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by Matt de Neef
August 5, 2019
When it comes to action cameras, GoPro has been the top dog for a long time. The American company released its first camera way back in 2004 — a 35mm film camera, no less — but it was in the early-to-mid 2010s that the brand exploded into popular consciousness, essentially founding the action camera market in the process.
In the years since we’ve seen the release of many new GoPro models, plus the emergence of several would-be challengers to GoPro’s crown — the Garmin Virb, the Shimano Sport Camera, and the Sony Action Cam, to name just a few. So far, none has truly challenged GoPro’s supremacy.
But now, there’s a new challenger in town. Released in May 2019, the Osmo Action is the first action camera from Chinese drone brand DJI. It builds off more than a decade’s worth of experience building industry-leading drones and follows several iterations of the Osmo camcorder system.
In short, this isn’t some upstart company taking on the industry leader right out of the gate. DJI has been making camera systems for a long time now, and has the experience, the reputation and nearly three-quarters of the market to show for it.
The following review compares the DJI Osmo Action (AU$499 / US$349) with the latest and greatest model from GoPro — the Hero7 Black (AU$549 / US$399) — to see whether GoPro is still the top dog, or whether DJI has struck a knockout blow. The goal of this review was not to do a forensic deep-dive into every function of the two cameras — check out DC Rainmaker’s review for that — rather, I put the two cameras to the test in everyday use to see how they compared across a range of criteria.
If there was a clear winner for a particular criteria, I gave the winning camera two points. If the margin of victory was slight, I awarded one. If it was draw or the difference was negligible, no points were awarded.
As you’ll see, the two cameras have a great many things in common. They look similar, they have many of the same features, they do a very similar job, and they both do that job very well indeed. But despite the similarities, there are some areas in which the Hero7 and Osmo Action diverge.
The Osmo Action tips the scales at 124g while the GoPro weighs 116g. That’s a narrow win to GoPro. Note that each weight is for the camera only — it doesn’t include the removable frame, which you’ll need if you want to mount the camera to anything.
Winner: GoPro (1 point)
At first glance the Osmo Action looks and feels bulkier, but in reality the pair are very close. The Osmo Action measures 63mm x 39mm x 35mm while the GoPro is 62.3mm x 44.9mm x 33mm. I’ll call that a draw.
The Hero7 Black features just two buttons: a record button on the top right, and an on-off/mode button on the right-hand side. The Osmo Action, meanwhile, has three buttons: a record button on the top right, an on-off/Display button on the top left, and a Quick-Select button on the left-hand side.
I found the Osmo’s extra button to be something of a minor downside; or rather, I found the button’s placement to be a minor downside. I often got the Osmo Action’s recording and Display buttons mixed up, particularly when I was recording from my handlebars, with the camera mounted upside-down (as the mounting frame necessitates).
In that orientation, both buttons were facing away from me and it was easy to forget which button was which. The GoPro, meanwhile only has one button on top, making it clear what you need to press when you record.
Of course this is only a minor gripe and most people will quickly work out which is which.
The Osmo Action’s QuickSwitch button does much the same as the Hero7’s mode button, but the former also switches to its front screen (see more below) when you hold it down. The GoPro doesn’t have “selfie mode” so doesn’t need a third button, and is a cleaner, simpler design as a result.
As for the buttons themselves, GoPro’s are a little softer and more satisfying to the touch, compared with the stiffer, less responsive buttons on the Osmo Action. On this point alone, it’s a minor win to GoPro.
Both the Hero7 and the Osmo Action feature an excellent rear-facing touch screen. As you’d expect, these screens are used as a digital viewfinder when shooting, for playing back media, and for changing settings.
Both rear screens are bright and clear and responsive and impressively easy to use. The Osmo is the clear winner here though.
The Osmo Action’s rear screen is noticeably bigger than the Hero7’s and while bigger isn’t always better, it is in this case. Bigger means more detail more clearly and makes the touchscreen easier to use for those of us with bulky fingers that lack in dexterity. I also found the Osmo Action’s screen to be a touch speedier than the GoPro when responding to gestures: another significant upside.
Both cameras have a front-facing screen as well. GoPro’s is rather basic, providing at-a-glance information like how long a video’s been recording, remaining battery life, and which mode the camera is in. The Osmo’s, meanwhile, can be used as a viewfinder — perfect for taking selfies — and is also noticeably bigger than the GoPro’s.
