Action camera guide

Waterproof action camera buying guide

Surfing, SUPing or snorkeling – its all better relived in glorious HD. Here’s our guide to buying a waterproof action camera.

There are two very clear ends of the waterproof video camera spectrum: there are cameras which can be purchased over the counter at your local supermarket, and there are specialist cameras which can set you back more than your mortgage. We’ll be looking a group of cameras which fit somewhere in between the two – the HD action camera.

Small, hard wearing and easy to operate, action cameras are capable of shooting in full HD quality in the most challenging of conditions. They’re also affordable, can be used straight out the box and require no camera skills, making them an ideal purchase for anyone with a passion for watersports.

So first things first, what are the options? Featured below are three different action cameras, each of which have their own unique style and set of features. While no means an exhaustive list, these range of cameras all perform brilliantly in the wet.

GoPro (from £180)

GoPro is the household name of the action camera world, and has become the ‘go to’ camera for a large proportion of action sport enthusiasts, from diving, to downhill mountain biking and everything inbetween.

GoPro’s newest and best camera yet is the HERO3+, which comes in three flavours – White, Silver & Black, the latter of which is the best, and most expensive of the lot. This isn’t to say that older GoPro models aren’t worth a look too – the HERO2, for example, is still a very good little camera in its own right, and considerably cheaper than the HERO3.

Each of the new HD HERO cameras come with a protective waterproof case that is capable of withstanding depths of up to 197 feet (60 meters), making it a great purchase for those who want to get going straight out of the box.

Drift HD (from £155)

Drift is another action camera brand which is well known amongst action sports fans world-over. Its bullet-shaped body, matte black finish and wide angle lens make it one of the best looking cameras on the market, while its vast array of features make it extremely powerful.

The HD Ghost and the HD Ghost S are the best options where Drift is concerned, and both can be modified for watersports with the addition a range of accessories and mounts. Unlike the GoPro, the Drift does not come with a waterproof case, but the variety of accessories available make it a highly customisable piece of kit.

Contour (from £300)

The Contour Plus 2 is the newest arrival in the Contour range. It has some cool and unique features, including GPS tracking, and teamed with a waterproof case is capable of recording at depths of 60m.

The Contour’s bullet shape and lightweight body allow for an array of mounting options, and there are many other mounts available to suit every sport imaginable.

Again, there are many other cameras available, these three recommendations are simply drawn from the top of our metaphorical pile. We’ll be pulling together a more concise list in the near future, so stay tuned. Anyway, back to business.

Action camera buying checklist

Whilst price, features and overall market popularity will naturally help to aid the action camera buying process, there is much more you should consider before splashing the cash:

Versatility – if you’re looking for an action camera for scuba diving exclusively, then something like the Liquid Image Video Mask would be great. However, cameras like the Drift or GoPro are much more versatile, as they can be used in virtually any environment, be it on land, under water, or even in the sky. If you’re someone who partakes in several different action sports, then the best option may be to buy a camera which can be accessorised to handle all of them. Not only is this cheaper than buying multiple cameras, it also gives you a degree of consistency where quality, memory, file size etc. are concerned.

Battery life and Memory  – the average action camera will last between 2-3 hours per charge, depending on the settings you’re using. For the vast majority, this is ample recording time, but there may be circumstances when you require more. Some cameras  have a built-in battery, so when you’re out of juice, you’re out of juice, at least until you find a mains source to recharge it. Other cameras have a removable battery, so you’re able to carry as much spare power as you need.

The same can be said where memory is concerned: check that a camera can take a card big enough to store all of the content you plan on capturing, and purchase additional memory if needs be. There’s no point having extra battery power if you don’t have the memory to store the footage.

Technical features – you need to know that the camera you’re buying is up to the job at hand. Where underwater activity is concerned, be sure to check a camera’s depth rating – is it deep enough for the job? Check the video and image resolution – do you need full HD? Look at the digital video recording rate – will you be doing any slow motion editing? and consider the camera’s computer compatibility – action cameras typically process video as one of two file formats, .MOV or MPG. Both of these formats are widely compatible, however older PCs or Macs may struggle to handle large files, particularly when editing.

Reviews and research – one of the best ways of making an informed decision when purchasing an action camera is to do thorough research online. Blogs, forums and social networks are a great place to ask questions and gauge opinions about action cameras from other users, while video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are a good place to watch videos for reference. It’s important to be specific when doing your research, based around how you plan on using the camera, as different cameras perform better in different environments. Put another way, it’s probably not a great idea to buy a camera based on it’s performance on land, if you’re only going to use it on or under the water.

Action cameras are versatile, easy to use and they won’t break the bank, making them a great option for anyone keen on exploring the world of HD videography. Consider the advice within this post and you’ll be sure to find a camera to meet your needs, which will allow you to capture unforgettable memories for years to come.

Got a question, or some advice for others? Please feel free to post it in the comments box below.

Cover image via Gui Sez.
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Matt B

Snowboarder | Cyclist | Rookie SUPer