Finding out and knowing the native resolution on the action cams is extremely useful since there are lots of scams revolving around ‘fake’ resolutions , and native resolution is the only reliable way of knowing the ‘real’ resolution.
It’s still going to be very useful to know even if you own an action cam because knowing lets you save on unnecessary storage space on your action camera, allowing you to film more without compromising its quality.
Last thing. As this is a rather ‘techie’ topic, it’s perfectly normal if it is hard to understand. Because of this, I have tried to make it as simple as possible. But if you still don’t get it, feel free to comment down below.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
What is resolution?
Before we move on to native res, let’s go over what resolution is.
Most of you should already know this, but for the sake for those of you who don’t, let’s start by going over what resolution is.
The resolution or display resolution is simply the number of pixels in a clip. It is measured in width x height, in pixels.
There are many places where you have already seen it. For instance, when you’re choosing the quality of a video online and 1080p shows up. This is another way of representing 1920 x 1080 pixels since 1080 is the width pixels and the aspect ratio of videos are 16:9, resulting in the height being 1920 pixels.
What is native resolution?
Native Resolution is the maximum resolution an action cam can shoot at natively, or in other words the real resolution which comes directly out from the image sensor and the processor, without any additional processing.
As competition in the action cam industry is very fierce now, companies are doing whatever it takes in order to stay ahead of its competitors, one of which is programming their action cameras to be able to produce videos in a resolution higher than its native resolution. Wait, if the native resolution is the maximum resolution, how is this possible?
Well, by upscaling or interpolation. In layman terms, stretching the image to a larger size.
If you have edited an image before and stretched it digitally, you would have realised that it loses quality, the same thing is done here, just inside the action cam.
Digital software inside the action cam have the ability to interpolate, which uses an algorithm that allows the picture to have a higher number of pixels by guessing or approximating the neighbouring pixels and then digitally creating a pixel. The digitally created pixel will then be inserted into the original image, ultimately creating a bigger, interpolated image. The product will be an interpolated or upscaled video, also known as a video with ‘fake’ resolution.
What’s the use of knowing the native resolution?
The resolution specs that is shown in the product description is not true a lot of the times as it can be ‘fake’.
That is why there are tons of ‘4K action cameras’ below $50 in the market. But in actual fact, they are all fake 4K, which is achieved through upscaling.
Hence, if you know the native res, you’ll know the true resolution of action cams. (sounds cool doesn’t it? :P)
How to Determine Native Resolution
The native resolution isn’t stated on the product descriptions page because it’ll be too technical. Therefore, we will discuss some of the ways here on how to determine the native resolution (video and photo) of your action camera.
Factors that affect image quality
There are 2 main components that decide the image quality on an action cam.
The image sensor
The image sensor works like the eye for the camera, whereas the processor is the brain. Thus, they work together to create and store the video recorded.
1. Check the product datasheet
This is the fastest method and most reliable method of all, and only works most but not all the times.
What we have to do now for this to check the image sensor and chipset used, which can be found from the seller’s or manufacturer’s website.
Afterwards, google the image sensor and chipset data sheet. From the data sheet, look out for the specs where it reads maximum image resolution or resolution, which is usually in the H.264 codec part of the datasheet.
When checking for native image/picture resolution, pay closer attention to the image sensors specs.
This is because after going through many action cams, I found that the image sensors tend to, most of the times, ‘decides’ the picture resolution, instead of the chipset.
Thus, you can safely deduce that the max resolution (in MP) the image sensor can record at is the native picture resolution for the action cam.
Native Picture Res = Max Res in Image Sensor
Native Video Resolution (In P)
However, for video resolution, both the image sensors and chipset are equally important.
Hence, you’d have to check for the maximum resolution (eg. 1080p/1080 x 720p) and frame rate (fps) which is usually in the H.264 codec page of the datasheet. The one (image sensor or chipset) with the lower max resolution would then be your native video resolution.
2. Check Forums
Many a time, you’ll not be able to find the datasheet due to many reasons such as it being deleted or removed.
This is when you look to forums for help. A popular example I know of is dashcamtalk, goprawn, rcgroups.com, which has tons of information, from the technical aspects of action cams all the way to the aesthetics. Definitely, check those out if you want to hear other’s opinions on a particular action cam.
3. Ask the manufacturer directly
The manufacturer has the clearest idea of the components used most of the times. Hence the information given by them should be the most accurate.
You can either find them on their website and their contact email or contact them through forums.
However, having said that, many Chinese companies do not have very good customer service so you’ll have to make a bet here. If you’re lucky, they might reply, if not, try asking in forums.
4. Check Out This List!
I have made a list of image sensors and chipsets so below are some of the more popular ones with its’ corresponding native res for your convenience!
Popular Image Sensors
Sony IMX 179 (Up to 8MP)
Sony IMX078 (Up to 12 MP)