Review of DJI Osmo Pocket - 2 months in



12 March 2019 ·  20 min read

Verdict: The Osmo Pocket is a great device, with huge features packed into a tiny device. If you’re in the market for a product like this, I’d generally recommend buying one wholeheartedly. However, the only-just-big-enough battery is non-replaceable, making this a sticking point to think carefully about.

Disclaimer: This review is completely independent and I am not sponsored in any way. DJI has not provided a free review sample. This is not a regurgitation of a press pack, nor am I in a rush to be the “first” to get a review out.

Earlier in 2018, I’d been idly toying with the idea of getting the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 as I wanted a way to improve the quality of the video that I recorded using my mobile phone. In the end, I never took the plunge with that product, largely because it seemed cumbersome and lost the convenient immediacy of just being able to grab my smartphone and start recording.

When Christmas 2018 arrived, Santa kindly gifted me with the [as then] newly released DJI Osmo Pocket.

Truthfully, I had completely missed the marketing buildup and launch announcements regarding the Osmo Pocket, so receiving it as a gift was pretty awesome - both from the first-impression it made, but also by the fact it was related to something I had already thought about buying for myself.

Fast-forward to mid-March 2019 and I’ve now had my Osmo for a solid two and a half months. In that time I’ve made a point of getting good use out of it in a number of different scenarios. I feel I’m fairly accustomed with its pros and cons now.

Why a gimbal camera?

Briefly, for those that don’t know what a gimbal camera is; it’s a 3-axis mechanical system that holds the camera sensor steady. Very crudely, if you move the handle about, the camera will stay almost eerily level. Importantly, this means it can filter out a vast majority of the unwanted movement that you normally see in consumer-grade videos.

The no-brainer standout feature is the effect that stabilisation has on your video.

For a number of years, I’ve been making vlogs using my cellphone (these are private videos for my future self - not for publicly sharing on youtube).

Ignoring the technicalities of image quality, such as resolution, low-light performance, etc., the biggest change to the quality of my videos has been related to image stability.

I really can’t understate enough how much of an improvement that stability makes.

Looking back, even just a handful of years, videos made with my 2014 vintage HTC One M8 are pretty horrible to watch.

It’s bad enough listening to your own voice (I hate hearing recordings of myself). But then having the video judder and the background lurch about, makes it borderline nauseating to watch.

More recently, I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S9+, which results in far nicer looking videos. This is largely down to having superior optics - especially on the rear-facing main camera, which has an optically-stabilised lens. However, this feature isn’t present on the forward-facing “selfie-camera” - which is the one you’re mostly going to use when vlogging yourself, so stability is still an issue.

Moving onto the Osmo Pocket; If you’ve never played with a gimballed camera, you simply must; The smoothness of the video produced is transformative to the overall quality. It looks professional in a way that you’ve never seen with regular domestic video.

With stable footage, you can now begin to actually take in the detail of what you are filming, without everything degrading into a mess of motion blur. This is especially true if shooting in low-light when the shutter speed of the camera is likely to be slower.

Overview

For this review, I don’t really want to delve too far into the technical specs of the camera because this has already been well-covered by a number of other reviewers out there on the internet.

What I will try and convey, are my experiences from having owned the camera for a while. This may address things that most “new product” reviewers probably won’t explore - certainly not in the short time they have prior to the product launch.

I’ve done a tonne of reading/watching of various “internet influencers”. Anecdotally, beyond the one-off “I’ve been sent this cool toy to test”, I haven’t seen much in the way that indicates that these people have continued to use their Osmo Pockets. Or, at least, they don’t seem to be talking about it beyond the launch frenzy.

Similarly, I haven’t been able to find much material of people “living with the Osmo”. Hopefully someone will find this article and that it will plug that gap.

On that subject, it seems that professional content-producers/influencers produce video will continue to use their larger DSLRs, so it may be worth thinking about the type of video you want to create. There is no getting around the fact that a larger camera gives many more options, at least in terms of optics. Many people like the deep boket effect (narrow depth of field with an out-of-focus background) that big apertures and large sensors offer - the Osmo Pocket produces genuinely really nice video, but it can’t provide that.

Let talks about the good

Small size

Firstly, there is the form-factor. This is genuinely a pocket-sized camera, being the size of a small torch. The old adage of “the camera you use, is the camera you have with you” couldn’t apply more aptly. With just the basic camera and its carry-case, it will absolutely fit in your jeans pocket and go with you anywhere.

You have a few options for a gimbal stabilised camera in the DJI ecosystem. If not the Osmo Pocket as a standalone solution, you would be looking at directly combining your smartphone with the Osmo Mobile 2 (which is significantly larger and awkward). To step up the food chain yet again, would be to combine a DSLR with something from the DJI Ronin range. Whichever way you put it, the Ronin and DLSR combination is heavy and bulky compared to the Osmo Pocket.

