MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — It looks just like a GoPro action camera. And it acts like it as well, with a caveat: The company that makes it, Chinese drone-maker DJI, says video footage on its Osmo Action camera is smoother than on the GoPro. It isn’t.
We tried the camera in a back-to-back shootout with the GoPro Hero 7 Black, and the “RockSteady” footage isn’t steadier and is, in fact, barely as smooth as the GoPro.
But it is less wild and saturated, meaning that if you use an action camera to shoot footage of human beings, as opposed to surfing, cycling, hiking and the like, your subjects are going to look better. GoPro cameras goose up the colors.
My guess is, though, that you want the camera for action, not portraits.
GoPro has long been the leader in action cameras, although it’s had a few rough years, as over-expansion diluted the firm. The company says it expects to be profitable in 2019, after years of losing millions.
DJI makes most of the drones the world uses, which wow photographers with smooth, steady aerial shots, achieved with a mechanical 3-axis gimbal.
GoPro found fame for the ease of sticking the camera in unlikely places, like surfboards, bicycles and even dog collars. But the dirty little secret about all that video footage was that it was very shaky and needed to be heavily edited.
That changed in 2018, when GoPro introduced the Hero7, the first of its cameras to use effective electronic image stabilization. The camera won raves, including from this critic, who said the model was “hands down the best camera GoPro has come up with, and a worthy upgrade.” The camera initially sold for $399 but is now on sale at Amazon for $349.
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DJI has expanded beyond drones in the last several years with a series of portable Osmo cameras with a small drone-like gimbal and electronic stabilization. They were DJI’s own unique take on photography, and the most recent edition, the $349 Osmo Pocket, was the best of the bunch, original and smooth. It sports a non-electronic, mechanical gimbal.
For the $349, Osmo Action, DJI has shamelessly cloned the GoPro to look, feel and act similar. It even fits in any GoPro accessory mount.
It does, however, offer a few features the GoPro does not:
–A color preview on the front screen is a godsend for vloggers, who for the first time can frame their shot while speaking directly to the action camera. Additionally, as noted, this video selfie isn’t distorted as the GoPro can sometimes be, and I like the more realistic colors on the Osmo.
–You can shoot video in slow motion and have the footage processed directly in the camera. Love this feature. You can’t do that on a GoPro.
What it can’t match is my favorite feature of the GoPro Hero 7, TimeWarp, the ability to make motion time-lapses that are smooth, wild and crazy. While the Osmo has a Hyperlapse feature, it just doesn’t look as steady or just awesome.
But the selling point, the deciding factor for consumers, is going to be the shaky test. Can you take the Osmo out for a walk without feeling the footsteps go up and down? No. Could the back-and-forth motion on inline skates be eliminated? No.
Could you strap the camera to your windshield wipers and get some very steady looking driving shots? Yes.
So if you’re a vlogger who falls in love with the front screen, just keep your moves to a minimum while shooting.
For the rest of the awesome action crowd, you’ll probably want to stick to the GoPro.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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