Many of us pilots realize just how fortunate we are to experience some of the best views as we soar above the skies. This leads to the unique opportunity of being able to capture some phenomenal photos and videos every time we take flight.
To take full advantage and make the most of this unique opportunity, I’ve narrowed down the long list of action cameras, 360-degree cameras, cockpit mounting kits, airplane camera mounts, and camera audio adapters to find only the best ones for pilots.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Action Cameras for Pilots
- 2 Best 360 Degree Cameras for Pilots
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
- 4 What Pilots Should Look For When Buying a Camera For Flying
Best Action Cameras for Pilots
Top Pick: GoPro Hero 9
Shoot video up to 5K resolution and pro-quality photos with 20MP clarity.Check Amazon for Pricing
With its ability to shoot video up to 5K resolution and pro-quality photos with 20MP clarity, the GoPro Hero 9 is my top recommendation.
The best GoPro for pilots, the Hero 9’s well-thought-out design meant that the camera was easy to use, especially with its large rear touch screen with touch zoom, and redesigned front display for better control and framing.
While I’m not into livestreaming, if you are, you will no doubt appreciate the ability to stream in 1080p, but even more so the camera’s HyperSmooth stabilization feature to ensure image stability.
Built to last with a rugged and waterproof construction that we have come to expect from GoPro, the Hero 9 also features improved battery life over its predecessors when tested.
Runner Up: Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 was specifically designed with pilots in mind.Check Amazon for Pricing
The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is another superb action camera, especially as it was specifically designed with pilots in mind.
I appreciated the included prop filter to remove propeller from the video, and headset audio cable overlay of the cockpit conversation/ATC audio on the video. The ability to capture my position, attitude, and speed, and overlay them onto my video is another very welcome feature.
Featuring a 3-axis image stabilization feature for smooth and steady capture, the Garmin VIRB allows for 4K recording. Other features include voice control and one-touch live streaming.
Budget Pick: AKASO EK7000 4K WiFi Sports Action Camera
You can't beat video at 4K/25fps, and images at 12MP at this price.New: $52.99
The AKASO EK7000 is an inexpensive action camera that budget-conscious pilots might consider.
In many ways, I found the camera isn’t able to compete with the GoPro or Garmin, but its ability to capture video at 2.7K/30fps or 4K/25fps, and images at 12MP, at this price point, is excellent.
The AKASO EK7000 is also able to utilize any mount a GoPro can take, which means there is one less thing to think about.
Best 360 Degree Cameras for Pilots
Top Pick: GoPro MAX
The GoPro MAX lets you capture 360-degree footage in 5.6K/30fps resolution, and excels at image stabilization and distortion-free panoramic photos.New: $359.99
The GoPro Max gives pilots the opportunity to either shoot traditional videos and photos or capture 360 footage.
I was able to capture 360-degree footage at 5.6K/30fps resolution and standard footage at 1440p/60fps. Live streaming in 1080p/60fps was another option.
As always, GoPro has mastered image stabilization thanks to the camera’s unique Max HyperSmooth stabilization feature. But the PowerPano feature is another thing that I really liked due to giving me the option to take 270-degree distortion-free panoramic photos.
Six mics are used to capture 360 immersive audio in the best possible quality. The Max SuperView, Wide, Linear, and Narrow digital lenses/FOV options are other very welcome features that pilots will love.
Runner Up: Insta360 ONE X2
The Insta360 ONE X2 is similar to the GoPro MAX in several ways but in a more compact package.New: $299.99
If you’re looking for a more compact 360-degree camera for pilots, look no further than the Insta360 ONE X2.
The X2 is similar to the GoPro MAX with its high quality 360 degree, 5.7K capturing, and FlowState Stabilization that ensured steady shots regardless of conditions.
The camera’s Steady Cam mode was great for wide-angle action shots. But the four mics, with a smart wind-reduction algorithm, was a feature that I appreciated the most.
