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The best action camera for vlogging and selfies: Our DJI Osmo Action review

DJI takes on GoPro with a selfie screen on an action camera

4 Jul, 2019 7:38am EDT
Buy
If you do a lot of vlogging, the front-facing selfie screen is great
If you want a small action camera with great 4K60 HDR video
Don't Buy
If you shoot a lot of low-light footage

The DJI Osmo Action is a rugged 4K action camera designed with vloggers in mind. The front-facing screen makes it unique among action cameras, and it stands up well against the competition. 

I’ve spent the past several weeks using the Osmo Action, using it to shoot outdoor summer activities like diving and boat canoeing. This review will cover what I love about the device and its downsides, but I recommend you first check out the video above. Words can only do an action camera so much justice.

Also, let me preface this review by pointing out that I’m not a GoPro user and I don’t often use action cameras. I’m a filmmaker who primarily relies on mirrorless cameras for shooting documentaries and travel videos. I’m also a street photographer and occasionally still rely on film. 

So keep in mind this Osmo Action review is the perspective of an action camera novice.

We've also created a special version of our review in 4K at 60 frames per second, which you can watch on YouTube.

 

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Click here to buy the Osmo Action

DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY

Let’s be honest here: The appearance of the Osmo Action is strikingly similar to GoPro cameras. But when you take a closer look, the Osmo Action does have some thoughtful design details with specific use cases in mind. (Yes, vlogging. You’ll notice there’s a theme here.)

The Osmo Action has a front-facing selfie screen.

This action camera is the only one on the market with a front-facing selfie screen. It’s a feature I came to really appreciate.

The front-facing screen has a 1.4-inch, 300 ppi, full-color LCD display. Throughout my time with the Osmo Action, I wound up using this screen a lot for shooting photos and videos of myself.

Since it’s a square display, there’s a display setting in the menu that allows you to choose letterboxing so you can see the full image if of a 16:9 video in the frame. If you choose to have the video fill the screen, it crops some of the image off the sides.

Either way, having this screen available makes the Osmo Action a powerful tool for people who might not otherwise rely on an action camera for shooting themselves.

On the back, there’s a reasonably bright, 2.3-inch touch screen.

The Osmo Action’s build quality also feels solid and sturdy. The body’s material doesn’t feel like cheap plastic, with a feel that’s similar to the Mavic 2 Pro.

To test the durability, I dropped the device twice from about 3 feet (pocket height) onto a hard surface. It survived. It had a few scratches on the touch screen, but no cracks. DJI says the Osmo Action is shockproof and has been tested to survive drops from up to 5 feet.

In order to access the battery, you’ll need to unlatch both sides of the locking door.

DJI also has a thoughtful design for the removable battery. The battery is accessed from the bottom, where it has two internal clasps holding it in place. The double latches might add some hassle for getting the battery out, but it inspires more confidence that the compartment won’t pop open when your action camera starts getting banged around amid all the action you’re doing.

Another nice touch from DJI is the fisheye lens, which captures a 145-degree field of vision with f/2.8 fixed aperture. It has a lens cover that can be screwed off to attach other filters.

Removing the lens cover so filters can be attached.

The Osmo Action keeps things simple with only three physical buttons. Both the power button and the record/shutter button are placed on the top. On the right side there’s a “Quick Switch” (QS) button that is well positioned for both left- and right-handed users.

QS button makes switching between shooting modes super easy.

The QS button is very practical, offering two different functions.

First, it can be used for switching between different shooting modes. This was especially useful for switching between photo and video modes when I was shooting underwater, where the touchscreen was unresponsive. The QS menu is also customizable, so you can choose modes you use most frequently and get rid of the rest.

Second, long pressing the QS button will switching to the selfie screen -- very important for vloggers.

EASE OF USE

The Osmo Action is incredibly easy to use. For its first action cam, DJI has done a surprisingly good job designing the touchscreen interface.

