DJI Osmo Action 4 review: a polished GoPro alternative with hassle-free mounts

DJI Osmo Action 4 review: a polished GoPro alternative with hassle-free mounts We love the DJI Osmo Action 3, and its successor, the DJI Osmo Action 4 has arrived one year later, embodying the same design ethos, with the same tiny but rugged build, best-in-class waterproofing, a convenient magnetic mounting, a removable battery, and a handy front touchscreen.

So what’s new? DJI has sought to address the Action 3’s main weakness – photo and video quality – and it’s done this by introducing an all-new, larger 1/1.3-inch sensor.

If that sensor size doesn’t mean much to you, it’s the same size as the one found in the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is one of the best cameraphones, and its dimensions are around 25% bigger than the 1/1.7-inch sensor found in the Osmo Action 3.

Photo resolution is actually lower this time around, down from 12MP to 10MP, while video resolution remains at 4K up to 120fps, plus a 8x slow-motion mode in Full HD. The bigger sensor and similar resolution combined means pixels are bigger than before, and more able to gather light and in turn improve image quality, especially in low-light; the achilles heel of even the best action cameras, including the GoPro Hero 11 Black.

We now also get DJI’s D-Log color profile with 10-bit color, which when paired with that bigger sensor increases image quality dramatically, especially in terms of color depth and dynamic range. Detail in highlights like bright clouds and evening lights is maintained to a level not possible with the Action 3, while shadows look cleaner. D-Log isn’t available in all video modes, but it’s the profile to pick if the frame rates available are okay for what you’re filming.

An adverse impact of the larger sensor in a camera with identical dimensions and 155-degree field-of-view lens is that the minimum focus distance is increased from 0.3m to 0.4m. That might not sound like a big deal, but in real-world use, and with that ultra-wide lens, you’re consigned to all-encompassing views and not the details.

Otherwise, we get Rocksteady 3.0+ stabilization, which is incredibly effective. I’ve been able to sprint, at my admittedly dwindling top speeds, alongside a youthful canine in full flow, and the resulting video footage is smooth as silk. Downhill bikers will have no problems either – you won’t need a gimbal with the Action 4.

Its class-leading waterproofing is even better, too, by an additional 2m down to maximum depths of 18m.

Elsewhere, specs and features mostly remain the same as in the Action 3, which is no bad thing. There’s the excellent magnetic mounting system, which beats GoPro’s efforts, the rear and front touchscreens, and a dumbed-down layout and menu that’s quick and easy to navigate.

If you’re trigger-happy you’ll quickly burn through battery life, and we’d definitely opt for the Adventure Combo over the Standard Combo to gain two additional batteries and the charging hub that holds up to three batteries – you’ll be using it every day on your trips to keep your camera powered up.

The 1.5m Extension Rod that comes with the Adventure Combo is a great accessory, too. Fully extended, and coupled with the camera’s ultra-wide field of view, you can shoot drone-like perspectives, and it truly expands your shot-list repertoire.

I’d like to see a record button on the extension rod, but there is the moderately reliable voice activation for taking snaps when your hands can’t reach the camera itself.

I use many cameras both professionally and for pleasure, and on vacation I think an action camera like the Osmo Action 4 might just trump my mirrorless camera as a second camera to my cameraphone – it can do adventurous things that I just can’t do with my cameraphone, whereas I can get away with my cameraphone instead of my mirrorless camera in many scenarios. It’s been a blast creating with the Action 4, and it’s an easy action camera to recommend.

The Osmo Action 4 is available now, with the lowest-cost Standard Combo package costing $399 / £379 / AU$629. That’s a notable 25% mark-up from the Action 3, and similar to the GoPro Hero 11 Black’s launch price, meaning this camera is no longer a ‘cheaper’ alternative.

Stump up an extra 25% and you can get the Adventure Combo, which includes the 1.5m Extension Rod (also sold separately for $49 / £35 / AU$75), two extra batteries, and a battery case that can hold and charge up to three batteries. Unless you already have additional batteries, this is the package we’d go for.

The Osmo Action 4 is compatible with a wide array of optional accessories for capturing all manner of pursuits, including a wrist strap ($39 / £35 / AU$55), bike mount ($16 / £15 / AU$35), handlebar mount $39 / £35 / AU$69), 3.5mm audio adaptor ($45 / £45 / AU$79), Bluetooth remote controller ($79 / £69 / AU$135), lens cover ($19 / £19 / AU$39), and road cycling accessory kit ($79 / £69 / AU$125).

