Now that I've been out shooting with the new DJI Osmo Action, here's a detailed rundown of its features and capabilities for shooting video.
DJI is best known for their drones, but they’ve now taken a direct shot at GoPro with a new standalone action camera. The DJI Osmo Action aims directly at the GoPro HERO7 Black, and there’s a lot of features that are very similar between the two models. Both shoot 4K60, have impressive built-in electronic stabilization, are waterproof, and are small and mobile enough to be taken or mounted just about anywhere.
Now that I’ve been out shooting with the new DJI Osmo Action, here’s a detailed rundown of its features and capabilities for shooting video. I’ve previously posted on its photo modes, and I’ll be posting an in-depth comparison with the HERO7 Black very soon.
Video Resolutions. The Osmo Action is capable of shooting 4K video, which is also often referred to as UHD, or Ultra-High Definition. That’s pretty standard now amongst action cameras. While it’s not always the best choice for all situations, and it’s more resolution than many users actually need, it has become the de facto standard and any camera that doesn’t offer it won’t be taken seriously in today’s market.
The 4K footage from the Osmo Action measures 3840 by 2160 and is in the aspect ratio of 16:9, the standard aspect ratio for digital video.
It can also shoot at a slightly higher resolution using a different aspect ratio. There’s a 4K 4:3 video mode, which uses the camera’s entire sensor. So the footage measures 4000 by 3000 and has a taller, squarer aspect ratio. An important consideration when shooting in this mode is that the RockSteady electronic image stabilization isn’t available (you’ll get a yellow text warning that it’s unavailable when you switch to that mode). That’s because that digital stabilization approach relies on being able to draw on extra space around the edges of the visible frame, and because this mode is using the entire sensor, there’s no spare image data to draw from.
The other resolutions available on the Osmo Action are 2.7K (2720 x 1530), 2.7K 4:3 (2720 x 2040) and 1080 (1920 x 1080) and 720 (1280 x 720). Each resolution has its own set of framerates available.
Video Framerates. All of the resolutions are available at the standard 24, 25, and 30 frames per second. Some area also available at 50 and 60 frames per second, and a smaller number allow 8x slow-motion at 240 frames per second.
Here’s a master table of all of the video resolutions and framerate combinations available on the DJI Osmo Action. It also includes the bitrates for each combination, but it’s worth pointing out that because it uses variable bitrate encoding, in practice you can end up with results that are a touch higher or lower than these numbers.
Video Shutter Speeds. In the auto mode, the camera will select shutter speeds that make the most sense for a particular frame rate—ie. clean multiples, such as a shutter speed of 1/30 or 1/120 for 60fps footage. While it’s very much a niche approach that many users won’t need, it is possible to override it and deliberately mismatch the frame rate and shutter speed.
Overall, DJI has opted here for maximum compatibility rather than shooting for the bleeding edge features. The video codec and file formats it uses are very safe, while its video bitrate is higher than average relative to other action cams.
Video Codec: H.264. The Osmo Action encodes its videos using the widely compatible H.264 codec. There’s a newer, more efficient codec called H.265 or HEVC (high-efficiency video codec) that isn’t as widely compatible, but the Osmo Action doesn’t use it (newer models in GoPro’s Black models do). Sticking to H.264 keeps things simple and avoids the compatibility challenges that come with working with H.265 HEVC for now.
Video File Formats: MP4 & MOV. You do, however, have a choice between saving the video files as MP4 and MOV. These refer to the containers of the files, and both still use the same H.264 codec and bitrates. So you won’t get better quality out of one or the other. DJI has risked causing some confusion by including both of these options, but it likely relates to some video editing apps and operating systems (eg. Mac and Windows) preferring one over the other. High-end video editor DaVinci Resolve, for instance, won’t import mp4 files. But most of the time you can stick with the MP4 default if in doubt; the MOV option is generally most relevant on Apple operating systems and devices.
