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February, 20 2015

Action Cameras

Capturing heart-stopping snow board runs or looking over the shoulder of someone installing an electrical switch--or anything in between--is a snap for the rugged, waterproof and nearly indestructible video cameras known as action cameras.

These cameras are notable for their versatility and adaptability to a wide array of filming situations, largely due to the various types of mounting options: there’s mounting hardware in the form of brackets that can be screwed, bolted or clamped to almost anything such as helmets, snow skis, surfboards, cross country  bikes (motorized or pedaled), boats, and drones. Or choose from bands or straps that can fix the camera to your head, arm or leg or even strap it to a pet to capture their point of view. The mounting options can be adapted to allow you to be in the picture or adjusted to view what you’re encountering. Waterproof cameras or waterproof cases allow you to use the action camera for your wet adventures, such as snorkeling, Scuba diving and more. Most of these cameras can take still shots as well as video, and one new camera features image stabilization to reduce or eliminate motion blur or vibration blur as might occur at times such as when using the camera with a helicopter drone.

Cameras are available to shoot video in 720, 1080p(HD), and now even in 4K resolutions. Standard frame rates up to 30 fps are available; slower frame rates can result in flicker or “stuttering” of the playback, although they require less file space. Some cameras can shoot at 120 fps, which is used in special modes for slow-motion effects. The higher resolutions and faster frame rates used in the more expensive cameras result in near-professional spectacular videos. Using the Bluetooth or WiFi available in some cameras, you can even remotely control your camera and in some cases watch what is being recorded in real time.

You can capture the video or snapshots on memory cards, usually microSD cards. A 64GB card can hold about 1-2 hours of continuous video, depending on resolution and frame rate settings. Some cameras will actually record two files for a given scene: a primary high resolution file for maximum viewing resolution, and a second file set at lower resolution, optimized for efficient uploading and downloading for file sharing via the Internet.

The typical battery life of an action camera is 1-2 hours, although useful life decreases as the battery ages. The field of view for action cameras is usually wide angle so it can include all the action, but it can be set on some cameras to a narrower field of view.

In addition to their entertainment use, action cameras are also used in point of view (POV) instruction and motion analysis in a variety of consumer, commercial, industrial and educational venues.

Here’s a look at a few examples of these remarkable cameras:

GoPro Action Cameras (, first released in 2004, they have become arguably the leader of the pack and known for their great picture quality and extreme ruggedness. Their flat, square design makes them easy to mount on flat surfaces, but at an overall size of 9.7x4x4 inches can be a bit awkward to mount in some situations. The newest in their lineup is the GoPro Hero4 Black ($499.99) and the GoPro Hero4 Silver ($399.99), both featuring 4K resolution. The GoPro Hero4 Black can achieve this resolution at 30fps, but the GoPro Hero4 Silver can only attain this resolution at 15fps. Both are rated waterproof to 131 feet, feature a touch display screen that simplifies camera control, and have a wealth of other features. The cameras provide monaural sound only but do have Bluetooth and WiFi that are used for control, viewing and sharing. Still picture resolution is 12 megapixels.

Sony XDR-1000V ($1000) is a new action camera featuring 4K resolution at 30 fps and the first one to offer image stabilization. A Live View wrist controller acts as a remote control and incorporates a 2 inch viewing screen for displaying live feed from the camera. The camera measures 5x3x6 inches and has stereo sound. It is rated “splashproof.” Still picture resolution is 13.5 megapixels.

iON Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi ($239) has a compact bullet-shaped design and will shoot 1080p (full HD) resolution with up to 60fps frame rate. The Ultra-wide angle lens shoots at 160 degrees but is not adjustable. It offers WiFi, is 4.2x1.5 inches in size, weighs in at 5oz and is waterproof to 49 feet. The still picture resolution is 12 megapixels.

Polaroid XS Extreme Edition HD ($129) is also a bullet-shaped action camera with 1080p resolution at 30 fps, waterproof to 30 feet, and light weight at 4.8oz. The still picture resolution is 16 megapixels. A WiFi version, the Polaroid XS100i Wi-Fi Extreme Edition HD ($179), is also available.

Action cameras are great fun for recording action from the user’s point of view and are also being used increasingly for instructional and informational video.