The best action cameras enable you to capture video and stills in a way that no other camera can. The compact go-anywhere design quickly found appeal in the extreme sports sector and this use was projected by big-budget marketing from GoPro. Almost two decades later and GoPro still leads the field with the formidable GoPro Hero9 Black.
But let’s take a quick look back at the development of this exciting new camera type, and how we got to where we are and the range of spec avaiable on these best action cameras in 2021.
A short history of action cameras
The past decade-plus has seen an explosion in the options for shooting creative videos and stills. This period has seen the emergence of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that can shoot in tight spaces, drones that can capture stunning video from the skies and uber-small action cameras that can record thrilling 4K video footage.
In this buyer’s guide we take a closer look at the emergence of action cameras as another fresh and potent tool in the kit bag of both photographers and filmmakers. The driving force behind action cameras has been the company GoPro who, as Woodman Labs, launched a $20 US model in 2004. The Hero 35mm 0001 was an analogue model that came with a 35mm Kodak film, a waterproof case, a wrist strap and no video capabilities.
In 2006 GoPro went digital and launched the GoPro Hero Digital model that could record VGA videos in 10-second sequences, but with no sound. The following years saw the Hero 2 and Hero 3 models coming out and through continued innovation today’s action cameras feature specs such as LCD touchscreens, 4K shooting capabilities, WiFi, editing software and companion apps. GoPro, which soon became a verb in itself for filming everything from your skiing to surfing to running, sat alone in the market. But over time, challengers emerged.
The best action cameras in the beginning were designed to be water, dust and impact-proof, which meant that users could film their antics in the sea, through the air and even tunnelling underground.
Early features were limited. There was no screen, limited resolution, but users weren’t bothered by this. Finally, you could show just how extreme you are, capturing video proof of that 10-ft drop-off, 100-foot wave or simply having fun with family and friends.
GoPro remains one of the leaders in the action cam marketplace but many others have emerged, including the likes of Sony, Xiaomi, SJCAM, Akaso, Olympus, Olfi and others. To help you decide if you need to dip your toe into the action pool let’s take a look at what such cameras offer…
What action camera should I buy?
The best action camera will have a mix of ruggedness, connectivity and video capability. When you’re trying to decide which action camera to buy, look for one that offers:
- 4K at 30fps or more
- 1080p at 60fps or more
- Screen preferably touch screen
- Image stabilisation
- Wifi/BlueTooth and App
Which action camera features are also nice to have?
When you’re considering buying any action camera for shooting video remember to think about ease-of-use, the variety of frame rates, video resolutions, output options (such as HDMI), what memory card slots are available and if you need features like WiFi file transfer or GPS. For more tips and advice on the key factors to bear in mind when you’re buying a camera to shoot video with, check out our guide to the best cameras for shooting video. Other handy action camera features include:
- Touch screen
- Replaceable lens
- Waterproof without a housing
- Motion sensors
- Voice activation
- Waterproof remote
- Social media connection
The best action cameras you can buy today
All of our picks for the best action cameras were based off our experience testing them. For a deeper dive into the many different camera types and features available, check out our range of camera buying guides.
GoPro Hero11 Black
- Imaging Sensor: 1/1.9-inch 8:7 aspect ratio
- Max Resolutions and framerates: 5.3K60, 4K120, 1080p240
- Color depth: 10-bit
- Image Stabalisation: HyperSmooth 5.0 and 360º Horizon Lock
- Touch Screen display: Yes
- Photo reolsution: 27mp
- Auto tagging of footage: Yes
- Enduro battery: Included
- Dimensions: 71.8x33.6x50.8mm
- Weight: 154g
GoPro updates its Hero Black action camera every year, and with the Hero11 Black it adds a new 1/1.9-inch sensor with an 8:7 aspect ratio, making it the biggest sensor yet in a GoPro camera. What’s more, this new sensor can process 10-bit colour, meaning the Hero11 Black can capture the most realistic colours of any GoPro camera to date.
The Hero11 Black’s new sensor also makes possible a bunch of new features and capabilities. Hyperview is a new mode that takes the camera’s 8:7 footage and delivers it in 16:9. GoPro is calling this a ‘digital lens’. There are also new Night effects, such as light trail modes for capturing light painting, traffic trails and star trails.
Also on board are all the usual features that make GoPro cameras great, chief among them being its impressive electronic image stabilisation system, HyperSmooth, which is now in its fifth generation. Improvements include a Linear and Horizon Lock digital lens that keeps footage straight even if the camera rotates 360 degrees.
The camera’s frame rate and resolution options remain the same as in the Hero10 Black. Pound for pound, the GoPro Hero11 Black retains the mantle as the best action camera you can buy.
