GoPro has certainly become the standard for which all other action cameras are measured, but with the newly updated, 4k capable Hero4 Black reaching $500, or the Gopro Hero4 Silver (featuring an LCD touchscreen) and Hero3+ Silver models reaching price points of $350-$400, the budget conscious buyer may be looking for cheaper, but still impressive, alternatives. Here we focus on five worthy alternatives and measure them against those models. Although the GoPro is King in the action camera market, these alternatives are certainly worthy competitors and often come at more reasonable price points for those of us who do not have $500 laying around.
Garmin Virb Elite
The Garmin Virb Elite is priced at just $250, which is $100 less than the GoPro Hero 3+. However, with price comes compromise, and the Virb Elite does not have all the bells and whistles that will come with the Hero3+ or Hero4 Silver. This is not to say it is a worthy competitor, and would be just fine for the typical user:
The Virb Elite features a 16 MP lens for still photos, which is actually an improvement over the Hero4′s 12 MP lens. Shooting at 1080p/30fps, the Virb Elite can run for up to 3 hours on a single charge. Meanwhile, the Hero4 Silver can only run for 1.5 hours on identical camera settings. The Virb has just about the same size LCD display (although not touchscreen) as the Hero4, and offers options to control by remote (not included), via WiFi, and through your smartphone. The Virb Elite also offers a GPS, accelerometer, and connectivity to external sensors, which will be convenient for the sports enthusiast who does not want to encumber himself with loads of additional equipment. For now, the Digital Image Stabilization is better than previous GoPro Hero3+ models, but with firmware updates coming to the Hero4, it will be hard to tell if that will still stand up later on this year. The Virb Elite’s editing software rivals GoPro’s (some say it is even better) and so you should test them both before buying if that is a selling point for you.
At maximum settings, the Virb Elite is only capable of shooting 1080p at 30fps, a far cry from the Hero4′s impressive 1080p/120fps capabilities. For water sports enthusiasts or divers, the Virb Elite is not your best option. Although it is technically waterproof, it is not viable for full water immersion due to the lack of a waterproof cap on the protectors. Garmin sadly opted for plastic caps, which will not hold up well under any extreme water situations. For $40, you can upgrade and purchase a waterproof case, but this is an added expense which the GoPro has covered from the start. The Virb Elite has also suffered from some software issues, even after multiple firmware updates.
The Virb Elite is a worthy alternative to the GoPro Hero 3 Silver, but at a higher price point and without the accessories and mounts it is not a sensible purchase. There is no comparison to the Hero4, and in the end we cannot recommend this model over any of the current GoPro Hero cameras.
Check Amazon Reviews for the Garmin Virb Elite
The Contour+2 comes in at $270 on Amazon ($299 list price) and comes with a waterproof housing for up to 60 meters of depth, which is a nice plus considering some of the other cameras do not come with any accessories. Many Amazon reviewers actually praise the Contour when comparing to the GoPro, and mention that ease of use, especially in extreme conditions or during outdoor activities, and the ability to mount the Contour to any surface much easier due to its unique design.
The Contour comes with a waterproof housing and is extremely easy to mount, especially to irregular surfaces like a dashboard or a bike helmet. GPS mapping technology is included, which is a very cool option for users who like to take adventures with their cameras. This technology gives you stats on speed, elevation, and distance traveled, which can be added to video uploads. The Contour also comes with a locking, instant record switch, which is what many users praise in comparison to the GoPro, as it becomes much easier to turn on and off a recording with the use of this switch. The Contour also provides easy smartphone connectivity through Bluetooth, which allows you to control the camera settings, preview your shot after or during recording, and use as a remote control.
