The DJI Pocket 3 is almost everything I wanted my iPhone camera to be

I can’t think of anything permeating mainstream camera culture as aggressively as the DJI Osmo Pocket 3. The Fujifilm X100VI has stolen some of its thunder among film simulation enthusiasts, but DJI’s still having somewhat of a cultural moment on YouTube, Instagram, and the troubled TikTok by spurring all sorts of creator glee.

Of course, the camera buffs are all over it, but serious and casual creators from other genres have paused their usual programming to rave about how it transcends amateur vlogging pursuits, whether you’re filming a wedding or self-shooting a scene for a Sundance-hopeful short film.

Some of us at The Verge are excited, too: Vjeran liked it enough to call it his favorite gadget of 2023, and Sean just bought one after using it to elevate his Today I’m Toying With videos.

I felt tingles about the $519 Osmo Pocket 3 when DJI first announced it, but it wasn’t until I purchased a Creator Combo that I fully understood the hype. The video quality often comes close to my full-frame Sony mirrorless (although I can’t get all the same shots) and is very noticeably better than my phone.

The original Osmo Pocket and Pocket 2 couldn’t make those boasts, but the Pocket 3 is a cut above. Its larger one-inch-equivalent sensor is now bigger than those in most phones, with better low-light performance and more reliable autofocusing than predecessors. It has a much bigger display, longer battery life, faster charge time, more microphones — the list goes on like that for nearly everything that makes it tick. 

Photo: Quentyn Kennemer / The Verge

My first heavy outing with the Pocket 3 was at a WWE SmackDown show at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Without a photographer’s pass, I couldn’t enter the venue with my Sony A7 IV or anything else bigger than pocket-sized. But the Osmo got in after I showed security that its battery grip wasn’t a selfie stick. 

I’d gone with the simple hope of capturing some good stabilized audience point-of-view footage that might look a touch better than what my iPhone 12 Pro Max produced at the last show I attended. I left with clips that look so good that I could see them appearing in WWE’s social media reels or pre-match hype promos.

The Pocket 3 was better at capturing the majesty of the heavy light rays and pyrotechnic embers that define WWE’s grand productions than my iPhone, and its microphones did a better job at taming the loud audio levels without overly dampening the sound and stripping it of acoustic character. The footage was also considerably less hazy compared to the iPhone’s, with smoother stabilization, though the iPhone’s software stabilization compared decently.

Even if I could have brought a mirrorless or DSLR, the Osmo let me live more in the moment. I had a large popcorn and a cold one occupying one hand for most of the night, so I’d have been miserable trying to adjust dials and deep-dive menus. With the Pocket 3, powering it on is just a matter of swiveling open the display. The record button’s right under your thumb, and settings are a single swipe away. 

The Pocket 3 has its limitations. It can only manage a 2X-equivalent digital zoom, for starters. That’s enough to capture impromptu closeups — like then-WrestleMania-bound Cody Rhodes looking into the rafters after he walked right past my seat, for example. But you won’t be able to achieve the dreamy, bokeh-heavy images reserved for interchangeable lens cameras. 

Meanwhile, my iPhone’s telephoto sensor offered better reach at a Monday Night Raw show in October. I sat in the same exact seat at both shows, with a great view of the ring and decent visibility of the entrance stage from the first row of the risers. My iPhone gave me clear face shots of Becky Lynch and Damian Priest’s entrances, even if I greatly preferred the overall color, clarity, and exposure of the Osmo during the SmackDown show.  

I’ve shot a number of personal videos since SmackDown and spent a fair bit of time comparing my footage to my Sony and iPhone results. Compared to my phone, colors don’t look overly muddy and washed out in low light, and there’s far less noise. I get more leeway to push and pull colors in post-process when shooting in D-Log M. (Though, that might be a wash if I had an iPhone 15 Pro with a similarly flexible ProRes Log color profile.)

Even in well-lit scenarios, there’s still a decent gap: the bokeh on the Osmo Pocket 3, while subtle, is more noticeable and pronounced than the iPhone. It’s enough to draw the viewer’s eye to your subject while muting an otherwise distracting background. 

Sean filmed the Transformer above with iPhone 14 Pro and Pocket 3 — you can probably tell which shot is which!

And it’s just so easy to use. Going from powered off to an effortlessly stabilized video is as simple as swiveling open the screen and hitting the record button right next to it, no separate multi-pound gimbal or balancing weights needed. Tap the screen to flip it into selfie mode, and it’ll automatically pan and tilt to keep your face in frame. 

Most phones don’t let you use the higher quality sensor to record yourself while previewing your shot; here, you can frame your own walk-and-talking headshots on the two-inch OLED screen, then spin the same sensor around to capture viral content, short films, and the world’s beauty in front of you.

You can also fire up DJI’s smartphone app to remotely preview and control the entire camera over Bluetooth — and if you spring for the $669 Creator Combo, you get a high-quality wireless lav mic with 32-bit float recording that effortlessly integrates, too. The mic automatically connects to the Osmo as soon as you power it on, can record separately to its own internal storage, has both a clip and a strong magnet to keep it attached to clothing, vibrates in specific patterns so you know when you’re rolling, and can charge and transfer recordings over USB-C. (Plus, the combo comes with a nice extended battery grip, an iffy wide-angle lens, and other accessories.)

No, you won’t find the same shooting options that enthusiasts and professionals seek out of a proper camera body. You can adjust white balance, shutter, and ISO to varying degrees, but you don’t get advanced recording codecs, LUT previews, alternative metering modes, and the like. It’s not exactly comfortable to have in your pocket despite the name, and for still photography, I’d sooner grab my phone. Did I mention you should run like hell if you see a raindrop? There’s no waterproofing at all.

But everything about the Osmo Pocket 3 makes me want to get out and record because it’s fun and easy to do. It encourages the lazy part of my brain to stop whining. It narrows the gap for people who need an ultra-portable camera that can shoot better-looking footage than their iPhone and lightens the load for those who don’t need a more complex camera for every shoot. For me, right now, it’s up there with the wallet, keys, and phone as something I’ll always consider grabbing on my way out the door.

That’s remarkable for a camera that isn’t much larger than the average vape pen — and costs less than a new phone.

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