Best Action Cameras
One of the toughest decisions any consumer can make is what type of digital camera that they desire, and with the advancement in technology we now have another type of camera that we can use to capture the most intense times of our adventures. This new type of camera is the very popular action camera, and these cameras are designed to be used for filming first person view or capture you at a selfie angle when you are doing the most extreme moments of your life. For example, mounting it on your bicycle and recording your adventure, or going snorkeling and filming all the beauty that is under the sea. As such, they are typically compact and built to withstand decent amounts of punishment. But, their internal technology and specifications are no joke, either and are actually very complex.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 18 hrs of research
Can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second
Features GoPro’s most advanced video stabilization
It is durable by design and waterproof down to 33 feet without an external housing
- GoPro Hero 6 Black
- GoPro Hero 5
- Olympus TG Tracker
- YI 4K Action
- Sony 4K
- Olfi One Five
- Hero 5 Session
- SJCam SJ6
- TomTom Bandit
- Garmin Virb 360
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Expert Interviews & Opinions
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. GoPro Hero 6 Black
Can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second
Features GoPro’s most advanced video stabilization
It is durable by design and waterproof down to 33 feet without an external housing
The voice controls could use some improvement
One could consider GoPro the king of action cameras. Their Hero 6 Black is basically a glorified version of their Hero 5 Black, which will make an appearance, but with advanced technology everywhere. Most notably is the doubled performance in regard to the framerate.Read more
To keep the camera as compact as possible, an additional housing is not required for the Hero 6 Black to obtain its waterproofness (down to 33 feet) and ruggedness.
With the capabilities of shooting 4K video at 60 frames per second and 1080p video at 240 frames per second, the video quality is beyond impressive. In addition, GoPro integrates their most advanced video stabilization technology to deliver smooth footage.
Thanks to the updated user interface, it is easy to change settings, to play-back your footage and to frame your shots. Also, GoPro implemented voice control which allows you to operate this device hands-free.
While the actual battery life will fluctuate depending on the current video mode, you can expect anywhere from one to two hours of battery life.
Due to the built-in five gigahertz Wi-Fi, this camera will automatically send your footage to the accompanying app on your smartphone. Not only this but it does so at blazing speeds.
If someone was simply seeking the absolute best action camera on the planet, they should look no further than the Hero 6 Black. It sports unreal image and video capabilities and has a rugged and waterproof construction to boot.
2. GoPro Hero 5
You can power on the camera and start recording with the shutter button
Does support the RAW file image format
Features a built-in GPS to know where your content was taken
The touchscreen has been claimed to be unresponsive at times
Despite what you may think, no, this list is not merely consisted of GoPro’s Hero cameras in reverse order. But, even though the Hero 6 Black is superior, the Hero 5 Black was still, at one time, the best action camera in the world.Read more
Much like its successor, without a housing, this is capable of withstanding submersion in water for down to 33 feet. In addition, it is durable by design.
While the Hero 5 Black can’t output 4K video at 60 frames per second, it can at 30 frames per second. Also, it can produce 12 megapixel-photos and supports the RAW image file format for photos.
There is a boatload of features worth acknowledging with this action camera. This includes its 2-inch touch display for easy operation, voice commands and a built-in GPS that allows you to know the exact location in which your videos and photos were shot.
GoPro claims that their Hero 5 Black can sustain sessions of 60 to 90 minutes long. As always, this is going to depend on the video mode as the higher resolutions demand more juice.
In conjunction with the GoPro and Quik mobile applications, this camera can send your footage straight to your smartphone. From there, the apps will transform it into edited content.
With the Hero 6 Black available, one would question why they would need to get the Hero 5 Black. Yes, the former is an advanced version of the latter. But, that does not make the latter obsolete.
3. Olympus TG Tracker
Has an incredible build quality with waterproofness without a housing
Integrates a LED headlight on the front
Features a 5-axis image stabilization system
In terms of size, it is a bit heavier and bulkier than others
When using its sensors, the battery life will drain much quicker
Yes, GoPro is not the only manufacturer capable of designing high-quality action cameras. Olympus is another and their TG-Tracker is impressive due to its incredibly touch construction and 5-axis image stabilization technology.Read more
No doubt, this is built like a beast. It is rated to be crushproof up to 220 pounds, freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, shockproof from up to seven feet and waterproof down to 100 feet. Oh yeah, an external housing is not even required.
Olympus integrated electronic 5-axis stabilization technology into their TG-Tracker and it produces limited vibration and jarring during videos. Plus, thanks to the ultra-bright F2.0 high-speed lens, the crispness, and clarity of your content is fantastic. 4K video at 30 frames per second is also possible.
