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Review: DJI Osmo Mobile 2 Gimbal

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Gimbals can transform an unwatchable shaky-cam video into a Hollywood-style dolly or tracking shot, and as such, they’ve become a standard part of the toolkit for many shooters. But if you want to put a full-size DSLR or mirrorless on a gimbal, there are a few limitations to consider. Not only are they large and heavy (relatively speaking) but setup and balancing can be tricky, and batteries are a concern. Worse, if your camera isn’t good at autofocus, you might end up with a smooth but soft shot.

iPhone gimbals are cheap, simpler to balance, and the deep depth of field plus clever autofocus means that you don’t have to touch the phone while you shoot. Assuming that footage from your iPhone will be good enough to sit alongside other cameras you’re using, how does the Osmo Mobile 2 compare?

Hardware

It’s a solid unit. I reviewed (and liked) the Swiftcam gimbal here a couple of years ago, and while the 1-hour battery life was OK, an inability to purchase extra batteries became a big problem. Replacements that should have worked caused the gimbal to malfunction, and over time, the Swiftcam became too unreliable for professional work. Worse, it simply couldn’t balance my new iPhone 8 Plus.

No such problem plagues the Osmo Mobile 2, which claims battery life of up to 15 hours, and can handle the biggest iPhone that Apple makes. While the battery can’t be removed, 15 hours is almost certainly long enough to get the shots you need. In fact, while you’re not using the gimbal, it can recharge your phone.

The case it ships in is an ideal permanent travel case — and even works as a holder if you don’t have a tripod

The case it ships in is an ideal permanent travel case — and even works as a holder if you don’t have a tripod

The Osmo Mobile 2 is much lighter than the original, and now includes a tripod-friendly socket on the base. There’s a thumbstick, control buttons on the front and a zoom rocker on the side, but no USB-C: micro-USB to receive charge and USB-A to deliver it. The phone mount is strongly sprung, and balance adjustment is tool-free, with a simple thumbwheel. The whole package feels solid and well-built, and ships in a tough hard-foam case that’s ideal for travel.

Official Software

So if the hardware gets a big tick, what about the software? The official “DJI Go” app (confusingly not “DJI Go 4”) is good, but has a few niggles. On the plus side, there’s a useful tracking mode, meaning that if you hold the gimbal and use the selfie cam, or mount it on a tripod with the rear facing camera, the gimbal can turn your phone to keep you in shot. It’s not perfect, but it’s helpful.

Some of the more advanced controls in the DJI Go app

Some of the more advanced controls in the DJI Go app

You can control the speed of the thumbstick, perform calibration, switch between Walking and Sports modes, or lock the pitch. Live streaming support is also built-in, so if you need the gimbal’s fancier modes during a live session on YouTube, Facebook, WeiBo, QQ Zone or even a custom RTMP setup, you’re sorted. You can also mount the phone in portrait to suit live-streaming services.

Slow-mo is in a different menu, but where’s my 60fps? Or 24? Or 25? You’ll have to use other apps

Slow-mo is in a different menu, but where’s my 60fps? Or 24? Or 25? You’ll have to use other apps

As well as normal-speed video, slow-motion can be selected, though options are limited; it won’t record in 4K60 (which my iPhone can) and nor can it record at 24, 25 or 50fps. That’s a shame, because while the iPhone’s built-in video recording is also limited to 30fps, filmmakers (at least a chunk of the target audience) often don’t want to use it.

Looking past regular video, stop motion is built-in, as is hyperlapse (stabilised stop motion while you move) and motion lapse, where timelapse records as the gimbal moves between chosen points. Motion control rigs aren’t cheap, and it’s terrific to finally have a cut-down version in my toolkit.

Set up to five positions, give a time interval and a record length, then relax

Set up to five positions, give a time interval and a record length, then relax

Dedicated still photo modes are here too. For best results, you can mount the gimbal on a tripod and let it do the moving, to capture panoramic images in 180°, 330°, or 3x3 grid modes. In my testing, the stitching in these modes wasn’t perfect, and I’d recommend a dedicated 360° camera (like the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere) if you’re interested in spherical capture.

