Garmin VIRB Action Cameras (2016) vs GoPro Fusion (2018)
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
Key things to consider when buying a Action Camera
Our super simple Buying Guide
Action cameras are a niche product aimed at sports and action-video enthusiasts. They’re designed for capturing fast-moving objects and are built to withstand drops and, in most cases, contact with water. Some people also use them for filming vlogs or even as dashcams.
A good action camera needs to take high-quality video of fast-paced and shaky action scenes. That means that being able to record at high frame rates and having good image stabilization is incredibly important.
One can find a decent action camera for beginners for under $100. Products in this price range typically take decent 1080p video, need external cases to be waterproof, and have some form of electronic image stabilization. Action cams for enthusiasts on a budget cost around $200 and can typically record passable 4K video and come with decent image stabilization. However, action cameras that take professional-looking videos usually cost upwards of $300. For that amount of money, you typically get excellent 4K video at fluid framerates, great image stabilization, a waterproof body, useful accessories, and software that allows for some interesting, advanced shooting modes. Action cameras that cost more than $400 are usually designed for taking spherical, 360° video.
A typical action camera can stay relevant for around 3 years. Even though most of the main competitors in this space release new cameras every year, they’re usually only incremental updates that don’t warrant an upgrade. They mostly come with a one year warranty.
GoPro is the best-known brand in the action camera market. Its cameras are versatile, shoot great video, and have an excellent build quality that other competitors are trying to emulate. GoPro gets away with having more expensive products because it's a recognizable brand that has refined its cameras over the years. Older models of GoPros are still an excellent choice for most consumers. But that doesn’t mean that products from other brands can’t be as good; many options do certain things better, sometimes at a fraction of the price.
Yi is a company that produces excellent budget action cams. Products from this Chinese company offer better value for money than its GoPro rivals. While they don’t quite stack up against its competitors at the highest end, their low and mid-budget options often perform on a par with considerably more expensive options.
DJI, a company that’s mostly known for developing excellent drones, has also recently entered the action camera market. Its first offering was very well reviewed and can go toe-to-toe with some of the best GoPro models.
Insta360 produces 360° cameras that are a perfect choice for someone who wants to enter the world of spherical video without breaking the bank.
These are some of the most important specs to consider when buying an action camera:
- Frames per second - The number of frames per second at which a camera can record determines how fluid the motion of the subject is and is essential to capture fast-paced scenes properly. Most traditional content is recorded at 24 frames per second, which leads to choppy and blurry action shots. For a smooth experience, one should look at action cameras that record at a minimum of 60 fps at the desired resolution. Recording at even higher framerates is ideal for taking great-looking slow-motion shots.
The number of frames that a camera can process is heavily influenced by the resolution of the video - the higher the pixel count, the lower the fps. Some action camera manufacturers list high maximum resolutions at the expense of decent framerates, which makes recording at such a resolution virtually useless for capturing fast-paced action.
- Image stabilization - One of the most important features for filming action shots is image-stabilization, which helps eliminate camera shake and prevents shots from being blurry. Action cameras without decent stabilization produce shaky, and mostly unusable footage. There are two types of video stabilization - software and hardware. Both can lead to good results when implemented well.
- 4K resolution - The higher the resolution, the sharper the video. The current gold standard for decent action cameras is 4K, which has four times as many pixels as the 1080p Full HD resolution that's typically found on budget action cams. Most cameras sacrifice the number of frames per second to be able to capture such high-resolution shots. Cameras that can record at 4K need more processing power and a better sensor, which typically leads to a higher price tag.
360 action cameras usually record at resolutions that are even higher than 4K. However, because they take in their entire surroundings, the final image isn't as sharp as 4K video taken with a normal camera.
- Waterproof - Waterproof cameras can survive splashes and being immersed in water. It's an especially important feature in action cameras because of the nature of their use. Most action cams have optional waterproof cases that make the camera bulkier and usually negatively affect audio quality. Many high-end cameras, on the other hand, have fully waterproof bodies. Each camera can be submerged to different depths, which is why it's important to know what it'll be used for before making a decision.