There are many reasons why you'd want an action camera. You could be a biker/cyclist wanting to record your travels on the off chance a maniac decides to mow you down on the way to work. You could be an outdoorsman wanting to document all the cool stuff you do. Or maybe you're going on holiday and want to film things without having to think about what you're doing.
Whatever your reason, it's clear that you're spoiled for choice. There are lots of action cams out there, but which one is right for you? We've tested some of the best models currently available to try and find an answer to that question.
Testing cameras is a relatively simple affair compared to most, and there are a few key factors I'll be looking at to determine what order the cameras will be ranked. As usual with the Battlemodo, price isn't coming into play. Monetary value is subjective, and the idea of whether something is value for money differs from person to person. The price is included with each camera, but it's up to you to decide whether that figure is actually worth it.
Naturally the quality of the final video is very important, so I've strapped all the cameras to either myself or my bike and taken them out into the real world to record some video. It's worth pointing out that each camera comes with a different feature set, especially where resolution and frame rate are concerned. Some offer a maximum of 4K at 30 FPS, 2K at 80 FPS, 1080p at 60 FPS and so on. I don't feel it's fair to force the more advanced cameras to have them all record at the same resolution, so instead each one has been set to record at its maximum settings. After all, if you're coughing up the cash for a powerful and expensive action camera, you want to be able to get the absolute best end result. I will, however, make sure to clearly state what settings each camera was recording at, and you'll be able to see a section of that footage for yourself.
Resolution isn't everything, as every camera buyer should be aware, and the overall quality of the final video will play a very big role in the final rankings. Simply put, what does it matter how sleek of efficient the working of a camera is if the final result is absolute garbage?
Despite that, the extra factors will be coming into play. Even though new gadgets take time to get to grips with, people want something that's relatively easy to use and understand. I certainly wouldn't want to pay a few hundred quid on a new gadget and then struggle to figure out how it works. So bonus points will be given to the camera with more intuitive interfaces, easy-to-use settings, and detailed instructions and/or an in-device tutorial. Design will also come into play here, but not quite as much. Does it matter what it looks like? Maybe, but that's just as subjective as pricing. Instead the design aspect will tie into the ease-of-use factor, with me pointing out any specific design features that stick out for whatever reason - be it good or bad.
I'm also going to look at exactly what you get with each camera. We all know that they can record video and take photos, but what else do they have to offer? What about Camera X makes it more important than a similarly spec'd Camera Y? Well if X has voice commands and Y does not, then X is the clear winner.
- I haven't included any still photography testing here for two reasons. The first being that this article is long enough without them, and we'd both be here all week if I had. Secondly, and most importantly, the photos weren't coming out that well anyway - particularly where wide-angle lenses were involved. If you want something for photos, buy a proper camera.
- Most of the videos recorded were attached to myself, or my bike, so there's a lot of motion involved - attempting to mimic what you might be using these cameras for in the real world. The exception is the Sony FDR-X1000V, which I couldn't a mount for.
- A short clip of video is included in each section to show you what the cameras are capable of. I trimmed these down to make them easily watchable, as well as to avoid showing the whole world where I live.
- All of these cameras have companion apps that connect them to your phone. These all include the same basic features, letting you remotely view camera footage, control what it's doing, adjust settings, and view videos and pictures currently stored on the camera's microSD card. Finding them isn't particularly difficult, but they do rely on Wi-Fi and will drain your precious battery life.
First Place: GoPro Hero 5 Black, £380
It's fair to say that GoPro's flagship camera deserves all the praise that it gets. It's clear why GoPro is the top dog in the world of action cameras, because this thing is an absolute beauty. Seriously. That's hardly surprising given this is the fifth iteration of the company's flagship device, but it's still impressive.
The Hero 5 Black isn't too dissimilar from a small digital camera that you might take on holiday, albeit smaller than you might expect and ditching the optical viewfinder. Barring the actual recording, everything is controlled from the 2-inch LCD touchscreen on the back. While this feature is clearly part of the reason why the Hero 5 costs as much as it does, it means the controls are incredibly intuitive. The only way you couldn't figure out how to use it was if you'd woken from a 10+ year coma and had never used a touchscreen before. Taps, swipes, and instant responsiveness is one of the reasons why the Hero 5 Black ranks so highly on this list, and given the fact it walks you through a tutorial during set up this is the kind of device someone without a brain could use without much difficulty.
