GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
GoPro Hero3 Black Edition (Photo: Inga Hendrickson)

The Top 7 Cameras of 2013

GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
Michael Frank

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GoPro Hero3 Black Edition Camera

Yup, despite all the newcomers to the field, GoPro is still the leader. Its new Hero3 Black manages to pack an f/2.8 wide-angle lens, a 12-megapixel sensor, and the power to shoot 30 still frames per second into a camera body that’s smaller than a bar of soap. It shoots super-hi-res video (1440p at 48 fps), ultraslow motion (240 fps in WVGA), and everything in between.

We’re still waiting for GoPro to add a play button to its waterproof, shockproof plastic case, and we wish the remote didn’t require Wi-Fi to use, but these are minor grumbles. This little hot rod still captures the highest-quality footage of any action cam. 

TECH: 5 

Drift HD Ghost Camera

Drift HD Ghost
Drift HD Ghost (Inga Hendrickson)

BEST FOR: Quick setup.

THE TEST: It shoots 1080p video or five 11-megapixel stills per second, is waterproof to ten feet, and has almost twice the battery life of any other action cam in the test. But the Ghost stands out for how easy it is to use. It comes with a wireless remote that straps to your wrist and lets you operate a limitless number of Ghosts within 30 feet. Color-coded LEDs on the watchband provide intuitive mode indicators. And unlike with the GoPro or the Contour, you can download footage directly to your iPhone, so you can Facebook-brag minutes after capturing an epic line. The GoPro’s video chops are the only reason it edged out the Drift for Gear of the Year.

THE VERDICT: The best everyman’s camera. 

TECH: 4 

Contour Roam2 Camera

Contour Roam2
Contour Roam2

BEST FOR: Budget-conscious shooters.

At 5.4 ounces, the Roam2 was the lightest of the bunch. It can shoot 30 fps at 1280p (or 60 fps at 720p), and its sliding on-off switch was refreshingly easy to operate with or without heavy ski gloves on, making this the best multi-season camera in the mix. Its wide-angle lens and mount rotate 270 degrees—enough that you can film behind you. We also loved that it has a built-in laser: when you press a button, a beam of light shoots where the camera is pointing. It comes in four brightly anodized color options so you can match your camera to your kit.

THE VERDICT: The Roam2 costs half as much as the GoPro but delivers surprising quality. It’s the best camera for the price.

TECH: 3 

Pivothead Durango Camera

Pivothead Durango
Pivothead Durango (Inga Hendrickson)

BEST FOR: Shooting discreetly.

THE TEST: With a comfortable fit and crisp, polarized lenses, it’s easy to forget the Durangos pull double duty as a legit action cam. (They weigh only a smidge more than normal sunglasses.) The tiny camera between the eyes is operated by an intuitive rubber button on the side of the generically sporty frames, allowing you to capture 1080p video at 30 fps on the sly. Our only gripe is that you can’t switch out the SD card, which means you’re locked down to 8GB of internal memory—or about an hour of footage, half as much as traditional action cams.

THE VERDICT: A little Sky Mallish, sure, but let’s be honest: it’s less conspicuous than affixing a shiny box to the top of your helmet. 

TECH: 3 

Nikon D600 Camera

Nikon D600
Nikon D600 (Inga Hendrickson)

(with 24–85mm Nikkor kit lens)

BEST FOR: Aspiring pros.

THE TEST: The dynamic range on the D600’s giant 24-megapixel sensor is so good, you can capture a ladybug in the foreground without blowing out the puffy clouds in the background. Its intuitive time-lapse mode can shoot an MPEG of stills, at any shutter speed, for almost eight hours. And while most DSLR action modes automatically adjust shutter speed, the D600 also tweaks the ISO—a measure of the sensor’s light sensitivity—to match conditions, so at 12,500 you can capture action shots even in alpenglow.

Superb manual controls make this the best pro-grade camera we tested. 

TECH: 5 

Canon PowerShot G15 Camera

Canon PowerShot G15
Canon PowerShot G15 (Inga Hendrickson)

BEST FOR: Serious photographers who want to carry their camera in their pocket.

THE TEST: Our perennial favorite travel cam just got a little better. It’s now light enough (12 ounces) and slim enough to fit inside the pocket of your jeans. Canon managed to shrink the device, keep the features we love—such as the external viewfinder for easier composition—and also improve functionality with finger-friendly dials for manual adjustment of shutter speed, exposure compensation, and aperture. Extra kudos for a super-bright, f/1.8 lens with a 5x zoom and lightning-quick focusing.

THE VERDICT: On your next trip, leave the DSLR at home and bring this little powerhouse along instead. 

TECH: 4 

Pentax Q10 Camera

Pentax Q10
Pentax Q10 (Inga Hendrickson)

BEST FOR: Adventure auteurs.

THE TEST: MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras) attempt to occupy the sweet spot between DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. They let you switch lenses, they’re packed with giant sensors and plenty of features, and they’re small—kind of. The knock on the category is that most MILCs aren’t appreciably smaller than DSLRs. Pentax’s Q10 actually is. The seven-ounce cam fits comfortably into a jersey or parka but still shoots a blazing 1/8,000 second, features immediate focusing (there’s no annoying shutter lag), and fires off an action-sequence-worthy 5 fps. That we like.

VERDICT: Grown-up capabilities in a toy-size package. 

TECH: 4