Whether you're carving up the slopes on your longboard or eating dirt after attempting a shady jump, there's nothing quite like being able to share your successes and lament your epic failures with friends. Strap on a GoPro, Drift or Sony action camera next time, and you can relive the moment to your heart's content.
Why an action camera?
With an action camera you can capture every adventure, experience the thrills over and over and easily share the proof on Facebook or Instagram. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in grinding on a rail or riding goofy foot with the grommets, there's another great reason why an HD action camera might still be the right choice for you.
Durability. It's why action cameras have become so undeniably popular in a time when most people have a smartphone and don't see the need for an everyday video camera too.
You'd (hopefully) think twice before strapping an $800 smartphone to the bonnet of your car, or sticky-taping it to your helmet before hurtling down a bike track though, right? That's where action cameras come in extra handy.
You don't actually need to be Evel Knievel, a weekend warrior or an extra on the set of Jackass to get some use out of an action camera. They can be great for people who just want a sturdy camera to take to the beach or throw in a backpack for travelling overseas.
Are they any good?
Action cameras won't deliver better video than the top-performing HD video cameras, or take still photos that come close to those shot with the best digital cameras available today. But remember, these cameras are built for durability and, when combined with the accessories to mount the camera to pretty much anything, they can be used in ways a regular camera can't be – or at the very least really shouldn't!
And although they won't give you the best quality, they can still capture videos and stills good enough for most personal use.
Are they hard to use?
Overall, action cameras have a long way to go in the ease-of-use department. In our test of HD action cameras, we found that even the best-performing models have relatively poor usability. The way around this is that many brands now offer smartphone apps that act as both a remote control for the camera, and a remote monitor. These apps are much more user-friendly than most on-camera controls.
Your phone will need to be taken out of harm's way if you're planning on being an extreme action hero yourself, obviously, but you'll still be able to set up everything on the camera through the app before packing it safely away.
What to look for
A quick look at the manufacturer's website will show you what mounting options are included with the basic product and what are available as add-ons. Aside from the standard waterproof housings, you can choose accessory bundles to suit your adventures, whether that means clamps to mount your action camera to your BMX handlebars, or suction mounts for the side of a car or your helmet.
Video storage capacity
Most models use removable Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC), Extended Capacity (SDXC) or MicroSD cards that can be bought separately in sizes up to 64GB. An hour of HD video will probably take up around 1GB of storage.
Water and drop resistance
Some models claim to be waterproof to two or three metres, and generally deal better with a fall than a full-featured video camera. But most require shock-resistant housing to deal with a fall under 10m.
All models shoot at the same 16:9 aspect ratio found on most flat-screen TVs, but some also have the option to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. This can be handy when you're showing your shots off to the grandparents on their old square-shaped TV or computer monitor.
Most HD action cameras record at 1080p resolution, which is pretty much the same quality as HD TV or a Blu-ray movie. Some models are starting to arrive delivering 4K resolution, which four times the standard 1080p. Don't make decisions based on this just yet.
Most action cameras come with a mini HDMI connection to link them directly to a flat-screen TV, or an AV cable to connect to the video and stereo inputs of any TV.
The bulk of models available will let you take digital still photos up to the quality of the effective resolution of the camera.
In our latest review, we tested action cameras that ranged in price from $149 to $730.