Likening the touch controls to that of a smartphone may seem a bit daft, but I can't help but feel that it was on the mind of GoPro's developers somewhere along the production cycle. The screen automatically rotates as you move the camera around, and all the different menus and settings can be accessed from the solitary home-screen. There are a couple of physical buttons to play with as well: a red 'shutter' button for recording video and taking pictures, and a second to power on the device and switch between different modes. Those modes are key, since they determine what the main recording button does. Generally speaking there are three of them: video, photo, and time-lapse, though going into the settings can offer up quite a bit more than that. The option to record video and take photos every few seconds is there, as is a burst mode that continues to take pictures for as long as you hold down the shutter button. That's just a sample of the different modes on offer, since I don't have room to list them all individually.
There's also an e-ink-style LCD display on the front that displays system information, changing depending on what the camera is actually doing. This will show you have much battery you have left, recording time, free storage space, and so on. It's not the kind of thing you're going to see much of if you're behind the camera, but it's nice that it's there. All that information is generally on display on the back screen as well.
As the flagship the Hero 5 Black is quite a powerful device. Top-range specs are 4K video with 30 FPS (which naturally drops to 24FPS if you change the encoding to PAL), with the option to increase the frame rate as you lower the resolution. So for instance dropping to 2.7K lets you record at 60FPS, 1440p at 80FPS, 1080p at 120 FPS, and so on. All the way down to sub-HD resolutions most people won't even touch. The still-photography camera comes in at 12MP, with a dedicated night mode to improve the quality of your shots in low-light conditions. Like the night mode on proper cameras this functions by keeping the shutter open for a few seconds, so you better have steady hands.
One of the great things about the Hero 5 Black is just how much you can do on the device itself. That screen lets you cycle through your gallery, viewing and deleting photos and videos as you see fit. This area also has some rudimentary video editing, letting you create clips of your videos up to 30 seconds in length - so you don't have to connect to an app or load your video onto a desktop to sort things out. As you might expect with this feature, you can playback all your videos on the device itself, with a built-in mini speaker and screenshot feature. Sadly there's no headphone socket, so bear that in mind before you start watching videos in public.
There are also an awful lot of settings built into the Hero 5 that you can mess with on the go. The main one here is ProTune, which lets you mess with the various little settings like any good camera. That includes the likes of ISO, colour, and so on. Also here is video stabilisation (which is dependent on the resolution and frame rate of the videos you hope to record), the option to toggle on Wide Dynamic Range, as well as the actual filetype of any photos you take. Phototography enthusiasts will be happy to hear that RAW is an option, so you're not just stuck with JPEGs.
Other hardware feature include waterproofing up to 10 m (33ft), micro HDMI output, removable batteries, USB-C charging, and microSD storage. How much storage space you have is dependent on the card you put in, since the Hero 5 Black doesn't have any dedicated storage space built in.
And now we go onto the video:
The thing that strikes me most about this video is how slowly it looks like I'm moving. The same is true for the Hero5 Session and Olfi OneFive, so I wonder if that's what it's like filming at 4K. Oh well! I also notice that the audio is quite good. It picks up a lot of random background noise (particularly air rushing past the microphone), but in other parts of the recording you could very clearly hear me swearing at the bike. That was a fairly cloudy day so the colours don't 'pop' as much as I'd like, but the video itself is quite good - especially at the points where the camera isn't bouncing around on the helmet strap that kept coming loose. Everything is clear, everything is smooth, and that'd just what recorded video should be
If you're looking for the best of the best, and have the money to pay for it, you should absolutely get the Hero5 Black. It's got all the features a beginner could need, plus a bunch that the camera nerds can fawn over to get the perfect bit of video. The touchscreen is probably my favourite bit, since it makes controlling and setting up the camera an absolute breeze. It's not quite idiot-proof, but it's not far off.
So to summarise, this has everything you need and more. If you want to record great footage and still have room to learn and improve your videography skills (short of buying professional kit), get this.
Second Place: Olfi one.five, £150
For as long as I can remember my dad has been fiddling with computers and new tech, so I'm quite fortunate to be able to live my life without having to act as tech support for him. He is stubborn, though, and refuses to buy technology that comes from a company he's never heard of - regardless of how good that product might be. He's certainly not alone in that mindset, but the Olfi one.five is the perfect example of why ignoring little known companies is a horrendously stupid thing to do. Olfi might not be a huge internationally renowned camera company like GoPro, Sony, or even Polaroid, but it's come out with a fantastic action camera that can compete with the best of them. The fact that it only costs £150 is, how they say, icing on the cake.
