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Gimbal technology and the endless push for innovation

As a powerful tool for aerial photography and videography, drones garner much of their attention for their camera and flight capabilities. But the truth is, the gimbal is probably the most critical factor in ensuring smooth, high-quality footage.

DJI’s gimbal – the motorised part where the camera is mounted, which serves to eliminate unwanted movements to produce smooth, professional-quality footage – has come quite a long way over the years. What started as hobbyist pursuit has grown into a thriving product type that covers both the air and ground. As technology advances, gimbals are becoming smaller and more capable of stabilising increasingly large cameras and payloads. As a result, more people than ever before can now tell stories with smooth, stable video. But how do these devices work and how did they come about? We asked some of DJI’s top engineers about the long journey towards gimbal perfection.

Among the array of equipment on a film set, camera stabilisers are perhaps the most critical, as stable footage is essential for cinematography. Most people shoot videos on consumer cameras or mobile devices. This exposes the problem of shaky footage caused by walking, moving the arms, or even the simple act of breathing. Gimbals solve this issue, which is why you’ll find them being used by professionals on almost every film set these days.

The Pursuit of Exceeding User Needs

For small and large-budget productions, professionals have embraced DJI’s Ronin series of handheld gimbals, compatible with full camera rigs to achieve blockbuster shots. The latest of these, Ronin-S, came in 2018 as the most user-friendly, being made specifically for smaller consumer cameras like a DSLR. What inspired the DJI gimbal department to develop the Ronin-S? “We wanted to allow more people to shoot professional-looking videos,” explained an engineer.

As the product team explains, the Ronin-S is not only a precise handheld gimbal but a versatile tool that can adapt to a variety of filming scenarios.

Among the considerations for Ronin-S was making the camera’s built-in display still visible to the user. For this, engineers constructed the gimbal so that the camera would sit above an angled roll motor. This created an added benefit of providing more space for larger camera setups, but it also created an unintended challenge to overcome.

“This structural change raised the requirement for motion control.” Carrying the Ronin name meant that this new addition would have to live up to the stability and precision of previous models. Engineers overcame this by diving deeper into control algorithms, solving major logistical issues along the way.

As the first Ronin made specifically for single-handed operation, Ronin-S also required engineers to come up with design aspects to accommodate for it. For grip, the team modelled the handle after a tennis racket, incorporating a thick rubber surface and a flared end for better friction. They also placed the buttons to be easily reachable with the same single hand, giving access to preset parameters with the M button.

Among more creative additions, the engineering team was particularly proud of the gimbal’s 360° roll feature, which offered new possibilities for filming techniques and effects. “It’s like a brand-new camera language,” said one engineer, demonstrating the roll feature.

From the Ground Up

Ronin-S embodies one of the latest steps in DJI’s evolution of camera stabilisation technology.

It has been almost a decade since the idea of designing a gimbal first emerged at DJI. On a whim, a DJI engineer had the idea of using brushless motors to power gimbals directly. However, this concept was new to the industry, and the requirements for control precision were so high that most thought it was impossible to achieve.

That sentiment was true for several years, but tremendous breakthroughs were made and in 2012 DJI officially launched the Zenmuse Z15. This was the world’s first gimbal that was driven by brushless motors and stabilised with gyroscopes, and the first high-precision gimbal for consumer use.

When we introduced the Ronin in 2014, this marked the first time DJI applied gimbal technology from an aerial to a ground-based product. To stabilise large cinema cameras, our team needed to develop larger motors than ever to achieve the level of professional stabilisation necessary for feature films.

Alongside the development of our professional handheld gimbal line, engineers continued to explore the possibilities for drone-mounted camera stabilisation. While the original Phantom and the subsequent Phantom 2 revolutionized the consumer drone industry as the first advanced ready-to-fly drones on the market, they were missing one critical component – a camera. This all changed with the Phantom 2 Vision.

Released in the fall of 2013, the Phantom 2 Vision was the world’s first integrated aerial photography drone. It broke through a technological bottleneck, unlocking a new era of gimbal technology for extensive use in aerial photography. It also had the effect of making drones a game-changing tool for the industry, almost overnight.

Smaller. Better.

