When you think of the best action cameras, you think of GoPro, right? Well, it's true that GoPro established conventional action camera design, but the best GoPro cameras are now but one choice in a wider world – and at the moment we're not even sure they're top of our list! There are alternatives that are equally or more compelling in their own way.
Not only that, but we're no longer sure the newest GoPro is the best choice for most people either. No, we've not forgotten the Hero 12 Black – but you will have to scroll down!
In any case, let's get to where the action is (sorry), with our top picks of the best action cams right now…
Best action camera overall
Matching most of the features of the GoPro, albeit at 'only' 4K, the Osmo Action 4 boasts a bigger image sensor so performs better in lower light, making this our favourite at a pinch.
Best 360 action camera
Best 360 action camera
360-degree cameras are a category of their own, but this can do everything other action cameras can – and more – for a similar spend. It's worth a serious look. After all, you can't miss a thing!
Best GoPro for most
Best GoPro for most users
If you want the best balance of features, the previous GoPro Hero 11 boasts GPS to record your speed as well as the same 8:7 image sensor and 5.3K video as the newer Hero 12.
Best for editors
Best action cam for editors
With high resolution (though no better than the Hero 11) and excellent features for editors, including Bluetooth mic support and HDR, plus a neat tripod mount, pros should investigate.
Best mini action camera
Best mini action camera
Compact action cameras are ideal for FPV drones or helmet mounts and, like many, this sacrifices the display to maximise the battery. Fold-out mounts improve portability and mountability.
The best action cameras in 2023
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For most adventurer-creators, the Osmo Action 4 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 and it's waterproof to 16m without a case. Best of all, it has a larger image sensor than any other camera on the list, so it is better in lower light, making it more flexible.
DJI did have an interesting experiment with modular design, now seemingly abandoned, with the Action 2, but they do retain powerful magnetic mounts which can even partially survive the heat of an oven (we tried accidentally – see our full review).
Like the more famous competition, DJI has high-quality horizon balancing and image stabilization, which has improved on the Action 3. The resolution limit is 4K, but in practice, this is the ideal resolution for action (and the limit of almost all TVs). More useful is the 120fps capability (or 240fps at 1080P).
The fact that Action 4’s isn’t interwoven with subscription software is one we wholeheartedly appreciate, too, but GoPro seem to finally growing out of this.
Read our full DJI Osmo Action 4 review for more depth.
Best 360 action camera
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
Best GoPro for most users
Despite the Hero 11 Black not being the newest model, GoPro dropped the GPS functionality in the newest model which is something of a shame. looking like every other GoPro since 2019, the steadily upgraded hardware and software are unarguably impressive. 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 (until things get dimly lit or dark), 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.
Best action cam for editors
With a relentless release schedule coming out every year just like the iPhone, you might expect more and more features every year, but this year the GoPro has surprised us. They actually took something away – the much loved (but only by a few we're told) GPS. This allowed to you to record motion metadata to extrapolate speed information. If you want that, look back to the GoPro Hero 11 Black (which, for this reason, remains our favourite GoPro).
The 27-megapixel camera, on the other hand, has remained the same – the adaptable 8:7 sensor with 5.3K60 and the lens with a mod allowing up to 177-degree field of view. It's good, though it doesn't love low light any more than the Hero 11 Black.
There are some advantages to the Hero 12, however, though they are a bit niche. The internal rearrangement has made it last longer before it overheats. Bluetooth audio support means you can narrate your action from headphones with built-in microphones like AirPods, and pros will appreciate the arrival of Timecode Sync and GP-Log and LUT support.
Please read our full GoPro Hero 12 Black review.
Best mini action camera
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
Best budget 4K action camera
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
Best modular action camera
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 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 offers 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. It's a bit sad that DJI's more recent Action 3 (also in this list) adopted a more traditional GoPro-like shape. But if you're happy with this 4K device, there is an interesting world of accessories (as well as adaptors for the traditional ‘GoPro’ style devices), making this a hard option to overlook, especially where a small subscription-free camera is the goal.
Read our full DJI Action 2 review for more details
Best gimbal-stabilized action camera
Is the DJI Pocket 3 an action camera? Well, it's not rugged and waterproof, but given a lot of action cameras are used in the hand on selfie sticks, this is a sensible option to consider. It is easy to use, and has a usably big touchscreen with the third iteration. There is no questioning the superb stabilization, clever 'follow' modes, and flip-around selfie shooting.
There’s also a handy ultrawide lens attachment that, admittedly, definitely drops quality, but adds a field of view. There is also the option of buying in a combo with a DJI Mic 2 that adds a Bluetooth microphone making this an ideal tool for vlogging (the 3 built-in mics can also help cancel the ambient noise). The 1-inch sensor handled mixed and low light well in our tests too.
That aside, the convenience, versatility, and stabilization offered by the DJI Pocket 3 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 connect wirelessly to your smartphone and get big-screen control and playback via the DJI app.
Read our full DJI Pocket 3 review for more details
Best Budget action camera
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
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, means 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. That said, 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!
Is a GoPro better than a phone?
Although some of the latest phones, like the iPhone 14, have image stabilization like a GoPro or other action camera, do you really want to risk breaking your phone? Action cameras have a rugged and compact build which makes them harder to break, and GoPro, for example, has a Pro Tune feature to help get a more professional looking image, too.
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!
Don't forget that there are older models (back to GoPro 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.
But for now, let's get started with our top picks of the best action cams right now…
How we test action 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.
For action cameras, real-world testing is important to us, as our full reviews will make clear.
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.