Rush: An ATC Chameleon cam on the slopes Photo: Ashley Lau

Like a snowboarder launching from an ice ramp at high speed, action cameras have soared in popularity ever since the first GoPro cameras flew off store shelves in 2004.

Sales of these miniature video cameras – also known as point of view or POV cams – have doubled annually since then. It's the fastest- growing digital imaging product on the market.

GoPro is the most famous manufacturer, with many other brands now vying for a slice of the billion-dollar pie.

Ollie Lloyd

Moto rally racer Ollie Lloyd with a Drift Innovation helmet cam.

Combined with the accelerating growth of video websites used to host the perilous exploits captured by these cameras, such as YouTube and Vimeo, action cameras have turned thousands of talented but unknown sportspeople into global celebrities adored by millions. They're now used in every sport imaginable, from wing-suit gliding to motocross to skateboarding; Red Bull's Felix Baumgartner even had one strapped to his helmet during his record-breaking high-altitude freefall. With the continuous one-upmanship to gain more views on YouTube channels, does the pressure to film ever more death-defying stunts increase the risk of injury?

Some of the first POV-videos to reach millions of online views were shot on motorcycles – the larger size of early action cameras made them too cumbersome to strap to the body. One of the earliest internet celebrities in the field was the infamous Ghost Rider, who debuted in 2002. This two-wheeled version of the Stig was an anonymous Swedish rider who filmed himself weaving through traffic on public roads at speeds in excess of 350km/h. His popularity soared even more when he began uploading high-speed police chases. When Ghost Rider stopped uploading videos for a short period of time, many feared he'd been killed filming one of his high-velocity stunts, but he's since resurfaced in interviews urging others not to replicate his videos. Judging by the thousands of similar videos posted online since then, many fans haven't listened.

Psychologist Tashaal Green explains the motivation behind behaviour such as the Ghost Rider's high-speed antics. "It may be that individuals who are predisposed to such behaviour due to being high in sensation-seeking may end up being caught in a feedback loop when they post videos to YouTube." Sensation-seeking refers to the desire some people have to seek out highly intense experiences. "Their high levels of sensation-seeking motivate them to engage in risk taking behaviour; they post their videos to YouTube, and the resulting likes and comments from other users may push them to attempt riskier behaviours in order to gain more comments and more likes," Dr Green says.

Perusing the most popular POV-videos on YouTube reveals the vast majority have been filmed by extremely skilled sportspeople. However, Dr Green is concerned that it's the unskilled viewers who are most at risk as a result of these videos. "I would be more concerned at the potential for other YouTube users to mimic the behaviour of these individuals ... there may be potential for action cams to influence risk taking behaviour not just in the individuals who use them, but also in individuals observing that behaviour via YouTube videos."

This sentiment is echoed by Brad Hocking, a snowboarder whose episodes of "camera courage" appear regularly on the popular Australian website Hocking has personally experienced several injuries while filming with action cameras, the worst of which occurred while mountain biking. "I had a GoPro on my helmet ... I overshot a jump and went over the bars. My clavicle pretty much exploded and I cracked my scapula in half too, but it stayed intact. I now have a titanium plate and eight screws holding my right clavicle together." Rather than worry about his injuries, Hocking's next reaction highlighted the effect action cams can have on participants. "As soon as I crashed, I was kind of stoked because I knew I had it all on head cam!"

Sebastion Hincks is another Australian with plenty of action cam experience as the former owner of SNOcam, an action cam rental business based in Thredbo. Hincks believes using action cams is no more risky than traditional cameras, and that they have actually had a positive impact on extreme sports. "It has made people aware of how many others participate in 'extreme' activities ... it has made it more acceptable to be involved in skating, surfing, and motor sports. No longer is the only option to play football, netball or cricket."

"Sport is inherently dangerous, like life," explains Markland O'Connell, sales and marketing manager for snowboard camera maker Drift Innovation. "Cameras are part of modern life, and it is a blessing to be able to capture so much of our life (including sports), but it isn't the reason why I throw my leg over a dirt bike, or why others participate either."

Whether or not action cameras are encouraging amateurs to put themselves in harm's way is almost a moot point; the phenomenon of filming sports on these miniature cameras isn't going away any time soon. With many of these amateur filmmakers now attracting lucrative sponsors, there's more incentive than ever to capture the next killer video.