There are five built-in sensors integrated into this camera. These include a compass for direction, a temperature sensor to track the water and air temperatures, a GPS, a barometer for water-depth, and an accelerometer for g-force. Plus, there is a LED headlight on the front of the camera.
While the battery life does get drained by when this camera uses its sensors, it is still solid. Normal sustained use should get you around one and a half hours.
The TG-Tracker has built-in Wi-Fi and you can sync it to your smart devices for wireless uploading and sharing.
This has the distinction of being labeled the best non-GoPro action camera in the world. Due to its insane construction, fantastic video quality, and multiple sensors, it is not hard to see why.
4. YI 4K Action
Features a Gorilla Glass touchscreen
Can record 4K video at 60 frames per second
Images are clear and crisp with the 12-megapixel sensor
Needs a housing to be rugged and waterproof
Image stabilization is not supported for 4K at 60 frames per second
At first glance, in terms of pure performance, you would think this camera rivals the GoPro Hero 6 Black because of its ability to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second. But, as YI points out, their image stabilization technology is only compatible up to 30 frames per second when shooting in 4K.Read more
Unlike the other models, this comes with a housing which provides its ruggedness and waterproofness. With the housing, it is waterproof down to 130 feet and resistant to scratches and daily abuse.
Besides the aforementioned aptitude to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second, while only at 30 frames per second when using image stabilization, the 12-megapixel sensor and high-quality lens shoot stellar images.
YI designed this with cutting-edge technology, that is certain. This is highlighted and proven by its Gorilla Glass touchscreen, Ambarella H2 system-on-chip, and Sony image processor.
If you were to run this action camera at a resolution of 4K and a framerate of 60 frames per second, the battery could last up to 70 minutes on one charge.
Both Bluetooth technology and Wi-Fi have been built into this action camera. What this provides are multiple ways to upload your videos and photos to share with the rest of the world.
Some may prefer not having to deal with an additional housing but to achieve its full protection, it is recommended to do so. Still, even if this is something you do not prefer, the performance and quality will make up for it.
5. Sony 4K
Features high-quality sound with noise reduction
With the external housing, it is shockproof, dustproof, and waterproof
Has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
The external housing is quite bulky
Takes a long time to power the camera on
While the external housing adds a bit of bulkiness and while the start-up time needs to be improved, Sony’s FDRX3000 Action Camera is still a mightily impressive design. Looking past those shortcomings, it boasts multiple viewing angles and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.Read more
Sony does supply you with the additional housing that is required to achieve its waterproof rating of down to 197 feet. Plus, with this housing, the camera becomes both dustproof and shockproof.
For video, this can shoot at 4K and for images, it produces 8.3 megapixels. But, the Balanced Optical image stabilization is also noteworthy as it reduces vibration while recording.
What is convenient about this model is you can adjust the viewing angle, either narrow, wide, or medium. In addition to this, there is a mode for still images and also a burst mode. Finally, it also has a built-in GPS.
Sony estimates that their action camera will last around an hour if you shoot constant 4K content. But, this can be enhanced to over two hours at 1080p.
There is no doubt about it, this is a modern piece of technology. With its built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC technologies, there are many ways to connect to your favorite devices.
Leave it to Sony to impress the world again; they are pretty good at that. While the housing is quite bulky when it is applied, it is worth it as you can then explore depths of water you never thought were obtainable.
6. Olfi One Five
Can double up as a vehicle dash camera
Features a rear LCD screen
The included sensor is stabilized to reduce vibration and jarring
Needs a housing to be waterproof
When shooting at 4K, it can be a little erratic
With GoPro and other top brands such as Olympus and Sony, stealing all the spotlight, this next action camera tends to fly under the radar. However, even though you may have never heard of this manufacturer, do not fret as they can produce the goods.Read more
Olfi supplies you with their housing that is needed to obtain the camera’s waterproof rating of down to 30 meters.
The video quality, while not the best in terms of the framerate, provided by this camera is superb. It can shoot 4K video at 24 frames per second and 1080p video at 60 frames per second. Also, the Sony Exmor-R sensor is stabilized to reduce vibration.
To ensure your shots are lined up perfectly every single time, there is a rear, high-resolution LCD screen. In addition to this, you can opt to shoot in a high dynamic range to reduce dark shadows.
If you are familiar with action cameras, then the battery life is what you would expect here. At its peak, with the Wi-Fi off and at lower video quality, you could get just over an hour of life on a single charge.
With the power of Wi-Fi technology, and Olfi’s dedicated Android and iOS app, you can connect this camera to your smartphone to utilize the accompanying app.
