Whether you surf, skydive, cycle, scuba dive or just like showing people what a day from your point of view is like, an action camera is the way to do it. But there is always one question to ask yourself before buying a new product, “Which one should I get?” Hopefully by the end of this article you will have an idea of what camera is the best choice for your type of video.
GoPro HERO4 Black Edition
For most people, when you say the words “action camera” they think of GoPro, and that makes sense when you consider that GoPro has long dominated the market with tough, high-quality cameras. The current model standing at the top of the list is the GoPro HERO4 Black Edition, which costs $500.
The HERO4 Black records at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 at 24 or 30 fps. However in full HD, it goes from 24 fps all the way up to 120 fps, and it reaches 240 fps in 720p. The HERO4 Black offers three different fields of view — ultra-wide, medium, and narrow — making the camera suitable for various styles of video. Users can choose to shoot with Protune, which increases the bitrate leading to a better picture. White balance, color, ISO limit and sharpness are also adjustable. With an updated audio system the HERO4 Black offers twice the dynamic range as previous models, allowing users to capture crystal clear audio.
Built in Wi-Fi allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet through the GoPro app and use them as a live feed from the camera as well as to change or adjust settings. Sized at 41mm x 59mm x 29.6mm the HERO4 Black can be mounted just about anywhere. The GoPro has an incredibly large accessory range available from both GoPro and third-party manufacturers, including adhesive mounts for cars/helmets/surf boards, clip or screw mounts for handlebars and backpacks, monopod sticks, steadycam gimbal systems, and even drones. The battery life depends on camera usage, generally lasting just over an hour if the Wi-Fi is turned off and the app is not in use. An additional battery pack can be mounted on the back to add another hour of usage.
The GoPro HERO4 Black Edition offers users a variety of possibilities for their videos. A bonus with this camera is that users get a copy of the GoPro editing software for free. The major issues with this camera are that it has no screen on the back and a short battery life. These issues can be fixed with clip on LCD screens and battery packs, though these come at a price — having a full GoPro setup might be difficult if you are on a budget.
The Sony HDR-AS200V, which is $300, offers users full HD resolution at 1920 x 1080p with a frame rate of up to 60 fps. Equipped with an ultra-wide ZEISS Tessar panoramic lens, the AS200V offers a 170-degree field of view. Automatic settings for exposure and white balance help you get clear and sharp shots in good lighting, which also leads to a good reproduction of colors. However, it loses clarity in darker settings, resulting in more noise and grain on the image. Sony has also included wind noise reduction which allows users to record audio in moving or windy shots much more clearly than some other action cameras. Built-in Wi-Fi allows users to get a live view from a smartphone or the Sony mobile remote.
In terms of its size, the HDR-AS200V differs slightly to the GoPro in that this design leaves less surface area where the lens is and gives it a more streamlined effect. The accessories available for this unit include various mounts, underwater housings and float attachments for diving. The battery life is slightly more impressive than the GoPro HERO4 black with one hour, 55 minutes of runtime at full HD.
Though the Sony AS200V does not offer 4K, Sony does offer a 4K action cam with the Sony FDR-X1000VR, which prices at $500. From 24 fps to 30 fps at 4K this Sony cam really is a close competitor to the GoPro. When shooting in a natural mode, which is the only other setting on this camera and is close to a flat color profile, the X1000VR is able to pick up and reproduce colors in certain environments much more vividly than the HERO4 Black, which gives it an advantage, making color correction easier in post for some users. The downside to this option is that the default setting for 4K is fisheye, which requires removal in post if you don’t want it, and as with the GoPro there is no image stabilizing system at 4K resulting in shaky footage. Image stabilization is available at lower resolutions however, and due to the variety mounting systems available for this camera, users can always find a way to secure it somewhere where it will be less affected by shaking.
Ion Air Pro 3
Ion is another brand quickly coming up in the world of action cameras. At $300, the Ion Air Pro 3 is a full HD camera with the ability to record 60 fps at 1080p and 120 fps at 720p through a 160-degree field of view lens. The automatic aperture settings increase the camera’s low light sensitivity, adjusting to give crystal clear video even in low light situations to bring out the best colors possible. The camera has a 12MP sensor which results in sharp image quality for video and stills. It’s Wi-Fi ready and has an app that can be used with a smartphone to shoot and share your videos in real time.
Ion also offer users 10GB of free cloud storage to help share clips from anywhere.
Ion also offer users 10GB of free cloud storage to help share clips from anywhere. Cylindrical in shape, it measures at 40mm x 40mm x 105.1mm. The camera is waterproof up to 49 feet without a case and its accessories come in the form of different mounts and Wi-Fi PODZ which allow you to preview and share footage. An impressive 2.5-hour battery life makes this camera ideal for long sessions, but note the battery life drops to 1 hour when using Wi-Fi.
The cylindrical design of the Ion Air Pro 3 is a big advantage as it suffers less wind resistance than some other action cameras, but there hasn’t been much attention set towards the audio for this camera, and in most moving shots there is a lot of noise and distortion from the microphone.
