Breathtaking images, fast action and crazy slow motion: that and much, much more we connect with the action cameras, such as the models from GoPro.
But these are no longer alone on the market, as it was years ago: on the contrary. Today there is more than one GoPro alternative – and we have compared them for you!
Often, it does not have to be the most expensive model. Maybe the cheaper alternatives will fit better to you. These, in many cases, offer very similar or better performance and is definitely worth a look.
Whether during diving, snowboarding, BMX riding or paragliding, there are no limits in the field of application for action cameras. But, even for the normal use, the action camera is now a good alternative.
Comparison table of the best action cameras for 2019
- 1 Comparison table of the best action cameras for 2019
- 2 How does an action camera functions?
- 3 What types of action cameras are there?
- 4 Mounting an action camera
- 5 The use of the action cam
- 6 How we tested the action cameras
- 7 What features should I pay attention to when buying an action camera?
- 8 Top 5 action cam manufacturers
- 9 The best action camera
- 10 Internet vs. retail: where it is best to buy an action camera?
How does an action camera functions?
Action cams are designed to record the actions of extreme athletes from their perspective. For this reason, action cams are very small and very light. To be able to cope with rapid movements, blazing speeds, fast changes of direction and often changing lighting conditions, these cameras are packed with the latest technology in order to be able to deliver effective and high-quality recordings.
Although action cams have already found interest in the masses, conventional camcorders are still significantly better, if recordings of family celebrations or holiday pictures to be made.
What types of action cameras are there?
Action cameras, basically, belong to the category of compact cameras. However, these extremely small and lightweight cameras are of a very special kind. Through their use in action, as the name implies, these cameras have to cope with fast, often jerky movements, changes of direction and changing light conditions, to deliver high-quality recordings.
Action cams are built like sports cameras but are equipped with a larger feature set, with which they can be used for many different purposes.
Mounting an action camera
Action cams can be used, basically, for any extreme sports, motor sports and water sports. Because they are intended to provide shots from the user’s point of view, there are special mounting modules, with which they can be fixed in any possible way.
In addition to holders for solid objects, such as bicycles, motorcycles, cars and motorboats, there are several fastening straps for the body. The camera can be attached to the body, on the helmet, on the head with a headband or on the body parts such as shoulders, arms or wrists.
Since the action cam, by the movements of the body or the corresponding driving, is often exposed to shocks or jerky movements, most action cams have the image stabilisers.
A high level of functionality thanks to the latest technology
In order to achieve a good image quality, a good action camera is equipped with the latest technology. One of the most important aspects of good-quality action shots is a high resolution. Another important point is the frame rate. Someone can assume, that action cams can bring good shots at a frame rate of 25 frames per second. A really good camera has a frame rate of 60fps. Some cameras provide even 120fps, thus providing very good slow motion shots.
Almost all offered action cams are at least splash-proof and waterproof to one or more meters of depth. For non-waterproof, an additional housing is either included or optional. Depending on the camera, depths of up to 60 meters can thus be achieved.
In addition, an action cam must have a wide angle of view. Some cameras are equipped with swivelling lenses.
Since the audio quality in many action cams is not very good, additional external microphones are offered depending on the model. For this purpose, the respective camera is equipped with a microphone input, which is placed under a waterproof, sealable flap.
The use of the action camIf the camera is attached out of the reach or view obscured, it is often difficult to change settings while shooting. For this reason, most action cams are WiFi-enabled, some have bluetooth.
A problem occurs, however, when extreme athletes such as climbers, travelling in the mountains or kayakers on a lonely river are outside of Wi-Fi networks. Another requirement is of course that the user has a smartphone.
Other models are equipped with a remote control, with which the camera independently from the Internet can be controlled.
Differences in operation and quality
Depending on the manufacturer, the action cameras, of course, differ by their quality. There are very small and lightweight cameras, on which you look and think, how high the quality can it have. These cameras can not unite quality with the usefulness and effectiveness.
One of the really lightweight action cameras is the GoPro Hero4. This is, from the technical know-how and equipment, one of the best action cameras, currently on the market.
Depending on the model, the cameras are equipped with a different number of control buttons, with which the adjustments are made. When the camera is attached, for example, to the helmet, or to the hood of the car, the presetting becomes inaccessible during shooting.
