Action cams have become basic equipment for many filmmakers. But filming with them differs significantly from working with classic camcorders. Our eight tips show you how to get the most out of your action cam.
1. Have fun while filming
To share the fun of an experience with others is the goal of every professional action cam video. And that’s only possible if you don’t let yourself be distracted by filming.
2. Planning is half the game
Sure; when you leave for an action shoot, just like any other shoot, you should always have enough memory cards and spare batteries with you. But it’s just as important to have a plan of what the action cam video should convey before you press the Record button. Which scenes do you need? What could be suitable as intermediate cuts? From which perspectives should you film? Which mounts are necessary? In short, ideally, you want a storyboard. This not only simplifies the search for the perfect motif but also makes sure that the action cam video tells a story. Plus, possible cuts can be considered, discussed, and planned in advance. For example, it’s popular to bring the camera so close to an object at the end of a scene that a black image is created and to start the next scene in the video exactly the other way around. Scout out the location before shooting! This helps clarify what lighting conditions you can expect, what a possible route could be and the optimum time for shooting.
3. Good sound
If you don’t just want to add royalty-free music later, but also record and use the sound of action, you have a lot to consider. Not only does the somewhat weak built-in microphone impair the sound recording quality, but the thick protective housing with its resistant plastic and rubber seals hardly lets any sound in. If you can’t do without the protective cover, you’ll find a second cover in most action cam accessories –that has slots to let more sound in from the outside. Unwanted wind noise is very annoying, but can sometimes be used intentionally. For most action cams, there are foam covers that minimize it. If you can’t get the results you want with the built-in mic, try an external microphone with a good windscreen. However, not all action cams offer the appropriate connections, so double check before you buy one. Disconnect the camera as much as possible from the sports equipment. This also reduces noise such as shocks or running noises. To do this, either use thicker rubber seals for the frame mounts or thicker adhesive pads.
Editor’s Note: If your action camera has no external mic port, we recommend the Sennheiser Memory Mic which works with your smartphone. If you do have an external port, the Sennheiser XS Wireless Digital is excellent.
4. Short and sweet
Good action cam videos usually last between one and three minutes. Focusing on the most exciting and impressive scenes is crucial for top results. As a rule of thumb, scenes under 1.5 seconds make perception more difficult and scenes longer than 4-5 seconds slow down the video tempo. You can avoid those results, or use them intentionally to create the mood you want.
5. The best lighting ratio
Light can be a filmmaker’s friend and foe. Action cams react very sensitively to backlighting. Overly bright lights can result in blinding spots. In short, you don’t see much anymore. Of course, you can use these effects in a controlled way as a stylistic device. Nevertheless, uniform lighting makes filming much easier. The best weather condition of all: a slightly overcast sky where clouds scatter the sunlight. Every action cam has difficulties with a fast switch between sun and shadow. The aperture does not follow that quickly. With enough light, you can produce the sharpest images with the best contrast values.
6. Effects, Effects, Effects
Slow-motion or time-lapse effects are usually most effective filmed from quiet perspectives alternating with intermediate cuts in first-person perspective. Especially for jumps or fast movements, slow motion looks very impressive. Time-lapse is the best way to integrate longer sequences, such as the journey to the place of action. Some action cams offer recording modes with corresponding effects, but you might be better off adding them in post production with your video editing program because you’ll have complete flexibility. Be careful with playful transitions, such as spinning images – that seems amateurish.
7. Don’t be selfish
The camera perspective is one of the most important cinematic means of communication. Thanks to a wide viewing angle, robust construction, and the most creative mounts, there are many unusual perspectives possible with action cams. Recording only the “ego-perspective” and showing it later bores the viewer. Much more exciting is the skiing trip from the point of view of the ski pole or the felling of a tree from the point of view of the chainsaw. As the lens of the action cam curves very strongly, as usual with wide-angle lenses, avoid close-ups of people.
8. Formats and frequencies
Most action cams have a high number of possible resolutions. Careful; the image format corresponds with the resolution. So it’s best to think about the purpose of the video beforehand. Classic HD recordings for Youtube are enough in 1080p. For optimal and fast playback on smartphones you should choose the lower resolution of 720p.
Just like the resolution, the frame rate can also be adjusted. Keep this rule of thumb in mind: the higher the resolution, the lower the number of frames per second. 4K shots allow a maximum of 30 images–. From 25 fps on, the human eye perceives the shot continuously.
9. What Action Cam?
There are many on the market and we have reviewed all the good ones. They vary from being generic to those that also specilise in such things as 360 degree and panorama shooting. Ones you may want to look at include: