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How to turn your phone into a movie camera

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/04/2017 Jefferson Graham
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We would all love to have smoother, more cinematic video footage like we see in the movies.

We can now get that on mobile devices, at consumer prices, with an add-on device called a steadicam. 

In this week’s #TalkingTech smackdown, we look at three mobile steadicams (also known as smoothcams, stabilizers or grips), the devices that aim to turn jumpy cell-phone and camera video into sweeping views, by using motors that steady the shot.

We begin with the new kid on the block, the Smove. At $139, it’s the lowest priced of the bunch.

The DJI Osmo($550 - UK prices vary) started the trend, and continued it in 2016 with the lower-priced Osmo Mobile ($299 - UK prices vary), offering smooth video from the Chinese-based drone maker.

And the GoPro Karma Grip, originally intended as an accessory for the Karma drone, is now sold individually, for $299.

All three bring the motorized gimbal used on drones to the camera or phone to steady the image.

Jefferson Graham tries out three consumer gimbals at Venice Beach: Smove, GoPro Karma and the DJI Osmo . © Robert Hanashiro, USAT Jefferson Graham tries out three consumer gimbals at Venice Beach: Smove, GoPro Karma and the DJI Osmo . How does this work? Many drones have “three-axis” gimbals — that is, three motors, to work at stabilizing the footage as it soars through the skies. Cheaper drones have two-axis gimbals, and thus, are not as steady. The same metrics apply to the land-based steadicams. 

Smove

The Smove steadicam for smartphones © Smove The Smove steadicam for smartphones

The Smove just came out of crowd funding on the IndieGogo website, where it raised $1.4 million, and is shipping now. Reader alert: the getsmove.com website redirects to Indiegogo, where it appears to be still looking for backers. The company assures us this isn’t the case: click the $139 option, and you’ll get a unit shipped to you. The company says it will set up its own website soon.

Besides smooth video, other features include the ability to charge your phone while shooting video, which is cool, but buyer beware. The unit is no fun to set up, with instructions that are hard to follow, and little online help as well.

But if you’re short on cash and have to get a stabilizer, the price is a bargain, and the unit is an improvement over your normal smartphone footage.

Osmo

Osmo Mobile is a new rig bringing drone like camera movement to your smartphone. © DJI Osmo Mobile is a new rig bringing drone like camera movement to your smartphone.

I’ve written about the Osmo units in the past, and love both of them, although I’m partial to the $550 version (UK prices vary), which comes with its own, super wide-angle camera.

The Osmo Mobile records footage to the iPhone or select Android models. As good as those cameras are, the Osmo camera is better, at least for getting wide-angle cinematic footage without camera shake.

(It’s fun to walk down the street with the Osmo, and see your walk presented as super steady, like a camera was flying by your side.)

The $550 model connects via DJI private Wi-Fi, which can be problematic when in big crowds, or bluetooth for the $299 version. Battery life is really poor with these units—the juice can peter out in as little as 45 minutes, and you’re draining your smartphone battery too.

GoPro Karma Grip

Karma Grip is included with GoPro's Karma drone. $299/£289.99 as an add-on © GoPro Karma Grip is included with GoPro's Karma drone. $299/£289.99 as an add-on

And unlike the Smove or Osmo units, you don’t have to connect to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to operate the unit. Just turn it on, and you’re good to go.

To operate the Grip, place the Hero camera in the cradle, snap it tight, and power it up on the bottom of the unit. This, in turn, charges both the grip and camera. Once charged, turn on the power button on the grip, click record, and have fun.

The negative here is that you get less real estate to compose your images as with the others. With the Smove and Osmo units, the phone is your viewfinder, good for 4 to 5.5 inches, vs. the 2 inches for the Hero.

And if you have a Hero 5, you’ll need to spring for a $29.99 adapter to fit the unit into the Karma grip.

Yet for the ease of not having to pair to Bluetooth or Wifi, one-click power starts, longer lasting battery and fabulous footage, the #TalkingTech smackdown victor goes to the Karma Grip.

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