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DJI Osmo Action review: a new contender for the action camera crown

T3 logo T3 14/06/2019 Chris Barnes
a close up of a camera: DJI Osmo Action review_front and back screens © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. DJI Osmo Action review_front and back screens

For a long time GoPro has stood firm as the king of action cameras. Its latest flagship, the Hero7 Black, broke new ground with gimbal-like HyperSmooth technology and innovative features including TimeWarp time lapse video and live streaming. In short, the Hero7 Black became the ultimate rugged camera for pro extreme athletes and amateur thrill-seekers alike.

DJI, on the other hand, has been leading the way with camera drones (while GoPro misfired with their ill-fated Karma drone) and handheld gimbal-mounted cameras. DJI certainly has the technological capability to enter this arena guns blazing, but could it really topple a thoroughbred action camera giant?

Well, the Osmo Action is DJI’s first stab at the action cam market and, on paper at least, it stands almost toe-to-toe with the Hero7 Black.

DJI Osmo Action review: design and setup

a hand holding a cellphone: DJI Osmo Action review: a person sits on a beach using the DJI Osmo Action with the Mimo app © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. DJI Osmo Action review: a person sits on a beach using the DJI Osmo Action with the Mimo app

In fact, there are a few areas where the DJI Osmo Action outguns the Hero7 Black. For starters, the Osmo Action is waterproof to 11 metres without a case, compared to the GoPro’s 10 metres without a case, and the rear touchscreen is 2.25-inches. That’s a whole quarter inch larger than the GoPro, although this does mean the DJI has a fractionally larger camera body.

a hand holding a cellphone: DJI Osmo Action review: a surfer holds the DJI action camera in the water © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. DJI Osmo Action review: a surfer holds the DJI action camera in the water

While we’re on the subject of screens, the biggest talking point is the neat colour screen on the front of the Osmo Action, just to the left of the lens. If you’re a vlogger or you plan to shoot activities where the camera needs to be trained on you, such as surfing or skateboarding, this is a real game-changer.

DJI clearly intends for this screen to be used regularly, so much so they’ve built in multiple ways to toggle it: tap the rear screen twice with two fingers; use the “screen switch” voice command; or give the QuickSwitch button on the side of the camera a long press.

In the design department, overall the Osmo Action is more utilitarian looking than GoPro’s Hero camera range. It has a hard grey plastic casing, compared to the sleek, satin-y feel of the newest GoPros. Ok so action cameras are meant to be hurled around, but that doesn’t mean they can’t look (and feel) good while doing it.

The lens on the outside is circular, with a removable metal ring around it. The battery sits on the underside, with two internal clasps holding it in place. 

The Osmo Action's battery takes just shy of 90 minutes to fully charge and lasts around the same when shooting constantly at 4K30 with RockSteady engaged. The battery is also removable (unlike the GoPro), so you can carry spares and enjoy endless hours of shooting. Both cameras can be charged using a power bank if you need to boost the juice on the fly.

DJI Osmo Action review © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. DJI Osmo Action review

DJI Osmo Action review: features and usability

When you’re about to drop in on a steep alpine descent or plunge underwater, the last thing you want to be doing is faffing with settings or waiting for your camera to boot up. Even when powered off, the DJI Osmo Action can start shooting within seconds via a press of the shutter button or via the voice command “start recording”.

Navigating the Osmo Action’s menu system is simple via the 2.25-inch touchscreen; swipe in from all four sides of the screen to reveal a different menu. While we have very few complaints about GoPro’s slick UI, the refined experience of operating the Osmo Action pushes it a fraction ahead of the competition. 

The Mimo app was a bit hit and miss for us. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t have the same level of editing options as the GoPro companion apps.

Earlier we mentioned a QuickSwitch button on the side of the DJI action cam… In keeping with the Osmo Action’s commitment to being ready for anything, this button makes it easy to navigate between HDR video, regular video, TimeLapse and other customised modes, without needing to use the touchscreen. This is ideal if you’re wearing gloves that aren’t touchscreen-friendly.

DJI Osmo Action review: video and stills

When it comes to filming, the DJI delivers plenty of video options: the camera can shoot up to UHD 4K60 resolution at 100Mbps and benefits from the company’s advanced electronic image stabilisation technology RockSteady. Just like GoPro’s game-changing HyperSmooth tech, RockSteady brings gimbal-like smoothness to videos. Considering DJI’s 10 years of experience developing incredible gimbals, RockSteady doesn’t disappoint. 

Our results were most consistent at 4K30: shots were vibrant, crystal clear and effortlessly smooth in a range of outdoors scenarios, from capturing our efforts during a sunny surf session to filming vistas on a particularly scenic hike. 

The Osmo can also shoot HDR video at 4K30, which produces stunning, dynamic and consistent results across light and dark scenes. RockSteady doesn’t engage in this mode, so it’s best used with a tripod. Overall there’s little difference in quality between the Osmo Action and Hero7 Black footage.

Slow motion shots are the bread and butter of action edits and nothing beats a buttery smooth, slowed down cut of a wild stunt or an explosion of dirt as you skid through a dusty corner of the trail on your mountain bike. The Osmo Action can shoot up to 8x slow motion at 1080p240, and in the right context the results are fantastic.

While the DJI Osmo Action is primarily a video camera, there’s fun to be had with stills. This centres around a range of manual photo settings, including the ability to max out the shutter speed at 1/8000s, which is ideal for improving image clarity in bright sunshine, or dropping to 120 seconds for long exposures. For capturing the widest angle shots, the GoPro has the upper hand with its SuperView option, which essentially involves stretching a 4:3 aspect ratio to a 16:9.

While most adventurers don’t purchase an action camera exclusively for the audio, it’s nice to know that your whoops and hollers are being captured clearly. On-board the Osmo Action is a pair of microphones. On the whole they pick up sound well, however we experienced distinct distortion from crashing waves during a particularly rowdy surf session, even with the Wind Noise Reduction setting engaged. 

For land-based activities you should have no problem, but you may still prefer to connect an external microphone for the best audio quality.

DJI Osmo Action review: price and verdict

With a practically identical spec between the DJI Osmo Action and the GoPro Hero7 Black, it’s a tough call to make as these are both truly excellent action cameras that sit head and shoulders above the rest.

So perhaps the choice you make between which one to buy comes down to aesthetics, budget and a few other considerations. Well, we say budget… The RRP of the GoPro puts it at £50 more than the DJI. However, throughout June the Hero7 Black is on sale for the same price as the DJI.

As for us? The Hero7 Black is still our favourite action cam because it offers live streaming, looks and feels more premium, has better companion apps, a wider field of view with SuperView, and a huge selection of mounts for pretty much any outdoors scenario and then some. So if you own the Hero7 Black, you’re still golden.

But if you’re yet to own a top action cam and you regularly engage in pursuits where the DJI’s front-facing screen would be invaluable, or you’re a vlogger looking for a simple to use camera that’s super-tough to boot, the Osmo Action will thrill. Throw in a few other refinements, compatibility with ‘third party mounts’ (ie, GoPro mounts) and an officially lower price tag, and the Osmo Action becomes a very enticing choice. For its first ever action camera, DJI really has come out swinging.

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