There are manual controls available over ISO, shutter speed and white balance but if you need 24 or 25fps, you’ll want to use… 

Other Software

Filmic Pro is one of the better-known filmmaking apps on the iPhone, and though I also like its competitor ProCam 5, only Filmic Pro actually integrates with the gimbal. In theory, that will let you use the gimbal’s hardware controls to start and stop recording, adjust exposure, and more. Unfortunately, since the software was designed for  the original Osmo Mobile and hasn’t yet been updated for the Osmo Mobile 2, the controls don’t yet work as they should. With the hardware buttons and thumbstick, you can cycle through the controls, you can change settings, but you can’t zoom, and you can’t start recording. This isn’t a disaster, it just means you’ll need a light touch to adjust settings on the screen of your phone.

These hardware controls don’t work everywhere just yet — but record works in Filmic Pro and the built-in Camera app

These hardware controls don’t work everywhere just yet — but record works in Filmic Pro and the built-in Camera app

Users of any other app might actually have an easier time. The gimbal uses an app to change it settings, but doesn’t need one to function. Since pressing the record button virtually pushes the volume up button, any app that starts recording with the volume buttons (like ProCam 5) can give you touch-free record controls. (You’ll have to quit Filmic Pro for this to work, because it’ll take over the gimbal’s controls if it’s active.) Still, it would be good to have the fuller control that Filmic Pro offers, and eventually, I’d expect the problems to be fixed.

In Use

In general, the Osmo Mobile 2 does a good job of stabilising footage, as most gimbals do. The differences between gimbals come in how capable and reliable they are, and the Osmo is doing well so far. Though the gimbal can’t spin around a full 360°, you can tap the mode button once to lock rotation, or twice to reset to center. It can be used upside down, great for close-to-ground tracking shots, and it responds well when you roll or spin beyond its capabilities. It’s done what I expected with few surprises, it’s easy to use, and the battery just doesn’t die. Gimbal batteries are now one less thing to worry about, and reliable gear is gear I’ll actually use.

Unfortunately you can’t fold the the gimbal while it’s extended

Unfortunately you can’t fold the the gimbal while it’s extended

Balancing is quick, and while I can still balance it with a thin case on my iPhone 8 Plus, the mount grips best on a caseless iPhone. Unfortunately, when the mounting arm is extended (as it needs to be for Plus-sized phones) the gimbal won’t fold completely down, so it’s necessary to close down the arm to put it away. Rebalancing is easy enough, though for best results, I’ve found that running an automatic calibration each time is worthwhile, to avoid slight (±1°) roll issues after quick turns.

The only other issue I’ve had was that my gimbal once became stuck in a phantom state between paired and unpaired to my iPhone, and couldn’t be controlled. Pairing to a second iPhone and re-pairing to my original iPhone sorted the problem, however.

Conclusion

This is a worthwhile purchase for many shooters. If you need a smooth shot from time to time, an iPhone gimbal is an easy choice, and this is a great iPhone gimbal. There are plenty of options out there for more advanced cameras, but at a significantly higher cost and complexity level. The fact that this improved model is cheaper than the last generation makes it easy to recommend.

Mounted on a Manfrotto Pixi tripod, after completing a quick motion-lapse shot

Mounted on a Manfrotto Pixi tripod, after completing a quick motion-lapse shot

A few software tweaks would be welcome, but as is, it can help to extend your filmmaking capabilities without breaking the bank. Currently it’s only available from the Apple Store, but other suppliers will have it soon. 

Price: US$129

Pro: Reliable, excellent battery life, inexpensive, works well

Con: First and third-party apps need tweaking, can’t spin a full 360°, can’t charge iPhone while in use

Webhttps://www.dji.com/osmo-mobile-2

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Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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