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Camcorders

DJI Osmo helps you get a grip on shaky video (hands-on)

DJI's already mastered capturing smooth video from the sky. Here's how it's solving it on the ground.

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Almost a year ago, drone-maker DJI introduced the Inspire 1 , a $2,900 (£2,380, AU$4,999) quadcopter with a combination 4K-resolution camera and three-axis motorized stabilization system that's removable and replaceable.

Initially, it seemed this flexibility was intended solely as an upgrade path. You'd start with the included camera, called the Zenmuse X3, and DJI would eventually offer other camera options. That "eventually" came this September with the release of the Zenmuse X5 cameras .

But now, with the introduction of the Osmo, DJI is looking to prove that its cameras can work just as well on the ground as they do in the sky.

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The Osmo is a battery-powered handgrip with built-in Wi-Fi and camera controls. For Inspire 1 owners, you'll be able to use its camera and gimbal assembly off the quadcopter and lock it onto Osmo. You'll also be able to buy an Osmo with a version of the Zenmuse X3 camera. The main difference between the two is that the Osmo camera's focus is set to 1 meter (3.3 feet) whereas the Inspire 1's is set to infinity. The Osmo will also work with the Zenmuse X5 cameras.

The gimbal locks in three places to keep it from getting damaged when not in use. Arrows on the axes let you know which way to twist them to free them up, before turning the camera on with a spring-loaded switch on the right. The camera starts up and is ready to record in a few seconds, but it takes about 20 seconds for the Wi-Fi to get up and running.

With the wireless on, you can connect an iPhone or Android smartphone to the Osmo and use it as a display and control the camera and change settings. You can even pan and tilt the camera simply by dragging your finger around the display. DJI designed a really nice collapsable phone mount that also helps with heat dissipation from the grip.

In my testing there was very little lag between the camera and the screen, but an option for a physical connection to your phone would be handy.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Again, the Zenmuse X3 camera that comes with the Osmo is essentially the same as the Inspire 1's . It records video at resolution up to 4K Ultra HD at 30 frames per second and will capture full-HD slow-motion clips at 120fps. You can shoot 12-megapixel photos one at a time or in bursts, and you can set it up for interval shooting and time-lapse sequences. It also has a fully automated panorama mode that will snap off eight shots and stitch them together for a seamless, 360-degree shot. It can do a smaller, five-shot selfie panorama, too.

Though there is no tripod mount built into the grip, DJI will have an add-on one for it as well as bike and car mounts and an extension arm for attaching additional accessories that fits in place of the smartphone mount. Without a phone mounted to it, the Osmo will stand on its own so you can set it down on a flat surface. Probably not the best idea to do it on a windy day, though.

Despite those mounts, don't mistake this for an "action cam." It might be able to handle a rain drop or two, but this is not a sealed-up unit at all. The gimbal and camera are seemingly fragile, so while you could definitely chase a skateboarder around with an Osmo for some great moving handheld shots, it likely won't recover well from a hard crash.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The learning curve for using the Osmo is pretty low. Your thumb falls naturally onto a textured disk that tops a joystick for panning and tilting the camera with record and shutter release buttons in easy reach. You can also just manually move the camera with your hand into position.

A trigger on the front falls under your forefinger. Press and hold it and the camera locks position so you can raise and lower your hand while the camera stays aimed on your subject. Double click the trigger and it centers the camera, while a triple tap spins the camera around for selfies. That's really all there is to it.

DJI's cameras don't have microphones built in, so at the front of the Osmo are stereo microphones and a 3.5mm microphone jack. If good audio is critical, you'll want to take advantage of the jack. The gimbal's three motors are constantly keeping the camera stable and the noise gets picked up by the onboard mics, as does the whir of the camera's cooling fan. At the moment there's also no way to check audio or mic levels via the Osmo or DJI's Go app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A battery in the handgrip powers everything. I haven't full tested it yet, but DJI says it gets up to 60 minutes of recording. If you're going to be doing a lot of stopping and starting, you can put the camera in standby for up to 6 hours by quickly pressing the power switch down. Pressing and holding for a few seconds turns it off entirely. The external charger takes about an hour to fully power it up again.

While traditional cameras are being displaced in our lives by smartphones, cameras like the DJI Osmo and the Light camera really seem to be the future of photos and video. Unfortunately, like many first-gen products, the Osmo's price keeps it out of impulse-buy territory.

The DJI Osmo can be ordered now direct from DJI for $650 and £550 and will begin shipping October 15. Availability and pricing for Australia wasn't immediately available, but the UK price converts to about AU$1,165. I'll be back with a full review soon, but below is a taste of what the camera can do.

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