Action Cam Buyer's Guide

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action cam buyers guide

>> Aaron Cortez

December 2, 2013 - San Diego, CA

Action Cam Buyer's Guide: GoPro's Serious Competition

action cam buyers guide gopro

Anywhere you look on TV or on the Web, it is apparent that GoPro is king in the action camera market. But they're certainly not the only game in town, and as you will see, a GoPro may not be the right choice for you at all depending on your specific needs. In this Action Cam Buyer's Guide, we'll discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and quirks of four different action cams we carry, and make choosing the right camera for you easy with recommendations based on your individual needs and budget!

GoPro HERO3 Plus

action cam buyers guide gopro hero3 plus

The junior version of GoPro's latest model is the GoPro HERO3 Silver Plus Camera. The Silver $299, is 15% lighter, has a 2X faster processor, 30% longer battery life, and 4X faster WiFi than its predecessor. Audio performance has also been improved with automatic wind-noise reduction (the bane of all us motorcyclists that film our shenanigans), and it can record up to 10MP images with time-lapse mode at intervals as little as 0.5 seconds. The HERO3 Silver Plus can be controlled wirelessly with an app, and videos can also be shared instantly to FaceBook, Instagram and more.

At $399, the GoPro HERO3 Black Plus Camera is at the top of GoPro's food chain. It has all the basic features of the Silver but maxes out at 12MP instead of 10, is even smaller and lighter than the Silver, and includes a wireless remote. The Black also includes new SuperView, a video mode with a wider angle than in any previous GoPro, and intelligent adjustment to light conditions with new Auto Low Light Mode.

    What we love:
  • Video quality is exceptional, as we expect from GoPro
  • Mounts for every conceivable situation
  • App to control, preview, and upload video is awesome
  • Huge support community!
    Not crazy about:
  • The new focuses at 4-6 feet rather than at infinity; don't expect clarity at distances!
  • Many features included in other cameras are expensive add-ons with the GoPro (like an LCD screen)
  • No image stabilization or zoom feature
  • Bulky and not aerodynamic

Garmin VIRB

action cam buyers guide garmin virb

Several of us at think the Garmin VIRB Action Camera is the most exciting new product to enter the action cam segment. The camera itself specs out even higher than the GoPro HERO3 Black Plus Camera, with true 1080p recording for up to 3 hours on one charge through a 16MP CMOS image processor, and it can take stills while recording video at 8, 12, or 16MP resolution. It also records at up to 120fps for incredibly smooth slow-motion playback, and it includes digital image stabilization. It also has a built-in 1.4" color LCD display that acts as both a viewfinder and as an interface to adjust camera settings, and built-in WiFi!

But the Virb is more than just a high-quality camera; it has a number of features that make it a true “action cam." It uses ANT+ wireless connectivity to communicate with other Garmin external sensors, and the higher-end Garmin VIRB Elite Action Camera includes an internal GPS sensor, altimeter, and accelerometer, which could make for some really exciting videos of fast mountain rides or track days with a map overlay!

    What we love:
  • A large slider controls recording; no beeps, no lights, no tiny buttons
  • Built-in GPS and a color screen on one camera – finally!
  • 1080p HD recording with 16MP image processor is impressive
  • Compatible with all other Garmin devices for unmatched data acquisition on video!
    Not crazy about:
  • Brand new product: expect some bugs, and firmware and software updates

Drift HD Ghost Camera System

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action cam buyers guide

The Drift HD Ghost Camera System is a camera that I've seen very well reviewed on a number of motorcycle forums due to features that make it a great choice for our uses. For example, it has a slim form that can be mounted in any position by simply rotating the lens to right the image (a huge plus when it comes to mounting compared with cameras like GoPro, which must be mounted upright.) It also has a built-in LCD viewfinder and menu screen with a speaker, and an external microphone jack that allows you to record sound from your exhaust or inside your helmet!

Another neat feature is Tag Loop Recording, which continuously records but allows you to "tag" sections of the video you want to save, rescuing you from endless hours of editing later, and it can be controlled on the go by a wrist mounted 2-way remote. It even has an external power option, so you could conceivably wire this to run off your bike's electrical system and never have to worry about charging the battery again!

The features on the Drift Ghost make it quite possibly the best camera specifically for use on motorcycles, and at only $299, the price delivers performance and features that its competitors deliver closer to the $400 mark. Mounting options are somewhat limited, and the camera is a little heavier than the competition. But over all, this is a very solid, well-featured offering that is especially good for those filming from on a motorcycle.

    What we love:
  • Rotating lens allows filming from almost any mounting angle
  • Built in LCD screen with speaker, and included wrist-mounted remote
  • External mic jack allows direct recording of your voice or of your motorcycle's lovely exhaust
  • Sleek and aerodynamic
  • Digital zoom up to 10X is awesome!
    Not crazy about:
  • Only one model; no 2-step options like GoPro and Garmin offer
  • Firmware and WiFi can be finicky at times

Liquid Image EGO

action cam buyers guide liquid image ego

The Liquid Image Ego 1080 WiFi Camera is a bargain-priced camera that can do what most of its expensive competitors do for a lot less. Don't let the price fool you; this is a high quality camera that takes good video and surprisingly excellent still photos at an impressive 12MP and a 136-degree lens. It has internal Wi-Fi that can be used to turn your smart phone or tablet into a viewfinder and to set up exposure modes, field of view, mic recording level, and more with an easy-to-use app. It is also the only action camera to come in five different colors, and uses a standard ¼"-20 screw mount for infinite mounting options.

The down sides: the fixed battery means you can't carry a spare to swap out, which can limit some of the fun on longer trips. The buttons are also small and difficult to use, and the display is just as bad; using the Ego without the smart phone app can be very frustrating. The Ego is also behind the competition now that more highly featured cameras have been released, and might not be as good of a value in late 2013 now that newer cameras have been released.

    What we love:
  • Inexpensive, very light, easy to use HD camera
  • Doesn't scream for attention (matte black version is particularly stealthy)
  • ¼"-20 screw threads gives infinite mounting options
  • Outstanding still images!
    Not crazy about:
  • Features; the Ego is a little behind (ok, a lot behind)
  • Tiny buttons are frustrating to use

We hope this guide aids you in making the best camera choice to record your own adventures, or helps you get the perfect holiday gift for the enthusiast in your family. To browse through more of the latest cameras, check out our Motorcycle Cameras section!

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