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    DJI Osmo review: A hand-held stabilized camera worthy of its price

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    Thanks to the rise of small action cameras, camera stabilizers (aka gimbals) are becoming more portable than ever. Amazon has plenty of these coming from random Chinese brands, but most are either poorly designed, or only a partial solution to your problem. For instance, they often lack a handset mount for those who need a live screen. There are also gimbals that use smartphones as the camera, but I've yet to come across one with raving reviews; the current options appear to be more of a nuisance due to their awkward calibration and erratic stabilization. So unless you've tried one and are certain that it works well with your phone, your best bet is to go with a dedicated camera gimbal.

    In terms of full-featured gimbals, we have only two compelling options so far. The first one is the Aetho's Aeon, which takes a GoPro and has its own display, but it won't arrive until early next year. This leaves us with DJI's latest creation, the Osmo, which we first saw back in January. This device features a 4K camera module similar to the one on the company's flagship drone, the Inspire 1, and it can house your smartphone as a viewfinder on the side. But it isn't just about the hardware, because like the company's drones, the Osmo also has a full-featured companion app for greater versatility. Let's see if this fancy package is worthy of its $649 price.

    Gallery: DJI Osmo review | 16 Photos

    Engadget Score
    Poor
    Uninspiring
    Good
    Excellent
    Key

    Pros
    • Fantastic stabilization
    • Good video quality in general
    • Comfortable grip
    • Full-featured app
    Cons
    • Battery life could be longer
    • Videos getnoisy easily
    • Can't transfer 4K videos to phone
    • Microphones aren'tvery sensitive

    Summary

    This may be DJI's first attempt at making a hand-held gimbal, but it's already by far one of the best, if not the best, solutions in the current market. Great stabilization, intuitive software and comfortable grip make this a fun, complete package.

    Hardware

    The Osmo consists of four parts: a Zenmuse X3 three-axis gimbal with a camera, an ergonomic handle with all the control buttons, a 10.8Wh battery and a phone clamp. In total this weighs about 538 grams (1.19 pounds) according to my scale, which is still quite manageable when you add a smartphone to it, but you can get this down to 422 grams (0.93 pound) if you remove the phone holder. The package also includes a lens cap plus a wrist strap for safety measures, as well as a cute little carrying case that may fool your friends into thinking you have a tiny ukulele inside.

    For those who are already flying an Inspire 1, its Zenmuse X3 module needs no introduction. This fan-cooled gimbal-camera is powered by Sony's 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel sensor that can record videos of up to 4K resolution -- 4,096 x 2,160 at 24fps or 3,840 x 2,160 at 30fps/24fps, to be exact -- with a maximum video bitrate of 60 Mbps. If you want a smoother video, you can go up to 60fps at either 1080p or 720p, or even do slow motion with 120fps at 1080p. As with the drone version, you get a 20mm f/2.8 lens with a 94-degree field of view. The gimbal is also where you insert your microSD card, which needs to be of at least Class 10 or UHS-1. Obviously, the faster the write speed, the better. In my case, DJI supplied a 16GB Panasonic microSDHC UHS Speed Class 3 card with our review unit, and it's worked well for me so far.

    While the default gimbal-camera module on the Osmo and the Inspire 1 share the same name, there's a catch: You can't use Osmo's module on the drone; it only works the other way around. According to DJI, the main difference between the two is that the one on the Osmo has a mechanical structure that's optimized for hand-held use, including the way it flattens for storage, the orientation of its tilt motor and other small changes inside the camera and gimbal.

    Much like the Inspire 1, the Osmo is also compatible with the higher-end Zenmuse X5 and X5R gimbals for some Micro Four Thirds action, but you will need to buy an adapter for them.

    The detachable, metallic phone holder hangs onto the left side of the handle via a screw thread mount. It clamps onto your smartphone by way of two corners on one side and the middle of the other side. All three contact points, as well as the parts touching the back of the phone, are padded with soft plastic, so there's no need to worry about the clamp scratching your phone. The biggest device I managed to slide in there was the 6-inch Oppo R7 Plus, which comes in at 158mm tall and 82mm wide, so the equally tall, but narrower iPhone 6s Plus will fit just fine, although it may be a struggle if it's in a thick case.

    While we're here, I should add that DJI also offers a range of accessories for the Osmo, including an extension rod, tripod and straight extension arm -- as well as universal, bike and vehicle mounts. Most of these can be installed on the Osmo in the same way as the phone holder.

    This leaves us with the handle, which houses a stereo microphone, a 3.5mm audio jack for a lavalier mic, a screw mount at the top for the gimbal, a battery that goes in from the bottom and several buttons plus a couple of LED indicators dotted around the thumb and index finger areas. Thanks to the soft grip and thoughtful curvature, the Osmo is easily one of the most, if not the most, comfortable hand-held gimbals to hold. When placed in hand, your thumb can easily reach the slider for power, a flat joystick for maneuvering the camera, a capture button for still photos and a video-recording toggle.

    On the other side, there's a trigger button that provides three functions: Hold down to lock the camera's orientation, double-tap to re-center the gimbal and triple-tap to swing the camera back for a selfie. Yes, you may as well call this the world's most expensive selfie stick. If needed, the gimbal does allow minor adjustments by hand; just avoid twisting too hard and thus accidentally locking the gimbal. Don't worry, this is all explained in the app's tutorial, which gives us a nice segue to the next section of this review.

