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Best action camera
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When it comes time to strap on a helmet or similar safety equipment, chances are you won't want to use an expensive smartphone to film the activity in question. Yes, iPhones and Androids do come with fancy camera arrays, but practically any misadventure will shatter them at best and kill them at worst.
What you need is an action camera that's been designed to resist (most of) your daredevil lifestyle. With that in mind, here are six action cameras that will take great video regardless of the velocity involved.
Our editorial team selected the cameras on this list based on extensive research, real customer reviews and personal experience. For each category, we carefully selected parameters based on our research and identified the products with the highest review score within those parameters.
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If you want to skip straight to the crème de la crème of action cameras, GoPro Hero9 gets our vote with its 4.4/5 star rating after 500+ Amazon reviews. This America-based brand is so popular and well-respected in the market, the name GoPro has basically become interchangeable with the term "action camera." Also, as the number might suggest, this represents the ninth version of a 2004 product that continues to set the bar with every new iteration. The overwhelming majority of critics and users agree: the HERO9 Black is no exception to this rule.
HERO8 adoptees will certainly feel a bit of deja vu when looking at this as a potential upgrade; however, there has also been a bunch of meaningful evolutions under the hood. The most obvious boon is the impressive step up in max resolution/fps from 4K60 to 5K30. If you're looking to maximise the fluidity of your footage, it's worth noting that you also have video modes like 2.7K120, 1440p120 and 1080p240. If you have a screen that supports playback of the latter format, it's quite the head-turner.
In terms of physical changes, the HERO9 is a touch bigger than its predecessor and has put on 32 grams of additional weight. That's a change the average user will barely feel, though it may have some ramifications for drone pilots. The extra girth is doubtless due to the inclusion of a new front-facing, 1.4-inch "selfie" screen to better dial in any of the 20MP photos you're going to take of your exploits.
Lastly, you'll be getting the third major upgrade of the HERO7's truly impressive "HyperSmooth'' stabilising tech which provides in-camera horizon levelling. There's also a 30% increase to battery life that's sure to be a godsend when you're off the grid on adventures.
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The cost-effective option to go with is APEMAN's A77, an action camera that boasts 4.4/5 star rating after 9.3K Amazon reviews. Established in 2016, the Shenzhen-based APEMAN is a relative newcomer to consumer electronics, though it has quickly garnered quite a decent reputation for providing affordable and features-pack GoPro alternatives as well as dash and IP cameras.
When it comes to the all-important question of image and video output, the A77 delivers a number of impressive resolution/frame rate pairings. The top end of what it can do includes 4K 30fps and 2.7k 30ps; however, you can achieve more fluid fps if you're willing to dial down to video modes like 1080P 60fps and 720P 120fps. Static-minded happy snappers will also be impressed with 4 optional photo resolutions that run from 5MP up to 20MP.
Other noteworthy features include the always artistic time-lapse function and in-built Wi-Fi functionality that allows you to synch the A77 to a (free) proprietary app. Either via a handheld device or an optional 2.4Ghz wrist-remote, you can effectively control this action camera from afar. Even better, when it comes time to share your memories, you have the option to hook up an HDMI for no-fuss showcase on a TV.
This particular listing also comes in a handy beginners pack that includes a great many items you would have most likely wanted to purchase in the long run anyway. You'll be sorted for mounting options (helmet and bicycle), protection (a dust cover and a 30-metre waterproof case) and power (USB cable plus 2 x 1050mAh batteries). That's remarkable value for the asking price, and APEMAN seems to have quite a large and diverse range of 20+ additional accessories.
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Anybody looking to find a respectable middle ground between price paid and performance delivered should look to APEMAN's A87, an action camera that enjoys a 4.3/5 star rating after 1.8K Amazon reviews. As mentioned elsewhere in this listicle, APEMAN is certainly not known as a purveyor of premium-level action cameras, but its modestly designed, affordable goods have still managed to sufficiently impress a large number of online user reviewers and tech critics alike.
