Somewhat lost in its success in the drone market is DJI’s heritage in camera gimbals. It is part of why their drones do such a good job of photography and videography. But they’ve continued to innovate in more-traditional stabilization and gimbal offerings, including their Osmo family of smartphone stabilizers. I’ve been using the newest, Osmo Mobile 2, for awhile now, and depending on how you use your smartphone there is a good chance it can really help you improve the quality of your video, and in some cases your photographs.
DJI Osmo Mobile 2 Overview
While DJI makes an Osmo model that includes a camera, the Osmo Mobile 2 is a hand-held image stabilizer and camera control accessory for your smartphone. The 3-axis stabilizer can be used either to keep the phone’s camera aimed at a specific subject, or as a tool for smoother panning, zooming, and even tracking in your video. It supports both landscape and portrait orientations, which is pretty impressive for a lightweight gimbal.
Setting up the Osmo Mobile 2
Once you have the app loaded, you can activate its camera capabilities. That gives you basic photo and video capability, similar to many other camera apps. The more-magical part happens when you activate the Bluetooth connection to your Osmo. At that point the Osmo can pan, tilt, zoom, and take pictures using its own controls. That means you can operate your camera with just the hand you are using to hold the Osmo. Switching between photo and video, as well as focusing, require touching the phone’s display, but most other common functions can be done from the Osmo.
Using the DJI Osmo Mobile 2
Since the Osmo Mobile 2 doesn’t have a camera of its own, its helpful that it has a remote trigger that can capture an image or start and stop video on your phone. If all the Osmo did was activate and stabilize your phone’s camera, that’d be fairly interesting, but it goes well beyond that to allow you to smoothly pan, tilt, and zoom by physically manipulating the grip by moving your hand and arm. It is a little hard to explain the needed motions, but they are very intuitive. After just a few minutes of practice you’ll be able to track subjects by twisting the grip, and learn how to change perspective without changing direction by moving the grip around. There is also a mechanical pan and tilt switch, although by default it moves more quickly than you probably want for smooth video.
The biggest issue I have using the Osmo Mobile 2 with my phone is focusing. There isn’t any way to focus from the Osmo itself, so the benefit of having it at arm’s length in one hand is reduced by needing to have the display close enough to judge focus and then to touch the screen with my other hand to force the phone to focus. In many cases the phone’s native Autofocus will do just fine. But if you want to up your game by photographing more complex situations where the phone can’t easily figure out where to focus, the Osmo by itself doesn’t provide an ideal solution.
In particular, when I tried to use it to video race cars gridding up at the start of a race, the phone kept pulling focus forward onto various objects in the foreground. That isn’t Osmo’s fault, but shows the limits of smartphone videography, even when using a stabilizer. Fortunately, it turns out there is a third party solution. The Filmic Pro app ($15) offers a manual control mode, where you can use its focus peaking along with manual control of focus from the gimbal to achieve the results you want. It also makes the pan and tilt controls on the Osmo sensitive to how far you move them, so you can get some really nice, smooth, camera motions. It doesn’t support all phones with all capabilities, so be sure to run their Evaluator app first to see what you’ll get before you purchase. For another $10, Filmic can also provide Flat and Log profiles for video on some phones.
Cool Features Of DJI Go for Osmo Mobile 2
You probably already have some type of time lapse capability in your current camera app, but DJI Go provides one that is integrated with the gimbal. You can also switch between the default free movement mode of the gimbal and a “follow” mode that allows you to move the gimbal while keeping your current subject in the frame. Right now there is an issue where both the DJI Go app and Filmic have had issues with Android Pie, but presumably those will get sorted out soon.
DJI Go also has an integrated Panorama mode. Speaking of features, for a few more dollars (about $10) you can get a screw-in base for the Osmo. It provides a nice tripod solution, with stabilization, for your phone. Another very nice advantage of using a gimbal like the Osmo is it makes it much easier to shoot video from low angles, like this one that I took of an Alaskan Brown Bear mother and cubs:
Osmo Mobile 2 Practicalities
On the plus side, the Osmo Mobile 2 has excellent battery life, rated at over 10 hours, and seems well built. Mine was dropped from a few feet up onto a muddy gravel road and was none the worse for wear. However, it is a little ungainly, and much larger than your smartphone. So the pocket-size convenience of your smartphone is out the window. The Osmo also can’t fix the fact that zoom just isn’t very good on smartphones, so it doesn’t suddenly make your phone a substitute for a standalone camera if you need longer focal lengths. Clipping the phone into, and removing it from, the Osmo also takes a little fiddling. So if you’re expecting to be doing a lot of intermittent shooting, it might be worth setting it up with its own smartphone that you can leave in it, freeing up your own phone for other things.
Finally, the Osmo Mobile 2 works best with its own camera app. Unfortunately, that app stores photos and videos in its own DJI folder, so they aren’t always picked up automatically by Google Photos, for example. That seems un-necessary, and at a minimum there should be a setting to store photos and videos in their normal locations.
If you’re serious about video with your smartphone, then the Osmo Mobile 2 is a handy, and not-that-expensive (about $140) accessory that will come in handy. However, it is large and awkward enough that carrying it definitely reduces the convenience of photographing with a smartphone.
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