By tapping and swiping across the rear touchscreen, I can control almost everything I need, including playback, video resolution and frame rates, white balance settings, and even lens distortion.

Touchscreen controls make the Osmo Action really easy to use.

Navigating the menu system is a pure joy, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a camera. Everything is intuitively laid out and there isn't an overwhelming number of options.

4K VIDEO QUALITY

For most of the time I was using the Osmo Action, I was shooting in 4K 60fps. The 4K videos look very sharp… maybe a little too sharp for my taste. It looks like DJI has added digital sharpening the image, giving videos an unnatural look. I prefer the softer, more pleasing look that I can get on mirrorless cameras by reducing sharpness settings. Sadly, there’s no such option on the Osmo Action.

Shot on Osmo Action in 4K 60fps D-Cinelike.

The colors are also great, but I recommend you use the D-Cinelike color profile for the best results. This profile gives the footage a bit more dynamic range and a cinematic color tone. But don’t expect the footage to look flat and washed out, as you’ll need D-Log for that extra flat film color space, which unfortunately isn’t available on the Osmo Action.

Shot on Osmo Action in 4K 60fps D-Cinelike.

The Osmo Action also includes a built-in “De-Warp” feature to fix image distortion in videos and photos from the fisheye lens. If you hate that fisheye look, this will save you the time of fixing your images on your computer later. The De-Warp effect can be turned on while recording, but this will crop the image around the edges.

While shooting longer 4K clips (up to 30 minutes), I fortunately didn’t experience any overheating. When I was filming on a bright day in the heat (about 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit), the Osmo Action got a bit warm, but the battery drain remained normal.

But you don’t have to always be shooting in 4K. Unlike the Osmo Pocket, the Osmo Action offers a wide range of video resolutions. You can shoot in 2.7K, 1080p and 720p and choose from different aspect ratios. Here are your options:

  • 4K 4:3 video mode (4,000px x 3,000px) -- This uses the camera’s entire sensor and offers a higher resolution than regular 4K UHD video files. However, the RockSteady stabilization feature can’t be turned on in this mode.
  • 4K (3840 x 2160)
  • 2.7K (2720 x 1530)
  • 2.7K 4:3 (2720 x 2040)
  • 1080p (1920 x 1080)
  • 720p (1280 x 720)
Different kinds of video resolutions can be chosen on the Osmo Action.

Most of the resolutions (except 720p) support 24, 25 and 30 frames per second. Shooting in 4K or 2.7K also gets you 50fps and 60fps options. The 8x slow motion mode that shoots at 240fps is only available in 1080p and 720p.

The maximum bitrate for Osmo Action videos is 100 Mbps, the same as the Osmo Pocket. This high bitrate is great for quality, but it also makes it easy to eat up all your storage space. I recommend sticking in a microSD card with at least 128GB so you can shoot longer videos.

For advanced video shooters, the Osmo Action offers manual controls in video recording mode. The main advantage here is allowing users to keep the shutter speed in the sweet spot, i.e. twice the frame rate, which will produce the smoothest-looking videos.

I’m so glad to see the Osmo Action nailed the focus in all of the 4K clips I shot over three weeks. Since the Osmo Pocket had autofocus issues, I was worried DJI’s new action camera would suffer the same fate. Thankfully, the continuous autofocus works great.

4K HDR

Another great feature on the Osmo Action is shooting 4K HDR video. If you’re using an action cam, it seems likely you’ll regularly be dealing with bright sunlight and harsh shadows when shooting outdoors. This mode proved especially useful in shooting backlit scenes.

Shot without 4K HDR.
Shot with 4K HDR.

When shooting in such environments, the 4K HDR mode had amazing results, but it wasn’t perfect. When shooting scenes with a bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds behind me, 4K HDR offered more details in the shadows, but the colors didn’t really pop.

Shot with 4K HDR.

Another downside of the HDR mode is that it only lets you shoot up to 30fps in 4K, 2.7K and 1080p.