DJI OSMO Action 3
- Dimensions (L×W×H): 70×44×31.8 mm
- Weight: 145g
- Waterproof: 16m
- Microphones : 3
- Sensor: 1/1.7-inch
- Lens: FOV 155º, F/2.8/ 12.7mm
- Video resolutions and frame rates: 4K (4:3): 4096×3072@24/25/30/48/50/60fps 4K (16:9): 3840×2160@100/120fps 4K (16:9): 3840×2160@24/25/30/48/50/60fps 2.7K (4:3): 2688×2016@24/25/30/48/50/60fps 2.7K (16:9): 2688×1512@100/120fps 2.7K (16:9): 2688×1512@24/25/30/48/50/60fps 1080p (16:9): 1920×1080@100/120/200/240fps 1080p (16:9): 1920×1080@24/25/30/48/50/60fps
- Stabalisation: RockSteady 3.0, HorizonBalancing and HorizonSteady
- Max Bitrate: 130Mbps
The DJI OSMO Action 3 is the third generation of DJI’s action camera. DJI already dominates the drone and single-handed gimbal stabilisers market; however, when it comes to action cameras, the number one slot is still dominated by GoPro. That said, the Osmo Action series is becoming an increasingly formidable competitor.
The DJI OSMO Action 3 is an action camera of the purest kind. It remodels the original DJI OSMO Action with a smoother exterior, enhanced features, better stabilisation and much-improved battery life. But more than this camera just being the successor to the two previous DJI Action cameras, this camera is a direct challenger to the GoPro Hero11 Black, and that’s where things get interesting.
Inside is a 1/1.7-inch sensor, and a 155º f/2.8 12.7mm lens sits on front. The sensor enables a decent range of resolutions and frame rates, including 4K at up to 120fps and 1080p at 240fps.
Also on board is its improved RockSteady 3.0 image stabilisation, now with HorizonBalancing and HorizonSteady. Both of these push what’s possible with electronic image stabilisation.
The DJI OSMO Action is also waterproof to 16m and then with the waterproof housing down to 60m.
GoPro Hero10 Black
- Photo : 23MP
- 5.3K: 60fps
- 4K: 120fps
- Video stabalisation: HyperSmooth 4.0
- LCD: Front and Rear (Touch screen)
- Battery: Removable 1720mAh Lithium-Ion
- Slow-mo: 8X
- Waterproof: 33ft (10m)
- Processor: GP2
- Cloud compatibility: Auto upload to GoPro cloud (Sub required)
- Voice control: Yes
- Livestreaming: 1080p
The GoPro Hero10 Black looks like an exciting, if not overwhelming, update to the world’s most popular action camera. On paper it looks very promising, with the more powerful processor and greater variety of frame rates. Watch this space.
Insta360 One R Twin Edition
- 360 Resolution: 5.7K
- Max standard video resolution: 4K@60fps
- Stabalization: FlowState
- Waterproof: 5m
- Special modes: Bullet time, Invisible Selfie Stick, Night Shot and many more
- Modular Design: Two additional lens options available
- SlowMotion: 8x standard, 4x 360
Looking for something a bit different from an action camera, then the Insta360 One R is about as different as they come. Adopting a modular design, this small camera is inspired, and any initial fears about how robust the connection between the module parts is, can be quickly dismissed. From VR 360 camera to standard action camera in a few seconds, the different modules make GoPro’s modules look like cheap ill-fitting add-ons.
In use, the camera with the single 4K Wide angle lens module fitted is a pure action camera, producing clear, crisp, vibrant footage, while once the dual-lens 360 is fitted, the camera captures VR footage in the way you always wanted.
The Insta360 is not just good; it’s market-leading when it comes to innovation and image quality.
- Modular design
- Incredible image quality
- Both standard and 360º video
- Joins get filled with mud
- App home screen cluttered
GoPro Hero11 Black Mini
- Max Resolutions and framerates: 5.3K at 60p, 4K at 120p, 2.7k at 240p and 1080 at 240p
- Image Stabalisation: HyperSmooth 5.0 and 360º Horizon Lock
- Dimensions: 52.4x38x51.2mm
- Weight: 133g
The GoPro Hero11 Black Mini is a completely different camera from the larger GoPro Hero11 Black. In fact, it’s more like the GoPro Session cameras of years past. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking of this action camera as an all-new GoPro Hero11 Session with a new name. If you were a fan of the Session cameras, then the Hero11 Black Mini should make you very happy.
This small GoPro is stripped down, a bit like the GoPro Hero10 Bare Bones released earlier in the year in the US Only, except the Hero11 Black Mini is even smaller and a lot more elegant in its design 52.4x38x51.2mm, and weighing just 133g.
