD cards

There are two ways to use the Osmo Pocket: standalone or, for the ultimate in control, plugged into the end of a smartphone using either the USB Type-C or Lightning adapters included in the box. The adapters slide firmly into a slot at the rear and poke out of the left-hand side for connection.

Connected to your phone is the best way to use the Osmo Pocket: in this configuration, you get full four-way control over the gimbal, quicker access to all the various settings and a big preview of what you’re shooting on the screen of your phone.

If you prefer to use the camera on its own, though, you can and you’ll still find it remarkably usable. The handle, small though it is, houses a tiny 1in touchscreen that works much more efficiently than you might expect. You navigate the various menus by swiping up, down, left and right and by tapping to select and focus. It’s even possible to control the vertical tilt of the gimbal by sliding your thumb up and down the right-hand edge of the screen. However, this does obscure about half the display, making it difficult to see what’s on screen. A pair of buttons below lets you start and stop recording and change modes.

Overall, it’s a brilliant design, but I do have a few small niggles. First, it can be awkward to predict what the camera will record, since the screen is square – you’re missing what’s off to the left and the right. Second, the Osmo Pocket lacks a tripod thread. There’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi pairing built in. To add the former you have to purchase the Bluetooth accessory, which is disappointing considering this is something that is built into the GoPro Hero 7. And it isn’t natively waterproof like the GoPro, either. For that, you have to encase it in its optional, and rather bulky, waterproof case.

It’s good that DJI has thought about accessories from the off, though, and there will be a host available from the get-go. These include a set of four neutral density filters that snap magnetically to the front of the camera; an extension rod; a waterproof case; and an action camera mount so you can use the camera just like a GoPro, attached to a helmet, the handlebars of your bike or whatever.

There’s also a charging case, which stores the camera and all your bits and bobs, all while adding an extra two hours of battery life. And a gimbal control wheel that allows fine manual control over pan and tilt.

DJI Osmo Pocket review: Shooting and performance

The headline may be that the DJI Osmo Pocket can shoot mechanically stabilised 4K 60fps footage, and the good news is that the quality of that video is superb. Footage is clean and packed with detail, the camera seems to focus smoothly without hunting and, although noise does come into the equation in low light, the camera still performs well, as you can see in the sequences below.

What most impressed me was how sure-footed the auto exposure seemed to be, adapting smoothly when transitioning from dark to light scenes and rarely over or under-exposing scenes. The audio isn’t bad, either. Compared with an iPhone Xs Max this doesn’t quite have the same amount of body or richness, but the Osmo Pocket does a better job of cutting out wind noise than the iPhone. If you want better quality it’s also possible, via a USB Type-C adapter, to connect an external microphone to the charging port at the bottom of the camera.

What makes the DJI Osmo Pocket special, though, is its mechanical stabilisation and what it allows you to do. Not only does it keep the camera stable in the most extreme circumstances – yep, even while running – it also allows the camera to create special effects through control of the movement of the camera head.

The face-tracking “selfie” mode, for instance, keeps your face in the centre of the frame, no matter how wobbly your camera arm is. This is a doddle to activate: simply tap the function button three times in quick succession and the camera will spin around and start tracking your face.

ActiveTrack works in a similar way but with the camera facing away from you. This is best used with the camera attached to your phone because the Osmo’s small screen makes it fiddly to select the objects you want to track. In this case, simply draw a box around the object in question with your finger and the camera then follows it smoothly around, keeping it in the centre of the frame.

There are also a couple of panorama modes, both of which use motion in the camera head to capture and stitch together a series of images, either in 4 x 1 or 3 x 3 arrangements. You don't have to move the camera yourself as you would with a smartphone panorama. There are a couple of timelapse modes here, too, including “motionlapse”, which slowly moves the camera at the same time as capturing a sequence of stills to capture impressive-looking hyper-lapse style videos.

Motionlapse is perhaps the Osmo Pocket’s most impressive feature and it’s remarkably flexible. You can precisely control the length, the track on which the camera moves and frame intervals, either from the camera itself or the smartphone interface.

This is, however, where the design of the Osmo Pocket lets it down. The Osmo Pocket is absolutely crying out for a tripod thread or, at the very least, some kind of base, because you need to keep the camera stable to create the best results. While I can understand DJI wanted to make the camera as compact as possible, surely an extra half centimetre at the bottom of the handle wouldn’t have made that much difference to its overall appeal?

Still, there are plenty of other features to get your teeth stuck into while you figure out how to strap the camera to your tripod (I used a hairband and a couple of blobs of Blu Tack to secure it to the back of a smartphone tripod mount). There’s an automatic night mode for stills and, via the Mimo app, a “story mode”, which allows you to automatically create Instagram-style video-montage clips in less than a minute.

My favourite mode, though, has to be the Pro mode. Again, this is exclusively accessed via the DJI Mimo app, and provides control over exposure, white balance, shutter speed and ISO. It also adds professional-level features such as zebra stripes for indicating overexposed areas and displays a histogram on screen so you can be sure of getting your exposure levels just right.

DJI Osmo Pocket review: Mimo app

Before I move on to my overall verdict and final thoughts, though, a word about that Mimo app. Much like the app that comes with GoPro cameras, Mimo is designed as your one-stop camera companion app. You use it not only for controlling the camera but also importing and editing clips, sharing and uploading.

It works great for the first part of that list (although the camera draws power from the phone while it’s attached, so you need to keep a careful eye on the battery gauge of both devices). A small onscreen joystick gives you control over the gimbal and there’s a host of options to play around with that are quick and easy to access. Attaching the camera to this app makes it simple to create even better results.

For downloading, editing and sharing, however, Mimo has its fair share of frustrations. Currently, you can’t edit 4K footage in the app; it’s restricted to 1080p. You can’t even download 4K 60fps video clips to the iOS app, presumably because it’s not in the HEVC format that iOS understands. You can download those clips to Android phones, though.

In its defence, DJI says the software isn’t quite finished, but as I write this it has less than two weeks to sort these problems out before the camera begins to ship to customers. The clock is ticking.

DJI Osmo Pocket: Verdict

These issues are disappointing, but there’s still a lot to love about the DJI Osmo Pocket. It shoots video that’s not only fantastic in terms of its quality, but that’s also rock steady, whether you’re standing still, walking, riding or running.

The app’s Pro mode gives you fine control over everything you need and there’s a host of extra features that can help you create stunning hyper-lapse shots and panoramas. And the fact that it does all that while keeping the price to a fairly reasonable £329 is a bonus.

It may be best known for its drones, but DJI also clearly also wants a strong presence in the handheld camera space, something that GoPro currently enjoys pretty much unopposed. With the DJI Osmo Pocket, despite some shortcomings, it looks to have found the answer. This is one fabulous pocket video camera.

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