After spending 20 hours testing the latest action cameras (building on the hundreds of hours staffers have spent with action cameras over the past three years), including hiking through the rain, attaching them to cars and bicycles, and even mounting them on a dog playing on a beach, we think the GoPro Hero5 Black is the best action camera for most people.
Its video output is crisp, clear, and smooth, with vivid color. It’s also the first GoPro with built-in waterproofing, so unlike with other cameras you won’t need a case to take it swimming. And other innovative, useful features, such as voice control and a user-friendly touchscreen interface (far better for framing shots and quickly changing settings than the monochrome LCD on the Sony FDR-X3000), really push this GoPro ahead of the pack.
The Hero5 Black builds on the success of its predecessor (and our previous pick), the Hero4 Silver, with new features that significantly enhance its usability. The built-in waterproofing is the most important addition, since it means you can shoot anywhere, anytime, without fiddling with a case. But owners will also appreciate the camera’s intuitive touchscreen interface, image stabilization, and voice control. And it’s a relative bargain, too: Despite the expanded feature set, the new flagship GoPro costs $100 less than the old Hero4 Black.
If you want silky-smooth 4K footage and care more about video quality than ease of use, the Sony FDR-X3000 is for you. In our tests, Sony’s BOSS optical stabilization system was more effective than competing electronic systems in virtually every situation, and it works with 4K footage whereas others don’t. The X3000’s overall video quality was the best among our test group, with superior sharpness and great color from its unusual but powerful 16:9 imaging sensor. But the camera is let down by a frustrating, button-driven interface and Sony’s lackluster mount ecosystem. It’s best for people who won’t mind putting up with its eccentricities in exchange for the sharpest possible shots.
The Yi 4K Action Camera’s surprisingly low price and newness to the market might scare some buyers away, but they’d be missing out on a great deal. This camera delivers competitively crisp 4K footage and includes all the same resolution and frame-rate options as the Hero5 Black, along with a well-designed touchscreen interface and a slick mobile app. However, Yi cut a few corners to keep costs down: A waterproof housing will cost you extra, and when the camera is inside the housing, you can’t use that beautiful touchscreen—you’ll need to use your phone to change settings.
Why you should trust us
I’ve been writing about cameras for more than a decade at sites such as Reviewed.com and Digital Camera HQ, and I’ve been suffering from an acute case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) for roughly as long. I’ve spent countless hours in dark labs shooting test charts, and just as much time out in the field putting cameras and camcorders through their paces.
We have been testing action cameras since 2013. We’ve mounted them at every attachable angle to a Kawasaki street motorcycle and wound our way up Maine’s Cadillac Mountain. We’ve recorded countless hours of footage with action cams fastened to dogs, dirt-bike helmets, surfboards, sports cars, chest straps, and more; one time we strapped a Contour+ and a GoPro Hero2 to hockey pucks and took slapshots. We’ve gone cliff jumping into water, taken cameras go-karting, and even sent GoPros up in the sky attached to drones. In short, we’ve spent a lot of time with them under both everyday and extreme conditions.
How we picked
Top row, from left: Sony FDR-X3000, GoPro Hero5 Black, Yi 4K Action Camera. Bottom row, from left: Sony HDR-AS300, Garmin Virb Ultra 30.
It’s been a while since we selected (and later reconfirmed) the GoPro Hero4 Silver as our previous pick for most people, and since then we’ve gotten our hands on a suite of other cameras for testing. Numerous action cameras have been announced since our last update, but ultimately we called in only five to test.
Our ideal action camera has a bevy of mounting options, easy-to-use controls, excellent video quality, and decent Wi-Fi/Bluetooth functionality. Additionally, a top-tier action cam must offer multiple frame rates to choose from and include at least 1080/60p (that’s Full HD resolution at 60 frames per second), though 4K/30p is quickly becoming the norm. After researching the available models, we settled on testing the Garmin Virb Ultra 30, GoPro Hero5 Black, Sony FDR-X3000, Sony HDR-AS300, and Yi 4K Action Camera.
