So you’ve heard about those camera gimbal gizmos, right? Maybe you’ve even seen them out “in the wild” and thought they were pretty cool. But still, you think, “I have the iPhone 11 Pro Max with three cameras on it, and Tim promised that it would be the best video experience I’ve ever had. So why would I get one of those gimbal things?”
Because really smooth, stabilized video.
Hey this is Joe Dugandzic from Smarter Home Life, and I myself recently bought one of those camera gimbal gadgets—specifically the DJI Osmo Pocket—for a big project I’m currently working on. In fact, the project itself and my purchase of the Osmo Pocket is directly related to another project that I worked on with Allison and Steve just about a year ago, but more on that later.
So what are these camera gimbal things, anyways…and why should you even consider getting one?
To start, let’s talk about video stabilization. For several years now, most of the higher-end smartphones on their market have had their internal camera systems mounted on microscopic rigs that enable the camera to move up and down, and left and right, while you’re taking a video on your phone. This is called optical, or sometimes mechanical image stabilization, since it’s done “in the camera”.
Monitoring the accelerometers and gyros in your phone, the camera will do its best to counteract any shaky movement while you’re taking a video with your phone by moving the camera in the opposite direction of any small movements. It can also improve the process of taking individual photos and prevent accidental movement. This can definitely help in low-light environments or when you’re shooting something up-close.
Most smartphones also pair optical image stabilization with a bit of software—or electronic—image stabilization. Ever notice that the image “zooms in” a bit when you switch from “photo” mode to “video” mode on your smartphone? This is to enable the video frame to be “moved around” the larger size of the actual image sensor to automatically counteract camera shake.
And of course it helps that the image sensors in smartphones have generally been able to take much higher-resolution photos than videos, thus allowing electronic stabilization to be added in the first place. Before optical stabilization came into being on smartphones, electronic stabilization was the only way to go. If you’ve ever heard the term “pan and scan” as it relates to movies, electronic stabilization is actually a similar, but automated, concept.
So, the overall goal of optical and/or electronic image stabilization is to help create video that looks like it wasn’t shot by you holding your camera with one hand out the driver-side window of your car, trying to capture what you thought was a beautiful flock of geese taking to the skies from a perfectly-green, grassy field. In super-slow-motion, of course. (As it turned out, they were oversized pigeons and you need new glasses.)
So what’s the difference between your phone and its stabilized cameras and a camera gimbal? Or even one of those gimbal things that you can mount entire your phone into?
It removes your potentially-shaky hands nearly entirely from the video-making process.
But it’s not quite a “Steadicam” either. Steadicams are large, expensive wearable camera rigs commonly used in film and television production—think about those long “walk and talks” from The West Wing—and use counterweights instead of electronics to smooth out the movement of a camera operator with a giant film camera strapped to their chest.
While there are gimbal devices that can accommodate your own smartphone, and yes, I’ve tried one, I’m focusing on the DJI Osmo Pocket. It’s an all-in-one unit, with the camera already mounted on its three-axis, motorized gimbal, and it has a touchscreen and most all of the stuff you’ll need in one compact gadget.
It’s from the guys who popularized drones, DJI, and who also started making their own cameras a few years ago. A gimbal-stabilized camera doesn’t move the camera left and right and up and down like optical image stabilization, it pans it left and right, tilts it up and down, and even rotates it on its own axis to follow—and sometimes counteract—your own natural hand movements.
This is incredibly helpful when you need to pan your camera across a room, or some other space or landscape. Normally, you have to control the movement yourself by physically moving your hand and/or arm to try to smoothly move your phone or other camera across the shot.
With the Osmo Pocket, when you make any move, the camera will slowly and smoothly “catch up” to your own movements while always keeping the camera level. It’s not the easiest concept to describe with only words, but the best way I can describe it is that a stabilized gimbal and its sensors and gyros (similar to those found in smartphones) reads our own imperfect human movements and translates them into smooth camera movements. And that, is the “killer app” of these gimbal devices.
Physically, the Osmo Pocket is surprisingly small at just 5 inches tall and one inch on all other sides, it almost looks like one of those old “candy bar” phones from yesteryear. But don’t let its small size fool you, because it shoots pretty high-quality video for being such a tiny device.
The gimbal-mounted camera sits at the top, with a 1-inch touchscreen and separate “shutter/record” and “control” buttons on the front of the device. Also, since it only weighs a few ounces, it feels pretty good to hold it in your hand…even for longer recording sessions. Speaking of recording, you’ll get about 2.5 hours of battery life from the device for 1080p video, and it takes just over an hour to recharge. As usual with different recording modes and such, your mileage may vary.
When you combine the incredibly-precise gimbal on the Osmo Pocket with its electronics and software, you get some incredible new ways to creatively shoot video, and even still photos. Here’s a few examples:
In the default “follow” mode that follows your own natural hand movements, you can easily pan across a scene to capture what might be going on in the shot, or just take in some beautiful scenery. Move your hand too quickly or not quite “evenly”? Osmo Pocket smooths it out, automatically.
