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Sports Action Camera Buying Guide

Sports action cameras like the GoPro Hero range and Garmin Virb are popular with cyclists and extreme sports athletes. These compact and durable cameras are designed to mount to helmets, bikes, cars and other objects so you can capture epic moments from a unique perspective.

These cameras come with a wide angle (also known as fish-eye) lens so you can capture the whole moment. A wide lens also means you don't need to be as careful about setting up the perfect shot. We've put together this simple guide to help you through the world of resolution, frames per second and sensors.

Resolution

As a general rule the more you spend on an action cam, the higher the resolution. Resolution is measured in pixels (p), and now most good action cams will come with a minimum of 720p - considered High Definition.

1080p resolution is also very common, with 1440p (2.7k) and Ultra HD 4K coming onto the market. This is an ever evolving industry so expect rapid advances with more affordable cams being fitted with high resolutions.

Most people will be watching their footage on smartphones, tablets or laptops (maybe a 40” T.V.) so in that case 1080p and even 720p is more than enough. Most people don't have computers or T.V's to watch 4K footage on yet either, although 4K is the future so may be worth investing now. Also 4K offers great crop-ability for editing, letting you frame the perfect shot.

camera resolution chart

Sensor

When it comes to photo clarity, the general rule of thumb is the higher the megapixels (MP) the crisper your photos will be. However, there is an important caveat. The size of the sensor in your camera plays a larger role in the quality of your image.

A bigger sensor with a lower MP will gather and store more information (clarity and focus) than a smaller sensor with a higher MP. This means a 5MP camera can produce a better photo than a 12MP camera, with a better quality sensor. It’s worth checking the quality and size of the sensor in any camera you’re looking to buy.

Lens

Most action cameras favour a wide field of view (FOV) which lets you capture as much of the action as possible. This is ideal for point of view (POV) moment when you want to capture yourself and your environment.

At the top end of the market your find multiple FOV settings. For instance, the GoPro comes with Ultra Wide, Medium and Narrow settings that give you a range of options depending on your preference.

Frames Per Second

FPS stands for ‘frames per second’ and is essential for creating a smooth video. 30fps is considered the standard for smooth viewing.

You’ll often see the resolution and framerate as one figure, e.g. 1080x30 or 1080p30. This means a camera can shoot smooth 1080p footage at 30 frames per second. High-end cameras can take things further by offering 120fps. High frame rates let you capture super slow motion is stunning clarity. This is ideal if you’re looking to edit your footage into a film. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as watching an epic moment in slow motion.

Burst Settings

Most action cameras will come with photo burst settings. Your camera will take a lot of photos in quick succession so you can capture every moment of a trick or move. This helps you pick the best shot to show off to your mates.

GoPro session is super compact

Durability

Housing

Action camera's are a big investment, so you'll want to keep the lens and sensor protected from debris, damage and the weather. Many camera's are designed to be durable for the knocks and scrapes during sport. Some, Like GoPro, come with weatherproof and waterproof outer shells.

If you're into water sports or you're going to be getting wet then you'll want a camera that can be housed in a waterproof case. Mountain bikers will also want to protect their camera from flying debris.

Mounts

The popularity of action cameras means there is a whole industry creating new and versatile camera mounts for them. It's worth looking to buy a camera with mounts appropriate for your sport. For example there are handlebar and saddle mounts for cycling and watersport mounts for surfing.

Also look for body mounts such as chest straps and helmet mounts. GoPro have the widest range of mounts on the market but you can find mounts for all the major brands.

Connectivity

GPS Enabled

GPS cameras like the Garmin Virb range allow you to gather data such as location, speed and altitude which you can map to your footage. Cameras like the Virb X and Virb XE allow you to overlay some of this data on the video your shoot.

The Virb X & XE also overlay data from an Garmin accessories such as a HRM, speed, elevation and temperature over your footage.

WiFi

WiFi connectivity is built-in to most action cameras so you can share video and photos immediately, make quick edits or sync with remote controls or other third part tech. Garmin is leading the way with ANT+ connectivity.

Garmin sports action camera footage

Display

A camera display is a great way to view your footage at the trailside. You can also use a display to set up shots and adjust settings on the fly. However, few action cams come with a display because of their compact size but the Hero4 Silver does.

To get around this, cameras can be paired with smartphones so you can stream footage direct to your phone and make on the fly edits from there.

Sports action camera display

Battery Life

Unfortunately action cameras don't tend to have a long battery life. The compact design of these cameras doesn't leave much room for large battery. You can expect anywhere from between 1.5 hours to 4 hours when shooting in 1080p but check before you buy.

On longer rides it's worth taking a spare battery, or rechargeable batteries so you don't miss anything epic. Some cameras are easier to swap out batteries than others.

Weight

For cycling most action cameras are likely to be mounted to your helmet to give an immersive POV experience. That means you'll want a lightweight camera that doesn't weigh you down. Action cameras are compact and lightweight, weighing between 75g – 200g depending on the model you go for.

Summary

A sports action camera is a great way to show off to your mates. The market is expanding quick with more power sensors, resolution and FPS trickling down through price points. When choosing a camera look for one with a resolution and frame rate that suits your needs, and has the best quality sensor for its price point. This will give you the best quality footage.

See our full range of sports action cameras