Not long ago, action cameras were the hottest gear. Small enough to fit into any pocket and easy to use, these little point-of-vew camcorders also could capture high-definition video. The ability to mount the camcorders on a variety of surfaces or accessories only bolstered their original appeal, along with their rugged build components. Led by GoPro — the company that essentially created the action cam industry — its Hero cameras were in-demand by everyone, from teens to professional filmmakers.
Now, fast-forward to the present. While GoPro is still the undisputed champ, there are a lot more players — from no-name budget manufacturers that want a slice of the pie, to major camera makers like Sony, which sells cameras that rival GoPro in terms of image quality. In fact, action cams are now so ubiquitous that even GoPro is starting to see its sales decline.
GoPro still makes one of the better action cams, though it’s now joined by a few capable friends. Each is fun to use and adept at shooting quality movies you can share on YouTube, whether you want to capture wide-angle shots of your local half-pipe, the big waves down the road, or aerial footage from your drone or dog’s point of view. Below are a few of our current favorites.
GoPro Hero5 Black
Why should you buy this: It is the one action cam to rule them all.
Who’s it for: Casual users and professional filmmakers alike
How much will it cost: $400
Why we picked the Hero5:
If you are looking for a versatile action cam that’s simple to operate yet offers advanced features when you need it, the Hero5 Black is our favorite. GoPro’s latest flagship combines the best of the predecessors, the Hero4 Black and Hero4 Silver – 4K and a touchscreen LCD, to name just two –and has a lower launch price.
But it isn’t just a rehash of the old. While it still shoots great photos and videos, the touchscreen is much improved. Navigating through menus and screens is now far more fluid than previous Hero LCDs. Audio capture is better, thanks to three stereo mics also help with noise canceling. The body of the Hero5 is now rugged without a case.
For us, GoPro Hero cameras’ easy usability has been a big selling point, but it’s even better with the coolest new feature, voice control. Just say, “GoPro,” plus one of several preset commands, and the camera automatically does it. This frees you up from having to fumble with the camera while, say, zooming down a mountain on your bike or running through a trail.
A first for GoPro cameras, the Hero5 has electronic stabilization, which helps to steady vibrations. It won’t cancel out forceful shaking, but it’s a nice option for regular movements. As for image quality, in ideal lighting conditions the camera captures sharp and colorful photos. More advanced users can take advantage of the new RAW format and Protune adjustable settings, plus GPS for location data and telemetry. With built-in Wi-Fi, the Hero5 Black can share content to social media or back up to GoPro’s new Plus subscription-based, online cloud storage service.
Despite the increased competition in the action camera market, GoPro still makes the best. There are plenty of accessories to go with the Hero5, including the new Karma Grip three-axis gimbal and upcoming Karma Drone. And with GoPro’s new developer program, third-party companies are incorporating Hero cameras into their applications for new uses.