Best Action Cameras Reviewed & Tested in detail for 2016
Action cameras are mostly used In extreme sports, and are lately becoming increasingly more popular. These cameras are unique in a way that they can mounted on almost anything, your bike, surfboard, helmet, you name it. Unlike regular compact cameras, action cameras are smaller and more durable.
Despite their light design, in the past few years they have advanced up to a point where they are viable tools for creating professional and commercial video footage.
Not only can you find affordable action cameras which support 4K resolution and high frame rate, slow-motion videos, but that thanks to the development of Internet of Things, they are also becoming increasingly smart.
Action cameras of today are able to connect to other devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches and all kinds of wearables. This way the camera can utilize external sensors and in combination with right software, can provide you with valuable data along with desired footage.
This is even more pronounced with large manufacturers such as GoPro and Garmin, who have built an entire ecosystem around their devices which allows for impressive level of integration.
Even though they are generally used by extreme sports professionals, action cameras can be an attractive product for almost anyone. Everything from ski jumps to fun moments with friends and family can be captured quite well by an action camera.
That is why we have selected the 10 Best Action Cameras in 2016, wrote a few words about each one and prepared a buying guide for you. We have included cameras of different grades, both those for beginners and professionals.
Sony is known for making great cameras across a range of different types of devices. 4K action cameras are no exception and this is where Sony is looking to steal a piece of the cake from the industry-leader GoPro. That is why Sony made the new Sony FDR-X100V 4K Action Camera. This is a high-end, professional-grade versatile shooter with image stabilization.
There are plenty of choices today when it comes to 4K action cameras as there is more competition than ever, which is great for consumers. This market situation forces manufacturers to put in their very best effort to deliver a high quality product at a lower price than those of rival companies.
Modern and robust design, excellent video and image quality, rich choices in accessories make the Sony FDR-X1000V a serious competitor in the rising market of 4K cameras. Not everything is perfect, as the settings interface is a bit laggy and using the built-in buttons comes with a delay.
Sony does have a few aces in its sleeve which set it apart from other action cameras. Some of these include Sony’s famous Exmor R sensor which has already proven to produce high quality footage on smartphones. Another notable detail is the Carl Zeiss branded lens, which have helped make kings of camera phones such as the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 back in the day.
FDR-X1000V is able to record 4K Ultra HD video at 30 frames per second (fps) in an excellent XAVC S format at a whooping 100 Mbps bitrate. You will be happy to know it is also possible to record 1080p Full HD video at 120fps for slow motion video. All footage is shot at a wide-angle FOV of 170 degrees with a F 2.7 aperture. We already mentioned X1000V’S features image stabilization and we’re not talking about software-adjusted stabilization, rather a real hardware-based image stabilization which does a great job of providing smooth video. This is probably it’s main advantage over GoPro.
It produces still images at 8 Mpx of good quality, but nothing to brag about. Colors are accurate and vibrant but we’ve noticed some digital noise and detail loss in the shadows. Still, it is perfectly fine for use on the Web.
The Sony FDR-X1000V is marked splash-proof which we’ve tested and confirmed to be true. It will survive a certain amount of rain and snow as well as any short and shallow drops on to a wet floor. There is more, this action camera comes packed with a fully water-resistant case which is able to dive up to 10 meters.
If we said FDR-X1000V is on par with the GoPro when it comes to features and specifications, and even better in certain situations. However, GoPro still feels more robust and resistant.
This is an excellent action camera and comes highly recommended as far 4K action cameras go.
Drift Stealth 2
There is something to be said about compact action cameras. They are usually designed with simplicity and versatility in mind and their use is straightforward. Consumers find such products very appealing and its no wonder companies are trying to make everything smaller and simpler.
However, small size obviously requires some compromises. These compromises are hardware in nature because of the reduced body size. Usually in cases like this we notice reductions in things like battery size, camera sensor size and limited processing power for image and video processors.
It all depends on how well is an action camera designed. Some action cams feature a compact, but smart and intuitive design which conserves space and leaves room for high quality features.
