DJI Osmo Review. Photographer’s Perspective

posted in Photo Gear Reviews

DJI Osmo Review. Photographer’s Perspective

I think it’s been about two years since I started eyeing a camera stabilizer system. I never owned one, they seemed heavy, with all these weights you had to balance and then carry around. And the price tag didn’t seem friendly either – $ 300-800 on average. Now we live in a different era – where you can be light and portable, and even have a lens on your gimball.

You don’t normally see many videos from me, but I realize that it’s one of those areas of many opportunities, even if just backstage little snippets into my work and life. You can utilize pretty much any camera for videos, from your phone to advanced mirrorless systems. DJI Osmo is sort of this child of the two and I was very curious to test it out.

Normally it takes quite a bit of effort to get gear for reviews. The way I do them is even more complicated – I need to have the product in my hands for multiple weeks. So I’m not really a news site where I can republish media images provided in press releases. Knowing that, I gave my best shot at contacting DJI.

I first got an autoresponder in Chinese with English translations with a list of who to contact for what. I sent another email then, and literally a few days later I heard back. This is quite an unusual speed and friendliness from a large company leading the market in its product lines. Just though I’d share that.

So here I was, with this large box from UPS saying that DJI just sent me this awesomeness. The feeling you get while opening and powering up the device is as if you just got your hands on the first computer ever. Remember that time? It’s so new and exciting that you just press all the buttons and see what happens. In 20 min I was able to calm down and started evaluating what I have in my hands.

The Look

As I am writing, the following visual description description of Osmo comes to mind: an electronic gimball with an eyeball/camera to which you can connect your phone as an external screen and controller. In a way, we’re getting used to having smaller cameras and the ones that can fit in tight spaces for action sports. So maybe visually this setup is a little unexpected at first, but after you use it more and more, it makes perfect sense. It also reminds me of my old Sanyo VPC-HD2000. The Osmo I have in my hands is a loaner from DJI, so that’s why there are all these labels on it.

The grip is also your controller. There is just a handful of buttons, so really you get to focus on the filming process more than you try to figure out how to make this thing work. Everything is very intuitive and on the first setup you get to go through a 3 min training where you try out the controls and the system gives you feedback and shows what happens on certain commands.

My phone is quite large and it was pretty tight in the holder. I like having such a big screen to work with and it’s also nice to use a device you already own rather than buy another external monitor. Holding the phone in your left hand gives some additional stability, but it’s not necessary. I didn’t find any discomfort when shooting with one hand.

When you look at the materials used on the Osmo, the impression you get is that this is a high end device. There is nothing loose, no gaps, no nothing. You get a solid device that looks good and does the job it was meant for. The neat part of this device is that you can disconnect the camera from the grip and swap it to a X5 for example or some other more advanced camera options.

One thing that was not that great about Osmo is no ability to put it in a holster on your belt or some kind of special carry. You need to gently place is on a clean surface and that is the only way to free up both of your hands. The case that comes with the Osmo is great, but it’s just for protective transport and not meant to be used in the shoot situations.

Functionality

First things first, you need to connect Osmo to your phone. It takes maybe 2-4 minutes at first, but after that it’s pretty smooth. Osmo creates a special wifi network that you connect to. After that in the DJI app you’re free to choose the device you want to use and it’ll be lit up as available. That’s basically it. In less than 20 seconds you’ve got the phone showing what the camera sees and you can begin filming. You need to physically unlock each axis and the camera comes alive. It centers and starts doing its thing.

The reality of Osmo software that you have to let it do its thing without trying to control every single setting. There are quite a few useful controls, but after playing with them for a bit I ended up sticking to the setup that worked best for me. The first thing you’ve got to do is auto calibrate the camera. Otherwise you might end up having your horizon looking like a downhill slope. After the calibration you’re set to start filming.

I preferred to do most of the camera movement through the grip. The screen is handy, but at best I maybe switched to slow motion a few times. It’s a fun mode, but for me it was more interesting to see the smooth movement of the camera as I’m walking around the 32nd floor of a DTLA skyscraper.

I didn’t do anything extra, but my phone was also copying the video clips being shot to its internal memory. The micro SD card did well for me, and obviously the faster it is, the better. The nice feature allowed me to share some of the clips on socials right away and it definitely is very handy.

I thought about the best way to show Osmo in use and the results you can get with it. I had three days of ballet shoots coming up and I though it would be interesting to show what happens behind the scenes in the environment where I shoot a lot. It’s also a pretty dark setup so I wanted to showcase that it can be to your benefit. I love the challenge of low light and I think that’s been my overall theme for the last few years.

I didn’t do any planning for this video. Nothing here is staged. I did a few quick cuts in Final Cut and then colored the clip with a basic preset in Final Cut and another layer of synced settings via Lightroom to match my usual moody look. The music here is royalty free and definitely fits the mood. So you can see that it’s not in a commercial shoot with thousands of dollars in prep and post production.

I’m not into selfies too much, but there are a few interesting combos you can use: double tap to recenter the camera and triple tap to get into the selfie mode and the camera turns to you. If you just hold the main front button down, you’re locking the position of the camera on a certain angle and subject, so you can move around but the camera will continue filming a certain object or person. It was quite nice, but I need to master that a bit more. I come from a photo world, so the majority of the pro video movements especially with stabilizers are not natural to me.

The DJI app crashed only once on me and one time the clip I recorded got some artifacts instead of a clean video for a few seconds. I am guessing that might have been the wifi connection breaking. But in my 3 weeks of having Osmo, the DJI app updated at least 3-4 times, so you can count on timely support and resolution of small bugs.

Ergonomics

Osmo is a light and compact device. It is meant to be a fun tool for occasional shooters and can function quite well in professional settings. I loved how easy it was to start using Osmo. This is a new kind of device, but somehow it didn’t feel intimidating or complex where you put it on the shelf saying that you’ll read the manual one day and then start to use it.

I also got interesting feedback from people who are pro shooters around me. They started thinking about getting Osmo for vlogging and quick backstage videos. They also wanted Osmo as a replacement for the action cameras. You can do quite a lot with Osmo and that’s the neat part about it.

One thing you can’t really do with Osmo is switch the main grip hand. It just is not natural and not comfortable at all. The grip is made for your right hand and all controls are positioned for that as well.

There is pretty much no accidental setting changes you can do. If you just want to focus on shooting, then just hold on to the grip. I like the simplicity of the controls and grown to appreciate it more and more lately. Boundaries are good because they force you to rely on yourself and your movement rather than on the functions of the camera.

Conclusion

In many ways I am very new to video. I’ve shot some a while ago but just as a fun little project. I personally don’t see Osmo being a necessary still photography camera. I am happy with my setup as it’s the core of my work. But for video I was curious to see if Osmo can become a nice addition to my gear bag for all those upcoming videos and reviews I want to start making.

I think it absolutely is the setup that is the quickest to get going with. Will it produce the same quality as a mirrorless full frame camera? Probably not, depending if you upgrade from X3 to X5 (the lens will be different). That’s not a fair comparison. But will it be able to make videos like the one I am showing in this review – definitely!

Obvious Osmo is not a drone, it doesn’t have a huge sensor size, maybe doesn’t do as well in low light even though I had no issues with that because I love the raw reality of darkness. I got stopped quite a bit on the streets because people were interested in what I had in my hands – DJI Osmo. But as it often happens, you can only buy so many cameras and the questions becomes if this one is really necessary.

Overall, I have a very nice impression of Osmo. I am pretty pumped about the ballet clip I got to put together. Thanks to the DJI team for sending me this loaner!

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