Osmo Pocket review: Tiny but capable camera
We took DJI's tiny new gimbal camera for a tour of Hong Kong
I usually shoot videos on mirrorless cameras -- the Sony a7R III, Panasonic GH5 and Olympus E-M1 Mark II. All three have 5-axis image stabilization for steady handheld video.
But all three are, well, bulky. They're not huge, of course, but they're big enough that I wouldn't carry them all the time. I'd love for something smaller, that fits into my jacket, but still capable of shooting steady 4K footage while I walk around.
DJI's Osmo Pocket is the answer.
This isn't DJI's first handheld gimbal camera. The previous Osmo models were much the same, just bigger: There's a hand-sized grip to hold, and an orb-like camera housing at the top surrounded by the gimbal that ensures that the camera remains level. It's a wonderful creative tool, allowing for very easy smooth walking shots that used to require something large and bulky, like a Steadicam. Later, DJI released an Osmo without the camera, allowing you to mount a smartphone instead.
As the name implies, the Osmo Pocket is much smaller. It's a gorgeous little device, light and yet solidly built, with a nice matte finish. Where the old Osmo models were bulky enough that you'd have to carry them in a bag (albeit, not a large bag), the Osmo Pocket is indeed small enough to fit inside a pocket.
The question is: Who is this for?
The size and simplicity suggests that DJI is looking to more casual users, who might want to upgrade from shooting on a smartphone to a dedicated device... but aren't planning to invest in a DSLR.
I wanted to look at the Osmo Pocket from this perspective: What can you do with this that you can't do on a smartphone? And is that worth the cost of buying an extra device?
So I decided to leave my DSLRs at home and spend three days shooting around Hong Kong with the Osmo Pocket. You can see the results in the video at the top of the page, or read on for more technical details.
INTELLIGENT TRACKING AND STABILIZATION
The highlight feature here has to be ActiveTrack. Just draw a frame on the subject you want to track -- either on a smartphone attached to the Osmo, or through the tiny screen, and the Osmo Pocket will automatically keep the subject centered. If it moves? The camera will follow.
I found this to be the most useful feature here, and it allowed me to create hyperlapse videos pretty easily. I'd highlight a building, sign or feature, then start walking steadily towards or around the object -- no matter where I go, the Osmo keeps pointing straight at the object. That assumes it's not covered by something, of course: In one case, it lost my friend when he walked too close to the camera.
Footage was almost always smooth and steady, without any hint of wobble. I'd actually say that the Osmo Pocket performed better while walking than my mirrorless cameras with 5-axis image stabilization.
Sadly, the device doesn't make hyperlapse videos automatically. To create mine, I had to use Premiere Pro on my computer. I sped up the footage by 1000%, applied Warp Stabilizer, and got some really cool shots.
You don't have to use a smartphone with the Osmo Pocket, but it does make life much easier. While I definitely appreciate that DJI included a tiny touchscreen, and while it's good enough for quick controls or simple shots, you just get so much more out of it if you connect a phone and use the larger screen (and easier access to advanced controls). There's a clever little system for doing this, with a dongle that slides into the device with either a Lightning or USB-C connector -- and when you're not using it, you pull it out and reverse it so the connector isn't dangling over the edge.
SELFIE MODE AND AUTOFOCUS
I'm not really into selfies. And if you're into group selfies, this may not be the right device because the tiny camera's lens just isn't wide enough.
On the other hand, for solo shots? This felt more handy to me than using a smartphone. It's more comfortable and natural to hold, and FaceTrack ensures that it's always pointing at your face.
Unlike the bigger Osmo, the Osmo Pocket doesn't have a joystick to move the camera around. Without attaching a phone, you can either move the camera with swipes on the touchscreen, or with one of the two buttons on the front. While the button on the left is the record button, the one on the right handles a lot of features. Holding it will turn the device on or off, tapping once switches between still and video, tapping twice re-centers the camera, and tapping three times flips the camera around entirely -- either going into or out of selfie mode, basically.
In practice, it's pretty straightforward and easy to use.
