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Best Action Cameras [2021]: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

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Best Action Camera

Best of the Best
GoPro HERO9 Black - Waterproof Action Camera with Front LCD and Touch Rear...
Runner Up
(Renewed) GoPro HERO8 Black 4K Waterproof Action Camera - Black
Most Versatile
Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition – Action Camera & 360 Camera with...
GoPro Hero9
GoPro Hero8
Insta360 One R Twin Edition
Best of the Best
GoPro HERO9 Black - Waterproof Action Camera with Front LCD and Touch Rear...
GoPro Hero9
Runner Up
(Renewed) GoPro HERO8 Black 4K Waterproof Action Camera - Black
GoPro Hero8
Most Versatile
Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition – Action Camera & 360 Camera with...
Insta360 One R Twin Edition

Action cameras are excellent for capturing fast-flowing action whatever that may be.

If you’re a keen adventurer or sports enthusiast looking to take some epic 4K footage, then it’s time to invest in an action camera if you haven’t already. Action cameras come in handy where your regular camera fails. To record rapid movements, you need a specialized action camera that is designed to meet your needs.

While yes, it’s true, GoPro has a firm hold of the market, there’s good reason for it due to the high-quality devices they’re known for putting out consistently.

There are other options though, too, in case you’re looking to steer clear of the dominant action camera brand for whatever reason.

Here’s what to expect in this article:

  •  Reviews of the best action camera
  •  A detailed selection guide
  •  Your burning questions answered in a FAQ

Without further ado, here are our top picks…

👑 Our Pick for Best Overall

GoPro Hero9
The GoPro Hero9 is an outstanding action camera, and the best GoPro have put out to date. It has everything you could want in an action camera, including advanced image stabilization and stunning 5K video. This is backed up by a wealth of useful and fun features such as TimeWarp 3.0 time lapse, 8x slo-mo, and live streaming at 1080p.

Our Other Top Picks for Action Cameras

Best Action Camera Reviews

GoPro Hero9 (👑 Best of the Best)

It’s our opinion that the best action camera is the GoPro Hero 9, which should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with the brand’s stellar reputation in the action camera market.

This 4k action camera from GoPro is without a doubt the most versatile action camera there is today, and is a big improvement on its predecessor the Hero 8. This device has a ludicrous number of features, a sleek compact design, and outstanding video quality which all combine for breathtaking footage whatever the unfolding action happens to be. There’s one trait that makes this action camera stand head and shoulders above all others, which is the first feature we’ll address.

The most prominent feature of the Hero9 is the 5K video it’s capable of capturing. Yes, you read that right, this camera offers up stunning 5K footage as opposed to the 4K footage obtained by most other action cameras in the field. To give you an idea of what this means: 5K is approximately 7x more resolution than HD. This means that there can be no questions as to which action camera produces the highest quality video, at least as far as resolution goes. This is the camera for those who want to impress their audience with lifelike visuals that allow for never before seen immersion for the viewer, who gets to experience every last moment along with you. The 5K video recording also preserves the picture quality when you zoom in, so you don’t have to worry about sacrificing quality when you want that special close-up shot. The inclusion of 5K doesn’t come at the expense of 4K though, as you’ll still be able to record in 4K at a smooth 60p. While the higher quality 5K video resolution is limited to 30p, so you’ll have various options in how you capture the action.

The supporting video features of the Hero9 are almost as impressive as the 5K resolution, and they contribute a lot to ensuring the footage is clear and stable. First, there’s the excellent image stabilization technology which goes by the name of HyperSmooth 3.0. This is what GoPro refers to as its ‘most advanced video stabilization ever’, which means a lot coming from the action camera behemoth. One of the features that makes this image stabilization a step above the rest is the horizon leveling, which ensures your video is correctly angled, even if you’re flying through the air or diving underwater. This will help keep things immersive for the viewer and easy to watch, minimizing the risk for the audience of motion sickness.

That’s not all though, there are several other features that enhance the video quality of the Hero9. TimeWarp 3.0 is a fun addition to the camera, which allows the user to record incredible time lapse scenes even while on the move. The technology condenses time so that something which took a long time in reality, can be played back as a clip that isn’t longer than a few seconds. Speed Ramp is new to the TimeWarp technology, and it allows you to select Real Speed or Half Speed as you record, and it has been updated to allow the recording of audio too. 