Finally, there’s no image stabilization (RockSteady) in this mode. This is a really big issue because it makes HDR unsuitable for POV action scenes. The image will just be too shaky. The result is that I wound up using the HDR mode mostly for static shots.

IMAGE STABILIZATION

Losing image stabilization in HDR mode is especially painful because the DJI’s RockSteady stabilization works very well. It almost looks as good as using a gimbal.

I tried filming with and without Osmo Action’s built-in electronic stabilization, and found that it instantly improves the smoothness of my 4K clips.

RockSteady on.
RockSteady off. Jittery shakes become obvious.

However, RockSteady comes with a tradeoff. Turning the feature on crops the video slightly, giving you a narrower image. It’s not a big deal for me, but it’s something that will disappoint users who need the full-frame video. If you have De-Warp turned on, that’s even more cropping.

UNDERWATER VIDEO

When I took the Osmo Action for a dive, I chose to shoot in 4K 60fps with RockSteady on. This made for some very smooth video. The higher frame rate avoids the blurred movement you might see with 30fps or 24fps. RockSteady smooths things out even more.

Shot on Osmo Action in 4K 60fps, without underwater housing.

According to DJI, the Osmo Action is waterproof up to 11m (36ft) without underwater housing. Just to test the camera’s limits, I tried to dive beyond 11m, but at 12m, the Osmo Action immediately went black. I tried pressing the power button several times to no avail. Fortunately, once I started ascending, the Osmo Action could be turned back when I was at about 7m (23ft).

For normal shooting, the rear touch screen is bright and sharp, making it easy to see underwater. Shooting in Auto mode will also automatically set the shutter speed and ISO for correct exposure.

Unfortunately for advanced shooters, the Osmo Action doesn’t have a white balance mode tuned for underwater shots. So you either have to set the white balance to auto or adjust the Kelvin value.

SLOW MOTION

The Osmo Action can shoot up to 240fps (8x slow motion) in 1080p and 720p resolution. This turned out to be quite useful when shooting fast action with several interesting things happening at once. Such conditions might make it impossible to capture everything at normal frame rates.

In order to test the slow motion feature, my colleague and I took the Osmo Action out canoeing. The results were great! Rowing looks epic at 8x slow motion.

8x slow motion on the Osmo Action.

The downside to slow motion is that you lose some image quality. The footage will look a bit grainy and lacking in detail, but it’s definitely usable for sharing on social media.

Pro tip: Shoot in 4K 60fps and edit the footage in a 24fps timeline on Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. This will get you a slow and cinematic look in 4K without losing image quality.

VLOGGING AND THE INTERNAL MICROPHONE

As you know by now, the Osmo Action is great for vlogging. In fact, if you want to shoot yourself with an action camera, this is the only one that makes it easy with a front-facing screen. This makes it easy to frame a shot and check the camera settings.

The camera’s ultra wide-angle lens is also useful for this as it captures more your surroundings at arm’s length. If you turn on the De-Warp effect you’ll also get rid of that fisheye look.

Since the camera is small and lightweight, it’s also easier to hold for longer periods of time than a smartphone or other camera. And with the great RockSteady stabilization turned on, vlogging clips won’t look shaky at all.

Vlogging setup for Osmo Action.

If you need great audio in your vlogging videos, though, you might not want to rely on the built-in mic. If you want to use an external mic, you’ll have to get a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter.

DJI hasn’t made this process easy, either. I tried to use the Osmo Pocket’s 3.5mm adapter on the Osmo Action for external mic support, but it wouldn’t work. There’s no obvious reason why this is the case, but DJI is apparently planning to release a different adapter for the Osmo Action.

Fortunately, the internal mic on the Osmo Action sounds good most of the time. It should pick up your voice well enough as long as you are talking at arm’s length. The mic sounds cleaner and picks up much less noise than the one on the Pocket. So it’s definitely usable for casual vlogging.

