When action camera giant GoPro announced earlier this month that it was cutting staff, it raised questions about the future of the small, lightweight, hardy cameras.
GoPro is the clear industry leader when it comes to the little cameras popular with adventure buffs, but its woes raised doubts about whether people are still willing to pay good money for a standalone camera at a time when those in smartphones are improving rapidly.
Still, analysts and users say the cameras still have a place in most gadget bags, even for those who might never do anything as extreme as skydiving, mountain biking or snowboarding.
"Not wanting to risk water damage to my smartphone, I prefer to take along an action camera such as a GoPro on my holidays, like to an island resort," said Miss Tarin Teo, 27, a public relations manager.
Sales of these cameras have been strong in the Asia-Pacific region, though the pace has slowed recently, said market research firm GfK Asia.
In 2016, action camera sales in the Asia-Pacific grew by 54 per cent from 2015. Last year, the growth was 21 per cent from 2016.
"While we expect the action camera market to grow, smartphones are increasingly having high-quality video-recording features which might eliminate some potential consumers' need to purchase an action camera," said GfK Asia senior director Gerard Tan.
"Sharing of content through social media has helped drive (action camera) sales, but we have also seen prices fall over the last few years," he added.
This month, action camera market leader GoPro announced that its flagship Hero6 Black's price has been reduced from $750 to $595.
While GoPro says it is an effort to ensure the GoPro experience is as widely accessible as possible, this has been seen by critics as a move to help bump up sales.
There have been relatively few new action cameras hitting the market of late, but The Straits Times tested three of the best action cameras - the Casio G'z Eye, GoPro Hero6 Black and Sony RX0 - released here recently.
The cameras were mounted on a helmet which was worn while this writer cycled, played basketball and went on rides at the Wild Wild Wet water park to see which camera captured the best action.
Most rugged action camera: Casio G’z Eye
Casio has modelled its latest action camera - the G'z Eye (GZE-1) - after its rugged G-Shock watches.
Unlike the rectangular shape of most action cameras, it has a round, watch-like design with the lens in the centre and buttons on its sides. This is an action camera that will turn heads with its good looks.
The lens faces the user and the huge video-recording button is on top. The power button is at the one o'clock position, while the photo release button is at 11 o'clock and the Wi-Fi button at three o'clock.
Like G-Shock watches, the G'z Eye has bumper protectors around its rim to protect the lens and buttons against impact.
Indeed, it is the most rugged action camera here. It is waterresistant to 50m. It can withstand drops from up to 4m high and resist freezing temperatures as low as minus 10 deg C. It is also dust-proof.
It does not have a built-in display. Users use the G'z Eye app (available on Android and iOS) as a viewfinder and to change the camera's settings.
While pairing the camera with the app via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is a breeze, the transfer of photos and videos can be a drag at times - especially when it involves large video files. It may be easier to take out the microSD card to retrieve footage.
IMAGE SENSOR: 6.9-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS
LENS: 13mm f/2.8
WATER RESISTANCE: 50m
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
Operation-wise, it is slightly slower than the other action cameras tested here. It takes about 21/2 seconds to start up and nearly four seconds to shut down.
Its 13mm, f/2.8 lens is the widest in this round-up and gives an almost fisheye-like coverage.
However, in terms of image quality, it pales in comparison with the other two action cameras. This is especially so when it comes to night video footage, where noise artefacts are clearly visible.
Even for videos recorded in bright sunlight, it lacks the sharpness of the Hero6 and RX0. But its videos are more vivid and have great dynamic range.
Daytime still images are as good as the rest, but the night still images are disappointingly dark.
•Verdict: If you want the most rugged action camera money can buy, the Casio G'z Eye (GZE-1) is your choice.
Quality action camera at a price: Sony DSC-RX0
When Sony announced the DSC-RX0 last September, it was dubbed the "GoPro killer" by the media.
The RX0's biggest highlight is its large 1-inch CMOS image sensor, found in Sony's flagship compact cameras such as the RX100 V. This sensor is bigger than those in most action cameras. In theory, this means much better image quality.
