Photography

10 Best Action Cameras 2016-2017

This year's best action cameras, selected by the Whitelines Team

Here’s a category that’s come on leaps and bounds since the days when getting footage on the hill involved packing a JVC camcorder – one that took MiniDV tapes if you were lucky– in your backpack. It’s almost impossible to keep up – indeed, between our photoshoot/testing session and the publication of this guide, new GoPros have been announced.

All the models on this list still have the edge over your mobile phone though, and even more so when you take their durability into account. For stress-free, hassle-free filming on the mountain, nothing beats an action camera.

“Whichever action camera you get, it’s worth practicing at every opportunity”

The quality varies quite a bit, but like with any product it’s pointless to spend extra wedge on bells and whistles that you don’t need. The functions of each differ quite a lot too, so think carefully about what you want to use yours for.

Whichever action camera you get, it’s worth practicing at every opportunity. Our guide on how to use a GoPro properly is a good starting point, after which you should have a proper sit-down with your magic box and get to grips with all its functions.

Scroll down to view all action cameras, or skip to a particular brand using the links below

EE | DJI | DriftGarminGoPro | I-On | TomTom

All photographs by Sami Tuoriniemi – click any image to enlarge

 Production: Tom Copsey / Andrew Duthie / Tobias Grünwald / Sam Oetiker / Sami Tuoriniemi

EE 4GEE Action Camera

The action camera market has opened up to the mainstream, with more household names producing their own takes on the ‘wide lens and electronic stuff sealed in a rugged waterproof housing’ brief, yet it’s still surprising to see a UK phone network company enter the fray. EE have done just that with their 4GEE action camera.

EE have run with a design that looks familiar – small box of tech with a lens that sits in a plastic housing to protect it from shocks and weather – and this housing also currently allows you to connect to a GoPro mount enabling it to be used with a bunch of accessories.

Internally, the 4GEE allows you to shoot 1080p HD footage at 30fps, 13 megapixel stills and has 2.5GB of internal memory. This can be expanded as it accepts up to a 64GB SD card. It also uses a rechargeable Lithium ion battery that they claim will handle up to three hours of live streaming. Wait, live streaming?

Yep, where this action camera pushes the boat out is its capability to stream HD footage live over the EE 3G or 4G networks. This is achieved by pairing it to your phone and using a video sharing app called skeegle, through which your friends/family/pet can find you on and gawp at your latest XXXploits. The 4GEE also comes with a Viewfinder Watch that helps you frame your shots through its video screen, and also lets you control the camera from your wrist.

Though there’s no 4K, HD mega-mo, timelapse or the aspect ratio offerings of the 4GEE’s better-known brethren, it might be an affordable action camera option if you get it thrown in for a tenner with your new data plan – there are several pricing options available on the EE store. Though the specs and settings options offered are far from the benchmark in this category, the broadcast capabilities may yet be interesting if you want to live stream your top-to-bottom runs at the local snowdome.

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DJI Osmo Action Camera

If your followcam footage is still falling short of what you’d like, then the DJI Osmo is something you have to check out.

By combining a high-quality camera with a gimbal, this gets a steady shot every time.

Selected for The Snowboard 100 – take a closer look at the DJI Osmo here

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Drift Ghost-S Action Camera

The Ghost-S is Drift’s most powerful camera, which pulls together HD quality video, crisp stills and long battery life into a rugged little unit that only requires a case if you plan on going deeper than 3m underwater – and if you plan on going deeper there’s a separate housing available that’s rated to 60m.

The Drift Ghost-S’s processor, Sony CMOS sensor and 7-element aspherical lens technology work in unison to give crisp, smooth 1080p full HD video at 60fps or 12MP photos in still mode. You can even combine the modes to shoot hi-res images while filming, and there’s even a Flashback mode where you can record continuously but only save upon ‘tagging’ using the remote.

Like most of its competitors these days, there’s a companion smartphone app that you connect to via built-in WiFi that can use to frame, control the camera and preview your content, but unlike most others (with the exception of the GoPro Hero4 Silver), the Drift-S holds a vivid 2” Gorilla Glass LCD screen with which you can adjust settings and play back what you captured.

The Drift-S also boasts a rotatable lens for mounting it how you need to while still recording a straight image, a simple 2-Way radio remote, and packing in 3.5 hours of battery life means you can stack more footy between charges. It’ll do burst sequences up to 10fps and timelapses at a variety of intervals, too.

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Garmin VIRB XE Action Camera

Garmin are another relatively new player in the action camera marketplace, and apply their knowledge in the field of GPS tracking effectively to their VIRB XE model. this allows you to log a whole bunch of performance data along with the nuts and bolts of quality HD footage and photos.

Purely as an action camera, this performs admirably: the unit is rugged and waterproof to 50 metres without needing a case (thus improving audio), and can shoot 1440p HD video at 130 frames per second. It can also do 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps. The 12MP sensor produces quality stills, bursts up to 30 images per second, can be set to automatically capture photos over long periods of time at customisable intervals, and there’s an extended timelapse mode in which the VRIB XE sleeps between shots to maximise battery life.

But what’s this performance data? Interestingly, the Garmin VIRB XE records information such as speed, elevation and temperature via compatible accessories and you have the option of tracking and overlaying the stats over your footage.

Built-in WiFi allows connection to a variety of Garmin devices to the camera, or even just your phone via the Garmin app. This allows you to control and view multiple cameras, playback and edit recorded footage. As for mounting, it the VIRB XE uses the industry standard attachment popularised by GoPro, so you should have no issues with connecting it to whatever mount you might need.

If you’re a snowboarder/part-time data nerd, the Garmin VIRB XE will be well up your street.

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GoPro Hero4 Black Action Camera

GoPro effectively owned the action camera market for a few years, but recently their place on the perch has become more cluttered as several companies with more mainstream origins have staked their claim at a slice of the pie. However, with the Hero4 Black edition GoPro pulled a Crocodile Dundee on the young pretenders: “That’s not an action camera. THIS is an action camera.”

The specs and features this packs are mindblowing for something little bigger than a matchbox: ultra high-res, high framerate video is front and centre here, with 4K30 (four times the resolution of 1080p at 30 frames per second), 2.7K60, 1080p120, 720p240 options available to give you the mix of clarity and super slow motion you want with a selection of aspect ratios. For professionals there are Protune settings to manually control things like colour, ISO limit, exposure and more for both video and photo, while amateurs will dig the Auto Lowlight mode.

On the photo side, the 12-megapixel camera can shoot continuously for up to 30 seconds at a variety of intervals. There’s also a timelapse setting, and even one specifically for night timelapses.

You can control, view and share direct from your phone via WiFi, or use the remote to control as with previous iterations, but the Hero4 boasts improvements to audio, usability, wireless connectivity and more over its predecessor. And of course all of the above features sit in a small box housed in a rugged plastic case that you can take pretty much anywhere, and that you can fit onto any one of the ocean of GoPro accessories.

This doesn’t come cheap though. We’d say the majority of people would be better off saving a hundred sheckels and going for the Silver edition below, but if you value the ability to go full mega-mo and will actually use the ample amount of pro settings this offers, then it will be money well spent.

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GoPro Hero4 Silver Action Camera

Though its specs aren’t quite as jawdropping as the Hero4 Black, the Silver iteration still packs a heavy punch that will be more than acceptable for the lion’s share of people in the market for such a camera.

In terms of video capture, this will do 4K (though only at at 15 frames per second) but step it down to 1080p and you’re into 60fps territory, allowing you to do decent slow motion. Taking it down to 720p gets you 120fps, knocking on the door of mega-mo. As with the Hero4 Black, you get the assortment of field of view options, Auto Lowlight mode and Protune settings.

For still shots, the highest quality settings yields 12MP photos (4000x3000px) and you can burst capture for up to 30 seconds (at a rate of 30 photos per second). There’s also a timelapse option – including a night-specific mode – to make time go fast, and a Video timelapse mode that automatically stitches the frames into an mp4.

Where the GoPro Hero4 Silver really stands alone, though, is with its integrated touch screen display that allows you to frame shots, adjust settings and view what you’ve just captured on the fly with no need for fiddling through the traditional menu or WiFi app connections.