Many cameras we considered failed to meet our criteria, as they had inadequate resolution or frame-rate options, insufficient battery life, or big and heavy designs. In other cases we skipped models because we had tested them for previous versions of this guide and already found them lacking. These cameras included the Contour Roam3, Drift Ghost-S, GoPro Hero5 Session, Ion Air Pro 3, Kodak PixPro SP1, Nikon KeyMission 80, Nikon KeyMission 170, Nikon KeyMission 360, Olympus TG-Tracker, Polaroid Cube, and TomTom Bandit.
How we tested
Testing action cams in a rainforest stream.
Action cameras are designed for use in all sorts of conditions, so we put our test models through as many challenges as possible to gauge their toughness, video quality, and usability in real-world situations. A good action cam should respond well to changing light, cope well with water and dust, handle vibrations with aplomb, and remain easy to use even when you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity.
My first test was to strap each camera to my car with an industrial-grade suction-cup mount and then drive up and down the road to Ski Santa Fe at sunset. The twisting road passes through stands of tall trees and winds across vast open areas, so it provided an ever-changing array of bright and dim light that stressed each camera’s ability to adjust exposure on the fly. It’s not the smoothest road in the world, either, which allowed us to judge how effectively each model used image stabilization to smooth out motion blur.
Next I took the cameras on a strenuous hike through the temperate rainforests of Washington’s Olympic National Park, getting pelted by endless precipitation in the process. This test gave me a great opportunity to gauge how easy or difficult it was to adjust camera settings under adverse conditions. I also tested voice control on the models that had it, yelling at them against the deafening rain and crashing rapids. Then I dunked each camera into a cold mountain stream to make sure the waterproofing worked as advertised.
In California, I strapped the GoPro Hero5 Black to my dog’s back and took her to Huntington Dog Beach, where she romped for hours in the surf. In my opinion, there’s no tougher challenge for image stabilization than a running, shaking, panting dog, and the GoPro definitely got a serious workout. Back in Santa Fe, I took the other test subjects to the local dog park and gave them similar treatment.
I also strapped cameras to my head while driving, clamped them on my wrist while changing a tire, used them handheld to record family moments, and generally picked them up whenever the moment called for it. You know, just like an average person would.
I downloaded each manufacturer’s app and checked out how difficult it was to connect a phone to each camera, and how much control each app gave over vital shooting settings. Since most apps offer the option to download and edit clips, I did that, too. Then I looked into what kind of sharing options they had. I also tried out each brand’s desktop apps and editing tools, where available.
Finally, I put all of the cameras through battery-rundown tests at 1080/30p, 1080/60p, and 4K/30p to see how well they lived up to their promised endurance. Then, to find out how long you’ll be waiting around until you can use your camera again, I timed how long they took to charge.
The GoPro Hero5 Black provides the best combination of UI, video quality, and value for most people.
The GoPro Hero5 Black combines everything we loved about our previous pick, the GoPro Hero4 Silver (excellent video quality, intuitive touchscreen interface, affordable price), with the pro features that made the high-end Hero4 Black our upgrade pick (most notably, 4K video). Then it ups the ante with built-in waterproofing, image stabilization, and voice control, wrapping everything in a a small and convenient package. Best of all, it costs the same as the Hero4 Silver, despite all the new features. All of that adds up to the best action camera for most people.
While the Hero5 Black’s video quality is more than good enough for most users and most applications (more on that later), it’s the intuitive interface and clever extras that push this camera ahead of the pack.
GoPro’s touchscreen interface is the best among the cameras we tested.
The touchscreen UI is vitally important, since it’s how most people will interact with the Hero5 Black, and GoPro nailed this iteration. It’s more polished, more intuitive, and simply more enjoyable to use than the Hero4 Silver’s, which we already liked. It provides direct access to all of the most-used settings, including shooting mode, resolution, frame rate, and field of view. Battery status is always visible, too. Swiping from the left brings up the playback menu, while swiping from the right accesses additional shooting settings such as ProTune adjustments, stabilization, auto low light, and audio control. Swiping down from the top produces less-used options like screen lock and voice control, plus deeper menus for Wi-Fi and basic device settings.
