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The best action cameras in 2020: action cams you can take just about anywhere

best action cameras
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want the best action camera, you're spoilt for choice. Most folk would simply go for the best GoPro, but there are plenty of alternatives which are cheaper, smarter or offer better quality (but not all three, which is why GoPro is still at the top!). 

We reckon the best action camera right now is the GoPro Hero9 Black. It packs in 5K video at 30fps, is waterproof to 10 metres without a case, and has a front-facing screen for vlogging. But the arrival of DJI's first action camera, the Osmo Action, means GoPro now has a significant and highly respected rival in the action cam market.

Ultimately, choosing the best action cam will depend pretty heavily on what you plan to use it for. Do you need maximum resolution, waterproofing, shock-proofing, slow motion, a front-facing screen or ultimate mounting flexibility? It's worth taking some time to familiarize yourself with all these different action cams and what they offer. 

You might get an action camera that's waterproof down to 30m by itself, or one that requires a housing, or indeed an action camera that isn't up to much in water but can take a serious battering without breaking. Maybe wireless functionality is most important to you, or you prize a camera that you can control via your phone using an intuitive app? 

Just so you're aware, we also have guides for the best cameras for vlogging. You might want to take a look at our list of best underwater cameras while you're here.

In this article we've put together our top picks of the best action cams right now – and we can also show you some of the best GoPro accessories out there too.

The best action cameras in 2020

(Image credit: GoPro)

1. GoPro Hero9 Black

The ultimate action camera – and now better value

Weight: 158g | Waterproof: 10m | 5K video: up to 30fps | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 20MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs estimate

Front-facing screen
20MP photos  
14.7 MP grabs from video
Larger physical size than other GoPros
5K video takes up a lot of memory

The ante just got upped. If you want the very best action camera around it’s got to be GoPro’s latest flagship. It’s true that the brand’s first action camera to feature a vlogging-style front-facing screen won’t be for everyone, but the appearance here also of 5K resolution surely makes it the front-runner. 

Even if you’re not after 5K video as such, a new sensor allows you to get 14.7 MP grabs from 5K video, as well as take 20MP stills. It’s also got a a larger 2.27-inch display than the GoPro Hero8 Black, super-smooth Hypersmooth 3.0 video stabilization, TimeWarp 3.0 for handheld time-lapses, a travel case, and an upcoming Max Lens Mod accessory that will bring GoPro Max-style features like 360º horizon lock and an ultra-wide 155º Max SuperView mode. 

• Read full GoPro Hero9 review

(Image credit: GoPro)

2. GoPro Hero8 Black

A great value and smaller, lighter alternative to GoPro’s new flagship

Weight: 126g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs estimate

Super image stabilization
Crisp, smooth 4K video
Built-in acccessory mounts
Screen is smaller than DJI

It’s no longer GoPro’s flagship, but if you’ve no need for 5K or a front-facing screen, the smaller, lighter GoPro from 2019 could bee perfect for you. 

A key difference from its predecessors is that there are fold-out feet that means that you have a camera mount built-in. And then you can accessorize the Hero8 Black even more with a new series of beautifully designed optional extras called Mods; we like the Display Mod, which adds a second monitor that is perfect for vloggers (something built-in to the GoPro Hero9 Black). These add-ons cost you more, but with a price-cut the Hero8 Black is starting to look like a good value option given its excellent 4K video and excellent image stabilization system. 

• Read full GoPro Hero8 review

3. GoPro Hero7 Black

2018’s flagship remains worth investigating for handheld time-lapses

Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: : 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs estimate

HyperSmooth feature
Great quality 4K video
Screen can be unresponsive
Voice commands need work

The GoPro Hero7 Black is the action camera that brought us HyperSmooth, a video stabilization system that's so good that it awakens new creative possibilities. The shake-buster even works up to 4K 60fps. Those using a gimbal on their GoPro can ditch it because HyperSmooth gives even handheld video a silky-smooth look. However, it also brings to life a new possibility; handheld TimeLapse video. Called TimeWarp, the Hero7 Black's 2GB memory allows it to apply HyperSmooth to handheld frame-by-frame time-lapse shooting. As well as these stabilized hyper-lapses, the Hero7 Black offers great dynamic range, SuperPhoto, and 12 separate voice commands. However, it misses out on the new features and add-ons of the two more recent GoPros. 

