Ever since GoPro launched, the action camera market has heated up. GoPro still rules, but Sony, Polaroid, JVC, Xiaomi, and many others produce competitors now. It’s not surprising. Come on; everyone wants an action camera after watching breath-taking GoPro videos.
From adventure sports like deep-sea diving and paragliding to regular activities like mountain biking and snowboarding, these devices are brilliant for capturing any action. But with all these choices, you need to figure out which gizmo is best for your needs. Heck, Shay thinks you don’t need a new GoPro at all!
So whether you’re new to the world of action cameras or have already owned a few, let’s figure out what you should buy.
Under $100 (For First-Timers)
If this is the first time you are going to buy an action camera, don’t go all out and buy a top-of-the-line GoPro. Instead, start with a budget device and figure out how you use it. Then later, once you have a handle on your needs, purchase the right GoPro. Remember, action cams aren’t just about extreme sports.
For starters, know that none of the cameras in this range are waterproof. At best, they’re splash proof — which means they can take a spill of liquid or light rain. But forget about using these in heavy rain or underwater.
SJCAM SJ4000: SJCAM isn’t a big brand, but it gives you a taste of the GoPro lifestyle on a budget. It can record 1080p Full HD video at 30fps (frames per second) or 720p HD video at 60fps, which you can transfer to other devices via Wi-Fi.
For less than $90, you also get a waterproof casing for the action cam, as well as two extra batteries.
Yi Action Camera: Yi is made by Xiaomi, which makes smartphones with fantastic hardware for cheap. And the same philosophy translates to Yi, an action camera with a 16MP sensor that records 1080p Full HD video at 60fps, 720p HD video at 120fps, or WVGA video at 240fps.
And you know what that means? You can shoot slow-motion videos on this! Unfortunately, the price does not include a waterproof case, and you’ll have to shell out an additional $30 for that.
Under $200 (For a Balanced Purchase)
If your budget extends above $100, then your options narrow to either the Sony HDR AS15 or the two tiny cute action cams, Polaroid Cube+ and GoPro Hero Session.
Sony HDR AS15: This action cam is pretty old, which is why it’s available at this price now. You get Full HD video at 30fps or HD video at 120fps.
Since it’s a Sony, you get a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, known for its clarity and focus. Plus, at 90 grams, it’s super light too. It’s a good “POV” camera, for action sports enthusiasts who want to mount it on their bike or snowboard. You’ll need to get a separate waterproof housing (about $30) if you’re going underwater, though.
GoPro Hero Session: There isn’t a huge difference between the Polaroid Cube+ and the GoPro Hero Session, with one exception: the Hero Session is waterproof up to 10 meters, while the Cube requires a housing.
But almost every reviewer agrees that the GoPro is the way to go. The reasoning is that since it’s a GoPro, you’ll be able to use other GoPro or standardized action mounts and peripherals for it, unlike with the Polaroid that needs proprietary Polaroid accessories. Also, the Hero’s casing makes it waterproof to many further depths. Overall, the Hero is a great first step into the GoPro world. Read our full Hero4 Session review to know more.
Since this article was published, GoPro has released a new version, the GoPro Hero 6 Black.
Under $300 (The First Step Into GoPro)
At a budget of $300, it’s safe to assume that this is your second action camera. There are cheaper options for your first camera, as you can see above, so this level isn’t advisable for someone who has never had an action cam before.
Sony HDR AS100V: The Sony HDR AS100V looks exactly like the AS15, but it is renowned for capturing audio better than any other action cam out there. So if you’re looking to shoot video while giving running commentary (literally), or record videos with music (like at a concert), then the AS100V will probably serve you better than any other action cam.
Sony has since launched an updated version, the AS200V, which has pretty much the same specs except for better image stabilization.
GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition: For my money, the GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition is the perfect action cam for anyone with a budget of $300. Yes, the Hero3+ is last year’s model, but it’s still fantastic.
The standard housing is waterproof up to 40 meters, so feel free to go diving with this one. It’s compatible with all GoPro mounts and accessories, records 1080p Full HD video at 60fps, and has better low-light video capture than any other camera except for the GoPro Hero4 series.
Above $300 (The Best You Can Buy)
Let’s not kid ourselves. The GoPro is the most rugged action camera around and used almost exclusively by most adventure sports professionals. Heck, it has been used to record everything from Felix Baumgartner’s historic stratosphere jump to this underwater GoPro torpedo. If you’re spending anything more than $300, get yourself a GoPro.
GoPro Hero4 Silver: Every single tech publication (including Wirecutter, Engadget, Gizmodo, TechRadar, Recode, CNET, and more) agrees that this is the best action camera you can buy. It records the sharpest videos and has the best color reproduction. The touchscreen makes a big difference in how you check what you’ve shot.
Still image photography is excellent while moving, while in cold climates, and while underwater. And the built-in “SuperView” tech gives a much wider field of view, by stretching a 4:3 capture to the size of a 16:9 image on playback (megapixels explained). The only flaw, if any, is its audio recording where it is beaten only by the Sony AS100/AS200.
Other Options to Consider
GoPro Hero4 Black: The big brother of the Hero4 Silver edition, the big upgrade here is that you get 4K video recording at 30fps and 720p video at 240fps for awesome slow-motion shots. But there’s no touchscreen, which many consider a deal-breaker.
360Fly: The 360Fly is the first (and so far the only) 360-degree video action camera. It’s waterproof up to 10 meters, dustproof, shockproof, and records a full 360 degrees of video around it.
You could use that for YouTube or Facebook’s 360-degree videos and impress your friends! The $399 version shoots Full HD, while the $499 version shoots up to 4K.
Yi 4K Action Camera: The Yi 4K action camera just launched, so there aren’t many reviews from credible organizations. But it does pack all of the features of the Hero4 Black at a fraction of the price and throws in a touchscreen too. Super tempting, isn’t it? If you try it out, do let us know what you think about it in the comments below.
Which Action Cam Do You Like?
Modern smartphones are fantastic cameras. Before you plonk down your hard-earned cash for an action cam, know that based on their needs, some people can even use an iPhone as a GoPro action cam.
That said, it would be disingenuous to call a smartphone as a replacement for an action cam.
So after looking at the above options, which model are you likely to buy and why? Do you already use a GoPro or something else? Let’s talk action cams in the comments!