The Guide to Action Cameras

If you’re reading this, you should either have already owned an action cam, if not plan or considering to own one because it is really worth to get one due to its ability to last and affordability.

In this article, we will discuss on how you can better utilise your action camera to it’s fullest ability, be it a Yi, Eken, GoPro, SJCAM, ThiEYE, or a Gitup, just to list a few popular brands.

What I mean when I say to use it to its fullest ability is knowing your camera’s features and what it can do. Thus, below are some of the settings and features that you should know and use to fully squeeze and take advantage of every feature that your action cam has to offer.

What we will cover:

Enough of babbling, let’s go!

Video Settings

Resolution

different kinds of resolution

This is the most basic thing you should start with and that’s why I am putting it on the first.

Resolution is the number of pixels on the display. Hence the higher the resolution, the more detail and the clearer it is.

Most videos, be it Youtube, theatres or TVs, we watch nowadays are filmed using a 16:9 aspect ratio (ratio of the width to the height). Hence, it goes without saying that action cams film in this res too.

What resolution should you use

1080p is the standard resolution and pretty much suffices most displays we use today.

However, due to the rising popularity of better, higher resolution displays, cameras, not forgetting action cams, have been made capable of filming 2K (2440p), all the way to 4K.

Scam: Fake Resolution

https://actioncamguides.com/real-or-fake-4k-resolution-in-action-cameras-how-do-you-identify

Especially for 4K, it is very ambiguous because fake 4k is very prevalent.

Thus, as a guideline, action cameras below 100 does not have real 4K and if you see one that claims to be able to film 4K, be very wary of it. As far as I know, the cheapest 4K action camera is Thieye T5e, just a little over 100, at 110 USD.

If you’d like to know more about fake 4K and how they go about manipulating it, check out my article on it here!

Frame Rate

what are frame rates?

The frame rate is the frequency at which the consecutive image (frames) are being displayed and is measured in frames per second (FPS).

resolution and frame rate settings Sj4000 sjcam

Almost all the times, frame rates are together in the same tab as the resolution in action cams.

The standard or default frame rate used is 30fps as it is smooth yet storage saving at the same time.

Having said that, there are actually multiple frame rates, 60, 120, 240 fps that you can alternatively use.


The higher, the smoother and thus better for slow motion. However, the drawback of this is that it will take up more space and perform worse in low light conditions.

–> Click here to know more about a popular scam: fake frame rates! <–

Using the Right Field of view

Field of view simply explained, is how wide the video is. It is measured in degrees and 180˚ means it can record everything from the left to right and 90˚ means it can only record half of that. Pretty straightforward right?

Some action cams (such as Git2, SJ5000x, Hero 5) have the ability to customise the field of view of the camera, and only higher end action cams have it due to the more complicated algorithm required to produce the different fields of view.

field of view gopro

The picture above shows the 3 different fields of view, wide (about 160˚-170˚), medium (about 140˚)  and narrow (90˚), to better illustrate the difference.

Generally, for wider FOV, there will be distortion  (fisheye effect) around the image and it will seem to bend a little around the edge. Also, as more details are captured, it creates a more immersive experience for the viewers. It is mostly used for action events such as skydiving, mountain biking, or diving. 

As for narrower FOV, there is little to no distortion but the detail they capture is very limited. They are mostly used for filming a particular thing as there are fewer distractions. Some examples are webcams, vlogging and social media.

How It Works

It is mostly done by software and what it does is it digitally zooms in on the image captured or crop into the sensor.

field of view in action cams

However, this does not result in loss of resolution. Why though?

This is because the camera’s sensor records at a higher resolution than the cropped video.

To help you better understand, let’s me give you an example. Say you want a 1080p video, with a medium FOV. What actually happens is your action cam actually records at 2.7K wide, so that after cropping it, it still maintains the real and original 1080p video.

Enhancing Image Settings

Exposure Value (EV)

This is basically the brightness of the photo and positive values mean brighter and negative values means dimmer.

It usually intervals by 1/3 and it is quite useful if you find your shots either too bright or too dim.

White Balance

white balance settings

For white balance, it is a software filter that adjusts the temperature and colour (tint) of the image so that it is most accurate and natural depiction of the actual object.

Most of the times, pictures of videos look a little tinted due to incorrect white balance.

Temperature and Colour – How They Link

Warmer Colours: Red; Cooler Colours: Blue

The temperature of the image is linked to the colour.

