When you think of the best action cameras, you think of GoPro, right? Well, it's true that GoPro leads the way for conventional action camera design, but while the best GoPro cameras are pretty amazing, there are alternatives that are equally compelling in their own way. DJI, Insta360 and Akaso cameras offer features GoPro cameras don't, or at prices, GoPros can't match.
Our top picks
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Best action camera for most users
The looks might not be very progressive, but the latest GoPro has excellent electronics and a powerful ally in its app, Quik. The only irk is the subscription model GoPro are pushing.
Best 360 action camera
360-degree cameras are a category of their own, but this can do everything other action cameras can – and a whole lot more – for a similar spend. We think it's worth a serious look. After all, if you're shooting in every direction, you won't miss a thing!
Introduction to action cameras
DJI is perhaps GoPro's best-known rival, but certainly not the only one. There's a lot of crossover in this market with other areas like the best 360º cameras, and the newly updated modular Insta360 One RS Twin Edition includes both an action camera module and a 360 module – it's two cameras in one!
And while the GoPro Hero 11 Black takes the top spot in our list, don't forget that GoPro keeps older models (back to Hero 8) on sale at reduced prices. Or, for a completely different take on the concept of action cameras, check out the amazing offerings from Insta360 also on our list. We thought we'd also throw you a curve ball with the DJI Pocket 2. It's not a rugged go-anywhere camera like a GoPro, but it's a pocket-sized gimbal camera with stabilization, 'follow' modes, and image quality way beyond what its size suggests.
These action cameras aren't the only way to record your adventures. For a step up in quality, check out our guide to the best cameras for vlogging. Alternatively, for a whole new perspective, we have a guide to the best camera drones, which are like having an action camera in the sky.
But for now, let's get started with our top picks of the best action cams right now…
The best action cameras in 2023
Despite the Hero 11 Black looking like every other GoPro this side of 2019, with upgraded hardware and software, it's a triumph on all fronts. The new, almost square sensor is supremely versatile, the camera's software has been simplified successfully, and GoPro's companion app, Quik has also been improved.
With best-in-class stabilization, great-looking video in all but dimly-lit and dark scenes, and some fun new modes like light painting, the Hero 11 Black is an excellent addition to the line. The Hero 11 Black's 8:7 aspect ratio is also a standout highlight for content creators. Able to shoot in 5.3K resolution, 8:7 video at up to 30fps, its footage can be losslessly cropped to create new 4K portrait, landscape, and square clips from a single video.
On top of 8:7 video, the Hero 11 Black captures 5.3K resolution video at 60 fps, 4K resolution video at 120 fps, or 2.7K resolution at 240 fps. You can also grab 27MP stills from 5.3K video. Overall this is particularly appealing to folks who use multiple social platforms, nothing else can do quite what the 11 Black can.
Read our full GoPro Hero 11 Black review for more details and GoPro Subscription explained: what you get, and is it worth it?
There are times when handling even an action camera's wide-angle lens becomes a problem, and that's where a 360-degree action camera can step in. With two back-to-back lenses and enough smarts to eliminate a selfie stick from the footage, this almost magic camera can capture an image from a point within reach looking any direction you see fit.
I tried it with the bike attachment – which holds the camera a little way in front of the bike, over the front wheel – and was amazed at the footage which makes it look like I'm cycling toward a perfectly controlled drone. Better still, by syncing with my phone I could draw GPS data and have it overlaid, in the form of a speedometer, by the Insta360 app before sharing.
The only real worry is how naked those glass lenses are when the camera is in use; the joy of re-positioning the camera angle after the fact can be hours of fun. 5.7K is good enough for sharing, but more resolution would help pro work.
Read our full Insta 360 X3 review for more details
With no displays and a smaller form factor than the Hero 11, this version of the GoPro is well suited to those needing to save on size and weight – it's especially useful for FPV drone pilots or cyclists who don't want something pulling their helmets down. Since few extreme sports will actually allow a lot of time for shot composition, many will have little reason to opt for a more complicated device – video can be reviewed afterward using the GoPro Quik app, or the card downloaded to a computer for editing.
