A couple of years ago GoPro tried to eat DJI’s lunch by getting into the drone business. It didn’t go so well. In 2019, it’s DJI’s turn to horn in on GoPro’s turf with the launch of its first action camera, the $350 DJI Osmo Action. The result? It’s not quite as good as the Hero7 Black, but it’s breathing right down GoPro’s neck.
Let’s start with the basics. The Osmo Action looks a hell of a lot like a GoPro. It has the same dark, boxy shape with a lens on the left. Around back, as with the Hero7, is a touchscreen display. The Osmo’s is a wider 16:9 screen (the Hero7’s is 4:3), which gives you a larger image, but the screen is a lot dimmer than the GoPro’s which I found frustrating in bright sunlight. The biggest physical difference is that the Osmo Action has a screen on the front of the camera, too. It’s a small, 1.4-inch square, so you can’t see a ton, but it’s generally good enough to see if your silhouette is in frame or not. Definitely handy.
The two cameras ultimately have more similarities than differences. Both can shoot video at resolutions up to 4K60 and 1080p240, as well as 12MP still photos in JPG and RAW formats. The Osmo Action is slightly more waterproof than the Hero7 (36 feet vs. 33 feet). Both cameras have detachable front lens covers which can be switched for ND filters or polarizers, but I found DJI’s easier to swap in and out. Battery life is more or less identical. I did a rundown test with both cameras set to 4K24, stabilized, with Wi-Fi on but not connected, and the GoPro’s GPS turned off (since the DJI has none). The Hero7 Black made it to 88 minutes before giving up the ghost, while the Osmo Action made it to 90. Basically a wash, in other words. Enabling GPS on the GoPro will shorten its run time a bit, but we’re certainly not docking it for including that option.
One of the banner features here is DJI’s electronic image stabilization, which it calls RockSteady, and is built to rival GoPro’s HyperSmooth (gimmicky names much, guys?). Verdict? It does an excellent job, and it’s roughly as smooth as HyperSmooth, if not slightly smoother. But the overall effect isn’t as good because in order to achieve about the same level of stability as the GoPro, the DJI crops the frame way more, and it’s very noticeable. Not only is the field of view considerably narrower, but pixels are stretched and there’s a distinct drop in image quality. The Hero7 Black is generally just as smooth, but manages to keep the shots nice and wide, so if you were using a selfie stick you’d probably still get your entire body in. Not so much with the Osmo Action, which is a big deal if you’re capturing something like snowboarding.
The Osmo Action offers HDR video, which is something the Hero7 lacks, but I’m not completely sold on it. HDR mode gives you a tiny bit of improved dynamic range, but really it just seems to be cranking up the exposure and saturation a bit, and it sacrifices the ability to shoot stabilized video (and 60 fps). It just isn’t worth the trade-off. It’s better to use DJI’s flat color profile called D-Cinelike and then tweak the footage in your nonlinear editor (e.g. Adobe Premiere or Final Cut X) after the fact. D-Cinelike works impressively well and I found that the footage it produced was quite flexible and slightly easier to work with than GoPro’s flat color profile. If you put both cameras in their standard color mode, though, the Hero7’s footage looks better straight out of the camera. Colors pop a bit more, the contrast looks good, and the camera does a slightly better job metering exposure.
When stabilization is turned on, the scales are tipped even further toward GoPro, and images from the Hero7 Black are noticeably sharper and cleaner, because its pixels aren’t being stretched as much. The Osmo Action’s display has about two seconds of lag when stabilization is on, which is disconcerting. In low light, both cameras are pretty bad. The Hero7 is brighter and the colors are a lot more accurate, but there’s a ton of noise. The Osmo Action’s image isn’t as noisy, but it’s a darker image and colors are way off. When I manually corrected the white balance in post, though, the Osmo’s image was a bit sharper. Either way, neither of these cameras are great for nighttime captures.
Both of these cameras are capable of shooting both RAW and JPEG photos. The DJI uses the widely adapted .DNG format, while GoPro uses its own .GPR format, but both are editable in Adobe Lightroom. I was surprised to see that while they were shooting at the same ISO and aperture, the DJI used a slower shutter speed than the GoPro (1/1600th sec. vs. 1/1800th sec.) and yet it still produced a darker image. I’m not sure if that means the image sensor isn’t quite as sensitive or if it’s a format issue, but I thought that was interesting. Most people will probably just shoot stills in auto mode, though. There again, the GoPro is a bit brighter. I like the color of the sky better in the DJI version, but foreground detail and lighting is better from the GoPro.
Audio was pretty much a wash. Neither camera has an amazing mic setup. The GoPro’s mics have a bit of a warmer tone, which I found more pleasing, but it’s dealer’s choice. The one strange thing was that when I mounted both cameras to the handlebars of my mountain bike, the DJI recorded this loud, abrasive clicking sound, which the other two cameras managed to soften to the point that it was barely noticeable, so you just hear the sound of the wind and the tires on the ground. Much more pleasant.
