Action cameras have been popular for many years and the range is only increasing. At Photokina, GoPro announced the Hero 5 Black, Hero 5 Session and the highly anticipated Karma drone. Nikon presented the delayed KeyMission 360 and accompanied it with two action cameras, and the show floor was almost flooded with many Chinese action cameras and drones. We looked at several new action cams and wondered whether the market is slowly becoming saturated or whether there is still innovation.
We started at GoPro, the creator and market leader of action cameras. Do they see nothing in simple 360-degree cameras for consumers as a new growth market? No, was the answer when asked. People prefer to focus on the professional segment, where the quality requirements are higher. The fact that a rig with six(!) GoPros has to be used for this is of course considered a pleasant side effect. In 2015, the French company Kolor was acquired, which specializes in sticking together 360-degree material from different cameras. That software is included with the rig and merging six different streams is a piece of cake, according to GoPro.
Hero 5 Black and Session
GoPro has backtracked from a White, Silver, and Black line of action cameras because consumers would find it confusing. At Photokina, only two flavors were announced that clearly distinguish themselves from each other: the Session and the Black. The Hero 5 Black, which is more gray than black, is the successor to the Hero 4 and is now supplied without an underwater housing. Using that would be irritating, so GoPro made its new cameras water-resistant to a depth of 10 meters. Those who seriously want to dive with it still have to work with a housing, which is now for sale for an additional price.
One of the big advantages of omitting the case is that the sound, which is recorded in stereo, is now a lot better. In earlier GoPros, the housing suppressed outside noise quite a bit. The Hero 5 Black takes 12 megapixel photos and still records in 4k at 30fps and in 1080p at 120fps. We would have found a 60fps mode for the 4k mode a welcome upgrade compared to the Hero 4, but we still have to be patient for that. The Black is now standard equipped with a 2” touch-sensitive LCD screen at the rear – with the Hero 3 and 4 Black that was an optional accessory (the Hero 4 Silver did have a touchscreen on board). Both cameras also offer digital image stabilization in 1080p.
Also new is the fact that the camera responds to voice commands. With commands such as ‘GoPro, take a picture’, the company is thinking of playing on activities where the camera is in a hard-to-reach place, such as on a helmet. The Dutch language is not supported by the way. The operation via the screen has also been simplified and we can agree that this is a bit clearer. Changing the video resolution is very intuitive by simply tapping on the current resolution and then swiping left or right until the desired setting comes up.
GoPro previously announced the Session and has now added a new member; the Hero 5 Session which is equal to its bigger brother in many respects. It is also waterproof up to 10 meters and can take a beating. The LCD screen is missing, but there is a small OLED screen that allows you to change basic functions in combination with one button. You can adjust more settings with the accompanying app. Voice control is also present and, like the Black, it is equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone or tablet.
With the smaller Session, GoPro does not focus on adventurers and athletes, but on families, according to their own words. The Hero 5 Session can take a beating and can therefore also be used in the swimming pool or on the beach without any problems. Both GoPros have an auto-upload function where the captured images are sent to the GoPro Plus cloud, after which they can be played on almost all devices. This is a paid service, by the way.
At the same time, GoPro came up with something completely new this Photokina: the Karma drone. This step was not unexpected, because since DJI equips its Phantom drones with their own cameras, GoPro has felt it in the wallet. Yet the drone market, like that of action cameras, is becoming increasingly saturated. So how does GoPro want to differentiate itself? The Karma is said to have been developed with portability and portability in mind. The arms of the four rotors can be folded in and out, so that it fits vertically into an accompanying backpack that does not take up much space – approximately 37x23x9cm. This makes it easy to take the drone with you wherever you go. GoPro mainly sees it as an extension of its action cameras. The bag also contains a holder – the Karma Grip – on which you can attach the gimbal of the drone,Osmo -like stabilizer. This allows you to make smooth film recordings, for example during a walk. There is also a special controller in the bag that contains a large touch-sensitive screen. A so-called ‘passenger mode’ is also available, in which the image is shared with a smartphone with which the camera can be operated, while another takes care of the operation via the controller.
There is quite a bit of innovation in the drone, which is mainly aimed at simple remote filming. For example, a target can be established that the camera keeps in focus as it orbits around it. And with the press of a button, it can trace a linear line, slowly moving the camera up or down – a so-called pan . There is also a return button and you can set waypoints.
At the same time, we also miss some features that we saw in other recent drones. Strangely enough, for example, there is no follow me option where the camera autonomously follows the subject – a function that ideally suits the target group of GoPro’s action cameras. Also, the drone cannot avoid obstacles. When asked why these features were not provided, it was vaguely hinted that this could follow in the future, although they could not elaborate on how and when. That’s no surprise, because last year the company acquired Swiss company Skybotics, which has five years of experience with autonomous drones. It could fly drones in unfamiliar environments without the help of GPS, thanks to real-time 3D mapping – including a random building. In this videosee a concrete example of this. We certainly expect to see more of this technology at GoPro, although it remains to be seen whether the Karma drone will also benefit from it. The technology relies heavily on sensors.
