When buying an action cam like the DJI Action 2, the expectation is footage that looks cinematic, intense, and true to life. But when you go out with your new action camera and you play back your footage, it looks nothing like the promo videos. The problem is the automatic video setting.
And that’s the case for even the best action cameras out right now. None is going to look very good out of the box with fully automatic factory settings. Like all action cams, the DJI Action 2 does have automatic video settings to compensate for variables during a ride. But automatic settings always tend to be all over the place when left unchecked, creating inconsistent, amateur-looking films. This is why it’s recommended to use semi-manual settings.
After months of riding and recording in various weather and lighting conditions, testing video settings and accessories, I found the baseline settings that I can get the best mountain bike videos from my DJI Action 2.
Find my current camera setup here. In this resource, I list all gear I use to make quality MTB POV videos for the Suspension Traveler YouTube channel.
Recommended DJI Action 2 settings for cinematic footage:
- Resolution: 2.7K or 4K
- Framerate: 30 FPS
- Stabilization: Rocksteady 2.0
- Field of view (FOV): Wide or Ultrawide
- Pro Settings: On
- Exposure: Auto
- EV: -0.7 (to prevent over-exposure)
- Shutter speed: auto-adjusted
- ISO: range from 100 – 3200
- White Balance: 5600K
- Color: D-Cinelike
These will work in difficult, changing lighting conditions like under tree cover and direct sunlight as well as overcast weather. The camera will adjust the shutter speed automatically. In order to keep shutter speeds low (double the frame rate is recommended for cinematic motion blur), you could use magnetic ND filters (like these on amazon) to reduce exposure, but they are not a must-have.
Color Grading for Action Cam Videos
Make your POV footage pop with custom color grades!
Download my FREE LUT specifically for MTB videos:
Below I explain what each of these settings does in detail and why certain settings are preferable over others.
Here is some test footage using these exact settings. I only did color correction in an editing program, taking advantage of the flat color profile. Brightness and exposure were left untouched by me and all automatically done by the cam:
In order to gain access to the full list of settings, you need to activate the PRO setting on the second page of the main menu. The detailed video settings are accessed through the menu on the right side. See the pictures below for reference.
So, there you have it. Those are the semi-automatic settings that record cinematic, well-balanced footage that looks more like what you experience through your own eyes. Read on further down for a deep dive into what each setting does.
Just by changing a couple of very simple settings on this camera it really does make a huge difference in how we capture the awesome things we do out there so that we can share them with our friends.
Automatic vs Manual video settings
You might have been disappointed by your action cam footage using auto settings. That’s to be expected and it happens because these cameras absolutely cannot tell what you’re trying to film and why you’re trying to film it. These cams can do almost anything outdoor-related. Mountain biking, snowboarding, and diving are completely different activities in terms of what the action cam is supposed to capture.
That’s why it’s not a good idea to unlock the complete array of options to the camera’s processors but rather to give it boundaries it can work within. A good principle to follow is to keep variability minimal for consistent image quality. And that’s what the recommended settings above do.
Video settings are the difference between amateur and professional-looking, cinematic action cam footage.
However, filming outdoor activities is tricky because of changing light conditions. It’s an important variable to videography you can’t control outdoors. Additionally, while mountain biking we often ride in and out of shaded woods, which creates even more contrasting lighting on sunny days.
Fully manual settings are not possible most of the time. Especially in sunny weather. I did the test and rode the same track twice back to back using automatic exposure and manual exposure settings (details are in the video description). Here’s the resulting comparison:
Even in post-production color correction, I could not save the fully manual footage due to the immense swings in natural exposure:
Although the manual option looked phenomenal the couple of times the exposure was just on point, it’s rarely the case with a moving camera.
That’s also why it’s easier to film inconsistent (cloudy) weather when natural lighting doesn’t vary much. If you like experimenting in steady conditions, feel free to try these fully manual settings:
Fully manual video settings for consistent light conditions (cloudy days):
- Framerate: 30 FPS
- Stabilization: Rocksteady 2.0
- Pro Settings: On
- Exposure: Manual
- Shutter speed: preferably 60, but as high as necessary for EV between 0 and -1
- ISO: 100 or 200
- White Balance: 5600K
- Color: D-Cinelike (for better color correction)
When I tested that on a cloudy, overcast day I had much better results. Even the slight exposure swings were enough that the screen went so dark in the dense forest at the end of the clip, you couldn’t make out anything anymore. But I could save it with color correction (shadows and highlights) in an editing suite. See the video here.
What the DJI Action 2 settings mean
Resolution: 2.7K or 4K
I’m sure you know this one: pixels count in relation to the aspect ratio. But there’s more to it in an action cam!
