native resolution in action cameras

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.

different kinds of resolution

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?

4K camera at 30? Fake 4K
It costs merely $30 & claims to shoot 4K. But is it true 4K?

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?

Credits: nutsey from goprawn.com

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.

  1. The image sensor

  2. The chipset/processor

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.

ov4689 native res in action cams specs
Image Sensor OV4689

 

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.

Native Picture Resolution (In MP)
aptina 0330 native res image video picture

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

forums are good way to hear opinions

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

popular action cam manufacturer brands

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)

Aptina AR0330 (Up to 3MP)

Sony IMX078 (Up to 12MP)

Sony IMX206 (Up to 16MP)

 

Popular Chipsets

Novatek NT96650 (Up to 1080p 30fps & 50MP)

Ambarella A7LS (Up to 1080p 60fps & 32MP)

Allwinner V3 SOC (Up to 1080p 60fps & 8MP)

Sunplus 6350M (Up to 1080p 60fps & 24MP)

Let’s Try It! – Live Example

If you still do not understand, hopefully after this example, you’ll do!

So for this example, we’ll be using the Eken H9R.

The first step is to find out what is the image sensor and chipset used.

eken h9r image sensor and chipset ov4689 surplus 6350

So all we have to do for this is to search for “Eken H9R image sensor” on whatever search engine you use. There will be many results for them and any seller’s or manufacturer’s page should do the work. I ended up on Banggood.com, which states that the Eken H9R uses the Sunplus 6350 chipset and OV4689 image sensor.

The second step is to find out the specifications for both of them which could be from their data sheet or forums.

All you have to do is to google “Sunplus 6350 chipset data sheet” and “OV4689 image sensor data sheet”.

ov4689 native res in action cams specs

For this case, I managed to find the datasheet for the OV4689 Image sensor from Omnivision website but not for Sunplus 6350 (probably removed).

sunplus 6350 specs
Credits: nutsey from goprawn.com

Therefore, I looked for any forums containing it, and after searching for a bit, I ended up on a thread in goprawn.com with the info I need.

Thus, my conclusion for the Eken H9R native resolution would be the lower for both which is, Image Res – 4MP & Video Res – 1080p 60fps.

Summary

Hopefully, if you read till here, you have a better understanding of native resolution and how & why it plays an integral part in an action camera.

Although important to know, native resolution isn’t everything and there are many factors that also need to be considered, such as stabilization, screen size, field of view, battery life, wireless connectivity, accessories, etc.

Lastly, if you have any questions on native res or can’t find the native resolution for your action cam, feel free to drop a comment down below!

Thanks for dropping by and have a great day! 🙂


–> Looking to buy an action camera, why not check out my buying guide first? <–

–> Fake 4K scam is on the rise. Click here to learn how to not fall for it <–

 

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7 Comments

  1. I just finished reading your article about native resolution, and while I am not a big photography buff I had no idea that the images I see in the end had been processed.
    I guess it makes sense to fix an image before you go showing it off.
    My sister is into photography and I am going to share your page with her!
    Thanks for teaching me a little about resolution!
    Brendon

    1. Glad you found it of use and learnt something from it!

  2. I noticed this fake resolution when I bought a $19 HD action camera, the video definitely look to be scaled up and very pixelated.

    This is a great article explained native resolution… There are many cheap cameras out there claiming to be 4k or HD but they are programmed to just upscale the image.

    Are there any cheaper alternatives to the GoPro that give your Real 1080p or 4k video?

    1. There are tons of cheaper alternatives to Gopro and letting everyone know about it is one of my goals for this website! 

      Real 1080p action cams are very common and can be found in action cams below 100

      However, if you’re looking for a real 4K camera, such as Thieye T5e or Yi II 4K it’ll cost more (you don’t say), over 100 USD. 

      Hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please feel free to comment down below!

  3. Trick
    A simple way to find out if an action camera is native 4K is to see the frame rate of the Full HD video, the camera can capture.
    If the manufacturer of a 4K camera says that the camera has 1920×1080@60fps, then you can be sure that this is NOT a native 4K camera.
    If the manufacturer of a 4K camera says that the camera has 1920×1080@120fps, or 1920×1080@100fps, then the camera is a native 4K camera.
    Explanation:
    Native 4K camera is a camera which is able to capture video 3840×2160@30fps, or 3840×2160@25fps, or 3840×2160@24fps.
    Multiply 3840 x 2160 x 30 the result is: 248.832.000.
    Now divide 248.832.000 with 1920: The result is: 129.600
    Divide 129.600 with 1080: The result is: 120!
    See:
    3840 x 2160 x 30 = 1920 x 1080 x 120
    3840 x 2160 x 25 = 1920 x 1080 x 100
    3840 x 2160 x 24 = 1920 x 1080 x 96
    Simple!

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for the quick tip!

  4. Be Aware that if you have a Mac computer, you cannot download the updates or calibration software for this gimbal. I did not find that out until I had already purchased this gimbal. I have a choice of either purchasing a Microsoft computer or sending the gimbal back. I cannot believe this company does not offer downloads to Apple products for this gimbal. I am very disappointed about this fact. As far as the gimbal goes, it works well with my Yi 4K action camera. The build quality is very good, and it came well packaged.

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