After using action cameras and GoPros for a couple of years and making many mistakes along the way, I have decided to collate my years of experiences and share with you my best action camera and gopro tips for beginners! Hopefully, by the end of this, you can apply these simple tips to your shooting and ultimately have more fun!
Without further ado, let’s begin!
It used to be that all you look for on your memory card is the storage and nothing else matters.
However, that’s no longer the case.
Now, card speed is another important factor you should consider because if your camera is paired with a memory card that’s not fast enough, you might end up with a choppy, broken video, which is the last thing we want.
But how fast is considered fast?
Well, if you own an action camera that films in real 4K and regularly use 4K, you should really consider getting a UHS speed class 3 memory card if you don’t already have one.
2. Video Settings
Below are the 3 most important video settings, field of view, resolution and frame rate, that you should get yourself familiar with because they directly correlate to how your video look on the surface.
Field Of View
FOV, short for field of view, is basically how wide the camera is able to shoot.
It’s measured in degrees and to put it in perspective, a camera with a 180˚ FOV would mean that it is able to film everything in front of the lens.
Most action cams have a 140˚ – 160˚ FOV and can be adjusted through software manipulations, as your camera can decide how much of the image sensor it wants to take.
If you want to further fine-tune or remove the distortion, there are plenty of editing software out there that you can use to adjust the field of view for free.
Personally, I generally like to use a higher field of view for scenic, panoramic shots as it’s more immersive but the tradeoff is the barrel distortion present.
On the other hand, for daily vlogging and action footage, I prefer a lower field of view. It’s up to you in the end and even if you mess it up, it honestly wouldn’t matter that much.
Resolution & Frame Rate
Resolution and frame rate tie together as the former affects the latter and vice versa.
Generally, the higher the resolution, the more processing would be required, hence the lower the maximum frame rate.
Frame rate is a really fun thing to play around as it allows you to take cool shots especially when you decide to shoot in its extreme ends (slow-mo & timelapse)!
What are frame rates?
For those of you who are not very familiar with frame rates, let me quickly explain to you.
Video clips consist of many pictures taken in a very short interval so that when it’s played back, the images will move in a natural way, creating what we know of as a video.
Moving back to frame rate.
Measured in frames per second, frame rate is essentially how many pictures (or frames) are being taken by your camera in a second. The higher the smoother, but the tradeoff is it takes up more space (storage) and perform worse in low light conditions.
These are some suggestions that I feel work best for a certain scenario:
4K 30fps – Superb video quality for timelapse & panoramas but takes up a lot of storage space
2.7K / 1080p 60fps – Great as an all-rounder solution as I feel it’s the perfect balance between video fluidity and file size.
1080p 120fps / 720p 240fps – Amazing for slow-motion videography: fast moving objects such as splashing water, fireworks, jump shots and explosions!
16:9 Vs 4:3
Most people don’t know this but the default image sensor for the majority of action cams are in 4:3 aspect ratio, which means shooting in 16:9 actually crops out a portion of the video your camera is capturing!
Some common shooting resolutions that are in 4:3 would include 960p, 1440p, 2.7K & 4K (could be 16:9 too).
Shooting in 4:3 maximises the vertical field of view and makes it more square than the 16:9 aspect ratio. This results in more of your video capturing the surrounding environment, hence more dynamic, which allows you to crop the video more freely during post-processing (if you intend on editing).
However, at the same time, as most displays are designed for 16:9 videos, the tradeoff is that 4:3 videos may look a little weird, with blank spaces or distorted when projected onto a display.
Oh, and since we are on the topic of resolution, check out my article on ‘fake resolution’ and learn how many action cam companies falsely advertise their camera to shoot in 4K, but it’s in fact not able to.
3. Shooting Mode: PAL or NTSC?
The difference between PAL and NTSC is that PAL shoots at 25/50/100fps while NTSC shoots in 30/60/120fps.
Different areas in the world utilise different lighting frequency and if you film at night or somewhere with artificial light, be it from TV, lamps, LED, etc, and realise that there is flickering occurring, it’s very likely because you’re in the wrong shooting mode.
Alternatively, you can check out which region you are in here and change your shooting mode correspondingly.
4. Improve Your Audio Quality
One of the 2 things that GoPros & action cam suck at in general is audio quality, alongside low-light filming.
Thus, if you’re overdubbing your videos with music, then it shouldn’t be an issue.
However, if you plan on using the original audio extensively, you should consider investing in some audio accessories.
First and foremost, I would personally recommend is the wind noise muffler, which is essentially a foam windscreen for your action camera, meant to block out most of the wind noise present. If you find that you’re regularly recording while moving about, be it running, cycling or even walking, this should be on your buying list.
Another option is getting an external microphone or adapter, which can help improve the sound level and at the same time reduce wind noise. The one that I’ve used before and personally recommend is the PANNOVO, which can easily be attached to your GoPro or action camera (provided it uses a mini USB).
5. Get To Know Your Action Cam
Chances are if you’re new to action cameras, you’re probably new to photography in general and confused about many of the settings and customisations available.
That’s why I’ve decided to make a full guide on all the basic settings that you’ll find in your action cam, be it a GoPro, Xiaomi, SJCAM or even less well-known brands like Thieye!
Bonus: Travel Filming/Vlogging Tips
Above are some general action cam tips to get you started! For the following of this article, I’ve decided to include some travelling tips because I know many people who use their action camera as their primary camera for vlogging!
If you plan on doing that, great because the following tips are for you!
One thing you have to do is always try to shoot in different perspectives.
Always using the same kind of shots from the same angles can after a while turn mundane, hence always try to mix it up!
It could range from panning, timelapse, underslung, slow-mo and even simple static shots!
Moreover, if you can during your trip, take as many different panning and static shots (professionals call this b-roll) of the environment, because that’ll allow you to constantly change the view when you’re editing and most importantly keep it engaging!
Another tip is to film only the really important parts. It can be tempting to film everything you see, but you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth when you come back 10 years later because honestly it’ll get really cluttered and all the actual ‘good parts’ will be drowned in the other ones.
Lastly, if you’re constantly filming on the move, you might want to think of ways of stabilizing your videos as shaky videos are really a no-no.
Most action cameras already come with some sort of built-in image stabilization, which actually works pretty decently but if you want to further eliminate the shake, you should consider investing in gimbals or using an editing software to digitally remove the shake. Learn more about how to stabilise your videos here!
Low Light Optimisation
Quite often during travelling, we find ourself in poorly lit places, only to find that our action cam isn’t ready for this at all, and the only thing it sees is pitch black darkness.
The reason action cameras, involving GoPros have a hard time filming in the dark because of their small image sensor, similar to how many smartphones suffer too.
There are many dark scenarios, not only limited to nighttime. Snorkelling, scuba diving and anything that has to do with the ocean can also prove to be a threat to your action cam as water is known to block out light, especially after a certain depth.
Thus, to optimise low light filming, here are some ways to increase performance in low light.
Firstly, increase your ISO settings close to the max. Although it will make the video more ‘grainy’ and noisy, it’s better than just filming darkness.
Secondly, drop the frame rate as low as possible (30fps). Lower frame rates directly lead to a brighter shot as there’s more time for light to reach the sensor.
Lastly, if your action camera has auto low light settings, be sure to switch it on.
That’s all I have for now. More is on the way! If you’d like me to add anything else, or have any questions or suggestions about anything, please feel free to leave a comment down below! I’ll be sure to reply to you as soon as I can!
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Till next time, thanks for staying till here and have a great one!