For a very long time (in tech / gadget time scales anyway), GoPro has ruled the roost when it comes to action cams. \
Sure, Sony has theirs (and very good they are too!) and other brands have had a crack such as Nikon and even Panasonic, along with more-than-I-can-count-usually-Chinese-made knock off wannabes, but despite some hard times of late, GoPro has sailed through.
Indeed, its mounting system for accessories has become the de-facto standard all others (except Sony) has followed, so this says something.
Sure, GoPro did have a major hiccup with its dalliance into the drone area with the ill-fated Karma. There were known battery issues (I still have one at the bottom of Hervey Bay in Queensland that decided 5 metres from the boat after a whale shooting session, its time was up) and in comparison to others around at the time, it was bulky and heavy.
Then DJI flexed its not considerable muscles and took over the market just about single-handedly.
I wonder than, is the hierarchy at GoPro having a Karma shiver-up-the-spine moment as we speak since DJI has released its own version of the action camera – and it looks suspiciously, on the surface at least, just like a GoPro Hero 7.
Assuredly though, this is where the comparison stalls. ‘Cause DJI has looked very hard at the Hero 7 and decided, “Aha! We can do better!”
So, have they …?
Major Point of Difference
Immediately on inspection of the DJI OSMO Action Camera you see a major point of difference. There are two screens – the standard and expected one on the back of the camera, and a second on the front. Switching between screens is near as dammit instantaneous, and can be achieved either by a two finger tap or a long press of a button called the Quick Start (or QS) button.
Sure, the front screen is a little on the small size at only 1.4 inches, but it is full colour. Handy if you are a selfie-type person (which I am not). The rear screen is 2.25 inches by the way with an aspect ratio of 16:9, and thankfully, nice and bright for use in sunlight, a failure of most other so-called action cams.
The larger screen makes the DJI unit a little wider than any GoPro, but it is still comfortable in the hand. It also has the ubiquitous GoPro mounting system incorporated, so all good there too.
Like the GoPro, you won’t need a special housing if you decide a splash in the briny is a top idea. Adequate for snorkelling say, the DJI OSMO Action Cam is good for around 10 metres (36 feet to be exact) before the flap covering the USB port and MicroSD card slot will feel the pressure and start to leak. If this happens, as I have also discovered in other devices in the past, the consequences are dire, and you can kiss the entire camera bye bye.
DJI in its wisdom – for better or worse – has decided that an HDMI port is superfluous by the way, so if you want to monitor footage as it happens, you’ll need to use the smartphone app.
Lens and Filters
One thing I do like about the DJI OSMO Action Cam it its support for ND filters. The review model came with a single filter (an ND 32) to screw on to the F2.8 lens (you need to remove the standard clear filter acting as a lens protector) and there are others both from DJI and third parties available.
If you have no idea what an ND filter does, they become valuable to select exposure and aperture settings outside the “normal” range when in manual mode. Yes manual, which means stepping into the scary territory of “fully automatic and let the camera do all the thinking”.
Try it, you’ll like it.
Oh, one last thing on the lens / sensor system; DJI has used the same sense as deployed in the MAVIC Air drone, supporting the same rate and video options.
On that note of course, DJI knows a thing or two about stability due to their drone expertise and has therefore incorporated a system in the OSMO Action Cam that works very well indeed. Of course, it has to have a snappy marketing name – “RockSteady” is the moniker given (as against GoPro’s “HyperSmooth”). VisiCalc’s inventors have a lot to answer for … look it up if you born after 1985… And whilst it is very good, I wouldn’t be uninstalling proDAD’s Mercalli or ProDrenalin just yet.
The menu system of the OSMO Action Cam – extensive as with only 3 buttons, all those built in features need to be accessed somehow – is accessed by touch control with a combo of swipes from the sides and the top and bottom being used.
Menus can also be customised and then accessed with the Quick Switch button and this is quite an easy process.
Out of the box, this is preset to shooting modes, but you may want to turn off those you don’t need and replace them with oft used commands. The bane of just about all action cameras – warping of the image giving that fish eye look caused by the lens system is addressed to a degree by a DeWarp option. Unlike the GoPro’s implementation of this, the DJI OSMO Action Camera can apply DeWarp to all frame rates and resolutions available.
HDR mode is not quite as flexible as it cannot be used in conjunction with image stabilization.
DJI has not forgotten still shots either: you can shoot 12 megapixel RAW, ISO is available from 100 to 3200 and you have access to a burst mode up to 7 frames a second.
In all, in both video and still modes, image quality is excellent. No more needs to be said.
The DJI OSMO Action Cam is not on its Pat Malone here, but the battery life is not fantastic. At full 4K and 60fps, I didn’t get to an hour of shooting. Obviously, the frame rate had something to do with it, as dropping this increased the battery life quite dramatically – 30fps gave me nearly 90 minutes for example.
Battery technology is getting better all the time and as the form factor of action type cameras does not allow bigger power packs to be fitted (unless someone comes up with something radical), we’ll just have to wait a while for improvement in this area.
One thing that did surprise me considering the pedigree of the DJI OSMO Action Cam was the lack of GPS support.
I can live with the lack of direct social media connectivity, and even probably the non-existent live streaming options however, but if these are important, as well as support for GPS, then the GoPro Hero 7 wins hands down in these areas.
So, would I buy one?
As usual, there is no straight yes and no to this, as again, as usual, a mixture of features from various models is the perfect answer.
If I had to choose between the AUD$499 DJI, AUD$599 GoPro Hero 7 Black or AUD$ 649 Sony models, I’d at this stage pick the DJI. Its drawbacks, for me, are outweighed by the positives. And the price doesn’t hurt either.
I would like to see the GPS incorporated and I do like the Sony form factor having said that. Both the GoPro and the DJI OSMO have voice control which I love, and the OSMO is rumoured to have its vocabulary expanded which is welcome.
My advice, as always with any cameras, is to try and have a play with all three and see which suits your way of working the best.
They are all good, no question, but as I say, for me at this stage, the DJI OSMO Action Cam has the edge.
You can get more information on the DJI OSMO Action Cam and its accessories available from this website.