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The best action cameras in 2021: action cams you can take just about anywhere

best action cameras
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may think that a list of the best action cameras would just be GoPro, GoPro, GoPro. But this isn't the case! While it's true the action camera giant does dominate, and you'll see the best GoPro cameras well represented in our guide, there are loads of fabulous action cameras out there from many different brands. What's more, many of them are significantly cheaper than the market leader, so those looking to make a saving would do well to consider their options.

With all that said, if you're looking for the absolute best action camera you can buy right now – spoilers – we think it's pretty unquestionably the GoPro Hero9 Black. This tiny wonder is able to shoot 5K video at 30fps, and is also waterproof down to 10m. Also, taking a cue from one of its biggest rivals, the DJI Osmo Action, it also has a front-facing screen that is perfect for vloggers, making it easier than ever to record yourself and produce incredible content for social media and YouTube.

DJI is not the only rival on the scene, however. There's a lot of crossover in this market with other areas like the best 360 cameras, and cameras from the likes of Insta360 are often capable of shooting in action-camera conditions! This company now makes the modular Insta360 One R Twin Edition, which includes both an action camera module and a 360 module. Of course, GoPro has hit back with its own 360-degree models, most recently the GoPro Max, so you really are spoiled for choice

The fact of the matter is that the best action camera will be different for most users! Depending on whether you need the most resolution, the best waterproofing, the hardiest shockproofing or just the lowest price tag, there's a wealth of choice out there. That's why it's great to have a good guide to the best action cameras out there, so you can make an informed choice.

We've scoured the internet for our favorite models. We've taken into account all sorts of different factors when making our picks, including price, so you can be sure you're getting a good deal. We'll never include a camera we don't think is worth buying. 

If you're more video-focused, you may also want to check out our guide to the best cameras for vlogging. Alternatively, we have a list of the best underwater cameras for those who want more options for shooting under the sea.

But for now, let's get started with our top picks of the best action cams right now…

The best action cameras in 2021

(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 first 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.

Best action camera: Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition

(Image credit: Insta360)

5. Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition

A unique proposition of both 4K and 360 action cams

Weight: Not specified | Dimensions: 72 x 48 x 32.4 mm | Waterproof: 16 feet (optional housings also supported) | Stills resolution: Not specified | Video resolution: 5.7K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Bespoke mounting bracket | Battery life: Not specified

4K and 360º lens options
RAW photos and 100mbps video
Optional 1-inch action cam mod
Small-ish touchscreen

Released at the start of 2020, the Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition is a very enticing proposition indeed, because it can be used both as an action camera and a 360 camera. Essentially it's called "Twin Edition" because it's two cameras in one, coming with two lens modules that are easy to swap between. One turns it into a straight 4K action camera, the other gives it 360º-shooting capability, and it's got loads of extra features too, including 5m of waterproofing (which can be extended with a special housing). AI-powered algorithms also augment the various shooting modes, and particularly impressive Auto Frame  mode, which can automatically find and pick out the action in a 360º video. There is also 1-inch Leica camera mod gives you another option – you can swap out the 360 module for a high-quality action cam. The Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition is a great buy if you want to take your action camera footage in all sorts of different directions.

Read more: Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition review

(Image credit: Akaso)

6: AKASO EK7000 Pro

Best budget-priced action camera

Weight: 61g | Waterproof: Yes, to 40 metres | 4K video: At 25fps | 1080p video: At 60fps | 720p video: No | Stills resolution: 16 megapixels | Battery life: Up to 90 minute per charge

4K video capture, 
Remote operation 
No Bluetooth connectivity

This upgrade of the 2016 EX7000 model sticks a ‘Pro’ suffix on the name and shoehorns in 4K shooting. In fact we appear to get a decent return for our cash as this model also features 16MP photos and two-inch touch screen. There’s anti shake too, albeit of the electronic variety, while waterproof housing enables it to withstand depths of 131ft (40m) and a selectable diving mode allows users to compensate for a lack of red light for underwater scenes. Images are saved to optional microSD card, which is obviously an extra cost. Included in the box is a remote controller that can be strapped to your wrist, plus various mounts and tethering cables and the two lithium polymer batteries it requires. As the above suggests, Wi-Fi is included here, as is the ability to achieve time-lapse special effects, so in all this is an option worth further investigation. 

(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: Akaso )

6: Akaso Brave 7 LE

A twin-screen action cam for less

Weight: 61g | Waterproof: 3ft/1m (131ft/40m with supplied casing) | 4K video: At 30fps | 1080p video: At 60/30fps | 720p video: 240/120/60fps | Stills resolution: 20 megapixels | Battery life: Up to 90 minute per charge

Front LCD screen
4K video capture
6-axis stabilization
Low price
Needs to be put in case to be fully waterproof

If you need a front screen for vlogging - or to ensure you stay in 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 an underwater housing. Note, though, that unlike with many rivals you need to use this housing before you take your action cam into the water.

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

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