Drift Stealth 2, in our opinion, strikes this balance quite well. What we have is a very small, light and compact design, while not compromising too much important features.
While there are many small and miniature action cameras out there, many of them sacrifice key features like the LCD screen or dedicated control buttons on the body. This is not the case with the Stealth 2. Both the LCD screen and important control buttons are present.
Still, something had to sacrificed and in this case it is the battery. It is not a bad battery, far from it, it offers excellent battery life. The problem is the battery is not removable, so no option to swap the battery with a reserve and keep rolling.
This camera is not completely water-resistant, so no deep diving. However, it is weather-resistant so you don’t have to worry if it splashed with water or dropped on a wet floor. You will even be okay using it during rainy days. If you add the optional waterproof housing, it will be able to go down as far as 40m.
This action camera is easily mountable anywhere, which is also one of it’s key selling points. Being light, mounted on front of your bike or your helmet, you will not even know it is there. Wherever you mount it, the lens is rotatable, meaning you can mount it in any position and the camera will always record at the right angle.
Video recording performance at best settings is 1080p Full HD resolution at 30 frames per second (FPS) with a bitrate of 18 Mbps. It also able to record slow motion 60fps in 720p HD resolution as well as WVGA at 120fps. Still photos are taken in 3 Mpx which is somewhat disappointing.
Video and photo quality is acceptable considering the price range. Sufficient to say if you’re looking for professional grade quality, you should skip this camera. However, if your needs come down to sharing video on Youtube and photos on websites like Facebook, the Stealth 2 will do just fine.
Even though the camera has on-board controls, you can still use the Android or iOS for easier access to settings as well as to preview and review your recordings.
Overall, we are quite happy with Drift Stealth 2 and don’t have any serious complaints. It reasonably priced and affordable, and a good value for the money.
GoPro Hero4 Session
The GoPro Hero4 Session is the latest action camera from the GoPro Hero4 line. This time we’re getting something different – and we like it, a lot. The body is half the size of those of it’s siblings, Hero4 Black and Silver. The weight is also down by about 40%. This a cube-shaped, rubberized compact action camera built for simplicity and versatility. The session can fit inside of your palm or your pocket. It features a large Record button which is used to Start or Stop a recording.
Right of the bat, the most notable design difference to previous GoPro’s is that Session is completely water-proof out-of-the-box, so no addition waterproof housing is needed. We found this to be a very nice touch and a welcoming feature.
Despite it being so much smaller than pervious GoPro’s, it holds on to famous GoPro quality and impressive specifications. Sounds good? Well, it might just be if you’re looking for a smaller action cam. It wasn’t so when it came out last year, it was too pricey for its class and we would have had a hard time recommending it. But now the price has dropped considerably and we think you’ll find this camera quite interesting.
As part of the compromise of making the GoPro smaller, we now have no Micro-HDMI port and the built-in battery is not removable, although battery life is not at all bad with up to 2 hours of continuous recording. There is a Micro-USB port which is used for charging and file transfer to computers. There is also a MicroSD card slot for up to 64GB of data storage.
Even though there is a small LCD screen integrated with the Session, it is only used to show basic information like recording time, battery life, ect. You cannot actually change any settings using the camera alone. That is why there is built-in WiFi which you can use to connect the Session to your smartphone or the optional waterproof remote controller.
The Hero4 Session is able to record videos in 1920 x 1444 px FullHD+ resolution at 30 and 25 fps. We also have the standard 1080p Full HD at 60fps, 50fps, 48fps, 30fps and 25fps. There is a also 1280 x 960 pixels HD+ at 60fps, 50fps, 30fps and 25fps. Finally, there is 100fps at standard HD resolution of 720p. And if you really want maximum slow motion, you can go for 120fps at a low 848 x 480 pixels.
We would argue that GoPro Hero4 Session is just what the GoPro needed. A lightweight, compact version of its brothers at a half of the price. If you’re okay with a somewhat lower quality video quality compared to other GoPros, and would like a more resistive and smaller design, the Session comes recommended.
