What do you do when you want to compare action cameras? I grabbed seven action cameras to test in this Shootout at the BK Corral (a.k.a. my Brooklyn backyard). My choices consisted of a Go Pro Hero7 Black, Muvi KX-1, Olympus Stylus Tough TG-Tracker, Polaroid CUBE Act Two, and SJCAM SJ4000. To get the 360-video view on things, I added a Kodak PIXPRO SP360, and as a control, a Z CAM E1 Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens camera. I own the E1 (and the SJCam and Kodak PIXPRO), and I feel confident that the E1’s small size and interchangeable lenses, as well as frame rate and resolution options make it an excellent stash or “C” camera. Sadly, it isn’t available anymore—it has been replaced by the ZCAM E2—but it would make for a good comparison to the action cameras, to see how their images would hold up. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting the action cameras to compare well to the Z CAM, with its larger sensor and interchangeable-lens options.
I assembled my camera selections and charged their batteries. All the cameras, except for the Polaroid CUBE, have removable batteries, so you can charge them outside of the camera (I have extra batteries for the Z CAM and SJ4000 but, for convenience sake, I charged them all with the batteries inside the cameras. This became kind of messy (see below), but I persevered.
I like to shoot at 24 fps but, unfortunately, not all the cameras were able to, so I shot at 30 fps with each camera, and at the highest resolution they could handle that frame rate. No problem for the Z-CAM, GoPro, or Olympus. However, although the Muvi can shoot at 4K, it could only do so at 10 fps, so I lowered its resolution to 1080p. The Polaroid CUBE captures at either 720p or 1080p, and there is no way to set the frame rate outside of a computer app that allows you to select either 60 or 50Hz, and resolution is set by a sliding switch on the camera. The SJ4000 does 1080p, and I’m not quite sure how to figure the resolution of the Kodak PIXPRO, since I’ve only recently started to work with it.
Some of the cameras, the GoPro HERO7 Black and the Muvi, use a touchscreen or a phone app to select menu settings. The Z CAM E1 and Kodak PIXPRO can be operated with control buttons and phone apps. I liked the interface of the Olympus because it has switches, levers, and physical buttons—much more pleasing to work with. The Polaroid has only one switch that changes the camera from 720p to 1080p, and one button control for starting and stopping the camera.
I usually handhold action cameras, just grab-and-go shots but, as far as mounting goes, the Olympus has a built-in 1/4"-20 thread, as do the Z CAM and Kodak PIXPRO. The GoPro, Muvi, SJ4000, and the Kodak PIXPRO come with protective housings or cases that feature that ubiquitous 3-prong action-cam mount. The Polaroid CUBE only mounts magnetically out of the box, although other mounts are available separately. I couldn’t find a grip to help me build the rig to mount the cameras on the mower, so I went low tech and fashioned something out of some C-stand arms I have. Then I grabbed whatever 3-prong mounting gear I had that would work and got busy. I ended up hot-gluing the mount for the Muvi to the lawn mower, and screwing one of the three prong mounts to the exterior of the lawn mower.
I snapped the SJ4000 into a mount with a ¼"-20 mounting hole, attached it to an articulating arm, and placed the SJCam up higher than the other cams, which kind of shows in the footage. I clamped an articulating arm into a C-stand head and mounted the Olympus directly on that. But with no real mounting system for the Polaroid, I ended up using a plastic clamp with soft rubber pads on the jaws. It worked well, holding the Polaroid safely, and the threaded mounting hole on the clamp enabled me to mount it on the same articulating arm that held the Olympus.
In hindsight, I should probably have secured a board to the arms and mounted each camera on the board. But I didn’t think of that at the time. I should note that whichever camera had an angle-of-view function, I set it to the widest selection. For the Z CAM, I used an SLR Magic 8mm lens designed for drone work. I also turned on image stabilization in the cameras (except the Z CAM) because I wanted to get a sense of how well the cameras handled vibration. Now, with the rig built, and cameras mounted, off I went.
Shooting While Mowing
I started the seven cameras and proceeded to mow. When checking the footage, I found that I had missed the Olympus. Thankfully, I had left some of the lawn un-mowed just in case, and I shot another pass with the Olympus camera, so if you notice the footage doesn’t quite match up to the other cameras, it is because the footage was taken in a separate pass.
I went with the wide angle of view (super wide on the GoPro), because I really wanted to get the classic distortion, and to see the blades of grass hitting the lens, if possible. I wasn’t too worried about damaging the lenses—the Kodak PIXPRO has a protective dome, the Muvi was tucked inside a protective case, the Olympus has a removable lens dome, while the GoPro was set farthest back, so I felt certain that I wasn’t going to damage a lens. Besides, they are action cams, meant to survive far worse abuse. Check out the video from each camera below. I’ll leave my two cents under the video but, overall, I was impressed by the quality of the images from the 4K action cams.
The GoPro HERO7 Black, handled exposure very well, and the image was extremely smooth, nothing jarring. It is interesting to see how much the Olympus camera, which is in the frame, was moving, even though its own footage is also stable. The lack of in-camera stabilization in the Z-CAM makes the footage all but unusable.
I liked the images from the Muvi, only disappointed because I couldn’t capture in 4K at higher than 10 fps. Aside from that, the image held up well, looking nearly as detailed as the 4K images. The Polaroid CUBE, and SJCam didn’t hold up quite as well, though you can make your own determination.
As I stated earlier, I’m still trying to figure out a workflow for this type of video, so I’m not sure I imported it properly in DaVinci Resolve, but even though the aspect ratio is completely wrong (for my taste), I am so intrigued by the image possibilities.
If you need the P.O.V. of a lawnmower, now you know how to acquire it, and you can choose which camera to use. If you have any interesting action-camera-mounting tricks or shots, please share them in the Comments section, below. For a list of all the cameras we have, check out the B&H Photo Website, or swing by the B&H SuperStore when you’re in New York City, to check out our in-store display.