GoPro 7 Black vs GoPro 8 Black

4. DJI Osmo Action

DJI's entry in the action cam market brings a front-facing selfie screen

Weight: 134g | Waterproof: 11m | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-2.25hrs (est)

Front color LCD monitor is great for vlogging
Excellent image stabilization
Doesn't have all the accessory options of the GoPro range
The app needs some work

DJI is best known for producing some of the best drones around (and to a lesser degree for its handheld gimbal camera stabilizers) – but has turned its attention to the action camera market with the arrival of the Osmo Action. It look and feels like it has been made to be a direct competitor to the GoPro Hero7 Black – and does a real good job of giving the GoPro a run for its money. We particularly like the addition of a full-color front LCD display – which makes it one of the best action cams for selfie sequences or vlogging.

(Image credit: GoPro)

5. GoPro Hero7 White

This older model is now a real bargain

Megapixels: 10MP | Screen: 2in touchscreen | Connectivity: Wi-Fi (5GHz), Bluetooth | Max continuous shooting speed: 15fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | Frame rates: 60fps (1080p) | Waterproofing: 10m | Voice control: Yes | GPS: No | Battery life: 1-3hrs estimated

Some great deals make this amazing value
Image stabilization
No 4K
Basic functionality

The GoPro Hero7 White was officially discontinued at the end of last year - but it is still on sale at a large number of retailers. The result of these two facts is that we are now seeing some incredible deals on this model - allowing you to get a GoPro camera at a really affordable price. It was the basic model in the range, mind. There's no 4K and although there is built-in image stabilization, GoPro's most recent HyperSmooth technology doesn't make onto this camera.  Mind you, it is still waterproof down to 10m (33ft), and can shoot 1440p HD video at 60fps or 30fps, and offers wifi/Bluetooth compatiblity. Plus, of course, it can be used with the wide range of GoPro accessories.

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Sony RX0 Mark II

The RX0 Mark II gets much needed internal 4K recording

Weight: 110g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: 30p | 1080: up to 1000fps | 720: up to 1000fps | Stills resolution: 15.3MP | Battery life: 60 mins

Large Exmor 1-inch sensor
Super-slow motion available
Front-facing selfie/vlogging screen
Very expensive

The Sony RX0 II is expensive but comes with features that make it definitely worth considering. Being able to shoot short bursts of slo-mo video at up to 1,000fps is one of them – you certainly can't do that with a GoPro. And while the RX0 was capable of producing 4K UHD footage only to an external recorder, the RX0 Mark II can record 4K internally (and about time too). The 1-inch sensor produces beautiful images, whether shooting stills or video, expands the camera's low-light efficacy and provides gorgeous dynamic range. It's an expensive proposition to be sure, but if you need gorgeous slow-motion footage then there's nothing better and you're looking for ultimate image quality above all else, this is one the best action cameras to get right now. The Sony RX0 II also gets a flip-action front-facing screen, which makes it much more effective as a premium-quality vlogging and content creation tool.

(Image credit: Olfi)

7. Olfi One.Five Black

A good-value action camera that's especially good for cyclists

Weight: 57g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 24fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: Not specified

Good image stabilization 
16MP still images 
Low 4K frame rate
Basic smartphone app

The Olfi One.Five Black is a mild refresh of the Olfi One.Five and doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, still topping out its 4K capture at a frame rate of 24p, but it does what it does well, and its attractive price point makes it a compelling proposition for those who don't want to pay GoPro-money for an action camera. Vertically oriented, the Olfi One.Five Black is great for clipping to bicycle handlebars, though its 30m waterproofing means it's also great for watersports. The built-in Wi-Fi allows you to take advantage of the Olfi app to control the camera from your phone – the functionality is basic, but works well. A solid inexpensive choice of action camera.