More serious, professional vloggers might want to wait for DJI to release the mic adapter, though.

TIME-LAPSE

The portability of the Osmo Action also makes it convenient to shoot time-lapse videos on the go. And it gives you more control than if you’re shooting a time-lapse on, say, your smartphone by allowing you to adjust the shutter speed, ISO and white balance.

The camera also gives you the option to save all the photos used for the time-lapse along with the video. Or you can just export the video in 1080p, 2.7K or 4K.

You could even shoot an all-day time-lapse video on the Osmo Action if you really wanted to. It supports USB-C charging, so you can charge and shoot at the same time. And since the camera is waterproof, you can leave it in the rain as it continues to capture shots without worrying about it.

Below is a timelapse I shot on the Osmo Action for a duration of two hours. It was shot with an ND filter attached and set to take a photo every 30 seconds.

Shot on Osmo Action.

PHOTO QUALITY

The Osmo Action is mainly a video camera, but it can still capture pretty nice 12MP stills. With a small 1/2.3-inch sensor, don’t expect to get DSLR-quality photos. However, photos captured in JPEG look great. The colors look nice and include good amount of detail. Noise reduction is on the low side, but it gives the photos a classic film look that I really like.

Shot on Osmo Action, out-of-camera JPEG, ISO 1000, f/2.8, 1/400 sec.
Shot on Osmo Action, out-of-camera JPEG, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1600 sec.

But as with the videos, sometimes the images look too sharp. It’s disappointing that there’s no way to adjust this in the settings. Only the white balance, ISO, shutter speed and exposure value can be adjusted manually.

The shutter speed settings are nice, though, because it can be set up to 120 seconds, which is perfect for long exposure photography. Below is a night cityscape shot I took at ISO 100 with 100 seconds of exposure.

Shot on Osmo Action, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100 seconds

For the more serious photographers out there, the Osmo Action even gives you the option to shoot in RAW, which is critical to capturing the best possible images. The camera saves RAW files in the DNG format.

By shooting RAW, you get a bit more dynamic range in your photos, but don’t expect miracles at high ISOs, as the Osmo Action’s sensor is about the same as a smartphone’s. Anything above ISO 800 will make the photo look grainy, as seen in the shot below.

Shot on Osmo Action, out-of-camera JPEG, ISO 3200.

LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE

Since the Osmo Action sensor is small, it doesn’t perform well in low light. Dark settings is an area in which the camera really struggles. When I was shooting with the Osmo Action in low light, I set the maximum ISO to 800 to prevent the camera going higher and giving me grainy photos.

Shot on Osmo Action at 4K 24fps, ISO 800.
Shot on Osmo Action at 4K 24fps, ISO 1600.

I would definitely avoid using the Osmo Action to film in low light conditions. If I really do need to use it in low light, I would recommend portable LED lights to help light up the scene for shooting with a lower ISO setting.

DJI MIMO APP

I use the DJI Mimo app a lot with my Osmo Pocket, mainly for advanced controls and so I can use my phone’s larger screen for live preview. The Osmo Action can also be used with the app by connecting to the phone via Wi-Fi. It is fast to connect and easy to use.

The app still offers live preview with the new action camera and supports transferring photos and videos. You can also control shooting modes from the app.

A whole list of manual settings on the DJI Mimo app when connected to the Osmo Action.

It might be worth noting, though, that the Wi-Fi connection will break when the Osmo Action is put in the water. So if you were hoping to use your phone to preview an image as you dip the camera under water, you’ll be disappointed.

I tried this out and the preview video stream had horrible lag. In this case, it’s difficult to rely on the Wi-Fi connection to frame my shot. Otherwise, the live preview works well out of the water.

BATTERY LIFE

The battery is good enough for both casual and professional use. In my usage, the battery went dead after an hour of usage shooting videos at 4K 60fps, 4K HDR and in slow motion at 1080p 240fps. The clips range from thirty seconds in length to three minutes.

