With hopes for a white and powdery winter, let’s about talk cameras to take to the slopes. Of course, for adrenaline junkies and their shutter-buds, a DSLR, properly protected, is the ideal camera for capturing epic moments (and fails), but this article is aimed at the family set, the weekend warriors and those who want a better and more durable camera than the one in their phone to take photos of their kids on the bunny hill, or a video of their own spectacular feats on double black diamonds. Excluding the more advanced DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that offer weather sealing, the types of cameras that are best for skiing can be divided into two groups: action cameras and handheld “tough” point-and-shoots.
Action cameras specialize in point-of-view video and can be mounted on your helmet, skis, poles, snowboard, or wherever else you like. They utilize microSD cards to record sound and image. Of course, they can also be held in your hand to shoot still photos but that is not their primary function. “Tough” digital still cameras are waterproof and freeze proof and offer a more traditional point-and-shoot experience. They can easily fit in a pocket and be brought out to capture action or posed moments. Many of these cameras are compatible with accessories to mount on helmets or gear and they do shoot video, but that is not their primary function.
The brand that has come to define the action camera is, of course, GoPro, and its latest models are the HERO5 Black and the HERO5 Session. Also still available are the HERO4 Silver and Black models. The HERO5 is a step up from both HERO4 options—it is waterproof without needing a separate case and its video stabilization and audio-capture options have been improved significantly. It also offers an improved touchscreen LCD and voice control, which can be a lifesaver (literally?) if you are fumbling with buttons while trying to ski. Still photos are captured at 12MP on the 4 and 5 models. While there are now many worthy competitors, GoPRo is still the leader in the field and I recommend you check out the above links for all of the camera’s updated specs, as well as this HERO4 Ski Kit for the camera and a package of accessories specifically for skiing.
The veho MUVI K-Series K-2 NPNG Wi-Fi Handsfree Camera is an action cam option at a lower price. It features Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps, but not 4K video like the Go Pro models. Still photos are captured at 16MP with maximum continuous shooting of 8 fps. Several mounts are included, as is a waterproof housing that protects the camera to 330' underwater. It also features a removable LCD screen and built-in Wi-Fi. Also check out the CAME-ZERO Sport Camera, the Contour+2 Action Camcorder, the Delvcam 4K UHD Action Sports POV Camera and the Gitup Git2 Action Camera for lower-priced options.
Garmin currently offers three action-cam models. The VIRB Ultra 30 Action Camera competes with the GoPro models with video options at 4K and 1080p resolution, and a touchscreen LCD, which continues to work even with through its waterproof case. Voice activation, remote control via the Garmin mobile app, and 3-axis video stabilization are featured, and still-photo resolution is available at 12MP and 8MP. Larger than the Ultra 30 are the VIRB X Action Camera and the VIRB XE Action Camera, but both offer waterproof capability without additional housing. The XE supports higher resolution video than the X, but both feature 12MP still imaging, the XE at a rate of up to 30 fps. The XE also provides electronic image stabilization.
The Yi Technology 4K Action Camera has a sleek profile with a 2.19" Gorilla Glass touchscreen LCD and video, photo, and connectivity features to match the GoPros. An ultra-wide-angle glass lens, in-camera lens distortion correction and electronic image stabilization are provided to improve your footage, and a 1400mAh rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery powers up to two hours of 4K recording; an innovative heat-management system prevents overheating. One downside to the Yi camera is that it requires a separate case for waterproofing and its touchscreen controls are not accessible through that case. The Yi Technology Sport Camera is the budget-minded option for action cameras and provides 1080p video and a 16MP Sony Exmor R Sensor for still imaging.
Speaking of Sony, it too, makes a range of action cameras. The current flagship is the FDR-X3000 Action Camera, a durable, feature-heavy camera with 4K capability, an ultra-wide optically stabilized lens, and an included waterproof case. The FDR-X3000 can also be purchased with a live-view remote watch to follow the action while shooting with the camera mounted on your helmet or skis. The HDR-AS20 HD POV Action Cam records 1080p and 720p video and captures 12MP still photos.
Nikon has recently entered the action-camera market with its KeyMission series of three unique cameras. The KeyMission 80 Action Camera is described on our site as “user-friendly for everyday adventures” and offers 1080p video and 12MP still-photo capture. Its name is derived from the 80-degree angle of view provided by its Nikkor glass lens, and a 1.75" monitor offers playback touch control. Of the three KeyMission cameras, the KeyMission 170 4K Action Camera is most like the GoPro HERO in terms of size and function. It has 4K video with a 170-degree angle of view and 1080p video at up to 120 fps for crunchin’ slo-mos. Built-in Vibration Reduction is supported for 1080 and 720 resolutions, as is built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The KeyMission 170 has a standard ¼"-20 tripod thread for a wider range of mounting options and it is waterproof, shockproof, and freeze proof without a separate housing. The KeyMission 360 4K Action Camera offers dual-lens capture to create spherical 360-degree 4K videos. It can also shoot high-resolution still photos at 29MP and is the fully loaded, waterproof, shockproof, and freeze-proof flagship of this series.
