Everyone seems to be taking an action camera everywhere these days. Some are dedicated movie-makers, for whom the latest 4K video options are everything. For extreme sporters who want to record a portion of a ski run, a bike ride or a kayak sequence, new features like loop-record and hands-free voice activation will be useful.
Some are waterproof to 30m right out of the box, others include waterproof housings, others still aren't even splash-proof. Pricier models add data-sets from a fleet of sensors, from GPS and acceleration to temperature and pressure, while others offer only Full HD video. A key difference is the frames-per-second (fps) for 4K; put simply, the more frames, the smoother the results. However, just as important is the smartphone app that accompanies most action cameras, which can vary from basic to the latest in automated editing and sharing.
For now, GoPro is the market leader in almost every area, but its products come with a high price. Could you save money by ditching a few niceties? Sure. In fact, you could save 50% if you're happy with basic video without image stabilisation or any fancy new tech.
Whatever kind of adventurer you are, there's an action camera for you. Here are our top picks.
1. GoPro HERO6 Black
GoPro's latest flagship has everything
Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs (est)
What’s not to like about the genre-defining GoPro HERO6 Black? Yes, it’s pricey, but its 4K video recording at 60fps video is hard to beat. That’s partly because of low-light performance that's been improved over the previous HERO5 Black, and some excellent image stabilisation to suppress camera shake, though there’s much more here to like than mere video quality. Voice activation is useful when you’ve got your hands full, and the natively drop-proof, waterproof design – to 10m without an extra housing – makes it insanely usable. So does the excellent Quik smartphone app, whose QuikStories feature automatically transfers and edits video for you. With features galore, the GoPro HERO6 Black is the best action camera around.
2. Yi 4K+
Top specs for less, but no waterproofing
Weight: 93g | Waterproof: no | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-2hrs
Those who want the best-quality action camera typically go for the latest GoPro model. There’s only one problem with that: a high price tag. This much more affordable action camera from Yi Technology gives you almost as much bang for your buck. For example, it’s got a slightly larger touchscreen than a GoPro HERO6 Black, and matches its rival in recording 4K footage at 60fps. The results are detailed, smooth and colourful, and the user interface is both super-fast and super-simple. It doesn’t include a waterproof housing, nor does it have GPS functionality, but those features aside, the Yi 4K+ is as good as any action camera available.
3. Sony FDR-X3000
4K meets best-ever image stabilisation
Weight: 114g | Waterproof: 60m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 155 mins
The highlight of Sony’s latest attempt at an action camera is supposed to be its Live-View remote, a wireless, wrist-worn touchscreen that lets you control the FDR-X3000 and see a live feed from its ZEISS Tessar lens. In practice, that accessory is unreliable, but the FDR-X300 has plenty more going for it. Its 4K 30fps video is superb quality, with its impressive Balanced Optical SteadyShot proving to be the highlight; somehow making even the un-steadiest hand-held shots look smooth, Sony’s camera-shake compensation tech is second to none. As a bonus, Sony’s MPK-UWH1 waterproof housing is in the box, which makes the FDR-X3000 waterproof to 60m.
4. Olfi One.Five
Good-value shooter that doubles as a dash-cam
Weight: 55g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 24fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 30-45 mins
Here’s a small camera with a big feature count. A tiny device that squeezes in a Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor, features on the One.Five include motion detection, time-lapses and loop record. The latter continuously overwrites the oldest files, so you can choose when to save the last few minutes. That works well for action sports, and just as well as a dash-cam. However, its 4K video claim comes with caveats; not only will those after 4K video probably sneer at the Olfi One.Five’s 24fps – GoPro and Yi now go up to 60fps – but, even worse, its 4K video is actually interpolated from a 2.8K sensor, so it’s all a bit of a fudge. Its smartphone app isn’t much either, and its battery life is short, but at its core – and especially with the optional 30m-waterproof plastic housing – the Olfi One.Five is a good-value contender for cyclists and even drivers.
