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Best Action Camera: A Beginners Guide to Buying A Wearable Action Camera

Best Action Camera
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

If you consider yourself to be quite the thrill seeker, then it goes without saying that you also want to record and capture those adrenaline-pumping moments so you can experience them again and again. Conventional cameras just don’t give you the freedom that action cameras can.

A wearable action camera provides you that freedom to record the action while still being in the moment. Whether you enjoy biking, hunting, skiing or surfing, an action camera will allow you to immerse yourself in the experience without the interference of a camera.

In this post, you will learn how to choose the best action camera and we’ll also highlight a number of products that might be worthy of your money.

Why It’s Worth Investing in A Wearable Action Camera?

Over the years, action cameras have gained a lot of popularity, especially within the extreme sports community, and for good reasons.

Wearable Action Camera

If you are still on the fence whether to buy an action camera or not, we have laid out below the top reasons why this equipment is worth the investment.

  • Hands-free: perhaps the most obvious benefit of using an action camera is that it frees your hands for more pressing matters like making sure you land that trick or conquer a slope.
    It’s a fact that most activities like skiing, biking, skateboarding and more require you to use your two hands. With that said, it’s also a matter of safety because most extreme activities require you to focus and use both hands in order to ensure safety.
  • Eyes-free: action cameras don’t just free your hands but your eyes as well. Instead of staring at a screen or lens, you get to follow the action with your eyes instead of making sure you get great footage. The camera looks wherever you look so you won’t miss any of the action. Basically, the camera focuses on whatever the user focuses on.
  • Light, portable and wearable: action cameras are designed around the idea that they should be small, light and portable. In other words, they need to be as non-intrusive as possible. They need to feel like you’re not even wearing them.
  • Capture moments in high definition: many action cameras nowadays allow you to capture footage in high definition. Depending on your budget, you can even get a camera that shoot ultra HD quality videos. And it’s all made possible by such a portable and convenient equipment.
  • Resistant in tough conditions: action cameras are designed to be used by people who are engaged in activities that are done in harsh outdoor environments.
    Your conventional camera will surely break or malfunction when exposed to weather conditions like snow, rain and even underwater. Action cameras are shock-resistant, water-resistant and extremely tough, making them highly suitable for all types of extreme activities.
  • Digital: of course, using an action camera allows you to save your footage digitally. Not only do you have a small, lightweight recording device with you, it can also store gigabytes of data that you can easily edit and share. Just hook up the device to a computer or remove the storage card to retrieve your footage.

For anyone who’s engaged in extreme or sporting activities and want to capture their exciting moments, an action camera is pretty much an essential if you wish to capture everything in first-person.

Features to Look for

So now that you are convinced to buy an action camera, how exactly do you choose one? Lucky for you, we have a brief guide that will help you determine the factors and features needed when buying an action camera. Consider these features when you are buying an action camera:

Video quality

You don’t buy an action camera for the sake of owning one. One crucial factor to consider in this regard is the video quality or resolution. As of this writing, the highest video quality that you can get from an action camera is 4k resolution which is offered by most high-end models. Lower resolutions include 1080p and 720p.

Action Camera video

So which video quality is right for you? Well, it all depends on what you will be using the camera for and which output devices you’ll be using to view your footage. For example, if you don’t own a 4k-capable monitor or TV, you might want to pass on getting a 4k resolution camera.

Size, shape and weight

Some camera shapes are more suited to certain activities when compared to others. Most action cameras are box-shaped which makes them suitable for mounting on the user’s chest.

Some cameras feature a bullet-shaped design which most folks use for helmet mounting. For the size and weight, you will want the smallest and lightest your money can buy for maximum portability.

Durability

If you are looking to use the camera in snow, rain and underwater, you should look for a model with features like “weatherproof” and “waterproof.”

There are action cameras that are completely resistant to water while there are models that require a waterproof case. Again, you will want to evaluate your intended usage for the camera.

Field of view (FOV)

Basically, FOV is the area that your camera can cover in any given moment. In general, action cameras have a wide-angle FOV but there are models that allow you to change the FOV to wide, medium and narrow.

