DJI Action 2 review: Reinventing the action camera
When DJI launched the original Osmo Action, it faced stiff competition against the GoPro Hero 8 Black. Surprisingly, DJI succeeded where so many other companies had tried and failed to carve out a piece of GoPro’s market, and the Osmo Action has been my go-to action camera these past two years. However, it’s high time for an upgrade, and I’ve got my eye on the DJI Action 2 — DJI decided to drop the “Osmo” name. The new action camera represents a total reinvention that aims to create its own niche rather than fight head-to-head with the formidable GoPro Hero 10 Black, which I recently reviewed.
The question, though, is whether or not the innovative modular approach of the Action 2 is enough to set it apart from the competition. Are its unique qualities the edge DJI needs to succeed in the action camera arena?
There really isn’t anything quite like the DJI Action 2. For a start, it’s small — really small: Just 1.54 by 0.86 inches and a mere 56 grams in weight. For an idea of what that means in the real world, you can stuff it in any pocket or even wear it comfortably on the magnetic pendant accessory.
The second thing to note is that this camera isn’t just a single unit but is in fact modular, with the front selfie screen or battery separate from the camera module. The modules connect via a strong magnetic clamping system that’s absolutely rock solid. This allows the camera module to be totally sealed without even a charging port, granting it a waterproofing rating of up to 32 feet deep. It can go down to 196 feet with the aid of the optional waterproof housing. Keep in mind that the front touch screen and battery modules are not waterproof, so don’t dunk them without first putting them in the waterproof housing.
A further advantage of this system is that it means no more opening fiddly ports to swap batteries. A fresh battery module can be snapped on in just a few seconds to begin recharging the primary battery. It’s even possible to hot-swap batteries while recording. In the long term, I do see a potential downside to this approach in that the primary battery will degrade over time and cannot be replaced, but this design provides enough benefits that this seems like a small tradeoff.
The magnetic snap system also allows for the Action 2 to be quickly moved between different accessories. You could have it on the Bluetooth remote control one second and effortlessly snap off and onto a magnetic mount attached to a headband the next. If there’s a metal object handy, the Action 2 can just be stuck onto it, potentially allowing it to be mounted in locations where a tripod or other support wouldn’t work.
The 1.76-inch touchscreen on both the camera and front screen module is certainly tiny, but I had no trouble operating it or filming with it. A single button turns the camera on/off and stops/starts recording; double tap to switch modes.
A further intriguing design decision centers around the utter lack of ports on the camera module. The camera module has 32GB of onboard storage. To expand this storage, the battery and front touch screen modules both feature a microSD card slot. This means that when it’s separate from these modules, the camera can only record to the internal storage. However, on the plus side, it means that if you have multiple power or front touch screen modules each with an SD card, then those modules will not only juice up the camera but also provide extra storage while attached.
One of the more intriguing accessories available for the Action 2 is a macro lens. As someone who spends a lot of his free time photographing insects, tree frogs, and flowers, this opens up some exciting possibilities. It provides decent magnification, albeit with a healthy dose of distortion around the edge of the picture.
Using the Action 2 over the past few weeks, I’ve really come to appreciate how much thought and engineering went into this camera.
As clever as the design of the Action 2 is, it has to be able to deliver great video footage as well. Luckily, this is the case. The Action 2 features a 12MP 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor and f/2.8 aperture. Those aren’t particularly impressive specs, but in practice, they churn out some great looking video. The Action 2 can shoot 4K footage at up to 120fps for high resolution slow motion, or 240fps at 1080p for 8x slow motion.
It is something of a pity, though, that it can’t do 240fps at 2.7k resolution, but in use, it didn’t bother me too much. I generally prefer to shoot in 4K, and when I do want super slow motion, the action being captured generally eclipses the importance of resolution.
Regarding image quality, I am generally happy with how the footage from the Action 2 looks. It’s perhaps a little strongly saturated and contrasty, but I personally really like it, and more importantly, it did a good job handling high contrast scenes such as a dim forest with a bright sky. The Action 2 consistently managed to preserve shadows in such situations while not blowing out the highlights too badly.
As you’d expect from a small sensor camera, low light performance is fairly poor — though not the worst I’ve seen. There’s only so much you can do to overcome the physics of gathering light onto a small sensor through a small lens.
Perhaps most importantly, DJI has massively updated their Rocksteady image stabilization to the point where it’s as good, if not a tad better, than what GoPro has achieved with their latest camera technology. It achieves that “gimbal-like” stability that makes it possible to get decent footage while walking and hand-holding the camera.
There’s also a new HorizonSteady feature that maintains a level horizon regardless of camera orientation. Keep in mind that RockSteady 2.0 only functions under 100fps, and HorizonSteady only works at resolutions of 2.7K or less. Despite the resolution limitation, I found HorizonSteady to be absolutely worth the tradeoff when I wanted to capture smooth footage on rough, uneven terrain.