If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you might have already heard about the Sena action camera. If not, Sena is a company that has been predominantly dealing with Bluetooth motorcycle headsets. They now offer video capabilities in the form of the Sena PRISM action camera. Costing $250, the PRISM offers full HD video at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. It offers a smaller field of view at 137 degrees, but a sharp image sensor and clear color capturing allow easy shooting in low-light with automatic adjustment to different lighting, resulting in clear video with only minor levels of noise.
Seeing as this camera is mainly designed with motorcyclists in mind, it lacks a Wi-Fi feature and instead has a Bluetooth connection that allows you to pair it with several Bluetooth headsets and therefore capture clearer audio from multiple sources. You can also connect your smartphone through the Sena app to make changes to your settings on the fly. It has a similar form factor to the GoPro at 63mm x 44mm x 23mm, but the lens is on the narrow side, allowing for a more aerodynamic mounting on the side of a helmet. Its accessories include mounts and attachments for bikes/helmets and a waterproof housing with a skeleton backdoor. The battery life is an impressive 2 hours with a 3.5 hour charging time.
The advantage to the Sena PRISM action camera is the Bluetooth communication — not only can you record audio with a headset, but you can give voice commands directly to the camera, allowing you to start/stop recording while on the move and therefore not get distracted from the road. The disadvantage to this camera is that it is not really designed for other types of use and has an accessory range that focuses on use with motorcycles.
Drift Ghost S
A close competitor to the GoPro is the Drift Ghost S. Costing $300, it’s much cheaper and delivers a really great quality video. At 60 fps in full HD and 120 fps in 720p this camera is perfect for capturing smooth slow motion shots for your video. A 160-degree field of view means that you will be able to capture as much of the action around you as you want, and with an adjustable 300-degree rotating mechanism on the lens, you can mount it in any position and still have a flat horizon. The built-in Wi-Fi lets you connect your phone to the Drift app and operate it remotely.
The Ghost S captures color well, but in most cases, the footage looks slightly desaturated, which might need some attention in post. The image quality in terms of sharpness is pretty good, and its ability to handle dark and light scenes helps to improve the overall quality of footage. On the bulkier side, this camera comes in at around 105mm x 52mm x 33mm, but this is not much of an issue because the 300-degree rotating lens mitigates mounting issues. There are many different accessories for this camera, including various cases for underwater usage as well as dust protection, and even a 3.5mm external microphone for capturing audio.
With an outstanding battery life of 2 hours and 55 minutes, the Drift Ghost S is perfect for longer recording sessions. The main disadvantage to the Ghost S is that there is no image stabilization and this can often be a problem for off-road activities.
Now when talking about action cameras, Polaroid don’t exactly come to mind. However, they do offer an inexpensive little action cam — or lifestyle cam, as it has been marketed — that can make a great starter gift for someone new to video. At $150, the Polaroid Cube+ gives you a full HD 30 fps video with a 124-degree field of view. It gives a pretty sharp image and handles colors well, however in scenes with more light flooding in, the image will look overexposed. The Cube+ is a basic camera with a 90-minute battery and a simple one button touch system that makes it really easy to use. Its 35mm cube shape makes it easy to carry around and a magnetic mounting system on the bottom allows it to be stuck to a metallic surface easily. It has several different mounts and a waterproof case that works up to 2m depths.
This camera isn’t the best choice if you want to produce professional-grade material, but it’s perfect for someone who’s just looking to make basic homevideos. The Polaroid Cube+ also comes in a variety of colors to suit your personal style.
All of the above action cameras will serve a different purpose for different users. Some are considered the best in the industry and used by professionals from around the world. Others are perfect for those starting off in video. The main thing to remember when picking an action camera is to make sure that it fits both your lifestyle as well as the style of video you are looking to produce.
Sidebar: Knock-offs and Off Brands
There are hundreds of options when it comes to picking action cameras. Many people are influenced by the prices and not by their needs, and in some cases they go for the cheap knock-off versions that they found online and end up regretting it when the camera breaks after a week of use.
The important thing to remember when looking for an action camera, or any camera for that matter, is to pick the one that does the job best for you. If you don’t need 4K footage with ridiculously high frame rates, then go for a camera that is only full HD with a standard fps setting. Even though the cheap imitations are tempting, it really isn’t worth buying a new one every two weeks when something goes wrong. In that sense you might as well buy an expensive one without the fear of malfunction.
Carefully think about what type of videos you plan on making, and with that, see which camera you should get. If you make a living through your videos, then you should be going for the top of the range cameras, but if you’re going to be making personal or hobby videos, your options are larger.
AEE Cameras www.aee-cameras.com
Drive Proof www.driveproof.com
Liquid Image www.liquidimageco.com
VSN Mobile www.vsnmobil.com
With a passion for filmmaking and exploration, Antonio is always trying to push the limits of the industry, often working as a one man film crew.