HDR-AS50 is an action camera made by Sony which fits somewhere in between entry-level and mid-range of action cameras. That is what the price says, anyway. In practice it is a high quality action camera with very capable features and performance.
Probably the only way to tell it is not in the high end part of the spectrum is by its body. The body is made out of plastic which doesn’t feel premium at all. Another way to notice this, should we say, lack of body quality is by battery doors which opens up on the side. It just doesn’t feel very sturdy. Other than that the Sony HDR-AS50 has a pretty solid design, it looks very similar to Sony AZ1 but it is smaller and lighter.
Design-wise, a very nice touch are the on-board buttons and their placement. Buttons are large and distanced from each other just enough so that when you use it with gloves you will not have any problems hitting the right button each time.
It is important to point out that by purchasing Sony HDR-AS50 you will also get waterproof housing, which you can use dive underwater up to 60m.
On the top we have a big, red-dotted Record button and behind an On/Off switch for the camera. On the right side you will find a small LCD screen and buttons to operate it. The LCD screen can be used to fiddle through all of the settings, which are numerous. The only complaint we have with the screen is that its not back-lit in any way, so it could prove to be a problem operating it during night.
It features an 11.1 MPx back-lit CMOS sensor which is great for low-light. The lens are Zeiss Tessar which provides a nice boost to image sharpness. Overall image quality is very good, with a nice color profile giving out accurate but vivid colors. You can also use the flat color profile if you would like to post-process the video later on. The HDR-AS50 is able to record 1080 Full HD at up to 60fps or 720p HD at 120fps.
If you shoot using the wide-angle mode you will get a really wide field of view (FOV) but also barrel distortion at the edges. We have to say that Sony has somewhat reduced barrel distortion compared to its previous cameras, including AZ1, but it still there nonetheless.
As far as video quality is concerned, you have two option; record in the professional XAVC-S mode or regular MP4 format. The former provides better quality but the latter is able to shoot 720p in 120fps, which gives awesome looking slow motion footage. Just note that if you choose the XAVC-S mode you’ll need to have XC formatting MicroSD card.
Overall we are extremely happy with what the HDR-AS50 offers for the price. You will get a feature-rich, high image quality action camera with waterproof housing included. If this is the type of camera which you are after, we say go for it.
Garmin Virb XE
Virb XE is an impressive mid-range action camera from Garmin. We already know about Garmin from their navigation, health and fitness products, and now they’re striking against GoPro and Sony in the action camera market.
The first thing we noticed about the Virb XE is its robust body. It is made out of thick, hard plastic which feels like it could survive a tank running over it.
This camera is also completely waterproof for up to 50m without the need of any external casing. We found this to be extremely impressive for an action camera in this range. It is a big plus over competitors like GoPro and Sony who’s products in this range usually require external water-resistant casing, which may or may not be included in the package.
The camera records 1440p at 30fps, 1080p Full HD at 60fps, 720p HD resolution at 120fps and 480p at 240fps, which is nice for slow motion videos. Both video, photo and audio quality is overall very good.
Another noteworthy characteristic is the universal mount, which basically means Virb is compatible with the majority of third-party accessories including most GoPro mounts. Of course, Garmin has its own range of different mounts for different purposes. It is possible to purchase Virb XE in different packages, specifically Racing, Aviation and Cycling bundle. Of course, you can just buy the base model, with or without image stabilization.
Garmin Virb XE has a range of features which set it apart from its rivals. For example, it has built-in accelerometer as well as GPS. The latter is a very nice and an unexpected bonus. Using the GPS, the Virb XE will track your location, travel distance, speed, G force and similar things. As expected, Garmin has made it possible to pair Virb XE with all kinds of Garmin accessories and devices, like the Phoenix smart watch which can then be used to gain full control of the camera. You can also pair with a heart rate monitor and other sensors. Pairing is done via the built-in WiFi. All this integration and sensor connectivity is collectively called ANT+ sensor capability by Garmin.
