What is the Best Action Cam (Buying Guide)
Action camera technology is evolving exponentially, allowing you to capture your adventures from all angles with ease and efficiency. Let’s check out what is the best Action Camera in this buying guide.
Your grandmother wouldn’t believe you if you showed her the tiny size of the device you recorded your family vacation on! At first, it’s not that easy for many to know what is the best action cam.
Don’t worry, we’ll go through its main features so you can choose the right one for you.
Main features to consider
From diving with tropical fish to zip-lining through jungles, to carving through fresh powder with your snowboard. There are so many sports and activities that can be filmed with amazing quality for a reasonable price.
Like any product, action cameras have several characteristics but the following are the most relevant ones you should consider.
This is perhaps a feature that is going to be one of the most important, no matter what you’re filming.
A lot of high-end action cameras these days have the ability to shoot in HD (High Definition) with resolutions up to 4K. 1080p is a standard size for shooting and ideal for most content, it will still be great quality when viewed on a larger screen.
While the best quality, video footage shot in 4K will result in very large file size, and many computers or laptops will struggle to process this raw data.
Stay clear from products that only provide resolution up to 720p; even in the lowest price ranges, you can get 1080p cameras. Actually, you can even get some that offer 4K.
The frame rate should also be considered. It’s measured in FPS (Frames Per Second) and represents how many still images are shown per second in a video.
For reference, the average movie is set at 24fps which is considered a more cinematic style and closer to how we see motion in real life.
Lower frame rates create a jerky, almost stock-motion affect. Higher frame rates are more often used for non-fictional footage such as sporting events or reality television but can sometimes make the footage look unnatural.
Beware that higher resolution results in larger video files. The same can be said when increasing the frame rate.
Finding an action camera that also takes great stills is important as well. In many situations, you will want to take your action camera and you’ll probably leave your DSLR behind.
Of course, an action camera will be more restricted than a DSLR. Their size alone will mean the lens will be smaller, however many action cameras still offer great specs for photography.
You can expect a better action camera to have between 10-16MP. That’s the same as a lot of smartphone and point-and-shoot cameras. And some models will offer over 20MP.
Field of view and Lens Distortion Correction
Many action cameras offer wide-angle shooting which is great for capturing all your surroundings. Like in many matters there’s a downside to that: lens distortion.
A wider field of view is obtained this way compared to just flat footage, as we’re used to seeing with other video recordings. But it almost creates a fisheye effect.
This effect can be removed by editing software when you go to make your video but it can be a bit of a hassle.
Luckily, technology is evolving fast and some cameras also feature lens distortion correction as a feature to save you the time of editing it yourself.
One of the downsides of using an action camera is that the size means it’s harder to get steady footage.
On one hand, because of the constraints of packing so much technology on such a small and affordable object.
But, usually used in the outdoors and in motion which makes it hard for action cameras to keep a stable image. That’s particularly true in some sports and activities, like when you’re riding your dirt bike.
Fortunately, a lot of the newer models cater to this with stabilization. An alternative is to add a gimbal accessory to combat the shakiness.
Some are so good, like the GoPro HERO7 Black with in-camera video stabilization, that doesn’t need a gimbal at all.
Connectivity & remote control
Action cameras are great for capturing content while you’re already out and about. Being able to view and edit on the go is a huge benefit.
Their small sizes don’t allow for much in the way of screens, with most action cameras only featuring small, fiddly LCD screens. Space for buttons is also on the short side.
Most, however, use Bluetooth or Wi-fi to connect to your smartphone. And often have their own editing app to allow you to make quick edits when you’re not at home on your laptop.
Many also give you the ability to view footage on your phone in real-time, so you can set up your shots or watch on a screen while you record.
Battery life doesn’t need much explanation. But it is an important factor when you are choosing your camera.
For most action cameras, you’ll be looking at a battery life between 1-3 hours. That would be more than fine if you’re filming a bungee jump which will be a few minutes maximum.
But if you’re out on the water or the snow for hours, you might want to keep a backup battery with you or be strategic with your filming.
Another thing to look out for when you’re reading reviews is whether the battery heats up after prolonged use.
Other video features
There are a lot of cool video/photo features that action cameras boast, from slow motion to time lapses to give your final product an edge.
The latest GoPro HERO 7 has HyperSmooth. It’s an upgraded version of a time-lapse that is so stable you can film a time-lapse on the go. The traditional time-lapse feature worked best when the camera would stay still and only the surroundings moved.
Some, like the DJI Osmo Action, have filters so if you want a consistent look across your content without spending time on it in post-production.
If you’re going on some wild journeys, you want a rugged camera that can keep up.
The ability to film underwater is a huge appeal for a lot of action camera owners. This allows them to take their camera underwater eliminating the worry of filming in rain, snow or mud splatter situations.
Wind Noise Reduction
Due to the size of the body, most action cameras do not offer very good sound recording. And little to no wind noise reduction, which can be an issue with a lot of different kinds of adventures that you might be filming. Again, (affordable) price also come into play in this matter.
Designed to cancel out background noise while capturing your voice, some cameras combat the problem by having dual microphones.
There is also the option on some cameras to attach an external microphone. If the sound recording quality is an important feature for you, this is something to consider.
Of course, there’s not much that any equipment can do. Mostly if the only sound there is to capture around you is howling wind as you’re hang gliding. Or racing down a mountain on a BMX, so you will have to be realistic with your expectations.
Shape & size and accessories/housing equipment
The shape and size of the camera definitely matter, don’t overlook them. And this will play a part in what accessories you can buy for your camera and what you can do with it. Ignore this and you may find that the usability of your action camera is greatly compromised.
GoPro’s are arguably leading in the field of action cameras. Their small rectangular shape makes them easy to carry around. And there are dozens of different accessories that are compatible with most of their range. These include body harnesses, helmet mounts, waterproof floatation devices, handlebar mounts, gimbals and lots more.
Remember that many other box-shaped cameras may also be able to use GoPro’s extensive range of accessories. That means these accessories are important even if you’re not buying a GoPro,
Bullet-shaped action cameras are less popular. Still, as a more subtle option, they shouldn’t be overlooked
Some devices are a lot more streamlined and can be easily attached to the side of a helmet or to handlebars. It’s the case of cameras such as the TomTom Bandit, Contour Roam3 or the Drift Ghost 4K.
Independently of your choice, check out the adequate accessories for your usage. That way you will make sure you can get the right gear to take full advantage of your action camera.
With these features in consideration, you can now identify your priorities. To make it even easier for you, I’ve also published a few articles recommending the best dash cams at various price levels. That way you can easily find the one that serves you.
Take a look at our reviews and choose your top option: