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For action cameras, it is difficult to find any brand more ubiquitous and more associated with the genre than the GoPro. These portable, user friendly and durable cameras have provided an exceptional route for owners to incorporate coverage of nearly every degree of action and condition. Meanwhile, GoPro’s nearly endless line of support gear means your camera can go wherever you are and do whatever you do. For diving, hiking and sporting of any kind and every degree, GoPro 3 has a solution for you to get the footage you need. But in this day and age, coverage can mean so many things. With the advent of 360º recording and so many shooting modes, your imagination these days can be limited only by the camera you buy. That’s why we’re going to explore the ever-expanding world of small action cameras and consider which of 4 leading cameras may be best for your needs.
About the GoPro 3
The GoPro 3 is obviously the third installment in the GoPro Hero line. This particular body design has remained true to its original dimensions in order to maintain compatibility with GoPro support gear from the previous three iterations. This means that although the GoPro 3 has reduced size, it has only done so in width and weight and has otherwise maintained the same degree of portability it always had. Updates for this camera are more notable with regard to its wifi capability, updates in image quality and enhancements in water resistance. Of note is that the camera itself comes in multiple editions including silver and black, the black just a more feature friendly and premium version of the silver. We will mostly focus on the GoPro 3 hero black edition with occasional reference to the silver edition.
Starting with what tends to be most important, image quality in the GoPro 3 is much improved as compared to the previous Hero 2 model. GoPro 3 boasts twice the sharpness of its predecessor. In fact, all across the line the GoPro Hero 3 Black edition stats are definitely impressive:
- 1080p full-HD video at up to 60fps,
- 960p Tall HD video (4:3 aspect ratio) at up to 100fps
- 720p HD at up to 120fps,
- Slow motion video friendly WVGA 480p video at up to 240fps
- 1440p (4:3 aspect ratio) at up to 48fps
- 4K Cinema at 12fps
- 2.7K Cinema at up to 30fps
High resolution is great for editors in need of cuts with digital pans and stabilization but can be a bit overkill for shooters just interested in documenting their underwater or action experiences. Without a doubt, the Hero 3 black is hard to match for quality and output in the ever-growing action camera market.
The GoPro 3 comes in several editions, but as for the Hero black, which is our focus for this article, starting prices begin at close to $400, and that’s just for the camera body alone. Additional features like cards and headphones make this a premium option for shooters interested in top tier videography.
How It Compares
Action and portable cameras come in many designs and iterations so we have explored options in not only flat screen, single-direction cameras, but as well have taken a look at the years more exciting 360º cameras in order to give you the most well-rounded review of action camera options on the market today. The cameras we have featured all are similar in price and design but can be wildly different in performance. Our list comprises:
YI 4K Action Camera
Ricoh Theta S
GoPro HERO 3
The GoPro 3 starts $150 for the silver edition, which does not include the additional sharpness and capabilities of the GoPro 3 Black, which starts at close to $400. This price makes the Black the most expensive camera on our list. It is for good reason, as it has a lot going for it. However, it may include features which may not be necessary to your needs.
The GoPro design has had nearly a decade to craft a near perfect design and over the years little has changed in the look and feel of the GoPro 3 body. That said, the major complaint has been fairly continuous across every new iteration: working the camera’s exterior buttons to navigate through a tiny phone has always been a frustrating process and still continues to keep it from perfection. The Black edition can be worked through your phone, though, which is an added upgrade.
4k video modes, slo motion capture, f/2.8, six-element aspherical lens, wifi capability and a remote for the black edition make this camera’s external features an exciting competitor. Meanwhile modifications are readily available through GoPros incredible line of support products.
Amazingly sharp videos and high frame rates make this an unmatched contender in the field. It should be noted that the 4k video quality performance can only be recorded at 15 FPS which means playback is jittery and really not worth being recorded at this degree.
Image Quality ****
Again, the only star loss here results from a misleading 4K selling point, which is only caught at the 15 FPS frame rate.