5. TomTom Bandit
Auto-editing makes this bullet-cam stand out
Weight: 190g | Waterproof: no | 4K video: up to 15fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: up to 3hrs
The TomTom Bandit has all the core features, but they’re here offered in ‘lite’. For example, there’s no waterproofing, but an included splash-proof lens cover will be enough for most users (and a 40m-capable lens cover is available). Ditto the resolutions; 4K at 15fps isn’t great, and effective slow-motion can only be performed in less-than-HD resolution, but neither will be deal-breakers for most. However, the TomTom Bandit has GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope and pressure sensors, and these are used by the smartphone app’s ‘Create a Story’ section to automatically pick out the highlights from your footage. Better still, all it takes is a shake to create a compilation video, which is easy to upload and share. Battery life is also an impressive three hours.
6. iSaw Edge
A solid action camera that's only let down by low-frame-rate 4K
Weight: 68g | Waterproof: 40m | 4K video: up to 10fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 80 mins
While most of the pricier action cameras deal in 4K video these days, a few years ago it was a real headline-grabber. Consequently, the iSaw Edge was launched with the rather questionable claim of 4K video capability. Technically, it can shoot in 4K, but at just 10fps, fast-moving video is very basic. Despite its 4K woes, the iSaw Edge is pleasing in other areas; a small touchscreen on the reverse offers a live view, and there's the opportunity to fine-tune video with controls like sharpness, exposure and white balance. Together with a plethora of mounts in the box, and a waterproof housing that offers a dive depth of 40m, the iSaw Edge is a good-value package.
7. Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
A data-hungry and exceptionally tough shooter
Weight: 180g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 8MP | Battery life: 90 mins
Designed to cope with the tough stuff, the 4K-capable Tough TG-Tracker is waterproof to 30m without a housing and can perform down to -10ºC. Not only that, but it’s drop-proof from 2m and even crush-proof to 100kg. A flip-out 3.8in screen makes it easy to see what’s being filmed, while an LED headlight makes night shots possible. What’s more, its suite of Action Track Sensors (for GPS, compass, accelerometer, barometric pressure, temperature and water) add data to video. A must-have for those adventuring in extreme climates, this data-hungry, pocket-sized shooter’s only real weak point is its low-resolution photos.
8. SJCAM SJ7 Star
A great-value 4K option, though it excels with Full HD
Weight: 74g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 200fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 2hrs
On first look, the SJ7 Star matches a GoPro where it matters. Its 4K video is detailed and colourful and there's a 2in touchscreen, and even still images impress (it shoots in 12MP, but interpolates up to 16MP). The simple, compact design is another plus and an included waterproof case takes it down to 30m, while an optional SJ Remote snaps onto a watch band. However, dig deeper and the SJ7 Star does lack a few professional qualities. Image stabilisation, for example, isn't possible when shooting in 4K, and you can't take still photos in Raw format. There's also no GPS or voice control – or a decent smartphone app – and that touchscreen is not pleasant to use. However, for those after smooth, dependable Full HD video, the SJ7 Star remains a great-value option.
9. GoPro HERO5 Black
It may have been surpassed, but this classic still impresses
Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs (est)
The key drop-down feature if you swerve the latest HERO6 Black in favour of the HERO5 Black is that the latter cuts the video quality from 4K at 60fps to 4K at 30fps, but whether this matters or not is your call. Other than that, it weighs the same and is also waterproof down to 10m, and has both Voice Control Commands and GPS. Oh, and the brilliant editing apps that help really GoPro standout from the crowd. There are, however, a few drawbacks. The image stabilisation isn't as refined as on the newer version, and the touchscreen can be fiddly to use, especially when it's wet. Those issues aside, the GoPro HERO5 Black remains a great action cameras that's now better value.
10. Garmin VIRB XE
Unbeatable waterproofing and a suite of sensors
Weight: 151g | Waterproof: 50m | 4K video: no | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 2hrs
Could you buy an action camera that only deals in Full HD resolution? The Garmin VIRB XE offers a compelling reason 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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