The way stabilization works is through software. The camera actually crops into the frame a little bit to be able to seemingly “remove” movement from the picture. That also means the real captured resolution of the final video is a little lower of the actual file. That’s why 1080p will look more blurry and a minimum of 2.7K is recommended.
I switch between 2.7K and 4K depending on the available memory storage. If you got a 4K monitor to enjoy all those pixels, the higher resolution is even nicer to look at. It’s incredible fidelity to experience.
Framerate: 30 fps
This is what produces the natural motion blur, similar to what you would see through your own eyes. Framerate of 24, 25, and 30 are a big part of what makes video footage cinematic. Bonus points for making you seem to ride faster, every other setting being the same.
Although I usually film in 25 FPS with every other camera, for fast POV shots I believe 30 FPS works best.
Often 60 fps are used for fast-twitch action footage that still looks crisp. 50 or 60 FPS give your footage a sharper look without motion blur so trail features are more pronounced.
Extremely high fps above 60 frames allow for slowing footage down for a slow-motion effect. At regular watch speeds, there is no tangible difference between 60 and 480 fps. Your SD card may disagree as it fills up much quicker.
30 and 25 frames per second allow for natural motion blur, that not only looks very cinematic and professional but as a bonus also makes the footage look faster than with a higher framerate.
Image stabilization: Rocksteady 2.0
On a bike, it’s critical to use any one option, preferably RockSteady 2.0
Horizon leveling is not recommended for biking, because the footage becomes unrelatable for viewers of a two-wheeled sport, where the lean angle is crucial. Ever seen MotoGP dashboard videos with horizon leveling? The entire excitement of the sport gets lost.
Above and beyond a stable image is the most important feature of any camera strapped to your helmet, chest or bike. I used to own the first generations of GoPros, but any mount beside the helmet mount was completely unusable because of the shaky footage. Now chest mounts are all the rage.
Even if the head is the most stable part of your body on a mountain bike, it still vibrates and shakes quite a bit on the trail. Your eyes can adjust to this and now can your Action 2 cam with high-tech image stabilization.
White Balance: 5600K
WB Setting is one of the biggest difference makers. When left on auto, the camera will constantly color correct, while not knowing what it sees. If the screen is full of green grass, or brown dirt, it will choose a white balance that reduces green or brown from the image.
This is an outdoor camera. And sunlight has a color temperature of around 5600 Kelvin. Easy as that. Set it once and never change it again. You wouldn’t want your white balance to change from clip to clip or even worse within a clip. In addition, white balance will destroy the warm natural hue during sunsets – a period also called the golden hour. On a cloudy day, 6000K may be okay too to avoid a blue hue.
Field of view (FOV): Wide or Ultrawide
A wider FOV can help with a couple of effects: the sense of speed and capturing reference points the viewer can identify with. Since on a bike both hands are occupied, the camera needs to be able to see a lot without moving the camera angle. The Action 2’s 155-degree FOV is arguably the largest right now and creates incredibly intense footage.
Take the comparison of the winning downhill world cup runs in Lourdes, France, in 2022 for example. The times are similar, but one looks way faster and more cinematic than the other:
Generally, a wide FOV is able to capture the ground, ahead on the trail and the bike as reference for the viewer within the same shot. A view from on top of the helmet sometimes only has a view of the trail ahead and much of the feeling gets lost for the audience since there are no reference points. No arms, no bike frame, no handlebars.
I like the regular (de-warped) setting for a natural view, but too much of the picture and peripheral view gets lost to be relatable for the viewer. Amaury Pierron’s footage is also more color corrected, which is easier to do with a flatter color profile, not the standard “Normal” option.
Nothing is inherently wrong with the “Normal” color profile, which sports the popping colors you’d expect from an action cam. If those oversaturated and high contrast style is something you like, is completely subjective.
That being said, those saturated colors just limit the options for post color corrections and custom color profiles to really make the edit your own. If you like playing around creatively in an editing suite, D-Cinelike is perfect for you as it provides more freedom for creative exploration.
ISO: min. 100 – max. 3200
ISO maximum light sensitivity of the camera, and the Action 2 lets you define a range it can work with.
Normally, I set the ISO as low as possible because a high ISO means a grainy image. But light sensitivity (ISO) is what’s required for the stabilization to work well. I’d rather have a stable, grainy video than the other way around. White balance is the only setting you can leave at one value all the time. In daylight, a WB of 5500K is highly recommended as WB, FPS and EV are the greatest difference-makers and will make your footage look cinematic.
