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As mentioned, the GoPro is preferred by many professional extreme sports athletes. Obviously, if it the pros think that the camera is good enough to capture their amazing performances on cam – the speed, landings, G-force, difficulty levels, and crashes included – then it should be enough reason to believe that the cam will be good enough for you too, regardless of what you intend to do with your camera.
Considering the size of the camera, the footages are of an amazing high quality. If you have seen the footage of the famous Felix Baumgartner gravity-defying dive, and are impressed, then you will also be impressed by the fact that it was shot using a GoPro. Action/Adventure TV shows such as Mythbusters regularly use the camera for footages shown in their broadcasts. The various accessories made available for the device allows the camera to be mounted in multiple ways.
Built for Outdoor Adventure
An action camera is typically a small camera designed to capture outdoor scenes taken from your own POV or from unusual angles such as the tip of your surfboard or a flying kite. Various housings and mounts are used for different purposes. Light, small, shock- and water-resistant, action cams are built to perform under various conditions and for all types of activities. A measure of a quality camera is its ability to record in various resolutions at high frame rates. The footages and images must be sharp and in accurate colors. The camera should also offer a variety of tough mounting options that can last as long as the action camera itself.
Waterproof cameras are generally considered as close action camera competitors. However, there are some key differences between the two types of cameras. Action cameras focus more on videos that still photos, and are often lighter and smaller. They likewise have better mounting options that allow mounting on rollbars, surfboards or on body parts like the forehead. In short in allows hands-free operation, which is a primary contributor to its wide appeal.
As the name implies, an action camera is for people who lead an active lifestyle and want their experiences – on a mountain top, underwater, or somewhere in a secluded cave – captured on video. If you are into extreme sports or you regularly spend your weekends on outdoor adventures, then the action camera is for you. It will help store all your exciting memories digitally. Although this is the main market for action cameras, creative people find use for it by strapping their action cams on their babies, motorbikes, airplane, and even pets.
While an action camera can be useful for underwater action, if you really need a camera mainly for high quality still shots taken under shallow water, then you will be better off getting a waterproof camera instead. Likewise if HD videos are not your priority, and all you want is a camera that you can operate hands-free, then an action cam like the Hero4 Silver is not advisable for you. You can find sports cams from other brands that usually combine size, mounting options, and performance (though at lesser degrees) at a lower price.
Things to Consider When Looking for an Action Camera
Dimensions – Compared to models circa 2010 and older, action cams today are significantly smaller and more compact. Any new model is guaranteed to be tiny enough to be mounted on your surfboard, bike, or helmet without interfering with the action currently going on. They are usually oriented in a way that you are personally looking through the lens. They also come as naked devices and will bulk up when protective housings or cases are required to be used. The shape may also be a factor. Depending on your intended use and mounting option, you can choose a cube-shaped, rectangular, or bullet-style model.
Water Resistance – If you are into extreme sports, at some point, the camera will be exposed to water. The cameras usually come with a certain level of water-proofing, and some have protective casing options. If you intend to dive into the water with your camera, and not just the accidental water splashes and rain, better find a model with higher water resistance ratings – your best bet would be something completely waterproof. For deep water footages, choose cameras with underwater housing.
Lens – Action cameras utilize wide-angle lenses that provide for an immersive perspective. This means that shots of the more traditional scenes in photography will appear more distorted compared to what you usually see when using other types of camera. Shooting in various lighting conditions is made possible by fast apertures. However, the small size of the action camera’s sensor will negatively affect the image quality and performance of the camera.
Sensor Size – The camera’s sensor size, together with the lens, is among the major factors that affect the action camera’s image quality. A bigger sensor is capable of using more light that helps improve performance under low light conditions. Thus, you can expect a camera equipped with a 1/2.3 (which is still small compared to conventional cameras) sensor to do better than one with a smaller sensor. This is the trade-off for a small form-factor. If you are looking for something a bit more powerful, check out an ultrazoom bridge camera.
Full HD Video Recording – Regardless of where an action cam is mounted, it should be able to shoot at full 1080p HD. Higher-end models are capable of putting up even better numbers. Most models can record at a butter-smooth rate of 60 fps; others up the ante at 120 fps that allows for slow motion footage at full HD.
