When I was shooting video as a one-person crew, to get some of the motion shots of cars or other moving vehicles, I needed a camera that I didn’t have to worry about operating but which also had high enough quality to match my main camera as closely as possible. I settled on different action camera setups since they have a few qualities that are indispensable to a filmmaker or videographer who needs to add motion shots or angles that aren’t possible with their main camera. Below are five reasons every filmmaker needs an action camera in their kit, and there are probably more that you will discover as you use them.
1. They Are Small, Light, and Durable
The first thing you will notice is that these cameras are made tough. They’re so compact they don’t have room for anything to rattle around inside, and they are made to be mounted anywhere, dropped, worn, banged up, and even thrown. Many are even waterproof to a certain depth so you can capture stunning underwater shots, and they are also small enough to fit into waterproof housings to go even deeper. For example, with its included waterproof housing, the Sony FDR-X3000 can take you down to a depth of 197' and send video back to a live-preview remote.
2. They Capture High-Resolution Video
Action cameras aren’t just for low-resolution web videos anymore. Like the DJI Osmo Action and the GoPro HERO9 (check out our hands-on review of the HERO9 here), these tiny cameras have enormous sensors that shoot high-color 4K and even massive 5K video to match your professional camera resolutions. Many also feature built-in stabilization so you no longer need to worry about your image jiggling or shaking when you’re grabbing those shots of mountain biking down a steep, bumpy grade.
In addition to offering a variety of options like slow and fast motion, time-lapse, livestreaming, and capturing HDR stills, some action cameras like the GoPro MAX 360 and the Insta360 ONE X2 capture 360/VR video with dual lenses. You can add these cameras to shoot your behind-the-scenes clips, marketing videos, real estate walk-throughs, and underwater worlds, and even use them on your location scouting trips.
3. They Can Be Mounted Just About Anywhere
Action cameras so are small and versatile, you really can use them anywhere. When I was shooting a very, very (very) low budget film, I wanted a shot over water of someone on a cliff that I would have loved to get, but it was long ago when cameras were heavy and helicopter rental was the only option. Now, all you need is a small drone and an action camera, and you can create a dramatic sweeping cliffside shot. Maybe I’ll reshoot that scene, someday. You can mount them on standard equipment like a tripod or magnetic or clip mounts, but you can also easily mount them on a wall, light stand, chair, table, street sign, curtain, clothing—anything that will support their light weight and compact form.
If you want to get a shot in the mountains, you can easily mount your action camera on a bike or snowmobile. Need a skiing shot? Wear it on your head. Stick it in a waterproof housing and capture underwater worlds. Mount it on a drone for some breathtaking aerial views. Drive it over rough, rocky terrain on an RV for tracking shots you never would have been able to achieve with a full-sized rig. This Insta360 GO action camera is so small it can be mounted on your lapel for true POV shots.
4. They Have Tons of Accessories
Using the right accessories with an action camera can open up possibilities for your shoot that you may not have considered before. Since the cameras are so small and can be mounted anywhere, there is an enormous trove of mounts and accessories that can mount it on your own body, on cars, underwater rigs, drones, handheld rigs, RVs, 3D/360 rigs, vlogging setups—whatever configuration you can think of, it’s a good bet that an accessory will be available to make your shot possible.
You can also add the same types of accessories for an action camera as you do for your camcorder, DSLR, or cinema camera, such as cages, lens mods, filters, microphones, lighting, battery packs, tripods, handgrips, monitors, remote controls, multi-rigs, and cases, and they are likely specialized and designed specifically for your camera. Some mounts tend to be more universal, as many cameras are compatible with the GoPro-style “fingers” interface, but many have their own configurations, including handheld grips, handlebar mounts, dive cases, surfboard mounts, floating mounts, selfie sticks, body-worn harnesses, suction cups, and even a swinging bullet-time rig.
5. They Are Easy to Use, Even for Non-Pros
If you’re only accustomed to using certain cameras or need an extra hand to grab a few shots but the only available help is on the amateur side, most action cameras have a very easy interface and require little knowledge of cinematography or pro camera operation. One great relief is that they have wide lenses, so they’re easily able to maintain focus and will capture a wide field of view that can be cropped as needed if you shoot in HD or 4K.
Many action cameras like the DJI Pocket 2 and Benro Vmate Micro have built-in stabilization, and these tiny cameras have their own built-in gimbals so you can walk and vlog, get handheld moving shots in a car or boat, a bike or skateboard, and preview and configure them using a smartphone. They are also handy for a second or third angle on a multi-camera shoot. I remember being on my own for many a handheld interview controlling my main camera with one hand for the close-up while holding a stabilized action camera in my other hand to capture the full scene. An action camera is a quick and easy addition to any kit for elevating the creativity and adventurous spirit in your productions.
Tell us about your action camera rig and its accessories in the Comments section, below, and share some stories about the creative shots you’ve captured.