I was totally blown away with the photos created with the 3x3 Panorama mode. As the name suggests, the camera takes nine photos, then stitches them together to create a super wide-angle shot.
It works like magic. It took the camera around 15 seconds to take all nine shots seen below, moving automatically to capture the shots needed. Then it will take about 20 seconds to stitch them together to create the panorama picture.
One thing to note is that this stitching only happens within the DJI Mimo app. If you use the Osmo Pocket without a smartphone and take the microSD card out, all you'll find are nine photos.
Still, I was impressed that there was almost no trace (or perhaps minimal amounts) of chromatic aberration in the panorama pictures.
Under good lighting conditions, the Osmo Pocket is capable of some good colors and contrast in both photos and videos. If anything, I'd say the colors are a bit on the saturated side and a bit too punchy. Details are crisp and sharp, though I noticed some softness in the corners of wide angle shots. It bothers me a little, but to be honest, it's not much of an issue.
Overall, I'd say image quality is better than your average smartphone in terms of sharpness. As a bonus, if you like shooting in RAW, connecting the Osmo to the Mimo app on a smartphone will allow you to shoot JPEG+RAW photos.
PRO MODE AND TIME-LAPSE
That's not the only upside to using the Mimo app. You also get access to Pro Mode.
Pro Mode, as the name suggests, offers so much more. You get more video frame rates to choose from, and you can even change the video codec and quality. There are also lots of extra settings, like white balance, shutter speed, ISO and autofocus mode. (I suggest turning off noise reduction to prevent digital sharpening.) Even when playing with the Osmo Pocket regularly, or to choose from the options already on it, it's just so much easier when you're dealing with a massive smartphone screen instead of the Osmo Pocket's tiny screen, which is so small that your finger will often obscure whatever you're trying to press.
Using a smartphone also makes it much easier to shoot timelapse videos. The Osmo Pocket can create some mind-blowing timelapses.
Aside from the usual features of interval and overall duration, you can also draw a "path" of up to four points for a motion timelapse. There are only two downsides, and while they're relatively easily solved, they're still not great. For one, there isn't a tripod for the Osmo Pocket yet. My solution was to get a tripod for my smartphone, mount that, and then stick the Osmo on.
The other problem? Battery life.
Battery life is the biggest problem with the Osmo Pocket. To get the video you saw above, I had a pretty intense day of shooting with it, starting at 10:30am and ending at 11pm. I shot five panorama photos, seven timelapse videos (consisting of 1,749 photos in all) and nearly a hundred 4K videos, ranging from ten seconds in length to six minutes.
I had to charge the Osmo Pocket seven times. Twice, the battery went dead entirely. I also had a charger plugged in a lot while using it.
If you're planning anything more than a few casual videos, you must bring along a power bank for the Osmo Pocket. (Thankfully, it charges via USB-C, so most power banks will do.) That day, the Osmo Pocket entirely drained my 10,000mAh battery pack.
Still, despite the battery woes, I found myself enjoying the Osmo Pocket more and more as I kept using it. I loved being able to capture some really cool videos with a device that could live in my pocket, instead of a bigger and bulkier camera. There are so many features here, but it's so easy to use that creating cinematic shots is really no trouble at all.
One other major downside is the narrow lens. Anyone comparing the Osmo Pocket to a GoPro can see how the latter captures so much more, great for landscapes or vlogging with friends.
Compared to a smartphone though, the Osmo Pocket takes sharper photos, much steadier videos, and some truly mind-blowing timelapse videos. If you find yourself getting into vlogging, the FaceTrack feature is excellent at keeping you always in the frame, no matter what you're doing.
Now, I wouldn't ditch my mirrorless cameras for this. Yeah, they're bigger, but they're just so much better in terms of resolution and low-light performance.
But it's really hard to beat something this small and this portable. Where I'd have to think ahead of time to bring my camera with me, I can just keep the Osmo Pocket tucked away in my jacket or bag, ready for use whenever I see something cool.
I think the best recommendation I can give is simply this: After I returned the unit we borrowed from DJI, I bought one for myself.