Unobtrusive

Pairing closely with the small form factor is the bonus that the Osmo Pocket is really unobtrusive. Most won’t bat an eyelid at this little gadget, whereas some people get surprisingly uncomfortable around larger cameras. In contrast, most people I meet when using the Osmo Pocket are genuinely curious.

Similarly, if you want to produce professional looking video without bringing attention to yourself, this may be the answer (I’m thinking of places like shopping centres, where security guards feel the need to interfere).

With the right accessories, you can attach this camera to your chest or backpack strap and walk around the city - nobody seems to notice you filming busy street-activity type scenes (which may be perfect for capturing your city-break memories).

Great for vlogging

According to the DJI spec sheet, the Osmo Pocket weights just 116g.

This is properly a featherweight camera, meaning that vlogging with the device at arm’s length is quite comfortable.

The field of view from the lens is acceptable for literally a face-shot, but it is not really wide enough to allow you to include any background.

This contrast to something like a GoPro, which typically is much wider field of view and captures more of the surrounding scene - even when at just arms-length. The tradeoff for that though is that GoPro footage can look quite “fisheyed”.

A workaround to solve this problem with the Osmo Pocket is to use a selfie-stick. There is an upcoming official accessory “extension rod” - or you could just use a generic third-party selfie-stick combined with a GoPro mount.

Using the camera on the end of a stick works really well because, aside from moving the camera further away from you to accomodate more of the background scene, you can also have your arm down by your side, giving the appearance of having the camera float in front of you (rather than the usual “arm and shoulder look”).

Again, the small size and low weight of the Osmo makes having it attached to a selfie-stick completely practical, as there is no heavy weight levering at the end of the extension rod, with the inevitable wrist-ache that comes with that.

Face tracking

The camera supports face tracking, which is an standout feature to have on a vlogging orientated device.

A simple button tap can rotate the camera on its gimbal to face you and then it automatically starts to follow you around.

You may be familiar with facetracking on your compact camera or smartphone, but that generally means the camera just keeps you in focus and correctly exposed. Instead, with the Osmo Pocket, facetracking means that the gimbal will actually pan and tilt to keep you centred in the frame.

In most cases “it simply just works” and you can trust the camera to keep you correctly framed, wherever you position the camera - there is no need to constantly be checking the monitor to make sure you’re correctly framed.

By default, the automatic facetracking will frame you centrally. Sometimes this may not be what you need - for example, if you’re walking side-by-side with a friend and you intend for both of you to be framed. Fortunately, this is where manually setting up object-tracking comes in…

Object tracking

In addition to the automatic facetracking, you can manually select a part of the image to track.

For example, you could lock the camera onto an ornament on a table and smoothly pan past it. Another example is to track a building on a street, set the camera to record in a timelapse and have you footage follow the building as you walk past.

In our previous example, of two people walking side by side, you would frame the shot as desired and then set one person as the tracking object - the camera will attempt to do the rest.

Although using the tiny built-in screen to setup tracking is technically an option, in practice it’s no good, because its too small and fiddly. However, connecting the Mimo App means you can comfortably frame your shot and set the tracking object by simply drawing a box around the desired object.

It should be noted that neither of the above tracking modes are an option when filming 4k/60fps.

Technical performance

Something that greatly impressed me with this little camera, is the data throughput. It can push 100Mbps to the memory card, meaning that it can shoot good quality video at 4k resolution at 60fps! It can do this using a choice of either H.264 or H.265 codecs.

To give that context, even some of the large expensive DSLR cameras can’t manage that (for example, the recent Canon EOS R)

Having access to that high data rate also means you can capture good quality slow-motion video, which always adds a remarkably dramatic touch to your videos (e.g. a bit slow-mo B-roll).

My only observation here, is that my smartphone (Galaxy S9) can technically provide far higher framerates. I personally wouldn’t worry about that, because 120fps is absolutely fine for “stylish” slow-mo - and being able to dive into the realm of super-high framerates is only really going to be for specialised and carefully set-up shots.

The wireless module

This is great and should be on your “must have” list of accessories. In a nutshell, the wireless module allows you to connect your phone, either by WiFi or Bluetooth, to the Osmo without having to physically mate them together using the USB-C adapter.

I’ve used this feature frequently. For example, I have filmed conferences where I have positioned the camera on a tripod next to the stage - and have then been able to monitor the filming discreetly from the side of the room. The remote access means I can pan the camera and make various adjustments, using on-screen controls with my phone, without having to be near the camera itself.