The Contour can only handle 5 MP still photos, and can only shoot in 1080p at 30fps. Once again, the high quality build of the GoPro would provide a much better experience for more professional users, but for the average user, the 1080p/30fps video would be just fine. Mounts are not included with purchase, but there is a wide selection of different mounts online for an additional cost. The camera lens does not rotate automatically and must be manually adjusted, but this is an easy thing to overlook if you are considering the Contour vs. GoPro. Lack of an LCD screen is also another con, but the smartphone connectivity would essentially allow your smartphone to become your LCD screen for previewing and adjusting settings.
For the budget conscious, the Contour+2 may be the best option out there. It is a very sleek camera, the easy to mount design is ideal for all types of shooting modes, and the included GPS mapping technology is a very cool add-on. Overall, recommended for users looking for a budget friendly, but impressive, action camera.
Drift HD Ghost
At just $180, the HD Ghost is one of the cheaper cameras on our list, but it does not lack in quality. For those users on an extremely tight budget, this is a real contender for action cam, and mihgt be your best option.
The price point is definitely the biggest pro, as at just $200 you can add on $100 of accessories and still come in below most action cameras price points. The camera lens is able to auto rotate up to 300 degrees, and a remote is included, something that the GoPro offers at a very steep premium for the Hero3+ and 4, or not at all for the new Hero. Battery life is outstanding, at an estimated 3.5 hours, even with a 2 inch LCD screen. By the way the LCD is made from Gorilla Glass, and will sustand moderate action abuse. The HD Ghost is able to shoot still photos at 11 MP quality, which is right on par with the newest GoPros. For anyone looking for a high quality dash-cam, the HD Ghost has a “Car DVR”mode which turns on the camera when connected via USB (through your car’s mobile charger) and records a continuous loop of video as you drive.
Unfortunately, at $200 you do make a few compromises. The HD Ghost is only waterproof for 3 meters, which means any water sport enthusiasts will definitely need to purchase a waterproof housing for the camera. Also, the video capabilities are limited to 1080p at 30fps, which is not unlike the other alternatives listed above but this will be an issue for more hardcore or professional users lookingfor 60 frames per seconds. Mounts are not included and cost extra, which will raise the overall price of this cheaper camera a little.
This is the recommended buy for users with a very low budget, as it packs the same image quality as many of the other alternatives, includes an LCD screen, and has an excellent Dash Camera mode for driving. We highly recommend the HD Ghost to the average user. A a more professional user looking for all the bells and whistles might prefere the Contour +2, or Ion Air pro (see below).
Check Amazon reviews of the Drift HD Ghost
The Sony HDR-AS100 is undoubtedly the safe choice. Listed at $250 and comes with an SD card, Sony promise sturdy quality and average performance. Picture quality is outstanding although there are many bells and whistles that will be missing at this price point.
The AV100 features a 13.5 MP lens for still photos, which is better than any GoPro camera on the market today. The AS100 also features an impressive 1080p/60fps video quality, which is the best of any of the alternative cameras we have listed. It also features an impressive 720p/120fps picture quality feature which will allow for HD slow motion video, a feature not available on any camera except the GoPro.
Smaller than the Contour +2 and less bulky than the Gopro Hero 3+, the AS100 sports as well a host of electronic gadgetry. Aside from built in GPS and WiFi capability, for those of you with newer smartphones featuring NFC technology, you can connect your phone to your camera via the NFC chip on the AS100. The AS100 features an ultra-wide angle of 170 degrees, and you are able to shoot video in MP4 format for easy upload to YouTube, Facebook, etc.
The AV100 is considered “splash proof”, which is a ridiculous marketing gimmick. Basically, if you get a little water on it the camera will survive, but if you were to drop it in a puddle it would be damaged. It does come with a waterproof housing, but is only rated to 3 meters of depth, so you will need to to look for something else if you are a diver or water sport enthusiast. Also, if you would like a remote you will need to buy the upgraded AV100 package which will run $100 more than the base package. At this price, one run into Gopro territory, and no amount of electronic will compensate the superior versatility of a Gopro Hero3+.