Pushing innovation further, it took less than one year for engineers to develop their first 3-axis aerial gimbal, the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. This started a tradition of making stabilisation technology smarter and more compact, both for aerial and handheld use.

Taking advantage of the portability and lightweight design of integrated gimbal cameras, DJI launched the Osmo Series in 2015. As the first integrated handheld gimbal, the original Osmo laid the foundation for practically all handheld gimbals on the market in terms of basic structure and operating principles. It’s no coincidence that almost every handheld camera gimbal looks similar to the Osmo.

At that point, two gimbal product lines were developed to target two distinct user groups: the Ronin Series for professional photographers and the Osmo Series for casual consumers. As short videos and vlogs skyrocketed in popularity, DJI launched the Osmo Mobile in September of 2016, the first handheld smartphone stabiliser.

That same year, DJI set a new benchmark for onboard gimbal cameras by launching the Mavic Pro. This would be the world’s smallest consumer-level 3-axis motorised gimbal that could be mass-produced. As the team found out, reducing the size of a gimbal was no easy task.

“Small gimbals are difficult to design for many reasons,” explained the engineer. “At such a compact form factor, they need to allow for quick heat dissipation. They’re also hard to assemble and significantly more sensitive to friction and dramatic movements.”

After several rounds of trial and error, the Mavic Pro came to the market with not only the smallest 3-axis gimbal but with the first foldable body and remote controller, allowing users to bring their drone and capture amazing photos and videos from any part of the world.

In April 2017, DJI upgraded its professional camera stabiliser series to include Ronin 2. Taking feedback from the filmmaking industry, DJI equipped Ronin 2 with a higher payload capacity, along with added power and stability to meet the needs of professional cinematographers.

When DJI introduced Ronin-S in 2018, we also offered Osmo Mobile 2, replacing the magnesium alloy construction from the original Osmo Mobile to a high-strength composite to reduce weight and cost.

As the gimbals and products overall became smaller, engineers nevertheless paid attention to performance. With Mavic Air, engineers were able to achieve gimbal movement precision of up to 0.005°, which amounts to the size of half a pixel of footage. Why the need for this level of performance?

“In reality, this tiny degree range is significant to the captured footage. Anything over 0.005° and the viewer will start to notice a sense of jitter in the video.”

2018 ended with DJI’s smallest handheld 3-axis motorised gimbal, Osmo Pocket, a culmination of all the effort our engineering team undertook to make our technologies smaller and better so that the possibilities of creating incredible moments would find no limit.

Gimbal technology has undergone rapid advancements in both handheld and aerial equipment. But it is important to remember that these achievements don’t come overnight. There is no silver bullet, just the steady march of hard work and innovation, step by step.

Osmo Pocket in-depth review

Inside the DJI forge of technical innovation, engineers have crafted the smallest 3-axis stabilised handheld gimbal camera. Embodying the perfect balance of form and function, Osmo Pocket transforms pocket-sized adventures into epic cinematic experiences. All of this filmmaking capability inside a device that fits comfortably in your hand!

Whether you’re strolling through a busy city or traveling thousands of miles for that one special dish, having a compact device that shoots smooth footage is truly a game changer.

I looked in-depth at Osmo Pocket and discover how it copes with the challenges of spontaneous filming. As DJI’s smallest handheld gimbal camera, Osmo Pocket offers boundless potential for travellers, vloggers, and those that want to capture the beauty of life. 

Unboxing and Features 

What’s in the Box?

Before we dive into our big plate of adventure, let’s take a quick look at Osmo Pocket.

The minimalist packaging houses several essential items:

  • Osmo Pocket ×1
  • Cover ×1
  • Lanyard ×1
  • Power Cable ×1
  • Smartphone Adapter (USB-C) ×1
  • Smartphone Adapter (Lightning) ×1

Light and Portable

True to its name, Osmo Pocket is a compact handheld device that fits snug in the palm of your hand. Thanks to its portable design, you will have no problems taking it around and filming with it throughout your day.

Ergonomic Build

The device comes in a classic matte black colour and features a rounded ergonomic design. The handle is non-slip and sweat-proof, which means you can comfortably film for the entire day.

Stabilised Shooting

At the heart of Osmo Pocket is an incredible 3-axis mechanical gimbal which automatically stabilises your footage, allowing you to focus more attention on capturing the perfect shot.