Intuitive to use, and with long-lasting battery life, the Insta360 ONE X2 is an excellent alternative to the GoPro Max in a more compact package.
Budget Pick: Ricoh Theta SC2
Capture 360-degree video in 4K quality at a great price.Check Amazon for Pricing
The best budget 360-degree camera for pilots is the Ricoh Theta SC2.
It was able to capture 360-degree video in 4K quality with impressive image stabilization given the camera’s lower price.
My favorite feature of the Theta SC2, though, is its dual-lens exposure, which was ideal when shooting when there was strong sunlight coming in through the windows.
The Theta SC2 makes a good compromise for pilots on a budget who don’t want to sacrifice too much compared to higher-end models.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Cockpit Camera Mounting Kit for Pilots?
The best cockpit camera mounting kit is the Nflightcam Ultimate Action Camera Cockpit Mounting Kit.
It uses an industrial-strength Vacuum Suction Cup, allows for a wide range of adjustment, and perhaps best of all is compatible with all GoPro, Garmin, Sony, and any other action camera with a 3-finger or 1/4″x20 mount.
What is the Best Airplane Camera Mount for Pilots?
Specifically designed for pilots, constructed of thick aircraft aluminum, and very simple to attach as long as your aircraft has a tie down ring, the best airplane camera mount for pilots is the MyPilotPro Mount for GoPro. Note that despite its name, the mount can also be used with non-GoPro cameras.
For its universal compatibility, the Nflightcam Strut Clamp Mount is another good option to consider. It attaches to almost any aircraft strut in seconds, from a J3 Cub to a Cessna Caravan.
What is the Best Camera Audio Adapter?
If you want to capture audio from your headset, intercom, and radio, the best camera audio adapter is the Nflightcam Aircraft Audio Solution due to its noise-reduction circuit for crystal-clear audio.
For devices that use a 3.5mm stereo external mic input, this Digital Audio Recorder Adapter for Aviation is your best bet.
What FAA regulations must pilots meet when using action cameras?
Attaching a camera to an aircraft is generally considered a minor change, though this can fall under a major or minor alteration.
A 337 form and sign off by an IA mechanic is required when there is a large enough effect on an aircraft’s performance, weight, structural strength, balance, power plant operation, flight characteristics, or generally any other quality that affects airworthiness.
According to the FAA, what constitutes a large enough effect and major alteration is attachment through “hard-point methods such as bolts and screws, or if it interfaces with aircraft navigation or electrical systems”
If attaching a camera doesn’t have a great enough effect on any of the above, a logbook entry is all that is required.
What Pilots Should Look For When Buying a Camera For Flying
- Video Quality
Being able to capture any less than 1080p footage from even the cheapest action cameras is practically unheard of these days. But just how high quality do you want to shoot video at? Will you settle for nothing less than 5K, or are you happy with 4K, or even 2K.
- Image Quality
Today, even an average phone can take very high-quality photos. But just like with video quality, consider if only the best will do, or if you’re willing to sacrifice image quality in the name of saving some money.
- Image & Video Stabilization
Flying a plane usually doesn’t lend itself well to capturing perfectly steady, focused footage. So advanced image and video stabilization technology is a must.
All cameras for pilots I have listed utilize some form of stabilization technology. But generally, the more you’re willing to pay the better this technology is, and this is one of the main reasons you don’t want to go too low on price.
- Audio Quality
A cockpit environment isn’t exactly best suited to capture clear audio due to engine noise, and let’s not even get started on the thunderous noise of wind when a camera is mounted outside.
Cameras have built-in mics and can do their best in at least somewhat neutralizing this noise and providing clear audio. But recording your intercom or ATC audio through the use of a camera audio adapter is usually a better idea.
- Mounting Options
Safety and preventing damage are very important, so you want to make sure that a camera is mounted as securely as possible both inside and outside the cockpit.
Also, consider how you will attach a camera. The attachment method might fall under a major alteration, according to the FAA, which will require more hoops to jump through to ensure you comply with regulations.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.