The choice is between jittery stabilization and a grainy image. Even with absurdly high max ISO, the camera won’t likely use those high values during daylight. During sunsets and low-light situations (in dense forests), you may even bump up the maximum ISO to 3200, which will lead to noisy (grainy) but stabilized footage.
Video compression: HEVC
This is just the video codec, without any impact on the bitrate like the GoPro 10 would have.
HEVC or High-Efficiency Video Codec H.265 can create smaller file sizes than the H.264 MP4 codec. So this will not actually increase the bit rate, but decrease the file size while keeping the same bit rate. The actual bit rate depends on the resolution, frame rate and video codec. Older computers may only be able to read H.264 files.
Bonus tips and tricks
Don’t be sleeping on this one! This underrated overlay is perfect not only to align the adhesive mounts on a helmet but also to find the perfect camera angle that captures the trail not just your front wheel.
This helps with optimizing the parameters of your manual settings. Overexposed areas are marked by zebra stripes.
There is no way to save overexposed footage (as I showed you above), but slightly underexposed one by brightening it up in editing software. The white, detail-less overexposed areas will stay detail-less. Darker details can be brought forward.
Screen off when recording
This should be as soon as possible on a mountain bike. While riding you’ll never even see the screen. So there is no use in leaving the screen on and wasting battery charge.
Orientation lock: off
This auto-detect works so well that there is no reason to turn it off. Also recommended for easy swapping between helmet and chest mount where the cam is upside down.
This has nothing to do with recording format, only what’s displayed on the touch-screen finder. Both a 4:3 and 16:9 format will get cropped to fit “fullscreen” on the square screen.
to be able to see your actual frame including the peripheral space on either side, where you can look forward into corners or see the rider’s arms and handlebars
Snapshot: Off or Video
Using manual settings, you may not want to use this, and always check the screen before recording. Either way, Snapshot can be overruled by a long press on/off.
Best camera positions for MTB
Any sport where you can’t use the camera handheld relies on the quality of mounting options for interesting perspectives. In fact, the mounting is what I love most about the DJI Action 2. Read about it in the full in-depth review here. The magnets are not what’s keeping the camera in place, but rather an extremely easy and comfortable way to mount, take off, and re-mount exactly the same way.
Helmet mounts: easy to use and set up, but can get unrelatable for the viewer
For helmet mounting, I went with the official DJI adhesive mounting kit, but after using it I honestly can’t recommend it due to the (IMO too wide) circular surface area of the flat adhesive and the overall height of this system. Just get the GoPro mounts for the same price as they are low enough to actually fit well below the visor without obstructing your view. The DJI mounts are still way easier to attach by twisting compared to pinching and sliding. So there’s that. With magnetic mounts, you won’t have to do that often anyway.
Helmet perspectives are also known for the “GoPro effect” that makes any steep rough trail seem harmless and flat. That’s because there are very few points of reference for the viewer who only has visual and acoustic cues. Depth perception and lean angle get lost. An ultra-wide-angle lens like the 155° field of view of the Action 2 helps with that issue.
Chest mount: immersive, relatable, but can be cumbersome to wear
In the past, chest-mounted cameras were pretty horrid to watch without image stabilization. With this camera’s Rocksteady 2.0, it’s become a joy to film and watch. With horizon leveling, even gimbals have become obsolete. It’s the only perspective that can capture hands, handlebar, front tire, lean angle and the trail ahead.
Personally, I have been using the GoPro “Chesty” chest mount since the first GoPro Hero HD for one of the most immersive views on a bike. The new V2.0 has some quality of life improvements and is comfortable to wear with the padding. It comes with one standard GoPro quick-release adapter. The DJI quick-release adapters won’t fit in GoPro’s slider system, but the magnetic mount adapter will.
There are third-party chest rigs available, that basically only differ in the way they have to be put on. Only the Chesty is built like a vest and can be worn while not closed. Which is a relief since you need to tighten it pretty well to eliminate movement in the rig itself wherever you can.
The magnetic lanyard chest mount isn’t a replacement for full chest rigs like the GoPro chesty (which it is compatible with) because you can’t adjust the angle. It would point down at the frame and knees. The camera needs to be at a 45° angle upward to capture the trail when riding. Also, the lanyard is “mounted” to the shirt, which is flapping around when in riding position – upper body bent forward.
Generally, it’s hit and miss with third-party mounts. My personal take is that I don’t feel comfortable buying an expensive camera and relying on cheap mounting options for it to not fall off and wreck. So I tend to go with original parts. Also, accessories often outlast the camera itself and don’t get obsolete as quick – or never when you look at how action cams have been mounted for the last decade.