4K/60fps Video

Osmo Pocket can capture photos in breath-taking detail thanks to a 1/2.3-inch sensor, 80° wide-angle lens, and f/2.0 aperture. It also serves as a powerful tool for filmmaking, shooting 4K/60fps video at 100Mbps.

Simple Interface

​On the front side of the device, there is a 1.08-inch integrated touchscreen that can be used for a live view or playback and device navigation.

Underneath the LED screen are two dedicated buttons. The left button enables you to take a picture or start and stop recording a video. The button on the right can be used to turn Osmo Pocket on and off. One click and you’re ready to go!

ActiveTrack & FaceTrack

For a more intelligent and efficient shooting experience, ActiveTrack recognizes, follows, and films your subject of choice. Osmo Pocket also features FaceTrack which automatically detects your face during Selfie mode, keeping you in the spotlight of your adventure.

Universal Port 

Osmo Pocket’s Universal Port is a multifunctional expansion interface that connects the device to your smartphone and several other accessories. When you connect it to your smartphone, you can use your smartphone screen to control Osmo Pocket and access its features.

DJI Mimo 

DJI Mimo was developed for anyone who has a story to tell. This dedicated app automatically opens when you connect Osmo Pocket to a smartphone. It extends your creative potential with editing tools and provides a platform for its own photography community, opening the door to a world of visual storytelling.

My Story was developed for both beginners and experienced users, offering a robust editing suite to take visual storytelling to the next level. You can use this function to create unique videos that you can share on your social media channels.

Story mode is another alternative option that can be directly accessed from the camera view, offering a variety of stylistic editing pre-sets that help bring your creative projects alive. You can choose from many expertly designed templates and soundtracks to elevate your footage. This feature will be available to use soon!

Versatile Accessories 

As well as providing a connection to your smartphone, the Universal Port also serves as a multifunctional expansion interface, which unleashes your creativity with a collection of perfectly suited accessories. This includes a Wireless Module, which provides Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connectivity, and transmission so you can control the gimbal using your smartphone. Additional accessories will be available soon, including a waterproof case that allows you to shoot footage at a maximum depth of 60 meters!

Without further ado, let’s begin our adventure!

A New Dawn for Handheld Stabilization

Osmo Pocket triumphantly delivers as a portable camera that’s ready for the big moments in life. Its 3-axis mechanical gimbal is excellent at adjusting unwanted movements and producing smooth cinematic footage.

Motion Made Easy

As the sun continued its daily ascent, I decided to give Osmo Pocket its next challenge. I turned the device on and selected the Motionlapse function using the interactive touchscreen. This mode allows you to take a timelapse while the camera is moving, introducing a stunning motion effect to your footage. Owing to its incredibly small size, I was able to safely position Osmo Pocket on a flat surface and started recording. After five minutes, my Osmo Pocket had effortlessly accomplished its first Motionlapse.

Ready for Anything

When you are on the prowl for exciting footage, the last thing you want to worry about is carrying around bulky camera equipment and accessories. To be on top of your game, you need to react quickly to whatever the situation presents. Osmo Pocket really comes into its own in these moments. The device turns on in seconds, shooting smooth footage whenever your moment arises.

ActiveTrack

Shooting clear, stable footage is often achieved when you use a large camera on a tripod. While this method is reliable, these types of static shots limit your freedom to move around and fully immerse your viewer. This is why I decided to get right in the thick of the action and use ActiveTrack to film from a more personal perspective.

I headed down to a local food market, where vendors were engaged in their early morning preparations. While the local butcher was busy with his daily activities, I enabled ActiveTrack by selecting him on my smartphone screen. In a matter of seconds, Osmo Pocket was able to track his every movement accurately. This feature gave me the complete freedom to film without disturbing others in their daily activities.

Capture Your Memories

Food photography is a huge passion of mine, and as a writer of a food blog, I would welcome any device that can capture the magic of my culinary adventures. With this in mind, I took Osmo Pocket right into the heart of the kitchen to see if it was up for the challenge.

In just a few seconds, I was able to capture pictures in stunning detail thanks to Osmo Pocket’s 1/2.3-inch sensor and 80° wide-angle lens. Having a device that shoots this easily makes traveling all the more fun!