For this reason, most action cameras are equipped with WiFi or Bluetooth. To be able to operate the camera during shooting, using the apps, offered by the manufacturer, by WiFi and a smartphone. However, this implies the presence of a smartphone.
As the GoPro Hero4 is the only camera with a touch screen, the settings on it can be adjusted via the touch display. This camera also has WiFi and Bluetooth, so that it can be accessed with the smartphone while recording.
Differences in features and equipment
The different models of action cameras differ significantly by the installed features. Depending on the manufacturer, it can be done more with one camera, less with the other.
Even the apps offered by the manufacturers differ in their features. Common to all is that videos can be edited, depending on the program cut, tagged or a soundtrack can be added.
Almost all models are at least splashproof. Also, many action cameras are waterproof to one or more meters of depth. However, since the action cameras are used by divers or snorkelers, an additional housing, which allows you to dive to a depth from 30 to 60 meters, can be ordered.
Also, in the area of lenses, there are major differences. Almost all models are now equipped with an integrated wide-angle lens. In addition, on some cameras, the angle can be changed.
Especially with the accessories, there are major differences. Here, depending on the manufacturer, just a few elements, related to attachment modules, are added to the scope of supply. Special fittings must be purchased additionally. However, the category of accessories is so well equipped that with any camera any type of mounting is obtainable.
How we tested the action camerasAction cameras do not have any long past. The first was developed in 2004 by the American surfer Nick Woodman, who founded the company GoPro in these years.
By now, the number of manufacturers and, above all, their models are incalculable. To compare the quality and features, series of tests with several models were conducted. We also wanted to know who, on the market of action cameras, deserve the title “the best”.
Small yet excellent
The smaller and the lighter the action camera is, the easier it can be used, especially in extreme sports. For mounting on head or helmet, the camera must be very light.
But will it, at the same time, be able to deliver enough good shots? So, the main focus of our tests was on the image quality.
First, we have made a test run, using the camera in a peaceful environment, to later compare them with photos in action. Then the cameras were used by direct purpose. Mounting on the helmet when cycling and motorcycling, on the hood of a car, on the shoulder when climbing the wall, etc.
During the action, the cameras had to prove that they, in spite of rapid changes in direction, fast speed, are able to deliver well-focused, razor sharp images. Extreme movements, such as evasive manoeuvres with bike or motorcycle or falls from the climbing wall, were just a part of the intended action.
Only with a correspondingly high resolution and appropriate frame rate, action cameras are able to deliver good shots under these circumstances.
In addition, another important point is the image stabilisation. Many tested cameras can not withstand specifically this point.
Test criteria were the buttons or devices for switching on and off the camera. These must be so suitable and sensitive, that they can be operated even without direct vision, and with gloves.
Since, after mounting and position setting, the settings can not be changed during the recording, in many cameras, our focus was also on an integrated WiFi and Bluetooth, and a remote control.
When WiFi is integrated, the camera can be controlled remotely with a smartphone via an app. Furthermore, the apps allow editing the videos, to cut or to add music.
Almost all models of our test series are marked by the manufacturer as waterproof up to 1 meter of depth. Since divers also use the action cams, we wanted to know whether the optional and supplied additional housing keep what they promise. Since an additional coating comes before the lens, our main focus here was also on the image quality.
The scope of delivery and accessories are also very important points. To adjust a camera to the individual requirements, related accessories must be available. This refers mainly to mounting modules. A climber needs other fasteners than a motorcyclist or boater. In this area rather big differences exist from one manufacturer to another.
What features should I pay attention to when buying an action camera?Action cams are functional minimalists. They are accordingly adjusted to the benefit of design and operation and do not have innumerable buttons for fine adjustment.
It has to be robust, waterproof and dirt-resistant because under certain circumstances they must withstand harsh conditions.
Nevertheless, various functions are very important for an action camera to deliver good and lifelike pictures.
The ease of use
One of the most important aspects of an action camera is its usability. There are cases when the camera is mounted in such a way that it is impossible to access the settings while recording. In this regard, the camera should have WiFi or Bluetooth, or at least a remote control. With a Wi-Fi access the camera, with the appropriate manufacturer’s app, can be controlled remotely from a smartphone. Thus, at the same time, a display is present, with which the changes can be controlled.
By now, most manufacturers have taken as a standard to equip their action cams with a wide-angle lens, so that shots from all angles are possible. Additionally, some models are equipped with an adjustable or rotatable lens, thus permitting to always keep the camera horizontally.
