Recent Comments

Action Camera buying guide

You’ve seen the YouTube videos — guys in flying squirrel suits slipping through cracks in a cliff, surfers braving mammoth waves, downhill mountain bikers biting the dust and so much more. Most videos like these are captured with small, durable, hands-free action-sports cameras that can be strapped to a helmet, surfboard, bike, etc.

These cams have become smaller and more powerful than ever and are capable of taking video good enough for professional movies and TV. Whether you’re looking to chronicle your troop’s trip to Philmont Scout Ranch or show off your skateboarding skills, an action cam is the ticket. The Gear Guy is here to fill you in on the stuff you need to know and the cameras you should consider.

gear-guide-bike-photo

What you need to know

Size and weight

Action cams are designed to be worn on a helmet or mounted to equipment, so size and weight are key. Go with the smallest, lightest model you can afford.

Field of view

Most action cams shoot wide-angle video. Just how wide is noted in degrees (for example, 160 degrees). The larger the number, the wider and larger the field of view and the more action you’ll be able to capture.

Video resolution/quality

In general, the better the video quality, the more expensive the camera. If you’ll just be watching your videos on your computer or smartphone, you Sony POV Camera Waterproofdon’t need a camera that captures super- high-quality video. Right now, 4K (or Ultra High Definition) is the highest resolution possible on an action cam. 1080p and 720p are considered high definition, and 480p is good enough for TV broadcast. So a cam with 720p or 480p should be plenty good enough for most of your needs.

Water-resistant and weatherproof

It’s important to pick a camera that can stand up to the weather. Some action cams are water-resistant on their own, while others require a special waterproof case called a “housing” to be waterproof. If you’ll just be in the rain and snow, one of the cams that doesn’t require an extra housing might be the best bet. If you’ll be shooting underwater, you need one with a waterproof housin

Video vs. still photos

Action cams specialize in shooting videos. Although they can also capture still photos, don’t expect super-high-quality images. The quality of photos is indicated by the number of megapixels (MP). In general, the more MP, the sharper and clearer the photos. If your main goal is to shoot photos, then you’re better off with
a traditional digital camera instead of an action video camera.

Mounting options

Think about how you’ll want to mount your camera. Going to be doing lots of mountain biking? Make sure you budget for an additional bike mount. go-pro-hero-3-mounting-gearSome cameras come with a couple of mounts, but additional ones cost extra. Of course, with a little imagination and a handful of zip ties, you can mount your camera to just about anything.

Battery life

Even the camera with the longest battery life will last only a few hours, so if you’re on a multiday backpacking trip, you’ll need to buy additional rechargeable batteries or a solar charging device.

Wi-Fi connectivity

Many action cams have Wi-Fi networking built in so you can easily zap your videos from your camera straight to YouTube, for example. Some let you control your camera from a smartphone.

Memory cards

All action cams record videos onto small removable memory cards. Most cams use tiny microSD cards, while some still use postage stamp–size SD cards. Either way, buy a couple of extra memory cards so you’ll have plenty of space for your videos. All cards are sized in gigabytes (GB). The higher the GB number, the more space you’ll have —
and the more expensive the card will be.

The gear

GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition

GoPro – HERO3+ Black Edition ($400; gopro.com)

There’s a reason you see all the best extreme athletes using this camera: It works really well. It has up to a 170-degree field of view with 4K, 1080p, plus 12 MP photos; has built-in Wi-Fi; and with its waterproof case, it can go to 131 feet deep. Weight: 2.6 ounces. The entry-level HERO3 White Edition ($200) with 1080p, 5 MP photos and built-in Wi-Fi is a great starter cam.

Check out GoPro footage


 

Garmin VIRB Elite

Garmin – VIRB Elite ($400; garmin.com)

The VIRB is slightly bigger and heavier than most, but it’s also probably the most full-featured cam here with some of the sharpest video. It has a 146-degree field of view, shoots 1080p video and 16 MP photos, and can capture both at the same time. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, an accelerometer, a barometric altimeter, and is waterproof to 3 feet without the case and to 150 feet with the case. Weight: 7.2 ounces.


 

Polaroid Cube

Polaroid – Cube ($100; polaroid.com)

The most affordable and smallest cam here, the Cube shoots 1080p with 6 MP photos while providing a 124-degree field of view. It’s waterproof to a depth of 6 feet, shockproof and has a built-in magnet that lets you attach it to anything metal. Weight: 1.7 ounces.


 

Sony POV Action Cam

Sony – POV Action Cam ($300; sony.com)

The POV Action Cam is one of the most compact and lightest here. With a 170-degree field of view, it records 1080p video plus 13.5 MP photos, and comes with built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. It’s also waterproof to 16 feet inside the case. Weight: 2.4 ounces.


 

JVC GC-XA2 Adixxion

JVC – GC-XA2 Adixxion ($300; adixxion.jvc.com)

One of the most durable cams here, the Adixxion is waterproof to 16 feet, dust- and freeze-resistant, and shockproof enough to handle a drop from 6.5 feet. It shoots 1080p video and 8 MP photos with a 160-degree field of view, plus it has a handy 1.5-inch color screen for reviewing your shots. Weight: 4.8 ounces.


 

iON Air Pro 3 Wi-FI

iON – Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi ($350; usa.ioncamera.com)

This sleek cam with a 160-degree field of view shoots 1080p video and 12 MP photos, has built-in Wi-Fi and is waterproof to 49 feet without a separate housing. Weight: 5 ounces. A stripped-down version, the iON Air Pro Wi-Fi Lite, is $200.


