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Usually, action cameras are for the recording of video, but most of them can also take snap still images as well. They are most well known for being attached to owners who are into extreme exploits – mountain biking, climbing, freestyle – anything… they capture video usually from the perspective of the person wearing the camera as the settings fly by.
For the most part, they are not professional cameras by any means, they have limited space for a sensor, don’t come with interchangeable lenses, and usually lack any sort of viewfinder.
However, there is also a small group of pre-cursor point & shoot compact digital cameras that can be placed in this category simply because they are so durable and made for “action” so to speak. They come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them hold true to the basic principle of an action-camera: They are sturdy, shockproof, and often waterproof. It’s very important to note that not all action cameras are waterproof.
So, if you are looking for a waterproof camera or a submersible camera, be absolutely sure that the device you like actually qualifies for the work you need it to accomplish. READ THE FINE PRINT!
As their price point becomes more readily available to the common consumer, these cameras are being found all over. Especially for action videography. Remember – if the camera can shoot at 4k 60fps, it also makes for recording great slow-motion capture.
I’m a beginner. And while I was looking for my own camera and accessories, I began writing up my research to share with others like me. This led me to write these articles sharing what most photographers – both amateur and professional – feel are the top picks among today’s cameras and accessories.
I’ll list them below, with relevant information. If you want the statistics of each camera, you can always click our links to go to the retailer website where you prefer to shop. I felt it was more important to share the opinions of those who had used the equipment.
You should purchase your chosen products from wherever you feel most comfortable purchasing camera products. I always look over reviews from multiple sources before I make a decision on a purchase. I share the most relevant information on my website, but it’s by no means a full endorsement. Be your own advocate, know your product, ask questions of the seller, get information in writing, and be clear on warranty limitations.
Our Top Picks
GoPro Hero8 Black & GoPro Hero7 Black
GoPro had already begun leading the field of action cameras. I mean, I don’t know how often I hear people talking about an action cam, but they just refer to it as “the GoPro” even though it might be a totally different brand. That’s how you know you have a successful product, ladies and gents and all those between!
The Hero7 put them over the top. It’s a fantastic action cam in it’s own right and is still being manufactured and sold for $199 – $299 depending on color and combo. It still offers HyperSmooth stabilization and amazing quality shots and video at 4K 60fps and voice commands!
So, what changes were made to set the Hero8 apart from the Hero7? Well, you get everything that the Hero7 offers and…
For starters, the Hero8 can be mounted to any GoPro mount on its own, without a housing of any kind. GoPro took the two mounting “fingers” that slot into the company’s mounts and integrated them into the body. They snap down when you’re ready to mount the camera, but they flip up flush to the body if you don’t want it mounted.
Other physical changes were evident. The lens is made to be twice as hard and therefore more durable. It has a more powerful battery. It also now has “mods” which allows for accessories to be added to the base camera. This is an obvious (and most likely going to be a successful) appeal to vloggers. So far, I see available a flip-up display, a better external mic, and an LED light. And these mods have their own batteries, so they don’t drain the camera battery.
On the inside, there were amazing changes made. It has HyperSmooth 2.0 for image stabilization makes images look even smoother with very little warping or loss of resolution. The TimeWarp feature gets some attention so that it will autotune based on the data from the camera. Along with the addition of a Time Burst feature that captures still images before and after you hit the shutter, these are nice upgrades.
However, that means it’s more complicated. So, they also made sure to add a “pre-sets” ability that is easily accessed. Kind of each individual’s version of auto-mode for several different situations that you can choose as easy as you pick a radio station from your presets in the car.
Hero8 can live stream at 1080p from the 720p on Hero7. Also it captures 12mp snaps and users aren’t stuck with just regular photo mode – they have choices! RAW, time-lapse, and burst modes are now available.
Speaking of changes outside of the differences between Hero 7 and Hero8, GoPro overhauled their mobile app. It’s now one app that does everything – quick editing, camera connection, an updated QuickStory multi-clip workflow.
GoPro Hero8 Black
80% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. And I can see some very good reasons for this. A lot of people had issues with the video freezing, the camera wanting to reformat the memory cards, the battery door is apparently easy to damage, the placement of some of the mods allows for weather and element penetration. Several people mentioned that you could purchase a Hero7 and a frame then upgrade all of the apps and still come out cheaper than a Hero8 and bonus – you’d also have a micro HDMI port for quick viewing without having to spend more money on a mod. A lot of people are not fans of the GoPro app, even with the upgrades, and export everything to a different editing suite. Though they say low-light shooting is not the best, many people give props to the quality of the video and pictures as well as praise the stabilization.
Price Range: $309 – $589 depending on the bundle
GoPro Hero7 Black
86% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. A direct quote from Davin – A verified buyer and reviewer – “The first six hours with this camera were frustrating and I’m a techy. Before you do anything disable WIFI Calling on phone and reboot then download the app and let it update the camera. Life is good after that.” It seems that even the good reviews these cameras get, are punctuated by being ready for a learning curve when it comes to the system settings and controls. To be honest, with the small size, I expected that. It cannot possibly be as intuitive as a normal camera. Also, people said that 4K is available, but that doesn’t mean it looks good or functions well. But that the 1080p is great. Reviewers also warn about overheating and shut down when 4K is trying to process. Seems it’s not great with low light, either. Most everyone was impressed with HyperSmooth and GoPro Hero7 Black is one of the most used actions cams out there, despite all of these drawbacks.
