At first glance, an action cam and a drone don’t seem like they have a lot in common with each other. But really, they’re both vehicles for getting the ultimate shot — they just do it in different ways.
That’s why GoPro infamously tried to penetrate the drone market a couple of years ago, which became the company’s most notorious failure. On the other side, though, DJI — the market leader in consumer drones — has had more luck stirring things up in action cams with its Osmo line. Now it’s going straight for GoPro where it hurts: DJI’s latest Osmo Action camera is a competitor to GoPro’s well-received Hero 7 — a compact, rugged action cam that can switch shooting modes like Hawkeye switches arrows.
DJI upping the ante in action cams might make GoPro a little nervous, but it makes sense for a company trying to serve the needs of a customer committed to creativity in extreme situations. From drones to gimbals to VR headsets, the breadth of DJI’s product line puts the China-based company just one step away from selling extreme photography as a service.
I got a chance to try out the Osmo Action at the Brooklyn Zoo last month. To be clear, the Brooklyn Zoo is in Brooklyn, but it’s not a zoo: It’s actually a multi-floor parkour training gym. DJI arranged to have some of the local acrobats do some moves for the press so we could try out the Osmo Action.
First, some basics: The Osmo Action can shoot video up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second as well as still pics up to 12 megapixels. Slow motion is a key ingredient: It can turn fast action into glacial footage by shooting at 240 fps at 1080p — a bit too slow for lots of shots, but you can halve that to 120fps if you prefer.
The camera has screens on both the front and back. In back, there’s a 2.25-inch touchscreen with simple controls for focusing and switching modes. In front, you get a 1.4-inch screen; obviously it’s intended to help you frame your selfies, and it definitely does the job. I did, however, have a tough time getting a clear look at anything in the background, but I was happier to have it than not.
The key equation to balance for any action cam is simple controls vs. versatility. The Osmo Action does this with a Quick Switch on the side (marked “QS”) that lets you toggle through shooting modes. Once you get to know the camera, you’ll want to customize the button, putting only the modes you want in the Quick Switch.
I had a ball shooting the parkour gents at the Brooklyn Zoo, and I tried to challenge the Osmo Action’s electronic image stabilization (which DJI says it adapted from the company’s gimbal tech) by running alongside them during some jumps and dives. Using just a monopod arm (essentially a rugged selfie stick) the image stayed quite smooth, with a sudden turn making the footage look almost gimbal-esque.
DJI appears to have pulled an impressive action rabbit out of its hat here. Not only is the Osmo Action competitively priced at $349 (the Hero 7 is $399), but there’s also the expected suite of optional accessories, including an underwater housing and a charging hood. In short, for its already demanding drone customers, DJI just laid out an entire action-cam package, one that’s guaranteed to be compatible with what they’re already using. GoPro might want to start dusting off those old drone plans.