 

IronX DXG 5G9V HD

IronX – DXG 5G9V HD ($250; ironxcam.com)

One of the most affordable cams here, we saw this IronX camcorder on sale online for as low as $164. You get 1080p, 170-degree field of view, 5 MP photos, with a waterproof case that’s good down to 180 feet. Weight: 2.4 ounces.


 

Comparison chart

Model Manufacturer Wt. in(oz) Field of View Photo
Resolution
Water Resistance Included Mount
Options
Wi-Fi GPS Storage Price
HERO3+ Black Edition GoPro 2.6 170° 12 MP 131′ w/case Yes Yes  No MicroSD $400
VIRB Elite Garmin 7.2 146° 16 MP 3′; 150′ w/case Yes Yes Yes MicroSD $400
Cube Polaroid 1.7 124° 6 MP 6′ Magnetic No No MicroSD $100
POV Action Cam Sony 2.4 170° 13.5 MP 16′ w/case Adhesive Yes Yes Mem. StickMicro;MicroSd $300
GC-XA2 Adixxion JVC 4.8 160° 8 MP 16′ Yes No No SD $300
Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi iON 5.0 160° 12 MP 49′ Yes Yes No MicroSD $350
DXG 5G9V HD IronX 2.4 170° 5 MP 180′ w/case Yes No No MicroSD $250

16 Comments on Action Camera buying guide

  1. Check out the IronX cam listed above! It comes with a wrist-watch you can control it from. Also, you can buy (not included with camera package) an another wrist-watch were you can watch what you are capturing in real time! I have not seen an action cam with this feature.

    • Eagle11/13/14 // February 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm // Reply

      Actually, you can do this with the GoPro using the mobile app. You can see real time video/pictures, hit pause/record/stop, take a picture, or put a ‘bookmark’ in the video to mark somewhere you did something awesome that you want to be able to find easily.

  2. That One Anonymous Guy // November 2, 2014 at 10:41 am // Reply

    Obviously, when the thought of Polaroid comes in, one thinks of instant cameras. Polaroid had added a new line of action cameras, their most expensive $170-180.
    Some nice action cameras they made. Not thinking of Polaroid as some one who makes action cameras, it’s easy to see why it’s not on the list. Still, the Gear Guy should have added one of them!!

    • I use the polaroid cube as a hidden camera in my room! It is perfect for catching my little bro snooping around!

  3. go pros are the best camera yet for recording things. my school uses them for the rock band for the half time show at football games every Friday. then they upload them to You Tube.

  4. Fire Balls006 // October 22, 2014 at 7:32 am // Reply

    I really want this and my friend and me really really really want the Hero+3 Badly so I Hope I can win it!

  5. I love this camera because it can go under water I really really want this my friend really wants this so I really Hope I Get it!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. First Class Scout, Running and LeapingSix Point White Tail Deer Patrol, Troop 870 // October 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm // Reply

    Is there any camera that is good for use as a helmet camera for someone who is either canoeing or kayaking Class 5 White Water Rapids on the Colorado River or the Yellowstone River or the Columbia River or the Niagara River or the Potomac River and would like to photograph the action filled adventure of navigating the Class 5 White Water Rapids? Is there any action camera that has an f/x shutter speed that is so fast that it can photograph flying ducks, flying hummingbirds and flying yellow jacket wasps and flying paper wasps without the photograph becoming blurry or not a good photograph of flying birds or insects? Is there any really good action camera that has the resolution of a wildlife camera that is used by the biologists in our nearby parks and state forests and national forests to photograph wildlife around the clock (twenty-four hours a day using motion detectors) such as nocturnal animals such as owls, eastern brown bats, raccoons, opossums, eastern striped skunks and coyotes?

  7. The problem with monthly print media is that you’re always printing information a month out of date. GoPro has completely revamped their lineup with the addition of a cheap model.

    I also feel like you should have mentioned Monoprice’s offering. While they are no long beating GoPro’s prices for the camera, the mounts are much less expensive.

  8. What about the new Gopro Hero for $120?

    • GoPro Adventuering // October 21, 2014 at 5:55 pm // Reply

      Or even the GoPro 4. Expensive as it is, it wipes the floor with the competitition. It is the best camera out there, in my opinion, but if you’re to get any, get the 3+ black. Less expensive and the best look, aesthetically, and the most powerful. The new Hero, really, is not worth it because it can’t even come out of the case. Even the 2 is better. But that’s my opinion.

  9. i think those cameras were pretty cool. i espcially liked the waterproof camera because it can take pictures underwater.

  10. Idaho DH Biker // October 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm // Reply

    Upset to not see the Contour Roam 2 or Contour 2+ in this roundup. I use it for my biking edits and they turn out epic. Check the above cameras out before you go for any of the ones listed. **Contour’s have fantastic battery life and sound quality. I charged it twice during the national scout jamboree. The battery is that good!

    • GoPro Adventuring // October 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm // Reply

      I think it really depends on how often you use the camera. Plus, the camera isn’t as powerful with use in the water, and has gps and Bluetooth which really are not worth the money. It’s a camera. It’s barely keeping up with the rest of the pack, especially GoPro, and it looks like a mini flashlight.

      • Idaho DH Biker // November 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm //

        Have you seen the new Contour Roam 3? It is much better than a gopro if you consider battery life and video quality. Sound quality is much better as well. It is much less awkward on your helmet than a gopro and the colors are pretty rad. Trust me, I own a gopro as well. Plus you are just advertising for GoPro obviously, so you won’t listen to anything else. I will give you the fact that GoPro is better for resolution in the water. But you have to use the bulky case.

Leave a Reply

Please do not use your real name.

%d bloggers like this: