Capture your high-jinks with our favourite action cameras
In 2017 we seem compelled to share every aspect of our lives on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram – but that means we occasionally share some cool stuff too. Activities like running, cycling and scuba diving are actually pretty cool, and thanks to new camera technology, we’re now able to share them with our friends. These action videos are where it’s at, and if you really want to show off your madcap endeavours, you’ll need an action camera to make them.
Whether you’re zip-lining under a rainforest canopy in Laos, surviving the rapids in Alaska or simply rolling down the A590, you’ll need an action camera that’s both tough and versatile enough to be mounted where you need it. Because it’ll be stuck on your helmet, the side of a boat, or on a bonnet, your action camera will need to be able to survive a few knocks along the way and be resistant to the elements.
Best action cameras
1. GoPro Hero 5 Black
The GoPro Hero 5 Black crams a lot of features into a single, compact action camera. It’s got something for everyone and with the addition of waterproofing (without the need of a case), electronic image stabilisation, RAW capture and a touchscreen LCD over its predecessor, the Hero 4 Black, the Hero 5 Black is one of the most comprehensive action cameras on the market today.
SPECS – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps) AV connections: Micro-HDMI output Size (HxWxD): 44.5 x 62 x 32mm Weight: 117g Warranty: One-year RTB
2. GoPro Hero 5 Session
The Hero 5 session is the compact version of the Hero 5 Black. It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles, but still has video stabilisation, 4K recording capabilities, waterproofing, a 10-megapixel camera and incredible battery life for such a compact action camera. The Hero 5 Session is a great alternative to the Hero 5 Black, but in its own right provides a cheaper option for action camera-goers.
SPECS – Sensor: 1/3.2in CMOS Sensor pixels: 10 megapixels Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps) AV connections: None Size (HxWxD): 37.9 x 37.9 x 36.1mm Weight: 73g Warranty: One-year RTB
3. GoPro Hero4 Black
The GoPro Hero4 Black was once deemed the best action camera money can buy. It has 4K resolution support at 30fps, where many rivals limit you to far jerkier frame rates. Video can be recorded in high bit rates, resulting in supremely sharp and detailed images. You also have a wide range of high frame rate options without sacrificing too much resolution, making the Hero4 Black incredibly versatile. With its reduction in price, the Hero4 Black is still an excellent choice for an action camera.
SPECS – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps) AV connections: Micro-HDMI output, 3.5mm microphone to mini-USB (optional) Size (HxWxD): 41 x 59 x 30mm Weight: 89g (152g with housing) Warranty: One-year RTB
4. GoPro Hero4 Session
The GoPro Hero4 Session was the company’s first small-form-factor camera on the market. It was and still is aimed at those who want a simple action camera, which is easy to operate through its one-button design, yet capable of shooting 1440p at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps. It can now be found in the sub-£150 price category, making the Hero4 Session an excellent budget action camera.
Read our full GoPro Hero4 Session review for details
SPECS – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 8 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1440p (30fps) AV connections: None Size (HxWxD): 35 x 35 x 35mm Weight: 74g Warranty: One-year RTB
5. Sony FDR-X1000V
The Sony FDR-X1000V is an action camera capable of 4K recording, where it records at a high bitrate providing excellent video recordings. The camera is splash-proof and can survive a submersion depth of 10m when placed inside its waterproof case. If you purchase the additional Dive Door accessory from Sony, you’ll be able to reach 60m. The camera is slightly hard to find, but if you can find it for sub-£280, it’s an excellent 4K action camera.
SPECS – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 8.8-megapixel Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps) AV connections: Micro-HDMI, 3.5mm microphone input Size (HxWxD): 24.4 x 51.7 x 88.9mm Weight: 114g Warranty: One-year RTB
6. Drift Innovation Ghost S
The Drift Innovation Ghost S’s low-profile squat design makes for some rock-solid, stable footage. The lens rotates on the front, meaning you can mount it in any orientation and still have footage come out the right way up. Decent battery life and video quality make it a great choice.
