GoPro is by far the most popular action camera in the world, hauling in revenue of over $1.6bn every year. The eureka moment came when founder Nick Woodman realised that people were more interested in being able to record themselves than solely other people. By making his wrist mounted surf camera point inwards, the GoPro as we know it was born.
However, like so many market leaders, they are able to set the price pretty much wherever they like, and the latest ‘Hero 5’ model and its accompanying ‘Karma’ range are no different, with the camera alone setting you back $369 (or £349). Understandably. most people don’t have that amount of money to drop on a handheld rugged camera, so let’s take a look at what the best – lower priced – alternatives are.
Sony HDR-AS50 Action Camera
Price: $168 (£180)
Sony have made the biggest splash outside of GoPro in the action camera market, and have promoted their product with a large amount of product placement in movies and TV shows. They have totally avoided any similarities to the GoPro in terms of design, but have kept some similarities in functionality. The camera comes without a case, but a rugged waterproof case can be added on, and with it comes a mounting that is compatible with all of their accessories. Designed to look more like the camcorders of old (an industry in which Sony were, and still are, the market leader), with the long thin design, the camera is designed to be grasped in a closed hand, as opposed to held out in front like a regular camera… or the GoPro. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Although it is a more natural position to hold facing forward, if you want to move the camera mid shot, it can be somewhat clumsy.
If you watch out for the aforementioned pitfalls, and ensure that the way it mounts and shoots fit your needs, the Sony is an excellent choice – and at around half the price of the GoPro, a very viable option for those sticking to a budget.
Polaroid Cube HD
Price: $59.99 (£67)
The Polaroid cube comes from (as the name suggests) the same company that brought us the industry-changing Polaroid camera. They have recently seen resurgence with a new model of Polaroid camera, and the success of this, their ‘Cube’ action camera. The Cube strips back the action camera to its basics. Some may say it is too basic – it does not have a screen, and the battery power is quite limited. The benefits of the Cube are that it is incredibly small, making it lightweight and portable. It is very simplistic for the user, with the firm having reduced the controls to just one button. The camera can also be mounted by magnet and doesn’t need a case to be waterproof.
The Cube design was so influential that it actually prompted GoPro to follow suit when they released their Session model. It’s easy to see how the cube has been able to compete in sales, and become a viable alternative to the GoPro, particularly as it comes in at almost 1/8th of the price. So, if you want a small, stylish, no frills action camera that you can take to the beach or skiing – and you don’t want to spend more than $100 – then this is the camera for you!
AKASO EK7000 4K
Price: $89.99 (£56.99)
The AKASO is the market leader of the cameras designed to compete solely with the GoPro itself. With a strikingly different design, and boasting most of the same features such as 4k video shooting, there are few differences between the AKASO and a GoPro. The differences that do exist doesn’t lie in the obvious numbers, but rather in the little numbers that make the difference in image quality. The GoPro allows a lot more light into the lens, and has a greater depth of field, essentially meaning that the image quality is far crisper and deeper in colour, although not technically ‘higher definition’.
However, it is hard to argue with the price difference at this level. When the AKASO is 1/4 the price of the GoPro, there isn’t much of a decision to be made if you are on a budget – this is definitely the closest direct comparison.
What to avoid
Of course, there are some models to avoid when picking a GoPro alternative. The main product to steer clear of is the…
HTC RE Camera
Price: $124 (£99)
Designed to look like a periscope, and be held in a closed fist, one can see where the design inspiration came from. However, the RE needs a case to be used in the water, and doesn’t have any features that separate it from our other suggestions. The Cube has it beaten in terms of quality and design, the Sony AS50 has cornered the alternative holdability, and both the Cube and the AKASO have it equalled on price. Add into the mix the tendency for the RE to crack after moderate use, and you can see why this is the camera to avoid.
So, why buy a GoPro at all?
With all the alternatives coming in way cheaper, many offering positive reasons to buy, what is the point in buying a GoPro at all? Well, the answer is simple; quality. The GoPro does it all, and that’s what sperarates it. While each of the alternatives have some real benefits, such as not needing a case, or being easier to hold, the GoPro combines top-of-the-range quality with a screen and also doesn’t need a case (a new addition with the GoPro Session and Hero 5).
So, if you are in the market for a top of the range camera and have a bit of money to splash, then the GoPro is the one for you – there is a reason that it is the best on the market. However, If you don’t feel the need to spend that much, then you can buy with confidence from any of the alternatives listed; its merely a matter of deciding which features you can or can’t live without and buying accordingly.