The iPhone is a great tool for quick, simple and discreet filmmaking. But keeping it steady is tricky, and using a tripod slows you down a lot. So I tried out the Osmo Mobile stabiliser on a recent shoot for a short documentary I’m making.
Here’s a quick 40-second compilation of some of the ninety clips I shot during two hours of filming.
What is the Osmo Mobile?
The Osmo Mobile is an electronic gimbal stabiliser for smartphones. It keeps the phone steady by pivoting in two directions. You can use it instead of a tripod for handheld shots, and to smooth out movement for handheld tracking shots.
Electronic gimbals are popular for full-sized cameras as they’re much easier to use than traditional Steadicam-type stabilisers. (The old Steadicam Junior I use with my DSLR took a fortnight to learn, it’s useless in wind, and it needs readjusting for every shot.) But they’re big and expensive.
Phone stabilisers are much more compact and affordable: the Osmo Mobile is around $300/£300, and it’s easy to set up and use. It’s based on the same handle design as the remarkable DJI Osmo stabilised camera.
Why it’s useful
The film I’m making needs a lot of different shots and camera angles. I also had to keep up with mobile barista Gemma as she followed her route. So setting up a tripod each time would have been impractical. With the stabiliser, I could set up rock-steady shots in seconds, film smooth motorised pans that looked as if I’d used a fluid head tripod, and keep up with the moving trike.
I was impressed by how quick it was to change modes (a double-click on the handle trigger). That made it easy to switch between standard filming and the inverted low-level shots. There’s also a ‘torch’ mode with the handle pointing forwards. The double-click is also a quick way of realigning the device if it’s not pointing where you want.
The Osmo worked very well, though I did have to restart it once.
What needs sorting?
The stabiliser’s own batteries are good: I had a spare, but the first one kept going until the last five minutes of the two-hour shoot. But the biggest problem is how the DJI Go app devours phone batteries. On a test shoot, my iPhone 6S battery went through most of its charge in ten minutes filming. And the Osmo’s clamp blocks the Lightning port which I’d normally use to connect an external charger.
So for this shoot, I used the native Camera app instead, and connected an external charger by using a Lightning power lead with a right-angle plug. That way, I could push the phone up against the clamp with the charger connected, then rebalance the gimbal.
The film is a bit short on ‘leading’ shots, where the subject follows a moving camera: I don’t like running backwards without knowing what’s behind me. So for the next shoot I’ll try using the FiLMiC Pro camera app, and using FiLMiC Remote to monitor and control it from an iPad. That way I can run forwards and still see what I’m filming. (Filmic Pro integrates well with the Osmo Mobile in other ways too: you can use the pan/tilt button to set, lock and adjust focus and exposure.)
What about the DJI GO app?
If you can work around the battery drain, the DJI Go app unlocks some cool Mobile features that you don’t get with other apps. You can change the speed of pans and tilts, lock the phone’s pitch (the angle it’s tilted at), switch between walk and sport modes, and use motion timelapses and ActiveTrack object tracking. But it’s not as intuitive or stable as the native Camera app, and has far fewer format options than Filmic Pro. Annoyingly, it doesn’t support the iPhone’s 120fps slow motion. So I’ll just use it for features that the other apps lack.
I wasn’t worried about audio for this shoot, but I’ll need it next time. I’ve bought the DJI Universal Mount which comes with a couple of cold shoes. Using this, I can mount the receiver for my Rodelink wireless microphone. (It has to be upside down, on the bottom of the mount, so it won’t foul the moving gimbal.) I use a Rode SC4 TRS-TRRS adapter connected to an SC6 headphone adapter strapped to the top of the mount. Using Filmic Pro, I can now monitor the audio. Then a coiled TRRS extension lead – secured to the front gimbal arm with a velcro strap – connects the SC6 to the phone. I’ll report back on how this goes.
The Osmo Mobile works very well. It’s solidly built, well-designed and the controls are easy to use. Phone battery drain is the biggest problem, but you can get around that with an external power source. It offers a huge amount of potential for creative filmmakers and mobile journalists.