Whether you’re an adventurer, an athlete, an adrenaline junkie, or somewhere in between, action cameras remain your best option for capturing and sharing exciting content. But how do you know which action camera is the right one for you? To help you decide, we’ve put together a list of important features you need to consider before you buy.
It probably comes as no surprise, but when shopping for an action camera, video quality is paramount. You want something that can capture all of your action footage in crisp, clear detail—the sharper and smoother, the better.
As far as maximum resolution goes, you’re looking for something that can shoot 4K60, if not better. Assuming video stabilization is up to snuff, 4K video shot at 60 frames per second (fps), should yield sharp, vibrant footage that tracks and transitions smoothly.
In addition to 4K60 video, the best action cameras can record in multiple video formats, such as 5.3K30, 2.7K240, and 1080p240. Different video formats are better suited for different applications (such as slow-motion capture), so the more video formats your camera supports, the more options you’ll have when it comes to capturing footage.
One action camera that offers excellent video quality is the GoPro HERO12 Black. Announced earlier this year, GoPro’s newest flagship camera features an industry-best max resolution of 5.3K60 and supports several additional video formats, including 4K120, 2.7K240, and more.
The highest video resolution in the world won’t matter a lick if your footage is a jittery mess, which is why video stabilization is such a crucial feature.
The majority of action cameras use either optical image stabilization (OIS) or electronic (or digital) image stabilization (EIS) to smooth out footage. Neither method is definitively better than the other, so you’ll want to pay close attention to other factors, as well, such as video resolution and sensor size.
One action cam that features excellent EIS is the Osmo Action 4, which uses DJI’s proprietary RockSteady 3.0 image stabilization to reduce camera shake into an imperceptible tremor. The Osmo Action 4 also supports 4K120 recording and features omni-directional horizon-leveling technology, so even the rockiest of rides comes out buttery smooth.
An action camera that can’t withstand tough treatment is like an underwater camera that can’t get wet: it doesn’t make sense. Action cameras need to be strong; they have to be rugged.
Ruggedness can mean a lot of things, but as it pertains to action cameras, what you’re looking for is something that can take a punch (or a fall); something that is immune (or sufficiently resistant) to water, dust, sand, and other environmental hazards.
The DJI Action 2 is built tough and water-friendly. It includes several fortifying features that will protect it during all of your action-packed outings, including a unique design that facilitates more secure mounting options (and less chance of drop-related damage). The Action 2 is also waterproof down to 33' and supports a separately available waterproof housing for underwater operation.
There are two important battery features to consider when shopping for an action camera. The first is battery life: How long can you record from a full charge? The second is whether the battery is removable: If the battery dies, can you swap in a new one?
Depending on the settings, most action cameras offer between 1 and 2 hours of operation. If you’re shooting 4K30 or higher, expect battery life to be closer to the 1-hour mark. For 1080p30 video, look for something that will give you least 90 minutes of continuous shooting.
If you’re looking at an action camera with less-than-stellar battery performance, make sure the battery is removable—this will save you the headache of having to completely stop what you’re doing and recharge the camera.
If battery life is your primary concern, check out the GO 3 Action Camera from Insta360. The base module can shoot 2.7K video for up to 45 minutes, which is pretty darn good. However, when docked in the included Action Pod, the GO 3 can shoot 1080p video for up to 170 minutes, which is as good as it gets.
If you plan on buying a GoPro, one thing to keep in mind is that some features are only accessible through a paid subscription system, including cloud storage and access to a more robust suite of video-editing tools.
The subscription also includes discounts on select GoPro products, including cameras, camera mounts, batteries, mods, and other accessories. Even better: the GoPro subscription comes with a “no-questions asked” camera replacement policy—provided you live in an eligible country.
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not a GoPro subscription is a worthwhile investment. It definitely has its perks: unlimited cloud storage, premium editing tools, etc. On the other hand, one man’s perk is another’s man’s impediment, and having to pay extra to unlock certain features might feel like an unnecessary hurdle for some.
Choosing the right action camera is never easy. But keep this list of important features and key highlights in mind and you’ll have a better go at it. And if you have any additional questions about choosing an action cam, or if you would like a product recommendation, drop us a line below.