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Until very recently, if you were looking for an action camera to film your mtb exploits, you had one choice to make: whether you were going to stump up the cash for the latest GoPro model…or go for last year’s model. Either way, it was a GoPro that you would end up buying.
To a certain extent that’s still the case. GoPro are the market leaders. They’re the brand that everyone knows about and, chances are, if you’ve seen some awesome looking sports footage (on a bike, snowboard, or wingsuit flyer) it will’ve been filmed on a GoPro.
But when you’ve got a dominant brand in a tech market like that you’ll start to see more and more new entrants looking for a slice of the pie. That’s great news for us because increased competition means that manufacturers don’t become complacent. They’ll continue to push out new features and prices will be kept within reach of mere mortals like you and I.
Today, I’m going to take you through the key features to look out for when you’re choosing a sports action camera and I’ll also pass on the details of some of my favorite cameras.
Remember: cool slow mo footage set to an old skool drum ‘n’ bass track…or it didn’t happen.
Ok, Mr Spielberg, let’s take a look.
How to choose an action camera for mountain biking
As with any tech product, the features list on a typical action camera is mostly incomprehensible. There will be lots of digits, a handful of letters (capitalized, natch) and words that you’ve never heard of before. 4K, 1080p, 23.6MP, 1720 mAh, in-camera horizon leveling, Speed Ramp capability. The list goes on.
Which of these are important? Which of these are worth paying extra for? Which are just fluff or features that we’ll never use? Let’s look at which are the critical features that you should look for when you’re buying a new action camera.
The standard for action cameras these days is 4K (although some, like GoPro’s HERO9, now shoot in an even more impressive 5K). If you’re going to be showing your videos on a phone screen or laptop then you can get away with less than this (e.g. 1080p) but the safest way to futureproof your purchase is by choosing 4K or more.
Also look out for the frames-per-second (fps) rate (the HERO9, for example, can shoot 60fps at 4K, or 240fps at 1080p. Why is this relevant? Well, it’s all about slow mo. The higher the fps rate the more you’ll be able to slow down the footage of your cool stunts. 24fps is the standard for film and high definition video. So cameras that are capable of shooting at faster rates than this enable you to slow resulting Epic Film down further and further.
Image stabilization technology
Action cameras are inevitably attached to things that move. High grade image stabilization tech is therefore essential to ensure that your footage isn’t reduced to a blurred and shaky experience that leaves your viewers reaching for the sick bag. Most cameras these days will offer some degree of stabilization. For many this will be electronic (such as HyperSmooth from GoPro) or optical.
Claimed battery life is a useful indicator. You don’t want to lose power just at the critical moment when you’re about to go over that big jump. But, remember that claimed battery life is just that – claimed. The actual battery life will depend on many factors, such as the age of the battery, whether you’ve got the screen on, whether you’re live-streaming footage, and the ambient temperature. Many manufacturers offer additional batteries and I think this is a great investment. Either pack the second one with you or leave it on charge ready for action.
Make sure that the camera gets good reviews for toughness because it’s virtually guaranteed that it’s going to get wet, get dropped, get muddy, and get shaken. You want a camera that is going to take all of that abuse, laugh, and carry on filming your amazing exploits. You do not want a camera that needs to be wrapped in cotton wool every time you head out the door and will cry like a big baby at the first splash or jolt.
Ease of operation
These days most action cameras make use of touchscreens to operate the controls. Bear in mind though that you’ll likely be operating the camera wearing gloves. In the summer these might be fingerless, so you’ll have full dexterity and can operate fiddly screen menus. However, if you’re planning on using your camera in the winter, then bulky non-touchscreen gloves can make this trickier. If that’s the case then it’s worth looking for cameras that can also be operated either with device buttons or a remote control.
Many action cameras will come with a few accessories in addition to the actual camera. These might include a helmet mount, possibly an extra battery (which is very useful to have) and, if you’re very lucky, a waterproof case. I’d recommend picking up a separate bundled accessory pack to go with your camera. Many of these are very competitively priced and come with a multitude of useful extras. Mounts to affix your camera to anyone or anything and a tidy carrying case to keep them all safe in.
My first introduction to cool bike videos was when a friend of mine, Steve, said, “You should take a look at this Danny MacAskill guy, he does some pretty epic stuff”. And, with that throwaway comment, the rest of my day was gone in a flurry of jaw-dropping stunts. His, not mine, unfortunately.
The seed was sown though. Yeah, we might not all be as talented as Danny, but if we take some footage of our own mtb adventures, slow it down, add a filter, maybe a soundtrack from an up-and-coming artist, then we too can look like we’re the star of a Red Bull video.
Just gotta get that camera now…
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