After a long time with GoPro action cameras I recently moved to the DJI Osmo Action 4 camera. I’ve had a GoPro 2, a 5, and the most recent was a 7 Black which lasted 5 years before succumbing to a broken power button and a small water leak through a seal whilst on an epic water slide in Thailand.
So the 7 was effectively dead, but at least I was able to get those last minutes of family footage off the SD card! So what next?
Generally I don’t follow many markets unless I’m actually looking to buy, and action cams are no exception. When I went to look recently there was a lot of choice, and it seemed to have shifted back upmarket – when I got the 7 Black, GoPro were pretty much the only premium player and there was something of a race to the bottom. Now there are offerings from GoPro, Insta360 and DJI at the top, and plenty of cameras OEM’d out of China at the cheaper end. There was also the very real choice between the classic brick action cam, or 360 cameras, and even small magnetic cameras. Wow!
I spent quite a bit of time reading and watching reviews, checking long term reviews to see how the longevity for these things were, and seeing what the reliability was like. Yes, when I’m putting down what I consider to be a fair amount of money, I put the time in.
My Usage Cases
I use my action cams in these main scenarios:
- On my motorbike, helmet and bike/case mounted.
- On the handlebars and other bicycle mounting points.
- On my snowboard and snowboard helmet.
- On (selfie) sticks for the above scenarios and in the sea.
- Room recording some indoor/comedy events.
I’ve liked GoPro for a long time, which is why I’ve had 3 of their cameras, but I wasn’t sure about GoPro in 2023. My 7Black has captured some true memories for me, but I haven’t forgotton that for the first 4 months it would crash a lot, though one of the early workarounds did significantly mitigate that issue for my usage (orientation lock, since the change in orientation seemed to be a lot of the problem). Also, audio would sometimes just not be there.
Build quality was good, but wasn’t as nice as the 5 or 2 in my opinion. It would seem the firmware and some design decisions marred the 8 and 9 gens too. Also, GoPro seem to have really begun targetting the vlogger / social media audience, which I completely understand – it’s a massive market, but it isn’t me.
So in 2023, GoPro unveiled the 12. It has a lot of great features, ongoing great image quality, and many things which didnt exist 5 years ago, like the horizon stablizing features, log recording, a slightly larger sensor, new UI, built in feet, a whole raft of ‘new’ things.
There were rumours the 12 would sport a 1″ sensor, and people were disappointed when it didn’t. That was just a rumour though, so no negatives to GoPro for not having that.
The 12 did have Bluetooth mic support, which seemed like something I might use now and then, but the audio quality in reviews did not sound good.
It was clearly just an iteration over the 11, and maybe that was GoPro trying to nail down reliability. They removed GPS, but that’s in line with other action cams now, and it likely helped save on some heat and power.
For me, it was a little larger (and a small amount heavier than the DJI), and the main benefit was the 8:7 sensor. I know I just don’t do enough social media format videos to want a camera that can record for both landscape and portrait as a priority over having a larger landscape only sensor.
The GoPro Quik app had always been fine for me, and seems that’s still a decent piece of software.
GoPro also has quite a few fun modes – the TimeWarp hyperlapse functionality still seems to be smoother than anyone elses, and they’d added light trails and some others along the way.
DJI Osmo Action 4
Of course I’d heard of DJI and a quite friends have their drones. The only experience I’ve had with DJI was the Tello, a tiny indoor (mostly) drone they did some of the guts of, and which was sold by Ryze. I actually liked it – did what it said, very reliable, well built, and parts were cheap and plentiful, so I had a decent image of DJI.
I looked at the v4 of their Osmo action cam, and I liked its more sparse feel, the ‘larger’ sensor, the utilitarian nature of it, the UI seemed fast, and DJI had a reputation for firmware improvements and reliable performance.
I also liked the lack of things I didn’t use e.g. HDMI slots, just a USB C connector. The DJI to me felt more like it was done by engineers and outdoors people, whereas GoPro felt more influencer designed, and that’s completely fine. Buy what you need.
The front touch screen is nice, since I have at least two usage scenarios for exactly that. Of course, coming from the GP7Black, any front video screen is a bonus.
Then there’s the mount connector. No more ‘fingers’ like the GoPro, the Osmo Action 4 uses a magnet and clip system which is so much quicker when switching mounts, such as when I take the camera off my snow/motorcycle helmet and put it on a stick. No unscrewing etc., which is never quick with gloves on. That’s a good feature.
Of course, most mounts in the world are GoPro style, so the DJI mounts do tend to end in fingers on the other end, so you need a few magnet mounts!