The small form of the GoPro Hero 11 Black Mini has been extremely stripped down, so there’s no screen on the front or back, but there is a small mono display next to the shutter button. Using these buttons in set sequences will enable you to switch some settings, such as resolution and framerate. It is also waterproof to 10m or 33ft.
As with the Hero11 Black, the GoPro Hero11 Black Mini can record 5.3K at 60p, 4K at 120p, 2.7k at 240p and 1080 at 240p. It also inherits GoPro’s voice control and is compatible with the GoPro Max lens mod.
GoPro Hero9 Black
- Camera type : Action Camera
- Announced: 16th September 2020
- Max video resolution and frame rate: 5k 30p, 4K 60p, 2.7K 120p, 1440 120p, 1080 240p
- Video file formats: MP4 (H.264/AVC), MP4 (H.265/HEVC)
- Max photo resolution: 20mp
- Max bit rates: 100Mbps (2.7K, 4K, 5K)
- Screen: Rear: 2.27-inch touchscreen, Front: 1.4-inch colour screen
- Livestreaming: 1080p
- Voice control: 4 commands in 11 languages + 6 accents
- Battery: Removable, rechargeable 1720mAh lithium-ion
- Storage: MicroSD USH-I
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Stabilisation: Hypersmooth 3.0
- Waterproof: To 10m / 33 feet
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 71 x 55 x 33.6mm
- Weight: 124g
The GoPro Hero9 Black makes the most substantial update to the Hero Black line that we’ve seen since the Hero5 Black was introduced in September 2016.
Along with a significant increase in size, the Hero9 Black adds 5K video and 20Mp stills capability plus 30% longer battery life and even better stabilisation than its predecessor. As much as we love the technical improvements, the downside to the beefed-up body of the GoPro Hero9 Black is that it’s not compatible with the MediaMod module that was introduced with the Hero8 Black.
However, the Hero9 Black is the best action cam that GoPro has produced to date and its Hypersmooth 3.0 stabilisation, complete with in-camera horizon levelling is fantastic.
While the 5K-shooting capability is enticing, the fact that it’s limited to 30fps is a bit – well, limiting – but the quality of the footage that the Hero9 generates at other settings is a step-up from the Hero8.
Further good news with the GoPro Hero9 Black is that the removable lens makes a return. That means if it takes a dive and gets scratched, you can change it. GoPro has also promised a Max Lens mode to enables a 155° field of view, but we’ve yet to see that in the flesh.
The front screen is also now coloured and can show a preview of what the camera is seeing. That’s perfect for filming yourself in action.
We like the GoPro Hero9 Black so much here at Jabber HQ that we’ve all bought one. Yep, we paid our hard-earned cash and got one each. How much more of an endorsement do you want?
- No need for waterproof housing
- Dual Screen
- 8X Slow-motion
- Mods are expensive
- Not great in low light
Insta360 GO 2
- Shooting Modes: Video, Pro Video, Photo, HDR Video, Timeshift, Timelapse, Nightlapse, Slow Motion
- Video: 2560x1440 at 50fps, 30fps / 1920x1080 at 50fps, 30fps
- Recording Limit: Pro Video: 10min / Video: 15min / FPV: 30min
- Waterproof: IPX8 (down to 4m / 13ft)
- Internal Storage: 32GB
- Connectivity: BlueTooth / Wi-Fi
- Weight: 26.5g / 0.93oz (charge Case 63.5g / 2.24oz)
- Dimensions: 52.9 x 23.6 x 20.7mm / 2.08 x 0.93 x 0.81in
While it tops out at 2K video and lacks a preview screen and some of the other functionality that GoPro offers, the Insta360 GO 2 is the smallest camera you will find and is also dead easy to use.
Though it’s not 4K, the GO 2’s video quality is excellent, with great colour rendition and minimal distortion. Insta360’s FlowState 2.0 image stabilization and horizon levelling technology is also superb, producing stable, professional-looking footage.
The GO 2’s size is its big selling point. It can slip unnoticed into any pocket and mount to your body much more subtly than a GoPro can. Of all the best action cameras on this list, it might also be the best for beginners.
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- Miniscule size
- Easy to use
- Good video quality
- No 4K video
- No microSD card slot
Olfi One.Five Black
- Camera Type: Action Camera
- Max Resolution: 4K 24fps
- Max Photo resolution: 16MP
- Battery: 900MAH LI-ION
- Storage: MicroSD
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi
- Weight: 115g
- Dimensions: 78 X 61 X 37MM
There are few if any other action cameras that come close to the Olfi One.Five when it comes to features and versatility.
This isn’t just an action camera in the same mould as the majority, trying to appeal to the mass ordience, the Olfi is more refined.