But what do you get for that £150? Quite a lot actually. A light, compact camera that records up to 4K resolution (at 24 FPS), HDR, and comes with a (non-touch) LCD viewscreen. For reference, GoPro's £150 option (the original Hero Session) doesn't have any of those premium features. On top of those, the one.five comes with a 16MP still camera, a removable battery, micro HDMI output, as well as slow motion and timelapse modes. If you're not fond of the 24 FPS limit, like other premium cameras, the one.five does let you increase the frame rate if you're willing to sacrifice some resolution. Not too much of a sacrifice, though, since you can record in 1080p/Full HD at a silky smooth 60 FPS.
So as you can see, there's a lot on offer here. Unfortunately the one.five loses out to the GoPro Hero 5 Black because it doesn't offer quite as much. The LCD screen isn't touch enabled, for instance, it's not waterproof, and it doesn't come with niche features like voice commands. Those things make the Hero 5 Black a more appealing choice, but the downside is that those extra bits and pieces mean the Hero 5 Black costs more than twice as much as the one.five.
The lack of touchscreen never really felt like an issue to me, given how downright simple the navigational controls were. It was a heck of a lot simpler than the likes of the Hero 5 Session of the Sony, helped in part by the fact that you have a decent screen that lets you see what you're doing. The only issue I had was a tendency to hit the up arrow to try and reach one of the menus. This would make the camera's Wi-Fi information show up on screen, and I could never figure out how to get rid of it quickly. The lack of waterproofing isn't a massive problem either, since that £150 also nets you a protective case that is waterproof up to 30 metres. For me that makes up for things, especially since I'm of the opinion that taking out an action camera without any sort of protective case is a monumentally stupid thing to do. The case comes with the same mounting attachment as GoPro cameras as well, so you're not going to be hard pressed to find mounting accessories out on the net.
From a design perspective, the one.five stands out a bit from the competition. It looks more akin to a police body cam than other action cameras on the market, so it stands out from the generic miniature camera designs you might find from other camera makers. This design has one little quirk to it, however, and that's that you have to hold the camera vertically to record horizontal video. This also means that holding it horizontally records vertically. While this seems a bit weird, I can't help but think this makes the one.five a perfect camera for the noobs that can't help but hold their phones vertically when they're videoing things.
I also liked the fact that the one.five has a basic design with minimal external moving parts. By which I mean you don't have to open a hatch to get at the micro USB charging port or the microSD card slot. There's hatch that stops the battery falling out, but most of you aren't going to be using that very often. If you are the type to hotswap battery packs, replacements can be purchased from Olfi for £15 each. Those might be necessary if you're going to be out recording for long periods of time, though, since the batteries only have an advertised maximum battery life of 90 minutes (or an hour if you're recording in 4K). In practice, like any device, you're probably going to end up with less.
The battery life is the one.five's only real downside, and some of you might be put off. But remember that it's better than the Sony FDR-X1000V's 50 minutes, and not that much less than what the Hero5 Session and Hero 5 Black are marketed as managing at that resolution (1 hr 20m and 1 hr 30m respectively), and you can always pop in a new battery if you need to. The Session can't boast that feature, and the Sony's design makes that a bit more difficult than with this.
Things I haven't mentioned already include an iOS and Android app that gives you remote access to the camera via Wi-Fi. The offering is basic, but you can use the app to remotely activate the one.five, review any footage or photos you've already shot, and fiddle about with the settings. It's also compatible with Android Wear devices and the Apple Watch, so you don't have to worry about where you keep your phone on your excursions.
Your photo options aren't quite as extensive as the Hero5 Black (which have the option of shooting in RAW and all sorts of filetypes), so you'll have to consider that when you're making a buying decision.
The first thing you'll probably notice about this is how little noise there is in the video. That's on account of it being inside the protective case at the time, which muffled the microphone quite considerably. You can still pick up noise from the surrounding area, but it's not quite as loud as you may like. But that muffling also means you don't get deafened by the sound of air rushing buy when you play it back, which is nice.
Like the Hero5 Black and Session, it looks like I'm moving really slowly in this footage. If someone could explain to me why that might be happening, I'd appreciate it. I definitely did not accidentally put it into slo-mo mode, I know that for sure. This clip was shot on a nice sunny day, so the colours are all bright and nice to look at. The lens warps everything a little bit, which is slightly annoying, but otherwise there's nice smooth footage that you can show everyone without being embarrassed about the state of the final thing. Isn't that what action cameras are for?