Like the GP12, it also promised more cold resistance – a real weakness on my old GP7, which had seemed less resilient than the 5 or even HD Hero 2! I’m confident from reviews this is indeed the case.
On the downside? The connecting app for updates etc. has to be sideloaded on Android. Why? Is there something it does which fails Android’s standards? It is reliable though, if a little slow.
Insta 360, famous for their…360 cameras … also released the Ace and Ace Pro cameras very recently, very much in the GoPro format. I did look at them, and whilst they’re going to be serious contenders in the future, these versions didn’t have anything I’d need to mitigate their lack of field testing at the moment.
The Pro’s main trick is its ‘AI chip’, which can do interesting replacements and effects, but that seems to be mostly in post production with their app. It also has some smart shooting modes to use hand gestures and follow subject tricks – that’s nice.
It also has that flip up screen like so many ‘normal’ cameras. This could be another big design direction for action cams, depending on how reliable that hinge is. Only time will tell. It’s also a little heavy and pricey, and with the Ace standard not having enough beyond the hinge, this time around it’s not the winner for me.
I don’t remember well, but I think 360 cameras were still quite niche 5 years ago, whereas they’re very normal in 2023. I think they’re great and I looked at the Insta 360 X2 & X3, and there’s clearly a place for them, but there was a few things which (this time at least) took them out of the running:
- Not quite rugged enough.
- I’m not sure I’d put in the post production time to orient the video etc.. It’s great it’s always there but in reality, I suspect that’s more unwatched footage on the server.
- Requires a pole really and on my motorbike, unlike many vloggers, I’m not sure I want a pole sticking out.
Ask me again in a few more years though!
So Why the DJI Osmo Action 4?
As I’ve suggested above, I have a decent idea of how I use action cameras, and of course everything is a trade off in priorities. In the end, it came down to the DJI being more robust in hardware and software, the larger sensor and just a focus on the type of stuff I do – landcape HD and 4K video, some stills and hyperlapse, and I want better low light if I can get it since I’m often out around dawn and dusk. I’m not a huge fan of the HDR look in some videos, so not having that wasn’t a problem.
If I want portrait video, the magnet/clip system makes re-orientating the camera quick n simple. It’s not as quick as just recording the whole 8:7 sensor like the GoPro, but again, I know I won’t use it that much.
That magnet clip system is a nice idea for sure, and having played with it, it does have an effect on ease of use.
The front touch screen is great for me too – I sometimes want to check the camera status and the easiest way is on the wing mirror of my bike – the front touch screen means I can check and alter something quickly. Nice.
I got the adventure pack which comes with 2 extra batteries in a charging case, and this is where I’d like to mention some engineering attention to details – you can charge the 3 batteries in it using a USB C based power source, but you can use that same cable to connect to another device like a smartphone and charge it from the batteries in the case. It’s a small but well thought out feature. The case also holds spare SD cards, which is nice too.
The unit feels solid, the interface is fast and is mostly intuitive. I’d like to be able to rename the presets, but that’s not a huge issue. It doesn’t have as many fun modes as some of the other cameras, like light trails, but it has a few timelapse presets for sunsets etc., and I might use that. Slow motion should also be solid.
The real deciders for me were the focus on a small, fairly light unit, the larger sensor (with lower pixel count) for good 4K recording. Stabilisation etc. is somewhat a given now, and horizon levelling is great. It doesn’t level at 4K through 360 degrees, but I can’t think of a time I’d need that? (If I was doing a 360, I’d want people to know it! The DJI does do that in 2.7K).
So there we are, 5 years on from the GoPro Hero 7 Black, I’ve bought a DJI Osmo Action 4!
I’ll do a review / update after a few months of actually using it.
p.s. On the Subject of Action Cam Reviews
Just a quick note here.
I don’t generally buy on specifications alone and not on ‘brand loyalty’ but on the whole package of a device, bike, app etc., so I like reviews who use things in the way I might.
In the case of action cams, what I noticed this time is that the people reviewing them often don’t seem to be ‘action’ people, but often general camera reviewers, social media vloggers etc., and that’s fine, but it doesn’t tell me how easy it is to use the camera with gloves, or in the water. Lots of channels talked about over-heating – very few talked about low temperature performance.
I’m not some uber X sports bro either, but I do stuff outdoors so I need a rugged camera I can use in those environments.
At least Kai Wong admitted he’s not an action man and still did a decent comparison. I did find some reviews from bikers and surfers, but I really had to look for them this time. A sign of the times.