DJI Osmo – First Impressions

DJI Osmo

The DJI Osmo with the Inspire’s X3 Camera – Film-making tool or selfie-stick for the cack-handed?

I’ve owned an Inspire 1 for 18 months now. I was one of the first in the country to receive DJI’s flagship quadcopter – one of the first to experience its incredible handling, the beauty of its software and the limitations of its camera.

I’d already spent some time with the DJI Ronin, so knew the company were making high-end hardware at affordable prices. Being a seasoned Steadicam operator, I’d got over my initial doubts that motorised stabilisation could be a reliable adjunct to a steady hand and an even gait. I love my Ronin!

So when DJI announced the Osmo, I thought ‘Why on earth would I want that?’ It looked like a gimmick – a glorified selfie-stick for the cack-handed. And having been consistently disappointed with the footage I’ve obtained from the Inspire’s X3 camera, why would I consider using it at ground level, when a Steadicam with the 5d Mk3 or the Ronin plus my C100 would clearly kick it all over the park?

Why buy a DJI Osmo?

Three things swung it for me in the end – my intention to invest in the new X5R camera (which will certainly be as good on terra firma as it demonstrably is in the air), the updates that allow the Osmo to support the Inspire’s X3 camera (which put the ‘handle only’ Osmo package firmly in the what-the-heck price bracket), and the promise of being able to properly test DJI’s camera settings without having to put the bird in the sky each time.

So 48 hours and £200 later, what do I think of my new toy? Well, the first thing I ought to say is that I do feel like a bit of a tool using it.. It certainly doesn’t scream ‘professional’, especially when you accidentally trigger selfie mode, and get a horribly fish-eyed shot of your own face – a mixture of grim determination and flushed embarrassment. But I can’t deny that it is a lot of fun!

It’s solidly built (if a bit top heavy), behaves very reassuringly – set-up and connection to the DJI Go app is a breeze, once you get over your initial panic that nothing is working (the gimbal won’t spring to life until the product is registered via the app) – and does its job admirably. As with any stabilisation platform, the onus is on the operator to do the first part of the work, and a loose arm will remove a lot of the bounce from the resulting footage. There is a ‘four-axis’ add-on available, but it seems unlikely that would make a vast improvement – one for the future perhaps.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the features and settings offered by the hardware/software, as these are all well documented in the product specs. It will certainly take some practice to master (as with the Ronin, turning corners can be a challenge!). I’ve yet to try the pan-timelapse feature, but it promises to be a viable, time-saving substitute for rigging up the Kessler Second Shooter. The big question is, where and how will I use the Osmo, if I use it at all? Does it have a place in the kit bag on a professional job?

Is it worth it?

As it stands, with the X3 on board, I doubt it’ll see much action. The data rates of the X3 footage (the biggest bugbear of this fledgling camera, and one that DJI seem unwilling or unable to address) mean that the camera just can’t cope with fast-moving detail, especially at close range. Tilt the camera whilst moving, and watch the ground turn to an ugly mush! Though I have finally been able to find a balance of settings that I prefer (25fps/100 shutter/LOG/-1 sharpness/-3 colour/-3 contrast for those who are interested), it’s just not enough to mitigate for the camera’s under-performance. There’s still a waxy, posterised, almost mosaic-like quality to fine detail that makes 4k footage simply unacceptable, and only barely usable when scaled to HD.

But with the X5R on board, I’m confident there will be times when the Osmo will make a sterling appearance. Wielding a Ronin in a chuch as the happy couple make their way down the aisle, for example, just isn’t an option (unless you are seeking to annoy, intimidate and potentially injure in equal measure), but with the Osmo in hand, you could almost pass for an enthusiastic member of the wedding congregation and still get awesome footage!

There will always be times when it just isn’t practical, or there just isn’t time, to de-rig your primary camera in order to get better-than-hand-held footage and, at those times, I don’t doubt that the Osmo will be a secret weapon to be reckoned with.

Now if I can just figure out how to lens whack with it…