Seven best GoPro alternatives for shake-free, hi-res action filming
The action camera market is dominated by one name, but there are plenty of other brands out there that can match its best features. Here are the best GoPro alternatives to help you seamlessly capture that footage
GoPro has become synonymous with action cameras, with the brand leader dominating the discussion about how to film adventures, sports, skiing and anything else that takes place outdoors. However, action cameras are relatively simple devices, and there’s not much about the latest GoPro Hero 6 Black (HK$3,300) that isn’t offered by other brands, some even with a smaller price tag.
Before you buy, pay attention to three basic criteria that can make or break a deal: resolution, frame rates and image stabilisation.
The resolution is all about the number of pixels a camera’s sensor records, with the current must-have feature being 4K. That measures 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which produces an eight-megapixel image. If you intend to watch your videos on a 4K TV, then you should definitely be trying to film in 4K, too.
If you haven’t got a 4K TV yet, don’t worry because, arguably, the quality of full HD 1,080 videos is better. Most 4K action cameras capture in very low frame rates, and run down the battery twice as fast.
The frame rate quoted by action camera manufacturers is expressed as fps, (frames-per-second). It tells you the number of still images put on the screen per second. Ideally, it should be 50 or 60 fps, the same as a TV picture, but many action cameras skimp on this and offer 10 or 15 fps for 4K resolution video. That produces a very flickery image.
So an action camera that offers, say, 4K at 15fps may have lots of pixels in it, but it’s not going to be much fun to watch.
Conversely, the lower the resolution, the higher the frame rate. So while an action camera may offer 4K/15fps, it may also offer full HD 1,080/120fps, or even HD 720/240fps. That latter resolution – still high definition, so good for watching on a big TV – has a frame rate that’s fast enough to also produce slow motion footage.
The third piece of the jigsaw is image stabilisation. This is a relatively high-end feature that attempts to eliminate camera shake. If you think about it, that’s hugely important for a camera that’s meant to be used while cycling/climbing/skiing.
The problem with moving the camera while it shoots video is that it produces blurred frames, making the result jittery and essentially wasting all of that 4K resolution.
Arguably, as important as pixels, electronic image stabilisation on an action camera tends to use extra pixels to act as a buffer, repositioning the image from frame-to-frame to counteract any movement. It’s brilliantly successful on some action cameras, but can have the side-effect of producing an overly glossy image.
There are a few less important features, such as voice control and an ability to take photographs in RAW format (with unprocessed and uncompressed image data), that are found on the market leader, the GoPro Hero 6 Black. With its 4K/60fps video, 1,080p/240fps video, and hard-to-fault image stabilisation, that camera is highly impressive, highly priced at HK$3,300, and massive overkill for most of its owners.
Look around at the market and it reveals several other action cameras – some costing much less, but others with unique features – that are all worth considering.
This is perhaps the closest you can get to the GoPro Hero 6 Black. Capable of 4K/60fps video and of shooting impressive 12-megapixel photographs in RAW, the Yi 4K+ (HK$2,669) is lighter than its rival.
However, it’s not waterproof, and it lacks some of the features of its rival, such as GPS, a gyroscope and an accelerometer. If you don’t need that kind of data, and you’re not going underwater, the Yi 4K+ is excellent value. Battery life for 4K video is an hour.
Polaroid Cube Plus
If you want to experiment with an action camera without breaking the bank, the highly affordable Polaroid Cube Plus (HK$1,288) is a reasonable start. Pocket-sized and available in three colours (black, red or blue), this gadget takes eight-megapixel photographs and shoots video at a maximum resolution of 1,080p/30fps.
However, it also does slow motion at 720p/120fps, shoots time-lapses, and has a shutter delay for taking selfies. Sure, it’s more “lifestyle camera” than action camera, but there’s plenty here to experiment with. Battery life is an hour.
Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
Like the GoPro Hero 6 Black, the Olympus Tough TG-Tracker (HK$2,990) is waterproof down to , 30 metres, which is a relatively rare feature in a camera without having to buy a waterproof housing. It’s also dustproof, shockproof up to 2.1 metres and freezeproof down to -10°C.
It captures video up to 4K/30fps and 8MP stills, and has a unique LED headlight for filming in darkness and low light. It’s also got a suite of Action Track Sensors for measuring GPS, direction, speed and temperature, data which is added to your video. Available in black or green, and has a 90-minute battery life.
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 (HK$3,899) shoots at 4K/30fps, and has G-Metrix sensors to record such details as speed, altitude and global position and g-force (and even your heart rate if you buy a special Garmin sensor). You can overlay all this information onto your video. It does include some image stabilisation, but only as far as 2.7K/30fps. Battery life is just over an hour when shooting in 4K.
Since it costs almost twice as much as a GoPro Hero 6 Black, why choose the Sony DSC-RX0 (HK$6,290)? One reason is its unique one-inch sensor and huge ISO options, which make it capable of filming in low light without producing noisy images. Another is 15-megapixel still images in RAW.
However, perhaps the most enticing feature on the DSC-RX0 is its very high frame rate, which goes all the way up to 1,000fps for super-slow motion video. Despite all of these talents, the DSC-RX0 is limited to capturing video in full HD 1080p, and battery life is a mere 35 minutes.
Casio G’z Eye GZE-1
Known as the G’z Eye (HK$2,180), this contraption is waterproof down to 50 metres, shockproof from a height of four metres, and can operate at minus 10℃degrees Celsius (so it’s good for skiing). It has a much wider angle lens than most action cameras, but the resolution is pretty basic at Full HD 1080p/30fps.
Still photos are just six megapixels. Those with a Casio WSD-F20 smartwatch can control the G’z Eye remotely, and see a live feed. Battery life is 95 minutes.
Another Sony action camera that’s more expensive than a GoPro, the FDR-X3000R (HK$4,280) is nevertheless worth considering for one reason. Its remote live view display enables the user to monitor what’s being filming while cycling. Capable of 4K/30fps and with a digital zoom (a rarity on action cameras), the FDR-X3000R boasts stunning image stabilisation. So good, in fact, that a video of a hectic bike ride ends up all a bit dreamlike. Battery life is just an hour if you record in 4K.