Bitrate: Max. 100 Mb/s. The bitrate refers to the actual size of the data being used for the video stream. It’s not the only thing that determines video quality—things like sensor quality, lens quality, and exposure settings obviously play crucial roles—but the encoding bitrate reflects how much compression has been applied. The more compression being used, the lower the bitrate, and the lower the potential video quality.
The maximum bitrate used for video on the Osmo Action is 100 Mb/s (ie. 100 megabits per second). Compared to other action cameras, that’s very high (the GoPro HERO7 Black maxes out at around 80 Mb/s, for instance), although there are larger, higher-end cameras that go far higher. The high bitrate is good for quality, but an important consideration is that it also means that a lot of data needs to be written very quickly to the memory card, so you’ll need a fast microSD card to keep up or risk running into problems. And high-bitrate video takes up more storage space on the memory, so you’ll run out of space on the microSD card more quickly when shooting at 100 Mb/s than if you’re shooting with one of the video modes that encodes the video at 36 Mb/s, for instance (about 3 times more quickly). I’ve put together a separate post on SD card recommendations for the Osmo Action.
Lower video modes use lower bitrates. You can see which bitrates are used for which video modes in the table in the section above.
NTSC / PAL. Many cameras—probably even most of them—expect you to switch the region mode before making the frame rates applicable to that region available in the settings. On the GoPro HERO7 Black, for instance, if you want to shoot at using a 50 fps option you first have to change the region setting to PAL. Refreshingly, the Osmo Action does away with that and just makes all of the frame rate options available in a single list. So it’s up to you to select the one you want to use. The NTSC/PAL distinction is less relevant for sharing video on the web.
The Osmo Action has built-in electronic image stabilization. That means that algorithms are used to digitally correct the jerky movement and shaking that’s a normal part of shooting video without a tripod or gimbal. It handles this digital correction silently in the background as you’re filming and saves the file as corrected, and usually much smoother, video footage. In general, electronic stabilization isn’t as effective as a good external gimbal that keeps the whole camera still and smooth, but it wins hands-down in terms of convenience.
DJI is calling their implementation of it RockSteady.1 Like GoPro’s HyperSmooth, it’s quite aggressive, and while it’s not a perfect solution for every occasion, it still works impressively well in many situations.
RockSteady isn’t available with every video mode. It’s not available in the 4K 4:3 mode, for example as well as some of the fast fps modes. If you try to switch to a mode where it’s not available, you’ll get a warning on screen about its unavailability.
I’ve been testing it out with some different types of movement to give a visual sense of how well it works. Here are some quick examples of RockSteady on vs no stabilization. In these cases, the no-stabilization versions were shot on a GoPro HERO7 Black mounted side-by-side with the DJI Osmo Action. The field of view is a bit different between the cameras, with the GoPro having a wider perspective, which is why they look a bit different. (I’ve put together a more detailed post, with several more examples, comparing the Osmo Action’s RockSteady with the HERO7 Black’s HyperSmooth.)
This first one is with the cameras mounted on the handlebars of a bike. It’s a smooth road, but you can still see a lot of fast vibration in the non-stabilized version at right. The large blob on the right side that comes half-way is a raindrop that hit the lens.
This one is with the cameras mounted on the hood of a car. Again, it’s a well-paved road, and the car’s mass and suspension helps smooth things out naturally even with any stabilization, but you can still see the RockSteady stabilization is having quite a lot of effect.
This one is with the camera hand-held while walking. I’ve deliberately shot it with the wrap-around view of the bridge precisely because it’s something that the stabilization algorithms struggle with.
In practice, I’ve found the results to be quite good in many situations, but still suffering from the same kinds of quirks and limitations that you often find with digital stabilization (as opposed to using a good gimbal). In particular, this initial version of RockSteady has trouble with sideways movement, and you can get some strange wobbles and sideways jerks. Overall, I’ve found it to work at least as well, perhaps better, than the older generation of GoPro stabilization on the HERO6 Black but not as well as the newer HyperSmooth stabilization on the HERO7 Black. There’s a chance that DJI will be able to roll out improvements in future firmware updates, but I’ve not heard anything concrete on that front.