Slow Motion – Slow-mo footages can be produced by action cams that can go beyond the usual 60 or 30 fps, which is practically any action cam. Everyone loves watching slow motion footages. After all, there is nothing better than completing an action-packed exploit than playing back everything in slow-mo. The quality of slow-mo footages, however, depends on the camera specs. Higher-end models can combine high frame rates with high resolutions of as much as 720p 240 fps or 1080p 120 fps. Other models may be limited to a resolution of sub-HD WVGA when capturing footage at a rate of 120 fps.
Still Photograph Resolution – Because of the action camera’s inherent lens distortion and smaller image sensors, it is not the best camera to use if you are looking for perfect photos. However, if you are in constant motion, such as when high up in a mountain or bouncing around in the middle of the sea, you cannot be too picky, and an action camera on hand will suit you just fine. Camera resolution varies widely from one model to another simply because the main focus of these cameras is on capturing videos. Although some cameras may claim to produce 12MP images, they may actually be equipped only with a 3MP sensor.
Battery Life – This is one category where action cams are not known to excel in. What you will usually get is a battery life that will be enough for recording 1080p 30 fps videos, the default setting for most action cameras. While some models come with removable batteries, others are fitted with fixed batteries. This means it would be impossible to quickly change batteries in case your battery dies out.
1. GoPro HERO4 Silver Review
The Silver edition of the GoPro Hero4 action camera has every desirable feature of the Hero3+ Black iteration with some improvements. For one, it is made easier to use with the inclusion of a touchscreen. Even without this improvement, however, the newer model is still a better model overall.
For one, the menus are a lot more convenient to navigate in the Hero4. It likewise includes a few interesting time-lapse modes such as the Night-Lapse that strings together multiple long-exposure images into one impressive video. With the same toughness of the Hero3, its wide range of mount options, as well as the high quality video, the Hero4 is a good replacement for the Hero3. Throw in the touchscreen, and for the same price of the Hero3, the new model is quite a steal. The Silver Edition Hero4 is worth buying.
As a video cam, it goes without saying that it should be able to record sharp, bright, and vivid footages. Otherwise, why even bother strapping a camera to your forehead or your helmet? The Hero4 simply lives up to the GoPro tradition of capturing amazing videos, and outperforms all its competitors in this regard. Whether taken near or far, the images are sharp, and the distortion is much less compared to other brands like Sony. The GoPro model particularly excels in terms of dynamic range as it handles backlighting exceptionally well, making every video seem like HDR always. Even in low light conditions, the camera performs decently, and the colors are likewise accurate. Feel free to check out the positive reviews of the GoPro HERO4 Silver on DP Review or CNET.
Aside from the superior image quality, the Hero4 shows extreme flexibility in terms of shooting modes. You can achieve as much as a 4k resolution, although only at 15 fps. At 30 fps, you can shoot 2.7K videos (2716×1524) that will provide you with a large image you can crop as well as compress to 1080p during post-processing – without compromising quality! This is perfect for image stabilization applications. Likewise, you can shoot at rates of up to 60 fps in 1080p in slow-mo, or crank things up with 240 fps, WVGA resolution.
Just like the Hero3+, the Silver Edition has a SuperView mode that is quite useful, and not just for gimmickry. Typically, when you shoot using a widescreen format, details on both the top and bottom parts of the frame are cropped out because action cams are often equipped with a 4:3 sensor, while 1080p format employs 16:9. However, because of the Hero4’s SuperView, the camera is able to optimize use of the 4:3 sensor, and then fits the entire image into the 16:9 frame, squishing the top and bottom in the process. Some algorithms are applied to prevent the image from looking completely warped.
The entire captured video is retained, resulting to a more immersive footage that contains the rest of the surroundings. This is one trick that has been used by GoPro professional editors when doing post-production work for many years. SuperView simply automates the process, and makes it possible for everyone else to do it because it can now be done in-camera. It can be used for both 720p and 1080p resolutions.
