How the test was made
We asked an experienced user of action cameras to test the various models in their family activities, taking cameras along to capture holidays and excursions. But our tester also has a very active leisure life, runs often and cycles regularly in a range of terrain. Our tester has used every camera with several different mounts and compared both how they handled and what the results were like.
Ease of use: How clear are the enclosed instructions, are the menus and buttons of the action camera easy to understand and use? Can the camera be controlled via apps and remote control?
Accessories: What kinds of mount are included with the camera, and which are available to buy? How easy are the accessories to use and how well designed are they?
Film and image: How many images per second can the camera take, what are the focus, light and colour reproduction like? What resolution can the action camera take still images at?
Our tester has given every action camera a rating based on these properties, with design and price also affecting the final review.
GoPro has a reputation for being at the cutting edge when it comes to action cameras. Ever since the first model of Go Pro was launched, their subsequent models have contributed to setting the industry standard. But the brand has also contributed by spreading the concept of action cameras to many consumers. When the HERO4 Black Edition was released, GoPro once again showed that it wasn’t just coincidence that their cameras are often used in professional contexts such as in television productions. The strengths of GoPro's HERO4 Black Edition are many. For those who want to film, it offers 4K Ultra-high definition video at 30 fps, and for great slow motion sequences there is the possibility to shoot 1080p in 120 fps. Previous GoPro action cameras sometimes failed to meet the high demands of film enthusiasts, but the technology has now improved considerably. This is clearest in increased image quality in general, but above all in pictures taken in poor light conditions, where the HERO4 Black Edition can produce higher quality images than previous models of GoPro action cameras.
GoPro is unbeatable in terms of available accessories, and this is relevant if you want to be able to shoot in many different environments. A virtually unlimited range of mounts and other gadgets are available, although it would have been nice if some of them were integrated into the camera from the start. Unfortunately, the GoPro HERO4 Black Edition isn’t waterproof, so to use it in wet environments you have to mount it in the waterproof case. This is waterproof up to a depth of 40 metres and is included with the camera, but it’s an extra hassle to use. We’d also have liked to see a display on the action camera, particularly as even the cheaper sister model GoPro HERO4 Silver Edition is equipped with one. The HERO4 Black Edition is small and has a very low weight which is a big plus as it’s not too heavy to have in a mount on your helmet but it’s also easier to get a stable picture. A heavier camera is more affected by vibration, but with GoPro the end result is great even at high speeds and in terrain with numerous, rapid altitude changes. If your budget is generous enough, it's hard to be disappointed with your action cam when you choose a GoPro HERO4 Black Edition, and that's why we name it as Best in Test in 2016.
The Sony HDR AZ1VR Action Mini Camera is an action camera in the medium price range, with the ambition to compete with the biggest players on the market. As the name suggests, this model is smaller than its predecessors. But the elongated model makes it feels awkward when it's mounted on your chest; the fact that it protrudes so much lengthways gives the impression that it wasn’t designed for this type of use. The Sony HDR AZ1VR has no display or controls on the camera itself in the VR version – everything is controlled from the included remote control, which you attach to your wrist with Velcro. Via the remote control you can also see live what the camera sees, delete video that you don’t want to keep and GPS log video sequences. The Sony HDR AZ1VR is a genuine action camera, intended for hard use in all kinds of climates. Without an extra casing, the camera can withstand rain and water splashes. With the included water-resistant case, you can also shoot under water, to a maximum depth of 5 metres, and the case also works as a protection against both dust and shock. Sony states in the camera specifications that it isn’t designed for focusing under water, which becomes clear in the impaired sharpness of the images taken during our pool tests.
The Sony HDR AZ1VR is a small, easy to use and easy action camera. It has a good weight which means it doesn’t feel heavy. The mounts are sturdy without being unduly large or bulky. Both design and functionality give a good impression, and the HDR AZ1VR feels well designed, robust and plenty of quality for your money. Sony’s SteadyShot camera technology works well as built-in image stabilisation, and in general the HDR AZ1VR maintains good image quality even over rough terrain at high speed. With high quality in both design and features, plus the action camera's separate remote control, which feels logical and very easy to use, the overall impression of the Sony HDR AZ1VR is very positive. For those who don’t want to spend too much on an action camera but at the same time want quality that the budget alternatives can’t provide, the Sony HDR AZ1VR is a good choice.