Another fun feature is the 8x slo-mo, which makes for the most epic shots of moving subjects, with an ultra high frame rate of 240fps at 1080p. HyperSmooth 3.0 works in combination with slo-mo too, to deliver the smoothest possible shots.

The last huge feature worthy of mention – aside from the 20 Megapixel camera – is the ability to live stream with the Hero9. If you’ve ever been surfing, skiing, or engaged in any other sport or activity that’s fast-flowing and full of action, then you’ll know how enticing the idea of broadcasting it live to the world can be. This couldn’t be easier to do with this device, as you can stream at 1080p on social, and broadcast via the GoPro app, recording it for later access as you go.

To complete the experience of the most recent GoPro, you’ll have two screens to look at, 30% more battery life than its predecessor, a waterproof body that can go to a depth of 10m, and compatibility with more than 40 different mounts. All in all the Hero9 offers up a comprehensive action camera experience, one unlike any other.

Features:

  •  5K at 30p/4K at 60p
  •  20 Megapixel photos
  •  Front and rear display
  •  8x slow motion
  •  Live streaming 1080p
  •  HyperSmooth 3.0 image stabilization
  •  TimeWarp 3.0 time lapse
  •  Waterproof to 10m depth
  •  Compatible with 40+ mounts

GoPro Hero8 (🥈 Runner Up)

Yes, perhaps predictably, the second best action camera (at least in our view) is the predecessor of the GoPro Hero9; the Hero8.

The GoPro Hero8 is of course cheaper than the recent Hero9, and still offers up a premium experience for capturing flowing action without a hitch. This is due to GoPro’s market-leading technology such as its impressive HyperSmooth image stabilization, as well as the streamlined design and top quality video recording.

First, let’s talk video quality. Whereas the Hero8 may not have the same stunning 5K video of its more recent counterpart, it does offer epic 4K footage at a very smooth 60fps. If you don’t need the very best video quality (which unless you want to build a large audience you probably don’t), then 4K at 60fps is the best you can expect for an action camera. The footage you can record will be every bit as impressive as you might expect, so you can produce some absolutely epic shots which will be threaded together seamlessly through the high frame rate.

No GoPro is complete though without some advanced image stabilization technology to keep things steady. The Hero8 is equipped with the highly competent HyperSmooth 2.0, which, like the Hero9’s version, offers horizon levelling. This makes it exceptionally easy to produce professional-level action videos that don’t induce motion sickness in the viewer. The horizon leveling is very useful as it will keep your shot at the right angle, even while recording in slo-mo. The 8x slo-mo is a lot of fun to play around with, and you’ll find yourself using it fairly often as you attempt to capture the action in all its glory.

TimeWarp 2.0 grants you the ability to capture ultra stabilized time lapse videos, even while moving. It adjusts speed based on several factors, such as the speed, and the lighting around you. It will even let you slow down the time lapse in real time, and speed it back up. This feature alone adds so much complexity and versatility to the camera, and helps you make footage that really stands out. This extends to nighttime adventures too, as you can shoot night lapse video in 4K for some interesting evening cityscapes, sunsets, or other late night shoots.

As for photos, the Hero8 has SuperPhoto and HDR, so you can capture great shots at 12 Megapixels, and even in low light conditions. Plus the LiveBurst function allows you to record the moments 1.5 seconds before and after the shot, so that you can capture the perfect photo or video.

You can livestream with this camera at 1080p, which makes it possible to broadcast your recording all over the world. If you love the idea of building a name for yourself or developing an audience for your action videos, then this is a feature that you’ll learn to love.

Features:

  •  4K video at 60fps
  •  4K video at 60fps
  •  HyperSmooth 2.0 image stabilization
  •  TimeWarp 2.0 time lapse
  •  LiveBurst
  •  1080p live streaming
  •  12 Megapixel camera
  •  8x slo-mo 
  •  Front and rear screens
GoPro Hero8
The GoPro Hero8 is an excellent action camera which is the perfect option if you don’t quite have the budget/need for the advanced features of the newer Hero9.

Insta360 One R Twin Edition (💎 Most Versatile)

If you’re looking for a non-GoPro action camera for whatever reason, then you can’t go too far wrong with the Insta360 One R Twin Edition.

While it isn’t the cheapest action camera, there’s a lot of reasons to strongly consider the Insta360 device. This is an action camera that’s a fantastic all-round device that delivers on all levels, and offers up unique 360-degree footage. It also boasts stunning video quality, which is where we’ll start in this review.