The addition of a touchscreen has significantly improved the controls in the Hero4. For the longest time, users have been complaining about GoPro’s interface because they have been forced to make do with the tiny LCD screen located in front of the action cam. With the touchscreen, users are no longer confined to navigating through the menu items one after the other. To make sure that the touchscreen does not eat up all your battery power, you can turn it off using the button located right next to it.
Aside from the touchscreen, the overall interface has also been overhauled. A contextual menu that contains all the settings relevant to the mode you are currently using will appear once the button (where the Wi-Fi button used to be) is pressed. While recording videos, you can press the button to tag particular footage sections that you want to review and check out later. This way, you can immediately know if you have already shot what you need to shoot or if the camera is mounted at the most appropriate angle.
In terms of mounting options, GoPro offers the most diverse and widest range among the leading brands on the market today. Factor in the fact that it only weighs 3.1 ounces, then you easily get the idea that it is the most convenient to wear on your chest or forehead, or to any appropriate object. GoPro, for instance, has mounting options for roll bars, handlebars, helmets, surfboards, and tripods, among many others. They also offer a suction cup for your dashboard, a head strap, as well as a chest harness. A clamp-like alligator grip that has an articulated arm is also available. You can even attach your GoPro to a baseball cap worn backwards through a QuickClip. Perhaps it is more difficult to think of a particular situation that isn’t covered by GoPro than coming up with all the mounting options the camera offers.
The best part is that the mounts are not only many, each one is famously tough as well. Some mounts have been documented to endure even jaw-breaking car crashes at high speeds. Thus, it is no wonder that most professional athletes prefer GoPro cameras. During the Titans of Mavericks event, a big wave surf competition where the cameras were used, one gigantic wave after another tried to crash the action cameras to no avail. Simply put, the mounts held their ground.
For people who use the action camera for other things aside from videos, GoPro included some features to enhance the quality of its photos. With the Night Lapse and Night Photo modes, shooting under low lighting conditions is now possible, allowing for longer exposures than before.
Firmware updates also make it possible to add more functionality to the action cameras. GoPro has added a lot of features through Hero4’s firmware since the release of the model. These include the ISO expansion from 800 and 3200, as well as the capability to edit video clips right on the unit itself. Although these features alone may not be able to convince one who is not planning on buying a GoPro in the first place, this is a sign that users can expect the company’s commitment to update its current models that will help make them relevant for a longer period of time.
The inclusion of the touchscreen notwithstanding, the Silver Edition Hero4 retains the exact shape and size of its forerunners. Thus, you can still use whatever accessories or housings for the old versions on the new model. However, using the old housings may keep you from using the touchscreen. The shape of the battery, on the other hand, has changed. You will therefore need to buy a few extras if you need spares.
2. TomTom Bandit Review
There are extreme sports aficionados who take capturing and sharing videos of the action as seriously as the sport itself. For this, they typically use tiny lightweight cameras clipped to their person or attached to their gear. While GoPro is the most popular on the market, there are other viable options; some are more serious threats than the others.
Though a relative newcomer, TomTom offers a competitive option with its Bandit model. The camera has a white body detailed with a striking red band that easily distinguishes it from the others. However, the Bandit is more than just its good looks. The camera is equipped with functional features such as GPS, built-in heart rate and motion sensors, slow-mo capture, 4K video, and a revolutionary mobile app. It will only take you a few minutes of handling the camera before realizing that now, the GoPro Hero line will have its hands full with a serious competitor. To be frank, we happen to be big fans of the TomTom Bandit, and so is Chris Hall from Pocket-lint.
Right from the get-go, TomTom’s attention to functionality and design detail is apparent. The camera’s exterior is spic and span, and has a wide, easy to read LCD, although it is not a live view display and shows only the selected options and modes, as well as the various menu settings. Found on top is a 4-way control panel as well as a stop button. At the back, you will find the start/highlight button that allows you to tag clips instantly while you are recording. At the base of the camera is the mount that can be used to attach the action cam to your kit or your body. The rest of the camera’s body is clear and clean.
The Bandit’s frame rate and video resolution easily meets the usual demand for high quality video capture with 4K at 15 fps, 2.7K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60/30 fps, and 720p @ 60/120 fps that allows for slow-mo video capture. The camera is also capable of capturing still photos at up to 16MP and shooting time-lapse sequences.
The TomTom Bandit comes in 2 packs: the Premium Pack and the more affordable Base pack. The latter comes with the adhesive mounts and a GoPro adapter, aside from the camera. On the other hand, the Premium Pack comes with a 360 pitch mount, bike mount, remote, and waterproof lens.
In terms of design, the Bandit has more than a few qualities that distinguish it from other brands, a proof that its designers really put a lot of thought about the camera’s target users and applications.
For one, the battery provides 3 hours of recording time at 30 fps, 1080p. While this will shorten when other features like Wi-Fi are used, the battery life still remains decent. The Batt-Stick, inserted at the back of the camera, supplies the power.
The unit does not need a card reader or additional cables because it already comes with a MicroSD and a USB connector, proof once again that the camera practically does everything. If you need to use the camera and you know that you won’t have access to main power, you can simply bring along extra Batt-Sticks. You can find a protective flap beneath the Start/Highlight button at the back of the battery that secures the USB connection cable (optional.)
Out of the box, the base pack isn’t water-proof. It comes with a standard lens cover that is simply splash-proof. However, you can replace the lens cover with an optional dive lens cover that provides water-proofing for up to 40 meters.
The mount is an entirely new mechanism altogether. It utilizes 2 spring-loaded clips that slots when attached. A variety of mounts are available that allow clipping the camera to bikes, boards, and helmets. A GoPro mount adapter is also included in both the Premium and Base Packs. This allows you to use the TomTom Bandit with any GoPro standard mount.
Another unique feature of the Bandit is the way the camera is attached to the mount. You can rotate the mount’s camera part up to 1800 around the body that enables you to position the camera easily, as necessary. Unlike the Drift camera series that come with a rotating lens to alter the footage’s orientation, however, the mount of the Bandit is designed simply to shift the action cam into the appropriate orientation. This is what makes the TomTom quite easy to mount.
In terms of navigation and usability, the Bandit does exceptionally well. To switch the device on, just press the Start button found at the rear. A tiny, flashing GPS icon will then appear at the LCD’s top left that indicates the camera’s attempt to pick-up a signal. The Bandit typically connects to a GPS signal within a minute. At the top of the camera, you can also find the battery power indicator as well as the MicroSD symbol that indicates an installed card.
The screen shows either the settings or mode that you can navigate through the sizeable Control button. Initially, the screen will allow you to choose the mode that includes Video, Photo, Time-Lapse, Slow Motion, and Cinematic. Choosing one will take you to another screen. Depending on the selected mode, you can check the built-in sensor settings like the connected heart monitor, speed, or the remaining MicroSD card capacity, and connect to Wi-Fi.
The Bandit’s menu may seem simple, compared to other action cameras that offer more adjustments and settings. However, these options are actually all you need if you are only after a camera that can capture all the outdoor action you want. The TomTom Bandit’s simplicity is demonstrated in the Cinematic and Slow Motion options that use easy to grasp terms that anyone can just pick up the action camera and immediately know what each option and mode is for.
The Slow Motion feature, by default lowers the HD resolution to only 720p, but ups the frame rate to 120 fps. The result is 4 seconds of smooth slow-mo playback for every real time second. The frame rate and resolution can be adjusted. The Cinematic mode allows access to 4K and 2.7K shooting, although 4K is limited to just 15 fps. So, in playback, the footage may look a little silted, although it may have been recorded in high resolution. You can shoot at 2.7K as a compromise between full HD and 4K, which should provide decently smooth motion on a 4K screen.
After choosing your desired settings and mode, just hit the Start button found at the back, and you can begin recording. Press the adjacent button at the top to stop recording. To highlight some footages while you are recording, hit the Start button to highlight that particular clip. This feature will come in handy later, when it is time to view and organize the clips you have taken.