Olympus also produces an action camera that looks a bit like a tiny camcorder. Although it is a bit bigger than the others, I like the style of the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker Action Camera, with its tilt-out LCD monitor, built-in LED headlamp, and protruding 204-degree angle-of-view lens. Its selling points are 4K, 1080p, and 720p video, 8MP photos, Wi-Fi, and it’s waterproof and shockproof without a separate case.
Let’s go right back to Olympus as we start to talk about “tough” point-and-shoot cameras. The most impressive of this category of compact cameras is the Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera, which has a 16MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor for RAW capture and full HD 1080p video recording. It also enables live composite imaging, which can be very helpful on sunny slopes and “microscope” macro photography. Built to be freeze proof to 14°F, waterproof to 50' down, crushproof, and dustproof, it has a glass cover zoom lens with 4x optical zoom and impressive f/2 maximum aperture. Built-In Wi-Fi, GPS, and eCompass round out its feature set. The Stylus Tough TG-870 Digital Camera is the more affordable tough cam option from Olympus, but it offers a few features that make it more attractive, depending on your needs. The focal length of its zoom lens is slightly wider than that of the TG-4, its maximum aperture is only f/3.5, but that should not be much of a concern on normally bright ski slopes. Its imaging sensor is the same but it lacks RAW capability. It does have a tilting LCD monitor, which makes selfies and “groupies” a bit easier to compose.
Panasonic offers the Lumix DMC-TS5 Digital Camera, which is its top-tier toughie with 16.1MP sensor, full HD 1080p video, and 5x optical zoom Leica lens with optical image stabilization and 10 fps burst shooting. It is a very well-appointed camera and equally as durable as the above Olympus models. The Lumix DMC-TS30 Digital Camera is a smaller version of the TS5, not quite as tough but fine to 14°F. It has a CCD sensor and therefore its video capability maxes out at 720p, but its 16.1MP still imaging is more than adequate for its task.
The Nikon COOLPIX AW130 Waterproof Digital Camera is a camera I have used and can fully recommend. Its photo and video specs are similar to the Lumix-TS5, but it is depth rated to 100' for underwater photography and has long battery life and hybrid vibration reduction. Like the Lumix, image quality is excellent. The Nikon COOLPIX S33 Digital Camera is the company’s budget-friendly option.
Other tough camera options from Fujifilm, Ricoh, and Canon offer similar feature sets, and then there is the Leica X-U Digital Camera, which pairs “robust physical design with refined image quality”, including a Summilux 23mm f/1.7 ASPH lens that offers an equivalent focal length of 35mm and an f/1.7 maximum aperture.
As mentioned at the beginning, a DSLR is ideal for ski photography, if photography and not skiing is your primary goal. I feel that with DSLRs, mirrorless, and advanced point-and-shoot cameras, while the lens selection and overall image quality produces better photos, the risk for damage and the bulk while skiing outweigh the need for better image quality. One thing to remember with all cameras is that battery performance is affected by cold weather, so if temperatures drop below zero, do your best to keep your camera near your body for warmth, reduce use of the LCD monitor and/or bring a spare battery.
If you do want to up your game with a DSLR or mirrorless option, possibilities include the Pentax K-1, this manufacturer’s new full-frame option, with the SMCP-FA 43mm f/1.9 lens, which is a durably constructed “pancake” lens with an uncommon but very useful focal length. If you use this lens on the Pentax APS-C format K-3 II DSLR, its equivalence is 64.5mm, or try the even smaller DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited lens. While all “pro” level DSLRs and lenses can withstand a good degree of cold and moisture, Pentax prides itself on its weather-resistant models, and the pancake lens reduces bulk. For mirrorless fare, the Sony Alpha a6300 and the just-announced a6500 are compact enough to hang around your neck or put in a jacket pocket, and their image quality, focus speed, stabilization, and burst capability are top notch. Their handgrip is big enough for a steady grip, even while wearing gloves. Pair them with any one of these pancake lenses for a Sony E-mount system with a very small profile. Nikon is still the only manufacturer to offer a “waterproof” mirrorless camera. The Nikon 1 AW1 Mirrorless Digital Camera is built to withstand cold and drops from up to 6.6', and is waterproof to 49.2'. A waterproof mid-range zoom and wide-angle prime lens are available for this camera, as are a broader range of non-waterproof CX-format lenses.
There are now many options in wearable cameras. For example, Coleman makes VisionHD Video Recording Sunglasses with 1080p resolution that are waterproof to 3.3' and freeze proof to -4°F. Drift offers the Compass Wearable Camera to clip to your clothes, as does Qlippie, with its Q1 Mini HD Camera and its decorative stickers, and Fusar has a new aerodynamic Helmet Camera. And finally, for something completely different, Lomography offers the La Sardina St. Moritz Camera with Flash, a 35mm film camera with a ski-sweater design and plastic lens that might be more fun for the château after a day on the slopes than for the mountain itself.
Which one of these is right for you? Tell us in the Comments section, below.