All of this sensor data, including GPS data, can then be used to overlay information on your video. You add this data and edit your videos on a PC using a very fun and useful official PC app.
The Garmin Virb XE is a beast of an action camera. You get very high build quality paired with a range of rich and useful features, all with a waterproof high resolution camera. It’s not 4K, but hey, you cannot have it all. We would call this camera a direct competitor of GoPro Hero4 Silver, which might have slighlty better image quality, but lacks key features like waterproof and robust body. If you already own other Garmin products which support ANT+ and are in need of an action camera, than this choice is obvious. Even without all of the sensor integration with other devices, this is still a very high value product and comes highly recommended from us.
GoPro Hero4 Black
If you are into action cameras, you have certainly heard of GoPro and what’s more, you probably never stop hearing about it. Every other action camera is constantly compared to GoPro. All of this, of course, is for a reason.
Let us start at the beginning. GoPro has been around since 2002, when it was created by Nick Woodman. He improvised with film cameras to record his surfing trips, and that inspired him to create the GoPro. It was GoPro that started the action camera industry and here we are, 14 years later, with the GoPro Hero4 Black.
GoPro Hero4 Black is the latest flagship action camera from the GoPro line. It is the best GoPro has to offer, and let me tell you, it does not disappoint.
Let us be clear, this camera is meant for professionals and professionals only. Sure, any consumer could use it, but unless you are going to professional work it would probably be just a waste of money. GoPro Hero4 Silver is worthy substitution and may even be a better choice regardless of the price for many people. But if really want to go pro, read on.
The Hero4 Black features a 1 /2.3 inch sensor with 12 Mpx. It is used to record professional, commercial videos worthy of television broadcast, film production and high-value commercials. It is often seen at high profile extreme sport competitions such as the Red Bull sponsored events.
The main reason to buy this action camera over any other is its unmatched 4K video performance. It can record 4K video at 30fps, 2.7K video at 60fps, 1080p at 120fps for Full HD true slow motion video and 720p HD resolution video at a whooping 240 frames per second. The GoPro Hero4 Silver is able to record 2.7K at 30fps, while it can do 4K too, it is limited to 15fps.
Sure, other action cameras can do 4K at 30fps, but its not all about resolution and frames per second. The Hero4 Black offers extraordinary video and image quality. Recordings are amazingly sharp even at 1080p. What really marks Hero4 Black for professional usage is superior image controls. In the “Pro” mode you will able to adjust advanced image and color options. For example, there are a total of 27 different combinations just for resolution and framerate. There is also the Flat mode which provides neutral colors ideal for advanced post-processing.
One dowside to the Hero4 Black compared to the Silver edition is the lack of a built-in touch screen. If you choose the Silver, you get a nice, responsive LCD touchscreen for options and live view. With the Black, you will have to rely on your smartphone and the official GoPro app which is available for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone. The App is fast and responsive, rich with features and can be used to control the camera and for real time live view of what the camera is recording.
While the GoPro Hero4 Black is arguably the king of action cameras, it might be hard to recommend it to an average consumer over the Hero4 Silver. If however, you want the best of the best, and are doing serious professional work, than GoPro Hero4 Black is for you.
GoPro Hero4 Silver
There is a known English idiom “Every cloud has a silver lining”. It is used to describe optimism and a positive side of something, an appropriate expression to be used in the context of GoPro Hero4 Silver, which represents the silver lining of the Hero4 series.
The Hero4 Silver is an impressive action camera which is meant for people who want a top quality camera without the need for full 4K recording capability. Looking at it’s price, it is set in between entry-level Hero4 Session and the UHD flagship Hero4 Black. Provided that you do not need 4K resolution and are okay with 2.7K, the Silver edition of the GoPro Hero4 series is the best choice.
The body which is very similar to Hero4 Black, is of solid quality and robustness. It offers several card and cable ports, including a mini-USB port (for charging and file transfer), a MicroSD slot and Micro-HDMI port. Even though the camera itself is not waterproof, you will get external waterproof housing which is go dive up to 40m.