Much of this info is replicated on the small, monochrome front LCD, so you can double-check it at a glance. You can also use that smaller screen to change menu options when you’re underwater, or otherwise unable to use the touchscreen, by simply pressing the power/mode and recording buttons at the same time. It’s a great backup system that means you’ll never be stuck and unable to adjust a vital setting.
The touchscreen display is important for another reason: It helps you accurately frame shots, since it acts as a live view monitor. The Sony FDR-X3000 doesn’t have a live view screen, relying instead on a paired smartphone or a wrist-mounted live remote (which will cost you an additional $150). That’s a far less convenient setup in everyday use. The FDR-X3000 and its cheaper sibling, the HDR-AS300, are the only cameras we tested that lack a touchscreen, and during our tests they suffered for it in everyday use.
Although the Hero5 Black’s touch interface isn’t the smoothest we’ve used (the cheaper Yi 4K actually has a slightly more responsive screen), it’s smooth enough. We had only a few moments during testing when we cursed under our breath at a mistouch or felt annoyance at screen lag. The touch response was reasonably good when the screen was wet, too, which is critical since the Hero5 Black is the first GoPro that’s waterproof without a case.
In our tests the Hero5’s clips were reliably sharp and contrasty, with punchy color at default settings. White balance tends toward the cool side, which can sap the energy and vitality from some scenes, but if necessary you can adjust it via the ProTune menu. The lens is wide enough for most uses (though not the widest available), and while it features GoPro’s trademark fish-eye distortion, the effect is not excessive. If you want straighter lines, the new Linear field-of-view option de-fishes the image in-camera at the expense of some visual space at the edges of the frame.
Screencap of a 4K video from the GoPro Hero5 Black. Click photo to view the full-resolution image.
The Hero5 Black didn’t offer the best video quality among the models we tested, however. The Sony FDR-X3000 was slightly sharper, the Yi 4K had more accurate out-of-the-box color, and both were better in low light. In sharpness, the Hero5 Black wasn’t noticeably better than the already great Hero4 Black, but the colors were more accurate, and the contrast was higher. We suspect that the two cameras use the same sensor, with slightly adjusted image processing.
Like the Hero4 Black, the newest GoPro offers a huge selection of resolutions that provide added flexibility. You can choose anything from ultra-high-def 4K down to standard-def 480p, and frame rates range from cinematic 24 fps to ultra slow-mo 240 fps, depending on which resolution you’re using. Most people will probably shoot at 1080/30p, 1080/60p, or 4K/30p, but it has a setting for virtually every situation and intended viewing platform.
Electronic image stabilization is a new feature for the GoPro series, and one that has been on users’ wish lists for years. In testing, we found that the system did a great job of smoothing out low-frequency vibrations and sudden changes of direction. In some cases, it was nearly as effective as the Sony FDR-X3000’s more advanced optical stabilization. However, in more extreme situations with high-frequency vibrations, the Sony clearly pulled ahead. When you’re slamming your Jet Ski across choppy wakes or taking a mountain bike down a brutal descent, optical image stabilization is definitely the more effective option. Electronic image stabilization also crops your frame by about 10 percent so that the camera can use those extra pixels to compensate for movement; the result is a slightly narrower field of view.
GoPro’s mobile app is easy to use—both for shooting and for changing settings.
As with the Hero4, the Hero5 Black has a mode called SuperView (available at 1080p and 720p) that sounds like a gimmick but is actually highly practical. Normally, when you’re shooting in a widescreen format, the camera crops out details on the top and bottom of the frame. This happens because the Hero (as well as most other action cameras) actually has a 4:3 sensor, while 1080p is 16:9. With SuperView, the camera uses the entirety of the 4:3 sensor to capture video and then squishes that image into a 16:9 frame while applying some algorithms to keep the picture from looking totally warped. The result is a more immersive shot, since it contains more of your surroundings.