DJI offers a charging hub that supports a maximum of 3 batteries.

The Osmo Action can be charged from USB-C, so it’s very convenient to charge the camera on-the-go. If I’m using it to shoot a time-lapse, I can plug it into a powerbank and let the camera shoot all day. 

For people looking to do some sports filming, I suggest buying the Osmo Action charging kit, which comes with two additional batteries and a charging hub. The charging hub can be used to charge multiple batteries at once, also through USB-C.

ACCESSORIES

I am so glad with DJI offers a seamless solution for attaching attach filters on the lens. It’s a simple approach with a standard screw twist thread. This threaded system works well for most photographers and videographers. Also, this simpler design encourages more third-party filter manufacturers to make theirs compatible with the Osmo Action.

Pro tip: I recommend users attach ND filters to the Osmo Action when shooting in daylight, which helps to follow the 180-degree rule while maintaining proper exposure. This means if you’re shooting at 25fps, for example, you have to manually set the shutter speed to 1/50 (double the frame rate to follow the 180-degree rule). Without ND filters, this will lead to an overexposed image. Without following the 180-degree rule, your footage could end up looking jittery, edgy and unnatural.

If you’re looking to move over to the Osmo Action from a GoPro, there’s some good news: Most of your existing GoPro accessories are compatible with the Osmo Action. DJI made a wise decision to not create a new mounting system for the Osmo Action. So users can just grab any GoPro mounts at camera stores and use it with their Osmo Action.

I can use a GoPro backpack mount with the Osmo Action.

I didn’t have a chance to test out DJI’s underwater housing for the Osmo Action, as it’s not available yet. So if you bought the Osmo Action and want to use it for an upcoming dive, remember that it’s only waterproof up to 11m (36ft). If you happen to go deeper and it shuts down on you, it should hopefully turn back on when you ascend to surface.

DOWNSIDES

The Osmo Action is not a perfect action camera. Despite the camera’s very nice dual screen design and buttery image stabilization, some important shooting modes are missing. There’s no underwater mode for accurate white balance and HDR mode is not available for photos, only for video. And the biggest issue? Serious live view delay.

The screen lags behind the live action.

The additional processing needed for stabilization makes the screen lag when RockSteady is turned on. The processing delay is about one second, and it’s very noticeable.

In one scenario I was using the Osmo Action to film a walk-and-talk scene. The delay made it difficult to follow the activity in real time as I was relying on the screen for composition. I couldn’t turn off RockSteady, either, as I need it to keep my shots steady. As a result, the screen lag issue makes live view pretty difficult for framing. Hopefully this is something DJI can address in future software updates.

Another disappointment professionals might be the absence of HDMI out, which GoPro supports. Also, without a compatible USB-C mic dongle available, there’s essentially no external mic support on Osmo Action… at least for now. DJI hasn’t said when the adapter will be released.

There’s no face tracking feature, either, which is an odd omission given that the Osmo Pocket has it.

Finally, the rear screen scratches easily. It’s not a big issue, but you’ll probably want to get a screen protector.

VERDICT

The Osmo Action is a rugged 4K camera that sticks to the DJI ethos of providing good stabilization and at a fair price. After using the Osmo Action for three weeks, I can say it’s a really fun camera for casual consumers. The front-facing screen even wound up being more useful than I expected. I used it often for and framing my shots with it was super easy.

The Osmo Action is also on par with GoPro cameras when it comes to waterproofness and the rugged build. So people worried about buying a durable product and rest easy on that count.

The biggest appeal for current GoPro users might be the long battery life and the front-facing screen. Even once the battery is nearly dead, you can plug it into a power bank using USB-C and keep it going for much longer. (Of course you can’t do this when you’re diving, but it’s great for time-lapse videos.)

Just don’t rely on this camera for shooting in low light. If that’s not a problem for you, it definitely offers good value.

So would I buy one? For my next dive trip, absolutely.

Click here to buy the Osmo Action


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