Action cameras are everywhere—on surfboards, skateboards, bicycle handlebars and even on helmets for first-person, point-of-view video. In some ways, the mounts available for these small devices are almost as important as camera specifications. While an action camera now seems to be a necessity for those who practice extreme sports, you don’t have to be an adventurer to capture images of special occasions or everyday life—just stow a little action cam in your pocket or bag, bring along some mounts, and you’re good to go. Here’s a quick look at some of the coolest models on the market.
GOPRO HERO4 BLACK
Estimated Street Price: $499
GoPro’s top-of-the-line model, the HERO4 Black captures 4K video, up to 240 fps slow motion and 12-megapixel stills, and can shoot at extremely wide angles. Continuous still capture reaches speeds of up to 30 fps, an automatic Time Lapse video creation mode is available, and the camera is equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth. On the video side, the HERO4 offers 4K video capture at 30p/25p/24p (limited to 24p in SuperView), along with 2.7K and lower-resolution H.264 MP4 video. Unique to this GoPro model is its analog-to-digital converter for compatibility with professional low-sensitivity external mics for higher-quality audio. Another important video feature is ProTune, which enables high-bit-rate capture for lower compression/higher quality, increased dynamic range and a flat profile. The latter requires more effort in postprocessing, but the results can be customized. These files are also easier to integrate with other, non-GoPro video footage. Available in three editions: Standard, Surf and Music, the former two come equipped with a protective case that’s waterproof to 131 feet, each with its own mounts. The Music edition is designed for capturing performances and is bundled with everything you need to mount the camera to an instrument or a mic stand. There are tons of GoPro and third-party accessories for just about any activity imaginable. Be sure to download the free GoPro App for remote camera operation and the free GoPro Studio software for video editing.
GOPRO HERO4 SILVER
Estimated Street Price: $399
Although similar in most ways to its HERO4 Black counterpart and available in the same three editions, the Silver isn’t quite as well equipped on the video front. This less expensive model’s video capabilities are limited to a maximum of 4K at 15p/12.5p and a bit-rate speed of up to 45 Mb/s (versus the HERO4 Black’s 60 Mb/s), so don’t expect the same smooth video quality that the HERO4 Black delivers in 4K capture. The Silver does offer more options in 2.7K (30p/25p/24p) and a full complement of capture modes from 60p to 24p in full 1080p HD. The Silver lacks the ADC (analog-to-digital converter) of the Black, but is equipped with external mic jacks. On the plus side, the Silver model comes with a touch-screen LCD for quick and easy operation, while HERO4 Black owners would have to purchase the optional LCD Touch BacPac to get the same functionality.
GARMIN VIRB XE
Estimated Street Price: $399
With an all-new form factor designed to accommodate additional mounting options, the Garmin VIRB XE is a rugged, self-contained action camera that’s waterproof to 50 meters without an additional case. Its hydrophobic, flat glass lens helps ensure droplet-free video whether underwater or transitioning up to the surface in the sea or a pool. The camera captures Full 1080p 60 video and 12-megapixel stills in bursts up to 30 fps. Notable are the multiple sensors, which record a wealth of G-Metrix data for various activities, including bike speed, water depth, wind speed, elevation and more. Equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth, the VIRB offers a smartphone/tablet-compatible mobile app for live streaming, controlling and viewing multiple cameras. VIRB desktop software can also be downloaded. The camera comes with a 1-inch touch screen and can run for about two hours on a single charge when recording Full HD video. And, if you lose the VIRB, you can track it down with the last recorded GPS coordinates.
iON AIR PRO 3
Estimated Street Price: $249
The self-enclosed Air Pro 3 is encased by a one-piece aluminum barrel, which provides a rugged enclosure for the petite camera (1.45×1.45×4.3 inches/4.51 ounces). Built around a 12-megapixel sensor, the Pro 3 shoots stills at up to 10 fps and offers a time-lapse mode. For video, you’ll find options for Full HD 1080 60p video, as well as 1280x720p at 120 fps for slow motion. A G-sensor provides 8 points of electronic image stabilization, and the included WiFi PODZ attaches to the camera for wireless connectivity to mobile devices via the iON Air app. Currently, the only waterproof model in the Air Pro series, the Pro 3 doesn’t require an additional case to accompany divers to a depth of 49 feet. The camera comes with a bundle that includes the WiFi PODZ, power adapter, camlock, short ball joint, USB cable, helmet mount and adhesive straps, tabletop tripod, storage pouch and free cloud storage. Additional accessories are available.
SONY X1000V 4K ACTION CAM
Estimated Street Price: $450
Housed in a shotgun mic-style body, the Sony X1000V 4K Action Cam is truly tiny at 0.96×2.04×3.5 inches and a weight of 4.02 ounces (with battery). Despite its diminutive stature, the X1000V is highly capable, capturing 4K video and 8.8-megapixel stills. A fast, ƒ/2.8 wide-angle Zeiss Tessar lens pro-vides a field of view of 170° (120° with SteadyShot image stabilization enabled). Some of its notable features include WiFi/NFC, GPS, Motion Shot LE (which captures an action sequence in a single frame), interval recording for time-lapse videos, burst speeds up to 10 fps, loop recording to ensure you don’t miss the decisive moment and live streaming. A Live View wrist remote allows you to operate the camera, or multiple cameras (up to five), and view footage in playback; the camera is compatible with Sony’s PlayMemories apps. The X1000V takes advantage of XAVC S with its high bit-rate (up to 100 Mb/s for 4K; up to 50 Mb/s for Full HD) for high-quality video recording. The camera comes with a waterproof case with a depth rating of 32.81 feet; an optional underwater housing, rated for a depth of 197 feet, is available for $50. The X1000V 4K Action Cam comes in two versions. Both come with an adhesive mount, rechargeable battery pack, microUSB cable and a waterproof case, with an option to include the Live View remote.