Unlike the Black edition, Silver has a built-in LCD touchscreen which a first for a GoPro camera. You can use this touch screen for settings and options instead of relying on the small colorless info screen which is used by physical buttons. Another great advantage of having this LCD screen is the ability to watch a live, real time view of what the camera, and you can also swap through and view your previous videos and photos.
It is able to record 4K video at 15fps, 2.7K video at 30fps, 1080p Full HD video at 60fps and 720p HD video at 120fps. Video and photo quality is very good, though not exceptional like those on Hero4 Black. In Protune mode, you will able to adjust advanced image settings like ISO levels, shutter speed and other. Unfortunately there is no image stabilization of any sort which is quite disappointing.
People find it strange that GoPro decided to include a touch-screen with the Silver while excluding it from the Black edition, since the Black is the more expensive version of the Hero4 series. We think this makes perfect sense. After all, Hero4 Black is designed for ultimate image and video quality first, and professionals who really need top 4K quality probably won’t worry too much about a touch screen. On the other hand, Hero4 Silver is designed more for an average consumer looking for a high quality camera, so it makes sense to make it more user friendly with a built-in touch screen.
Our final word would be, while the Black is the beast, the Silver is our favorite. Its not the best when it comes to image quality, and it is considerably hurt by a lack of image stabilization, but it does everything else perfectly and on top everything adds a very attractive touch screen.
Veho Muvi K2 is an interesting action camera which is looking to be a good substitution to a much more expensive GoPro. We found this camera interesting because it offers a compelling package for a low price tag in 2016.
Inside the package, besides the tiny camera, you get waterproof housing and a separate screen for a live view. Other than that, there are several other accessories, including a 8GB MicroSD card, Mini-USB cable and a range of different mounts. It is an impressive package indeed. Many competitive cameras in the same price range do not provide waterproof housing, much less an additional screen for First Person View (FPV).
The waterproof housing is quite bulky, feels very solid and it looks like it could beat every other water-resistant case out there. Indeed, if you put your Veho Muvi K2 in this housing, you will be able to dive and record video at up to 100m of depth! Impressive, isn’t it?
The camera body itself is small and very compact, it could fit in a regular pocket. It feels incredibly hard and robust with an overall feeling of high quality build, and not cheap plastic. On the back of the body, there is a built-in LCD screen which is used for showing information about battery life, current recording session and other basic information. On the front you’ll find the actual camera and besides it, two switches. The upper switch is for turning the camera on and off, while the other is used to turn WiFi on or off. The fact it has a dedicated WiFi switch is a very nice touch. In between those switches, you will find a large red button which is, expectedly, used to start and stop video recording.
The camera is able to record 4K video in 15 fps, which is not very useful. The selling point here is the good old standard 1080p Full HD video at an impressive 60 frames per second. Other than that there is 720p HD at 120fps. Video is recorded at a 19 Mbit/s bitrate. You can take still photos at 16 Mpx.
Video quality is not quite on par with the GoPro but it is still good enough. If you’re recording your videos for viewing on home TV, PC or social media sharing, it will do a fine job.
WiFi is used to connect your Muvi K2 to a smartphone or a tablet, using a free iOS / Android App. The app is also the only way to adjust camera settings and recording modes.
Powered by a 1,500 mAh lithium battery which is both rechargeable and interchangeable, offering up 3 hours of continuous recording.
The Veho Muvi K2 is a great, accessory-packed action camera with a good build quality and some impressive specifications. You’ll get all of this for a very affordable price. The only catch is not really a catch, it is expected that you will not get the best possible video and photo quality. But unless you’re recording professional and commercial footage, you will be quite happy with this action camera and what it offers.
Panasonic HX-A1MD is an ultra lightweight action camera which comes in a sleek, cylindrical body. With this camera, Panasonic aims at the lower end of the market, especially consumers who would like to get a cheap camera which puts form over performance.