Finally, here’s an example that shows something a bit different. It’s actually mounted on the front of a stroller (pram). Now, I realize that’s not a place many people are going to want to be putting a GoPro, so it’s not a typical use scenario. But I think it’s a useful example to include here for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s low to the ground, not that different from mounting on something like a skateboard or remote-control car. That means there’s a lot more fast-moving foreground detail in the frame. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s a good example of one of the weird quirks you can get with electronic stabilization compared with a proper gimbal. You’ll notice that the stabilization doesn’t apply equally throughout the frame, so the bottom is getting a weird kind of jelly-like stabilization while the top is staying smoother. The end result is still vastly more watchable than the non-stabilized version, but it’s just an example of how using the electronic stabilization can sometimes become a compromise.
Cropping. Something worth knowing is that the RockSteady stabilization crops from the edges. The resulting footage has the same dimensions, but the field of view is a bit smaller. Here are some frames to illustrate the point, the first taken from a clip with RockSteady disabled and the second with RockSteady enabled. Both were shot at 4K60.
[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff” label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”RockSteady OFF” label_two=”RockSteady ON”]
The Osmo Action keeps it simple with the fields of view. There’s the standard, which is a very wide angle. And there’s a Dewarp option, which digitally corrects for the lens distortion of that wide angle.
Dewarp. The Osmo Action has a single field of view, or FOV. It’s a very wide fisheye look that covers a maximum of 145° perspective. I say “maximum,” because you’ll get a bit less than with the edges cropped off when you enable RockSteady stabilization; more on that below. That’s not quite as wide as the lens of GoPros, but it still adds quite a lot of distortion that gives that bulging fisheye look to some shots. It becomes extremely obvious when lines that you expect to be straight are near the edges of the frame. So the horizon ends up curved or vertical walls get bulged or bent.
You can’t switch out the lens for a less distorted one, but you can have the camera electronically correct for that distortion. This uses the camera’s built-in software to straighten those lines and correct that bulging fisheye look. It’s available using the Dewarp option (it does what GoPro calls their Linear FOV).
Here’s a practical example of the difference. This was actually shot in the photo mode, but it gives a good illustration of what the Dewarp function does.
[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff” label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”Standard” label_two=”Dewarp”]
Something worth knowing is that using the RockSteady stabilization will reduce the angle of view slightly from the edges of the frame, although it doesn’t technically qualify as a different FOV. You can see a practical example in the section on this page about the RockSteady stabilization.
By default, the DJI Osmo Action is set up for fully automatic exposure. So when you take it out of the box and start shooting, it’s already set up to get good-quality results.
But you also have opportunities for taking control over some aspects of the exposure settings.
Aperture. The Osmo Action’s lens has a fixed exposure of ƒ/2.8. You can’t change it, so any adjustments to the exposure have to come from changing the shutter speed or ISO.2
ISO Range. ISO is a shorthand way of referring to the light sensitivity of the camera.3 The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the sensor is to the light hitting it. A higher ISO means that it’s more sensitive. So in bright, sunny conditions, you’d generally use a low ISO of, say, 100. In low light conditions, such as at dusk or night-time or inside, you might use an ISO of something like 800 or 3200. But an important consideration is that the higher the ISO the lower the image quality. There’s not much difference between small steps—say, ISO 100 and ISO 200—but it does become more noticeable as you approach the upper limits of a given camera’s ISO range. The Osmo Action has an ISO range of ISO 100 through ISO 3200. As you get to the top of that range, the sensor is much more sensitive to light, but the visual quality also drops off.
By default, the Osmo Action adjusts the ISO automatically as part of its automatic exposure calculations. But it’s also possible to take some control over it. The first way is to set the maximum ISO that can be used when you’re shooting with the Auto ISO enabled. So, for example, if you wanted to make sure the camera never went above ISO 800, you could set that in the Max. ISO setting.