SPECS – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: Mini-HDMI, 3.5mm microphone input Size (HxWxD): 105 x 52 x 33mm Weight: 171g Warranty: One-year RTB
7. Veho Muvi K2NPNG
The Veho Muvi K2NPNG was a real bargain surprise when we reviewed it. It comes with plenty of useful mounts and accessories, including a handy hard case for transporting the camera. Being able to shoot 1080p at 60fps is also a real boon for a camera at this price point, too. It’s got excellent battery life as well.
SPECS – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 16 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: Mini-HDMI Size (HxWxD): 40 x 23 x 60mm Weight: 84g Warranty: One-year RTB
8. Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi
The Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi takes a different design approach to most action cameras, with its long cylindrical body that makes it resemble a small telescope. Useful haptic vibrations let you know when it’s recording, perfect for when you can’t see the camera – such as when it’s mounted on a helmet. It’s also waterproof to 15m without the need to put it in a separate case. It has dropped in price drastically, meaning it can be had for less than £100, making it an absolute bargain.
SPECS – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 16 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (30fps) AV connections: Micro-HDMI Size (HxWxD): 21 x 53 x 111mm Weight: 177g Warranty: One-year RTB
9. GoPro Hero+ LCD
The GoPro Hero+ LCD is one of GoPro’s entry-level action cameras but it doesn’t skimp on some of the more useful features such as an LCD screen and app connectivity. The touchscreen LCD also allows for useful functions such as quickly trimming videos down in length for quick sharing on social media. Image quality is great for the money, too.
SPECS – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 8 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: None Dimensions (HxWxD): 54 x 70 x 37mm Weight: 127g Warranty: One-year RTB
Action camera buying guide
Shapes and sizes
Action cameras vary greatly in terms of design, and this affects the situations in which the cameras can be used and what kinds of mount are available. Mounts can range from helmet mounts, to chest mounts to adhesive mounts that attach to anything. Action cameras also differ in how ruggedised and water-resistant they are. Most of the cameras we test offer a degree of water resistance right out of the box, but some also come with a waterproof case that will allow you to take them to far greater depths. Such cameras make for great companions on scuba diving trips or even just larking about at the water park.
Action cameras can vary considerably in size and design depending on what they’re intended for. It’s therefore important to consider what kinds of activities you’ll want to record before you buy. In our reviews we discuss what mounts the camera comes with as standard, and if there are any optional mounts or accessories available. Some action cameras also have standard camera tripod threads, which means you can use them with third-party accessories or a tripod.
Most cameras will be able to shoot in 1080p/60fps at a minimum, although the more budget options might only provide 30fps. The frame rate will affect how smooth the resulting footage is. Some of the more high-end action cameras can shoot at 4K resolutions, but again it’s worth noting what frame rate is available. Some might limit you to a slightly jerky 15fps at their highest resolution. There are normally many resolution and frame rate combinations on offer.
If you want to create impressive slow-motion videos, some cameras will allow you to record at 100fps or even as high as 240fps if you’re willing to sacrifice some resolution. Slow-motion videos are useful if you plan on recording sport and want to critique form, or simply if you want to create fancy-looking videos to impress your friends.
Action cameras aren’t just good for recording video. You can also use them to capture still images where traditional cameras dare not venture. It’s worth taking a look at the megapixel rating of the sensor although you don’t need much for printing at smaller sizes and most will suffice for sharing on social media. Photos can also be compiled together to create a time-lapse effect, with some cameras have automatic exposures at various durations to achieve this.
Battery life is also going to be very important for an action camera. There’s little point lugging one around on your adventures if its battery won’t go the distance. We test the battery life of each camera while recording video constantly to give you an idea of what to expect. We also mention if the battery is user-replaceable, too, meaning you can carry a spare with you for longer adventures.
It’s worth noting that temperatures will affect battery life. More adverse conditions, particularly extreme cold, can impact battery performance. We do our testing in temperate London, but you might not see the same battery life we got, if you’re scaling the Alps in subzero temperatures, if in doubt buy an action cam that can take extra batteries and pack some for your trip.
Apps and controls
Some action cameras have controls on the unit to let you change settings, as well as colour displays to help you preview the footage you’ve taken. Others have very simple controls on the camera’s body, and rely on connecting over Wi-Fi to your smartphone to change settings such as the video record mode. These apps also often let you play back footage wirelessly on your phone; we discuss how well each app worked in our reviews.
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