Over the last ten years, action cameras have taken the outdoor sports world by storm; their small size and bulletproof toughness have allowed anyone to become the videographer of their own adventures. Cyclists record their route as evidence in case of an accident, skiers capture their sick jumps, and skydivers shoot videos of their mid-air acrobatics. So, why wouldn’t kayakers want to upload their paddle strokes to YouTube?
What Do Kayakers Need in an Action Camera?
The obvious answer: it needs to capture great footage. But what makes for good video? The latest generation of action cameras allows users to control settings like any professional photographer would: exposure, white balance, ISO, etc. The weather can drastically change the lighting, and adjusting these settings makes it possible to get the perfect shot in any conditions. Image stabilization is also incredibly important for kayakers, as the waves and jostling of the boat on each stroke mean the camera needs to work some magic so you don’t end up with a nausea-inducing video.
Secondly, it absolutely must be waterproof. Water is the kryptonite to standard cameras; even a mild rainstorm can destroy an unprotected DSLR. Fortunately, the casing on action cameras will usually protect them, even when fully submerged (up to a certain depth). Aftermarket cases protect them in deeper water, but that’s mostly a concern for scuba videographers. While all action cameras can tolerate water when their protective cases are attached, the controls on some models are difficult to use when wet. Whether you’re in the midst of serious whitewater or crashing ocean waves, you need to be able to operate your camera with ease.
Lastly, the camera needs good mounting options. Unlike a tourist recording their trip to the Louvre, kayakers can’t hold the camera – they’ve got two hands on the paddle. The simplest mounting method is on the front of the boat, using the hooks on the bowlines to strap it on. This will give either a water-level POV shot or a paddling selfie, depending on which way the camera is facing. A second option is a post mount on the rear grab handle. This works great for whitewater kayaking, capturing excellent shots of you dropping into that nasty hole. The last option is the paddle mount. Videos taken from this mount are the least smooth, but can be interesting as they give the sense of being right there with paddler.
The Best Action Camera for Kayakers
There are two big names in the action camera market right now: GoPro and Garmin, with the Hero5 and Virb Ultra 30, respectively. The two cameras are incredibly similar: both take exceptional video, are completely waterproof in their cases, have tons of mounting options, and are sold at roughly the same price point. There are some minor differences between them, though:
- Both the GoPro and the Garmin have image stabilization features, but the GoPro allows for it at a higher frame rate (60 frames per second, compared to 30 with the Garmin). That would seem to give GoPro the edge, but kayakers are unlikely to need the 60 fps setting; it’s more advantageous to athletes in really fast-moving sports, like skiing or auto racing.
- When it comes to waterproofing, the GoPro is superior when comparing the cameras without their case. The Garmin can handle some rain, but it shouldn’t be used near water without the case. The caseless GoPro can get wet, but shouldn’t be submerged. However, the Garmin shines when comparing the cameras with their cases attached. The Garmin’s touchscreen functions well when wet, but when the GoPro is wet, you have to use the old school buttons to control it. The touchscreen won’t work on either of them if submerged underwater, but the Garmin functions better when you’ve got wet fingers, which is pretty common when paddling.
- Before they were a camera manufacturer, Garmin was the leader in hand-held and in-car GPS systems. As such, they packed their cameras with a lot of sensors – altimeter, compass, etc. – that track your movement and stats. You can integrate this information into your videos, which technical kayakers are sure to enjoy. The Hero5 isn’t without sensors, but they are more difficult to use and don’t integrate well when uploading the video.
The GoPro and the Garmin are both excellent action cameras, and no paddler would be disappointed if they were gifted a GoPro Hero5. However, given that they’re the same price and Garmin offers more features and better operability when wet, the Virb Ultra 30 is a better choice for kayakers. Now, go shoot some amazing footage!
Garmin Virb Ultra 30 Vs GoPro Hero5