Glorious Slow Motion

Osmo Pocket also features a Slow Motion mode, which is incredibly easy to select from the interactive menu. In just a few seconds, every tantalizing part of my dish was captured in glorious high-definition detail! Combining slow motion and stabilised footage provides a delicious slice of action.

The World from Your Perspective

During the middle of the day, I decided to dust off my tennis rackets and hit the courts. Eager to immerse the viewer in this moment, I took Osmo Pocket with me to record my perspective. The FPV mode cleverly allowed the camera to follow my every movement, letting the viewer experience an uninterrupted flow of twists, turns, and all-round magic on the tennis court!

In the Spotlight of Your Adventure

Osmo Pocket also has an intelligent FaceTrack mode that enables the device to automatically track human faces, which makes taking vlogs and selfies incredibly easy! After rotating the camera around using the interactive touchscreen, FaceTrack automatically recognized my face and let me record instantly. This feature is incredibly responsive and it was able to keep my face in focus even as I rotated the device (and spun around in circles).

Breathtaking Panoramas

To capture your destination with breathtaking definition, Osmo Pocket can take a 180° and 3×3 Panorama. What surprised me most was how easy it is to obtain this kind of shot. After selecting the mode on Osmo Pocket’s interactive screen, I held the device out with one hand and the camera automatically rotated in different directions to capture the panorama.

Bring the Night Alive

Travel adventures extend far beyond the reach of daylight. Many film-worthy scenes and spontaneous moments come alive in the night. With this in mind, I set out to discover how Osmo Pocket performs in low-light conditions. The 3-axis mechanical stabilised gimbal eliminated any unwanted movement and kept the camera perfectly stable for great low-light footage.

Nothing Can Stop You

Developed with convenience and endurance in mind, Osmo Pocket has a battery life that supports a 140-minute video. I was able to take it everywhere with me during the day and obtain a variety of different shots. And thanks to its one-hour fast charge, I was able to boost the battery to a 90% charge! After a full day of filming, Osmo Pocket stood triumphant, having effortlessly surpassed all the challenges thrown its way.

​The Bottom Line

What impresses most about Osmo Pocket is how easy it is to take smooth professional-looking footage. The device is extremely portable and starts within a few seconds, which gave me the freedom to film spontaneous moments as they arose throughout my day. Whatever journey brought to the plate, Osmo Pocket handles the challenge with ease. For anyone looking for a portable device that effortlessly captures the beauty of life, DJI Osmo Pocket certainly delivers.

A new dawn for handheld stabilization is here.

Summer viewing trend report: Emirates reveals customers’ top picks

Emirates carried approximately 16 million passengers over summer, from June to August, and 75% of these customers highly rated their inflight entertainment experience – according to Emirates’ inflight survey. With an entertainment catalogue that boasts up to 4,500 channels, customers are spoilt for choice and for the first time Emirates reveals its most popular channels on board.

ice, Emirates’ inflight entertainment system, offers up to 1,500 movies from all genres and in 44 languages but Superhero films were the clear choice over summer as Emirates included a suite of movies from Japanese manga, the Marvel Studios and the DC universe. In June, the most popular movie watched on board was Captain Marvel. Alita: Battle Angel took the top spot in July, while Avengers: End Game was the most watched movie in August.

The ice catalogue is updated monthly with approximately 100 new movies from around the world as well as music, TV shows and documentaries. To help customers plan their trip more effectively Emirates introduced an innovative new function on its app to allow customers to browse the expansive entertainment catalogue, create bespoke playlists ahead of their flight and then sync it to their seats once on board. Over summer, more than 40,000 unique playlists were created by travellers and the viewing choices are clear when on board – every playlist included at least 1 movie proving Emirates customers were clear film buffs. 1 in 6 customers added a TV show to their personal playlist.

Bollywood movies are the most popular non-English language films on board. In terms of film categories, the most popular choices were a varied spread with most viewers opting for “New Movies” which included hits like A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody over summer; followed by Disney classics – a selection of 50 Disney hits ranging from 1951 classic Alice in Wonderland to this year’s Aladdin. The third most popular category across all sectors and regions was Bollywood films and over summer, customers enjoyed hits like 2.0 and classics like Dabangg 2.