Price Range: $249 – $389 depending on the bundle
DJI Osmo Action
Giving GoPro a run for their money is the DJI Osmo Action Camera. It’s getting great reviews and fewer complaints than the Hero7 GoPro Contender. DJI is more well known for camera stabilizers, gimbal pocket cams, and camera drones, but it’s taken the technology learned from those endeavors and has come out with a more affordable action camera.
It has a full color front LCD, which is great for vlogging and selfie time. It has impressive image stabilization, but it’s not fantastic for videos, so be aware. It will require housing for mounting, much like Hero7. It’s waterproof and the battery is good for maybe 2 ½ hours. It also offers a range of control options, including voice command. However, there is no live-stream support, which sets the Hero7 apart from it. However, it does boast a screw-on lens feature and their lenses are easy to find. Reviewers hope to see more out of this company in the future!
72% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Most people found it intuitive once you activated the DJI Mimo app and loved the lack of vibration while filming movement (one was a motorcyclist). You just need to have your phone on the same Wifi as the camera, which, from what I understand, is the case with any such technology. Some people were saying it took better film and pictures than the GoPro.
Some people found trouble with the consistency of the voice commands. Like the GoPro, users often found that the Osmo would have trouble as temperatures rose. People are not having fun with the patching of the programming on updates. Other reviewers question the claim that it’s completely waterproof – it doesn’t seem to be legit.
Price Range: $272 – $369
Yi 4K+ Action Camera
Yi has been making action cams for quite some time, but this is its first dive into 4K at 60fps technology that has a lot of updates for convenience as well. It’s similar to a GoPro but the menus seem more intuitive with a very simple & fast user interface that allows you more control over your photos and video. It also allows for voice commands and RAW support.
It has a built-in tripod mount. When recording in 4K the bit rate was more than double the GoPro. The electronic image stabilization works very well for 4K video. A common request among reviewers is that Yi also add in optical image stabilization to just take it over the top.
With this camera, you can possibly save money on features you really don’t need but leave the door open for upgrading later. It is not waterproof so a protective casing will need to be purchased for that use. It doesn’t include GPS functionality. Several reviewers said that the voice commands can be patchy at times. Overall, it’s design is very simple and easier to use than many action cameras and the price is lower for similar quality photos and video.
60% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Many reviewers complained of sub-par audio, even with external mics. So you will also need to decide if you want this camera for video and shots only. The battery only works 1 hour of continuous recording before getting heated and needing a break. The image quality is great in most light conditions (not in darker conditions).
Which seems to be a hallmark of all action cams. Also, a lot of consumers report that the customer service is lacking if anything goes wrong. So beware – also, to be honest, I was finding GoPro Hero7 for the same price if not cheaper than this particular Yi model… so do you really get a lot of savings?
Price Range: $329 – $399
Insta360 One R Sports Adaptive
I’m going with the “Twin Edition” camera here, in case you were wondering. This action cam is set apart from others in several ways. What bothered me up front were the low amounts of 5-star ratings. But it was included on several “top ten” and “must have” listings for action cams out there, so I’m including it. There are several versions, that’s why I made sure you knew which I was looking into. Some of the other versions are on pre-order.
This camera is not only modular, it allows for a Dual-Lens 360 Mod. With the 360 Mod set up, the Core module’s live screen can be swiped in all directions to see your shot from all angles and get a full 360° preview. Whereas many other 360 cameras only allow such a preview in a mobile app, the ONE R system provides it in-camera as well as in the companion app.
It has both a front and rear facing screen for help with vlogging and selfie work. It comes with a 3 prong mounting frame which when used makes the set-up waterproof to 16ft (roughly 4.5meters). The battery is a base that holds the brain module and any other module together and is sold for $29.99 in most places – in case you want extras.
Here is what makes is different –
The Twin Edition includes the Core module, 4K Wide Angle Mod, Dual-Lens 360 Mod, and the necessary Battery Base that holds the modules together. The Core module, which is the brain, and any other module of your choice, mount side by side on the Battery Base. The different modules can be swapped in interchangeably next to the Core module.
58% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. A lot of the bad reviews were due to manufacturer’s defects. Overall, people were pleased by the camera and the many features it offers because of its design. The batteries are proprietary and cost more than you would spend on other action camera batteries. However, the battery life is decent *** . People were wowed that they could use the app to change the settings on video AFTER they had shot the video – which is convenient.
The camera is usable with Bluetooth headphones for vlogging, by the way. More than one reviewer has had issues with connecting the camera to the app on their phone, so be aware of that. Some people have returned the product, but gave it a mediocre review because they liked it, it just had some sort of glitch – which again, nay be a manufacturer defect.
