GoPros and other small action cameras are increasingly useful to indie filmmakers and documentary filmmakers as they become higher quality and more durable. Action cameras like GoPros are especially useful for filmmakers because they can provide a unique point of view and since they’re cheap to the point of being disposable, you can try things you wouldn’t dare try with a $80,000 camera and lens setup.
Here are the best high quality action cameras for pro filmmakers
Sony’s new entrant into the action camera category shoots RAW still photos and 1080p60 video (4K is also possible when you connect an external HDMI recorder). This is a mountable compact video camera aimed squarely at the professional filmmaker: it has options for S-Log2, MF assist, picture profiles and more. The Sony RX0’s slow motion settings allow you record up to an astonishing 960 frames per second with a Zeiss f/4 lens and a 1 inch sensor (15.3 megapixels).
Like most action cameras, it’s also waterproof to an impressive 330ft (100 meters), shockproof, extremely durable, and has wireless controls. Check out some jaw-dropping demo footage that was shot with this tiny action camera:
The Sony RX0 is available as a stand-alone camera or bundled in an accessory kit with mounts, memory card etc here.
The GoPro wasn’t the first compact action camera but it was the camera that redefined the category. By bringing high quality imagery to the masses at a low cost and simple controls, the GoPro has become quite common even on some film and TV sets. The latest iteration of the top-of-the-line GoPro Hero Black packs a powerful punch for pros. It records 4K video at up to 60 frames per second and can be cranked all the way up to 240 frames per second at 1080p.
And, importantly, the GoPro Hero Black also features a picture profile called ProTune which allows for advanced color correction (it’s a little like shooting ungraded RAW footage instead of the super-saturated consumer oriented video modes of many lower end action cameras). The best GoPro is waterproof up to 33 feet (10 meters) without a housing and has a remarkably mature ecosystem for mounts and accessories. Features wifi recording controls for your cell phone.
Check out this GoPro Hero 6 sample footage:
If you’re considering getting a GoPro but you don’t want the pro Hero Black model, see this GoPro comparison chart.
BlackMagic Design has been coming out with an array of really interesting pro filmmaking cameras lately and the Micro Cinema Camera is no exception. It’s an interchangeable lens camera (you can buy it bundled with a Micro Four Thirds lens here) that doesn’t have a build in LCD. Instead you’ll need to use an external HDMI field monitor or a wireless HDMI solution for setup and operation.
The BlackMagic Micro Cinema Camera is slightly larger in size than a GoPro but it features a pretty incredible 13 stops of dynamic range with a Super 16 size sensor and internal native Cinema DNG RAW and ProRes recording at 1080P. It also has an ISO up to 1600 for low lighting environments.
Check out this test footage shot with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera:
Frequently asked questions about professional action cameras & GoPros
What format does the GoPro shoot in? GoPros record H.264 and H.265 MP4 files that range in resolution from 4K (3840 x 2160) all the way down to 1080p. The top of the line GoPro Hero 6 Black records frame rates up to a full 60 frames per second. Lower resolutions like 2.7K can record at 120 frames per second or an astonishing 240 frames per second in 1080P mode for silky smooth extreme slow motion effects.
What other types of specialty action camera uses are popular? In addition to action camera use by filmmakers, there are a number of other popular action camera applications these days. are popular, as are cat camera collars/dog collar cameras. Action cameras are also being used with motorcycle helmet camera mounts and the best makeup cameras are also popular among YouTube vloggers.
Why don’t some action cameras have 4K recording on board? Overheating is always a risk with compact mountable action cameras. Some cameras deal with this by imposing recording time limits and others require the use of external recorders for super high quality 4K recording modes. Another limitation to recording 4K video is whether or not the media can actually write fast enough– low speed SDHC memory cards for instance may lag or drop frames or corrupt data when trying to record 4K video, so external video recorders that record to SSDs for external video recorders which have very fast write speeds are necessary.
Related: External GoPro Microphones