Those looking for other options could choose from over 1,200 hours of TV programming. In the last 3 months, the Emmy award-winning series Chernobyl from HBO was the most watched TV show on ice, while the most watched documentary was African Cats, a 2011 nature documentary film about a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs trying to survive in the African savannah.

Emirates ensures its youngest customers are catered for with a large selection of children’s movies and TV channels and the most popular kid’s show was Paw Patrol.

ice also features varied content such as Emirates’ own Food and Wine Channels giving customers a behind-the-scenes look at how it creates its onboard menus; expert-led LinkedIn Learning courses; as well as offering uTalk language lessons for beginners. The most popular language studied on board was Arabic.

Wi-Fi

Emirates’ entire fleet is Wi-Fi enabled and Emirates provides free Wi-Fi across all classes – a choice of 20MB complimentary data to use on any app or 2 hours of unlimited text messaging on popular messaging apps. More than 1 million passengers logged on to Wi-Fi each month over summer and 40% of travellers over summer chose the unlimited free text messaging option to keep in touch with family and friends.

Wi-Fi is most popular on flights to North America with the highest number of users logging on to Wi-Fi and by volume of data consumed. Emirates flights to Houston consume most data on board when compared to the rest of the network.

Live TV

Sports reigns when it comes to Live TV. Emirates offers up to 8 live channels of sports and international news channels including CNN, BBC World News, Sky News, Euro News, CNBC, and NHK World. The most viewed channel on board was Sport 24 where fans created virtual “stadiums in the sky” as they watched the NBA Finals, the French Open, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final over summer. Currently, Emirates is screening all matches from the Rugby World Cup live on board on the over 175 aircraft equipped with Live TV.

2019 has been a stellar year for ice, clinching its 15th consecutive Skytrax win for Best Inflight Entertainment and most recently, its 3rd consecutive APEX Passenger Choice award for Best Entertainment.

In October, customers can look forward to blockbusters such as Spider-Man: Far from Home, Toy Story 4 and Beatles-inspired film Yesterday. The ice catalogue will also include TV shows like Season 2 of the HBO hit Big Little Lies and Season 10 of Modern Family; and the latest music from Freya Ridings and DJ Snake.

Protecting Kenya’s elephants from above with drones

At Kenya’s Mara Elephant Project, staff are turning to drones as a vital tool for keeping wild elephants safe.

The Maasai Mara region in southwestern Kenya is 1,510 square kilometers of iconic African landscape. Here, you can find lions, cheetahs, wildebeests, zebras, and these days, drones, which are being used to keep wild elephants alive.

One tusk from an adult elephant can easily weigh over 40 kilograms. With elephant ivory selling for up to $3,000 per kilogram on the open market, these animals are walking goldmines for poachers. The income generated from killing elephants is not just lucrative for individuals, but also local militias and terrorist groups, who use the income to fund deadly and illegal activities.

It’s estimated that over 38,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory. That’s roughly one elephant every 15 minutes. But it’s not just poachers that elephants must contend with. Human-elephant conflict, habitat loss, and climate change compound an already dire situation. And with just 450,000-700,000 African elephants estimated to be left on the planet, many experts agree they could be extinct within a decade.

Organisations like the Mara Elephant Project prove there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, this group of passionate conservationists have been using every tool available to protect wild elephants in the Maasai Mara region. One tool they’ve found to be particularly effective is the aerial drone. 

The ability to get a quick, reliable birds-eye view has been a game-changer for the group. Staff can now track elephants, locate poachers, and avoid potential conflicts before they occur. Workers have even been able to herd elephants with drones as the noise these devices make is similar enough to a swarm of bees to spur evasive movement. Since the organisation began, they’ve arrested over 300 poachers, seized more than 1,000 kilograms of ivory, and helped bring the percentage of illegally killed elephants down from 83% to 44%. The use of drones has aided greatly in this endeavor, and will continue to be an indispensable tool in the effort to keep Mara’s elephants alive and well.

If the Mara Elephant Project’s use of drones tells us anything, it’s that these devices offer a reliable way to accomplish more with less. For places where resources are few and problems are many, it’s an encouraging sign.

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