Action Cameras Overview

YouTube: People are Awesome Snow Edition

The age of the action camera hero is here. YouTube has exploded with amazing videos of amateur sports stars achieving super stardom that most can only dream of. I discovered on YouTube some videos under the title of “People are Awesome” where the footage produced, shot mostly using personal on-board action cameras, makes one want to go out there and try some crazy stuff.

These cameras have been designed to withstand some of the harshest environments and abuse that can be dealt out by aspiring sports superstars. Some of the considerations that needed to be addressed were shock, vibrations, dust, water, extreme heat and cold to name just a few.

YouTube: People Are Awesome YouTube : People Are Awesome

Manufacturers:

 

GoPro was one of the first and is probably most well-known of the camera manufacturers offering their Hero series action cameras whose revolutionary compact design opened the door for every person to create footage of themselves and others doing very cool stuff. Since then, many of the other mainstream manufactures such as Nikon, Sony and Drift have entered with their own versions namely the KeyMission, FDR and Ghost respectively.

These cameras traditionally are pretty expensive with the latest GoPro Hero 7 Black costing well over $400. These cameras are built to take a beating but I still find it hard to scratch and bash something that I have invested that much money into, but then again, that’s exactly what they have been designed for. There are a number of Chinese manufacturers that are entering the market with some more affordable units that will not break the bank. Yes these might not be 100% Hero 7 materials but if one is paying half the price and you are willing to accept some compromises such as branding then it might not be such a bad idea to look into.

Some of the top Chinese alternatives that are entering the market are:

  1. Xiaomi Yi Action Camera 4K
  2. DVR Action camera SJ4000
  3. Eken H9 / H9R Ultra HD 4K Action Camera
  4. GeeKam Action Camera

Traditional Chinese quality has often been labelled as questionable however these manufactures are making strong inroads in the market with some really positive reviews from customers.

Features:

 

With so many options available to customers, it could be a little difficult to know where to start. I was faced with this issue when I was looking to purchase my first action camera and I was very fortunate to have a friend that worked for a specialized photographic outlet who was able to guide me through the process.

 

Size & Shape:

 

The camera units themselves have all been focused on being as compact as possible with a balance between size and still being able to use the buttons and screens being a tough compromise to solve. Most of the size is actually taken up by the housing needed to reduce the shock to the electronics and to keep it dust & water tight.

There are 2 main designs types where GoPro & Nikon opting for a cube design and Sony & Drift offering a bullet shaped design. An interesting difference that is apparent from the start is that the cube design allows you to remove the camera electronics from the housing while the bullet design has an integrated electronics/housing design that requires considerable effort to separate the two should you need to. This does not mean that the cube design is automatically better as the older cube models do not come with an integrated screen as this needs to be purchased as and extra whereas most bullet shaped cameras include a screen on the side as part of the base unit.

There are some drawbacks in terms of size when comparing the bullet design to the cube. The cubes tend to be smaller and are less conspicuous when mounted facing forward, for instance in front of a motorcycle helmet rather than on top or on the side.

 

Memory Storage:

 

With size being one of the most important consideration, companies like SanDisc, Samsung and Kingston have developed a range of Micro SD cards that have huge storage capacities specially designed for action camera HD and 4k Video Storage. The smallest recommended Micro SD card is 64GB as anything smaller will leave you feeling frustrated with either having to constantly download the content to make space for new content or being forced to prematurely delete content in favour of freeing up storage space.

At the moment the Micro SD cards come in a few standard sizes with the prices starting at around $15 and ranging to around $250 however I did find a special on amazon where a 400GB SanDisc was being sold for $113. That being said, if you have a bit of time to play with then look out for the sales and you can save some money.

SanDiskKingston Micro SDSamsung

 

The sizes that are relevant to action camera storage are as follows:

  1. 64GB
  2. 128GB
  3. 256GB
  4. 400GB

Battery Life:

 

This is a little of a subjective point as it depends on a number of factors. Factors such as WiFi connectivity, temperature and display mode all influence the battery life of these cameras.

A number of manufactures have designed these cameras with removal batteries to allow for easy change out during shooting. So while this is not the best option when the camera is caked in mud, water and/or sand, it is substantially better option than having to plug the unit in and wait for the onboard battery to charge before it is ready for use again.

Unfortunately, GoPro has opted for an integrated battery system which in theory provides around 40 mins of continuous video shooting. This however, after 30 mins of continuous 4k recording, the battery starts to overheat and the unit needs to cool down before one can use it again. So while this integrated system has allowed GoPro to reduce its profile, it has added some side effects to the design too. Power banks are an easy way to recharge the units on the run to ensure that they are always ready to go when you are – here is how to calculate a power bank to suit your needs.

 

Connectivity:

 

The need for integration into other mobile devices can be seen in the development of all of these action cameras. As a standard, manufactures have designed these units with both WiFi and BlueTooth capabilities. The reason for this is to enable fast uploads and downloads along with adding some cool features such as wireless mics and so on into a fully integrated package.

Wireless controls are a great feature with cameras that are permanently mounted to a stable platforms but not necessarily accessible during shooting. The drawback of these wirelessly connected controllers is that it drains the battery and can lead to headaches with cameras not being available for extended periods as a result of depleted batteries.

 

~~Click Here if You Want to Know More About Gimbal Camera Stabilization~~

 

Mountings & Accessories:

 

Regardless of the brand that you purchase, as a standard, every manufacturer offers some basic mountings together with the basic unit when buying an action camera. This is an area where 3M Tapes have excelled as they supply the manufactures with bonding tape for their permanent mounts. The GoPro utilizes a finger joint system that is fastened in position using a screw with the Sony and Drift utilize the standard camera screw mounting.

 

~~Click Here to Learn More About Action Camera Tripods~~

 

There are a number of companies other than the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) that supply both mountings and conversion kits from one mounting to another. To illustrate some of the cool mounting possibilities, this is a picture of mounting devices that are used to fix action cameras to your beloved canine companion:Dog Harnese

 

I think its incredible how creative people have become and how many new exciting avenues have opened up. Here is an example of a video I found on YouTube shot using a GoPro while it is mounted on the back of a Labrador:

YouTube: Lap running to the Beach

Points to Remember:

 

So I am sure by now your mind is a swirl with all things electronic. There a few simple keys here in choosing an action camera that will add an awesome dimension to your holiday adventures namely:

  1. Separate the wants from the needs.
  2. Define your budget and what you are willing to compromise on.
  3. Brand names and higher prices do not always guarantee better results.
  4. Spend time learning about the features and capabilities from YouTube tutorials.

While learning a new skill can be frustrating at times, this is meant to be fun. So keep your expectations in check and enjoy the journey of making your own holiday adventure films.

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses

  1. Melo Ann says:

    Thanks for your post Richard. I am not an adrenaline junkie but I appreciate the research that went into this article. I think your advice can be applied to making any major electronic purchase. Considering things like size, manufacturer, storage capacity, battery life etc is something that I have never really done. My last camera purchase was a Sony Cybershot Dsc w800. I only purchased it because I liked the size, but after reading this I see there was a lot more to think about. Next time I will 🙂

    • Richard says:

      Hello Melo Ann,

      Unfortunately as technology progresses and becomes more complex in nature, our research into the differences between the various manufacturers also becomes more complex.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with going with a trusted brand like the Cybershot from Sony as this brand has been around for a very long time and has stood the test of time which says something already. However if one is looking to branch out from the tried and tested and experiment with new products or brands then you are very right in saying that there is alot more to it.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Rich

  2. Dale says:

    My son and I were talking about action cameras last night and he asked me to do a little research for him.  Hes the action person and Im the Google person.  Anyways most of his use would be winter sports.  Hockey, snow boarding and even ice fishing.  So the question on his mind is how long and how well these action cameras work in very cold temperatures.  I look forward to your answers as he wants to make a decision in a few days.

    • Richard says:

      Hello Dale,

      The battery capacity of these cameras is between 1,200 mAh and 1,500 mAh depending on the battery manufacturer and this should provide a theoretical battery endurance of around 1H30min. However this is measured under optimal ambient conditions and deviations from this will negatively affect the battery. In addition, using the GPS, Bluetooth controller and the screen function will all decrease the endurance of the battery.

      A practical tip it to place the battery or camera inside of your jacket during long periods where it is not in use to keep the battery warmer and to minimize the accessories not directly in use at the moment to increase battery endurance. The housings are well insulated from their environments so temperature will not really decrease the endurance during shorter periods of use.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Rich

  3. Shane Black says:

    Hi Richard, 

    Thanks so much for sharing this article on action cameras. I had been thinking for a while to purchase a GoPro but I have often baulked at the price. I think you’re right when you said that even though they are made to be beat up, you’d still be hesitant simply because of this price you pay. You provided some very interesting lower cost options which I will be taking a look at. 

    Thanks again, 

    Shane

    • Richard says:

      Hi Shane,

      One can understand why technology costs a lot especially when the components are of a very good quality. I would recommend that before you make your mind up that you have a look at the reviews posted by people that have bought the alternatives should you still have trouble parting ways with that much cash for one of the more main stream units. 

