After testing a number of mountable action cameras, here are the four companies worth checking out for yourself. All of the below cameras can be mounted to your action enveloped body or onto some part of your action kit (bike, surfboard, etc). Nearly all of them include some sort of wireless capability, either WiFi or Bluetooth to allow you to use a standalone remote control or an app on your smartphone to frame the shot, start and stop recording, preview footage, change settings and/or share to your social networks. Also, for the most part all the cameras below offer the standard range of shooting modes from high frame rates for sweet slow motion effects to time-lapse stills sequences or lower frame rates and smaller pixel dimensions to save on memory. Each of them offer unique qualities as well from waterproofness to mountability to price. Which one is right for you?
King Of The Hill
In the three categories that matter the most to me when choosing an action camera: image quality, mountability and ease of use, GoPro continues to take the cake. While the Hero 3+ Black ($399) stands out as the standard, oft overlooked though are their White and Silver models. The Black offers some incredible features like 4K video, 120fps slow motion and Superview mode and consumers must decide if those capabilities are worth the extra $100 or $200 instead of buying either of the lesser versions. While we would like to think we’ll put all those modes to use for our videos, the reality is we don’t. Check out the camera capabilities side-by-side comparison snipped from the GoPro website.
An easier way to keep our videos interesting is to get really creative with mounting and camera angles. GoPro was built on the idea of being easy to mount in unique locations and has seen how many third-parties have been incredibly innovative in building mounting options. Now that GoPro has developed their cameras to be the best in the market, they are able to delve into building their own mounting options and the list just continues to grow. Some of my favorites are the Jaws Flex Mount, the 3-way and the good old bar/pole mount. Brand new is the Sportsman mount and I’m sure it will have uses beyond the intended bow and arrow users. If the remote is important to you, consider buying it separately for $70. This makes more sense with the $199 White edition of the camera.
Providing some stiff competition to GoPro is the Sony AS100V. Priced like the GoPro 3+ Silver ($299), the AS100V provides nearly as good of image and video quality but what really stands out are the image stabilization (IS) and audio features. Note that the IS feature is not available in the 120/240 FPS high speed modes or the 120 FPS super slow mode. Usually, these clips will be played back in slow motion so camera shake is not much of a concern. But if you’re not sure when you’re going to capture something that needs to be slowed down and just want to record in those modes “just in case” you’re going to have some potentially shaky video to get to those points. When you do use the stabilization mode, it did help with the vertical bounce, but not so much with any sort of side-to-side motion.
The splash proof feature on the AS100V is pretty cool and it’s a wonder why GoPro hasn’t incorporated this sort of weatherproofing. These cameras are (chiefly) designed to record outside in the elements with you. Odds are you’re going to be out there when it rains or snows some or mud gets splashed around or something like that. When stashed in their protective housing it really kills your chance of getting tolerable audio while it’s all going on. On the flip side, the AS100V has a waterproof housing for fully submerged activities and it’s only rated to 16 feet. Granted, if you’re snorkeling in murky waters, you won’t get much light even at 16 feet. But there are plenty of crystal clear waters in the world where the sunlight provides enough light way deeper than that. The GoPro in contrast is not splash proof but the standard case is rated to 130 feet and their dive housing to nearly 200 feet.
Very few third parties are making mounts for the AS100V. Sony has a good start on these mounting options, but still has a long ways go to to provide the same versatility as GoPro. Part of the problem I kept running into was the shape of the AS100V. The only good and easy mounting options are on the side of your head and on handle bars. The chest mount makes it look like you have some sort of protrusion sticking out and although the handle bar mount works great on handle bars, it’s a large and clunky system that won’t really work any where else (like on the chain stays on a bike without interfering with the wheel or pedals).
Nevertheless, if your priority is mostly audio, splashproofness, GPS tracking and built in image stabilization, the AS100V is for you. Here’s a 35 minute in-depth review of the AS100V:
Back in the Game
Contour is back and they have re-launched with two cameras with obnoxiously similar names. The Contour +2 ($299) and Contour Roam 2 ($169). Both are closer to the classic “lipstick case” shape of a camera where the Sony was a tall lipstick case. This causes the same sort of mounting issues I had with the Sony but the Contour cameras (as well as the Polaroid below) are one step ahead of the Sony by including a standard tripod mount screw hole (1/4″ – 20) in them. The sony has a mini screw mount on which an adapter can be attached to provide a standard tripod screw mount. Likewise, GoPro has an adapter to fit a tripod mount. With that, many of the mounts become interchangeable amongst these cameras (whoop-di-doo). Contour seems to have chosen a very interesting way to split up their camera models and features. The less expensive Roam2 is described as the “Dead Simple Action Video” and is waterproof up to 3 feet on its own while the more expensive +2 is not and requires a housing allowing it to go down to 180 feet. From there the +2 gets all the fancy features like GPS, a replaceable battery, bluetooth remote option, HDMI output, an external microphone jack and comes in any color you want as long as you want black. The Roam2 comes in 4 colors, is a fraction of an ounce lighter and as mentioned is waterproof on its own. A very cool feature available on both cameras is the laser alignment. The Contour cameras can shoot out a laser that draws a straight line wherever it is pointing to allow the user to ensure the camera is set to be level. The lens rotates around so the laser line is horizontal so you don’t have to make the difficult adjustments to the mount for a level image. Finally, the large sliding switch to start and stop recording makes it easy and obvious when the camera is recording or not.
The Original Instant Camera
Polaroid is getting into the action camera game with a handful of models including the XS100i ($179) which probably drives the Polaroid marketing team as crazy as the Sony crew considering the seemly random sequences of numbers and letters for product names (although I’m sure there’s some perfectly obvious technical spec reason why they’re named that way which no one cares about). Image and video quality is clearly not as sharp as the previous cameras. Like the Sony and Contour cameras the XS100i is a lipstick case shaped camera and most of the mounts are included in the kit and don’t need to be purchased separately. Like the Contour, the large sliding switch to start and stop recording is awesome and easy to use. The Polaroid even had a vibrating buzz to confirm when the camera starts and stops recording when the visual clue of a light or audio beep isn’t sufficient. The XS100i is also waterproof to 30 feet, claims to have “anti-shake” which I understand to be some form of image stabilization which I couldn’t really tell if it was working and something they call the “G Sensor” to provide auto image rotation depending on how the camera is oriented. It stacks up pretty well against the GoPro 3 White and the Contour Roam 2 on their comparison chart.