The technical features
An action camera lives and dies with the resolution. Only when it is high enough, shots appear in good quality. As many pictures are taken in rapid movement, to a good image quality also a quite high frame rate is required. This starts at around 25 fps. Actually, at 60 frames per second good shots are created, even with rapid movements. If the number of frames is 120fps, good slow motion shots are possible.
Not every action cam has replaceable batteries. If the battery life is long enough, that’s not so bad. An action cam with interchangeable batteries is better. It eliminates the likelihood that the battery will empty and will need to be charged again in the middle of an exciting session. The lifetime of the batteries varies, depending on the manufacturer, as well as the power of the batteries.
A tested by us device by Contour has a permanently installed battery with a very long lifetime. Customer reviews state that they never managed to empty the battery completely. Besides, the manufacturer promises that this battery has “eternal” life.
When buying an action cam, you should always check whether the scope of delivery or at least the accessory dealers have the appropriate mounting modules, for individual uses of the camera. Usually, the scope of delivery of the action cameras contains only the most necessary fasteners. Special mounts can be ordered optionally as an accessory for an additional charge.
Action cameras are packed with the latest technology since they must be small and lightweight because of their intended use. So, everyone can imagine that these cameras, like all photo products, have their price.
However, the price difference even with these devices is huge. Since differences of 100 pounds can ever occur between one or the other model (manufacturer).
As with other products, in the area of action cameras, expensive does not equal good. Before purchase, you should conduct extensive price comparisons to weigh the costs and benefits.
The cheap Xiaomi cam with the price of 55 pounds is not really inferior to more expensive models in its performance and features. In some functions, the Xiaomi camera is even superior to its competitors.
Even by weight the higher-priced cameras are losing, because the Xiaomi camera weighs a shocking 72 grams, the GoPro Hero4, for example, weighs 83 grams.
The shape of the cheap camera is better designed to handle.
An extensive price comparison in accordance with the features, equipment and especially the expected individual advantages will make it easier to make the right choice with respect to the price-performance ratio.
The individual advantages
A climber, certainly, has different demands on an action camera, then a mountain biker. It must be robust and shock-proof as far as possible, for the first, and must contain some more technology, for the second.
Our winner is one of the higher-priced devices with a purchase price of approximately 260 pounds. This camera, the only one from the GoPro series, has a touch screen, which allows a quick and easy operation. Cheaper models mostly have no display. But almost all tested action cameras are equipped with WiFi so that they can be controlled, in conjunction with the corresponding manufacturer’s app, from a smartphone. In this way, the camera receives a display.
Furthermore, the higher-priced devices are mostly waterproof to greater depths of up to 40 meters. For cheaper units, additional housings are offered for water resistance.
Another reason not to pay attention to the price, but to the benefits, applies to water sports enthusiasts. For canoeists and rafting fans, the camera should be at least splashproof. Some of the cheaper action cams meet this requirement.
The devices of our test series, as different as they are in pricing, all equipped with a resolution of 1080p. Differences lie, regardless of the price level, in the image quality. While the two devices with a price of about 300 and 60 pounds are equipped with a photo quality of 12 MP, the unit from Sony has the highest value of 18.9 MP at a price of about 320 pounds. The other two units for 140 and 60 pounds have 5 MP and 16 MP respectively.
In this case, an extensive comparison, with the other required features in addition to the photo quality, must take place in order to make the right choice.
Top 5 action cam manufacturersAlmost every manufacturer in the field of photo technology, which thinks highly of itself, produces action cameras. In the category of camcorders, all of them are represented on the market for many years with lots of different models.
Action cams, however, do not have a very long past. The first action camera came to the market only in 2004 and emerged from the idea of an American wave rider. In the meantime, quite a few different models came in the trade.
We have tested several action cameras, with the aim to find out which manufacturers are able to deliver functional devices.
The mother of all action cameras
The company GoPro must be regarded as the mother of all action cameras because the founder of this company Nick Woodman first had the idea about a camera that can deliver shots from the user’s point of view. The first camera of its kind was sewn into a self-sewn strap. Justifiably can be said here that this company has the greatest experience in the area of action cameras. Accordingly, the cameras of this forge are of high quality, functional and always equipped with a good price-performance ratio.
