GoPro might be leading the action cameras market, but the company is by no means the only player.
Rivals such as Nikon, TomTom and Garmin are just a few of the big name companies vying for attention in a crowded market. The cameras from these manufactures all slot into the top end of this sector and are packed with features that add to the video capture experience.
The latest trend is to pack in motion sensors, GPS, voice activation and touch-screen LCDs, and to be honest once you’ve used just one of these features you often wonder how on earth you survived before.
But roll the feature sets back and really the most important point of any camera is the video quality. As GoPro and the other companies decide on their new designs and branding campaigns, there are a host of other manufacturers waiting in the wings with cameras that are able to easily rival the premium models when it comes to pure video quality.
These days if you want a good action camera at a cheap price then there are plenty to choose from.
The most famous of all these cameras is the Yi Action Camera. Had it not been for the slightly different button and lens layout and of course the lurid colour options you could easily have mistaken the camera for a GoPro.
But this camera doesn’t just look like a GoPro, it recorded like GoPro, and side-by-side the quality of the footage is identical. What was different, however, was the price. The difference between the Yi and the GoPro Hero4 Silver is about £200/$200.
OK so there are quite a few other aspects such as build quality that don’t quite match up, but the Yi is by no means cheaply made. It looks and feels the part even if it is stripped down slightly and doesn’t have a screen. The waterproof housing is also sold separately. But it remains an excellent camera.
Yi’s success with this camera has extended to the excellent Yi 4K. At around £200/$200 it might not seem cheap, but at present it’s second to only the GoPro Hero5 Black, making it one of the best action cameras on the market.
That’s not just image quality, that’s everything. It’s seriously good as long as you don’t want motion sensors and GPS.
Turning back to the question, are cheap action cameras worth it? The short answer is yes, if you just want great image quality. Today there’s really no reason an action camera shouldn’t be able to capture life in stunning crisp detail.
While the iSAW Wing, which costs less than $100 might not reach the frame rates of the Hero5 Black, but the image quality is still superb.
Going lower down the scale, you have the SJCam SJ4000 at less than £50/$50. Again this is a great camera with amazing video quality. However, whilst these cameras are known entities, there are plenty of manufacturers out there who’s cameras still fall short of the mark, and not all of them are cheap.
When it comes to looking for an action camera, it’s not necessarily about price and features. There are some cameras that are feature-packed but shoot poor video, the EE action camera is a prime example. On the other hand there’s the Yi Action Camera, which as I mentioned earlier, at £50/$50 shoots video at a quality that really is as good as it gets.
What should you look for in a cheap action camera?
- Does it come with a waterproof housing?
- Does it feature Wi-Fi connectivity?
- Is the lens housing flat (making it easy to clean)?
- Does it shoot 1080p video at 60fps?
- Does it come with mounts?
At present the two other key things that you should look for are the Sony Exmor Sensor and the Ambarella processor. These form the heart and brains of the camera, and if a camera features both of these, even in an older form, then the likelihood is that the image quality is going to be good.