Built-in waterproofing, new in the Hero5 Black, is a big deal. Every GoPro action cam prior to this model has needed a waterproof housing to take a dip, but this new GoPro is sealed well enough to survive down to 33 feet, or 10 meters, au naturel. (If you want to go deeper, the new Super Suit case can handle diving as far as 196 feet below the surface.) To achieve that level of built-in waterproofing, GoPro put the Hero5 Black’s ports, battery, and MicroSD card behind doors secured with rubber gaskets and secondary locks. Those doors are kind of annoying, frankly—the one covering the USB-C and Micro HDMI ports in particular is a font of frustration, often requiring strategic use of a fingernail—but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and case-free operation.
The waterproofing has another neat side effect: The Hero5 Black is the only action cam we tested that records usable sound in the rain, at the beach, or anywhere else you’d normally have to put your camera in a protective housing. Tucked inside their cases, the Garmin, Sony, and Yi cameras in our test group all produce muffled audio tracks (unless you use additional external audio gear, which would add extra cost and bulk, and would also require waterproofing), while the GoPro captures crisp voices, rumbling engine notes, and subtler ambient noises.
Another nifty innovation—one shared with the Garmin Virb Ultra 30—is voice control. It may feel weird to yell “GoPro, start recording!” at your camera (it did for me, anyway), but it also feels pretty magical when it just works. And while it might not be something you have to use often, if you find yourself hang gliding over the Alps, you’ll probably appreciate the ability to start recording without taking your hands off the crossbar. GoPro’s list of commands is far more extensive than Garmin’s, and it includes a nifty Easter egg: If you say “That was sick!” or “Oh, shit!” the camera will auto-highlight that moment in your video.
Though the Hero5 Black has been on sale for only a short while, GoPro has already improved it with firmware updates. The biggest addition so far is telemetry overlays, which mimic the G-Metrix feature that Garmin cameras have offered for years, letting you add all kinds of real-time data to your videos. Using GPS data embedded in your videos, you can enhance your footage with real-time telemetry, including distance, altitude, elevation gain, speed, and a map of your route. It’s a nifty trick that plenty of athletes and extreme-sports enthusiasts will appreciate. GoPro’s version isn’t quite as robust or customizable as Garmin’s, since the Hero5 Black doesn’t have as many sensors as the Virb Ultra 30, but it’s still impressive in practice, as demonstrated by this clip of a Ferrari racing around Daytona. (Sadly, that’s not me driving.)
GoPro mounts are famously tough.
GoPro’s advantage extends beyond the Hero5 Black itself. As the most popular action camera line around, GoPro offers the largest number of compatible mounts and other accessories (both first- and third-party), and since the mounting system hasn’t changed with the new design, all existing mounts will work just fine. You can find mounts for handlebars, roll bars, surfboards, helmets, and tripods. Also available are a suction cup for dashboards or car exteriors, a chest harness, and a head strap. GoPro has an alligator-clamp-like grip with an articulated arm, too, and a QuickClip that allows you to fasten the camera to a backward baseball cap. And there’s a dog mount, so you can get a POV look at what it’s like to live a dog’s life. It’s truly difficult to imagine a situation GoPro hasn’t covered. Here’s a decent Reddit post outlining some possible uses for each mount.
Not only does GoPro offer a lot of mounts, but they’re also notoriously tough. They’ve even been known to withstand high-speed car crashes. They also see use, with stock board mounts, at the Titans of Mavericks big-wave surf contest, where wave upon gigantic wave crashes on them with no problems. However, as our outdoors editor Eve O’Neill pointed out, many of the mounts and accessories go together in ways that aren’t immediately intuitive and may require some work to get right.
GoPro’s software is high quality, as well. The Capture mobile app is intuitive and reliable, allowing you to change vital settings during shooting, as well as to edit and upload clips from your phone. On the desktop, the Quik editing suite has nifty features like free music that auto-syncs to the ebb and flow of your video, and GoPro Studio (embedded inside Quik) is a powerful tool for more technical edits. New with the Hero5 series is GoPro Plus, a subscription service that will auto-upload clips to the cloud, ensuring you never lose vital footage to a misplaced MicroSD card. You can also edit uploaded footage from any device, so your external hard drives can stay at home. GoPro Plus isn’t exactly cheap at $5 per month ($60 per year), but subscribers also get 20 percent off accessories through GoPro’s store.