The Insta360 One R Twin Edition is noteworthy for a few impressive features, but it’s the video quality we’ll focus on first. The wide angle lens allows for stunning 4K footage at an ultra smooth 60fps framerate, while the 360 dual-lens mod allows the user to capture 5.7K footage. Yes, that’s right, you can record in a staggering 5.7K resolution and with a range of 360 degrees too. If you’re confused as to how the action camera pulls off these widely different resolutions and view angles, it’s because the Insta360 has interchangeable lenses. There are three of these lenses, otherwise referred to as ‘mods’, which are the dual-lens 360 degree one, a wide angle- Leica lens, and a 4K mod.

In addition to the variety provided by the different lenses, this camera comes with top level image stabilization which improves the overall video quality. This technology goes by the name of ‘FlowState’, and uses a scene-detection algorithm to keep footage clear and steady, even in low light conditions. This is coupled with Bullet Time 2.0, which puts you at the ‘heart of the action’ according to the manufacturer, doing so with automatic horizon levelling and smart speed-ramping. You can even highlight key moments with cinematic slo-mo, or get things moving even faster with stabilized hyperlapse.

As for the 360 degree mod, you can simply select a subject with just a single tap or a basic voice command, and by doing so the camera’s powerful AI tracking algorithm will keep the subject in center-frame. Deep Track goes a step further too and picks up a shot even if the line of sight is broken for a moment or two. The 360 degree footage can be edited to perfection in the aptly-named Shot Lab which allows you to creatively experiment with your footage with the latest techniques. You can even record in slo-mo with the 360 degree mod, at a resolution of 3K and a framerate of 100fps. To check the footage, simply swipe the touch screen and you can quickly preview the shot and play it back to see what you captured. Lastly, you can see GPS-enabled stats on screen such as speed, altitude, direction, and route.

Features:

  •  5.7K video with 360 degree mod and 4K with wide angle
  •  FlowState image stabilization
  •  2 interchangeable lenses
  •  Waterproof to depth of 5m
  •  Point to Track
  •  Hyperlapse
  •  Voice control
  •  Slow motion
  •  Bullet Time 2.0
Insta360 One R Twin Edition
The Insta360 One R Twin Edition is the best of the rest. While it may not be quite on the level of GoPro, this device is highly versatile and offers up unique 360 degree footage at a breathtaking 5.7K resolution.

Ultimate Guide

Choosing an action camera that’s well suited to your needs can be tricky, unless you know exactly what to look for.

The obvious choice is to go with the latest device by GoPro, since the company has such a stellar reputation for producing high quality action cameras, but you should still assess various options before you make a decision.

While it’s easy to be drawn to the video resolution as the greatest indicator of video quality, this isn’t entirely true, as other features can contribute to this.

Here are some features that you should consider before you part with your hard-earned cash.

Video Quality

As we mentioned, video quality isn’t only determined by the resolution you record in, though it certainly is a major factor.

We’ll start by discussing resolution, before we get into some of the other factors involved in producing top quality video.

Resolution

As you’ll be aware if you have some knowledge about cameras, the resolution they record in will determine how crisp the footage will turn out.

The higher the resolution, the better the overall quality of the video will be.

When it comes to action cameras, the majority of them (the ones worth your time at least) will shoot in full 4K resolution.

However, you can’t always believe what you read, since some cameras upscale to 4K which isn’t the same as shooting in native 4K.

This is significant, so if you want the real deal, make sure you read up on the camera you’re interested in to see if it can handle true 4K.

While for most video recording cameras 4K is the upper limit when it comes to resolution, some action cameras have raised the bar and gone one better.

These days, it isn’t uncommon to see claims of 5K resolution, or something even better than that.

The latest GoPro, for example, the Hero9 claims to record in full 5K, which if the footage posted by the brand is to be believed, is a true leap forward for capturing fast-flowing action.

Surely this will soon be the new standard for action cameras, but for now, only a few devices can offer up this superior 5K resolution so unless you’re willing to shell out you may have to settle for 4K.

Image Stabilization

As you might imagine, while image stabilization is important for any video recording camera, for an action camera it’s paramount.

Can you imagine taking your action camera out into the field to record some epic footage, only to realize afterwards that the footage is blurry and causes motion sickness in the viewer?

This would be a nightmare, so understandably action camera manufacturers prioritize image stabilization in their devices.

Good image stabilization requires a powerful processor, so this is a good reason to pay attention to the processing power of the action camera you’re considering.