Additionally, the Action 2 has the hyperlapse and timelapse capability we’ve come to expect from action cameras. This is really important to me, as it’s one of my primary uses for action cameras. These modes work well, and I’m excited by the prospect of traveling with the Action 2 and utilizing its magnet to capture timelapse video in unique locations.
I was shocked at how good the audio recorded by the Action 2 turned out to be. It’s very useable for vlogging purposes — or just video recording in general. It’s far better than I would expect from an action camera and is a serious upgrade over the previous Osmo Action, which had pretty decent recording capability.
The Action 2 is capable of taking still photos, though in my experience, this is a rarely used function of action cameras. The 12MP sensor does a good job of rendering pleasing images, but in all honesty, I’m more likely to pull out my phone to take a still photo than bother switching the Action 2 into photo mode. Still, the functionality is there if you need it. Another feature that you might be interested in is the QuickClip mode, which captures preset 15-second videos intended for social media. You can also livestream with the Action 2 at up to 1080p 30fps or use the camera as a webcam.
On one hand, I was only able to record for about 12 minutes of 4K video before the Action 2 ran out of juice in the camera module’s 580mAh battery. However, both of the other modules are equipped with 1300mAh batteries, which is plenty for a day of shooting. They charge from empty to full in about 90 minutes.
I have no complaints regarding the software on the camera itself. It’s highly responsive, and changing settings is quick and easy. The DJI Mimo companion app is a useful tool as well, as it allows for remote control of the Action 2 and an editing workflow for your footage. There’s also an AI editor that can automatically edit your videos with music and appropriate transitions so that they can easily be shared directly from the app.
The Action 2 features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connection to the app and to optional accessories such as the Bluetooth remote. I had no issues with the camera in this regard; it’s a well-developed and streamlined system.
The Action 2 comes in two different bundles: The power combo costs $399 and includes the main camera, power module, magnetic collar, and magnetic adapter holder, while the dual-screen combo costs $519 and comes with everything included in the power combo, bar a swap of the power module for a front touchscreen module and a magnetic ball head adapter holder.
The great thing here is that, whether you opt for the budget-friendly power combo or pony up to get the front touch screen, you’re getting the same camera capabilities. I wouldn’t say either combo is a real bargain, but it’s about what you’d expect to pay for a camera with the capabilities of the Action 2.
The Action 2 will be available starting November 2nd for the front touch screen combo. The power combo and most additional accessories should be available sometime in mid-November, with the exception of the DJI MIC — which will be available in December — and the magnetic headband — the availability of which has yet to be decided as of this writing.
The DJI Action 2 is a genuinely innovative action camera, and its novel approach makes it really stand out from the competition. It does pretty much everything you’d want an action camera to do and does it very well. It’s an action camera that, when reduced to the bare minimum camera module, is so small and light that you really have no excuse not to take it with you. By going out of their way to rethink action cameras from the ground up, DJI has hit a true home run with the Action 2.
Is there a better alternative?
GoPro is always the elephant in the room when talking about action cameras, and the Hero 10 Black was an easy pick for Editors’ Choice when I reviewed it last month. They are so closely matched that, if forced to pick a winner, I’d probably declare a tie.
They’re roughly in the same ballpark price range when you take their different pricing models into account, and both offer outstanding image stabilization. The GoPro can record 5.3K footage, its 4K footage looks marginally more detailed, and it can shoot 240fps slow motion at 2.7K, whereas the Action 2 can only hit that framerate at 1080p. However, the Action 2 camera module is only about one-third the size of the Hero 10 Black, and its modular magnetic system offers truly unique advantages over the GoPro.
I could go back and forth for hours comparing these two cameras, but in the end, the conclusion I’ve come to here is that they are an even match.
How long will it last?
Unlike GoPro, DJI doesn’t follow a yearly release schedule for its products, so I can’t say when it will be replaced. Despite its age, my original Osmo Action is still a very capable camera, and I expect the Action 2 will remain relevant for even longer. It’s quite rugged, so that should help it survive a good long while — depending on just how much punishment it receives, of course, DJI offers a standard limited warranty for its devices.
The caveat here is the previously mentioned non-replaceable batteries, particularly those in the camera module. Eventually, the battery life in that module will degrade to a point where you will have to keep a battery or front touch screen module attached for it to function for a decent length of time. That will take many years of frequent use, though, so it’s not something that should deter you from buying the camera.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The DJI Action 2 is a highly compelling action camera, particularly if you have a specific use case in mind that would benefit from its small size, light weight, and unique modular design.
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October 27, 2021 at 06:00AM