Runner-up: Better video quality, but harder to use
The Sony FDR-X3000 offers the best video quality and true optical image stabilization, but it’s harder to use than the competition.
Both our main and budget picks produce beautiful 4K footage, but for the best possible ultra-high-definition clips, the best choice is the Sony FDR-X3000. Not only can it claim the widest lens, the highest bit rates, and the sharpest footage, but it also offers optical image stabilization using Sony’s BOSS (Balanced Optical SteadyShot) system. It’s the only action camera available today that can shoot stabilized 4K footage, and for the right user, that’s a huge advantage.
Whereas the electronic stabilization in the Garmin, GoPro, and Yi cameras selectively crops the frame to mimic true stabilization, the Sony model actually does it with real live floating lens elements. This system provides dramatically improved stabilization, particularly when it comes to high-frequency vibrations—when you’re running over rumble strips or dirt-road hardpan in your car, for instance. Pros will probably want to pair the X3000’s optical image stabilization with a gimbal setup, but for most people BOSS will be more than enough.
The Sony X3000’s BOSS image stabilization system is great for smoothing out bumpy rides—like on a dog’s back.
Stabilized or not, the X3000’s output is gorgeous. In our tests, at the default Vivid setting, colors popped without going overboard, and white balance was on target more often than not. If you plan to grade your video in post, the camera also has a Neutral color setting more suited to the purpose. At the highest quality settings, the footage was visibly sharper than the GoPro Hero5 Black’s without appearing oversharpened. The 170-degree wide-angle lens is the widest we tested, and despite its huge horizontal reach, the results were not any more distorted than the GoPro’s. And while still photos are not the main reason people buy action cameras, the X3000 produced the best stills in the group.
One reason why Sony’s cameras produce superior video is its willingness to do things differently. For one thing, its sensor is the only one we tested with a 16:9 ratio. Since that’s the same ratio as HD and 4K video, there are no wasted pixels; it also means each pixel can be bigger, improving low-light performance to the point that in our tests the X3000’s footage was visibly more detailed in extremely dark situations than the Hero5 Black’s. And while other brands’ cameras record MP4 files using the common H.264 codec, the FDR-X3000 (and the cheaper HDR-AS300) can record in Sony’s proprietary higher-bit-rate XAVC-S format, which allows for higher video quality at the cost of larger files. While the Garmin, GoPro, and Yi all max out at 60 Mbps, the X3000 can shoot 4K/30p, 1080/120p, and 720/240p at 100 Mbps. The results are easy to appreciate: less compression, more detail, fewer artifacts. However, XAVC-S footage can be trickier to edit than standard MP4/H.264, and the file sizes can be as much as twice as large, so you’ll need computing horsepower and storage space.
The X3000 is splashproof, with rubber O-rings around all its doors, but not waterproof like the GoPro Hero5 is. That’s okay, though, since it ships with its protective housing included in the $400 list price. The housing is big and bulky, but it gets the job done: We dunked the encased camera in a cold mountain stream and left it in a large stockpot full of water for an hour to no ill effect.
One notable software feature that the X3000 has that isn’t present on the Hero5 Black is the ability to livestream to Ustream via a phone or tablet. The feature is a bit clunky to set up, but once up and running, it works well provided you have a decent connection (Wi-Fi or cellular). GoPro allowed for livestreaming via Periscope with the Hero4 Silver and Black, but it’s unclear how well the feature works so far with the Hero5 cameras, and it isn’t certain whether the incompatibilities are Periscope’s or GoPro’s issues to deal with.
The X3000’s monochrome LCD feels archaic and confusing compared with the color touchscreens that most other cameras offer.
The X3000’s interface is a serious letdown next to the Hero5 Black’s. Sony’s 2016 contenders were the only cameras we tested without a touchscreen UI; instead, they pair a small mono LCD on the side of the body with a trio of awkwardly placed buttons. The contrast in usability to touchscreen-enabled rivals couldn’t be more stark. Without a big touchscreen, the X3000 doesn’t offer live view, which is a serious issue if you’re trying to frame a shot accurately. Sony offers a wrist-worn live remote, but it costs an extra $150 and looks and operates like the clunkiest smartwatch ever made. Alternatively, you can use your phone for live view via the Sony PlayMemories app; it works well, but it’s not nearly as convenient as a screen on the camera itself.
