The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Is a Smartphone Gimbal

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The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Is a Smartphone Gimbal

The newly announced DJI Osmo Mobile 3 is the first smartphone-specific gimbal I’ve spent more than 93 seconds with, and that experience has made it clear just how far this technology has come. It's 2013. I'm in my college dorm room staring at some filmmaking blog when, suddenly, I see an all-caps headline about The Next Big Thing. Accompanying that and its fifteen exclamation points was a jaw-droppingly smooth video that included such shots as the camera gliding through acrobatic rings. "Try this with your Steadicam," it seemed to dare the world. This was for the Movi Freefly M10, and I was hyped.

Since then, I've followed gimbals with interest but slight apprehension… until two weeks ago, when I bought a Ronin-SC from B&H Photo Video. What changed my mind? To be honest: I saw a guy vlogging with a Ronin-S at JFK Airport in April, and I felt like a poseur sitting there with my Joby.

But the first (and so far, only) time I've opened that SC since receiving it, I spent a fully thirty-six minutes setting it up. And I'm sure it'll take far less time when I do it again, but it's not an instant process, and it can't be. Which is where DJI's Osmo Mobile line comes in, the third entry into which was just announced, and a thing I have had the good fortune to hang out with for a while last week.

The Osmo Mobile 3 is a very handy device, because it's meant for the camera you have in your pocket rather than the one you have to keep carefully in your bag. Increasingly, flagship cell phones—particularly Apple's—are changing the video game. Slap a Moment Anamorphic Lens on the back of your iPhone Xs and, by golly, you've got yourself a cinematic powerhouse in the palm of your hand.

DJI Osmo Mobile 3
DJI Osmo Mobile 3

While built-in stabilization is definitely helpful, if you truly want that sweet, sweet smooth motion, you're going to need an Osmo Mobile 3 to get it.

The biggest physical change of the Osmo Mobile 3 is a simple one: its ability to fold. Packed into the "Combo" version that I spent my time with is a nicely textured case with a logo on one side and a mesh pocket in the other. Inside of that is the device itself, doing a more-than-serviceable Paschimottanasana (seated forward) pose, thanks to a new hinged design.

DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Combo Package
DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Combo Package

The plastic is solid, and the hinge feels like it'll hold up for a long time. It doesn't lock into place—landing more with a thud than a satisfying click, but you don't need to worry about any accidental folding: it requires some force to open or close.

Devices up to 3.4" (88mm) wide and 0.4 lb (200g) are supported, and after making sure that the weight was more or less centered and the lens was on the proper side (indicated by an on-device arrow), I turned it on and boom! It stabilized immediately. It took me fifteen seconds. For just a moment, I was confused because it defaulted to a vertical mode, but I realized that the Osmo Mobile 3 can switch between vertical and horizontal modes with a double-tap of the power/M button—or you can orient your phone manually if you like, to be a little more hands on.  

Once you've done this, the next ten minutes of your life will inevitably be spent figuring out what it can and can't do: how quickly does the little directional nub work? Can you go smoothly from a shot facing the ground to one at head height, facing the sky? You'll find out: The Osmo Mobile 3 moves more "deliberately" than quickly, though there is a setting to adjust the speed and a Sport Mode for extremely fast movement.

You don't need the app to do any of this, which itself is really quite nice, but if you connect your phone to the DJI Osmo Mobile 3, then there's a whole smorgasbord of extra options available to you. For one thing, the Record button, nicely placed next to the nub, really starts—ya know—recording, and the zoom slider on the left side works too; not that you'll necessarily want to be zooming in too much on your phone footage, but it's nice to have it there.

There are a variety of software options, as well, but the best feature you get from this, without question, is ActiveTrack. This is something that DJI has been slowly adding to its entire line of products since it debuted with the Phantom 4 drone, in 2016. Now on version 3.0, the feature allows you to draw a rectangle on your phone's screen around an object, or activate it via the trigger, or even just gesture properly and that will set the shot's focal point. Once locked on, the gimbal will keep your lens pointed at that thing as you move around it. It will handle both pan and tilt, so you can go up and down or circle around without needing to even touch the directional nub.

ActiveTrack
ActiveTrack

This works well with people, but I found it rather hit-or-miss with objects. A small flower (admittedly chosen specifically for its potential difficultly) was followed from some angles but couldn't hold it when the background became more uniform. This is an inevitable result of any 2D detection system… but realistically, you're probably going to want to track people, and it does so with aplomb. Even if you start from the back and move around to the front, it successfully follows their (and my) movements far more smoothly than I would have been able to have done manually.

ActiveTrack is at its best when dealing with faces, which makes it very useful as a vlogging option, since you can keep yourself on screen as you move about without any concern. This is particularly useful if you decide you want to use the rear-facing camera because of its improved video quality: you can be sure that you'll be onscreen, even if you can't see it yourself. Also included in the Combo is what DJI calls a "Base Grip," which attaches to the bottom of the handle by a ¼"-20 thread and can be spread out as a tripod base or can be folded together in a handle extension—both of which are well suited to vlogging.

DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Combo Package Base Grip
DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Combo Package Base Grip

However, you need to be careful of the boundaries of the Osmo Mobile 3's movements. This is not a gimbal that can spin endlessly on an axis. Each motor can go between between 330 and 340 degrees, which is a good amount of movement and means in all basic situations you'll be fine. If you're trying a more complicated maneuver, however, you may end up getting stuck at a motor's limits, and I quickly learned that the Osmo Mobile 3 does not like being at its limits and will fight its way back to a more stable position. So, you need to be careful and dexterous to make sure that you're not pushing the Osmo too far.

If you are able to work within those parameters—which, to be clear, you will, under the vast majority of circumstances, you're going to get a lot out of this little device. Its foldability—and therefore portability—makes it easy to throw into your camera case for those situations when you just need a little extra stabilization for your phone. And if a phone is all you've got, it that will elevate your cinematography and afford you a huge variety of new options.

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