As a brand, Garmin has a wide range of products within the sport and fitness industry. With the VIRB Elite action camera you get a well designed and, in most respects, very solid camera. Garmin proudly emphasise the lavish Chroma-screen, high resolution on film, 1080p true HD and long battery life. And after our test of action cameras, we can agree that the VIRB Elite is a serious product with high-quality features. The picture quality is good, and the VIRB Elite is a camera that can tolerate a lot of use. The original design keeps it watertight for half an hour at a depth of one metre, while for the diving enthusiast a diving case is available that allows the VIRB Elite to film down to 50 metres. The Garmin VIRB Elite is also impact resistant and has a good image stabiliser, which is in principle able to withstand as much action as the person using it. This high level of quality is pleasing, since the VIRB Elite falls in the medium price range.
Unfortunately, the colour display of the Garmin VIRB Elite is somewhat unclear, but operating the action camera is easier. A single button makes it easy to switch on recording. The button is generous in size, which also ensures that the camera can be used smoothly without having to remove your gloves first. Shape-wise, the VIRB Elite is narrow and elongated – a popular design for action cameras but one that leads to the camera sticking out a good bit more than desirable if it's mounted on the chest, so users are likely to try to find other places to attach it. The mounts are also a little high, which increases the risk of unnecessary vibrations that may affect the quality of the video. In their favour, though, Garmin are very generous and know how consumers think, because they have added an adapter to the VIRB Elite that makes it possible to use other manufacturers' mounts, such as Go Pro which already has a very wide range of different types of mount. The Garmin VIRB Elite is also designed for the active sports user, such as the keen cyclist who can pair their action camera with other Garmin products like bike computers and pulse bands. Overall, the Garmin VIRB Elite is an action camera that lives up to its promises and provides excellent value for money.
The Polaroid brand is familiar to most people, and with their small Cube camera they have now also turned to the field of action cameras. The Cube looks playful and has an appealing design, making it stand out from other action cameras. It may also attract those who are deterred by the more complicated shape and configuration options of other models. The Polaroid Cube takes a straightforward approach; you don't need any special knowledge to use it. On top of the camera there is a button that you use this to change all the settings. This is easily done and feels like a fun idea that distinguishes this action camera from the competition. But because the Cube has no display, it’s actually a bit tricky to operate the menu in practice. In the middle of an activity that you want to document, you often find yourself thinking "Now how do I do this again?" when you need to adjust the settings on the Polaroid Cube.
Unfortunately, the Polaroid Cube also suffers from a lower image quality and colour reproduction. In certain lights and environments, the picture looks good, while in other circumstances the picture has shades of blue and other tones, so some videos aren’t particularly watchable. The various mounts could also be improved. With the mounts we were able to test, the camera could never be firmly attached, and the mounts were always a bit loose – meaning that when the Cube was used to shoot motion, the film became unnecessarily shaky. This is despite the fact that the Cube itself has a very low weight, which of course is a plus. The mobile mounts should be easy to adjust, and if the camera could be firmly attached the end result would be a lot better. As we see it, however, the Polaroid Cube simply isn’t an action camera, and there are other brands that can do a lot better. However, the price of the Polaroid Cube is very attractive and gives the brand a large potential target group. With adjusted mounts and if Polaroid could fix the image quality and colour reproduction, the Cube could become both a really good and fun 'Party Trip to Ibiza' camera and one that you might give to a film interested child to explore the world with.
The design of the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 action camera exudes technical advancement and seriousness. Great emphasis has been placed on the camera focus and overall image quality. The resolution is one of the highest in our test of action cameras. For the hobby photographer who is happy to give priority to great images, the WG-M1 is just right. During our test, there was an overall feeling that the designer of the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 was a photographer rather than an action sports practitioner. This is evident, for example, in the weight of the camera and in the various mounts. The weight is relatively high, as you will quickly notice if the camera is to be used on a bike or ski helmet. To be used effectively like this, the WG-M1 would have to lose quite a lot of weight. It also seems quite large overall; a smaller version would have been easier and smaller dimensions would also have reduced the camera weight.
The mounts provided with the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 are higher than they need to be. If using the camera at high speed or when the wearer moves over rough terrain, such as during a bike ride in the woods, the height of the mounts contributes to the video becoming shakier than you’d want and sometimes difficult to use at all because of the unstable image. On the plus side, the inside, software and components have been well thought out. In addition to the good image quality, the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 has a well-designed menu. It’s easy to move between the different settings and easy to understand how the camera works. For those who want to film in wet environments, whether it’s in the pool with the kids or outdoors in heavy rain, it’s an obvious positive that the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 is waterproof without having to add an extra case. Given its price tag, the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 feels like a good camera, but it's best suited for less action-packed activities.