It’s also possible to take full manual control of the ISO and, using it in tandem with the shutter speed setting, specify a particular ISO value to be used.
Exposure Compensation. The exposure compensation option is a way of affecting the overall exposure relative to the automatic calculation used by the camera. So rather than taking full manual control over the exposure, you can tell it to still use automatic exposure but to underexpose by a stop or overexpose by 1/3 of a stop, for instance. You have 3 stops in both directions to work with, in 1/3 of a stop increments. One small thing I like is that the screen shows a real-time preview of how that will affect the end result as you scroll through the options.
Metering. By default, the exposure is calculated automatically from across the screen. If you’d rather that it use a specific point in the scene you can switch to spot metering and select which small point in the scene you want it to use.
You enable spot metering using the main menu (swipe down on the back screen) and choosing the icon that looks like a circle with a small dot in the middle.
You can tap and hold on the screen to use spot metering. If you tap again, it will lock the auto exposure (and you’ll see a small lock icon now in the middle of the circle) so that you can then recompose the image without changing the exposure setting (tap again to disable the AE lock).
White Balance. By default, the Osmo Action is set to calculate the white balance automatically. And for many uses, that’s a good place to leave it. It will do its best to make snow in bright sunlight look white or people in the shade not become blue.
But it doesn’t always get it right, whether because the lighting is tricky or it’s just not the look you’re going for. If you want a cooler, bluer look, you might want to use a high white balance Kelvin value. If you’re shooting in the golden sunlight or a morning sunrise, you might want to emphasize that warm light with a lower Kelvin value. Or maybe you want to try to match the photos to others from a different shoot.
The white balance setting is mostly relevant to JPGs. If you’re shooting RAW, you can easily change the white balance in post-processing.
White balance values are expressed in temperature measured in Kelvin. Rather than limit your options to some common presets, the Osmo Action lets you choose anything from 2000K to 10,000K in 100K increments. And in a nice touch, it shows a live view of the effect even as you’re scrolling through the options.
Face-Oriented Exposure. This prioritizes any faces that are detected in the scene when it comes to calculating the exposure. Most of the time, it means that it will lighten the exposure so that peoples’ faces don’t end up being far too dark in shadow.
Closely related to exposure, the Osmo Action also has a shooting mode called HDR video. This mode evens out lighting between highlights and shadows to create a more balanced result.
The HDR video feature isn’t treated as a setting for the regular video mode in the way that something like the Dewarp function is—you have to switch to the HDR video option. And it’s only available with a limited set of resolution/framerate combinations. You can shoot at the 4K, 2.7L, and 1080p resolutions, but for each, the only available framerates are 30 fps, 25 fps, and 24 fps. But you can use it in tandem with the Dewarp function (but not with the Color setting).
Despite these limitations, the HDR Video works well. Here are some side-by-side examples I shot of a scene with a mix of bright highlights and dark shadows. The first is with HDR Video, while the second is using the regular video mode (I had RockSteady enabled for the latter, which is why the field of view is a little smaller–the HDR Video doesn’t alter the field of view). They were both taken at 4K30, the maximum rate for the HDR Video feature.
[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff” label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”Standard Video” label_two=”HDR Video”]
The regular video mode has high-framerate options that can be used to generate slow-motion footage in post-production, but there’s also a dedicated slow-motion mode.
You don’t get any high framerates than you get in the regular video mode—they both top out at 240fps—but what you do get is an extra step of convenience.
If you use the video mode to shoot 1080p240, the footage will play back at 240fps, so it won’t look slow. If you shoot using the slow-motion mode’s 1080p 8x setting, it will still shoot the footage at the same speed, but the playback will be slowed down to 30 fps, making the results immediately appear as slow-motion footage. So both can be used to get to the same end result, but by using the dedicated slow-motion mode you save a step of post-processing.