Similarly, I’ve positioned the camera in a window (or in a tree, using the various mounts and a gorilla-pod) and then remotely have been able to set up operations such a timelapse.

image showing osmo pocket wireless module in use

Motion timelapse

With this mode, you leave the camera on a stable surface and program in a set of “waypoints” that you want the camera to look at, along with a duration for your film. The cliched shot will be on top of a hill panning with a setting sun. But even the most mundane of videos out of your bedroom window can produce footage that springs to life with clouds racing by overhead. It’s not an essential feature, but it’s pretty fabulous to have.

The Mimo Companion App

When I originally started using the Osmo, I would have put the App into the “bad” category, for the sin of having the user-guides on the home page and intrusively always playing them with audio. However, since launch, DJI have now corrected this behaviour.

Otherwise the app works perfectly well, with an excellent image stream even over wireless. This should come as no surprise, as DJI would have long mastered this technology with their drones.

Perhaps my only minor criticism is that I wish the UI made it slightly more obvious as to when you are actually recording. I know this probably falls into the “stupid-user” territory, but I have a number of times thought that I had started recording, but have missed the fact that I wasn’t (when you are recording, there is a timer).

Let’s talk about the not so good

The battery.

The battery skims in with ‘just about’ enough capacity - but crucially, it is not replaceable.

In fact, this issue pushes me to the tipping point of not actually recommending an Osmo Pocket.

Specifically, the battery allows only a modest amount of use - for me, typically about 1.5hrs when shooting 4k/24fps. The official guidance from DJI is 140mins at 1080p/30fps.

What concerns me far more though, is that this is the performance obtained from a new battery. I know that in a year or more time, I simply am not going to get even this.

I know that people will say “do you really need to film more than 1.5hr?” Well, there are two responses to that; Firstly, I have been filming long sequences of people talking at conferences - so there is a clear-cut usage scenario. Secondly, we all know that the battery will wear - in two years time, I’m simply not going be able to use my camera how I wish.

A point of contention for me, is that the battery capacity has been pared back to the minimum needed - there is no “breathing room”. Having a battery that is effectively depleted after every session means you need to adopt to a pattern of always having to recharge your device after every use. Whilst we are conditioned to regularly charging our smartphones, I don’t really expect to have to do that with my camera, as it means I can’t just grab it on the fly and trust that you’ll have enough juice even for modest use.

And then there is the fact that the battery is not replaceable. Mobile phone manufacturers have already established a pattern of ignoring that most customers would prefer to have replaceable batteries over having the smallest phone possible. The increasing trend to make it as difficult as possible to change the battery is clearly a mechanism to drive replacement sales.

Sadly, DJI has evidently followed this approach with the Osmo Pocket and the credibility of product is harmed because of it.

Regardless of the question of product lifespan, it also means that I simply can’t buy spare batteries to keep with me, to just swap-out when required.

I noticed that there are unanswered questions on the DJI forum, asking whether the battery only has a 400 cycle lifespan. DJI has not acknowledged the question (at the time of writing this, at least).

Early on, I had a situation several times, that when going to use what I thought was my fully-charged Osmo, the battery was completely depleted. Especially odd, as the camera has an auto-off feature (meaning I would expect to find at least enough residual power to turn the camera on). I haven’t noticed this behaviour recently, so perhaps this was a bug in the early firmware.

My work-around to inadequate battery life, is that I now always carry a beefy external battery pack with me and use this to keep the camera constantly on charge whilst filming.

However, by having to carry a battery pack with you, you’re somewhat undermining the sales-pitch of portability and small packaging.

If you want to exploit the features such as a three-hour timelapse, you absolutely will need additional power.

Interestingly, DJI recommends discharging the battery to about ½ capacity if not using the Osmo for more than 10 days). Again, this then impacts my ability to just pick it up and use the device, if I intend to both look-after my battery as recommended - and - have it charged ready for use when I want it.

The interaction between accessories

The official Osmo Pocket expansion pack costs £99 and includes a 32Gb MicroSD, gimbal controlling thumbwheel, wireless connectivity module and a mounting bracket.

Arguably, you need this expansion to fully utilise the Osmo Pocket. In a stroke, that ~£320 camera increases to ~£420

For example, to control the gimbal properly (in terms of panning, etc), you either need to have the camera connected to your smartphone or you need the thumbwheel accessory. Yes - it is technically possible to control the camera tilt (e.g. to pan it upwards) using the touchscreen, but this is far too small to be usable.

I was a bit unsure about listing the accessories under the “not so good” section of this article. Reviewed as products in isolation, the accessories are actually really nice and work well.

However, I feel they should have been an integral part of the base package and physically better integrated as a result of doing so. Having attached the accessories to the base camera, I shouldn’t need to keep removing them between camera uses.