As I said before, the OneFive is the prime example of why ignoring something just because it wasn't made by a big famous company. They're not as big as Sony, or GoPro, but looking at this camera and you wouldn't even know it. It's a great feature-packed camera with a competitive battery life, plus top-tier specs that you'd normally have to pay a fortune to get. It's not perfect, but that's true of all these cameras. If you want something that can compete with GoPro's Hero5 Black, but don't have a lot of money, you can not go wrong here.
As I said earlier, price isn't really a factor in where the cameras get placed in this list, but £150 is pretty unbelievable for something with this much on offer. £150 isn't a lot of money as far as buying tech goes, and you'll be getting incredible value here.
Third: Garmin Virb XE, £260
Action cameras are, as the name suggests, intended for action. Strapping them to yourself because your hands are too busy doing something more important. Something extreme. Garmin seems to have taken that concept to heart, and what it came up with was the Virb XE.
The Virb XE doesn't go so far as to offer 4K recording (it limits at 1440p, better known as 2K or Quad HD, at 30 FPS), but it is the most rugged camera I tested. It's waterproof up to 50 metres, with all the actual camera components stored inside a hard plastic shell. Not even the lens is sticking out, since there's a glass screen protecting it. That screen is hydrophobic as well, which promises better underwater shots and footage. It can also survive temperatures ranging from -20 degrees Celsius all the way up to 45 degrees. Unfortunately it isn't supposed to charge when its below 0 degrees, so it's probably not the best piece of kit for your next Antarctic expedition.
Technology often seems to be getting more fragile as time goes on, requiring extra cases to keep it safe, but I never felt as though the Virb XE was one of those products. Taking a quick look, the only available cases I can see are silicone skins and a float pack that prevents you losing it at the bottom of a lake.
As you would expect this doesn't come with a viewscreen, but that's hardly unusual with action cameras, so you can probably manage without. If you have to see exactly what you are shooting as you're shooting, this might not be for you, but then again you're probably better off buying a camera that isn't designed to be attached to your person. The Virb XE does have a menu screen that lets you access settings menus, and see what's going on with the camera at any given time. Navigation is easy enough, with three buttons (up, down, and OK) letting you flick around and see what's what. There are a umber of multi-layered menus to search through, and I didn't notice any red flags while I was having a look round. Everything is were you would expect it to be, and you're not going to get lost.
Recording video is a bit different to other cameras, since there isn't a dedicated recording button. Instead you flip a small switch to toggle it on and off. There aren't any real advantages to this, but it does mean you have better control over the recording when you're not actually looking at the camera. The switch has a unique feel, and there's no need to worry about whether you pressed it hard enough.
The camera functions aren't particularly unique, with the Virb XE offering all the basics. Video recording, still photography (12 or 7MP resolution), slow motion, time lapse recording, and photo bursts. What makes the Virb XE special is that it's not just recording whatever the lens can see, it's designed to function with a ridiculous number of sensors and add that data to your video footage. Remember when I said this seems to be embracing the concept of extreme? This is what I meant. Ruggedness is more than welcome for any device, seeing as how technology seems to be getting more and more fragile over the years. But wouldn't you like to show people what you were up to, and the kind of conditions you were facing? What about the number of Gs you were pulling while popping that sick wheelie? The Virb XE can handle all of that but you'll need external sensors to do most of it for you. It can, however, record G-Force and acceleration. It also records GPS because this is, after all, a Garmin product.
Those sensors connect via Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi, which also lets you connect an external microphone - just in case the built in one isn't good enough for you, or you want to record footage a reasonable distance from the camera itself. The Virb XE also utilises the companion app in tandem with GPS to let you synchronise multiple cameras and seamlessly edit their footage together.
On top of that, special features include looping video, automatic rotation (so you can record with the camera upside down), image stabilisation, motion activated recording, and fancy professional settings that let you change things like aperture, shutter speed, and the like. The kind of thing an amateur wouldn't touch, but the serious photographers can not live without.
The lack of 4K might be a bit of a disappointment to some, but honestly I don't think it's the end of the world. You do need a 4K display to take advantage of the resolution, otherwise you're just using up unnecessary power and storage space (the Virb XE's is microSD). At least 1440p is supported by a number of premium phones these days, though that has the same issues. Speaking of which, you'll get about two hours of life out of the Virb XE if you keep the settings at 1080p and 30FPS. That's not mind-numbingly spectacular, but it's not too different to what else is out there. The battery is removable at least, so you can always pop in a new one if you're out for long periods of time.