Price Range: $479
Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
The Tracker wasn’t the only Olympus mentioned in the top tens listings for action cameras, and I can understand why now that I’ve listed the TG-6 in my Top Picks of Compact Cameras. Also available is the Stylus TG-Tracker 4K Action Cam that has been discontinued – but you can find them out there in used and refurbished/renewed state.
This thing reminded me of an old school video camera the first time I laid eyes on it! It’s quite different from other action cam styles. It’s durable and made to cope with extremes. It can perform down to -10ºC. Not only that, but it’s drop-proof from 2m and even crush-proof to 100kg. It’s also waterproof to 30m without a housing.
It has a flip-out screen. This is not really a selfie or vlogging camera, but that’s not what it’s marketed for. It’s marketed toward adventurers in filming. It does however come with Action Track Sensors (for GPS, compass, accelerometer, barometric pressure, temperature and water) that add data to video.
The Tracker has an ultra-wide lens with full 204-degree viewing angle. It records at up to an impressive 240fps if you drop down to 720p HD, making it suitable for a lot of heavy action sports. 4K is available at up to 30fps. Video quality stands up against some of the big action camera names, and the comparatively low price point draws a lot of attention.
73% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. I’m seeing a lot of reviewers condemn this product because it’s not a GoPro. And, to be honest, that’s not how you should review a camera that doesn’t claim to be the same as that other brand, nor does it cost as much. For people who actually bought this camera for the intended purposes, they loved it, especially being able to film well underwater.
Another pro is that the battery lasts upward of 2 hours even filming video to film underwater. Some were pleasantly surprised to get better low light quality than expected. Reviewers hope that in future versions they do away with the fish-eye lens. Also, there were multiple complaints about the side screen having defect issues. Lots of people say you should definitely read the manual before taking it out, so you can understand how everything functions before getting into the moment.
Price Range: $150 – $349 depending on what accessories you get with it.
Sony RX0 II
How it was actually listed was – Sony Cyber-shot RX0 II Digital Camera (the older model RX0 is also available for sale at about $150 less). This camera now has a more rugged build for outdoor adventures. However, there is no touchscreen and you must get accustomed to moving through menus using buttons again!
RX0 II comes with electronic image stabilization and a sensor as large as Sony’s premium compact cameras. This model comes with a Soft Skin Effect mode and advanced Eye AF. It has a 180° tiltable 1,5inch rear screen that can be handy for vlogging. Most reviews say it’s great for easy going vlogging and still pictures, but if you want to capture the best video, users warn to be ready to have a tripod. This camera can record 4K UHD both externally and internally, all of these features pushing it as a probable consideration for those who want to film slow motion.
73% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating.
Price Range: $698 – $868 depending on the kit you purchase with it.
Garmin Virb Ultra 30
This power house is waterproof up to 50m without a case and can withstand temperatures as low as -10°C and has all the bells and whistles to impress. with a suite of G-Metrix sensors that can measure GPS, compass direction, temperature and even speed – action sports enthusiasts are going to love this machine.
It can even get data from compatible ANT+ devices, such as heart rate devices and smartwatches, and is Bluetooth microphone capable. This bad boy deals only in FULL HD resolution. Ultra 30 has added to the original model by giving you 3-axis image stabilization a larger touchscreen, GPS capture, and higher quality microphones.
Voice control is a key feature for the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 – besides the normal functions, you can tell the camera to “remember that!” so you can find an event in the video easier. It has quality video 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps.
72% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Several reviewers were incensed by the apathy found when contacting customer support. Why would they need to contact Garmin? The waterproofing failed. Since this product claims waterproofing to a significant depth, this is something to think about.
Others had some complaints about getting the camera to connect via the app or having a stable Bluetooth connection at all. However, there were many more positive reviews than critical ones. People were impressed with the value considering what they got – and that included long-time GoPro users.
Price Range: $265 – $299
SONY FDR-X3000 4K
This camera has similarities to the Olympus Tough-Tracker in design, looking more like a movie camera than anything else. Like the Tracker, it works great pretty much anywhere – handlebars, helmets, even underwater up to 60m (so long as you use the case that comes with it). It has optical stabilization and records 4K at 30fps. Some people found still shots to be soft despite the camera having a high-quality ZEISS lens.
$268 used / $398 new.
This was actually released about the same time as the company’s Hero8 model, so it has the same user interface, uses HyperSmooth Stabilization, and offers TimeWarp video sequence that’s in that product that made it to the top of our listing. It is remote operated via smartphone app, and also provides 360° capture that is viewable through that app. The editing within the app is applauded by reviewers. Their main gripe seems to be not being able to film in 4K, but it can live stream to social media at 1080p and it looks good in my opinion.
$445 – $499 depending on where you get it from.
Action or adventure cameras are a subset of compact cameras that are made to withstand extremes and still deliver good quality video and still shots. With their popularity growing stronger, their developers are managing to upgrade these things yearly – they have high resolution for their compact size. They are usually weatherproof, water proof, shockproof, and often are worn by athletes or used on drones or in places that the extra durability is needed.
If you want to learn more about action cameras then be sure to check out our beginner’s guide on Action Cameras.