One of the best ways to decipher the technical jargon and names given to image stabilization technologies by different brands is to see for yourself.

If you’re considering a GoPro for example, head over to the brand’s popular Youtube channel and watch a handful of videos, ideally ones which capture footage similar to what you want to shoot yourself.

Better still, try and find videos of the camera that individuals that aren’t in any way associated with the brand have taken, that way you might get a more realistic idea of how well it works.

Field of View

The last main feature with regards to the overall quality of video is the field of view.

This feature is a lot more subjective than the other two, as the best field of view for you may not be the best for someone else.

It really depends on what type of action you’re trying to capture.

If you want to shoot broad scenes of skiers hurling down a snow-capped mountain, then perhaps a wider field of view is more appropriate. If, instead, you want to follow an individual as they surf colossal waves, then you’d be better served with a more narrow field of view.

The main two options are 90 and 180 degrees.

While 90 degrees captures a more narrow field of view, 180 degrees records double that, and is much wider.

Features

Moving on from the quality of the video, the other crucial factor in your decision-making process should be the features of the action camera.

Unlike DSLRs and camcorders, action cameras are full of different capture modes since it’s fun to shoot action in a variety of ways.

A lot of action cameras want you to feel like you’re a movie-maker creating a masterpiece everytime you switch the camera on.

They want you to have full creative control, and to be able to create unforgettable footage that will impress your audience.

Here are some of the most popular features you can expect to find in an action camera.

Timelapse 

A timelapse refers to a photographic technique in which the camera will automatically record over a period of time in such a way that the end result is an ultra-condensed video.

If you type in ‘timelapse’ into Youtube, you’ll find hundreds of incredible examples of what you can do with this feature.

Whether it’s capturing the slow descent of the sun over the horizon, or speeding up the movement of pedestrians around a city, a well-shot timelapse can be a great tool to have in your arsenal.

For action cameras, this means you can travel around and whenever you want to capture the scale of a scene and all of the movement and action within it, you can do so easily.

Hyperlapse

Hyperlapse is equally cool, and perhaps even more impressive for action cameras.

The kind of videos you can create with this technique can be breathtaking, and you often see them with people who mount an action camera on their bike or car.

It creates a sense of motion; of moving through the world at great pace.

Slow Motion

Everybody loves a good slo-mo shot, so why not ensure that you get yourself an action camera capable of shooting in this mode?

The cameras that have slo-mo recording built-in, like the GoPro series, will allow you to simply record anything you believe worthy in slow motion.

This is ideal for those epic moments where a surfer catches a wave or a snowboarder kicks up power on the slopes.

Voice Control

While perhaps not as interesting as the fun techniques and features we’ve already covered, voice control is a feature of any well-made action camera.

Without voice control, you’ll need to have the camera close by at all times.

With it, you can go hands-free and operate the camera from a distance with simple voice commands.

This is without a doubt one of the most important features in any action camera, especially if you are planning on doing solo recordings in which you’re in a kayak, or doing some other activity in which you have the camera mounted away from you.

Factors to Look For When Buying an Action Camera

The features and functions of the device you are planning to buy are essential to serve your needs and suit your preferences. Apart from that, let’s take a look at the most important and essential factors that need to be considered when buying an action camera.

1. Picture Quality

The main purpose of an action camera is to capture images, and it would be of no use if the images taken on it are blurred, hazy, or dark.

Look for a camera that is capable of clicking at least 12 MP pictures for top quality images. However, you will also find better cameras that can snap photos up to 20 MP images. The higher the MP is, the better would be the picture quality of the camera.

2. Video Quality

The most important factor that needs to be considered while choosing from an action camera is the video quality that it can record. No matter how reputed the brand is, it won’t serve your purpose if it cannot record high quality videos with amazing clear picture. The higher the fps of the camera is, the smoother and clearer the videos would be.

The topmost quality currently available in today’s market is 4K. 4K videos have crystal clear images and high-resolution playback. 1080p and 720p HD recording are also available with various models and brands, but their video quality is inferior to 4K.

Your applications and the kind of video you need would be the deciding factor on the kind of video format you need. If you are using it for devices where 4K resolution is necessary, then a camera that has 4K recording feature would be the best choice.

3. Dimensions, Weight And Portability

The shape and dimensions of your camera should be suitable according to the kinds of applications you would be using it. It should be light in weight, compact in size, and easy to carry around. Apart from that, it should also be portable enough to be mounted on varied platforms, such as bicycle, chest, helmet, car, etc.

