Whether you’re looking to set up a brand new airsofting YouTube channel or you simply want to record your weekend antics to show your mates, you’re probably asking yourself “what is the best action camera to use?”
The “best” is obviously a relative term, but in this article we’ll go through the different cameras available and what we’ve found works out best for the situations we’ve tried.
How many Cameras?
First thing to work out is how many cameras you want to carry around with you. How many cameras you carry around with you is all about striking a balance between getting good footage and not being weighed down or obstructed by them all.
One camera is often simply not enough to cover all of the action. If you only have one camera and mount in on your head, it covers all of the action until you begin to aim down sites. Once you ADS the camera begins to point at the floor a meters in front of you (this is when you swap in the footage for the gun camera). If you put your camera on the gun as a gun or scope camera, you spend most of the day videoing the floor until you take a shot, at which point, there’s not much context and it’s hard to grasp what’s going on.
For the most part, people carry 2 action cameras when airsofting. One of the cameras is mounted on the head for a “first person view” which follows where you’re looking. The second camera is mounted on the gun itself, giving a direct view of what you’re shooting at.
Some players, particularly people looking to create content online have a 3rd or even 4th camera. The 3rd camera is often mounted on the gun, but facing back towards the player, giving a shot of the player’s movements and adds more context than the head and gun cam do. A 4th camera is rarely used, but can be placed on a small tripod in the field, to give a third person perspective. This is particularly useful in scenarios where you are defending a position, as the contact points are predictable.
What cameras are best?
Here we’re going to hit 2 critical parts of what make a camera the ‘best’: Form and Quality. The shape and size of the camera dictate where and how you can mount it. The Quality of the recorded video is also just as important. When it comes to camera recording quality, there are 2 main aspects to consider (that we have time to cover in this blog, anyway), the resolution of the video and the frames per second (fps) of the video. As a rule of thumb, the higher these numbers are the better.
You can get amazing quality out of a cinema camera, but you’ll never be able to mount it to your gun. Similarly, you can get amazingly small cameras, but they don’t put out the highest quality footage.
The camera you use as a head cam can be a tradition ‘action camera’ style of camera, such as a GoPro. It can be mounted easily to the brim of a cap or helmet with minimal fuss. GoPros are arguably the best in the industry currently, but as such, they’re expensive bits of kit. The latest GoPros are small form factor and offer great video quality.
However, Something like a Xiaomi Yi Action camera is a fraction of the price, is mounted in the same way and can hit 1080p (HD) 60fps (smooth video in fast motion). Some of the new models can do 4k (4x the resolution of HD) at 60fps or 1080p at 120fps but these models are more expensive. These cameras (or comparable cameras like X4000 cameras) offer great quality, with some firmware tweaks and are a much friendlier price – Especially when you consider that they’ll be taking the odd hit from a BB.
Our recommendation is a Xiaomi Yi Action Camera, due to great form factor and high quality video and great cost.
You might be thinking, why not get another Xiaomi Yi for the gun cam? The problem with cameras that come in the form factor of a GoPro, in that mini camera style shape, is that to mount them on the side of a rifle, they stick out quite a way. They naturally get in the way of undergrowth and knock on walls. What you need instead is a similar camera quality but in a different form factor.
For this, people used to use something like a Contour Camera. The bullet like cylindrical form factor means that it can sit flush against the side of your gun without changing the footprint much at all. However, just like the GoPro, these cameras are relatively expensive and we’re taking them into a hostile environment, we want them to be a little less expensive.
Our recommendation here is a Mobius Action Camera. They come in a very small form factor and have a high video quality (comparable to the above Xiaomi Yi). Smaller than a PEQ box, they can be mounted into the side of an AEG without you even noticing it.
What makes them even better is that you can change the lens of the camera for a lens that is zoomed (instead of the standard wide angle lens). Rather than zooming into the target of the video in post processing and degrading the video quality, the video is already zoomed!
One of the things that many people don’t consider when pricing up their cameras and their action camera set-up is the accessories they need and how much they will cost. Here are some of the extra things you need to account for:
Action cameras are not designed to record for a whole day of airsoft, they will usually only record for a few hours at a time. If you want 7 hours of recording in a day, you’re going to need extra batteries.
The cameras above last for around 1.5-2 hours of continuous recording. So you’ll need about 4 batteries for each camera to be able to keep up with everything. Alternatively, these cameras support recording whilst being charged, so many players will use an external battery back (like what you use to charge a phone away from power) and plug that into their cameras. This massively boosts the life of the camera.
It’s common for people to massively overspend or underspend on their memory cards for airsoft. It all boils down to simple mathematics.
A camera records data in a rate of Megabits / Second (Mb/s). The above cameras record at about 20mb/s. There are 25200 second in 7 hours (change this for how long you airsoft for). 25200 seconds of footage multiplied by 20mb per second is equal to 504000mb of data (63GB). So you only really need one 64GB memory card to last you a long day (per camera).
Finally, consider accessories and mounting hardware. You can mount these cameras anywhere you like, and they are both compatible with standard GoPro mounting hardware, which can be bought for pennies online. You don’t even need to mount them on your head or on your gun, perhaps try a 3rd person view?