In early 2019 I bought myself a tiny digital camera – the DJI Osmo Pocket.
Its promise is attractive – unprecedented stability from an extremely portable camera – and one capable of recording video in both HD and 4K, plus time lapse and stills. A few weeks later I had an opportunity to test it out – from the front seat of a Gibraltar mini-bus.
I’d been thinking that maybe my visit to Gibraltar would present some opportunities for the little camera, so it didn’t take much foresight to bring it with me. And that is why, just beyond border control I happened to find myself in a moment with the right tool in the right spot at the right time. I slipped the camera out of my pocket and shot most of the footage for the video above. (It turned into a neat little video primer about Gibraltar)
The Osmo Pocket is inconspicuous. It took a while before anyone noticed what I was doing, not that anyone minded. (I shot in HD and recorded all of the live audio via the camera’s built-in microphones).
The reason the footage is so stable is that the camera uses technology developed for drones. Yes, drones – those flying gizmos that so many people find invasive and annoying. How drone technology found its way into this tiny camera is a tale of how innovation so often throws up the unexpected.
One of the biggest challenges with aerial photography is how to keep the camera stable. Even in perfect conditions, no flying platform can match the stability of a tripod fixed to the ground.
Military and search and rescue operators addressed the problem by mounting their cameras in sophisticated 3-axis gimbals – beachball sized devices which allow cameras to pan, tilt and roll in order to stay pointed at a target, even while the aircraft bounces up or down or changes direction.
The challenge for drone manufacturers was to develop a similar solution, but at a fraction of the size, weight, and cost of the gimbals used in military and S&R helicopters.
The first 3-axis gimbals for drones carried lightweight action cameras such as the GoPro, but for DJI the best solution to the stability/weight reduction problem turned out to be to design its own purpose-built camera into the drone. That’s why DJI, a drone manufacturer, entered into the business of making cameras.
But after having successfully developed a miniature 3-axis gimbal and camera for its drones, it was a very small step to consider a completely new possibility. Why stop with drones? Pretty much everybody shooting handheld video would get better results with a more stable camera. Why not employ the drone camera stabilisation technology in a camera, but without the drone?
And that is how the DJI Osmo Pocket came to be.
It’s interesting that at the same time that DJI was developing the ability to make cameras, action camera manufacturer GoPro was attempting to make its own drones – unsuccessfully, as it turned out.
And while the Osmo Pocket is not waterproof or robust and never intended as a competitor to GoPro’s action cameras, DJI has already used its newly developed camera expertise to create a full blown GoPro competitor, the DJI Osmo Action.
It remains to be seen how the competition between the two companies will play out. Both are still young. GoPro was founded in 2002, DJI just 6 years later. Where will innovation lead them to ten years from now?