- Built in Wifi
- Ultra high resolution
- Extremely durable
- 4k is a misleading sales tactic
- Does not have 360º capability
YI 4K Action Camera
Panasonic has been a massive contender in the high end camera market for years, but only recently has it set foot in the expansive action camera market. The YI 4K action camera is the latest in their foray and is no slouch in the genre. Where GoPro still often reigns supreme, Panasonic offers an exciting contest to the GoPro at a much more buyer-friendly price. Meanwhile, with the ability to function with GoPro gear, it is easier than ever to include this exciting camera in your arsenal.
Starting at around $120, this camera is a great way to get into the action cam game without the burdensome budget of the GoPro 3.
The camera body itself is nothing to write home about, but with an easy-to-use touch screen and a litany of other features, you can get to shooting with this camera without being bogged down by too many technical issues.
This camera offers an exceptional array of shooting features, but where it falls short is the lack of included support materials such as waterproofing, additional housing, or attachments of any kind. It does feature compatibility with GoPro gear, though, which is a huge plus.
This camera holds up in many of the technical features but can have trouble with recording in certain, non-technical aspects like trouble with high contrast and bright subjects. Meanwhile some quintessential aspects of it being an action camera, like durability, are lost due to a touchscreen which can be prone to shattering.
Image Quality *****
As noted in the performance area, the bright days are challenging and sometimes too much movement can create jitter, but overall this camera records stunning imagery.
- Low cost response to GoPro
- True 4k recording
- Exciting touch screen
- Need to purchase all accessories: includes nothing
- Touch screen is not shatterproof
- Parts of English app are still in Chinese
360º is the next generation of coverage for cameras in every capacity. This new and exciting format means reviewing footage that can be interacted with to explore a viewpoint from nearly every possible perspective. One of the major players in this exciting new field is the 360fly 4k. This little action camera handles spherical perspective inside of a durable and portable body, making it an action camera you’ll love to use and experiment with.
Not as expensive as the GoPro 3, but with a starting price of around $275 this is a fun way to experience and explore all that this new field has to offer without breaking the bank.
The single button activation, spherical shape and not true 360º mean it is not truly perfect, but with few contenders in 360º market, it is hard to find much to compare it to.
It is great for shooting, but once again with 360º functionality it loses a star for a misleading title. But with a water resistant exterior and a sturdy body, it more than makes up for other misconceptions.
Easy to use with the 360 fly app and a single button to activate. That means that if the app is working, the camera works fine. Occasionally though, if the connection with the phone is lost you can miss the moment by waiting for Bluetooth to activate.
Image Quality **
Once again, not true 360º. It has been noted that this camera has soft edges and doesn’t expand well when you blow it up to full screen.
- 360º shooting
- Water Resistant
- Easy in app functionality
- Not true 360º
- Soft images and not focused exteriors
- No exterior functionality
Ricoh Theta S
For spherical camera, the Ricoh Theta S is an exceptional entry into the field. Not quite as durable or portable as its action camera predecessors, this Ricoh Theta S stands out for its ease of use in an otherwise complicated video format. With many support apps and simplicity, this is a great camera to get into the field with.
This camera starts at around $300, which makes it neither the least nor most expensive camera on this list.
Extreme ease of use and portability make this camera exceptional compared to others like the GoPro 3. Where it lacks is in the action camera support gear as well as the durability of other cameras of its size.
This camera does 360º and single frame photos well, but beyond that it has little else to offer for shooters wanting to experiment with different styles.
With exterior buttons as well as app friendly features, you can always be sure you’re rolling when it counts.
Image Quality ***
In spherical video it is still challenging to discern what the bar is for quality imagery. For that reason any response to video quality tends to be vague. This camera does do fairly well for what you need it to though.
- 360º video recording
- Easy functionality
- Easy WiFi-friendly sharing
- Specialized and doesn’t include many external features
- Not necessarily for standard flat screen shooting.
- Somewhat pricey for the field
When talking about action cameras, the GoPro 3 always stands out as the first choice. Its listed 4k shooting capability, wide line of support features and portable design have made it stand out amongst competitors now for nearly a decade. For reliability, quality images and ease of access, the GoPro 3 is a great way to go. But for diving, you’ll need to buy an external casing to work under the water. Meanwhile, the high price could be a big turnoff. For true 4k or 360º shooting you will have to go to another camera entirely. That said, we absolutely endorse the GoPro 3 for your shooting needs.