However, the RX0 is not able to shoot 4K video natively. It requires an external recorder to do so, which is a major downer.
Then, there is its 24mm f/4 lens, which is not as wide as the lenses found in the Hero6 and G'z Eye.
Similar to the Hero6, the RX0 has a rectangular, blocky design with a power button and a record button on its top. It is also water-resistant to a depth of 10m.
But unlike the Hero6, the RX0 is shock-resistant to drops from a height of up to 2m and crush-resistant to a force of up to 200kg. Only the G'z Eye is more rugged.
The RX0 has a built-in 1.5-inch display, but lacks the touchscreen of the Hero6.
IMAGE SENSOR: 15.3-megapixel 1-inch CMOS
LENS: 24mm f/4
DISPLAY: Built-in 1.5-inch LCD
WATER RESISTANCE: 10m
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5
To compensate, it has a multitude of buttons at its rear that let you toggle through the menu interface.
On the display's right, there are up, down and command buttons. The menu, left and right buttons are sited under the display.
It can get quite overwhelming at first as you do not know which button to press to get to the settings you want. But once you get used to it, it is quite intuitive.
The RX0 is the quickest in terms of operation, starting up almost immediately and shutting down in about one second.
In terms of still image quality, it edges out the rest with a more accurate reproduction of scenes in both day and night.
Videos shot during daytime are as sharp as those recorded with the Hero6 and more vivid-looking. However, the sky tends to be over-exposed at times.
Night video footageis equally stellar and smoother than the Hero6's, with minimal noise artefacts visible.
The biggest downer of the RX0 is perhaps its $999 price tag. This is about $300 more expensive than the other two action cameras.
•Verdict: The Sony RX0 could have been the GoPro killer with its great image quality and better features.
But its hefty price tag killed that chance.
Best all-rounder action camera: GoPro Hero6 Black
GoPro has been the market leader for years and the Hero6 Black is its current flagship model.
The Hero6 comes with a new GP1 chip that makes it twice as fast as its predecessor, the Hero5. Other improvements include a touch zoom feature on a 2-inch touchscreen display. Otherwise, the Hero6 looks exactly like its predecessor with the iconic rectangular design and rubberised exterior. A frame casing (included) is still needed to attach the GoPro mounts.
It also retains the front monochrome LCD that displays important information such as shooting mode, battery life and storage capacity. There is a top shutter button and a side button which is used for powering up, shutting down and changing modes.
Powering up the camera takes about one second, while shutdown takes about two seconds.
A nice trick of the Hero6 is that pressing the shutter button when the camera is off will immediately activate eitherphoto-taking or video-recording, depending on which mode was last used. It takes only one second for it to start recording.
Furthermore, handling the Hero6 is much easier with its touchscreen display, compared with the other two cameras in this round-up. You can easily swipe through the menu interface to change settings, or tap to zoom in - digitally - when shooting videos.
Plus, the Hero6 is the only action camera in this round-up that records 4K video natively. It is also the cheapest here at $595.
IMAGE SENSOR: 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS
LENS: 15mm f/2.8
DISPLAY: Built-in 2-inch touchscreen LCD
WATER RESISTANCE: 10m
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
However, unlike the G'z Eye and RX0, it is not resistant to drops or cold temperatures. Plus, it requires a not-so-common USB-C cable for charging, while the other two action cameras use micro-USB cables.
Videos taken with the Hero6 are, quite simply, stellar. Everything is very sharp and clear, though daytime videos lack the vivid quality seen with the other two cameras. However, this neutral look might just be what video editors want as they can adjust the colour and tone in post-production.
Night video footage exhibits the usual noise artefacts, but these are not readily visible.
Photo quality is outstanding and sharp, whether shot at night or in the daytime.
•Verdict: If you already have a Hero5, you probably can skip the successor. Otherwise, the Hero6 Black strikes the best balance in terms of pricing, image stabilisation and still image and video quality.