In terms of recording all the action outdoors, the Bandit is very simple to use, and doesn’t veer too much from other action cams. However, once you are connected to the mobile app, it’s an entirely new ballgame. To connect your camera to the app, push the 4-way control panel up to switch the Wi-Fi on. Swap it to your mobile device, then choose the Wi-Fi network to connect to from the list that appears in the settings. You can download the TomTom Bandit app free from the Apple store. The Android version will soon be made available.
After loading and connecting, the application will show a live stream of the action from the camera’s POV based on what appears instantly on the interface of the app. The initial screen likewise allows you to switch quickly between the various modes, as well as adjust the settings of the selected mode. The live streaming is a better iteration of what other cameras offer as there is just a slight delay between the live action and what the screen displays. Noticeable delays are common in other cameras, so this is quite a welcome improvement.
An action camera should allow you to capture and share precious and rare moments. Although most camera models can record excellent quality videos, not too many allows you to share the footage easily without first spending a lot of time editing using a computer.
The Bandit’s video quality is impressive, boasting of lots of details, and well-saturated colors. It likewise fares well with exposure changes. With 3 hours recording time at 30 fps, 1080p, you can be sure that the tiny camera will not run out of juice ahead of you. Anyway, in case you find yourself in need of extra power, you can always bring extra batteries, or take advantage of the USB charging feature.
One other feature that makes the Bandit stand out is the Create a Story feature. This also makes the camera the most engaging and complete model available on the market. It provides a perfect mix of quality and features. Although you still need to spend for optional waterproof lens for extra protection when using the camera for watersports, it will not cost you much. Likewise, it is already included in the Premium Pack.
3. Olympus TG-Tracker Review
Coming from Olympus, a manufacturer with a long and distinguished record in the rugged camera industry starting with the Stylus 720SW in 2006, the TG-Tracker arrives 10 years later to usher in the company’s bid in the action cam market.
The Olympus TG-Tracker is an action camera shaped like a camcorder. It can shoot at 1080/60p and 4K/30p videos, and time lapses. It is equipped with an F2 lens w/ impressive 204° ‘on land’ field-of-view and 940 when used underwater with the underwater lens protector that is included in the package.
The camera has a 1/2.3” BSI CMOS 7.2MP sensor paired with Olympus’ newest TruPic VII processor. The 7.2MP may be low for 4K that makes the camera work harder to create 4K footages and 8MP stills.
In terms of design, 2 things make the Tracker unique. First, it has a flip-out 1.5” LCD that is primarily used for navigating the menu. The other is the built-in “headlight,” as Olympus calls it, that has the ability to project light of as much as 60 lumens.
However, it is in tracking that the TG-Tracker really distinguishes itself. Obviously, that is what the Tracker name is for. It can record altitude or water depth, location, orientation, temperature, and acceleration. These can all be shown using graphs in the application that allows you to view the photos you have shot at certain altitudes or in specific areas of the map.
Thanks to all its sensors, the camera can perform a couple of nifty ticks. One, if sudden equilibrium changes are detected by the accelerometer, an automatic chapter marker will be placed in your video. Likewise, the Tracker is capable of detecting if the camera is submerged underwater. It then switches to the proper white balance setting. You can view all the metadata through the Olympus Image Track app, where you can also preview your videos and photos. You can also use the app to transfer files to your mobile devices, except for 4K videos.
The camera’s camcorder design is reminiscent to Sony action cams, and makes the device front heavy. This may cause the device to tilt forward when used with certain types of mounts from time to time. The lens is at a constant maximum F2 aperture that is equivalent to a little under 14mm. just as expected, it has a fixed focus. The working distance is from 0.2m to endlessness. The cover protecting the lens can be removed, and it quite easily scratches so it would be ideal if you can have some spares.
The Tracker’s field-of-view is dependent on both the settings and the shooting condition. When above water and the image stabilization feature is off, it is at 204°. If image stabilization is turned on, the FOV will be reduced to 161°. When used above sea level in narrow/underwater view, the FOV is 156° with IS, and 126° without IS. The numbers will significantly drop to 94° and 84° if the camera is actually submerged underwater.
Just on top of the lens is the built-in LED flashlight that has 2 brightness settings: 1m range (30 lumens) and 3.5m range (60 lumens.) It can light up for half an hour to 1 hour, and is particularly useful for shooting underwater action.