8. SJCAM SJ8 Pro

A great-value 4K action camera offering surprisingly high-quality footage

Weight: 85g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 90 mins

Stabilised 4K footage
High-quality touchscreen
Clunky waterproof housing
Basic smartphone app

Taking more than a few cues from GoPro, the SJCAM SJ8 Pro provides plenty of the functionality of top-quality Hero cameras but at a significantly friendlier price point. It's not only got 4K footage at 60p, but this footage also benefits from six-axis image stabilisation, which really comes in handy in action-shooting situations. The standard GoPro-style mount allows the SJ8 to be mounted to anything you might want to mount it to, and there's also decent slow-motion if you drop the resolution down to 1080p or 720p. The waterproof housing is a little clunky in use, with a lever lock system that can be tricky to operate, but this is arguably the best action cam at this price.

Best budget action cameras under $100/£100

9. Garmin VIRB XE

Unbeatable waterproofing and a suite of sensors for data collection

Weight: 151g | Waterproof: 50m | 4K video: no | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 2hrs

Waterproof to 50m 
Bluetooth audio options
Full HD only 
Expensive

Could you buy an action camera that only deals in Full HD resolution? The Garmin VIRB XE offers a compelling reason as to why you should. It’s waterproof to 50m without a case and can withstand temperatures as low as -10ºC, but this action camera isn’t just made of tough stuff. The Virb XE is also smart, with a suite of G-Metrix sensors that can measure GPS, compass direction, temperature and even speed, which adds an exciting layer of data to video. It can even get data from compatible ANT+ devices, such as heart rate devices and smartwatches. As a bonus, for those who think audio is just as important as video, a Bluetooth microphone can be attached to it.

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  • montekay1
    To me it seems like all these manufacturers have lost site of the purpose of an action camera. All these fancy features like touch screens are not only useless but also disruptive to the use of the camera. It's an, "action cam", not a studio cam, you can't use any of that crap in free fall or in the middle of any action sport. All these features serve to do is to cause the camera to inadvertently get switched to the wrong mode or cause it to stop recording in the middle of the action. To me they have all become worthless, someone needs to get back to basics and start making action cams again.
    Reply
  • SHaines
    montekay1 said:
    To me they have all become worthless, someone needs to get back to basics and start making action cams again.

    Not being much of an action photographer myself, I hadn't really thought about it in these terms before. Touch screens do seem like a really odd choice for a camera to be used in some extreme situations. I appreciate your insights!
    Reply
  • twinax
    montekay1 said:
    To me it seems like all these manufacturers have lost site of the purpose of an action camera. All these fancy features like touch screens are not only useless but also disruptive to the use of the camera. It's an, "action cam", not a studio cam, you can't use any of that crap in free fall or in the middle of any action sport. All these features serve to do is to cause the camera to inadvertently get switched to the wrong mode or cause it to stop recording in the middle of the action. To me they have all become worthless, someone needs to get back to basics and start making action cams again.

    I just saw your comment and had to create an account to just say - I can not agree more!
    All these gimmicks are useless, give us raw use and battery life instead!
    Reply
  • nron
    montekay1 said:
    To me it seems like all these manufacturers have lost site of the purpose of an action camera. All these fancy features like touch screens are not only useless but also disruptive to the use of the camera. It's an, "action cam", not a studio cam, you can't use any of that crap in free fall or in the middle of any action sport. All these features serve to do is to cause the camera to inadvertently get switched to the wrong mode or cause it to stop recording in the middle of the action. To me they have all become worthless, someone needs to get back to basics and start making action cams again.
    Absolutely agree! GPS doesn't really work, and 3rd party sensor integration is non-existent. Not made to take a beating, but made to break and be fixed by GoPro . Clearly want us to buy their replacement service. Mac software is horrible. Battery life is no good, unless you forgo quality footage, so then what's the point? Not an action camera company anymore, prioritizing selling overpriced accessories and merchandize to serving their core customers well.
    Reply