With perhaps the exception of certain professionals or ultra-HD mega slow-mo fans, the GoPro Hero4 Silver is the perfect action camera choice for snowboarders wanting a mix of epic quality, control and ease of use.

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GoPro Hero Session Action Camera

If you were stupid enough, you could just about manage to swallow the GoPro Hero Session – it’s that small.

Best leave the DIY colonoscopies to someone else, though; this little cube can revolutionise your footy-farming on the mountain.

Selected for The Snowboard 100 – take a closer look at the GoPro Hero Session here

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iON Air Pro 3 Action Camera

iON eschew the box-with-lens action camera form factor for the tubular sniper scope you see here on the Air Pro 3. This one’s made from super durable rubberised aluminium, and the whole thing is built to be waterproof to 15 metres without needing a case. As well as lowering the weight, it also gives clearer audio than if you had to encase it in a housing.

The iON Air Pro 3’s 12MP image stabilised sensor captures 1080p footage at 60fps (and 720p at 120fps for 4x slow motion) and can shoot stills, burst mode sequences and timelapses. It has automatic aperture settings to make sure you get the right amount of light in varying conditions, and a super wide 160º lens means it’ll always catch the action

Attach the included WiFi PODZ and you’ll be able to pair it with your smartphone using the free app, from which you can check content or upload straight to the internet without even touching your camera – you even get 10GB of free cloud storage with this camera.

The battery is said to last around 2.5hrs with WiFi on, so you should safely have enough juice for capturing the highlights of a day’s shredding on this.

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iON Air Pro Lite Action Camera

iON’s Air Pro Lite is a 1080p HD action camera on the more affordable end of the spectrum, housed in a rubberised aluminium housing that’s waterproof to 10 metres without needing an outer case.

The lens has a 170º angle field of view and the sensor can record in 1080p at 30fps; recording in 720p means you get smooth slow motion at 60fps. The 5-megapixel camera shoots decent – if not spectacular – stills, burst sequences and timelapses, and both video and photo are controlled with a simple, one-touch button.

The Air Pro Lite WiFi package includes the regular camera, and extra WiFi PODZ that attach to allow you to wirelessly control the camera using the iON app. You also get that 10GB of cloud storage space thrown in.

While it’s by no means the most advanced action camera on the market today, it’s durable, dependable and comes at a price point that allows those with a smaller budget to get in on the POV footage hype.

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TomTom Bandit Action Camera

When you think of TomTom you probably think of GPS navigation. So is their Bandit action camera the equivalent of a London cabbie with The Knowledge or the sketchy fella who rolls down the windows on his Capri to enquire “You want ride? Nice price my friend?”

We can happily report it’s more the former: the quality of footage and photos it captures compares favourably with some of the Bandit’s more illustrious competitors, plus it brings a few features to the table, too.

In terms of specs, the TomTom Bandit can pull off 4K video at a maximum of 15fps, 1080p at 60fps, and 720p at 120fps, while the 16MP still camera mode can shoot bursts up to 10/second or continuously (from 1 per second to 1 per 60 seconds) for timelapses or when you can’t get hands on the button. The naked camera itself is splashproof, but to take it underwater swap on the included Dive Lens cover and you’re good for down to 40m. You also have a selection of Scene Mode (auto, night, bright etc) and Field of View options to play with.

One interesting feature is when the TomTom Bandit is recording, its integrated sensors automatically note key moments with its ‘Action Highlights’ feature – tagging major changes in rotation, acceleration, speed, G-force and more on the clip’s timeline, making it easier for you to hunt down the meat of the action. It also allows you to select sections of a clip and edit them together via the companion phone app (that connects via built-in wifi) without needing to download them first – perfect for banging out the hammers on the fly from the mountain restaurant.

The Batt-Stick is ingenious too – rather than having to worry about another cable that you mustn’t lose, the TomTom Bandit pulls apart at the back to reveal a USB connector attached to the battery/microSD card housing that plugs straight into your computer to charge and/or transfer files.

With the Bandit, TomTom have a solid, reliable, high quality action camera offering that certainly has enough in the can to compete at its price point. Sure, it’s a little bulkier and pricier than some other offerings, but Action Highlights, on-the-fly editing and the Batt-Stick mean it definitely deserves a look.

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