When you add up a bigger rear screen, a more responsive rear screen, and a bigger, selfie-ready front screen, the Osmo is the clear winner here.
Winner: Osmo Action (2 points)
Both cameras were largely intuitive to use and I found it easy to get accustomed to how each device functions. I found the GoPro to be a little trickier than the Osmo Action to get out of its mounting frame, while the Osmo Action seems to get hot on occasion when recording — something I didn’t notice with the GoPro.
One seemingly small feature of the GoPro that stood out to me was the red recording indicator light on the bottom of the unit. This makes it easy to confirm that the device is recording when you’ve got it mounted to the underside of your handlebars, for example. The Osmo Action lacks this indicator.
Both cameras have the ability to make a sound when recording starts and stops, though, so as much as I appreciated the GoPro’s indicator light, it’s not really necessary.
With thin winter gloves, I found that the Osmo Action’s touchscreen worked just as well as without gloves. With the same gloves, GoPro’s touch screen didn’t work. The buttons on both cameras were easily used with thin gloves.
With thicker winter gloves, neither camera’s touchscreen worked, but all buttons were easily usable.
Winner: Osmo (1 point)
DJI claims that the Osmo Action can be used underwater to a depth of 11m without a waterproof case. GoPro claims that the Hero7 Black can be used to 10m. In practical terms, that’s not a meaningful difference. Both are more than capable when it comes to shooting underwater.
When it comes to each camera’s primary task — shooting video — there’s not a whole lot to separate the two. Both offer the usual shooting modes you’d expect in a modern action camera.
At the top end, both cameras capture 4K footage at an impressive 60fps, and both offer resolutions from 4K down to 720p. Both cameras also shoot up to 240fps — great for slow-mo footage — at up to 1080p. Both the Osmo and the GoPro offer built-in slow-mo and timelapse shooting functions.
The cameras do diverge when it comes to how much of the scene they’re able to capture. The Hero7 Black has three options — Linear, Wide and SuperWide — while the Osmo has a fixed field of view which, to my eye, captures footage at a width somewhere between GoPro’s Linear and Wide offerings.
One other notable difference on shooting modes is that the GoPro offers a looping mode, perfect for turning your GoPro into a dashcam of sorts (or a light-less Cycliq camera). Just hit record and the camera will record over earlier footage, rather than stopping when the memory card gets full. The Osmo Action doesn’t offer this feature.
On balance, GoPro gets the nod when it comes to shooting modes, for the flexibility of being able to determine how wide you want your image to be and for looping mode, which might provide peace of mind for some commuters.
When it comes to assessing a video camera, the quality of video it shoots is always going to be one of the deciding factors. And when it comes to comparing the Osmo Action and GoPro Hero 7 on this front, it’s a close tussle.
I shot several scenes with both cameras simultaneously, at 1080p at 60 frames per second, allowing for a direct comparison between the two.
Both cameras shoot sharp, clear images that are every bit as good as you’d expect for a modern action camera. There is a noticeable difference between the images, however.
Videos shot by the GoPro have a greater contrast than those from the Osmo Action — shadows are darker and colours are more saturated. The Osmo’s videos are softer, slightly desaturated and not quite as harsh. To my eye, the Osmo’s images are actually slightly sharper too.
Picking between the two is largely an issue of personal preference. I prefer a softer, slightly desaturated image over a bolder, harsher one and so I lean in the direction of the Osmo Action here.
Of course, whichever camera you go for, its videos can be edited in post-production to increase or decrease the saturation and contrast, as you see fit. And again, both cameras will serve you just fine. But for me, Osmo gets the nod for having the “nicest” images straight out of the box.
Both cameras offer their own version of electronic in-camera image stabilisation, which, to simplify things considerably, smooths out videos by analysing each frame and correcting for any movement. GoPro’s offering is called HyperSmooth while the Osmo’s is RockSteady.
Simply put, both are excellent when it comes to smoothing out rough rides and jerky camera motion. This video, shot while running, shows just how well the GoPro smooths things out.
And here’s a demonstration of how effective Osmo’s RockSteady is.