Honestly I think the footage I shot from the Virb XE is my favourite from all the cameras. It's not the best in terms of lighting (I shot this at the same time as the Olfi OneFive which shows just how much sun was out that day), but it's got the perfect mix. It's nice and smooth, has decent quality, and the audio doesn't make me want to rupture my eardrums. Despite being mounted to my bike it didn't pick up all that many vibrations from the ground, nor does the air flow make it sound like I'm in the middle of a gale. Everything comes together quite well, and I can't really fault the final result. Good work, Garmin.
The Virb XE doesn't have 4K, but so what? Right here is a fantastic little camera that not only does everything you need, it does it well. The bonus features aren't as grand as, say, the Hero5 Black, but there's still plenty in here to be occupying yourselves with. Plus, as I keep mentioning, this thing is rugged and built for the 'extreme'. If you're an adrenaline junkie, I can think of no better way to document your adventures.
Fourth: TomTom Bandit, £135
At first glimpse you might not be able to tell that the TomTom bandit is a camera. There's a big lens on the front, sure, but that's about it. Personally I think it looks a bit more like a giant torch, but maybe that's just me. I quite like the design though. It makes the camera stand out, and while it's larger than some the Bandit isn't exactly huge.
The most interesting thing about the bandit's design is that it's actually comprised of two different parts. Here's what I mean:
As you can see, removing the back reveals that the battery is actually contained within a USB 3.0 stick. The battery stick, as it's called by TomTom, can be plugged straight into a USB port - and if that port is connected to a PC you can access the microSD card without needing a separate card reader. Charging can be done with a proprietary cable, should you have an aversion to unplugging the battery, but not all of the Bandit bundles come with the cable. They cost £20 if you buy direct from TomTom, FYI.
The battery stick has a whopping 1,900 mAh capacity (only slightly less than the iPhone 7), which means it has a three hour battery life at 1080p 30FPS. Though naturally moving up to 1440p and 4K will reduce that. That completely squashes the competition, in both capacity and, more importantly, battery life.
The downside to the battery stick design, however, is the fact that hot-swapping batteries is going to cost you a small fortune. All the other cameras in this list (barring the Polaroid Cube+ and Hero5 Session ) have pretty standard-looking removable batteries. You need something the right shape and size, but they're not that expensive. Because of the unique system employed with the Bandit, you need to buy a brand new battery stick if you want to carry around extra juice. That'll set you back £45. For comparisons the price of official batteries for the other cameras in this list range from £15 (Olfi) to £34 (Sony). You don't really have the option of shopping around the third party manufacturers either.
The charging port can also be used to connect a microphone to the bandit, though you'll need an extra £20 adaptor that let lets you plug in standard 3.5mm mics. It's a little bit annoying that there couldn't be a 3.5mm jack built into the camera itself or, at the very least the option of connecting to Bluetooth mics. Seriously, the bandit has Bluetooth but isn't designed to work with Bluetooth microphones. What's that about?
The mount mechanism is another little touch that I liked, taking advantage of the Bandit's cylindrical design. The connector actually rotates around the main body of the camera, so you mount it any way you like without having to worry about the footage coming out upside down or at a random angle. The mounts themselves are quite minimalist, and can be attached or removed by squeezing the side of the connector. If you're not interested in TomTom's proprietary design, you can get adaptors that let you attach to the more widely-available GoPro-style mounts. Some bundles come with that adaptor, but others do not and they cost £10 if you buy direct from TomTom.
Like the Virb XE, the Bandit also has built in sensors that detect motion, G-Force, speed, acceleration, and rotation. It also has heart rate sensors, but only when connected to a TomTom heart rate monitor via Bluetooth. Other features of note include the standard stuff, like GPS, slow motion, 16MP still photography, as well as burst and time lapse modes. There's also a companion app, for controlling the Bandit's various features remotely.
The menu system is nice enough, utilising the Bandit's four-button navigation system. Up and down obviously lets you scroll in those directions, with the right button functioning as a 'select' button of sorts, and the left button returning to the previous screen. It's simple enough, and everything seems to have been organised with some sort of common sense. It's strange to mention that as a positive, but some of the cameras here (particularly the Sony) haven't quite figured this out.
