Action Cameras Buyers Guide

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If you want to capture photos or video of extreme sports, travel or anything else where it may be risky to carry a full camera, an action camera could be for you! They're small, rugged and can capture professional quality videos and pictures in an instant.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • - What action cameras are.
  • - How they work
  • - Which key features to look out for

What is an action camera?

Action cameras are designed to film footage, often hands free, for outdoor and extreme activities that you wouldn't be able to film effectively with a standard camera. They are small, lightweight and often have a rugged design or come with housing that makes the camera more durable. This action cameras buying guide will help explain all the features you should look out for.

What is unique about action cameras?

The most unique quality of an action camera when compared with your average camera is that they are much more compact - so they don't get in the way of what you're doing. They are also designed to tolerate excessive motion and activity, and come with waterproof housings to protect them from dust, sand, bumps and scrapes. On higher end cameras, the outer cases are also replaceable.

How do action cameras work?

Many action cameras don't contain a viewfinder, so you must roughly aim your shots by the way the camera is facing. Because of this, action cameras often feature wide angle lenses to capture as much of the action as possible, and ensure you're less likely to miss any exciting moments.

With this in mind, there’s some action cam terminology you should be familiar with before buying.

Frames per second and resolution - what do they mean?

These are the two main numbers that action camera manufacturers will boast about, and they determine the quality of the video recorded by the camera.

Frames per second

The frame rate, measured in frames per second (fps) is the number of still images used every second to make up a video. Normal TV is at 24 or 30fps, but 60fps will make motion appear smoother and less blurry.

So why do I need more frames?

High end action cameras go higher than 60fps, which may at first seem pointless. However, this can actually allow you to create amazing slow-motion shots! 60fps video can be played at half speed at 30fps, or 120fps can even be played at a quarter speed while still staying at a high quality 30fps. This means your videos can be slowed down without looking jerky.

Resolution

The resolution is the number of pixels in each frame taken by the camera, and the amount of detail in the shots. 1080p is full HD (like a HD TV channel), but 720p is also fine for viewing, even on larger screens. Top end cameras can record resolutions as high as 4k, for amazing detail and picture quality.

Key action camera features to look out for

Now that we’ve established how action cameras work, let’s take a look at some popular features to help you distinguish between different makes and models - and find the right camera for your needs.

1. Mounting

Almost all action cameras are designed to be mounted to different surfaces and objects, so you can set them recording and get on with your activities! Our selection of mounts and other action camera accessories is huge, so you can get creative with your camera angles.

2. Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity

Higher end cameras have Wifi or Bluetooth connectivity (or both), meaning that you can use a phone or tablet as a screen. You can also control the settings with your phone or a special remote. This is a really great feature if you only have one chance at getting the right shot.

3. Memory

Most action cameras use Micro SD cards, and it's a good idea to get a class 10 card to make sure that that video quality doesn't suffer. The 'class' of the card tells you how fast it can save your video. One that isn't fast enough can cause jerky video footage or result in missing video sections.

Cards with more memory will hold more video, so it's up to you to decide how much you want to record and how much you want to spend.

4. Image stabilisation

Image stabilisation helps your camera produce smooth footage, which is extremely useful when filming on uneven terrain. We’d definitely recommend this feature to any mountain bikers.

5. Battery life

The battery life of your average action camera will typically last a few hours, which can vary depending on the size of the battery. Filming factors, such as shooting footage at a higher resolution, will use up more power than in default modes, and will drain the battery at a faster rate.

It could be worth having a good think about batteries to determine whether you’ll need spares (and how many) if you’re shooting lots of footage on an action packed weekend away.

6. Waterproofing and water resistance

Action cameras often come with waterproof casing or are designed to be waterproof to allow users to film in poor weather conditions or under water. Typically this ranges from around 10 to 40 metres.

Action Cameras from Halfords

We hope this buying guide has helped you get to grips with the basics of action cameras, and that you now feel equipped to buy the right camera for your next adventure.

Take a look at our range of action cameras, and see if you’re ready to start sharing your experiences with your friends- or whether you’re feeling inspired to become the next viral sensation!

Shop all Action Cameras