As compared to other action cameras, the 24 frames per second that accompany 4K video is pretty low. Still, it is 4K and its ability to shoot high-quality content is no doubt prevalent.
7. Hero 5 Session
Just a single push of the shutter button will power the camera and start recording
Features voice commands for hands-free control
Extremely compact and easy-to-mount
The battery can’t be removed, meaning you can’t use spares
Does not support the RAW image file format
GoPro is back and this time, their Hero5 Session is on full display. Sporting a more compact design than its Hero5 Black companion, this is a perfect option for those seeking an action camera simply to capture their adventures from unique perspectives.Read more
The Hero 5 Session is much like other GoPro cameras in that it is waterproof down to 33 feet without the need for additional housing. Plus, this is one of the most compact action cameras on the planet.
With advanced video stabilization, the end result of your content is free of vibration. Additionally, it can shoot 4K video and 10-megapixel photos.
Thanks to the executed voice commands, you can enjoy hands-free control of the Hero 5 Session. Also, just a single press of the shutter button will both power the camera and instantly start recording.
Much like you would expect, the battery life of the Hero 5 Session is around an hour if you are shooting 4K video. Switch to 1080p and you can expect this amount to almost double.
If you have a GoPro Plus cloud account, then you can automatically upload the footage on the Hero 5 Session straight to the cloud service and then subsequently on your smartphone.
All action cameras are designed to be immersed in the filming but due to the compact size, the Hero 5 Session is completely perfect for it and offers loads of different perspectives.
8. SJCam SJ6
A 3rd party editing software is not necessary
Features Gyro stabilization
SJCAM offers several awesome accessories for this action camera
It can be nearly impossible to shoot videos at night
The mini USB port needs to be upgraded
All in all, the Legend SJ6 Action Camera from SJCAM is an impressive device. It does not necessarily blow you away in one aspect or another but in terms of consistency, it delivers all the goods.Read more
With the included waterproof case, you could capture content in water as deep as 10 meters.
The 14-megapixel Panasonic sensor allows you to shoot impressive image quality. But, SJCAM did not skimp on their video quality with the ability to shoot 4K video at 24 frames per second. Also, you can turn on the Gyro stabilization feature.
A built-in camera feature is the ability to shoot in a low-light mode. What happens is when this mode is turned on, the brightness will be enhanced. But, some have noted that it is still improbable to shoot videos at night.
Per the normal standard set by action cameras, you can expect a little over an hour (about 75 minutes) of recording at 4K.
SJCAM’s created their Zone app that allows you to control the settings and functions of your content in real-time. This is ideal as you do not need a 3rd party software for editing.
If you are new to action cameras and just want to get your feet wet with the technology, this could be a perfect camera for you. It may not be the most impressive but the performance will still be feasible for most people’s needs.
9. TomTom Bandit
Can be mounted with ease
Has the ability to capture 4K video
Features a long battery life that is advertised to last up to three hours
Does not have image stabilization technology
The sensor information is limited for only tagging
Of all the greatness of TomTom’s Bandit Action Camera, including superb battery life and the capability of shooting 4K video, it is rather bizarre that TomTom opted against digital image stabilization. Despite this, they kick it out of the park.Read more
This is designed to withstand depths of 40 meters without the need for a bulky diving case. No matter if it is underwater, it functions the exact same.
The lack of digital image stabilization can prove to be problematic but in terms of its specifications, they are impressive. The Bandit can shoot 4K video or 1080p at 60 frames per second.
There are built-in sensors in the Bandit that allows it to monitor rotation, altitude, G-force, and speed. All these will appear on playback for your content. In addition, there are time-lapse and slow-motion modes.
TomTom designed their Bandit action camera to deliver just over three hours of battery life of non-stop HD filming.
With your iOS or Android device, you can utilize the Bandit application and it allows for instant playback; as well as allowing you to drag and drop all your footage.
It goes without saying that TomTom’s Bandit camera has its limitations. However, its battery life is superb, it has a great waterproof rating, and it can shoot 4K video.
10. Garmin Virb 360
Can shoot a 360-degree augmented reality
Features a one-click video stabilization system
Implements voice commands for intuitive control
The app can be a pain to use due to the lag and bugs
For 360 images, the two lenses are limited because of their low megapixels
For action cameras, Garmin may not be the first company you thought of. However, their Virb 360 Action Camera barely cracks this list and does so, in large part, because of its built-in sensors that can provide you with a 360-degree perspective of your surroundings.Read more
By its nature, the Virb 360 is both rugged and waterproof down to 10 meters. Even more so, it is extremely compact and lightweight making it very easy to mount on nearly everything.
