I have this really stupid idea in my head that the only thing preventing me from getting back in the saddle with the whole visual effects thing is a lack of quality hardware. I have spent a lot of time on Amazon looking at lights and green screens, and even microphones and high-end DSLR style cameras like the professionals us.
I am not a professional, and spending $3,000 or more to get high-end gear is not going to magically grant me the skills and insight to walk into a room and immediately see the cinematic potential. But when I do walk into room and if I do see the cinematic potential, I want to be ready to take advantage of it. This is why I was picked up the DJI Osmo Pocket.
The Pocket fills a weird niche. It’s not really an “action cam” like the GoPro, which is designed to be strapped to some kind of outdoor equipment and is built to take somewhat of a beating. It’s also not a DLSR, as it lacks features like zoom and lenses. But it can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second, and can even shoot 1080p at 120fps (if you’re shooting in slow-mo) which, considering the size of this thing, blows most cell phone cameras right out the airlock.
In terms of size, the Pocket lives up to its name by being about as tall as the length of a cell phone (shorter, actually) and about as wide and as thick as a box of matches (or a Matchbox car, depending on your preference). A good 75% of that is the body which is made up of two buttons, an expansion port, and a postage-stamp-sized screen. The buttons handle the power and start/stop of the recording. The power button is multi-press capable: press and hold the button to turn the device on and off, press once to switch between video and still mode (with RAW support), twice to recenter the head, and three times to switch between forward and reverse facing of the camera. The expansion port allows for the Pocket to be hooked into a cell phone, or to take peripherals like a scroll-wheel. The body has 2 microphones — one on the front and one underneath — and a USB-C port on the bottom.
The other 25% of the device is where the magic happens. Unlike the GoPro or other “action cams”, the Pocket features a motorized 3-axis gimbaled camera. If you’ve ever filmed anything with your cellphone, you’ll know that getting a nice, steady shot is a fool’s errand unless you set it up on a tripod mount. If you want to move and shoot…good luck with that! The gimbaled head on the Pocket allows for a lot of forgiveness when shooting by stabilizing the camera to compensate for the movement of the user. Although it doesn’t have “chicken-stability” for canceling out the bobbing inherent in simple walking, it does a great job of dealing with sway and general hand, arm, and body movement and has other gimbal-focused features that make it a great tool for vlogging (switching between backwards and forwards facing, for example).
The screen on the device is touch-capable, so a lot of controls are accessed by poking your fat finger onto a relatively tiny window. By swiping in from one of four directions, you can either review footage, mess around with the settings, switch video modes, or access quick settings. Although a case could be made that next-gen cellphones have perfectly capable cameras, the Pocket does allow you to alter settings like FPS (24, 25, 30, 48, 50, and 60 in both 1080p and 4K), shutter-speeds (1/25 – 1/8000), and ISO (100 – 3200), as well as the option to leave everything to the onboard sensors (auto). It has a “fast” and “slow” action setting, and a few different modes for the head that will lock pan, tilt, and rotation, and can even track objects and faces. If you can manage it, there’s a slider on the screen that can tilt the head up and down, or you can buy a peripheral that slides into the expansion port and provides a physical scroll wheel that can be used to control pan and tilt of the head.
There are several modes that benefit from having this motorized gimbal. One of them allows you to easily create time-lapses. You simply set the duration and fix the camera to a location (using a tripod or just by setting it on a table) and it’ll record every X frames over the specified time period. It can do motion-lapse as well, which is like time-lapse but which pans the head from one side to another. And I’ve already mentioned slow-mo, which works in 1080p/120 and then slows it down to 1080p/60 without the need to process the raw video to get the same effect.
One of the cooler features is the ability to hook the Pocket into a cellphone (via USB-C or Lightning) which transforms the device from a handheld video camera and into a small recording studio. You can now use the cellphone to frame the shot, control the pan and tilt using a virtual joystick, and access all of the settings from a larger UI than the one native to the Pocket itself. I think the best use of this mode is that you can review the recorded footage on the cellphone, and even download it from the Pocket so you can clean off the device’s (removable) SD card in case you’re running out of space. If you have a cable that can translate from the Pocket’s USB-C or Lightning connector to whatever your cellphone’s port uses, you can attach the Pocket to a boom (with an adapter, sold separately) and control the device from a distance to get those hard-to-reach shots. Battery life seems to be pretty good; I’ve run it down from 100% to about 30% just in testing, but that was due to switching all kinds of modes. Word on the street is that you can get about 2 hours of shooting on a single charge to the (internal, non-removable) battery, and it’s totally possible to keep it hooked up to a portable power pack for even more shooting when out and about.
The downsides include no zoom, which I suppose is a lot to ask for a small device, and a focus system that is supposedly kind of wonky. I haven’t had the device long enough to be able to really run into this issue, but supposedly it can decide that background footage is more important than what you really want to focus on. That the view-screen doesn’t report back the focal output means that you won’t know that the shot went south until you review the footage on a larger screen. As mentioned, the battery is non-removable, and the only way to get videos off the device is to A) hook it up to your phone, download the footage, and upload to The Cloud ™, B) hook it up to a computer using the USB-C port, or C) buy an adapter that allows you to access the device’s memory via WiFi/BT (I guess you can also pop out the MicroSD card, but who has a reader for those in 2019?). The microphones sound OK, but a lot of pros claim that it is one of the device’s weaker points. DJI sells an adapter that plugs into the USB-C port to allow you to use a 3.5 jack mic, but that is an additional purchase. Finally, there’s no good way to mount this thing to anything without buying a clamp or case that provides you with a 1/4″ screw jack, or an adapter that allows the use of GoPro-specific hardware.
Most of my time with the Osmo Pocket has been devoted to learning the basics of general photography, and how shutter speed, FPS, and ISO work together, what the output of different mixes looks like, and when they should be altered. Overall, the video that this thing shoots is pretty stunning out of the box. I have tried shooting 4K video with my Pixel 3, which I believe only has a max FPS of 30, and although I’ve learned that shooting at 4K/24 or 1080p/24 is a completely viable option for everyday video-ing, the Osmo Pocket is just way better than what my phone can do. Also, it’s a lot easier to manage when shooting, requiring only one hand to work compared to two that a cell-phone needs.
The product seems to be aimed primarily at the vlogging market, as a lot of the examples you might see on the DJI website or in other promo materials like to talk up that aspect, but if you search for “Osmo Pocket” on YouTube you’ll be surprised by a lot of professional videographers talking about how awesome the device is. It can never replace a more versatile and high-end DSLR set-up, of course, but even the most dedicated videographer isn’t going to be carrying around a full kit all the time. That’s where the Pocket comes in handy, as it can literally fit in your pocket so it is with you wherever you go.