Action Camera Field of view

The camera’s FOV may not be the most important feature to consider but keep in mind that wide-angle shots can in times look distorted and have that fisheye effect.

Image quality

In case you don’t know, your action camera can take photos as well. If you’re aiming to use your camera for taking still photos, you should also consider its image quality. The higher the megapixels, the higher the image resolution.

Battery life

Most action cameras in the market can offer one to three hours of battery life before the battery runs out. Obviously, this will depend on the usage. If you’re shooting ultra HD videos, expect the battery to run out sooner.

Using connectivity features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will also contribute to faster draining of the battery. Of course, you will want a model with the longest battery life but they tend to be more expensive. If longer battery life is out of the question, make sure that you can easily buy affordable spare batteries.

Connectivity

Ideally, you want an action camera that you can easily hook up to a computer or smartphone for transferring footage.

Action camera in the hand

Many cameras don’t have a screen for preview and playback, so connectivity is a must. In this regard, connectivity also refers to features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features.

Memory

Memory is very important because it determines the performance that you can get out of your camera. A slow memory card with not enough read speed can lead to problems like dropped frames and jerky footage. At the minimum, go for a class 10 card. Preferably, go for a camera that supports the UHS-II standard for faster read speeds.

Accessories

Depending on the activity that you’re planning to use the camera in, you might need the proper accessories.

Action Camera Accessories

For example, the right mount is needed if you need a camera for surfing which will be attached on the surfboard. Before buying, make sure that the brand offers additional accessories that is relevant to your intended activity. If not, check for third-party accessories that’s compatible with your prospective camera.

Take into account these features above, read reviews and feedbacks and most of all, do a thorough research. If you do all these, you should end up an action camera that best fits your needs and requirements.

Top Action Cameras in The Market

The action camera market has grown into a behemoth of an industry and is projected to undergo rapid growth towards the year 2019. So if you find yourself overwhelmed when shopping for an action camera, you are not alone.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you out by highlighting some of the best models that money can buy. You can’t go wrong with any of these top cameras:

Garmin Virb XE

Garmin Virb XE

Weight: 154g

Dimensions: 1.4 x 3 x 1.6 inches

Specific Features: G-METRIX-Built-in GPS and external sensors, High definition 1080p resolution at 60 frames-per-second, Burst capability, Waterproof, Bluetooth audio

Best Use: wakeboarding, surfing, windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, cycling, skateboarding, climbing, aviation, skydiving, extreme sports, drones

Description: Garmin is mainly a GPS company but it’s not surprising that the company has dipped its toes into the action camera market as well.

Being a Garmin device, the Virb XE has a built-in GPS and external sensors for capturing performance data like elevation, speed, heart rate and G force. The 1080p full HD resolution at 60 frames per second should be more than enough for most applications.

However, those who are looking for 4k video quality might want to look elsewhere. The burst capability should allow users to make successive action shots and the device is waterproof up to 50 meters without the case.

The most standout feature of the Virb XE is the ability to add data overlays like power, speed, acceleration and so on using the desktop app. Despite the saturated market, Garmin has a solid product that is one of the best camera for action shots.

Sony HDRAS50R/B Full HD Action Cam

Sony HDRAS50R B Full HD Action Cam

Weight: 1.2 lbs

Dimensions: 7.87 x 4.45 x 5.04 inches

Specific Features: 1080p60 XAVC S Video at 50 Mbps, 120 fps High-Framerate Capture in 720p, 1/2.3″ Exmor R Sensor with Bionz X, ZEISS Lens, Wi-Fi/NFC/Bluetooth, 60m waterproof housing, Bluetooth for Remote Operation

Best Use: skiing, snowboarding, cycling, skateboarding, climbing, skydiving, extreme sports, sailing

Description: Sony have been making action cameras that are a hit among people. This year, the company released the e HDR-AS50 and HDR-AS50R – with the latter having a new Live View remote. Basically, the remote is worn on your wrist so you can see what you are recording.