    Software

    When you're feeling adventurous, the Osmo functions just fine without the DJI Go app on iOS and Android, but that does require some guesswork and you'll also miss out on a lot of features. Most importantly, this is where you set your photo aspect ratio, video resolution and video frame rate. You can also use the app to adjust your gimbal's parameters and re-calibrate it when necessary. To link up, simply turn on the Osmo, connect your phone to the gimbal's WiFi hotspot and then launch the app.

    Once you've entered the camera view, you can toggle between the still-camera and the video-recording interfaces. These come with common quick settings like white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. You can also tap on the screen to set an exposure reference point, or hold down and move your finger around to control the gimbal. Additionally, there are mode-specific features like slow-motion toggle (1080p at 120fps) in the video interface, and various shooting modes in the still-camera interface: single, multiple, interval, panorama (360 degrees or just 180) and time-lapse. But regardless of which interface you're in, you can still initiate whichever capture mode you desire using the buttons on the Osmo.

    Gallery: DJI Go screenshots | 14 Photos

    As before, DJI Go lets you browse, transfer and even edit content captured with the Osmo. That said, the file-transfer function currently only supports JPEG images and videos of up to 1080p resolution, meaning you'll have to grab your 2.7K and 4K footage plus RAW images directly from the microSD card. Hopefully a future update will resolve this inconvenience. Going back to the editing feature: With photos, you get tools for cropping, rotation, contrast, brightness, saturation and adding filters. As for video, you can put together a simple movie using multiple six-second clips, and then beautify it with the same set of filters along with some music templates. Once I got the hang of it, I actually quite enjoyed this video tool. It's fun, intuitive and great for killing time (which reminds me of HTC Zoe's Video Highlights feature). You can then share your creation to your social networks via DJI's Skypixel platform.

    Performance

    Given DJI's expertise in camera stabilization, it's no surprise I got some great footage with the Osmo. I found it was most effective when I held the gimbal totally still; it was almost as if I had placed the device on a tripod. And thanks to the super-high resolution, a largely motionless video would trick you into thinking it's a still photo, until you spot the subtle moving parts. Nothing new here, of course, but coming from a hand-held device, this is pretty amazing.

    The gimbal also did a good job when I walked around with it. Not even some rocky beaches could embarrass DJI's latest creation. Having said that, you can still see some light wobbling caused by my footsteps in some of the clips, so users are advised to not fully rely on the Osmo for stabilization and walk as gently as possible. In terms of response speed, the gimbal managed to keep up with my small, energetic toy poodle when he ran around me, which you can see in my sample video reel.

    Since it's a wide-angle lens, some softening near the frame's edges is inevitable, but luckily, that's not too apparent. Video quality in general is top-notch in well-lit environments, especially outside during the day. Once I went indoors, the clips became a bit noisy and got a little worse at night, but color accuracy was consistent, as you can see in my nighttime harbor footage. It's the same story with the Osmo's still-camera performance, but at least you can tweak the shots later if you shoot in RAW format.

    Gallery: DJI Osmo sample photos | 8 Photos

    There are two other areas where I see room for improvement. First of all, the audio in my video clips is very quiet, and there's no way to adjust the microphones' sensitivity in the app, so hopefully DJI can do something about this. Good thing there's an option to plug in an external microphone. Secondly, I found the 60-minute battery life to be a tad short. I'd ask for a denser power pack, but the last thing DJI would want to do is to make the battery heavier, so users like me would be better off procuring an extra one for $35.

    The competition

    To be honest, there's not much of a competition in the market right now. Pretty much all other hand-held gimbals are just hardware solutions for your smartphone or GoPro camera, and few come with an ergonomic grip, like the $300 Big Balance Husky HY3M pictured left. Those with a straight grip are slightly cheaper, but reliability could still be hit and miss; our own James Trew recommends the Feiyu G3 or G4 (from about $200) for those with a smaller budget. By comparison, the DJI Osmo is far more advanced, with its own app and various handy features. Also, its camera is upgradeable to suit the needs of professional users.

    While the Osmo's $649 price tag may look less appealing at first, it's actually quite reasonable for folks who are starting from scratch. For instance, if you go for the HY3M and need a dedicated wide-angle camera, you'll still need to spend a bit more money -- somewhere around $200 for a basic GoPro with WiFi (the Hero+), or from $300 for one with a built-in display (Hero+ LCD or Hero4 Silver) because this gimbal doesn't have a mount to hold your smartphone as a viewfinder. Alternatively, you probably just want to use your smartphone's camera, but from my experience, the HY3M's stabilization only works well with smaller smartphones -- ideally those with a screen size of less than five inches, which is becoming a rarity in the Android world.

    Ultimately, then, it depends on what you already have in hand or what you want to achieve. It's also worth pointing out that if you own an Inspire 1, you can simply purchase the $269 Osmo handle kit (battery, charger and phone holder included) and use it with the drone's camera. That's not a bad way to make the most out of your $2,899 drone purchase.

    Wrap-up

    It's safe to say that DJI isn't just a drone expert, but also a hand-held gimbal maestro. This company took its time to do its homework and address several pain points, while most others simply rushed to market with unpolished products that left us longing for more. Simply put, the Osmo offers a complete package that's both powerful and intuitive. Is it perfect? Not quite: We'd like to see cleaner footage taken in the dark, improved still image quality, better microphones and a slightly longer battery life. Even so, DJI's rivals already have a lot of catching up to do.

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