Ready to record YouTube-worthy video on your outdoor adventure? Here’s what you need to know before you buy an action camera.
ALL ABOUT ACTION CAMERAS
An action camera is a lightweight, hands-free digital video camera capable of producing high-quality, wide-angle video in almost any outdoor environment. That means it must be impact-resistant, dust-proof and waterproof, and must operate in a wide range of temperatures.
When shopping, consider how the camera’s size and shape work with how you intend to use it, including where it will be mounted or carried, whether it has to fit into a confined space, whether you can see the cam during operation (you can’t if it’s on your helmet) and your desired angle of view.
FEATURES AND ACCESSORIES
VIEWFINDER OR LCD SCREEN: Compact action cams often lack a viewfinder or an LCD screen. If you want a camera with a built-in screen, make sure it’s bright and clear enough for easy viewing in sunshine or underwater. Similarly, good audio quality is rare, although some high-end models have an external microphone jack.
WI-FI CAPABILITY: Wi-Fi capability enables the easy upload of video to a computer or the internet, live streaming, some accessory apps and shooting remotely via smartphone. This last feature is useful when using an action cam that lacks an LCD screen for playback.
BATTERY LIFE: Even the camera with the longest battery life will last only a few hours, so if you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip, you’ll need to buy additional rechargeable batteries or a solar charging device. Keep in mind that battery life between charges is shortened by shooting at higher resolution (especially 4K) and frame rates, having Wi-Fi turned on and temperatures well below freezing.
ACCESSORIES AND MOUNTS: Look beyond camera models to each brand’s entire line of products and accessories, including third-party accessories. GoPro has the largest reach in that area.
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: In general, the better the video quality, the more expensive the camera. Right now, 4K is the highest resolution possible on an action cam. 1080p and 720p are considered high definition.
WATER-RESISTANT AND WATERPROOF: 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 housing.
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.
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.