Capturing the Awesome.

For those of you interested in taking photos of your awesome adventures, Chief Swashbuckler Sputnik has put a few tips together on choosing a camera – especially if you’re thinking of buying an ‘ActionCam’ like a GoPro. Obviously technology is changing all the time, so makes and models will change, but many of these tips will serve you well for a while yet. In a world full of infinite opportunities, this basic checklist might help you narrow down the options and make a decision:

  • Do you really need your camera to be able to handle all weather conditions? If you do, this instantly narrows it down to traditional style waterproof cameras (like the Lumix FT5) and action cams like the Garmin Virb or GoPro. Even if you won’t be diving into the ocean or rolling around in the snow, a waterproof camera is also usually shockproof, rain-proof, sweat-proof and although not exactly indestructible, certainly way more durable that a regular camera. Super handy if you’re going to be out in the elements – whether that be rain, snow or even just dust or sand which can ruin a less durable camera pretty quickly.
  • What level of quality do you really need to shoot? If it’s just for basic personal use, don’t get hung up on, or pay for, things like 4K video when good quality HD will more than do the job. Same with shoot speed which allows you to slow the footage down for super slow-mo later. If this is something you might need then pay for it, otherwise, let it go. We’re guilty of buying things ‘just in case we need it’ but have a good think up front, and be realistic about where your pics or videos will end up and you may just find some of these expensive, high end options just aren’t that important. Or worth paying for.
  • How much control do you want when shooting? Depending on the model, actions cams give you a little control, like the ability to shoot wide or zoom mode, and a few other adjustments, but they’re not so user friendly in that department so it’s very much set, go, point, shoot and hope for the best. Which is why they’re called ‘Action Cams’, right? But if you’d prefer to be able to change things up on the go, and even zoom in and out while you film, you may find a more regular waterproof camera is for you. You won’t look as cool as all the popular kids with their Action Cams, but you’ll get the shot. (This is one of our favorite things about the FT.)
  • Accessories are a big deal and ActionCams are the king of the castle in this department. If you’re likely to need a helmet mount, chest strap, bike mount, steadicam style ‘gimble’ to smooth out your shots on the go, the universal mount that’s standard on ActionCams like the GoPro and Virb is the place to be. The official and aftermarket range of accessories for these cameras is ridiculous. Just be warned, you’ll want to factor all your extra bits and pieces into your budget as many of them don’t come cheap. We quite liked the amazing little Dome Port from KNEKT which allows you to shoot half underwater, half above, but at $349.99 it doesn’t come cheap. Same goes with even more basic options like interchangeable lenses. People rave about getting compact cameras with the ability to change lenses, but 99% of them never actually get around to doing it because it’s expensive and, let’s be honest, a bit of a pain in the ass. So yes, it’s awesome if you can get extra stuff for your camera, but again, be realistic about what you’re likely to cough up the bucks for.
  • Batteries aren’t sexy, but they are kind of useful, so you’re going to want to consider how long they last, how much extra batteries cost, and how easy they are to change when you’re out in the elements. This is another area where we have a personal preference for the Lumix FT, and while it may come at the expense of picture quality, we’d rather get the shot with a powered up battery, than miss it altogether. And remember, all those extra features like WiFi, GPS etc will drain your battery faster. So don’t buy a camera for those extra features if you end up turning them off anyway to save battery power in real life situations. (Yes, again, we’re guilty of that. GPS is rarely turned on in our cameras.)
  • Will you be shooting more stills or video? Most ActionCams definitely skew towards video cameras that shoot stills, whereas waterproof cameras are more like stills cameras that shoot video, and as such usually have more photo options. Again, something to keep in mind. We haven’t managed to get our hands on one yet, but Olympus has now released the TG-4 – the first ever waterproof compact that shoots high quality RAW images that allow you to do more high end photo processing afterwards. By the time you read this no doubt other companies will breathing down their necks, but for now, it’s another feature to keep in mind. (And before you get too sucked in by cameras that say they can shoot stills while they’re shooting video, be sure to check the specs on those as usually the photos a camera takes in photo mode, are better quality than the ones it shoots at the same time you’re filming.)
  • Everyone gets all excited about picture quality, but let’s not forget its not quite as popular little brother, audio quality, either. If you’re going to be shooting video, you may want to think about what the audio quality is like on your camera of choice. Many a great shot has been ruined, or even rendered effectively useless by audio so noisy, it’s painful and almost impossible to watch. These days the on board audio of many cameras has gotten a lot better but for a few dollars more you can get an attachment that allows you to attach external microphones to many cameras including the GoPro. just remember you usually have to take your camera out of its waterproof housing to use an external mic! Some of them work with wireless external mics only so retains it’s waterproof rating.
  • Another feature that gets overlooked quite a bit is being able to see what you’re shooting. Models change from time to time obviously, but right now the GoPro Hero4Silver and Hero+ LCD have screens, but it’s a no go on other GoPro models and the Virb. If you’re primarily going to be using the thing stuck on a helmet, you may think a screen is largely irrelevant as you won’t be looking through it while shooting away, but if you want to check to see if you got the shot later, screens can be super handy. Various external screens are available though, and remember playing back will also reduce precious battery life so you might want to keep that to a minimum in any case.

