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Compare action cameras: How to find the best action cam for you

What to look for when choosing a camera to capture crystal clear footage of your most extreme adventures.

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Three kids using an action camera to record themselves splashing in the surf

Quick facts about action cameras

  • Action cams are small, rugged video cameras that can record footage in almost any conditions.
  • They are specifically designed to capture sports, action and extreme activities and can be used hands-free with a range of mounting hardware.
  • Prices range from $150 to $1,000 or more depending on the number of features, the brand and any additional accessories you may need, such as mounting gear, tripods and waterproof cases.

How to compare action cameras

When you are comparing action cams, consider your budget, level of durability and the features you may need.

Field of view

Most action cams offer a wide-angle field of view. If you don't want your footage to have fisheye distortion, look for a camera that offers options for a narrow or medium field of view.

Video quality and resolution

When comparing cameras, you should generally choose whichever camera has better video quality. The highest quality currently available for action cams is 4K ultra high-definition.

Waterproofing

Some action cams are water resistant while others are completely submersible. Many action cams are also compatible with waterproof cases. If you're interested in a fully submersible camera, check out our guide to waterproof cameras.

Images

If you want to use your action cam to take still photos, look for a camera with a high amount of megapixels. This will give you higher photo resolution and allow you to print larger images.

Storage

Most action cameras store footage on removable SD cards. Some cameras include memory cards with the cameras while others require you to purchase a memory card separately.

Accessories

Check out the range of accessories that are compatible with any potential camera. Consider the prices of head mounts, hand mounts, cases, tripods, clamps and anything else you might need to get the most out of your camera.

Battery life

Look for a camera with a long battery life or easily replaceable batteries so you can swap them out without missing a shot.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to upload and share videos to your phone or smart device no matter where you are. If you want to be able to upload your videos straight to social media, look for a camera with built-in Wi-Fi.

Display

Because action cams are small and lightweight, many have very small LCD screens or no screens at all. If your action cam doesn't have a display screen, Wi-Fi allows you to preview and playback your footage on your smart device.

Pros

The following are some of the best features of action cams:

  • Durability. Many action cams are built to withstand mud, sand and freezing temperatures. Others are completely waterproof and can be used down to 60 metres below the surface.
  • Ease of use. Action cameras don’t require any previous photography knowledge or expertise. They usually have only a few buttons so that you won’t have to mess around with any settings when you’re in the field.
  • Portability. Action cams are smaller than a typical digital camera or camcorder and can typically fit in a pocket or small bag.
  • Ultra HD quality. Many action cams shoot 4K or ultra-high-definition video and have built-in sensors and stabilisers to give you clear footage even when the camera is moving.
  • Mounting options. Action cams come with a huge variety of mounting accessories including hand mounts, head mounts and chest mounts so you’ll never miss a shot.

Cons

While action cams can capture footage of extreme adventures, they don’t always offer the video and image quality of high-end camcorders and digital cameras. Some of the downsides to action cams include the following:

  • Fisheye view. Most action cameras have a wide field of view that captures a lot of the action but distorts the footage. Video editing software can help remove this fisheye effect, but it usually comes at an additional cost.
  • Pricey accessories. Accessories such as tripods, mounts and waterproof casings can help you get the most out of your action cam, but the costs can add up quickly.
  • Limited battery life. Typically, an action camera battery will last from one to three hours of constant use. If you want to shoot for a whole day, you will need a backup battery or a way to recharge your camera while you’re on the go.
  • Limited image quality. Action cams are not generally designed to capture still images and don’t offer the image quality of many digital cameras.

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