Whether you’ve just purchased a new action camera or you are still shopping for one, knowing how to use these advanced gadgets can be helpful. If you’ve never shot with an action camera before, it can be difficult to tell which features are worth the extra money, and which you can live without.
You may be wondering, what is the difference between slow-motion and time-lapse? What about accessories? Which ones are really necessary? Knowing how to use an action cam correctly, especially one that can film in 4K and ultra-HD, will help answer these questions and more. Plus, having some direction beforehand will make the filming process easy and fun!
What is a 4K Ultra HD Action Camera?
First, it’s important to understand the meaning behind the different terms within “4K Ultra HD action camera.” 4K simply means Ultra High Definition (UHD), while 1080P means High Definition (HD). Think of each image and video frame as a grid with columns and rows of pixels. A 1080P HD image is 1080 rows high and 1920 columns wide. A 4K Ultra HD image has double this amount in both directions, resulting in roughly four times more pixels—hence the name, 4K.
How to Manage the Resolution of a 4K Ultra HD Action Camera
4K UHD creates noticeably sharp images and video quality. While you definitely want a camera with 4K capabilities, it is also helpful to get one that can film in either 4K or 1080P resolution.
Although 4K gives you a better image quality, being able to shoot in 1080P (HD) does have its advantages. 1080P takes up less storage space, requires less bandwidth to transfer, and is compatible with more editing programs than 4K. Plus, 1080P uses less battery life so you can film for more extended periods. When deciding whether to shoot in 4K or 1080P, consider the size of your SD card and your current battery life. If you are running low on both, it may be helpful to switch over to 1080P.
If you’re determined to capture the best still images and ultra-high-resolution videos, just remember to bring a charger, spare battery, and spare SD card.
4K Ultra HD Action Camera Accessories
The best action cameras are compatible with several high-quality accessories that allow you to film any type of activity. Before heading out on your first adventure, be sure you have the right accessories on hand. Not only will these attachments make filming more comfortable, but they will also protect your camera and keep it securely attached to all your gear.
- MicroSD Card: As we mentioned above, a 4K resolution can take up quite a bit of storage space. Having an extra memory card on hand can be a big help if you plan to shoot for longer periods of time. About 1-minute of 4K video takes up about 400MB of space. So, a microSD card with 128GB will offer about 5 hours of 4K footage.
- Waterproof Case: Whether you are filming on a boat or capturing your favorite water sport, a waterproof case is essential. As you shop, you’ll want to select waterproof housing that will protect the camera up to 50 meters. This depth allows you to film while scuba diving or surfing, but it will also protect against small splashes.
- Mounts: Mounting your camera on your helmet, dashboard, or the handlebars of your bike can allow you to capture content from interesting new angles. But, to keep your device safe, you will need reliable mounts. Many durable accessories have magnetic connections that attach to your camera with a quick “click.” Adhesive sticker mounts are ideal when connecting to a surfboard or skateboard. For a truly hands free experience, a chest mount is also recommended.
- Lens: Wide-angle lens attachments enable you to capture longer and broader scenes, such as landscapes and cityscapes. Very few 4K UHD action cams offer a wide-angle attachment, so if this is something important to you, double-check if this feature is available in any of the compatible accessories or if it’s natively built into the action cam before purchasing.
- Extra Batteries: When shooting in 4K, one battery can last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Bringing along a spare battery will save you the hassle of having to plug in the camera or battery for charging.
- Stabilizers: Most advanced action cameras come with built-in video stabilization to capture smooth footage. Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) reduces blurring from shaking or bouncing. For even more stabilization, handheld grips, gimbals, and tripods can also help.
Action Camera Settings and Modes
Your action camera will come with several different settings—including video, photo, slow motion, loop record, burst, and time-lapse. Before you start filming, it is helpful to experiment with each mode. While video and photo modes are self-explanatory, you may not be as familiar with other settings.