Though we're no fans of the subscription system GoPro is so keen to push users toward, we can't deny the quality of the device and the common sense behind things like the fold-out action-camera fittings and the ability to run continuously from a USB-C power pack.
Read our full GoPro Hero 11 Black Mini review for more details
Leading drone maker DJI forced a re-think for GoPro by introducing a front screen to their first action camera; a handy innovation for bloggers.
The new Action 2 puts even more choice in the user’s hands, coming as a tiny 39x39mm square camera core that can be operated alone or attached (by a magnetic clip) to other units which offer more connectivity, battery life, and a front-facing screen.
The camera has a 1 / 1.7” sensor and RockSteady 2.0 and HorizonSteady image stabilization. Even paired, it is only around the size of a GoPro, though on the downside the rear touchscreen is only the size of the main camera unit.
The modular system is strong and has immense gadget value (though can get a bit hot when charging), while DJI’s Mimo app makes control via your phone painless.
There is an interesting new world of accessories (as well as adaptors for the traditional ‘GoPro’ style ones), making this a hard option to overlook.
Read our full DJI Action 2 review for more details
The Insta360 Go 2 is a long way from the rugged adventure cameras in the rest of this guide. It's a cute and tiny wearable camera you can clip to your clothing, snap to a magnetic pendant around your neck, prop up on your own desk in its own holder, stick to a car dash or window... and more.
Capable of unique immersive POV shorts and also worth considering as a minimalist rig for vloggers, the lightweight Insta360 Go 2 has some surprisingly big features for such a small camera. Excellent image stabilization, ‘horizon lock’, and a multi-functional battery case make this versatile clip-on camera more than just a novelty item.
It's not an action camera in the same sense as the rest, but its tiny size means it can film things you might never have attempted before.
Read our full Insta360 Go 2 review for more details
Is the DJI Pocket 2 an action camera? Well, it's not rugged and waterproof, but it's pocket-sized, simple to operate, and does many of the jobs you might have bought an action camera for – and with superb stabilization, smooth 'follow' modes, and flip-around selfie shooting.
There’s also a handy ultrawide lens attachment that definitely drops quality, but adds a field of view. Despite some real highlights: shallower depth of field than expected and nippy focusing, not to mention great object tracking and color reproduction, noise handling isn’t a highlight on the Pocket 2.
That aside, the convenience, versatility, and stabilization offered by the DJI Pocket 2 can’t be overstated. After all, nothing much can do all the things it can and still slip into a jacket pocket. You can even plug it into your smartphone and get big-screen control and playback via the DJI app.
Read our full DJI Pocket 2 review for more details
For most adventurers, the Osmo Action 3 is the perfect balance of quality and price. Stabilized 4K video looks great and the camera can take a lot – not just rough and tumble but temperature extremes. It isn’t cheap, but the RRP is comfortably less than a similar GoPro and won’t push you toward a subscription after 12 months.
While it is a little sad to see DJI's modular design seemingly abandoned, the Action 3 is easier to manage and more capable. The only sacrifice is the larger size and weight, but it still has the standard GoPro beat. The EIS remains excellent from the previous generation; RockSteady and HorizonBalancing both produce smooth video from aggressive action. For most 4K is the ideal resolution for action, especially with up to 120fps.
The fact that Action 3’s isn’t interwoven with subscription software is one we wholeheartedly appreciate, too.
Read our full DJI Osmo Action 3 review for more details
GoPro’s first action camera to feature a vlogging-style front-facing screen is now better value than ever. It allows you to frame yourself while vlogging, when used as a webcam, or just for selfies. The resolution got a boost too, with 20 megapixel stills capability and a 5K video shooting. The latter will be overkill for many, but it also allows 14.7 megapixel grabs from video, which could be hard to resist.
