It seems everyone wants an action camera these days. And why wouldn’t they? Even if you aren’t a hardcore adventurer or sports extremist, it’s a cool gadget to have.
When buying an action camera, most people eye anything from GoPro, as it’s easily the most popular brand. But if you search for “action cameras” online, you’ll find that there are many other brands to choose from.
It can be overwhelming to navigate the action camera market—particularly if you’re a first-time buyer. Here are some important factors to consider when choosing an action camera:
Unless you’re buying an action camera simply for the sake of owning one, video resolution is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a specific brand and model. At present, 4K resolution is the highest video quality available on most high-end action cameras, followed by 1080p and 720p. The right video resolution for you depends on what you’ll be using your camera for and on what devices you foresee yourself using to view your footage. If you don’t own a 4K TV or computer monitor, getting an action camera with 4K is pointless.
Size, Shape, and Weight
Some shapes are more convenient for certain applications than others. Most action cameras are box-shaped, making them ideal for chest mounting. Others have a bullet-shaped design, which some people prefer for helmet mounting.
As for size and weight, it is best to go with the lightest and most compact model for maximum portability.
If you plan to use your action camera in rain, snow, or underwater, look for words like “waterproof” and “weatherproof” when looking at a certain model’s list of features. Some action cameras have a water-resistant exterior, while others need to be placed inside a waterproof case.
Field of View
Field of view (FOV) is the area that your camera can capture at any given moment. Most action cameras have a wide-angle FOV, while others allow you to choose between wide, medium, and narrow. The camera’s FOV may or may not be critical in your decision, but you should remember that wide-angle footage shot with action cameras can sometimes look a bit distorted and have that fisheye effect.
If you are planning to use an action camera for taking still photos, you may want to take the camera’s image quality into consideration—the higher the megapixels, the higher the photo resolution. But in any case, you can still optimize your image to suit your needs.
Most action cameras offer only about one to three hours of continuous use before their battery runs out of juice. Of course, this will vary depending on usage—shooting higher-resolution videos drains your battery faster, as does having Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other connectivity features turned on.
Most people often choose devices with the longest battery life. But sometimes, a camera with a longer battery life might be more expensive, or may not have the features you are looking for. If longer battery life is not an option, make sure to look into the cost and availability of spare batteries from the other brands that you are considering.
It is ideal to have quick and easy methods to upload or transfer your video footage and images to the web, your computer, or smartphone, particularly if your camera doesn’t have a screen for preview and playback. Also, connectivity features allow you to use your camera with other add-on accessories that require Wi-Fi or other connectivity options.
You’ll need the fastest memory card you can afford to get the best performance out of your action camera. A card that doesn’t have fast enough write speed will cause dropped frames, resulting in jerky footage.
A Class 10 card, therefore, is the minimum you’ll likely need. Preferably the camera you choose will support the UHS-II standard, giving you write speeds of up to 312MB/s in the most high-end cards.
If you are planning to use your camera for surfing, you’ll need the right mount to secure your camera on your surfboard—and not all brands will have that type of mount or the proper accessories you may need.
Check each brand’s website (or the store you are buying from) to see what accessories and mounting options are included and which ones are available as add-ons for each brand and model you are considering. That way, you won’t end up buying a camera and finding out later that you cannot buy a certain accessory that is crucial for the sport or activity you’ll use it for.
Consider each of the factors above, read reviews online, and most of all, do your research. As long as you do them all, you should be able to pick the perfect action camera for you.
Liz Pekler is a travel photographer with almost 10 years of experience in the field. When she is not out exploring the world, she likes to share her knowledge about photography and travel through writing for blogs like Adorama.