By Don Lindich
Week 12, 2014
Q. You have never written about GoPro or other action cameras. I have been looking for one and am confused about which to buy. Any advice?
-Brodie Erino, Clemson, SC
A. I have been through this myself recently. There has been reader demand for action cam recommendations and I took a Segway tour of Rome back in November and realized how neat it would be to have a video of the experience. A few months later I got to drive high performance cars around a racetrack and realized I had missed another excellent opportunity. I figured it was time I bought an action cam for myself and started having fun with it.
I looked at many manufacturers but kept coming back to GoPro. GoPro is the undisputed leader in the action cam category and the product is very well supported. The cameras have built-in WiFi that links to a smartphone app to control the camera, help with composition, and review footage. There are many sturdy mounts available.
What I found problematic was deciding which GoPro camera to buy. The entry-level HERO3 White Edition is $199, the midrange HERO3+ Silver Edition is $299, and the top-of-the-line HERO3+ Black Edition is $399. Like Bose and Apple products, you won’t find discounted prices anywhere.
I spent a lot of time reviewing footage from all three. I was not at all impressed with the footage from the White and quickly ruled it out. The Silver footage was noticeably better and I was about to buy, but then I heard the siren song of the Black Edition. It offers noticeably better-looking footage than anything on the market and includes a small WiFi remote control for changing settings and controlling recording. The remote is a $79 accessory so when you add it to the $299 Silver you are practically at the price of the Black. At that point you may as well get the best and be done with it.
Realizing I was about to spend $400 on a new toy I may not use all that much, I kept looking, hoping to find a diamond mixed in all the junk out there. I found it in a $78 action cam called the SJ1000. When I read about it I has the same feeling I had when I wrote about the $8 keychain video camera I launched on a model rocket years ago. Readers flipped over that recommendation!
The SJ1000 can be found on Amazon and eBay for $78 or less. It records great-looking 1080p footage and though it does not have WiFi, it does have a standard built-in screen like a digital camera, which the GoPros lack. The biggest, perhaps only significant complaint I have heard about the SJ1000 is the mounting system. It comes with a waterproof housing and lots of mounts, but the mounts are not very sturdy. This is not an insignificant problem given the purpose of an action camera, but then again, lots of people are using the SJ1000 and making great videos from it.
You can find links to the SJ1000 and sample footage at: http://tinyurl.com/manwvy5
My advice is to go to extremes, either expensive or cheap. Get the $399 GoPro Hero 3+ Black if you want the best, otherwise get the $78 SJ1000. You can always upgrade later if you use the camera often.