At the time of writing, APEMAN has 3 other action camera models in the market (A77, A79 and A100) but the A87 looks to be the best balance of features and price of admission. In terms of image quality, you'll be getting the expected modern standard of 4K60 that can be stabilised with EIS + Gyroscope technology.
If the resolution demands of your project aren't cutting edge or you just want to keep file sizes down and prioritise smooth frame rates, video modes like 2.7K/30fps and 1080P/120FPS are also available. Lastly, static shot-takers should be able to take great "Kodak moments" with the 20MP still shot function. You can also quickly export and showcase your work to people via built-in Wi-Fi or the HDMI port.
Being able to withstand the elements is a requirement of any decent action camera, and the A87 seems to be designed with that challenge in mind. This unit is light at 500 grams and comes with a case that's waterproof up to 40 metres. You also get a protective bicycle bag to store it in, a few different mounting option accessories and the always-appreciated 2x batteries included. All in all, what we have here is a whole lot of features and accessories in a small, reasonably priced package.
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Any action-cammer who values video quality over anything else ought to gravitate towards the Sony RX0 II, a product that has a 4/5 star rating after 43 Amazon reviews. For those of you who have been unfamiliar with consumer electronics for the past few decades, you should know that Sony is well respected for its quality control, innovation and a wide range of camera products that span from compact action models to premium professional grade point-and-shoot fare. Sony is basically a pioneer that is often first to market with great ideas, and the RX0 II benefits from decades of iteration.
Let's talk basic features and intent first. Thanks to an easy-to-flip-and-view rear screen, the Sony RX0 II has clearly been built with vlogging as well as action in mind. This theory is supported by the great lengths Sony has gone to in terms of superior mic quality – something you just don't see in most GoPros. It's also worth mentioning that this unit comes with a rechargeable battery pack, AC adaptor, micro USB cable and wrist strap.
Now, when it comes to the all-important 4K image quality, there's no arguing with the exquisite results one gets from a 24mm F4 Zeiss Tessar T* lens that's backed by a 1" (1.0-Type) stacked back-illuminated Exmore RS CMOS sensor. Yes, technically this unit can only shoot video at 4K up to 30 fps (or 1080p video at 120 fps) but the devil is literally in the details here – the bitrate on offer far exceeds that of a GoPro.
Finally, video nerds will also love that Sony provides a S-Log2 picture profile which allows a huge amount of colour correcting latitude in your post-production phase. Essentially, if you know what you're doing (and frame rate isn't your focus) the Rx0 II can deliver truly impressive 4K results.
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If you're the sort who believes that life's better down where it's wetter, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is praised by avid divers and comes with a 4/5 star rating after 150 Amazon reviews. Established way back in 1989, the America-based Garmin is a widely respected producer of consumer, professional aviation and marine devices. More than any other action cam out on the market today, the VIRB Ultra 30 reaps the benefits of decades of ocean-centric design experience and has been built to rigorous maritime standards.
The key difference between the Ultra 30 and any GoPro variant out there is that of ergonomics and ease of use. Because what good are features if you can't leverage them easily when you're underwater? Garmin allows you to elegantly scroll and access a wealth of settings and tweaks via a two-button operation and a vibrant 1.75-inch touchscreen. You're also getting an impressive 130ft depth limit if you keep it in the provided housing. Technically a GoPro will go deeper (to 190ft+ but you'll need to buy an expensive case to do so).
Ocean-goers will also appreciate some stat tracking options you don't often see on competing action cams. For example, the G-Metric system will use the Ultra 30's GPS and sensors to record incredibly useful data like G-forces, heart rate, elevation and subject speed. An attentive and resourceful user can use these readings to better plan their next dive down.
Fortunately, impressive underwater performance is backed by a range of video resolution modes. Razor sharp 4K/30fps is available as are slightly more fluidity-minded options like 1080p/120fps and a 720p/240fps mode that makes for amazing slow-motion moments.
