The 10 Best Action Cameras
Seeing Everything, Everywhere
It's somewhat shameful to admit, but I–a grown man, mind you–still pinch my nose shut and close my eyes when I jump into water. If something truly amazing were happening beneath the surface, I would need special equipment to see it. The birth of the action cam followed a similar path of logic, that in order to truly appreciate the world around us and our most extreme interactions with it, we had to get a clear set of eyes involved.
Fortunately, all of the action cams you'll find out there are splash resistant in their body design. What's more, they all either come with waterproof cases included in the package or the brands have them available to you for purchase.
Modern action cameras have to fit a lot of high tech photographic equipment in a small space, which means cutting down on the size of the lens. A camera's lens is, more than anything else, what determines the quality of its images. This is the biggest pitfall in using a cell phone to capture video, and it's why such enormous rigs exists to augment the quality of the factory cell lens.
An action cam's lens, though small, packs a punch. They're traditionally very wide-angle focal lengths, which allow you to capture much more of the scene than you otherwise could. They also produce what's called a fish-eye effect, making the edges of your images appear curved toward you. The good news is that, now that so many of these cameras shoot in 4K resolution, you can crop in to eliminate that curved effect by slicing those warped edges away.
Accessories Make The Cameraman
Action cams require much more than just the camera body itself to get you started, and figuring out which brand is right for you involves pricing out all the little extras you're going to want and need along the way.
The necessities include a slew of backup batteries and memory cards. These cameras chew through batteries faster than squirrels chew through acorn shells, so you'll want at least two fully-charged batteries in reserve.
Buying the right memory card comes down to its size and its speed. If your memory card is too slow, it won't allow you to record at the highest video quality. The higher the video quality, the more space that video takes up, so you need a card that's fast and spacious. For 4K video, you can film about 1 hour's worth of footage on a 64GB micro-SD card if you're shooting for playback in slow-motion. You can get a little over 2 hours out of the card if you shoot for regular motion.
Speed-wise, you'll see two kinds of class ratings on the faces of any memory card. One looks like an over-drawn C or like a circle that didn't quite get closed on the right side, and there's a number inside it. This number needs to be 10. Anything less than 10, and you're wasting your time. There should also be a U on the card with a number inside it, usually a 1 or a 3. Go for the 3 if you want to shoot in 4K. Anything less, and you won't be able to reach the heights these cameras offer.
The last thing to consider are the available mounts and accessories for each brand. Some of the other brands out there have done a decent job catching up to the variety GoPro has to offer, but the king is still the king. Ask yourself what kind of footage you specifically want to capture, and make sure the system you might buy has good quality mounting hardware to achieve it.
Poetry In Motion-Capture
The worlds of athletics and poetry rarely collide. Not only are they two very different approaches to the beauty and mystery of life, they also each require a level of dedication that costs the practitioner the time to develop both sensibilities to equal proficiency.
Until recently, this separation of worlds was of great consequence, as those experienced in the thrills and wonders of extreme athletic endeavors had only limited means available to them by which they might impart some sense of their experience on the layman.
Then, in 2002, a surfer-turned-entrepreneur named Nick Woodman got fed up with the deplorable state of surf photography and began designs for what would become the GoPro, our first, and most iconic action cam.
In the time it took Woodman's company to become the multi-billion dollar entity it has, the rest of the market responded with a slew of competitive products. Some of these are direct ripoffs of Woodman's design, so similar in appearance that you might only tell the difference when comparing video quality.
Others sought to improve on Woodman's design shape, fashioning action cams more like the models by Sony and Polaroid, whose elongated designs resemble the spy cameras of the early digital photography era, and claim more ergonomic mounting possibilities than GoPro's square body could achieve.
Despite the increase in competition, GoPro's name recognition and significant head start in both the camera itself and the design of its various mounts keeps it at the top of the action cam market. You see them almost everywhere you go, capturing not only the most unthinkably dangerous extreme sports, but also the mundane, quotidian, poetic details of our lives.