With a team behind the camera that don’t just produce but are actively out testing and using the cameras the attention to detail is apparent from the outset.
On the surface, the resolution and framerates may seem reserved, but in truth they’re refined, giving you exactly what’s needed at an affordable price.
4K is limited to 24fps, but that’s clear usable 4K not pixelated, the 1080p footage is excellent and there’s little to fault with the usability.
But, that’s only just the surface of this camera. With the ability to plug-in external power and mics, you can easily use the camera for extended time-lapses or even vlogging.
At the price there’s little else that comes close to the features and quality of the Olfi One.Five Black.
- Unique design
- One of the most versatile action cameras on the market
- Good video quality and options
- Requires waterproof housing
- 4K Video resolution limited
Sony RX0 II
- Camera type: Action camera
- Sensor: 15.3-megapixel 1.0-type (13.2mm x 8.8mm) Exmor RS CMOS sensor
- Monitor: 180-degree tiltable LCD
- Waterproof: Yes - IPX8 equivalent
- Crushproof: 440lb
- Shockproof: 7 feet
- Video: 4K at 30p
This mini marvel – billed as ’the world’s smallest 4K video cam’ – can pretty much fit into the palm of your hand and weighs just 132g. Despite its diminutive size it manages to incorporate a 1-inch sensor with 4K video shooting at up to 30fps, Full HD 1080 video at up to 120fps and 720 video at up to 960fps. It also boasts Sony’s popular Eye AF functionality.
As well as a great sensor the camera boasts a 24mm f/4 Zeiss Tessar T* prime wide-angle lens and a tiltable rear LCD screen. The camera is said to be ‘crushproof’ and is also waterproof down to 1 metre and has a rugged outer body.
The downsides are that it can prove to be a tad tricky to handle and you won’t get much change out of £500 if you buy this model. However if you’re after a rugged 4K camera with a great lens, it’s worth a look.
- 1-inch sensor
- Very lightweight
- Flip-out monitor
- Very expensive
- Tricky to handle
SJCAM SJ8 Pro
The SJCAM SJ8 is one great looking action camera. The large 2.33-inch IPS rear-mounted touch screen displays a glorious clear live view, and with a well-finished exterior, it certainly looks the business.
Comprising of a traditional and slightly clunky waterproof housing the 30m case while old skool does the job of protecting the camera inside.
This type of case is dated but it’s good to see a soft touchback for the housing in the box. This can be swapped, with some effort, for the hard clear back so you can use the touch screen while retaining the water protection.
There’s plenty of recording options from 4K at 60fps through to 1080p at 120fps, for some decent slow motion.
The app is equally well thought out giving you easy access to the camera’s settings and also full compatibility with the SJCAM Gimbal.
Overall SJCAM has produced an excellent camera with features that would put the SJ8 Pro right at the top of the action camera desirability list. However, issues with the app stability and non-translation of some screens and possible missing features do for the moment hold it back.
- Excellent value
- Large clear screen
- Decent video quality
- Waterproof housing
- The app interface can be clunky when used with Gimbal
GoXtreme Black Hawk+ 4K
- Camera type: Action Camera
- Max video resolution and frame rate: 4K at 60fps
- Screen: 2-inch
- Battery: 1050mAh lithium
- Storage: MicroSD
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Dimensions (WxHxD):
When I looked at the GoXtreme 4K Black Hawk back in the summer of 2017 I was impressed with the quality that this small camera was capable of.
This camera along with others was really starting to put pressure on GoPro not only equaling but bettering the features and more importantly video quality.
Since then the camera has had an update to the Black Hawk+, again a formidable camera that comes in at a fantastic price.
- Great price
- 4K at 60fps
- Decent EIS at 4K resolution
- Requires waterproof housing
- No touch screen display
AKASO Brave 8
- Video resolution: 4K@60,30fps, 2.7K@90,120fps, 1440P@180fps, 1080P@200fps
- Photo resolution: 48MP, 12MP
- Image stabalisation: SuperSmooth
- Waterproof: 10m
- Sensor: 1/2-inch
- Weight: 114.8g
- Dimensions: 63x36.5x45mm
The AKASO Brave 8 is an action camera that combines an affordable price with great features and decent video quality.
It’s a sturdy, all-weather action camera that certainly looks the part. The camera features a large rear touch display, a small front screen and a cageless design; features that all bring the Brave 8 bang up to date in action camera style.
There are a few minor points, such as the limited ability of the EIS and the usual action camera low light issues, but overall it provides everything you need at half the price of the market leaders.
- Good range of specifications
- High-quality video
- Touch Screen
- Not great in low light
- SuperSmooth is limited
- App good but limited