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Buyers’ Guide: Action Cams

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In September 2004, GoPro introduced its first HD Hero camera. Not long after others trickled into the market. Some were good, and some were junk. The junk ones generally were produced in China, sold cheaply, and while they may have looked like a GoPro, the build quality and the footage they produced were significantly lower. Some solid alternative action cams came from Sony, DJI, SJCAM, Mevo, Polaroid, and a few others.

One company that had potential to give GoPro a run for its money was YI Technology. As of a couple years ago, YI had a nice line of quality cameras, and its top-of-the-line Yi 4K+ could really compare well with GoPro, quality-wise. In doing research for this guide, I found YI has discontinued its action-cam line, shifting its efforts to smart home security cameras and dash-cams.

Action cams remain a popular option for action sports (of course), POV video, drones, underwater video capture, and vlogging applications where a front-facing screen makes a difference. GoPro’s Hero 9 Black (Figure 1, below) still grabs most of the headlines, but other contenders round out a thriving and reasonably diverse action-cam market.

Figure 1. GoPro’s Hero 9 Black 5K action cam

The table below shows some of the more popular brands that have the features most professionals want. The baseline spec for showing up here is 1080p60 video, but many go well beyond that with 30p or 60p UHD support, with the Hero 9 maxing out at 5K resolution. They all have Wi-Fi control and monitoring, but not all have live streaming. Many are waterproof and can shoot under water. Some require a waterproof housing, some do not. Try as one might, Wi-Fi doesn’t get much traction under water.

Any of these action cameras might prove useful for production and streaming pros to have in their toolbox for shoots that demand the go-anywhere flexibility action cams provide.

[This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Streaming Media Magazine]

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