But what if you were actually trying to “follow” something? Or someone? Or a pet? Double-tap on a subject in the shot on the touchscreen and the camera will now automatically follow them. The gimbal has a nearly 180 degree panning range and 90 degree tilt range to track subjects, so it will keep moving the camera even if you hold the device still.
And what if you are your own camera crew and need to be in the video? Triple-clicking the main button on the Osmo Pocket will enable “selfie mode” and point the camera toward you, and its facial recognition will automatically track you in the shot. So now you can walk around, talk to the camera, interact with your surroundings, and not worry about trying to keep yourself centered in the frame. DJI makes a number of accessories for the Osmo Pocket, including a selfie stick of sorts…so, yeah, you get the idea.
In addition to tracking subjects and yourself automatically, Osmo Pocket has a couple of other modes including FPV and Tilt-Lock. FPV adjust the response time of the gimbal to follow your own movements a bit faster, which can create pretty stunning footage on looping rollercoasters and when you might want a special “fast whip” effect of moving the camera from one point of view to another. Tilt-Lock mode keeps the camera pointing forward, no matter how you hold the Osmo Pocket itself. For shots where you might be just moving straight ahead, or want to “push” the camera through a small space and hold the Osmo “flat”, this can come in handy.
Because the camera is on a gimbal, you have it take a panorama shot for you, and it will do so perfectly because it is the one performing the movements. And, for night shots that require a steady hand, the gimbal will automatically steady your hand for you, even for multi-second exposure times. Motion time-lapse and “hyperlapse” modes are also available for even more creative possibilities.
One last thing about all of this gimbal-stabilized magic: The Osmo Pocket doesn’t quite make everything perfectly, buttery smooth…because you’re still holding the device. If you quickly move your hand from side to side or up and down, it will try to stabilize that through software, but the gimbal itself won’t fix those lateral movements. But for everything else, yes…it’s pretty magical.
And for all of what the Osmo Pocket does, it’s incredibly, and I mean, unbelievably small. Weighing about 4 ounces, and measuring just 5 inches tall and barely 1 inch wide by 3/4 inch deep, there’s a lot of tech in this very precise device.
Onboard is a F2.0 12 megapixel camera with a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and 80 degree field of view, and it shoots video in 4K at up to 60 frames per second or 1080p at up to 120 fps slow-motion. While you can set the camera for fully-automatic operation, you can also dial in all of the ISO, exposure, white balance, and other settings manually to your heart’s content.
All of your footage and photos are captured on a MicroSD card up to 256 GB. You can connect your iPhone or USB-C smartphone directly to the Osmo Pocket to get a larger view, automatic shot editing, and easier access to settings through innovative connectors. Micro-USB smartphones can connect via a cable. Accessories available for the Osmo Pocket let you take it underwater, mount to a tripod, enable Wi-Fi connectivity, add physical controls for manually controlling pan and tilt, and much more.
The DJI Osmo Pocket retails for about $400, but when you combine the high-quality camera that’s fully integrated and mounted onto its precise 3-axis gimbal, I think it’s completely worth it…if you have a use case for it. And if you don’t have a use case for it, you’ll probably create one, because it’s honestly a lot of fun to shoot with.
And now that brings us back a full 360 to the beginning. So what’s my use case? Well roughly a year ago, in fall of 2018, Allison and Steve came to visit the Phoenix area and I was quite lucky to get to spend some time with them, as our meetings at CES have usually been brief because of the craziness of the show.
Allison and Steve had only seen Smarter Home Life HQ in videos and photos, and I was delighted to show off all of the smart home tech here in my tiny home. Steve followed Allison and I around with a camera as I explained a few things and gave a little tour of my place.
One of the comments on Steve’s nicely-edited final product went something like this, “as a viewer of Joe’s videos for a number of years, I now understand so much more about his setup from one watching this one video than all of his other videos.” And that comment made me think, “maybe I need to create my own tour of my place, but where I can really explain things in detail and be on-camera while walking around.”
But, sigh, I don’t have a camera crew to follow me around.
Earlier this year, I tried out a gimbal (the Zhiyun Smooth 4) that would give me all of the features that I’d want, and it would fit my existing iPhone 8 Plus. But, it’s object and face-tracking abilities were pretty limited and didn’t really work as advertised, even though its other features worked really, really well.
At the time, I just didn’t feel it was necessary to buy another camera, but eventually and mostly out of frustration, I got the DJI Osmo Pocket. And it’s one of a number of cameras and video tools that I’m using to create an in-depth multi-part video series on not just the tech of the tiny smart home that I’ve lived in for five years, but the complete “rest of the story” as well. And with any luck, it will be released just before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on the Smarter Home Life YouTube channel. So keep an eye out for Tiny Smart Home Revealed…coming soon to a screen near you.
I’m Joe Dugandzic from Smarter Home Life, and I’d like to admit that I have way too many cameras.
Here’s a link to DJI’s video showcasing everything the device does, probably will be helpful for those to really understand this gadget – youtube.com/watch?v=jS-7aSIEJ3M
Official DJI info page – dji.com/osmo-pocket
Joe’s Osmo Pocket Amazon link – amzn.to/2q9yOpm
Zhiyun Smooth 4 – amzn.to/2OJRdn4 (the smartphone gimbal I bought before the Osmo Pocket)