The Karma drone will be available in Europe from October 23 and has a suggested retail price of 870 euros, without a camera. For now it is compatible with the Hero 5 Black, but the Hero 4 and Session will follow soon. The Hero 5 Black costs 430 euros separately and the Session 330 euros and both are for sale from October 2. A bundle of the Karma with the Hero 5 Black would cost about 1200 euros.
Nikon has now also entered the action cam market. People acknowledged that they were late, but still saw interesting growth opportunities. It’s no secret that the camera market is under pressure, so it’s interesting to spread the risks and broaden the portfolio. Action cameras have become increasingly popular in recent years. Young people in particular are interested in this type of camera and that is a target group that Nikon would like to address. With the emphasis on quality, which Nikon claims to stand for, the professional camera brand hopes to tap into new target groups.
The KeyMission 360-degree camera also fits the picture very well, because this is also a growth market that is also partly in the action camera’s waters. Nikon’s 360-degree camera was announced back in January this year, but several issues prevented its availability. With a suggested retail price of 499 euros, the camera is not cheap and the Samsung Gear 360 is certainly a formidable competitor with a market price of around 350 euros. Whether the Nikon can distinguish itself qualitatively must be proven by a practical test.
What distinguishes the KeyMission in any case is the water resistance to 30 meters. The Gear 360 is splash-proof only. Also, with action cameras in mind, the KeyMission is shockproof up to a fall of two meters and, according to Nikon, will continue to work in temperatures down to 10 degrees below zero. There are other 360-degree cameras that can do that too, like the 360fly, but the 4k version of that is more expensive. Another plus is that it works with most Android phones and is also suitable for iOS, while the Gear 360 only works with a handful of Samsung smartphones so far. The KeyMission 360 has two f/2.0 lenses and two 20 megapixel sensors. Due to the refraction of the light, it is not possible to make 360-degree videos underwater, but a single camera with a 180-degree view can be used.
KeyMssion 170 and 80
Nikon’s two action cameras are called the KeyMission 170 and KeyMission 80, where the numbers represent the angle of view. The 170 has a very wide angle, as is usual in this segment. Like the 360, it’s rugged and waterproof, but in this case to a depth of 10 meters (just like the two new GoPros). The square design is broken off by a round lens that protrudes strikingly. The rest of the body could therefore remain compact, but the lens is therefore more vulnerable because it will be the first to absorb the blow. According to Nikon, it should be able to withstand that, but we have to test that in practice. It has an f/2.8 lens and an 8.3-megapixel sensor capable of capturing 4k video at 30 fps. The images are electronically stabilized, but unfortunately this only works in 1080p mode.
We personally find the KeyMission 80 a bit of an odd man out. It is a rugged action camera, but in an elongated flat shape, intended to be attached to a special vest on the upper body. It has a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. A flash is also mounted with the lens and at the back there is not only a 1.75” screen, but also a selfie camera with f/2.2 aperture and 5-megapixel sensor. The camera cannot be used under water, but it is splash-proof.
As the name suggests, the angle of view of the front lens is 80 degrees. That is a much smaller angle than that of an action camera, so we don’t really see its added value. After all, many smartphones are also (splash) waterproof and have comparable and often comparable or even better optics with exactly the same angle of view. In terms of functionality, a good smartphone and this KeyMission 80 don’t really seem to avoid each other. It may be interesting for backpackers who spend days wandering through the rugged nature and prefer not to use their smartphone as a camera, but that seems to us to be a fairly limited target group.
The KeyMission 360 has a suggested retail price of 499 euros and the KeyMission 170 and 80 cost 399 and 299 euros respectively and should be available in November.
Chinese action cameras
GoPro and Nikon are of course not the only action cameras at Photokina, but they were the most striking newcomers. At the fair we also found action cameras from Yi, Yuneec, AEE and Sony, among others. The share of Chinese brands in particular is growing rapidly. If you look at the action cameras, Pricewatch, you will find no less than 84 (!) different brands, a large part of which are made in China and are marketed under different brand names. The 1080p Xiaomi Yi is especially popular on the forum , which you can have shipped over from China for around $ 80 and the 4k version costs $ 250. We previously came across the very affordable M1 camera from the same brand at Photokina.
Every self-respecting manufacturer has now also released a 4k version, such as the Yi 4k II and the AEE S71. Remarkably enough, as far as we know, there is no action cam that offers a 4k mode with 60fps, which is especially interesting for slow motion showing of action. The new GoPros and Nikons don’t offer that either. The Chinese alternatives are mainly characterized by lower prices. In any case, Nikon and GoPro do have one trump card: watertightness and drop resistance without the need for an underwater housing. Of course we still have to test the effectiveness of this in practice, as well as whether it is worth the extra price compared to the competition.