I’ve had to talk myself out of buying a GoPro numerous times over the last six or seven years. I first encountered the cameras when I got into hobby racing back in 2008 (I think it was) and the GoPro wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. Relegated mostly to drift race cars, most people hadn’t even heard of the thing. Now, the GoPro name is synonymous with action cameras (sort of the in the way that “Rollerblade” became the catch-all word for inline skates.) That being said, GoPro is only one of dozens of action camera manufacturers now, and there are plenty of alternatives out there for those of us who don’t want to spend upwards of $400 for a little camcorder.
I spent a couple of weeks researching these alternatives, and I uncovered a few potential winners both within and well below my price range. The Ion S3000 was the first one I ordered, and so far I’m fairly happy with it, especially since I managed to get a brand new one for $25 on eBay. For those who don’t want to play the auction game, the same Ion S3000 can be found on Amazon for about $50.
If you choose to get one of these cameras, you have to go into the deal knowing that you’re not buying a top of the line action cam. Period. What you’re getting with the S3000 is a pretty decent camera that will work for many casual users without costing a fortune. It’s great for people like myself who have been debating whether or not to even get an action camera. $25-$50 isn’t a bad price to experiment with the concept.
The S3000 shoots in 720p HD, so you’re not going to get ultra-high-res footage. What you do get will look pretty good on most screens, so if you’re not planning on shooting a feature film, you will probably be happy with the quality. According the manufacturer, the integrated battery will last around 6-7 hours, after which you will have to recharge it by plugging into a USB port.
My S3000 (and most of the ones I’ve seen for sale) came with a bike mount, so that makes it an even better deal. You will need to add your own high-speed MicroSD card, but you’ll probably pay less for that than you would for a bike mount for a different camera.
Operating the camera is about as simple as it gets. You slide the button on top forward to record. Slide it back to stop recording. There are a couple of settings that you can adjust through the included software, but it’s nothing major or confusing – just auto-shutoff times and the like. The wide-angle lens means that you can pretty much point it in some general direction and get good footage without worrying about adjusting it and repeatedly testing the mounting angle.
As far as action cameras go, there are only a few factors that really matter to me.
- How does the video look?
- How rugged is it?
- How reliable is it?
You’ll have to watch the video below and make your own judgements on the video quality. Will it work for your needs? If so, then great. If not, then you’ll need to buy a higher-end camera. I’m not going to harp on the fact that it’s not 4k quality, because it’s a $50 camera.
It seems to be fairly rugged so far. I’ve dropped it a few times, wrecked my bike a few times, and splashed mud all over it. No problems with the build quality…and yes, it is waterproof to 10 feet. That’s one less thing (a waterproof case) you have to buy if you go with the S3000.
Reliability is questionable, unfortunately. I recorded 15 video clips on the first day that I took it out, and two of the clips were corrupted. I tried to repair them with Yodot and convert them using VLC Media Player, but neither of these fixes worked. Two of my clips are lost forever. However, I took the camera out again today after clearing the memory card, and I successfully recorded 22 clips of varying length. All of them came out fine. Maybe that was a one-time problem, or maybe it wasn’t. The problem wasn’t enough to sour my opinion of the S3000 as a whole, but it was enough to make me doubt whether I’d want to record some epic, once-in-a-lifetime moment on it.
My final verdict? It would be hard to regret spending $25 or even $50 on this camera. I have two Contour HD helmet cameras coming in the mail, but I will still be using the S3000, even if it’s for B-roll footage from the seatpost mounted position. For the money, you can’t really knock the thing.
Oh, and if you want to get your kid(s) an action cam, I can’t think of a better option. It’s durable enough that they won’t have an easy time breaking it, but cheap enough that you won’t be devestated on the day they figure out how to.
If you’re ready to pick one up, you can find the Ion Sport Cam S3000 on Amazon through this link.
Note: I’m going to throw this out there as a sort of disclaimer…I honestly don’t know how involved Ion is in the production of this camera. The name is attached to the S3000 in almost every case, but neither the box nor the documentation actually says that it’s produced by Ion. I’ve been told that the S3000 is from their lower-end product line, which is why they don’t brand it the same way, but I haven’t verified that.