We have to say that the image stabilization on the HDR-AS50R is excellent, thanks to the new SteadyShot technology. The 11.1-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor captures footage and image in Full HD, which can be shot up to 120 frames in 720p.

For still images, it features an 8-megapixel camera at 4k quality with the ability to capture time lapse in 4k. It’s small and compact enough but you’ll likely need the case for activities like skiing.

It’s a good thing that this comes with its own waterproof housing. Overall, Sony has a winner with the HDR-AS50R.

TomTom Bandit 4k Action Video Camera

TomTom Bandit 4k Action Video Camera

Weight: 6.6 oz

Dimensions: 3.7 x 1.5 x 2.1 inches

Specific Features: 4k HD video, 3 hours battery life, Built-in sensors to monitor Speed, G-force, Altitude, and Rotation, Bandit App (iOS & Android) for instant playback, Go-Pro Mount Adapter included

Best Use: skiing, snowboarding, cycling, skateboarding, climbing, skydiving, extreme sports

Description: TomTom has positioned itself as one of the best companies for navigation tools and apps. TomTom has soared into the action camera market with its very own product called Bandit. The TomTom Bandit 4k Action Video Camera is a barrel-shaped wonder capable of recording 4k HD videos.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the Bandit is its cool design and color scheme. The striking white body and red stripe makes the camera really stand out. The Bandit comes with a built-in GPS, motion and heart rate sensor.

The main selling point of the Bandit is that it gives the user a quick way to edit and share action videos via the sophisticated companion app. It can shoot 4k quality but at a restrictive 15 frames per second.

Other supported resolutions aren’t so restrictive which includes 30fps and 60 fps. Mounting options are quite versatile with its unique rotating mounting system. The Bandit is definitely strong debut from TomTom.

GoPro HERO4 Black

GoPro HERO4 BLACK

Weight: 0.33 lbs

Dimensions: 1.53 x 2.79 x 2.8 inches

Specific Features: Professional 4K30, 2.7K60 and 1080p120 video, Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, Improved camera control and built-in video trimming, Protune™ with SuperView™, Night Photo and Night Lapse

Best Use: skiing, cycling, skateboarding, snowboarding, climbing, skydiving, extreme sports, surfing

Description: There was a time when action cameras basically mean a GoPro and that is still somewhat true to this day.

There’s no denying that GoPro is the brand leader when it comes to action cameras. For quite some time, the Hero 4 has been the flagship camera of GoPro until the recent launch of the Hero 5.

Anyway, the Hero 4 is still a beast on its own especially when it’s the first device that has 4k capability at 30 fps. This was during a time where other similar products can only manage 4k at measly 15 fps. If you’re shooting at 1080p, you get an impressive 120 fps.

Another thing that makes the Hero 4 a winner is the generous assortment of mounting options both from GoPro and third-party manufacturers. The Hero 4 is a feature packed model and is a strong contender for the best action camera for the money.

360fly 360° HD Video Camera

360fly 360° HD Video Camera

Weight: 0.306 lbs

Dimensions: 4.02 x 4.02 x 7.48 inches

Specific Features: 360fly panoramic 360° HD video camera, Action camera adapter; tilt mount with curved and flat baseplates, Mic plug and strap, Power cradle and USB cable, Rechargeable internal lithium battery, Dustproof, shockproof and water resistant

Best Use: skiing, cycling, skateboarding, snowboarding, climbing, skydiving, extreme sports

Description: The 360fly HD looks like a curious thing because it doesn’t look like your typical action camera. It’s a good thing that the weird design is also accompanied with a unique feature – it’s a 360-degree camera.

With its 360° HD video camera, you’ll be sure not to miss any of the action at any angle. When using the camera, it’s imperative that you use it with the mobile or desktop app as well. The app is used to change settings and publish videos on 3rd-party websites.

Another cool thing about the 360fly is that it’s actually Virtual Reality ready where your 360 footage can really shine. There are three mount options which makes it quite versatile. Another thing worth noting is that the 360fly is quite a tough camera as it is dustproof, shockproof and resistant to water.

If you are in the market for a 360-degree action camera, check this one out.

