Shaky action camera footage is such a common problem that it's almost become an accepted part of the experience. There are thousands of forum threads seeking advice about what software is best for smoothing out video that's already been shot. The inevitability of the shakes is so accepted that stabilizers (known as gimbals) for GoPro cameras have become their own cottage industry -- with companies such as FeiYu Tech making names for themselves by selling products that keep your camera steady. Revl founder Eric Sanchez clearly had enough of the situation and created the 4K Arc action camera with a gimbal built right in. The Arc is currently on Indiegogo, but you can expect more cameras like this to follow.
On paper, the Arc sounds like a capable action camera in its own right. It shoots in 4K, takes 12-megapixel stills, includes g-force and accelerometer data in the video and can pair with GPS and heart-rate monitor devices. The camera is also waterproof to three meters, even without a case. The campaign also says the device will come with a smart video editing app that will create a highlight video based on data from its sensors (similar to how Antix or Blast Motion work). The real selling point, however, is the built-in gimbal.
This idea of putting physical stabilization inside the camera might seem novel now, but it's a sign of things to come. Back during CES I was shown an action camera concept from a different company that used this exact same idea, and the popularity of FeiYu Tech's hand-held gimbals proves regular consumers are willing to pay for a hardware solution (rather than fix it later with software). The problems with current action camera gimbals are that they usually add bulk and are one more thing to charge.
Squeezing the gimbal into the camera solves a few practical problems. It reduces cost (FeiYu Tech's products can cost upwards of $300 alone), and it makes the whole rig smaller. Now, you don't have to find space for a gimbal just to get smooth video. For example, with the stabilization inside the camera, you could attach it to any drone and be able to record smooth aerial video without needing to buy any other kit or worry about compatibility. Right now, you either have to spend out on a separate gimbal, buy a pricier quadcopter with a gimbal and camera built in, or accept that your footage won't have that silky smooth feel.
That said, there's a history of action cameras launching with "GoPro-beating" features that never seem to topple the category giant. Sony is probably the strongest rival, matching most of GoPro's features, while adding its proprietary SteadyShot stabilization. That one feature alone has earned it fans, but not the mindshare that GoPro enjoys. Yet stabilization could still turn out to be the trick that changes the market more than anything. Once you've seen the difference it makes, it's pretty hard to go back. And there's a whole other industry that already knows this: drones.
DJI may have made its name in the drone business, but it's diversifying into cameras. In particular, its Osmo borrows the same gimbal and imaging technology from its Inspire 1 quadcopter, and packages it into a slick hand-held rig. It's arguably a logical step that this method of smoothing out your video shrinks and finds its way directly inside the cameras. When I asked GoPro if such technology might be a feature we could expect to see in its cameras soon, it declined to comment -- but we do know it's already developed the core ideas, as they're a vital part of the Karma drone (as we can see in the video here).
For now, it's looking like the first action camera with a gimbal inside will come from newcomer Revl, but I wouldn't be surprised if such stabilization becomes the new "hot" feature. With 4K becoming standard, and no place else to go on the resolution front, the next best way to improve video is simply making it nicer to watch. In that regard, we can all appreciate a bit of stability.
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