Design-wise, there’s little to add that hasn’t already been said in our DJI Osmo Action 3 review. Here we have the same rugged 145g body, removable 1,770mAh battery with a claimed 160-minute life (which in reality I think is a bit optimistic on DJI’s part), microSD card slot and dual touchscreens.

The lens is the same 12.7mm f/2.8 optic with a 155-degree field of view; it’s a sensible choice for vlogging and action videos, especially as you’ll want to employ the excellent Rocksteady 3.0+ image stabilization, which incurs a small crop of the image area.

You’ll want to keep the lens protector screwed on at all times to keep dust and dirt away from the lens, and to ensure that the class-leading 18m waterproofing is obtained. That lens protector can be swapped out for ND filters for shooting video in bright light, and DJI offers an optional ND filter pack that we used for this review.

The port doors on the left and right are, naturally, water-sealed too, and contain the USB-C port for charging and live connection, and the battery and microSD card slot.

The camera’s base features a magnetic mount connector for landscape mounting, and in the box you also get a Protective Frame, which wraps around the camera and has an additional magnetic base to enable vertical, social-ready mounting in portrait orientation with the 4:3 aspect sensor.

As on the Action 3 there’s a tiny 1.4-inch front touchscreen on the Action 4, enabling you to not only frame shots, but also control and navigate the menus when in selfie mode – not all action cameras offer this feature.

The main screen on the rear measures 2.25 inches, and is much easier on the eye when shooting action. Given that both screens are relatively small it’s a fruitless exercise to scrutinize screen quality, but the screens are bright enough for clear viewing – I could easier track myself swimming underwater with the Action 4 on the Extension Rod a meter away.

There are few physical controls on the camera, and all are easy to locate, and control even with gloved hands. You get a generously sized record button and an on/off button, and that’s about it. A nice touch is that the record button will wake the camera straight into recording a video, and then the camera will promptly power-off again after you’ve ended an impromptu recording.

Photographers look away now – the Action 4 offers less than what we would hope for in 2023. Stills are only 10MP, and there’s no obvious implementation of computational photography as we’re seeing in the best cameraphones. For example, there’s no portrait, night or HDR mode, and you’re stuck with a super-wide-angle lens that’s fairly limited regarding the types of scenes it’s suited to capture.

On the plus side, colors are pleasant, and beyond the obvious and unavoidable barrel distortion that comes with such a wide field of view, lens distortion is well controlled. There’s a tinge of chromatic aberration in the corners, which you can make out in magenta fringing around the tree leaves in the woodland photos included in the sample gallery below.

The reality is that the Action 4 is primarily for video, and we have all the video modes we’ve come to expect from an action camera; slow motion, hyperlapse and timelapse, in addition to 4K 60fps and 120fps, which means that skilled editors have the core features at their disposal to apply speed ramps in post, plus scope to crop into the 4K image for Full HD output.

Battery life is admirable, but the reality is that you’ll need additional batteries for shooting video throughout a day – I completely drained two 1,770mAh batteries in a day on several occasions while testing the Action 4, and I would absolutely fork out the extra 25% to get the Adventure Combo rather than the Standard Combo.

In real-world use, I didn’t have any issues with overheating or video record times, but under a more controlled environment at my desk, purely to test what was possible (and let’s be honest, an unrealistic scenario), the camera did get warm to the touch, and video record times couldn’t quite match the GoPro Hero 11 Black’s best efforts.

The Action 4’s UI is clean and simple, with large icons again suitable for stubby fingers even gloved hands, and features that include the likes of voice activation commands. Triggering the camera to take a photo by voice is super helpful when it’s out of reach on the end of a 1.5m Extension Rod.

There’s a ‘Pro’ mode for photo and video that opens up manual control of the camera’s exposure parameters, including raw photo, plus you can switch from the ultra-wide field of view to cropped-in standard view at the cost of resolution. I saw little need for the Pro mode for photos, but utilized it for video in order to control white balance manually.

I had the DJI Osmo Action 4 Adventure Combo by my side throughout a long vacation by the coast, where I was able to use the camera in the water while swimming, kayaking, and paddle-boarding, as well as when running, hiking in the woods, on dog walks, and for general travel vlogging, both in the hand and mounted to the 1.5m Extension Rod. It’s been an incredibly fun and capable camera to shoot with.

The user experience is a known quantity given the similarities to the Action 3; the Action 4 offers super-quick mounting and unmounting, which is especially helpful when you’re mixing up your activities.

I’ve used all video modes, shooting 4K up to 120fps, slow-motion Full HD, timelapses and hyperlapses, and I pushed the camera to its limits to check max recording times.

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