Sioeye Iris4G Live Streaming Action Camera

Sioeye Iris4G Live Streaming Action Camera

Weight: 1.6 lbs

Dimensions: 4 x 9 x 12 inches

Specific Features: All-in-one unlocked 4G LTE Live Streaming Camera, Share your experience with real-time speed, Sioeye Cloud live basic streaming service included, Mobile apps for iOS and Android available

Best Use: skiing, cycling, skateboarding, snowboarding, climbing, skydiving, extreme sports, live streaming

Description: If you are more into real-time video sharing, the Sioeye Iris4G camera might just be for you. For the most part, uploading, editing and sharing video can take a long time.

The Iris4G basically removes all those steps by streaming your footage in real-time which can be viewed by anyone, provided that they have the free Sioeye app (available in iOS and Android). The camera has a built-in time-lapse and still photo capture at 18-megapixel.

It can record in 4K at 30 fps and 1080p at 120 fps. The clear LCD screen is super nice as well where you can operate settings like video quality, burst photo rate and more. It has a fairly short battery life at 1.5 hours but that’s only because you are live streaming.

The Sioeye Iris4G is one of the first cameras that has a built-in livestream feature. We won’t be surprised if future action cameras head down this path.

Ricoh WG-M2 Action Cam

Ricoh WG-M2 Action Cam

Weight: 0.5 lbs

Dimensions: 1.3 x 2.3 x 3.1 inches

Specific Features: 4K Ultra HD Video at 30fps, 8MP Photos in Bursts up to 8 fps, 204° and 151° Angle of Views, Waterproof down to 65′, 1.5″ LCD, Wi-Fi for Remote Monitoring & Control

Best Use: snowboarding, skiing, cycling, skateboarding, climbing, skydiving, surfing, extreme sports

Description: When it comes to toughness, waterproof-capability and stylish design, the WG-M2 from Ricoh is a tough one to beat. Right off the bat, you’ll notice the camera’s stylish design which comes in both white and orange color.

As mentioned, the unit is waterproof which means you don’t have to spend more for a waterproof housing. The WG-M2 comes with 4K UHD video capabilities and has an FOV at 204-degree ultrawide. At 4k, you can record videos at 30 fps, full HD at 60 fps and 720p at 120 fps.

The bright f/2.0 lens is great for low-light shooting. With just a few buttons, the camera is fairly easy to use. We just wished there were more settings to calibrate with regards to quality like contrast and white balance.

At the end of the day, Ricoh has made a solid action camera with the WG-M2 with enough features to keep people interested.

As you can see, these are really solid action cameras that cater to a wide range of needs and budgets.  We assure you that you can’t go wrong with any of these products.

To Wrap Things Up

With many specifications and features to consider, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when shopping for an action camera. Determining your intended usage is always a good start when shopping for one. Are you planning to use it more casually or perhaps you want to record more extreme activities?

Choose your action camera

As always, it always pays to do your research and read about actual customer feedback to help with your search.

Have you used an action camera before? Which model is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Debra Davis

    I definitely don’t regret buying GoPro hero4! The very best! This is amazing!! The videos are great, took 8 hours from a Motorcycle. Steady, good color. Lifetime memories were captured! Love it! It has some very good features. What a quality product!

  • Daniel Carraway

    Nothing beats the GoPro as an action cam. This compact camera captures vivid imagery and makes you relive the experience long after it has passed. Though it may be pricey, if you want the best and are investing in a stellar camera – the GoPro is the one to get!

  • Joe McGowan

    Ended up losing my Hero 4 Silver a few months ago and was going to replace it with the new Hero 5. Whilst looking through the specs of the 5, however, I realised that, for my needs at least, I had no need for the new features. Plus, having had a Hero 4 already I’ve accumulated quite a few accessories that cannot be used with the 5. No brainer really. It’s quite refreshing not having a screen as well. Less time spent trying to get the perfect view and more time spent in the midst of the action!

  • Daniel Carraway

    So, what did you get this time Joe? Did you stick to the old Hero 4 model? I think there are certain seasons in your life when you have to upgrade, lol. Yet, this may not be the time, huh? 🙂

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