The available options in the slow-motion mode are either 1080p or 720p resolutions, with each shot at either 8x or 4x (8x is equivalent to 240fps, while 4x is equivalent to 120fps).
There are two ways to shoot time-lapse with the Osmo Action. The more flexible but less convenient option is to save a sequence of individual still images and then use a computer to compile those individual images into a video. You can do that using the Osmo Action’s timed photo mode.
But there’s a quicker and more convenient way to do it as well, and that’s found under the video section. The time-lapse option here will save the results as a compiled video. So you give up some post-processing but gain a lot in terms of convenience.
DJI has also added a welcome wrinkle. One of the options under the time-lapse video mode is to save JPG still images simultaneously. It’s the JPEG+Video option, and while it obviously uses more storage space on your memory card, it gives you the maximum combination of flexibility and convenience (well, to be specific, more flexibility would be saving the image files as RAW, but having the JPGs is still very good).
There are several options you can control here. The first is resolution. You have a choice for 4K, 2.7K, 1080p for the resulting video.
For the interval, you can choose from 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 20, and 20 seconds.
And a feature I like is that you can also assign an event duration, and it shows you how long the resulting video footage will be. For instance, if you’re capturing an event that spans 2 hours you can have the camera stop recording after 2 hours. And if you choose an interval of 30 seconds for that, it will tell you that the resulting footage will be 8 seconds long. The available duration settings are infinite (ie. it stops when you stop it manually, the battery runs out, or the memory card fills up), 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, or 5 hours.
Color Mode. The normal color mode is bright and contrasty. The videos look good right out of the camera, making it a good option if you plan to share the videos without any further post-processing.
There’s also a color mode called D-Cinelike, which retains more of the color and tone information. That will make the footage look flatter and duller when you view it straight up, so it’s less suited to sharing as is, but it also means that it gives you more data to work with in post-processing. So it’s a good option to use if you know you’re going to processing the images later in something like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere.
Anti-Flicker. The anti-flicker mode is useful if you’re shooting in artificial lighting conditions. The anti-flicker setting is designed to address that, with options for Auto, 50 Hz, and 60 Hz. You can set this in the main camera settings menu.
There are also some tools to help with composing and exposing the shot. These are on-screen displays that you can turn on (they’re off by default). They don’t show up on the saved photo—just in the live view screen.
Grid. The grid is a screen overlay that gives you vertical and horizontal lines that divide the screen into thirds. It’s particularly useful as a guide to try to get horizons level (although it’s not a true level indicator as some other cameras have) and if you’re trying to apply the rule of thirds when composing your shot. You can set this in the main camera settings menu.
Overexposure Alert. This is an onscreen helper that highlights the parts of the scene that are being overexposed and that will come out as washed out highlights in the resulting footage. This is a feature only available when using the mobile app–it doesn’t show up on the camera’s screen, and you can’t access the option using the onboard settings menu.
Histogram. A histogram is a visual graph of the light intensity of the scene at given frequencies. Typically, the brighter areas are at the right of the graph, with darker areas at the left. This onscreen helper is only available when using the mobile app–it doesn’t show up on the camera’s screen, and you can’t access the option using the onboard settings menu.
It’s normal for the camera to get hot when recording. You’ll especially notice it when you’re using the high-bitrate recording modes for any length of time. The body gets warm, but the hottest section is the rim of the lens, which acts as a heat sync to dissipate the heat out. The lens rim can get hot enough to be uncomfortable to hold.
If you plan to use the DJI Osmo’s high-bitrate recording modes–which is pretty likely–you’ll want to make sure that your memory card is fast enough to handle the data stream that the camera throws at it. If the card is too slow, you risk the recording stopping unexpectedly, missed frames, or even lockups.
I’m putting together a more detailed post on this issue separately, but for the purposes here, here are some quick recommendations for microSD cards for the DJI Osmo Action:
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This post was last modified on January 10, 2020 12:25 pm