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Though it's been recently superseded and is no longer the cutting edge of cams, GoPro's HERO8 Black is perfect for drones and comes with a 4.7/5 star rating after 1.8K Amazon reviews. GoPro is a very well known and respected producer of action cams, and the HERO8 saw widespread approval from users and professional tech journos alike when it debuted onto the market.
Our reasoning in going with this over the more features-rich HERO9 is two-fold. Firstly, drone cams are prone to loss and/or destruction – keeping your costs low will take the sting out of that. A little. Secondly, this slightly older model is both smaller in footprint and lighter in overall weight – two positives for any avid pilot/cinematographer looking to make fancy aeronautical manoeuvres.
It's also worth noting that GoPro's models are considered industry standard action cams, which means they have a higher compatibility chance with after-market drones. Some examples off the top of our head include: Karma, Hubsan H109S Pro, AirDog ADII, Phantom 2 and 3DR Solo. Very generally speaking, any drone that can handle an additional 180 grams can be a HERO8 drone if you have some electrical tape and a mind to do it. Obviously, going with one that supports the official mount connector is preferred.
Once connected, a HERO8 will deliver luscious 4K60 footage that can reap the benefit of in-app horizon levelling and Hypersmooth 2.0 stabilisation. The latter truly is invaluable in taxing wind conditions. Better yet, you can livestream at 1080p in a special webcam mode. You can also take artsy reconnaissance stills with a 12MP camera that supports RAW format.
If you're in the market for an action camera, there are a few things you ought to consider before making the figurative and literal plunge. Let's quickly walk you through the basic criteria and reasoning we applied while compiling this list of the best action cameras on the market.
The obvious first concern is resolution and image quality. Are you comfortable capturing at high definition 1080p at 30 frames per second, or are you after more Hollywood results with 4K ultra high definition at the more natural looking 60 frames per second? The flow-on decision from that: will you have adequate storage media needed to house all of your 4K footage, not to mention a computer with the grunt needed to cut and render everything into something presentable?
The next big concern is durability. Not all action cameras are created equal when it comes to the school of hard knocks. Be sure to discern the waterproof ones from the merely water resistant. Be on the lookout for cheaper produced cams that may be made from more brittle, lower cost materials. Even better, have a snoop through any available accessories that can boost the armour stats of your prospective purchase.
Lastly, pay attention to any creature comfort extras that are going to let you enjoy your activity to the fullest as opposed to fretting over a tiny LCD screen. Voice control and app/smartphone integration are worth paying more for. You should also focus on battery life and whether there's any Wi-Fi functionality to make file exporting a breeze.
When you are comparing action cams, consider your budget, level of durability and the features you may need.
Most action cams offer a wide-angle field of view. If you don't want your footage to have fisheye distortion, look for a camera that offers options for a narrow or medium field of view.
When comparing cameras, you should generally choose whichever camera has better video quality. The highest quality currently available for action cams is 4K ultra high-definition.
Some action cams are water resistant while others are completely submersible. Many action cams are also compatible with waterproof cases. If you're interested in a fully submersible camera, check out our guide to waterproof cameras.
If you want to use your action cam to take still photos, look for a camera with a high amount of megapixels. This will give you higher photo resolution and allow you to print larger images.
Most action cameras store footage on removable SD cards. Some cameras include memory cards with the cameras while others require you to purchase a memory card separately.
Check out the range of accessories that are compatible with any potential camera. Consider the prices of head mounts, hand mounts, cases, tripods, clamps and anything else you might need to get the most out of your camera.
Look for a camera with a long battery life or easily replaceable batteries so you can swap them out without missing a shot.
Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to upload and share videos to your phone or smart device no matter where you are. If you want to be able to upload your videos straight to social media, look for a camera with built-in Wi-Fi.
Because action cams are small and lightweight, many have very small LCD screens or no screens at all. If your action cam doesn't have a display screen, Wi-Fi allows you to preview and playback your footage on your smart device.
The following are some of the best features of action cams:
While action cams can capture footage of extreme adventures, they don't always offer the video and image quality of high-end camcorders and digital cameras. Some of the downsides to action cams include the following:
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