POV Action Camera Shootout Conclusion
It’s very easy to get caught up in the hype and buy into the most popular camera or the one with the best image quality. But the truth is, for a lot of users, price and ease of use will be just as important as tons of features or perfect image quality. On the other hand, if you’re a professional athlete, photographer, or videographer, then you may be willing to sacrifice some ease of use for the best possible video quality. Taking the needs of different users into consideration, I came up with four final POV camera shootout categories and chose our top picks based on video quality, features, mount options, price and ease-of-use. One thing I didn’t include was sound. However, if you want to evaluate it for yourself, the audio is untouched and intact in the full HD videos and the differences are pretty obvious. Here are our Top Picks:
Best Video Quality: GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
There are a bunch of variables that go into video quality – exposure, color, white balance, contrast, lens, and bit-rate. Bit-rate is one of the biggest factors since it determines how much information a camera collects for each second of video. And GoPro didn’t mess around – at 20 Mbps for 1920 x 1080 30 FPS full HD video, the GoPro Hero3 Black recorded 33% more data per second than any other camera in this shootout. And that’s not just numbers – you can see the difference. The GoPro Hero 3 Black footage is sharper, has great color, and holds subtle detail in the highlights and shadows better than the other cameras. And that’s just for standard full HD video. The Hero 3 Black also has 4k and 2.7k resolution settings as well as Protune mode, which uses less compression and less in-camera processing for even better video quality. I encourage everyone to take a close look at the full-resolution Hero3 Black sample video. I guarantee you’ll be able to see the difference.
Best Value: Sony Action Cam
With the lowest price in the shootout and video quality second only to our winner, the GoPro, the Sony Action Cam is the best value here. It’s also the only camera with optical image stabilization to smooth out shaky footage and one of two cameras that can record 720p HD video at 120 FPS. That means the video quality has the potential to be even better than we’ve shown you in the shootout sample clips. The downsides of the Sony Action Cam are the lack of mounting options and the 2-megapixel still photo resolution. As a photographer, I think we should carry P&S cameras on the trail for still photos and reserve the POV cameras for video, so the still photo resolution isn’t a problem for me. The biggest issue for mountain bikers is Sony doesn’t make a helmet vent mounting harness for the Action Cam. However, they do have adhesive mounts and where there’s a will there’s a way. I think the Action Cam’s video quality and price should motivate people to get it done.
Easiest To Use – JVC Adixxion
The JVC Adixxion clearly ranks lowest in terms of video quality in this shootout. However, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you’re in the market for a relatively inexpensive, easy to use POV camera for footage of you and your buddies getting rad on the trail, the JVC’s accessible controls, color LCD display and “Quad Proof” (waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and freezeproof) design make it a lot more enjoyable to use than most of the cameras in this test. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for experienced videographers, photographers or anyone else who’s trying to make serious video. The video quality is fine for sharing at home on your HD TV or with Facebook friends, but it doesn’t come close to the best cameras in this shootout.
Best Overall – GoPro Hero3 Black
I’ll admit to being a GoPro skeptic. I didn’t think the product could live up to the hype when put under a magnifying glass. Boy was I wrong. GoPro was already the biggest name in in the business, with a large enough marketing presence that their name has become synonymous with POV cameras, just like Xerox with copy machines. People don’t say “POV camera,” they say GoPro.
Apparently, being the biggest wasn’t enough, though. When GoPro made the Hero3 Black Edition, they set a new standard for POV cameras. With a bit-rate of 20 Mbps (measured from the sample video shot for this test) for full HD video at 30 FPS, the Hero3 Black collects 33% more data than any of the other cameras in this shootout and the difference in video quality is obvious. It’s also the only camera to offer more resolution than 1920 x 1080 full HD. While the 4k at 15 FPS option is more about bragging rights than anything else, it lets everyone know that the GoPro Hero3 Black is more than a toy – much more. If you really do want more than full HD, it can do 2.7k at 30 FPS. And for slow motion action video, it can do 120 FPS at 720p and 240 FPS at 800 x 400. GoPro’s Protune mode, which provides even better video quality with minimal in-camera processing, makes the Hero3 Black the obvious choice for pros who use POV cameras for serious videography or even broadcast work.
It may not be the most aerodynamic or the easiest to use, but GoPro’s basic design gets the job done. They made the Hero3 Black smaller and lighter than previous models and it has a pretty easy to use control system – even when it’s in the waterproof case. The Wi-Fi remote control mobile app offers tons of control and works great, too. As far as mounting options and accessories go, GoPro offers the richest, most flexible menu of options. And they’re the only manufacturer in this shootout that offers a chest mount system. That’s huge since the chest mount position is the best angle for mountain bike and snow sports POV video. If you want that angle, GoPro is your only option.
GoPro didn’t just hit it out of the park with the Hero3 Black, they hit a grand slam. There’s no splitting hairs here, with the most resolution and frame rate options, the best video quality and the best mounting options, the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is far and away the best POV video camera on the market.
Note: There have been a lot of reports about software and battery problems with the GoPro Hero3 Black. When it first hit the streets people were having problems with software freezeups and batteries draining overnight for no apparent reason. I didn’t experience any of these problems and the reports seem to have stopped in January. So it’s possible that GoPro has fixed the problem with newer Hero3 Black cameras. However, if you do buy a GoPro Hero3 Black, it would probably be a good idea to test it out thoroughly and immediately to determine if it has any software or battery problems.
Do you disagree with my test methods or take exception to my results? Do you have questions about the cameras or POV video techniques? Here are your options – you can post in the comments section below; you can visit our Videos and POV Cameras Forum; or if you own a POV camera, you can write your own review in our Video Cameras User Review section. We want to know what you think!