Amazingly, this can shoot 5.7K video at 30 frames per second. But, the 15-megapixel resolution is a bit limited when you are shooting 360-degree images.
The most obvious feature here is the ability to shoot 360-degree augmented reality. Thanks to the built-in sensors that provide G-Metrix data, this can be achieved.
Expect a little less than an hour of battery life with the Wi-Fi turned off. When on, this will obviously go down.
You can connect this action camera to your iOS or Android device to use the Virb Mobile app and desktop editing software. Doing so grants you access to fully editing your content.
From first impressions, you may believe this should be higher. But, even though it is nice that it can shoot at 5.7K, not many other devices will be supported to handle this resolution. Plus, the 360-degree perspective is nice but the lenses could have been better.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
By the nature of their design, the durability and toughness of an action camera are as important as any other features, bar none. During your adventures, you may want to mount your camera on your helmet, the handlebars on your bike, or even on your surfboard. Bottom line, they will need to withstand a decent amount of abuse as they are not designed to be operated as a normal compact camera. But, it comes down to this question. Does it need additional housing to retain its waterproofness and ruggedness?
For example, GoPro and Olympus have designed their action cameras (the models that are on this list) to be both durable and waterproof without a housing. For Olympus specifically, their camera is a complete beast without the need for housing as it is shockproof, waterproof, and crushproof. Why is this important? Well, a housing can add a significant amount of bulkiness and weight which may not be desired. Then again, with a housing, most action cameras become suitable to withstand depths of water past 100 feet. Speaking of which, this rating is also important if you plan to scuba dive with an action camera.
Action cameras are certainly not the most convoluted device of their kind. But, that definitely does not have to be a bad thing. With that being said, there are still a plethora of features that you can look out for. For starters, how about the screen and interface? With an integrated touchscreen and simple interface, it becomes easier for you to alter the camera settings and operate the camera. In addition, some manufacturers will design their action cameras with voice commands. GoPro is infamous for this and this implementation grants you the ability to operate your camera without ever touching it.
Of course, you should also address what kinds of extra features they have. For example, some models will have built-in sensors such as a compass, GPS, or even an accelerometer. A GPS, to elaborate, will track where you shot your video or captured your image for future references. But, you could also seek simple features such as a burst mode that allows you to capture continuous shots in rapid succession.
In this section, we also addressed the video features and quality. When people think about what camera they are going to buy, the quality of the content it produces is often at the top of their minds. Rightfully so, as this is a huge factor of any recording device. For videos, the world continues to shift to full 4K content. Now, the aspect that is important to learn about any type of resolution is all devices must support it. For example, a camera can shoot 4K video but if you watch it on your television and it does not support 4K, then the playback will be downscaled. This is just the resolution, though, because the framerate is also vital. The difference between 60 frames per second and 24 is astronomical as the higher the framerate, the smoother the video.
But, what about images? Well, this comes down to the camera sensor and the megapixel resolution. Over time, people have debunked the myth that megapixels mean everything but, they still matter. However, the size of the sensor can also improve image quality. Lastly, keep an eye out for video stabilization technology. As action cameras are sure to vibrate during recording, having this technology is necessary to vastly improve the playback.
Unlike most cameras, action cameras, generally speaking, do not last too long on a single charge. Over time, this could change but the current standard for action cameras is around one to two hours of battery life. As long as you are willing to accept this, you can live with it. However, you have some control over how long the battery in your camera will last. Due to the settings that are present on an action camera, the battery life can fluctuate. In particular, when you are using the camera’s Wi-Fi and what video resolution you are shooting at.
If you disable the Wi-Fi connection, which you should do unless you are actually using it, you can enhance the battery life. The same goes for the video resolution as the longer you shoot in the highest resolution the camera can handle (which for the best is 4K), the quicker you will deplete the battery.
Okay, so you have shot your content from your action camera. Now what? Unless you want it to stay on there and do not want to share it with the rest of the world, this is where the connectivity of the action camera comes into play. If it has built-in Wi-Fi and you have an appropriate device (such as a smartphone), you can sync them together and then handle the content as you wish. Some companies will have accompanying apps that allow you to fully edit your content before you share it with your friends and family.
As compared to the hassle of transferring the data from your action camera to your device with a cable, Wi-Fi is simply an easier and more convenient way to achieve the same result.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Yes, you can create a makeshift mount with duct tape but we don't recommend it. You have already invested a decent amount of money into your device and it would be a shame to see it covered in sticky tape, or worse, falling to the ground. Don't do it.