 

  • If you’re already taking your smart phone with you, you may be better off just buying a really good waterproof case like the ones from Lifeproof. The latest Samsung and Apple smart phones shoot 4K video and awesome quality pics. So if you need to travel light, this may be an option worth considering. Just keep in mind, not all lens qualities are the same. There’s a very good reason high quality lenses can cost $100s or even $1000s of dollars. The size of the lens and the quality of the glass the light passes through can have a massive affect on the end result. A pin-hole sized camera lens with a micro-sensor simply can’t capture the same quality as a a full size DSLR – although the gap is definitely closing.
  • Be realistic about what you’ll be using your camera for. It’s easy to get caught up on sensor size, megapixels and various other things, and in days gone by where the focus was on printing things out, it was super important to know if you could print an A4 or an A3 image etc. These days, it’s more about sharing images digitally, and for most people, megapixels stopped being an issue years ago. Just about any camera will shoot a picture that looks just fine on social media. If you’re planning on doing something semi-pro with your images, that’s a whole different topic for another day. For you, buying a camera to capture your adventures may mean being realistic about where the final pictures end up and not getting sucked into specifications that are meaningless at a practical level. Although it is worth being clear on whether or not there’s a specific feature you will be needing – like being able to also shoot stills while you’re filming, super slow motion, self timer options etc. If you have a specific requirement, that can sometimes help narrow down your choices also.
  • Budget is pretty important as well. Obviously. How much do you really want to spend? If you’re anything like us, you almost always end up spending a little more than you would have liked to get what you want, but if you decide your ballpark up front, you may be able to rule out at least a few options.
  • Finally, just accept you’ll never find one camera that does absolutely everything you want it to. In a perfect world, perhaps, but not here on Earth. So even when you’re traveling light, you may end up taking more than one piece of camera equipment with you and using different ones for different things. Here’s some of the gear Chief Swashbuckler travels with.

 

Lumix FT5, Canon G7X, Garmin VirbXE and iPhone with Lifeproof case.

 

  1. Canon 7D. (Not pictured) For shorter adventures where packing light isn’t an issue, I’ll always try and take a DSLR. The 7D isn’t exactly the latest model now but does everything I need it to and the quality is more than enough for what I need.
  2. Canon G7X. (Top right) I won’t lie, I’m totally and utterly in love with this camera. Some good manual controls and shoots RAW so I can give my pics a tweak later. I find myself taking this with me more and more instead of my 7D for pure convenience. I’ve already trashed one of them because it’s not so durable and I tend to give my gear a bit of a hiding, but this really is a sensational little camera. (Also worth checking out the newer Sony RX100iv)
  3. Lumix FT5. (Top left) I’m on my third one of these cameras, and each model gets better and better in terms of quality. It really is my go-to waterproof camera. I’ve rock climbed, waterfall jumped, snorkeled, mountain biked, trail run… you name it, I’ve done it with this camera from Cambodia to Nepal and beyond. I’m sad it’s not quite up to scratch with video quality right now though.
  4. Garmin Virb XE. (Bottom left) I’ll admit, having shot on regular cameras for so many years now, I’m struggling to adjust to the ActionCam category in general. But the VirbXE has found a place in my kit and although it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, it’s definitely come in handy.
  5. iPhone 6 with Lifeproof case. (Bottom right) The Lifeproof case isn’t completely indestructible, but it will protect your phone from all sorts of conditions. I’m not sure I’d test whether or not it’s fully waterproof, but it’s kept my phone safe from dust, sand, sweat, rain and spilled drinks. Regardless of what camera gear you’re taking with you, well worth having one of these.

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