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DJI Osmo Action has 4K HDR video, incredible stabilization and a selfie screen for $350 – CNET

DJI enters the action cam market with the Osmo Action. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

DJI makes cameras for the sky, cameras for the land and now, with the Osmo Action, a camera for the water. And land. And air if you're jumping out of a plane or off a cliff. 

Instead of the camera-on-a-motorized-gimbal design of past Osmo cameras, such as last year's palm-sized Osmo Pocket, the Action is a rugged little GoPro-like model that's shockproof, dustproof and waterproof down to 11 meters (down to 60 meters with a housing). I didn't get a chance to do any diving with it, but it worked just fine in a downpour. 

The camera also has some of the best electronic image stabilization (EIS) you're going to find outside of GoPro's Hero 7 Black, which is good news for a company that's built a reputation on dreamy smooth aerial video. You'll actually find several feature similarities between the two competing cameras including recording 4K video at up to 60 frames per second and slow-motion in full HD at 240fps. But DJI gives potential GoPro buyers at least two reasons to look its way instead. 

Are you ready to RockSteady? 

Sarah Tew/CNET

HDR FTW

There's limited need for a tiny camera that cranks out 8K-resolution video. The same could be said about 4K-resolution video at frame rates faster than 60fps. But small cameras have small image sensors that struggle with extreme lighting conditions, so the option for high dynamic range to improve highlight and shadow detail in video would actually be pretty useful. 

The Osmo Action can shoot HDR video in 4K at 30fps and the results are good. You can definitely see an improvement, though it's tricky to make HDR look natural and in some of my clips it made the subjects look flat. Also, since the camera's RockSteady stabilization isn't available with HDR, you can't really do anything too "action-y" without shaky results. Still, it's a good first step for those times when your exposure needs some help. And it can likely be improved down the road with a firmware update. 

DJI Osmo Action has 4K HDR video, incredible stabilization and a selfie screen for $350     - CNET

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My, what big screens you have

On the back of the camera is a 2.25-inch wide touchscreen. Tap on it twice with two fingers and the 1.4-inch screen on front kicks on to show you what the camera sees. You'll also see some shooting info and the battery life. Another double tap on the rear touchscreen turns the front display off again and the rear on. 

This might not seem like much, but for a camera style that's regularly used to capture the person using it, the front display often comes in handy. And since you can shoot with the camera horizontally and vertically, it's helpful to have for framing up your shots for social. 

You don't need to tap on the screen to switch between them either. A long press on the camera's Quick Switch button on the left side will flip them as well as saying "screen switch," which is one of a handful of voice controls. 

The Quick Switch button lets you jump right to your favorite shooting modes. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Quick Switch and the UI disconnect

One of the features I liked most about the Osmo Action is the Quick Switch button. As the name implies, it lets you quickly switch to other shooting modes of your choosing. Only care about HDR and slow-motion video and burst shooting stills? Just select those in the QS settings and those are what you'll see on screen when you press the button.

Or perhaps you have a favorite set of manual video settings for low-light conditions. You can save those as a custom set and add them to the QS menu. It's basically like having the mode selection dial from a bigger camera, but it's only got the stuff you want on it. 

The rest of the camera's interface is not as straightforward. The resolution menu is separate from the camera settings menu and they don't look the same. Then there's a separate shooting mode menu that you tap on while most other menus are reached with swipes. What's worse is the experience is completely different in the mobile app. Oh, and for some reason DJI put the power and QS buttons on the left side of the camera, which was annoying for right-handed use unless I had the camera pointed at myself. 

Great start, but better later?

DJI has put together an action cam that can certainly compete with GoPro's top camera. The Osmo's video quality isn't quite as good as the Hero 7 Black, which retained more detail and had less noise in its 4K video with EIS in my testing. However, it's possible DJI could change its image processing to improve the results, making it tougher to decide between the two.

There are a couple other features absent: It's missing a discrete video output and the USB-C port it has doesn't support video either. There's also no support for live streaming from the camera as of yet. And while the HDR video is certainly cool, there's no HDR photo option, only exposure bracketing. 

But again, unless there's a hardware roadblock, there's possibly more potential here for DJI to unlock with a firmware update -- something it has regularly done with its drones. Speaking of hardware, DJI used a camera frame with a standard two-prong GoPro mount. So you've got lots of accessories immediately available and the company will have some of its own, including an external mic adapter and lens filters.

The Osmo Action is shipping now for $350, which falls below the $400 Hero 7 Black. GoPro currently offers a $100 off if you send in an old GoPro or other digital camera regardless of condition, however, dropping the price to $300. Decisions, decisions. 

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