So how do the two stack up? Here’s a video I shot with both cameras while running, with stabilisation switched on for both:
To my mind Osmo’s RockSteady offers a slightly smoother image in the running example above, but when it comes to on-the-bike footage, GoPro’s is better. As you can see in the side-by-side on-the-bike comparison videos throughout this review, smoothed footage from the Osmo Action is still a little jerky in places, while GoPro’s isn’t. Given this is CyclingTips and not RunningTips, GoPro wins this category, just.
That said, both cameras perform the task so well that it’s hard to imagine being disappointed with either. Both do struggle a little in low light, but that’s to be expected and I’d consider this a relatively minor downside.
Here’s a head-to-head comparison of the two cameras recording on the same Melbourne bridge, both at night.
Both cameras do an admirable job here but to me GoPro is the winner. Where the Osmo Action footage is darker, grainier, and with less detail, the GoPro gets more light in and offers a brighter, more vibrant scene.
Both cameras have inbuilt microphones and both can be augmented with an external microphone (connected via USB-C). Testing the audio on the two cameras’ inbuilt microphones revealed a noticeable difference.
The volume on footage recorded with the GoPro was noticeably louder compared to the Osmo Action’s more muted offering. To my ear, the Osmo Action also seems to filter out a decent chunk of both the high and low end, the latter reducing the severity of wind noise. Wind noise on the GoPro was noticeably louder.
Sound quality will likely be an issue of personal preference. To me, audio from the Osmo seemed to require less processing to make it upload- or edit-friendly, while the GoPro needed more wind noise filtered out. Generally I found the sound from the Osmo to be less harsh and more pleasant to the ears.
Winner: Osmo Action (1 point)
Both cameras can start recording when they’re still off. Just hit the record button, rather than having to wait for the camera to turn on and then press record. So which is quicker to start recording from off? I set a stopwatch and started recording on both cameras, before checking the first frame of each video recorded to see which was faster to get started.
Over three trials the GoPro averaged 3.2 seconds from off to recording while the Osmo Action averaged 3.45 seconds. That’s not exactly a meaningful difference.
It is worth noting, however, that a three-second delay is quite significant. If you’re starting to record from off, chances are you want to be recording right away. On several occasions throughout the review period I tried to start recording, to capture a memorable or dangerous moment, only to find that the moment was gone by the time the camera started recording (another endorsement for GoPro’s looping video, perhaps?)
Both cameras are more than capable when it comes to taking still images. Both shoot at a resolution of 4,000×3,000 pixels (12 Megapixels), more than enough for most applications. Both cameras also allow you to shoot on a countdown and both can shoot in a burst.
The GoPro offers two shooting modes for photos: Linear or Wide. As with shooting video, the Osmo only has one framesize option (leaving aside the ability to choose between two aspect ratios: 16:9 or 4:3). Both cameras have the ability to shoot raw images, while the GoPro also features HDR mode and digital zooming. GoPro’s edges here aren’t significant, but they do add up to a little more flexibility.
The Osmo Action can shoot at an 16:9 aspect ratio, in addition to a more standard 4:3.
Both cameras do a solid job when it comes to capturing still images — more than fine to upload to Instagram with a little tweak here and there. But just as with video quality, there is a slight difference between the images captured with the two devices.
GoPro’s images again feel darker, with greater contrast, and slightly harsher than those captured with the Osmo Action:
Shot with the GoPro Hero7 Black’s Linear photo mode.
The Osmo’s images are lower contrast and more muted in their colour palette:
Shot with the DJI Osmo Action.
Again, choosing between the two is largely a matter of personal preference, and the images can certainly be tuned after the fact (particularly given both cameras can shoot raw images). But my preference is again for the slightly more muted, lower-contrast images of the Osmo Action over those of the GoPro.
Both cameras offer USB-C connectivity (for charging and data transfer); both connect to a proprietary smartphone app with impressively little fuss; and both can use that companion app to download captured media to your phone, control the camera remotely, and update the camera’s firmware. Both also record to a Micro-SD card.
I found the GoPro smartphone app to offer a more polished and more intuitive experience, but I didn’t have the same issues with the Osmo app that other reviewers have run into.
GoPro inches ahead in two more areas. It has both a Micro-HDMI port and it allows livestreaming via its companion smartphone app, neither of which is possible via the Osmo Action. I didn’t have a need for either, but if livestreaming is a function you’re after, the GoPro is the winner here.