Keeping the lens of your action camera clean is very important. You do not want to use any solvents or cleaning agents with your electronics. If dust is the issue, a spray of duster will clean the lens and allow you to see clearly again. If you had encountered some mud, a slightly damp lint-free cloth will do the job just fine.
Other Factors to Consider
Don't forget to take the size of the camera into consideration. These cameras are built for action and therefore, will have to be travel-friendly. Maybe you find that a certain shape is more comfortable to hold in your hand or easier for you to transport in your bag. We don't usually find the weight to be an issue here, but if your action sport is weight-sensitive, that may be something for you to look into as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Do after-market batteries work in action cameras?
This question is in regard to GoPro action cameras but even for other brands, it can come into play. When GoPro released their Hero 5 Black action camera, they demonstrated how they can change the firmware in a specific manner that would make after-market batteries obsolete. Thus, requiring you to invest in their official batteries. But, it is unknown if they will choose to do that again and as one user pointed out when they did it before they did not send out a notice to inform their audience.
To be safe, you may want to stick with the official GoPro-branded batteries when you are using any of their action cameras.
q: What to do when your camera will not connect to your mobile device?
As anyone who has ever owned a technology device before knowns, which should be just about everyone if you are from this century, some troubleshooting may be necessary as technology devices are far from foolproof. No matter how advanced they become, it seems unfathomable that they would ever get to the level where they needed no troubleshooting whatsoever. One such issue with action cameras is when they will not sync to your smart device with Wi-Fi. There could be several reasons why this is happening and down below are just a few.
For one, ensure that the Wi-Fi functionality on your action camera is enabled. Whether it is located on the outside of the camera or via the camera settings, this could be the issue. Also, per the same token, make sure your smart device is connected to the camera’s Wi-Fi. Lastly, you need to download the correct application and ensure that you have the latest version.
q: Should you buy an action camera for regular photo & video use?
Action cameras are labeled and marketed as a device that is used to literally be immersed in whatever you are filming. However, let’s say that you have no interest in using an action camera on your bicycle, surfboard, or helmet to capture your adventure from a different perspective. Could you merely use this device as an everyday camera? You absolutely can and because of their performance and quality capabilities, you can shoot impressive content doing so. Just as you would with a compact camera, you could capture images of your family vacation, shoot videos of your pets or children, or take selfies with all your friends at the bar.
Due to their versatility, action cameras are not limited to how you can use them. About the only demographic that would want to avoid them are professional photographers as they will be limited to them.
q: Why is there still vibration or shaking in my videos?
Alright, so you have invested in a camera that has been advertised with digital stabilization technology. But, every time you record a video and watch the footage, you notice insane amounts of vibration and shaking. Should not this technology account for this and prevent it? Well, yes and no. That is, in context, what video stabilization technology is designed to do. Problem is, it is not going to account for vibrations that are caused because the camera is not secured properly.
If this is happening to you, the most logical explanation is when you are mounting your camera, you are not tightening it enough and it is not stable. The easy solution is to simply do a better job of securing the camera. Doing so will significantly reduce the overall amount of vibration and in turn, result in drastically improved video footage.
q: Can you use Wi-Fi underwater?
It is worth noting that you can operate an action camera underwater, granted you abide by its waterproof rating. But, it is not possible (unless you have a cable that can carry the signal) to utilize the Wi-Fi technology in action cameras underwater. The reason for this has nothing to do with action camera themselves, but with the limitations of Wi-Fi. As GoPro points out, as soon as your device is underwater, any connection that is using Wi-Fi will be lost.
Wi-Fi waves simply do not work well underwater and as they have no tolerance towards them, it is practically impossible to do so. Maybe someday computer engineers and devoted technology enthusiasts can figure out a way to leap this hurdle, without the use of a cable. For now, though, forget trying to transfer your photos to your smartphone while you are submerged in water.
q: Do Hero 5 Black accessories work with the Hero 6 Black?
As soon as you figure out which action camera you want to invest in, the true fun will begin. Probably the most fascinating aspect of these cameras is the accessories that go along with them. While most of them you will have to purchase separately, the choices are nearly endless from different mounting systems to smart remotes. This leads to an intriguing question in regard to GoPro. Will accessories that work for the Hero 5 Black do so for the Hero 6 Black, as well?
Because both cameras are the same size and shape, with the latter simply possessing advanced software and performance, most accessories will be compatible with both. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an accessory that works for one and not the other. Plus, they use the exact same GoPro mounting system which means if you upgrade to the Hero 6 Black, you can still use your old accessories from the Hero 5 Black.