As much as I’m tempted to get one of those cheap Chinese knockoff for 300-400 ringgit, I’ve decided against it. As always, I’ve done an extensive research on all my options, from the ridiculously low priced SJCams, Mi Yi cameras to to Sony and the crowd favorite - GoPro action cameras. One thing I noticed is that, the cheaper the camera the lower quality of the image and videos it will capture. While expensive doesn’t always mean better but in this case it’s definitely is. Sure the SJCam and Yi action cameras are much-much cheaper and they have almost all the capabilities of a standard GoPro but at the end of the day, the GoPro always have the edge in term of the quality for your photos and videos. The pictures always look better on dry land as well as underwater and the wide-angle video recording is comparable to that of a flagship smartphone. The cheaper ones meanwhile looks like they’re taken from a budget smartphone.
So what should my first action cam be, from a list of half a dozen or so branded cameras? After my research, I’ve shortlisted the GoPro and also the Sony action cam and since Sony’s camera is hard to come by especially in the second hand market, I bought myself a second hand GoPro Hero 4 Session for just 800 ringgit. The Hero 4 Session is an entry level action camera from GoPro. It features a smaller cube form factor made of rubber and metal with just two buttons and no screen at all. Apart from the buttons, you control the camera and also view your recordings from a smartphone. On the top of the camera is the big record button which also doubles as the select button. At the back is the small menu button to cycle through the menu options. On the side of the camera is a side door which opens to the micro USB port for charging and a microSD card slot which supports up to 64GB microSD cards and that’s it. In the box you’ll get 2 frames and mounting buckles for side or vertical mounting a few thumb screws.
The GoPro Hero 4 Session is completely waterproof up to 10 meters so you don’t need any special casing for it unlike the Hero 4 Silver and Black. The battery is also built in and not swappable but it could last at least 2 hours of video recording. You can control the GoPro by cycling through the menu button at the back of the camera which is quite awkward at first but you’ll get used to it. You can also connect it to the Capture app which is available on iOS and Android. By default, pressing the big record button on top will start video recording immediately unless you have manually entered photo mode previously. Using the Capture companion app is much easier since you can actually see through the camera’s lens before recording or capturing photos. However, connecting to the app to the GoPro via Wi-Fi may drain the battery slightly faster because the Wi-Fi needs to be on all the time. One more thing, once you started video recording, you can no longer see what’s going on through the camera’s screen.
There are basically three camera modes - video, photo and time lapse. The video mode is further separated into normal video and continuous video and the photo mode into normal, time lapse and burst mode which takes 10 photos in one second. The maximum video quality is 1440p 30fps Ultra Wide resolution while the photo quality is 8 megapixel only which is slightly lower than its GoPro Silver sibling. Video and photo quality? That’s where it shines. It is comparable to those taken on an iPhone 5, which is pretty good if you consider its size and price. On my field test, the GoPro Hero 4 Session passed all the tests with flying colors. It survived a few hours on the beach of Port Dickson and a day in Sunway Lagoon. It also survived a couple of accidental drop tests on the pavement. Even without any extra housing, this GoPro is quite tough and rigid.
What I like about the Hero 4 Session is its small and compact size. I could easily slid it into my pocket or clip it with the optional accessory to my back pack. I like the fact that it’s waterproof without any casing and I could quickly start recording with just a push of a button.
I let the photos and video samples above and below speak for itself. The GoPRO Hero 4 Session (quite a mouthful, I know) is the best entry level action camera you can get on the market. Of course if you have slightly more budget, you should definitely get the Hero 4 Silver or even Hero 5 with an LCD screen and 4K recording for 400 to a thousand ringgit more. But if you have a really tight budget like me, just settle with the Hero 4 Session. The lack of LCD screen is not that big of a deal to me since I can always connect it to my phone which is a chore sometimes but I’ll survive. For its price and recording quality, I’d highly recommend the Hero 4 session to the SJCams and Yi cameras in the market which is slightly cheaper but take crap photos and videos. Trust me, the investment is totally worth it because at the end of the day, you’d want the best quality photos and videos from your action camera.
More sample videos:
Gunung Angsi hike
Motorcycle evening ride