More on underwater features: the special lens protector you will find on top comes in handy in times the cam gets wet as it will help reduce the distortion. Once the Tracker detects that it is underwater, it will shift to measuring depth instead of altitude and will turn on the appropriate white balance setting automatically.
If you are familiar with latter versions of the Olympus Tough camera, its side view looks similar to the TG-Tracker. The “rugged” features are not too far off from its predecessors as well. The camera is waterproof up to 100ft/30m, shockproof from 7ft/2.1m, and freezeproof up to +14F/10C. Rated at 100kg/220lb of force, the camera is likewise crushproof. For more in-depth information on these specs, check out the positive review of the Olympus TG- tracker at Camera Labs.
Other than its tracking prowess, one other feature that distinguishes the Tracker from the rest of the competition is the flip-out LCD. Although it does not rotate, it is still helpful when checking composition. The 1.5” LCD is low-res at only 115k dots; however, considering its primary use, this should be sufficient. The simple menus are quite easy to navigate, although some of the icons’ functions are a bit vague.
The compartment holding the battery as well as the microSD card slot can be accessed via the rear door; and so are the mini-HDMI and micro USB ports. The Tracker boasts of a good battery life. It has CIPA ratings of 95 minutes for videos, and 480 shots for still photos.
At the bottom of the device, you will find a standard tripod mount that has an anti-rotation hole. You can gain access to multiple mounting accessories by attaching the pistol grip’s top half.
You can rotate the handgrip as you please. The mirror in front is intended for taking selfies. It can feel a bit awkward if you hold the camera like you would a pistol, but it actually is quite useful when taking underwater videos while the screen is flipped out.
Some people may not be comfortable that their camera looks strangely like a firearm. Although this shouldn’t be a concern underwater, no one would definitely want to walk around the work area with the TG-Tracker on hand, and then walk out into the streets with the attached grip.
When the logging feature is on, either through the side switch or the menu, the camera takes note of the direction, location, acceleration, atmospheric pressure, and temperature. All data are saved on a log file that is easily transferrable to your phone once you turn the logging off.
Although it is for all intents and purposes an action camera, the TG-Tracker need not always be used like one. You can simply use it to find out where you currently are by switching to “track” mode and the device will log everything. Hitting the Info button anytime will give you the information you need. The latitudes and longitudes are very accurate. After all the device combines GPS with GLONASS.
Be that as it may, the primary use of the Tracker is still for video capture, and it provides options for 4K, Full HD, as well as 720p. When shooting at 30p/4K, you have around 6 minutes of recording time because of the file size limit of 4GB. Using the ‘loop’ setting will make a new file upon reaching the file size limit. For a camera with a small sensor, the quality is acceptable, though you’ll find some rolling shutters and distortions.
Using Full HD will open up the option for 60p, while for 720p, 120 fps and 240 fps will be added. High speed footages are played back at 30 fps, creating extremely slow slo-mo action. You have 30 minutes to record under these modes. When using high-speed frame rates, audio isn’t recorded.
As previously mentioned, you will encounter various FOVs while using the Tracker. It will often be the wide 204o, although it significantly drops to 156o “on land” and 94o underwater. Upside-down modes are likewise available, but most users only discover them accidentally as they don’t have their own menu entries. When turned on the Image Stabilizer reduces the FOV to help reduce shakes.
The feature that Olympus refers to as the ‘G Chapter’ is another cool video-related feature. When a sudden acceleration change is detected, the camera will automatically insert a chapter in your video. You can jump to it quickly when you review the footage later.
Features for shooting still photos are quite limited. The camera offers only a few basic settings. While the stills may have decent color, the details may be smudged away by large amounts of noise reduction.
A time-lapse feature supporting the camera’s different video resolutions is available with shot to shot intervals that range from 0.5 to 60 seconds.
Although you can use the Tracker without a smartphone, you will enjoy optimum benefits by having the Olympus Image Track application for your iOS or Android device. While the app may not be the most user-friendly software around, it is still able to do what it is supposed to do.