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What Are Action Cameras & How Do They Work?

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woman using GoPro camera

Not all cameras were created equal. Some cameras are big, heavy, and have interchangeable lenses. Others are small but rugged, packing a huge punch despite their looks. You might wonder which category action cameras fall under, which is why we’ve made a guide to show you all things action. Keep reading to learn all about action cameras and how they work, the different types, their uses, pros & cons, and much more! Action cameras are small, tough cameras designed to photograph adventurous places.

shutter camera divider 2What Are They and How Do They Work?

Action cameras are ultraportable cameras that can be fixed in places that bigger cameras would otherwise be unable to accomplish. These little devices can record as much as 5.4k footage and take 20 MP photos with certain models, although some may be less powerful, so they can conserve battery and reduce consumer costs. 

A lot of products in this category are completely waterproof down to a specific depth rating, and some may come with a separate underwater housing to give you additional deep-sea capability. Whether you’re swimming with sharks or exploring a coral reef, these things will hold up well. Just make sure to read that depth rating; most range from 30’ to 50’.

One other notable feature of action cameras is that they almost always have a fixed wide-angle lens with a fast aperture. Not only is this a must for low-light, but it’s perfect for getting imagery that shows a lot of stuff around you. 

gopro action camera capturing nature photos

What Are the Different Types of Action Cameras?

There are a few kinds of action cameras that you might come across while searching online. There’s a traditional action camera, which has a rectangular shape with its lens on one side. Then, there are also 360° cameras which can take videos of everything around you; they are a bit larger. The last type is the mini action camera, which has a tiny box-shaped design for the most low-profile usable video footage. That’s about it though, as action cameras have mostly plateaued in their design. 

Where Is It Used?

Action cameras are used in a variety of situations in both photography and filmmaking. Amateurs may use them to make family videos or to learn about photography as a whole. But professionals also use these cameras, as they can get shots that are unreasonable with a large DSLR or mirrorless body. In any case, they are often put to work in harsh outdoor environments, such as mountain biking, scuba diving, kayaking, and hiking. This is because they provide great image quality without taking up much space in your bag. It’s also possible to find action cameras being used for dashcam surveillance due to their large field of view. 

gopro action camera photographing hawaiian shoreline

Advantages of Action Cameras

Action cameras are super compact and they can be mounted to your car, strapped onto your helmet, or be portable enough to bring anywhere on your travels. Plus, their durability and outdoor-friendly design only add to this.

Another big benefit of this photography tool is that they don’t cost nearly as much as a high-end interchangeable lens camera. You won’t need to spend thousands to capture meaningful content and they have some of the best in-body image stabilization (IBIS) out there! On that note, their recording capabilities are perfect for social media posts and some professional work. 

Disadvantages of Action Cameras

The truth is, action cams don’t have the same level of imaging flexibility as a mirrorless camera or DSLR. You’re stuck with one focal length and the sensor size just doesn’t do it if you want to craft the most professional-looking content. This is also true because this type of equipment tends to have a lot of unnatural distortions.

Funny enough, the biggest benefit of action cameras can also be a downfall. Since they are small, they are easy to lose. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a few action cameras submerged in a popular rafting river or at a campground. 

shutter camera dividerFrequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do You Take Videos with an Action Camera?

Taking videos with action cameras can be easy once you get the hang of it. The biggest brands like GoPro and DJI have user-friendly interfaces that make the process a breeze. More importantly, though, you should focus on the picture and story of your video, which can be difficult at first. Getting footage with one of these opens up so many opportunities, as you can stick them to so many surfaces. If you want to make biking videos, try using a helmet or body strap mount. Vlogging should be a breeze if you have a monopod or selfie stick.

gopro cam_Piqsels

Image Credit: Piqsels

What Is a 360° Camera Used For?

A more niche action camera, the 360 is able to record an incredibly unique perspective that most people aren’t used to. This is a great opportunity for attaining new artistic effects that haven’t been done before. Their main purpose is to capture footage of every single angle around you—as if you were to look in every direction!

What Action Camera Has the Best Quality?

The market for action cameras has been dominated by GoPro for the longest time. They pioneered what action cameras could do—and their latest GoPro Hero10 is considered the best action camera in the industry. This model can shoot up to 5.4k video and take 23 MP photos, which is remarkable for its size. Plus, they have what might be the best IBIS of any camera ever made. It’s quite expensive though and not everyone needs the latest and greatest technology to make their content. 

shutter camera divider 2

Final Thoughts

The popularity of action cameras has changed the scope of content creation for the better. We can now get affordable camera equipment that can fit right in our pockets, without compromising essential features. Hopefully, you’ve gained a better understanding of how action cams work. If you don’t have one, you might want to consider it for your adventures—they could be worth a shot!


Featured Image Credit: NeagoneFo, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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