Since most users prefer a compact and small action camera that they can easily carry during their adventure activity, the weight of the camera must be essentially less. Action cameras are mostly box-shaped, compact and lightweight, but you may also find protruding bullet shaped cameras that are widely available across the market.

4. Battery Life

The battery life of the camera must also be considered to ensure that the device does not turn off in the middle of an action. The best adventure cameras usually come with a long battery life, ensuring long hours of recording or photography while long adventure activities.

The usual range is about 60-90 minutes, but it also depends on the usage and the use of the various connectivity and features of the camera. If a person uses features like Bluetooth or Wi-fi, the battery drainage is going to be faster, naturally. Using higher shooting resolutions would also consume more power.

Choosing a device with sustainable battery life is suggested, as these devices are often used at places where recharging facilities might not be easily available. Prefer buying a camera that comes with a spare battery. Before going out, charge both batteries fully, and replace it when you feel that it is going to die.

5. Water Resistance

If you are looking for an action camera, there are chances that you would be using it for your underwater activities as well. If you are a swimming, surfing, or snorkeling enthusiast, then try to find a camera that is made to be waterproof.

Even if it is not waterproof, it should at least come with a waterproof case in which you can send your camera to capture images underwater.

Related: Best Cheap DSLR Camera

Why Do You Need an Action Camera?

An action camera is a special kind of camera intended to record first-person action during sports, adventure and other intense physical activities. These cameras have found versatile fields of applications in different industries and fields, sports and adventure activities being the most common.

These cameras are used in various activities of adventure and sports to offer much more versatility and compactness when it comes to such activities, as compared to standard point and shoot cameras, or even DSLRs.

With advanced technology in today’s time, action cameras can be used to take high-quality pictures in top-notch resolutions like 4K, 1080p, etc. These are used in several activities like hiking, trekking, motorcycling, skiing, dirt biking, paragliding, cliff jumping, rope hanging and several others, along with sports like swimming, cycling, etc.

A lot of travel bloggers and influencers on social media who actively indulge in adventure sports also use these action cameras for recording the moments and later posting them on their blogs and social media accounts.

Free Quiz: Find Your Ideal Gear Setup in 1 Minute or Less 📷

Frequently Asked Questions About Action Cameras

Is there a better action camera than GoPro?

It’s a tall order to find an action camera worthy of knocking GoPro off its perch, as the brand claimed top spot for good reason.

GoPro is well-known for producing excellent action cameras suited to capturing epic footage from the depths of the sea to snowy mountain tops.

While there may not be a better action camera than GoPro, there is some worthy competition which is worth exploring if you’re interested to see what else is out there. The DJI Osmo action cam isn’t a bad alternative if you’d prefer not to invest in a GoPro, neither is the Insta360 we review in the guide.

What is the best affordable action camera?

The best affordable action camera is arguably the GoPro Hero7 device, which offers up a comprehensive experience to users for less than $200.

This camera is top of the range with its crisp 4k video recording at 30fps, as well as having a host of features to offer the user.

It’s also waterproof, and has a user-friendly design with the voice control and touch screen operation.

Is action camera worth buying?

The answer to this question will depend on what it is you want from a camera.

If you’re looking for a camera to take photos and record videos here and there, then you’re better off with a point-and-shoot, DSLR, or mirrorless camera.

If instead, you want to capture epic footage of fast-flowing action of yourself or others then an action camera is absolutely worth buying.

What is the ideal resolution for an action camera?

In today’s market, 4K resolution is the best video quality that most high-end action cameras are capable of, but a camera supporting 720P and 1080P would also suffice. 2.7K is also good resolution to go for as far as an action camera is concerned.

How an action camera is different from a normal camera?

When compared to a normal camera, an action camera primarily differs in its shooting angle. In short, normal cameras are often intended to take photographs of others, but action cameras are more focused on improving the quality of selfies.

Related: Best Vlogging Camera Under $100

A Final Word From Run Gun Shoot

Travel bloggers, digital nomads, explorers and tourists have started using action cameras to record their adventures and journeys. Bloggers, especially vloggers, have found these devices to be extremely convenient for recording their own adventures and creating travel journals in video format of premium quality.

The best action cameras are those which offer up a high quality of video, steady image stabilization, and a host of useful features.

While you don’t have to opt for a GoPro, the brand has many excellent devices which will feature on any guide of the best action cameras, so they’re well worth your consideration.

best-action-camera
Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

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