As you can see from the temperature scale, reddish images are warmer in colour whereas blueish colours are cooler.

If you have not realised, the scale is actually opposite and this is done deliberately because the white balance system actually adds colours to compensate for the lack of the particular colour in the temperature and thus, lower Kelvin means higher temperature, vice versa.

What Should You Set?

SJ4000 Different White Balance

These are the main white balance settings:

  • Sunny (Default)
  • Cloudy (Daylight)
  • Incandescent (tungsten)
  • Fluorescent

1. Sunny (Default)

This is the default mode that your camera uses if it is unable to find a suitable or better white balance.

2. Cloudy 

This makes it slightly warmer and thus adds red to the image to neutralise and look more natural.

3. Incandescent (tungsten)

This is usually used for indoors to cool the colour down and adds a decent amount of ‘blue’ to it.

4. Fluorescent

This, similar to Cloudy, makes the image warmer but less.

For white balance and exposure, what I personally do is to set it to auto or 0 and change accordingly if the image is too cool (blue), warm (red), bright or dim.

Action Cam Features

Time Loop Recording (Cyclic Record) – For Dash Cams / Home Security Cams

As we know, action cams are not only limited to a single use but can be very versatile in recording many different things.

For this feature,  it is usually used when the camera continuously records something for a long period of time.

This is quite an interesting feature because what it does is record videos in chunks of a preset duration.

So for example, if I set the time-loop recording to 1 min, and record a video that is longer than the duration (1 min), the camera would automatically create a new file and record without disrupting the main footage. Therefore, a 4 mins video will be cut in 2, first 3 mins and second 1 min.

So why is it useful?

When the storage is full, the camera will delete the oldest video clip and start another one so that it will potentially never run out of memory. Hence, if you were to use it for say, car cameras, you would not have to continuously remove and clear your footage manually!

–> To learn more about loop recording, click here! <–

Time-lapse

 

Time-lapse is a very popular and fun feature to use! It is a video technique that is played very quickly to achieve the effect of time moving very fast.

How It Works

The ‘how’ is pretty simple to understand. The camera shoots at a frame rate (usually 1s per frame – 1/60fps) <timelapse tut> lower than when it is played back (usually 24fps) and thus when replayed, it is fast-forwarded and time looks as if it is very fast.

time-lapse guideline
Click to see full timelapse guide!

Above is a quick guide on the frame rate/interval you should use!

To learn more about filming time lapse and how you can easily configure your action cam to film time lapse, check it out here!

Slow Motion

 

If you have heard of the Slow Mo Guys on Youtube, you should probably already know what slow motion is.

Slow motion, in contrast to time-lapse, is a video technique that plays back the video slowly, so that everything seems to be slowed down.

How It Works

The camera films at a higher frame rate, either 60fps (slow by 2x to 30fps) or 120fps (slow 5x to 24fps/slow down 4x to 30fps), so that after slowing down, the video will still remain smooth and crisp.

Interested in learning filming slow-mo? Check out my article on how to film slow motion here!

Summary

From this, I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two about your action cam.

At the end of the day, I feel it’s all about experimenting and figuring out what does and doesn’t work. At first, you may seem like it’s difficult but the more you play around with it, the more you’ll learn and the better you become at deciding what’s best for each shots!


–> Learn more about caring for your action cam here! <–

–> Click here to check out how to properly store and transfer your footages easily and safely! <–

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4 Comments

  1. This article really opened me up to the world of filming, and shed new light on all of the subtle differences I have noticed throughout TV as well as vlogs that I follow.

    You have outlined so many features That I had no idea even existed, such as time loop recording, exposure value, and white balance. I am considering starting a vlog in the near future, and this really helped put into perspective all of the things to consider in order to create a worthwhile video.
    Thank you!

    1. Glad it helped! 🙂

  2. I don’t own an action cam but I so love the idea of having one. I love taking pictures especially when I’m on vacation. It’ll be so cool to be able to capture on cam not only the people so dear to me but also the beautiful sceneries back home, bring them with me to make me feel like I’m not really that far away. (By the way, I’m from the Philippines but currently based in the Middle East.)

    1. Hi Alice, I personally also like and cherish going to holidays and record many awesome memories to share back home with friends and family. In fact, most of the times, I find action cameras the best for holidays filming as it is really compact yet durable! 

      Also, if you’re considering to own an action cam, check out my top action cams below 100 as a start!

      Lastly, thanks for leaving a comment and have a great day!

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