Not surprisingly, any list of the best action cameras is dominated by GoPro, especially since the company keeps its older products on sale at lower prices alongside it's new ones. Most folk would simply go for the best GoPro, but there are plenty of alternatives which are cheaper, smarter or offer better quality.
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.
But should your action camera be good for only one type of video? We're seeing a lot more crossover in this market now. It started when a couple of the best 360 cameras brought swing-around lenses to shoot in 3D, and one of the leaders in this area, Insta360, now makes the modular Insta360 One R Twin Edition, which comes with both an action camera module and a 360 module, for experimenters who want to try all sorts of different filming techniques. Even the mighty GoPro Hero can't do both!
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?
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 2021
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.