From the ever-popular GoPro, to the revolutionary Paralenz; from renowned manufacturers such as Sony to amazing bargains such as the Yi 4K – there is a host of top quality action cameras for divers. We tell you what to look out for and select some of the best
From their humble beginnings, the rise of the action camera over the last decade could be described as something of a phenomenon. They have dropped in price and dramatically increased in quality.
These small, tough and simple-to-use devices, originally devised as a means for surfers to film close to the action, have become almost de rigour for a multitude of extreme sports – from mountaineering to motor racing and skydiving to scuba.
Designed to be held, worn or mounted, their compact size coupled with a fixed-focus fisheye lens allows them to get to those places where a conventional camera just cannot reach.
Much beloved by TV documentary film crews, it seems that almost every avenue of modern life has been documented using these marvels of technology and for many divers these miniaturised cameras are something of a godsend.
The advantages of using a POV (point of view) camera are numerous and whether shooting at cinema-quality 4K resolution for a professional project, or at 720p as a means to record your dive, they have now become a staple ingredient of the diver’s kitbag.
What to look for in an action camera
Ease of use is crucial and a relative newcomer to the market – Paralenz – has opened up a new standard by including a built-in colour-correction system which is far better than fiddling with white balance and colour filters.
Also worth considering is resolution and frame rate (fps) – the two most important factors when looking at image quality.
The current standard is 4K, but all offer the option of shooting at lower resolutions. The higher the frame rate – 60 frames per second is the best you get at 4k, the better the quality of your final footage – but remember they can be chunky files to edit and move around. At lower resolution frame rates of 120 are common – great if you want to play back your footage in slow motion.
Most now offer a download system to an app which is useful and lets you stream your work on social media as soon as you surface.
One of the most important issues is battery life. Another big plus for the Paralenz – you can easily do two dive and capture everything if you wish. You can virtually guarantee that the whale shark will appear at the end of the second dive when you forget to recharge most other cameras between dives.
The big divide between the GoPro and its rivals compared to the Paralenz is the value of a preview screen underwater. One school of thought is that for a simple point-and-shoot video camera you don’t actually need a preview screen – in fact, it spoils the fun of the dive. For others a screen is essential. The office vote here – for what it’s worth – is that the preview screen is an irritating distraction underwater.
However, if you plan to use the camera a lot topside then this might be a more important consideration.
Max Video Resolution: 4k/30fps • Max Photo Res: 8MP • Max Angle of View: 140º • Estimated Battery Life: 3h+ • Depth: 250m • Housing: Not needed • Preview Screen: No • Colour Correction: Built-in • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: No
Built for divers by divers. Incredibly easy to use, even with gloves on. Simple controls with haptic alerts plus the sector-beating, built-in colour correction which is leagues ahead of anything else on the market. See DIVE’s full review.
VERDICT – DIVE BEST BUY You have to pay top dollar and learn to live without a preview screen (not that much of a problem for action cameras), but this is our clear winner. The colour-correction, ease of use and excellent battery life make it by far the best choice for divers.
GoPro Hero7 Black £379.99
Max Video Resolution: 4k/60fps • Max Photo Res: 12MP • Max Angle of View: 120º • Estimated Battery Life: 1h 20m • Depth: 10m (60m with housing) • Housing: Various from £15 • Preview Screen: Yes • Colour Correction: Needs filters which are supplied with some housings • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: Yes
The revamped Hero 7 Black is the top of the range GoPro. Probably the best image stabilisation available. Battery better, but still not great. Remarkably, it starts at a lower price than the Hero Black 6. Need to buy a housing – pick one which comes with colour-correction filters.
VERDICT Has the advantage over the Paralenz of a preview screen and does come with all the latest bells and whistles with plenty of accessories available. However, manual filters for colour correction are no match to the Paralenz’s built-in system.
Sony X3000R £500
Max Video Resolution: 4k/30fps • Max Photo Res: 12MP • Max Angle of View: 170º • Estimated Battery Life: 1h 50m • Depth: 10m (60m with housing)• Housing: Included • Preview Screen: comes with a live view remote, but not suitable for underwater use • Colour Correction: No • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: Yes
Great Zeiss lens with little peripheral distortion. Filter kits for colour correction are available online. Shoots at 1080 at 60fps and looks great.
VERDICT A nice action camera and the wrist-mounted live view screen is useful topside. But GoPro wins on price and the Paralenz on functionality.
Drift Ghost 4k £299
Max Video Resolution: 4k/30fps • Max Photo Res: 12MP • Max Angle of View: 140º • Estimated Battery Life: 2h+ • Depth: 0 • Housing: £24.99, 40m • Preview Screen: on the side • Colour Correction: No • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: No
The aerodynamic shape makes this popular with motorbike users, so worth considering if you plan to attach to your mask strap or a caving helmet. The recent upgrade has brought it back into the game with improved camera sensor, frame rates and resolution
VERDICT If the aerodynamics are important to you this is worth considering.
Yi 4k+ £219
Max Video Resolution: 4k/60fps • Max Photo Res: 12MP • Max Angle of View: 155º • Estimated Battery Life: 1-2hrs • Depth: 0 • Housing: Various available on Amazon • Preview Screen: Yes • Colour Correction: No • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: No
A top-quality action camera for a bargain price. It shoots video at 4k with 60fps – faster than most. The 2.2″ touch screen is slightly larger than the one found on a GoPro Hero 6. Doesn’t come with a housing, but plenty of options on Amazon, some with colour-correction filters included (essential). Good voice control function for topside use.
VERDICT Excellent image quality for a bargain price.
Olympus TG-Tracker £179.99
Max Video Resolution: 4k/30fps • Max Photo Res: 7.2MP • Max Angle of View: 204º • Estimated Battery Life: 1.5hrs • Depth: 30m • Housing: none • Preview Screen: Yes • Colour Correction: No • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: Yes
The latest in Olympus’ range of TG-tough cameras, and the first in the range designed to be an all-round action camera, with an impressive 204º field of vision. Shoots in 4K UltraHD at 30fps with 1080HD 60fps also available. Battery life is up to 1.5hrs but continuous shooting is limited to 29mins or 4GB, whichever comes first. A well-priced camera but limited to 30m underwater with no housing available.
VERDICT – A good all-rounder but limited as a diving-only camera.
Max Video Resolution: 4k/30fps • Max Photo Res: 20MP • Max Angle of View: 170º • Estimated Battery Life: 1-2hrs • Depth: 40m • Housing: Various available on Amazon • Preview Screen: Yes • Colour Correction: No • Electronic Image Stabilisation: Yes • GPS: No
Don’t be fooled by the amazing price – this is a very good action camera, the stabilisation works (but does crop the resulting images by as much as 20 per cent) but the resulting footage is first rate as long as you stick to shooting in 4k. However, the battery barely lasted one dive with consistent use when we tested.
VERDICT – BEST BUDGET BUY Stunning value for the price.