Speaking of other cameras, I also included the Sony RX0 Mark II in my testing. It was a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, because as I noted in our review, it’s really more of a vlogging cam than an action cam. The field of view is way too narrow and the stabilization is terrible compared to the DJI and the GoPro. On the other side of the coin, the Sony absolutely stomped the other two in low-light performance and image clarity, which isn’t a surprise because its sensor is twice the size. It had the best audio performance, too. So if you’re going to be doing more talking than gnar-shredding, and you don’t mind spending twice as much, the Sony may not be a bad option.
DJI did an exemplary job with the menu system on the Osmo Action. The touchscreen works well, and it’s generally pretty intuitive to use, though occasionally options aren’t where you think they’re going to be. One of the smartest features is custom modes, which essentially enables you to store profiles of settings and then quickly switch between them, sort of like a custom button on a DSLR. Meanwhile, the Quick Switch button comes in handy for switching shooting modes (or flipping between front screen and back) in underwater situations. In contrast, DJI’s Mimo smartphone app needs a lot of work (I tested the Android version on a Google Pixel 3 XL). It had trouble displaying videos I’d just shot, it doesn’t have the same easy sharing options that GoPro has built into its apps, and there’s no live-streaming option, which is a surprise since most of DJI’s drones have that option.
Once we start getting into frame rates, the GoPro pulls further ahead. Both the Osmo Action and the Hero7 Black can fully stabilize 4K60 video using RockSteady / HyperSmooth, respectively (GoPro added this capability via a firmware update not too long ago). The Hero7 Black still comes out on top, largely because of its SuperView feature. SuperView takes a taller, 4:3 image, then squishes it and applies anti-distortion, in-camera, to produce a 16:9 image that gets way more of you in the frame. For activities like snowboarding, surfing, biking, or anything that involves a selfie stick, it’s my go-to field of view. The closest answer DJI has is the ability to shoot 4:3 at 2.7K30, requiring you to manually smoosh it into 16:9 in post-production software, which is easier said than done. In contrast, the Hero7 Black can shoot 4:3 at 2.7K60 (i.e. twice as fast), or simply 2.7K60 SuperView, while stabilized, which is so much easier.
The Hero7 Black has a few other features the Osmo Action is missing, such as 2.7K video at 120 fps. It also uses the new H.265 codec, which crams more data into a smaller package. Both cameras have hyperlapse features (i.e. stabilized time-lapse video), but the Osmo Action can only output them at 2.7K30 while the Hero7 Black’s hyperlapse (called TimeWarp, again with the gimmicky names) goes to a full 4K30.
The Osmo Action has a dedicated slo-mo mode, which produces videos that come out of the camera ready to play back in slow motion. It’s a great feature, but it could use more options. For example, currently the maximum is 1080p 8x slow motion, but the resulting file is 30 fps. I almost always mix my videos down to the more cinematic 24 fps, which means that for the same shooting speed (240 fps), I could be getting 10x slow motion. You can do that with the DJI (and the GoPro) by manually shooting 1080p240, and then slowing it down 10x in Premiere or Final Cut, but it would be nice to include that in the quick options. Also, GoPro should strongly consider stealing that feature, as currently you have to slow your over-cranked footage down using apps or desktop software.
The Hero7 Black weighs 4.1 ounces (116 grams), while the Osmo Action weighs 4.37 ounces (124 grams). When you hold them in your hands you can tell that the Osmo is heavier, but the difference is slight enough that it’s not going to cause much more neck fatigue if you’re wearing it on a helmet. Unfortunately, the Osmo Action doesn’t have GPS or an HDMI port. Having GPS enables you to add overlays that include your speed and even a map, and it’s a shame that’s missing here. HDMI is really nice for quickly looking at footage on a big screen after a long day on the slopes, or even using an external monitor.
The DJI Osmo Action price is $50 cheaper than the Hero7 Black, though practically speaking, you can usually find the Hero7 on sale somewhere. Even if there is a $50 difference, though, I’d still recommend the GoPro. Image quality is just a little better, with nicer colors and sharper pictures straight out of the camera. They both offer incredible stabilization, but the GoPro sacrifices less to achieve it, with less severe image cropping and more frame rates, as well as its fantastic SuperView FOV. The Hero7 Black is just the better camera, but not by a ton.
This should be a wake-up call for GoPro. It’s taken the California company many years to get to this point. The fact that DJI got this close on its very first try should make the people at GoPro nervous and send them scrambling to introduce some real innovation for the Hero8 (likely coming this fall). Personally, as a consumer, I’m really looking forward to this arms race.
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