The main reason why the Bandit is below Garmin Virb XE is the way it deals with recording. Most cameras will have a single button to toggle recording on and off (or, in the Virb's case, a switch), whereas the Bandit uses a two button system. The red button at the back starts the recording, while the little black toggle at the very front stops it. Attempting to press the red button during filming ended adding highlights/bookmarks to the footage. While that option is nice it got irritating after a while since the black toggle isn't really a button, and doesn't respond all that well. There's a definite learning curve in getting it to do what you need it to, and there were multiple times where I kept fiddling with it unable to get the camera to stop recording.
My other gripe is that 4K recording is limited to a piddly 15 frames per second, which is, well, bleurgh. Take a look at this footage:
It's not terrible, but it's very jagged. 15FPS is just about enough for the human eye to see motion, rather than a slideshow of still images, but that doesn't mean it looks very good. If you want 30 FPS, you're going to have to downgrade the resolution to 2.7k (1520p) - which puts it slightly higher than the technical capabilities of the Virb XE. Upping the frame rate definitely improves things, and there isn't much of a visual downgrade - certainly not if you're watching on a sub-4K display:
I felt in this case, it might be worth shifting down to 1080p to see what that had to offer. 60FPS really does make the video flow a lot more smoothly, even if there is a noticeable dip in video quality. Not that the quality is bad, just that the picture isn't as nice as 4k or 2.7k:
Personally I prefer the 2.7K. It's got a nice mix, though the footage isn't quite as nice as the Garmin Virb XE. All that noise from the microphone really doesn't help either. Considering they were filmed at the exact same time, you can see another reason why the Garmin comes out on top.
The 4K and 2.7k settings aren't so easy to find either, since it was in the 'cinematic' menu rather than video. Maybe we'll be hearing some people trying to tell us 15 FPS is more 'cinematic' than 30 or 60 in the near future.
One little irritant is the fact that the Bandit isn't waterproof, but isn't far off. The camera itself is splashproof, but if you want full waterproofing capabilities (up to 40 metres) you need to buy a special lens cover. They cost £30, and offer hydrophobia and scratch resistance. I guess that it's not a feature everybody will want, but would it have been so hard to make the camera fully waterproof from the get go? These are cameras designed to be used in environments that could be hazardous to a gadget's internal workings, after all.
The TomTom Bandit has a lot to offer, even though it's far from perfect. If you're betting big on 4K then you should avoid it like the plague, but if you're happy with a resolution drop then it's a great choice. It's got a reasonable pricepoint, a lot of great features, and an interesting design that some people might find appealing.
Fifth: Hero 5 Session, £299
The Hero5 Session is, if anything, just the Hero5 Black without any of the fluff. It's cheaper, smaller, and doesn't have any of the features the average person might want to use. It's also basically identical to the previous Hero Session. It's the same shape and size, with the only serious difference being that the Hero5 Session has 4K, voice commands, and USB-C.
The compact design and minimal display means the Hero5 Session is more awkward to get to grips with that its big brother. The display itself shows you the bare essentials, with no touch-capabilities whatsoever. That means you need to navigate its menus and modes using the two buttons it comes with. It's not ideal really, and takes some time to get to grips with things, especially since the display doesn't show that much information. It's not impossible to deal with, but you do have to spend a lot of time flicking through all the options to finally get to where you want to be. Needless to say it's lacking compared to the Hero5 Black, Virb XE, and TomTom Bandit. But not the Sony for reasons I'll go into later.
As for features, the Hero5 Session comes offer 4K video (at 30FPS), 10MP still photography, time-lapses, a burst mode, and slow motion video. It's also waterproof up to 10 metres without any sort of special case, has built-in video stabilisation, and offers the same voice commands as the Hero5 Black. As I mentioned earlier, the battery life at 4K is an hour and 20 minutes. That's not bad, but it isn't great when you consider the fact that it doesn't have a removable battery. Dropping the resolution down to 1080p increases its lifespan up to around two hours.
Don't worry about that random blotch in the video, that's only there because I had it inside a case that has a chip on the front. That case really distorts the audio as well, which doesn't help matters.
It's worth noting that this footage was filmed at the same time as the Hero5 Black, but the Session's video isn't anywhere near as nice. It's not the resolution or the motion, both of which are fine, just that everything is much darker and the clip suffers for it. It looks nice enough, there's not much blurring going on and you can see that everything runs nice and smoothly. It all just feels a little disappointing compared to its big brother, shouldn't be the case for a premium device such as this.
