DJI made a name for itself in the skies with a drone fleet that appeals to everyone from the hobbyist to the professional cinematographer. It’s also gained traction on terra firma, with the Ronin stabilizer. With the OSMO, DJI has built an integrated camera and stabilizer system for action and point-of-view applications that’s more approachable than the larger stabilizing rigs designed for DSLRs and cinema cameras.
We tested the OSMO with the Zenmuse X3 camera, the same one used in the company’s Inspire 1 drone. DJI sells a version of the OSMO with no camera so you can use your own X3 or the company’s higher-end X5/R cameras. The X3 features a 1/2.3-inch Sony CMOS sensor capable of recording 4K at 4096X2160 at 24/25p or at 3840X2160p30. High definition video can be recorded in several frame rates including 30, 48, 60 and 120p. It uses a 20mm lens (35mm equivalent) with a 94-degree field of view and a fixed f/2.8 aperture. The camera has an ISO range of 100-1600 for photos and from 100-3200 for video and a shutter speed range of 30-1/8,000 sec.
For stills, the OSMO can snap 12-megapixel images in either JPEG or RAW (DNG) formats. It can automatically create panoramic images by rotating the camera 360-degrees. There’s even a selfie mode which automatically swivels the X3 180 degrees and snaps an image.
When the X3 camera is resting on the stick-like OSMO, it can tilt from -35 to 135 degrees, pan up to 320 degrees and roll up to 30 degrees. While the OSMO gimbal has several hardware controls, the camera’s settings are only adjustable via the free DJI Go app (Android and iOS). The OSMO generates its own ad-hoc Wi-Fi network and can be controlled by a smartphone up to 82 feet away. Footage is saved to a microSD card.
At 0.4 pounds with battery, the OSMO is quite light and compact. The well-contoured grip is comfortable to hold for long periods of time—far longer, in fact, than the battery will last. There are a few basic hardware controls, including a toggle joystick to position the camera, a trigger on the front to lock the camera direction in place, a record button and a shutter button. The side of the OSMO has a screw-in smartphone holder which easily clasped our iPhone 6s Plus securely to the unit. The hold is tight enough that you can flip the unit around, hold it upside down and shake it a bit and not worry about your phone popping out.
Unfortunately, the OSMO isn’t weather-sealed, so it’s not a suitable substitute for an action camera for water or dust-filled adventures. On the plus side, it can be operated in the cold down to 14 degrees or up to 122 degrees, for those lip-of-the-volcano shots.
Our other beef with the design is that there’s no tripod mount on the bottom of the unit. Instead, you’ll have to spring for the $55 extension rod, which mounts to the OSMO where the smartphone holder typically inserts. That extension rod has a tripod socket, plus a mount for your smartphone so it’s still within easy reach when the OSMO is extended.
Speaking of extras, while the OSMO doesn’t come with quite the full universe of mounts and accessories that you’d expect to find with a GoPro or a Sony action camera, DJI does offer a bike and vehicle mount, plus a universal mount with a cold shoe and 1/4-20 thread for mics, lights and other gadgets.
The OSMO we tested uses DJI’s X3 camera, which we originally experienced when we tested the Inspire 1 (December 2015). As we noted then, the Zenmuse X3 camera maintains consistent color reproduction in daylight and moderately hazy conditions. The colors don’t pop as much as on our GoPro Hero4 and, like most small-sensor action cameras, the X3 tends to overexpose highlights, and the footage it captures will become noisy when the lights go down.
In short, you’ll enjoy solid, action camera-level quality for both stills and video. But unlike an action camera, the OSMO completely stabilizes footage at the moment of capture, delivering a smoother, Steadicam feel to your video.
With a maximum bit rate of 60Mbps, you’re getting less information per frame than what Sony’s 4K action camera can deliver (4K bit rates at 100Mbps), though we didn’t spot any egregious artifacts. The OSMO does record audio internally, however the mic will pick up a lot of gimbal noise, so it’s suitable only for a scratch track. You can disable audio recording entirely in the app and use external mics, such as the RØDE VideoMic Pro, via an audio input for higher quality sound.
Through the DJI Go app, you’ll have a modest amount of control over exposure, including the ability to tweak ISO and shutter speed. However, we found that as we switched from still shooting into video, the camera would forget our still photo settings, forcing us to reset the camera to the desired settings each time we flipped back to still shooting. The app will also create panoramic images when you set the OSMO to panoramic mode, but the camera itself will save only individual stills on the memory card.
Working with the OSMO is remarkably simple, with little of the delicate balancing or calibrating that’s required of other, larger stabilizing systems. The camera pans smoothly and generally keeps a subject locked in the frame when depressing the trigger. You can walk or run with the OSMO and still produce generally smooth footage. Considering the price, that’s pretty remarkable.
The OSMO starts quickly and the app-to-camera connection was very solid when our iPhone was placed in the dock. Even from 10 feet away, commands sent to the OSMO from our phone were executed with minimal to no lag. You can swipe a finger across your smartphone display and the OSMO will tilt the camera in the direction of your swipe, if you don’t have access to the joystick. Where the OSMO lags is battery life. To accommodate the small form factor, the OSMO uses a correspondingly small lithium ion battery that taps out after about an hour of use. That’s not terrible in the universe of action cameras, where the GoPro Hero4 also lasts about an hour when recording 4K. But unlike the Hero4, there’s no accessory battery pack you can add to the OSMO to give it more juice before needing a recharge. Extra batteries for the unit cost $35.
The OSMO is a great tool for creating hyper-stable footage without the weight, encumbrance and learning curve of larger camera gimbals. There are motorized gimbals for cameras like the GoPro but most action cameras to date have relied on mechanical stabilizers that aren’t nearly as effective or as feature rich as the OSMO. The image quality of the X3 camera is roughly on par with leading-class action cameras, but the OSMO doesn’t offer the waterproof housings and impact resistance of those models. Given that it’s a gimbal and camera all in one, it can’t be easily mounted to a helmet, though it’s light enough for handlebars. The limited battery life also means you can’t meander down the rolling river without a pack full of backup batteries.
When paired with DJI’s X5 and X5/R cameras, the OSMO becomes a much more enticing action cam alternative for serious filmmakers. These new cameras offer larger image sensors and Micro Four Thirds lens mounts and, in the X5R’s case, an option for Log and RAW recording to SSD storage. Of course, these cameras are heavier and larger than the X3 so the gimbal’s performance, particularly its already meager battery life, may suffer as a result. Still, the OSMO brings ultra-smooth footage into reach for pros and enthusiast action cam shooters alike.
PROS: Excellent stabilization; great value for the price; easy-to-use; compact size; less wide angle distortion; reliable Wi-Fi connection.
CONS: Short battery life; not weather sealed.
Related: 5 Affordable 4K Cameras [Updated]