Man in Motion: 7 Best Action Cameras

2014 Picks

Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or just a sports enthusiast who wants to document every painful dirt bike crash you will ever go through, the one must-have item on your list is an action cam. While many shoppers will immediately buy the beloved GoPro, there are some equally impressive cameras that are battling for the king of the hill award and some that offer better options for particular kinds of filming. Before you overspend on something you don’t need, consider the one of the action cameras below. You might be pleasantly surprised about the options available.

Polaroid XS100

Polaroid XS100

The XS100 comes with handlebar mounts, but odds are you won’t need them. Where this little camera excels in shooting underwater. The full 170 degree lens planted in its waterproof casing is great for capturing scuba dives off the Great Barrier Reef, whitewater rafting adventures in the rocky mountains, jet ski jousting competitions in the freezing water of the great lakes, and surfing the man-eating waves at Pe’ahi off the coast of Maui. The visual resolution goes up to the expected 1080p but offers much better low-light visibility than most of its competitors, which is perfect for anyone that wants to spend more time submerged. It even looks like the professional cameras used during Shark Week. If you want to go aquatic, save your money and snag the XS100. It only costs about $120. [Purchase]
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SJ1000

SJ1000

Don’t let anyone tell you that you absolutely must spend hundreds of dollars to shoot incredible 1080p action. With the SJ1000 you can get into the game for around $75. It works best as a dash cam for those times when you absolutely must roll a dune buggy a couple dozen times or film that drag race that will one day be labeled “Exhibit A” during your trial, but it works as a helmet cam as well. It is a little narrower than its competitors offering a lens that is only 140 degrees, but the video that captures is just as refined as cameras that are much more expensive and avoids the dizzying wall-eye experience that wider lenses can sometimes give to action cam footage. The only downside to the SJ1000 is the lack of WiFi connectivity, but since it has full HDMI output features, the loss is not a huge one. Besides, when you can buy four of them for the price of one of the more expensive cameras and still be able to get dinner at DelTaco, it is hard to complain too loudly. [Purchase]

GoPro Hero3 Black

GoPro Hero3+ Black

Yes, GoPro was the first name in action cameras, but it certainly doesn’t have the last word. To get decent footage out of the GoPro you now have to buy the $400 Black version since the cheaper White and Silver options just don’t cut mustard in the current market. The Black does shoot great footage, but it lacks some of the features that even cheaper cameras have like an LCD screen that lets you check your shots on the fly and frame up your action in advance. You’ll get the highest possible video quality since the Hero3+ does offer 1440p resolution, which you won’t get anywhere else, but it lacks the feel of a true rough-and-ready shooter. If you plan on shooting cinema grade films, then the GoPro is still the best in the biz, but it’s hard to think of the delicate little machine as the raw, rugged cam for the outdoor adventurer. At $400 the Hero3+ Black feels like it belongs on a studio lot rather than in the trenches. [Purchase]

Sunco DREAM 2

Sunco DREAM 2

Saying that the DREAM 2 is the poor man’s GoPro would be unfair to the camera. It also would be very true. If you are thinking about buying any of the cheaper GoPro models, save yourself the money and the hassle and get the DREAM 2. It will only cost $160 and give you all of the same features that you would get from the GoPro Silver. It even looks the same and can use many of the same mounting brackets whether you are strapping it to your handlebars or your helmet. Though it might be a shameless GoPro clone, it wouldn’t be on this list if it was an exceptionally good clone. It will give you the 1080p resolution and high framerates you require, long recording time, and 170 degree lens. [Purchase]

JVC GC-XA2 ADIXXION 2

JVC GC-XA2 ADIXXION 2

The Adixxion is for the geek on the go. It is highly compact and yet able to take a beating out on the slopes, on the track, or in the air, but where it breaks away from the pack isn’t by being the toughest hombre or even by being the smallest, it is by having the most options for the technology buff. By using the smartphone interface, a single user can control up to 4 Adixxion cameras so that you can get footage from multiple angles or multiple users to truly flesh out your videos. It has a very clear LCD screen on the side that doesn’t add much to the overall weight of the camera, which is below 5 ounces even when fully decked out with memory card and battery. Once you start fiddling with the many options and video modes on the Adixxion, you’ll see how rich and dense it is. At under $300 you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that so seamlessly marries high-tech and durability. [Purchase]

Drift Innovation Ghost-S

Drift Innovation Ghost-S

Now this is an product worthy of the name. It feels entirely self-contained and it is easy to see the little beast mounted on the helmet of some Army Rangers about to go in for a HALO drop over enemy territory. It comes packed with a lens that is capable of 300 degrees of rotation, can shoot in 1080p, and has its own LCD screen on the side that is protected by Gorilla Glass. It doesn’t need any peripherals or cute little pieces to make it work. It is the AR-15 of the sector. You slap a battery in and you are good to go. It gives you 160 degrees of shooting range and works well underwater and in low light. If you want a camera that is tough as barbed wire and feels like it could get turned into a blunt force weapon if you are in a tight spot, then the Ghost-S is right up your alley. At $400 it is at the higher end of the cost spectrum, but it will probably outlive you, so you only need to worry about who you are going to leave it to in your will. [Purchase]

Panasonic HX-A500 4K

Panasonic HX-A500 4K

While it isn’t slated for release until July of 2014, the HX-A500 is already generating buzz. The reason for this is that this camera goes in another direction from the others on this list. It is not a solid piece but rather a 160 degree lens on the end of an arm that attaches to the control body of the camera where it has an LCD screen for user control. It promises new flexibility in what can be recorded and how cameras of the future will be used. The versatile arm gives a broad range of motion and allows the camera to be mounted in small spaces and new ways that will give even more vantage points than the current crop of cameras. It is available for pre-order if you don’t mind spending $400 and it could conceivably be a game changer for the action camera industry. [Purchase]

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