One thing I really noticed about the Hero 5 Session kind of ruins the whole point of having a more powerful version of its predecessor. Recording at 4K really causes the camera to heat up quite considerably - more than the Hero 5 Black. This isn't good for the battery, and it's not good for the skin on your hands. Googling the problem showed me that this isn't an isolated issue, and while I asked GoPro whether this was a regular occurrence they didn't get back to me.
Reducing the resolution to 1080p helped this problem, and even though the camera did warm up it wasn't anywhere near as bad. Still, if you're going to get a camera that you're only going to risk using at 1080p, you might as well get the original Hero Session. It's cheaper and functions in almost the exact same way.
Honestly I'm not sure about the Hero5 Session. It has a lot, but it also comes with some big flaws that give it a serious disadvantage compared to the competition. The high price point doesn't help those flaws either. But if you must have 4K video, and need something small (or you don't want to put your Hero Session accessories to waste) there are worse options that this. Just watch out for the heat would you?
Sixth: Polaroid Cube+, from £99.50
The thing you need to understand about Polaroid's Cube+ is that it is a very basic camera, and the smallest one I tested. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially given its relatively low price, but it does mean it doesn't offer quite as much as other action cameras on the market.
Nowhere is there more apparent than with the control system. The Cube+ two buttons for controlling the cameras various functions, and because it doesn't have a screen (not even a mini one like the Hero5 Session) you have to memorise what the different combinations do. Thankfully it does have a companion app, which connects via Wi-Fi, that makes controlling everything one hell of a lot easier. It's usable without, but a bit more fiddly while you try to get to grips with everything. The app also lets you livestream the Cube+'s footage via social media
But you do get a reasonable amount of stuff packed into the tiny little cube. The top resolution is 1440p/QHD at 30 FPS, with the usual timelapse, slow motion, and photo burst modes. The only real disappointment here is that the still camera only offers 8MP resolution. Resolution isn't everything, but it didn't seem to function very well in anything other than very brightly lit conditions. It also has a magnetic base for attaching the camera to things. While this magnet is fairly strong, it isn't strong enough to rely on if whatever you've stuck the camera to is moving. It was stuck to the front of my bike when I was using it, and I found it would fall off every now and again. Not all the time, but enough to make me thankful that I had tied the camera to the handle-bar as a precaution.
The Cube+ also has a 107 minute battery at full specs, which isn't actually that bad considering how small the battery must be.
Honestly the video quality isn't that fantastic. There's a lot of motion blur, its quite pixelated in places, and things look a bit dull. It's not dreadful, since you can see what's going on quite clearly, but it's certainly not the best video quality you're going to get from an action camera. YouTube is refusing to recognise it as 1440p as well, so it doesn't look quite as bad on my computer. Still I have the same conclusion with that footage. It's... fine. Not bad, but not great either.
Like the rest the Cube+ isn't great with the audio either. Because it was attached to my bike it only really picked up vibrations generated by going over the rough ground. I'm not sure if that's better than picking up too much wind, though.
There's not that much to say about the Polaroid Cube+ in terms of features. It's basic, cheap, and does what you need it to do without any real hassle. It's certainly not as idiot-proof as the likes of the Hero5 Black, but it's not so complex that you can't get used to it after a short period of use. It's probably worth getting a mount and case for it, since it doesn't offer much protection straight out of the box.
If you're looking for the best of the best, then you might want to avoid the Polaroid Cube+. But despite its flaws it is a great little camera. If you cough up for a GoPro Hero5 Black you might worry about it getting damaged or stolen, but with this one that doesn't matter quite as much. I don't mean that it's only good as a disposable gadget, it's not that cheap, but it won't matter quite as much if you take it on holiday and drop it down a ravine. It's also nice and small, so it won't take up much room in your luggage.
Seventh Place: Sony FDR-X1000V, £300
The FDR-X1000V's design is typical Sony action cam. It's much bigger than other cameras in the market, which some might find off-putting. Personally I feel that Sony should be paying a bit more attention to the competition, because the X1000V looks incredibly oversized compared to its counterparts.
The shape of the camera itself isn't that much of an issue. It looks a bit bizarre and oversized compared to, well, every other non-Sony action camera, but I found this made it more suitable for hand-based recording. While you might not want this on top of a helmet, it should be fine everywhere else. It was a pretty comfortable fit for my bigish hands, which is more reminiscent of the old handheld camcorders than the competition. Though the lack of view screen meant it wasn't quite as easy to film straight.