Sony is at the forefront of the market worldwide in regard to electrical appliances and consumer electronics. Is it any wonder that this manufacturer, in addition to ordinary photo cameras and camcorders, has entered in the action cameras branch. With many years of experience in the category of photo equipment, this manufacturer is able to supply functional and equipped with high-quality technology action cameras. Joined the mid-priced segment, the action cameras from Sony meet the demands of users.
Originated from the idea of two skiers
The idea of action camera from Contour was born shortly after Nick Woodman from GoPro began to develop the first action camera. Two American students, who were avid skiers, had tried to record their descents with an ordinary camcorder. However, it is difficult to hold a camera together with the sticks. As a result, they developed the first helmet camera. After the first prototype, further developed models emerged in the years thereafter. Meanwhile, Contour has released a large number of models on the market and has the experience to compete among the top 10 in the world.
It is really hard to find something about the Qumox company. The action cameras by Qumox, however, are selling like hot cakes. For example, the Qumox SJ4000 for many weeks is on the Amazon’s best sellers list in the action cameras category.
Why? Because the price-performance ratio is great. The cameras from this manufacturer are really minimalist, yet feature all the important details, so that the buyers are generally surprised by the value this action cameras show.
The GoPro competitor
Last year, the Chinese company Xiaomi received the title of the world’s largest startup, shifting from a leading position even taxi service Uber. Under not less loud headlines appear also flagship smartphones of the manufacturer, which are called “iPhone killers”. Despite the fact that such epithets cause at least a smile, there is some truth in this, as in China, smartphones and tablets of the company are selling better than the apple ones.
In early 2015 the company began to develop a new for itself niche of action cameras, releasing Xiaomi Yi. After that, journalists of technical publishings, as expected, began to make up stories on the subject of killing GoPro cameras. What are the chances of Xiaomi Yi to compete with the GoPro cameras and what the Chinese novelty represents, read in our detailed review.
The best action cameraThe use of action cameras gives action-packed sports new wind and makes this an unforgettable experience. With the new technology, it is possible to record fast yet high-resolution motion.
Unique images, such as, in flight or at stunning locations, can be recorded in the best possible quality. This makes it feasible to comprehend a hill skiing or a parachute jump, without ever having experienced these activities by yourself.
However, this magic can quickly lose importance if the recording quality is too low, the operation is too complex, or the accessories do not comply with what was promised.
Before you buy a new action camera, you should know which camera is suitable for your applications and requirements. We have tested several models and picked the best 3, which we are happy to present you.
Internet vs. retail: where it is best to buy an action camera?The price difference in the action cameras category is huge. When making a purchase, the price difference of even up to 100 pounds can occur between individual manufacturers and their models. In this regard, it is very important to make a comprehensive comparison of price and performance before buying.
Another option to avoid expensive purchases, to pay attention to offers and bargains. So, in addition to price comparison also a seller comparison should be made.
Retail or Internet – what are the advantages?
A potential buyer has two options where he can buy his camera. On the one hand, according to the conventional method in the established stores, on the other hand in an online store.
Both methods have their pros and cons from the perspective of the buyer.
Purchasing from a retailer
Anyone opting for purchase in stores certainly sees the advantage of a personal consultation, the assessment of the selected device and the immediate availability.
These are good reasons, especially the immediate availability of the camera when the shooting project is near. However, to find the right model, you will need to visit several shops to make a certain comparison. The dealer stores usually offer products from a certain manufacturer, so they may not have the desired device.
To get the right action cam in stores, the time spent for it must also be considered. In order to visit several shops, a half-day may sometimes be needed.
Buying on the Internet
To start with the last point again, it can be said, a purchase on the Internet is much more convenient. The selection, the comparison can be made quickly and easily from your desktop. During an online purchase, you can select between all manufacturers and all models. The Internet offers detailed reviews of all currently available models.
Once you have decided on a model, before ordering, you can read several more reviews for certainty. These are all points that are not available in stores.
Although, there is no immediate availability, in the case of purchase from an online store, but the delivery times of online merchants are moderate with an average of 3 to 7 days. For products in stock, the same day shipping is available.
However, upon receipt of the goods, the packaging should be checked for damage, to be able to use subsequent claim for compensation.
For someone buying an action camera at the retailer may still be the better alternative. The market share of the online shops, however, show that more and more customers prefer the advantages of online purchase. Certainly, one of the main reasons is that the order can be made comfortably from home.
Furthermore, it is indisputable that the selection on the Internet is significantly greater than in stores.