Which action camera is best?
Action cameras are capable of taking some of the most breathtaking footage you can capture, such as point-of-view shots of climbing a mountain, kayaking through rough waters or biking along a picturesque path. You can even strap one to your dog with a specialized harness to get adorable images of your furry pal chasing a ball.
GoPro was the first brand to sell action cameras commercially, and they’re still the best you can buy. Their number one offering is the GoPro Max. It offers 5.6K resolution recording and 1080p live-streaming, plus it can record 360-degree video and audio.
What to know before you buy an action camera
Action cameras’ biggest claim to fame is their durability. The best are built to withstand constant contact with the harshest possible conditions, but you need to spend several hundred dollars to get a camera with this level of durability. That said, even the cheapest models can withstand low drops and most direct impacts better than the average smartphone. Essentially, the more intense your sport is, the more research you should do about the durability of your prospective camera.
Action cameras have onboard data storage but rarely have enough to hold more than an hour of recording at best. Instead, most rely on using secure digital cards to save footage. When shopping for appropriate SD cards, make sure it’s compatible with your camera before purchasing. Keep in mind that higher resolutions take up more space, so buy SD cards with storage sizes to match.
Action cameras rarely come without some bundled items. Standard inclusions are replaceable or rechargeable batteries, SD cards, remote controls and carrying cases.
What to look for in a quality action camera
Image quality is given in terms of resolution and camera megapixels.
- Resolution: Most action cameras record with at least HD resolution, or 720p. Better models record in full HD or 4K — 1080p and 1440p, respectively. Basically, the higher the resolution of your camera, the more pixels will be used per frame, meaning it will look more crisp and detailed.
- Megapixels: Action cameras tend to have cameras with 8-16 megapixels. The more megapixels it has, the more detail can be captured.
Action cameras rarely record steady footage, making what you capture sometimes difficult to watch. However, better-quality cameras include automatic image stabilization to counteract this problem.
If your camera doesn’t have stabilization or has low-quality stabilization, you can always use video editing software on a computer to stabilize it.
Most action cameras have some degree of waterproofing, usually up to a maximum of 30 feet. Better cameras can be submerged up to 100 feet. You can also buy waterproof cases.
How much you can expect to spend on an action camera
Action cameras typically cost $100-$750. Cameras for less than $150 are perfect for casual use. Professionals will spend a minimum of $400 for the best but should look in the $200-$350 range if they want to save money.
Action camera FAQ
Why do I need an action camera if I have a good smartphone camera?
A. Though usually high-quality, modern smartphone cameras are contained within a fragile shell. This means your phone can’t resist the same rigors of high-energy activities that action cameras are designed to shrug off. A smartphone’s biggest weakness is minimal water resistance. However, even in situations without the risk of water, there’s still the likelihood of cracked screens and broken cases from being dropped or taking a hard hit.
Can footage be edited directly on the action camera?
A. Some have the ability, and others don’t. Those that allow the user to edit footage on the device tend only to offer the most basic editing abilities, such as trimming video length. However, some models have software to connect your computer to your camera so you can edit your footage on the device before transferring it to the computer or other storage. All that said, it is likely you will still need to transfer your footage to a computer eventually for proper editing to make it look professional.
What happens to my footage if I run out of storage while filming without noticing?
A. Most action cameras will automatically stop recording and make some sort of sound or flash an LED to indicate you’re out of storage space. Few, if any, will overwrite the oldest shot footage. You can avoid either scenario by making sure to start each recording session with a fresh, empty SD card.
What’s the best action camera to buy?
Top action camera
What you need to know: It’s among GoPro’s best cameras.
What you’ll love: It can record up to 5.6K resolution footage and live-stream footage in up to 1080p resolution. It captures footage at 30 frames per second and can take 360-degree footage and panoramic shots. It’s waterproof and comes with a case.
What you should consider: It may be too expensive for non-professionals. Some consumers had issues navigating and applying the settings they needed. Others had issues with the included software.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top action camera for the money
What you need to know: It’s perfect for hobbyists and occasional use.
What you’ll love: It’s among the most affordable action cameras that still have good resolution and features. It has a 170-degree viewing angle and is waterproof up to 100 feet. It also can be operated with the included wireless wrist remote. It comes with two rechargeable batteries.
What you should consider: A few customers were unhappy with the battery life. It doesn’t record in true 4K resolution, only interpolated 1080p to make it seem close to 4K.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: It’s among the most affordable 4K-capable action cameras.
What you’ll love: It can record footage in up to 4K resolution at up to 60 fps or take still images with a 16-megapixel camera. It can take time-lapse and slow-motion footage and includes a wireless wrist controller. It’s also waterproof up to 100 feet.
What you should consider: Its resolution isn’t as good as some similarly priced cameras, and it isn’t compatible with Mac hardware and software.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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