Its main advantage besides the small size and weight, is its thin form factor which makes it quite practical for mounting on the head or some other shape and weight sensitive places.
You can buy HX-A1MD either in black or orange color. The body is made out of plastic, even though it doesn’t feel like cheap plastic. In fact, it feels surprisingly robust.
It is marked as waterproof although the time you can spend underwater is limit, and so is maximum depth. You’ll be able to dive up 1,5m and that’s about it. Its not really an underwater camera but it is splash-proof and water-resistant in a sense that it won’t break should you accidentally drop it in water.
On the top you will only see three buttons; Power, Wi-Fi and the Record button. On the back of the body there is a cover which can be screwed off in order to reach the USB port and a MicroSD card slot. The USB is used for charging the battery and for file transfers to PC.
The Panasonic A1 is powered by a Lithium Ion battery which will give you up to 1 hour of recording time. The battery life can go even further down is WiFi is turn on the whole time, so try to use WiFI only when necessary. We have to say this battery lifetime is not at all impressive and you can find action cameras in the same price range, and even cheaper with better battery life.
The A1 is able to record Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps. This is the most widespread resolution and framerate, so you do at least get the basic standard for the money. However, we were a bit disappointed that it couldn’t handle 1080p at 60fps for FullHD slow motion video. On the other hand, there is an option to record HD 720p in 60fps which will get you light slow motion video.
The video quality is actually quite good considering the price, but photo quality is almost useless because of the low Mpx count. Another downside is the lack of any kind of optical of software stabilization, so you can expect very shaky videos if you’re doing sports like cycling in a bumpy forest.
What makes this action camera interesting is the interchangeable lens. Packed inside the package, you will get a night-vision lens which you can strap on to record during night. Its nothing spectacular when it comes to night vision but it does improve visibility. Pair that with an IF lamp and you can get some pretty interesting night shots.
TomTom Bandit is the sports car of action cameras, at least it looks like one. This is the company’s first attempt at an action camera, and so far they’ve done a pretty good job. We would place the Bandit directly against the GoPro Hero4 Silver, both in terms of price and specifications.
Featuring an attractive design, it is completely white with the exception of a vivid red stripe circling its top body part. Its design is not only visually appealing but it is also incredibly smart and intuitive. It has a unique barrel-like form, completely different from anything we’ve seen in the action camera market. The internal barrel is completely detachable and once removed, you will see it houses a USB 3.0 port, a MicroSD slot and the battery.
On the top of the body you’ll find a small LCD screen and square-shaped control buttons beneath it, which are used to operate the options on the screen. Unfortunately, you cannot use the screen to view what you’re recording in real time, you’ll have to use the smartphone app for that. However, you can use the screen to quickly switch between different shooting modes.
Most of the body is made out of high quality rugged plastic which feels like it could survive any kind of a fall and almost any impact. The outer body is water-proof, though limited to 1 meter underwater. It is marked as splash-proof, which means at very least you don’t have to worry about rain, dropping it in the water accidentally, etc.
The sensor itself is impressive at a 16 Mpx which provides you with the default Full HD 1920x1080p video at 60 fps. Other modes include 4K at 15 fps and 720p at 120fps. Overall video and photo quality is excellent and comparable to that of a GoPro camera.
The Bandit’s biggest marketing point is its easy of use and the ability to create awesome videos on the go. This strategy is sound as not all action cam consumers are professionals willing to spend hours post-processing their videos on desktops with expensive software. Bandit makes creating video compilations incredibly easy. Once connected to a smartphone, all you have to do is shake your smartphone and the app will take care of the rest. The software and sensors behind the scene work together and make a smart camera. For example, the built-in sensors like Gyro, Accelerometer, GPS, heart-rate monitor and others are used by software to determine which are the highlight points of your recording. Based on that data, the app will compile different clips into one awesome video featuring the best moments.
What to watch for when buying an action camera
When buying an action camera you have ask yourself what are you going to use it for. The more precise assumption you can make, the better. But at the very least you should have a rough idea how you are going to use the camera. The options are limitless, but the usual usage includes diving, skydiving, cycling, racing, surfing and all kinds of extreme sports.
Of course, you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie in order to make use of an action camera. You could use it for recording family time during summer vacation, not having to worry about whether children will dip in the water and ruin it.
These cameras are generally small, simple to use and rugged. Still, every camera is different, offering different specifications and while most of them offer similar features, each one puts focus and attention to one or two specific features over others. This is why you have inform yourself about how to choose the right camera for you. It may not seem that important now, but trust me, later you will be happy you took the time to learn and explore.
One of the most important things to watch for is battery life. How long can it record without needing to recharge is a very important factor to consider. Image yourself cycling through the woods, and just before you make an awesome jump, the battery dies.
Generally, decent action cameras will be able to record between one and three hours of uninterrupted footage. Manufacturers usually provide battery lifetime estimates as part of the specification listings, but those are not something you should firmly count on to be accurate. This is because results given by the manufacturers are produced in ideal conditions, which you probably won’t have on your trips.
Battery life depends on many factors. For example, if you’re recoding in 4K resolution that will significantly increase battery drain. Using Wi-Fi also reduces battery life. WiFi is mostly used to connect a smartphone to the camera in order to see a live video feed. There are cameras which have an integrated screen so you don’t have to use a smartphone. Weather conditions also have an impact on battery life, as temperatures below zero will surely drain your battery faster.
Some cameras come with fixed batteries which aren’t interchangeable, while other cameras have batteries which are easily replaceable. Removable batteries are always preferred, because this enables you to buy several packs of extra batteries and to replace them on site without needed to spend time recharging the camera.
Field of View
FOV or Field of View is a term used to describe how much of the scene the sensor is able to capture. Action cameras usually have a very wide field of view, in between 140 and 170 degrees. The FOV is sometimes at such a wide angle that it creates a barrel distortion at the edges of the frame – resulting in what is called the fish-eye effect. This effect sometimes gives an interesting feel to the video, while other times it may be undesired.
There are action cameras which record wide, but distortion-free video, providing a nice straight horizon. Most cameras however do suffer from barrel distortion but also give you an option to choose a narrower, “Standard” shooting mode, which crops the image along with the distorted edges.
It also possible to remove fish-eye effect using post-processing software. For example, GoPro’s editing software has a feature called “Remove Fish-Eye” which automatically removes distortion. Many other manufacturers offers similar software.
Waterproof body and housing
There is something exceedingly fun about being able to take photos and record videos underwater. Even if you are not a diver, rafter or a surfer, you might still want your camera waterproof. There are a lot of options for this with different action cameras.
Some cameras are just splash-proof, meaning they are resistant to water when it comes to rain or accidental water spills, short dives and similar occasions. Other cameras are waterproof to various degrees, depending on how long can it survive being submerged and how deep underwater it can go.
Furthermore, some action cameras are waterproof on their own, meaning they don’t need any additional equipment in forms of waterproof bags or external housing. Most action cameras are not completely waterproof without an external housing, which sometimes comes with the base package and other times needs to be purchased separately.
The point of an action camera is use it in action – fast, bumpy, dangerous circumstances such as those in extreme sports. But in order to really enjoy your adrenaline-fueled activities, you need have your hands free. That’s why action cameras are attached, or mounted on all kinds of different things. A lot of people mount their cameras on their helmets, which gives a nice First Person View. Sometimes they are also mounted on bicycles, motorcycles, boards, and so on. You get the picture. All of this means the camera has to be small and light enough, and be compatible with a wide range of flexible mounts.
GoPro is the most popular action camera and therefore has the largest collection of accessorices and mounts. Other manufacturers also cover the essential mounts, to different degrees. Many of them have their own official mounts but also feature a universal, or GoPro-ready camera mount.
A camera can be just that, a camera. But if you want, it can do a lot more. That is if you are willing to connect it with other accessories – and there are many. Vast majority of modern action cameras have built-in WiFi, some have Bluetooth too. The obvious connection is the one with a smartphone. Many cameras have optional, or mandatory connection with a smartphone (or a tablet). Smartphones, or more specifically, the manufacturers’ App, can be used to control your camera remotely. For example, you can change and adjust camera settings, watch a live feed of what the camera is recording, transfer video and edit them in-app.
Depending on the manufacturer and the amount of available pairable accessories, there are many more integration possibilities. You could connect your action camera to your smartwatch, and use the watch to control the camera. The same can be done with a range of other wearables, such as heart rate monitors, different sensors such as GPS and an altitude meter. Some manufacturers even provide a free smartphone application which automatically collects all this data and overlays it on your video. Image yourself on video, hurdling down the hill on your skies in a First Person View and simultaneously viewing your speed, distance, altitude, heart rate, G force and other data. Pretty cool, right?
Video and image quality
This is not a hard one. If you are an amateur and just want to record action videos for fun, show it off to your friends and maybe share it online via Youtube or Facebook, than you do not need a professional-grade Ultra HD camera recording at 100 Mbit/s bitrate. Those are for professionals recording commercial videos.
If you want an affordable action camera but still a solid photo and video quality, than look for one which can record at least Full HD 1080p video. But watch for frame rates too, if you want record slow-motion videos, you will need at least 60fps at 1080p.
One of the key points I want to make is; 4K is overrated. Unless you plan on playing the video on a huge screen which supports 4K, than there’s really little reason to record in 4K. In fact, it be would counter-productive, as 4K drains more battery, requires more processing power and effectively eliminates any chance of a slow motion video.
If you do want more than 1080p, we would recommend buying a camera which can record 2.7K video at 30fps or 60fps. The latter would give you extra frames for slow motion videos while still retaining very high resolution.
In any case, note that resolution is not everything when it comes to image quality. You should also check how the camera handles white balance, color reproduction, noise, dynamic range, barrel distortion, sharpness, etc.
If you are serious about photography and videography, also check for sensor size and availability of professional shooting modes where you would be able manually select ISO levels, shutter speed, exposure, white balance and similar settings.
If you are planning on using the camera in an environment which is unsecure, the camera might suffer an impact against the ground or other objects, than you should look for a high build quality, durable camera. These will usually be in the more expensive class of action cameras, although you could probably buy a special protective external housing for protection of less durable cameras.
In any case, unless your budget is very limited, avoid cameras with cheap plastic, unsecure doors and openings and too exposed lenses.
Also, if you think you are going to encounter extreme weather conditions, such as ice, snow, heavy rain, you should check if your camera can survive that. More often than note, manufacturers will specify exactly how deep can a camera dive or which temperatures, cold or warm, can it handle.
Image stabilization can come in two forms, it can be optical stabilization or software stabilization. Optical or hardware stabilization is more effective, though software stabilization can work well too.
Image stabilization is important because it ensures smooth, stable video footage. It compensates for bumps and vibrations. If you go cycling in the hills without image stabilization, you will have a very jerky video regardless of image quality. The camera picks up all vibration and it translates into shaky video.
Stabilization is important for taking still photos as well, enabling the camera to use slower shutter speeds, so that the sensor can gather more light in low light conditions.
Some action cameras have image stabilization while other don’t. For example, many of the Sony action cameras feature very good image stabilization while the GoPro does not.
Our most important advice would be to make sure you know what you need and what you are buying. Every action camera on this list has been tested and reviewed by us and we can guarantee that all of them are good choices when value for money is considered.
If you want to play it safe, go with a popular manufacturer and don’t be shy with money. However, if your budget is limited than you should look closely and decide which features and specifications are most important to you, because with budget cameras there are always compromises.
In any case, owning an action camera is a lot of fun, not to mention how useful it can be. In 2016 these cameras have reached a point where they can replace an average point-and-shoot camera. The unique features of action cameras such as their lightweight and weather-resistance only come as a bonus compared to traditional compacts.
Good luck and happy shooting!