The Sony HDR AV100 is a very nice little camera, and if you have no need for waterproofing or a remote, it can be had for a very reasonable $250 with the same video capability as the GoPro Hero3+, which run about $50-$100 more. With a simple interface and high usability, we recommend it for the casual user, such as grandparents or smaller children. It is however not design for extensive sport use and versatile mounting, where Gopro stays king.
Check Amazon reviews of the Sony HDR-AS100
iON Air Pro 3
The iON Air Pro is listed at $299 (although it can be found for cheaper on Amazon from Third Party sellers). At that price point, it is not much of a bargain compared to the GoPro. However, this is a very sleek, easy to use camera similar to the Contour but with more accessories included.
The Air Pro 3 features 1080p/60fps video, which is the same as the Sony AV100 and better than any other alternative, including the Contour, the camera it resembles the most. The Air Pro 3 is waterproof to 15 meters with no housing, although additional waterproof housings can be purchased for divers who go deeper into the water. It features a very nice 12 MP lens for still photos, and a wide angle lens for up to 160 degrees of HD video. It also has a custom “anti-fog” lens for image clarity, and has built in WiFi sharing capabilities so that you can upload video right from the camera to the Internet. With a 2.5 hour battery life, this camera can record full HD video much longer than the competitors. Weighing only 5 ounces, this is ideal for athletes and others who cannot afford to carry extra weight.
There are not many cons with the Air Pro 3, as it covers many of the basic needs of an action camera. It does not support 4k or 2k video output like the GoPro Hero4 Black, but 1080p/60fps is still the standard for HD video at this point in time, is what the GoPro Hero3+ Silver carries, and would be acceptable even for the more professional users. Quality inconsistencies have been reported by users in some reviews, which could be an issue that could harm the camera’s reputation, or it could all be solved in the future by a firmware update. We propose to check it immediatly upon purchase, and exchange if not to expectation (another reason we love Amazon).
The iON Air Pro 3 is a very good camera, and comes packed with features and accessories that many of the other budget models do not offer. It is both very sleek and waterproof, a very appealing combination. However, there is something to be said for going with the market leader, and at $300 it would be easier to spend an extra $50 for a GoPro Hero3+ with similar capabilities knowing that GoPro is going to constantly push out firmware updates and new accessories in a way that a smaller company like Ion may not be able to. However, with a bit of searching on the net you can find the camera below $240 all inclusive, a true bargain. if you do not want to spend the extra money and are confident in Ion’s products, the Ion Air Pro 3 is probably the best budget action camera on the market today.Check Amazon reviews of the iON Air Pro 3
Conclusions - Gopro Alternative Cameras – Our take
Comparing Video quality for those cameras reveals that you won’t make a mistake with any of the cameras reviewed here. While contrast and lighting preferences can always be edited in post-prod, all cameras show adequate detail and color separation.
If you are a casual user, or just want to buy a cheap HD camera for your aspiring filmmaker son or daughter, the Sony HDR AV100 is the best option with consistent brand name, quality and sturdiness, combined with simple use and offers better picture quality than the Drift HD Ghost or Garmin Virb Elite.
For the more professional user or outdoor enthusiast, the best budget action camera is the Ion Air Pro 3, which narrowly beats out the Contour+2. The iON Air Pro does not require a waterproof housing, as it is built in for 15m of depth, it comes with an SD card, and offers 1080p video at 60fps, while the Contour can only shoot at 1080p at 30fps. A 12 MP lens for still photos versus the Contour’s 5 MP lens is a huge plus for the Ion Air Pro 3. The Air Pro 3 is also the lightest camera we featured, while packing the same sleek design as the Contour, making it very easy to mount to irregular and difficult surfaces.
On a last note, while GoPro stays market leader, also due to the impressive and ever increasing list of accessories and mounts to put your camera on any surface, we see here that there are certainly other options, GoPro alternative that are not only cheaper but also better in term of connectivity and overall experience.
Which camera did you choose? share with us in the comments!