What was interesting to note was that there isn't any sort of proprietary mounting system in place. The X1000V uses the same screw-based system that has been employed by compact and DSLR cameras for years, so you'd shouldn't have to opt in for Sony's pricey first party options. There are also plenty of adaptors that let you use the GoPro-style mounts with this, should you feel the need.
Other little features I liked included a hold button that stops you accidentally toggling the record button, a 3.5mm jack for microphone input (though this is inaccessible while the camera is inside its case), and a clip that holds the battery in place - meaning you don't need to pull on a flimsy-feeling tag to remove it. it also has slo-mo, burst and timelapse modes, an 8.8MP still photography sensor, NFC connectivity, and steady shot (which isn't available in 4K).
Unfortunately those are the only nice things I have to say about this camera. There is a hell of a lot more that I didn't like. Let's start with the most irritating: the topic of expandable storage.
In the past the topic of expandable storage has been of Sony's most notorious weaknesses. Just ask anyone with a PS Vita about what it's like having to buy a Sony-developed Memory Stick to be able to play games. The X1000V, thankfully, does not rely on the proprietary system, but it does complicate things by offering compatibility with Memory Sticks and microSD cards. Both cards go into the same slot, but need to be inserted in opposite directions. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but nothing stops a microSD card being put in backwards, and vice versa. There is a very small engraving that shows you, but the fact that it's possible to mix it up isn't a very good sign.
Making matters worse, the card I'd been using in a number of other action cameras wasn't playing nice. From the looks of things Sony requires cards to be in exFAT format, which my cards were apparently not. But, infuriatingly, despite reformatting the card inside Windows the camera still wasn't having any of it. After a lot of swearing I managed to get it to start accepting the card, but not after reformatting the card again - this time inside the camera itself. It's not the kind of thing that's going to plague you on a regular basis, but this stuff is well worth considering if you want to switch brands.
The lack of waterproofing is incredibly irritating for any camera, but especially for a camera that costs this much. Like the Olfi one.five, the X1000V comes with a waterproof case to enhance its 'splashproof' protection and help it bear the elements. I'd be happy to accept this as an alternative to full waterproofing if the case itself wasn't so damn irritating.
Like the Olfie's, the case requires you to take the camera out every time you want to charge it up or access the microSD card. The difference is that the Olfie case lets the camera slide straight out with no hassle, while the Sony case makes it a chore. The easiest way to remove the camera would be to grab the lens and yank it out, which I wasn't particular keen on doing. The best alternative I could find was to shake the case until the camera was loose enough to remove safely. It's the kind of shaking that any man will be familiar with, and it's certainly not how I'd like to treat my technology.
The display is a convoluted mess, using a faux alarm clock display that should have been killed off long before now. While I can only assume this was a deliberate move to save battery life, it made using the camera a hell of a lot harder than it should be. It's hard to read for one thing, and that certainly didn't help me navigate the convoluted mess of menus. The other cameras' menus had a bit of a learning curve, but you could pick up the nuances fairly quickly - so before long you could get to where you needed to be nice and easily. I still have no idea where everything is in the Sony camera, and I just have to guess and hope I accidentally wind up in the right place. Typical Sony instructions apply here as well, with the X1000V packing a huge wad of multi-lingual directions that are about as useful as a Big Mac at a Weight Watchers meeting.
Speaking of battery life, the X-1000V's is pretty shoddy. The full battery life is 115 minutes at 1080p, which isn't too bad on its own, but as soon as you up it to 4K that number drops down to fifty minutes. I feel like if you're going to buy an expensive action camera (and this is rather expensive), you're going to want something that can last a long time at its highest settings.
Here's the weird paradox of this camera. The design is generally pretty rubbish, but that video is beautiful. Obviously I wasn't actually filming it in the same way as the others, but just take a look. Everything is nice and clear, everything is nice and bright, and it's pretty stable. Though that last part is probably because I was wandering it around in my hand. That video makes the X1000V even more frustrating in my view. Sony clearly knows what its doing when it comes down to actually recording video, and yet it seems to struggle with basic design concepts.
The FDR X1000V has a mix of good and bad points, though the bad stuff really overshadows the benefits to owning one. It's got some really nice ideas, and the video it produces is quite nice, but they've been so poorly executed that I can't recommend it. The video capabilities are great, but what good are they when the other important things are pretty half-arsed? Buy something else. It'll probably be cheaper, it'll definitely be nicer to use, and the video footage won't be that much worse.