Some extreme-sports enthusiasts may also take issue with the X3000’s physical design. It’s deep and thin, unlike the majority of action cams, which tend to be flat and wide. If you’re wearing it on your chest, for instance, it will stick out a lot farther and probably hurt a lot more if you land on it. For most applications the shape won’t make a huge difference, but it’s worth taking into account if you plan to wear your camera on your body.
Sony’s mount ecosystem isn’t as robust as GoPro’s, and the mounts themselves don’t feel quite as high quality. Many pros will probably end up pairing their Sony cameras with GoPro accessories, but to do so you’ll need to buy a third-party adapter to make them fit. That’s because unlike Garmin and YI, which designed their cases to fit GoPro mounts, Sony uses a standard tripod screw. These adapters can be had quite cheaply—a three-pack costs less than $10—but they’ll add complexity to your kit, and they’re easy to lose.
In its case, the X3000 is the largest and heaviest action camera we tested. At 195 grams or around 7 ounces, it’s significantly heavier than the Hero5 Black in its lightweight frame (144 grams or 5 ounces). For most purposes, that won’t really make much difference, but if you’re wearing the camera on a helmet for a long day of skiing, or strapping it to a smaller dog, you may end up with a sore neck or a reluctant pup.
Budget pick: High quality at a low price
The Yi 4K offers surprising quality at an affordable price.
The Yi 4K Action Camera is yet further proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover—or, rather, an action cam by its lack of a big brand name. Made by a company tied to Chinese tech giant Xiaomi, this upstart offers 4K/30p recording, electronic image stabilization, a simple and fluid touchscreen UI, fantastic battery life, a user-friendly smartphone app, and a surprisingly low price. For beginners and budget-conscious shoppers, the Yi 4K might be a smarter buy than more expensive options like the GoPro Hero5 Black and Sony FDR-X3000.
Price is the Yi 4K’s biggest selling point. Its list price is $150 lower than the Hero5 Black’s, and it has been on sale for as much as $200 less. Despite the discount, you get video quality that’s comparable to the Hero5 Black’s and slightly behind the Sony X3000’s in sharpness. In our tests, colors were bright and accurate with the default auto white balance setting. Unlike its rivals from Garmin, GoPro, and Sony, the Yi 4K doesn’t offer separate color profiles designed for out-of-camera playback or post-production grading, so what you see is what you get.
The YI’s touchscreen is even more responsive than the GoPro’s.
Image stabilization is of the electronic variety, but it’s refreshing to find the feature at this price, and the stabilization works just as well as GoPro’s. It won’t smooth out particularly rough roads or choppy wakes, but it will temper the occasional bump or bounce. As with the GoPro Hero5 Black and Garmin Virb Ultra 30, the Yi 4K doesn’t offer stabilization while recording 4K video; that’s because 4K uses the entire width of the sensor, so there’s no room to crop.
The Yi 4K doesn’t skimp on shooting resolutions or frame rates, even including more exotic options like super-slow-mo 1080/120p and 720/240p. The similarly priced Sony HDR-AS300 doesn’t come close, topping out at 1080/60p. Yi also includes Ultra options at 4K, 1080p, and 720p. We’ve found surprisingly little documentation on what the Ultra feature does, but it appears to cram a wider field of view into the standard 16:9 frame, like GoPro’s SuperView.
The Yi 4K’s touchscreen interface is fast and fluid, even more so than the GoPro Hero5 Black’s. Animations are smoother, the screen is a touch more responsive, and the interface is designed so that each menu item is bigger and easier to tap. The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, in contrast to GoPro’s 4:3, so it overlays indicators on top of live view in translucent bars. The effect is slightly annoying, but in most situations you can still frame your shot just fine.