      You may be pleasantly surprised that 4K videos shot by yourself don’t necessarily need to be filmed on the most expensive option out there.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Rich

  4. Kit says:

    GoPro is the most popular and widely used around the world. sport action and travel bloggers choice is the GoPro. But Chinese made Xiaoyi can be the budget alternative. If you have the big budget, GoPro is best. Want to save money and not serious about cameras, get the alternatives.

    • Richard says:

      Hello Kit,

      Yes GoPro was one of the first and they really invested and continue to invest a lot into effectively marketing their product as, as you rightly said, they are definitely not the cheapest in the market place.

      I think that if customers are ever curious about the cheaper alternatives that they read some of the reviews for people who have actually bought the alternatives. You may be pleasantly surprised.

      Thanks for you comment.

      Rich

  5. Renton says:

    Great Post! I love the People Are Awesome videos. Its crazy to think that a few decades ago you had to stand still while your picture was taken. I am not surprised to see Xiomii on this list. My friend has a Xiomii phone and he loves it even though he was previously an Apple guy.

    If the phone is anything to go by the camera will be excellent. It is crazy to think how such delicate electronic components can be manufactured to be so robust.

    • Richard says:

      Hi Renton,

      I think the days of Chinese brands being automatically dismissed as inferior are long gone. These brands are often as good if not better than their western competitors at often a fraction of the cost. What I have seen from the motor industry and a number of others for that matter, is that the common components often roll off the same assembly line which means that just because you pay a premium for a certain brand, this does not always mean you get a superior product. 

      Thanks for your personal experience and I think the mainstream brands will really need to rethink their pricing structure when compared to some of the competitors in the market.

      Rich

  6. Jay says:

    It’s really amazing how creative people are. How technology has moved up in the past few years and is making us enjoy all the fun moments we experience in our lives and also been able to relive those moments. The Gopro mounted on the back of the Labrador is genius. I most certainly did not see that one coming.

    These electronics and gadgets that have been invented really makes an adventure to be well worth it. Although some of their prices may be overwhelming, it is really worth it. Thank God for the Chinese for trying to make cheaper models so people without the budget for the expensive ones can still have an alternative. 

    Well done with this post.  

    • Richard says:

      Hello Jay,

      I have been very impressed with the Chinese alternatives that people are giving great reviews for. They appear to be as good and sometimes better than their western counterparts. What you will probably find is that a lot of the common components will most likely be found in both the cheaper and more expensive brands with these coming from the same factory.

      It is very difficult to part ways with so much money but then again, after a holiday, the only things that remain are the memories and some video or photos. So that being said, what would you pay to relive the adventure.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Rich

  7. Taetske says:

    Good afternoon Richard,

    Great post on Action Cameras. I am surprised how cameras have evolved over the years. I still remember my Father in the 1950,s making photos of the family with a Voigtlander, you looked down from the top into the camera.

    You mention the different shapes there are. A cube design versus a bullet design. As these cameras are quite small I suppose that a bullet design being more aerodynamic does not make a real difference. 

    I can imagine how frustrating it must be while filming a really cool happening the battery gets hot, that same scene will never come back anymore. 

    I had a good laugh looking at Walter running down to the beach and disappear under water. I would like to try it with one of my cats but I already know they will not like it.

    Lots of information which will be very helpful chosing the right camera for the next adventure holiday.

    Regards, Taetske 

    • Richard says:

      Hello Taetske,

      As with all technology, when one looks at how it has progressed even over the last decade, I think one will be hard pressed to stop ones jaw from hitting the floor. 

      I am glad you enjoyed the video of Walter along with 17 million other people who viewed this video. 

      Thanks for the positive comment.

      Rich

  8. TYP says:

    Yes, more people are using action camera to take video of their own activities, be it indoor or outdoor. These possibilities were enabled due to technology improvement on our electronics gadgets.

    With widespread of internet connection and social media channels, we have more opportunities to discover new events and news around the world. More informed leads to more awareness and expectation.

    I have few GoPro products with me therefore I trust the quality and product performance of GoPro brand in the market. It is the brand which I would normally consider to purchase when come to selection.

    Nikon and Sony are two Japanese brands having good quality image in consumer mind for many years. I would propose you to get either one of them, if your usage is mainly indoor.

    • Richard says:

      Hello TYP,

      Thanks for your personal experience. I too have one of the main stream cameras manufactured by Drift and I must say that the performance is awesome. GoPro was the pioneer of this technology and one needs to give credit where it is due and they are a superb brand.

      For the guy with a small budget or one who wants to experiment with the cheaper options before committing to the sizable investment, it is good to know that there are more cost effective alternatives in the market that can be experimented with.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Rich

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