It’s also got a larger 2.27-inch display than the older GoPro Hero8 Black, super-smooth Hypersmooth 3.0 video stabilization, TimeWarp 3.0 for handheld time-lapses, a travel case. There’s also a Max Lens Mod accessory that will bring GoPro Max-style features like 360º horizon lock and an ultra-wide 155º Max SuperView mode.
Read our full GoPro Hero9 review for more details
If you’re looking for one of the best GoPro alternatives(opens in new tab) for all-round basic use then the Wolfgang GA400 action camera (US$119.99 / £119.99) should be on your radar.
Boasting 4K 60fps video and up to 20-megapixel stills, it appears to match its much pricier rivals both on resolution and by having a natively waterproof chassis. It’s loaded with accessories and easy to use yet it lacks some crucially important characteristics that flagship action cameras alone offer.
With good quality, if imperfect, 4K video and good 20MP stills, the GA400 makes a great alternative to one of the big brands of action camera if you’re after results a level below the cinematic quality offered by the leading action camera brands. At this mid-range level, the build quality is excellent and the touchscreen is responsive while the onscreen menus are intuitive and easy to use.
Read our full Wolfgang GA400 review for more details
If you need a front screen for vlogging – or to ensure you stay in the shot as you film yourself skiing down a slope with a selfie stick – then this is a bargain buy. It has the same killer feature found on the GoPro Hero 9 and the DJI Osmo Action, but the second screen comes at a fraction of the cost.
You get 4K shooting and 20-megapixel stills - plus a capable 6-axis image stabilization system. There is a good range of accessories in the box too - including a second battery, mounts, and underwater housing. Note, though, that unlike with many rivals you need to use this housing before you take your action cam into the water.
Read our full Akaso Brave 7 LE review for more details
How we test cameras
We test cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and, for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We only use real-world testing for our guides to instant and compact cameras - comparing results against similar models that we have tested.
What is an action camera?
Action cameras is a catch-all term for those designed to be used in rough conditions to capture the action from scuba diving, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and other activities. Because the cameras are rugged, and usually allow for slow-motion and time-lapse, there are plenty of other uses too.
What is the best low light action camera?
Good question. Cameras designed to capture fast-moving images – especially slow-motion – keep their shutters open for very short periods, which isn't good for low light. The other solution, a big image sensor, mean you need a big heavy camera and lens which is also not ideal here. So, as a rule, no action cameras are brilliant at shooting in very low light, but the GoPro Hero11 Black has made some notable strides in that area, as has the DJI Osmo Action 3.
Are action cameras good for photography?
Not always. It's easy to knock a small camera when shooting, so you'll need a good support. Secondly some don't even support still shooting – including the GoPro Hero 11 Black Mini. In bright conditions it might be preferable to keep shooting video and select stills in post, but it's worth remembering that this may be forced upon you!
How to choose an action camera
Choosing an action camera involves balancing several factors. One is, inevitably, price. Others to keep your eye on are:
- Subscription – This is a modern issue; GoPro (and, for now, only GoPro) will seek to charge you for a cloud service that unlocks some features. Are these features worth it to you, and are there better alternatives that won't incur an ongoing cost? DJI's Osmo Action 3 becomes very tempting at this point.
- 360-degree – We have a complete list of 360-degree cameras, of which the Insta360 X3 is probably the most accessible. It's an alternative worth considering; the lenses are more exposed, but you capture footage all around the camera.
- Control – Do you need a screen to control the camera, or will you be happy using your phone? Will you have to take gloves on and off to start shooting while keeping your feet in snowboard bindings?
- Stills mode – Not every camera has one, so will you need it?
- Resolution – Numbers above 4K are impressive, though you'll likely end up editing down to 4K, where most better TVs are. It still helps have some room to crop though!
- Slow-motion – If you'll want to slow down some cool moments of action, see what the highest frame rate available is. 240fps will let you go half the speed of 120fps.
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