Slow-motion offers a detailed view of each moment of the action, while time-lapse can speed things up and make it appear as if events are happening much faster than they are. The loop record feature allows the camera to replace old files with new video footage. For example, when your microSD card becomes full, the camera will delete the first file to make room for a new one so it saves only the most recent session. To capture a series of still images, burst mode shoots a set number of frames in rapid succession.
Once you master each of the settings, you’ll be able to use your 4K UHD action camera seamlessly to record all your favorite activities and moments.
Changing Filming Modes
The filming mode on your action camera can be changed in one of several ways. Some may have an easy-access button on the side that allows you to toggle between shooting modes quickly. Other cameras may have a touch screen, voice control, or remote control option.
Although LCD touch screens and voice recognition are nice, they often come with a hefty price tag. Plus, when it comes to filming, these features can make the camera harder to use. Touch screens may not recognize your fingers if they’re cold, wet, or if you’re wearing gloves. Voice control may also not recognize your commands if there’s excessive noise in the area.
We recommend opting for a straightforward button toggle—this will allow you to quickly change modes while out filming. Plus, it won’t require you to stop the action simply to adjust your camera settings. If your UHD camera has a touch screen, the voice control option may be the most convenient way to change your settings when out recording action.
Most users tend to use just a few of their preferred filming modes, so a nice touch for some of the best 4K UHD action cameras is the ability to save preset settings.
Frame Rate and Lighting
Frame rate refers to the number of frames your video camera can capture per second. Most high-quality action cams can shoot 4K up to 30 frames per second and 1080P up to 120 frames per second.
Each time you film, you will have the opportunity to change the frame rate. The higher the frame rate, the faster the shutter speed. With a faster shutter speed, less light can enter the frame, which can result in an underexposed or overexposed photo or video.
When selecting your frame rate, be sure to consider your lighting conditions. If lighting is low, you should opt for a frame rate under 30. If the light is intense, you can go up to a higher frame rate.
However, because slower shutter speeds can blur out quick movements, which isn’t what you want when filming an action scene, it is best to capture your content during the day. Some more expensive action cameras come with a low light setting or attachment, which can allow you to film clear content at night.
Action Cam Editing
Generally, action cameras require that you transfer data to a computer before editing. However, some new models have the editing software built right into the device. This feature allows you to trim and delete footage without having to hassle with uploading your footage first.
To create more dynamic content, try editing videos into short 5 second clips. These clips let you to layer different scenes with still images to display the highlights of your adventure or vacation. Layers of short clips tend to be more captivating and more entertaining than longer scenes.
When you are out shooting, keep these short clips in mind, but also be sure to capture more video footage than necessary so you have plenty of options when editing. Shooting a variety of scenes, such as action shots, landscapes, portraits, and group pictures will also make your videos more exciting and fun.
Shooting when on location can cause dirt, dust particles, and water to build-up on your lens. To capture crystal clear content, keep your camera’s lens clean. Cleaning the lens regularly can also help protect the life of the device.
You can quickly remove debris by using distilled water or pure rubbing alcohol with a soft lens cloth or tissue. Most newer models are water-resistant so you can rinse off your camera when you’re in a rush to keep the lens clean enough for great video and quality still photos.
Wi-Fi and Smartphone Applications
Most high-end action cameras come with Wi-Fi connectivity. This feature connects your camera to a PC or mobile app (although it’s not a common thing among low cost cameras and older models). Before purchasing your camera, be sure the application is available on either the Apple App Store or on Google Play for Android devices.
With a mobile application, you can change filming modes, trim, edit, and review content, transfer data, and upload your photos and videos to social media. That way, you can use your action camera directly or through your smartphone.
Action cameras offer you the unique ability to capture your adventure from any angle. Although an advanced smartphone camera has a similar resolution quality, action cams have a rugged durability that lets you easily attach them to your favorite gear. With your action cam securely in place and ready to record, you can produce epic content you just can’t achieve with a smartphone.
Whether you’re a professional videographer or are just starting with your action camera, our tips above can help you get the most out of your new device.