The supplied carry-case fits the Osmo perfectly and adds barely any extra size to the overall package - which largely is a very good thing, because it keeps the camera “pocketable”. The downside to this is that you cannot leave any of the accessories attached when you pack the camera into its case. This means you are left having to constantly attach and detach the accessories such as the scroll wheel and wireless module, which becomes a drag really quickly.

Not available at the time of writing, there is an upcoming official accessory called the charging-case. Although this provides some storage for things like memory cards, it still doesn’t provide other accessory storage.

That DJI made a commercial decision to supply accessories separately, at a high-markup, shouldn’t surprise us - I don’t have an issue with this. However, I am not at all convinced with how these separated accessories then interact and ultimately compromise each other. For example:

  • If you want to benefit from your smartphones vastly larger screen by connecting directly using the data socket - you can’t then use the thumbwheel accessory (they occupy the same port).
  • If you want to use the thumbwheel accessory, you have no choice but to connect your phone to the Osmo using the wireless unit accessory. But then you have two separate devices to hold? (you would need to join them with a third-party bracket).
  • If you want to use the official mounting bracket, you cannot then use the accessory port (the bracket blocks it). You even need to remove the phone-mounting plug (a very small, easy-to-lose piece).
  • As previously mentioned, if you want to leave the bracket and/or wireless module attached semi-permanently, you can’t then use any of the storage cases. This leaves you with a choice of having and exposed camera/gimbal, or a pocket-full of small accessories.

The use of a data plug to mount the camera directly to your smartphone has never felt like an elegant solution. It often sits loosely or lopsided and I’m not comfortable with the structural reliance on the data socket of your phone. The weight of the camera must place an inevitable shearing load onto a soldered component of your phone.

Lack of tripod mount

There’s no standard tripod mount! For the depth that the screw mount would occupy, not having this feels like a really silly omission.

I had sorely hoped that the purchase of the additional wireless module (which fixes onto the base of the Osmo) would have provided this, but it didn’t.

Instead, you need to use a mounting bracket. The official bracket wraps around the camera body firmly and then gives access to a wide range of GoPro fitments.

However, by using the official bracket, you then block-off access to the data-port. This means you can’t connect the thumbwheel or attached to your phone directly. I’ve experimented using a smaller third-party bracket, that is narrower and doesn’t block the port - but that is difficult to get on and off (and still prevents you connecting your smartphone directly using the data port).

Similarly, when combining the bracket with the wireless module, the usb socket then faces out to were the mounting fixtures are, meaning that any usb charging lead is blocked and tangled. The image below shows the official bracket paired with a third-party mount and flexi-tripod - notice how I’ve had to angle the mount so as to allow the charging lead to be cleared.

image showing osmo pocket and mounts

Panorama mode

The camera supports a panoramic photo mode, which is produced by automatically moving the gimbal quickly through nine directions (up-left, bottom-right, etc) taking a separate photo in each of those quadrants. The final output of this is great - super detailed and with a field of view that no regular lens could match.

However, the catch is that the Osmo can’t process these separate photos purely by itself. It requires the processing of your smartphone, using the Mimo App to stitch the separate images together. To achieve this you need to, of course, connect your phone.

Exposed gimbal

This is not really an issue when the camera is in use, but more a question of storage and the aforementioned carry case. I can’t help but think that DJI could have engineered a more convenient solution.

The sort of thing that, for me, would have been a big improvement, would have been a three-side slide-up/slide-down shroud that forms part of the body of the camera. Yes, it would have made the device that bit bulkier, but the convenience would outweigh this.

Unconvincing support for external microphone

Let me get this straight - the built in microphone are absolutely fine for most uses. For pickup-and-play use, it’s all you generally need.

If however, you want to start taking advantage of the professional-looking video this camera can produce, you’re likely to want to get on top of better quality audio recording - and this means an external microphone (most likely with a windproof sock).

The Osmo Pocket itself has no built-in audio jack and, at the time of writing, there is no accessory. This is in the pipeline though, with DJI releasing an adapter that plugs into the USB-C port. Without laying hands on this device, I can’t really review it much further.

However, there are two observations I can make: Firstly, this is yet another accessory that you’ll need to purchase. Secondly, if the microphone adapter is hogging the USB socket, you will no longer have a way to plug in your external battery to keep the device topped up (which will be completely relevant if you’re planning on doing a fair bit of filming).

Verdict

I generally would recommend this camera, as there’s nothing really on the market that compares to its 3-axis gimbal capability and general performance vs its significantly small size.

As it stands, the Osmo Pocket is a solid and technically very capable device. It has issues which make it imperfect, particularly around management and handling - but I find myself getting a lot of use out of it, so surely that justifies owning one.