It’s very hard to separate the two on this front as well. The removable frame for each camera features GoPro’s essentially-industry-standard mounting interface, a blessing for anyone that has an older GoPro and some mounts lying around, as I did.
Both cameras come with a frame which can be attached to a standard GoPro mount.
The handlebar mount that the GoPro arrived with was a little tricky to get fitted to the bars on either of my road bikes (Cannondale CAAD10 and Cannondale Synapse). I found that the diameter of my handlebars fell between the widths of two of the rubber shoes included with the mount. As such I had to add a section of cutout inner tube between my bars and the mount to ensure a snug fit.
Note that neither camera has a handlebar mount as part of its base package. You’ll get some adhesive mounts and a mounting frame from GoPro, and just a mounting frame from Osmo, but if you want a handlebar mount (or chest mount, or helmet mount etc.) you’ll need to purchase these separately. See more below on what each camera comes with.
In something of a departure from the other categories, I found a significant discrepancy between the batteries of the two cameras. The Osmo comes with a 3.85V 1300mAh battery, while GoPro’s is 1,220mAH and 4.40V. To compare the battery life of each, I charged them fully, formatted the memory card, then set each to record at 1080p / 60fps until the battery died.
The Osmo conked out at 82 minutes while the GoPro soldiered on for 103 — a further 21 minutes. This surprised me.
GoPro claims that at 4K and 60fps the battery will last for 45-50 minutes while Osmo claims 63 minutes for the same specs. As a result I expected the Osmo to last longer at 1080p/60fps.
The amount of time you get out of an action camera battery will always vary a little. But based on my experience both in the test above and in the course of the review period, the GoPro battery lasts quite a bit longer.
Winner: GoPro (2 points)
Each camera has a list of minor features that, while unlikely to offer much to the average user, might have value to some. GoPro offers HiLite tags — markers you can place in a recorded video to make it easier to find in GoPro’s media management software, Quik. The GoPro also offers voice control for hands-free operation, and ProTune for greater customisability of images and videos.
I didn’t use any of these features in the course of my testing and, to be honest, I almost certainly wouldn’t use them if I owned the camera.
For mine, the one notable additional feature from the Osmo is its provision for alternate lenses, something the GoPro doesn’t have. For instance, an ND filter lens can be attached to the Osmo, perfect for long-exposure shots. I received one such filter for my review but didn’t use it during the testing process. It’s unlikely I would do so normally, too.
Here’s what the GoPro comes with:
– The camera itself
– Mounting frame
– Adhesive mounts
– Mounting buckle
– USB-C cable
– Thumb screw
The Osmo comes with the following:
– The camera
– Battery and battery case
– Mounting frame
– 1 charging base
– 1 locking screw
– USB-C cable
GoPro offers a little more here, with its adhesive mounts, but the benefit of those will vary from person to person.
As noted above, the GoPro Hero7 Black retails for roughly AU$549 / US$399 from the GoPro website. That price includes a “bonus” 32GB Micro-SD card. The Osmo Action Camera meanwhile will cost you AU$499 / US$349 from the DJI website (without a Micro-SD card).
Even factoring in the cost of the Micro-SD card (roughly AU$20), that’s a win for the Osmo Action.
So where does that leave us? Based on the above, GoPro finished with 10 points while the Osmo ended up with seven. To my mind, that makes the Osmo Action GoPro’s closest challenger yet.
Of course, it’s up to you how much weight you assign to each criterion — not all factors should be weighted equally. To me, video quality is the most important metric, alongside ease of use, price and perhaps image stabilisation. If you only consider those metrics, the Osmo actually comes out ahead.
As noted above, this review wasn’t intended as a forensic analysis of how the two cameras compare. Rather, I was more interested to see how the two stacked up in everyday use, and how they each performed against the metrics that matter to me.
My conclusion is this: At the end of the day, if you’re looking for an action camera, both will serve you very well. Whether you’re recording sweet descending videos, shooting your weekly club crit, or something else entirely, it’s hard to go wrong with either the GoPro Hero7 or the DJI Osmo Action Camera. Not only that but, for the first time, it would appear GoPro has a serious challenger on its hands. And that can only be a good thing for consumers.
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