DJI Osmo Action review: A worthy GoPro rival

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Let’s be clear: This might be DJI’s first foray into this exact space, but the company has been making cameras since at least the Phantom 2 Vision in 2013. Most of its drones come with one built in, and the Osmo series of handhelds has been quietly growing in popularity for a few years. The Osmo Action is an extension of that line for the extreme sports crowd. Theoretically, you now have a DJI camera for the air, land and everything in between.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, how does the Action stack up against the GoPro Hero 7 Black in terms of flagship features? Both shoot up to 4K at 60 frames per second, snap 12-megapixel photos, come with electronic stabilization, offer up to 8X slow motion and are waterproof (GoPro to 33 feet; DJI to 36). It’s within those features where you’ll find the key differences, and we’ll tell you why they matter. But at a high level, these two cameras offer roughly the same specifications.

Hardware

DJI Osmo Action review

As already mentioned, the Action looks a lot like a GoPro. It’s roughly the same shape and size. (The Osmo is wider, but not quite as tall.) This is not a coincidence, of course. Not only does the design let you know this is an action camera, but it also means the Osmo will be familiar to the very GoPro customers DJI clearly wants to lure over. It also means there will be a good slice of GoPro’s accessory catalog (including some you already own) that will be compatible, provided they have GoPro’s proprietary three-pronged connector.

The main physical difference, and clearly DJI’s unique selling point, is an LED display on the front. It’s a simple solution to a simple problem: framing yourself in shot. With a GoPro, it’s trial and error. (Hint: Point the lens at your stomach when the camera is on a selfie stick.) But even that can go wrong, so having a screen showing your shot in real time makes sense.

That said, the 1.4-inch second display is small enough that beyond arm’s length it’s hard to make out what it’s showing. This secondary display isn’t a touchscreen either, so you’ll need to flip the camera around or reach for the buttons to change any settings. Curiously, the two displays are linked. As in, only one screen can be active at a time, and the standby time for the main display determines how long the small one remains active. To wake the front screen (once it goes to sleep), you have to touch the rear one. It’s a counterintuitive setup that it limits the smaller display’s practicality, but it’s theoretically fixable in software, so we can always hope for an update.

Unlike a GoPro, there’s no HDMI port on the Active. If you like to connect your camera to a TV or monitor to view your footage, you’re out of luck. Like the GoPro, you will be able to connect external microphones via the USB-C port, and DJI informs me an official accessory will be available.

DJI Osmo Action review

There are three buttons on the Action: one for the shutter (start/stop recording), one for power, and a “quick set” button on the side for switching between modes (photo, video and so on). The battery door is actually part of the battery (the whole thing pops out), and the cell inside is 1,300mAh, slightly larger than GoPro’s 1,220mAh capacity. (It offers about two hours constant FHD recording to GoPro’s hour and a half-ish.) The attached door is curious, as it doesn’t seem to provide any benefit, and occasionally I spotted it hadn’t “clicked” into place properly, which makes me nervous about it keeping a waterproof seal.

Thanks to the Action’s extra width, the LCD on the back has a 16:9 aspect ratio. It feels more spacious than what you’ll find on the GoPro, but the real perk here is that videos and the viewfinder fill up the whole screen — no letterbox effect like on the Hero 7. This is only true when playing back something that was recorded in 16:9, of course, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

User interface

With their small displays, action cameras always have an awkward menu system, especially if you’re operating it with gloves or wet fingers. DJI hasn’t done anything too different here. Most of the menus are accessible by swiping in from each edge, a maneuver GoPro users will already know well.

One weird thing I noticed is that there’s a big delay between the lens and the display when stabilization is switched on. It’s less than one second, but it’s noticeable. With a GoPro and the Action side by side, if I move my hand in front of both cameras, the GoPro will show it in near real time; the DJI takes way longer. Like, the whole movement will be completed on the GoPro before the Action even registers.

DJI tells me it’s aware of the issue and that it has to do with the processing needed for stabilization. (My tests had stabilization active for both cameras.) It’s more of an annoyance than anything, but if you’re relying on the viewfinder to follow an activity, you’re really going to notice it.

DJI Osmo Action review

On a more positive note, there’s an option to choose which modes show up when you click the “quick set” button. If you don’t care about hyperlapse, for example, you can remove it from the list. You’ll still be able to get to it via the touchscreen, but you won’t have to click past it when using the physical button.

Like the GoPro, the Action has voice control, so you can set it to record with a command. There’s no wake word here; simply say “start recording” and it’ll begin. I found it responsive, perhaps more so than its rival. But that lack of wake word and high sensitivity also meant I had a few false triggers, where it would start or stop recording because I said something similar to the command.

There are also fewer commands in total — just five — but they cover the main controls. GoPro currently lists 15 commands and won’t suffer from false starts, so it ultimately comes down to whether you prefer convenience over flexibility.

Video features

Okay, buckle up, because this is where things are going to get a little dense, but it’s also probably the most important section for advanced users. Both cameras offer a wide range of video modes and frame rates. For the most part they overlap, but there are some vital differences worth knowing.

Let’s start with what they have in common. Both top out at 4K at 60FPS, with 30 and 24FPS also available. You’ll also find the 60/30/24FPS options in common at most resolutions, although GoPro goes up to 120FPS at 2.7K. For photos, there are the usual timelapse and hyperlapse modes. Beyond this, things start to drift.

DJI Osmo Action review

Notably, the Action has fewer of the “exotic” resolutions that GoPro has supported for years. If you’re a fan of the 1440p, 960p or SuperView, know that you still do have 4:3 options on the Osmo (at 4K and 2.7K), but that’s it. So GoPro definitely offers more flexibility here — especially if POV video is your thing.

Conversely, DJI’s camera has more frame-rate options across the board. DJI includes 50, 48 and 25 at most resolutions. Things get even busier at FHD, where you’ll find 240, 200, 120 and 100 FPS in the mix.

Those are specialty settings, but they match what you’ll find on a Mavic drone. Presumably, the idea is that you can use the Action on the same project as a Mavic and match up the FPS for consistency. That said, it’s possible to wrangle a video into a different frame rate after the fact, but if you wanted to shoot at a certain aspect ratio/resolution, you ideally want to do it at source.

Another trick the Action has that the GoPro currently doesn’t is HDR video. GoPro does do some image analysis as you shoot (thanks to that custom GP1 chip), but it’s not HDR as we know it. DJI offers HDR as a top-level menu option, but the trade-off is you can’t use stabilization at the same time. While it’s nice that it’s here, I struggled to spot major differences between HDR and regular video. In both well lit environments or high-contrast situations, I wasn’t sure which clip was HDR mode when I played them back on my laptop (sometimes I had to record myself saying which was which). In the slider below, though, you can definitely see that the HDR image (left) is more balanced where as the non-HDR frame is a little over exposed, even if it’s not dramatically different.

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