The biggest downside to the Yi 4K’s interface is that it doesn’t work through the optional waterproof housing (you can find third-party cases that claim to provide this functionality, but we haven’t tested any of them yet). Since the only physical control on the housing is the power/record button, you’ll need to either take the Yi 4K out of its case every time you want to change a setting or keep your smartphone handy at all times—far from ideal if you’re surfing or scuba diving. This model is the only camera we tested that suffers from such a shortcoming: The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 has a touchscreen that works through the case, the GoPro Hero5 Black is waterproof without a case, and the Sony models have the same physical controls whether they’re in their housing or not. As a waterproof housing, the Yi 4K’s performs admirably; we didn’t experience any issues dunking it or leaving it underwater.
The optional waterproof housing on the Yi 4K makes it waterproof but prevents you from using the touchscreen.
If you want to edit your photos on a computer rather than just uploading them straight to Facebook or YouTube, you’ll need to find some editing software like iMovie, grab more advanced freeware like Shotcut, or spring for paid editing software, since the Yi 4K doesn’t come with any. It’s the only camera we tested that doesn’t have its own editing suite, but this is a relatively small corner to cut, since freeware options are so good these days.
YI is a fairly young company with only a few products under its belt, and it’s currently in the process of building its American presence after expanding out of China. At this point, we can’t easily predict what the long-term US support situation will be like. However, during the writing of this guide we reached out to Yi via its official support email channel and got a speedy reply. That bodes well for the present, at least.
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 has a lot going for it, including solid video quality, a wide range of resolutions and frame rates, a functional touchscreen interface, and a decent mobile app. Unfortunately, compared with the Hero5 Black, which has the same asking price, the Virb offers fewer features and shorter battery life—the worst among the cameras we tested. And the occasionally wonky white balance should have most shoppers thinking twice.
The Sony HDR-AS300 shares most of the FDR-X3000’s strengths but also suffers from all of its weaknesses and then some. The push-button interface still lags far behind all serious rivals’ touchscreen UIs, and while the video quality is excellent—pretty much equal to the X3000’s—it tops out at a mere 1080/60p. Considering that the similarly priced Yi 4K offers 4K/30p and 2.7K/60p options with color and smoothness that are nearly as good, it’s hard to make a serious argument for this Sony model.
We’ve opted not to test Sony’s pint-size RX0 action camera. Although it seems to be well-equipped (it shoots 4K and HD video, and RAW still images), durable (waterproof up to 33 feet, crush-proof up to 440 pounds, and able to withstand 20-foot drops), and attractive to look at (The Verge calls it “a cute little box that promises to do big things”), we can’t ignore the fact that the price tag (currently about $700) is too much for most people to drop on an action cam.
Care and maintenance
You really don’t have to do a whole lot to take care of your GoPro. If you have a carrying case for it, that’s great, but honestly, we’ve never used one. The Hero5 Black doesn’t need a waterproof housing, but if you buy the Super Suit to dive deeper than 33 feet, keeping it in there for storage could minimize wear and tear. We often stuff our cameras into a sock (to prevent the housing from getting scratched) before dropping them in a backpack and running out the door to shoot.
With the introduction of built-in waterproofing on the Hero5 Black, you need to pay a little more attention to keeping the camera clean between uses. As noted above, if you take this camera surfing or otherwise expose it to saltwater, it’ll get crusty around the gaskets inside the two doors. You can remove the smaller door for cleaning, but the larger one is fixed. You’ll need to use a cotton swab to carefully dab away salt deposits. The lens cover is designed to be durable, but it’ll catch its fair share of dirt and grime in everyday use. Be sure to wipe it off to avoid weird artifacts in subsequent videos.
We typically try to recharge the camera as soon as we get home from using it; that way it’s always ready to grab the next time we run out the door. Also, extra batteries are pretty cheap. Doubling your shooting time for around $20 is a no-brainer in our book. A lot of GoPro owners we know travel with four or five batteries for longer expeditions. We typically just charge one in the camera and then swap it out, but GoPro’s own Dual Battery Charger can charge two at once outside of the camera. If you’re doing some hardcore shooting, that will be cash well spent.
(Photos by Ben Keough)