What to Look for in an Action Camera in 2023
One of the most important things to consider when buying an action cam is what you’ll use it for. With so many designs, price points, and features on offer it’s easy to find something that fits your desired usage and budget.
The general ease of use should also influence your decision since some cameras (like the GoPro) offer more polished mobile apps and cloud storage services, while other brands can provide a more barebones but budget-friendly experience.
All the cameras featured below offer at least 4K video, with many exceeding this. Frame rate is another thing you’ll want to consider, with many cameras offering 60 and 120 fps (frames per second) in 4K and higher resolutions. Shooting at a higher resolution provides smoother action and allows you to slow your footage down for smooth slow-motion video.
Pricier cameras come with front-facing screens, which gives you more options in terms of vlogging and travel photography for framing your shot. If you’re primarily looking for a camera mounted on a helmet, chest strap, mountain bike, or the outside of a vehicle, you might want to save money and weight by opting for something without a screen altogether. Don’t worry—mobile apps often let you frame the camera and quickly review your settings.
Cost is another big consideration. If you don’t need the latest and greatest, you might be able to save a few hundred dollars by opting for last year’s big thing. If you’re going to be putting your camera somewhere risky then you might want to spend even less than this on an off-brand camera that shoots decent footage but that won’t make you wince when you drop it off a cliff.
If possible, use any cameras you’re interested in, or at the very least review the footage before you buy so you know what to expect. Remember that not all cameras are waterproof without underwater housing, but most of the more expensive models are.
- ✓ 5.3K video at 60 frames per second, 4K at 120 frames per second
- ✓ 33 feet waterproofing without an external housing
- ✓ Compatible with hundreds of mounts and accessories
- ✓ Cheaper than the HERO11 while retaining excellent capabilities
- ✗ Not the latest and greatest from GoPro
- ✗ Still more expensive than many rivals and off-brand alternatives
- ✗ Save some money for extra mounts, mods, spare batteries, and a microSD card
The GoPro HERO10 Black is what we think is the best action camera you can get, but it isn’t the latest camera from the brand, nor does it necessarily have the most advanced features. What this older GoPro does offer, however, is a good balance between up-front cost, image quality, and usability, making it great for most people.
This GoPro camera can record up to 5.3K video at 60 frames per second, or if you’re prepared to drop to 4K, you can shoot at 120 frames per second. You can also shoot still images at up to a 23-megapixel resolution, even while shooting video. The camera features GoPro’s excellent video stabilization feature, which can replace a dedicated gimbal in many circumstances.
You also get the full gamut of features that make GoPro cameras so attractive, including class-leading durability, waterproofing down to 33 feet (10 meters), TimeWarp time-lapse mode, compatibility with GoPro’s , wireless transfer, looped recording, scheduled capture, live streaming, voice activation, and compatibility with a huge range of mounts and accessories.
Finally, you can expand your GoPro with a range of aftermarket bolt-ons, including the Max Lens Mod for better stabilization, Media Mod for better microphones and an HDMI port, and the Display Mod for vlogging with a larger flip-up screen. Of course, these all come with an additional cost, but the customization is great if you want to use your HERO10 Black for something specific.
Best Action Camera Overall
GoPro HERO10 Black
Save some money by opting for a previous generation GoPro camera in the HERO10 Black. Record 5.3K video at 60 frames per second, grab 23-megapixel stills, and get features like live streaming, stabilization, and more.
- ✓ Excellent price to performance ratio
- ✓ 4K video at 60 frames per second
- ✓ Additional features like voice control and image stabilization
- ✓ Includes housing and mounts in the box
- ✗ Quality suffers compared to pricier models
- ✗ Requires the use of waterproof housing to be weather-tight
- ✗ Software is a bit rough
You’ll find AKASO’s name all over the web regarding recommendations for affordable action cameras, and the AKASO V50 Elite is the top of the range. Unlike cheaper cameras in this price range, the V50 Elite can record in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second—usually, cameras in this range are limited to 30 frames per second. This allows you to reduce footage by 50% to get usable video for 24p or 30 fps projects.
The camera has a 2-inch touch screen on the back, includes voice control, and can be submerged up to 130 feet with the included underwater case. It also features image stabilization, but its use is limited to 30 frames per second in 4K and 2.7K resolution. Image quality is good for most applications, though the drop in quality will be noticeable compared to GoPro, DJI, and cameras at a high price point, as expected.
The beauty of a budget action camera is that you take less of a financial hit if the unthinkable happens. That’s not to say the AKASO isn’t built tough, more that if you drop it off a cliff, it’ll cost a lot less to replace.
Unfortunately, things aren’t as smooth as the leading brands regarding the broader ecosystem, particularly software like mobile apps and cloud storage. AKASO hits the sweet spot for price and application and is also compatible with the now industry-standard GoPro mount.
Best Budget Action Camera
AKASO V50 Elite
Get 4K video at 60 frames per second in a budget-friendly package with the AKASO V50 Elite. The camera includes waterproof housing, image stabilization, a touchscreen, voice control, and more.
- ✓ 5.3K video at 60 frames per second
- ✓ Same tricks and specs as the larger HERO11 Black
- ✓ Smaller and lighter, with more mounting options
- ✓ Cheaper than its bigger sibling
- ✗ Not the smallest action camera you can buy
- ✗ No display for framing your shots
- ✗ Expensive compared to the competition
If size is a deciding factor when choosing an action camera, the GoPro HERO11 Black Mini is a solid choice. The camera offers the same excellent performance as the full-fat GoPro HERO11 Black in a smaller, lighter package. That means you get the same 5.3K video at 60 frames per second, 4K at 120 frames per second, and the improved HERO11 sensor for better vertical and square video crops.
The Mini is built for squeezing an action camera into tight spaces, where having a view of what you’re shooting isn’t necessarily important—or even possible. By losing the touchscreen on the back and front of the camera, the Mini manages to shave 0.7 ounces off the weight in a narrower and shallower chassis of just 2.06x 1.5×2.02 inches. In place of the back display is a second pair of dual-mounting fingers.
This camera is just as durable as its larger sibling with the same 33 feet water-resistant rating. You’ll get stabilization, the ability to lock the horizon, and it even uses the same battery.
Though smaller than a standard GoPro, the HERO11 Black Mini is far from the smallest action camera out there. If you want something even smaller at the cost of image quality and record time, consider the DJI Action 2. It only has a 1/1.7-inch sensor, and record time is limited to short bursts (about ten minutes), but it has a unique magnetic mount design and tiny cube form factor.
Best Small Action Camera
GoPro HERO11 Black Mini
Packing in the power of the standard HERO11 Black into a smaller and lighter package, the GoPro HERO11 Black Mini is the perfect choice for those who would rather trade a display for additional mounting options. It’s also cheaper!
- ✓ Dual 1-inch sensors offer great image quality and low light performance
- ✓ Image stabilization and horizon lock
- ✓ IPX3 water resistance against light rain and snow
- ✓ Works with insta360’s invisible selfie stick and other mounts (sold separately)
- ✗ Not strictly an action camera, so less rugged that alternatives
- ✗ Expensive compared to more rugged alternatives
- ✗ Trades image quality for durability
The insta360 ONE RS 1-inch 360 camera is a dual-lens camera co-engineered with Leica. Unlike rivals that use smaller sensors, insta360 has created a 360-degree camera with a large 1-inch sensor. That’s the same size sensor as many of the best modern point-and-shoot cameras, like the Sony RX100 VII.
A larger sensor means the camera captures more information about the scene, improving overall image quality. It also means the sensor has more surface area to capture light, resulting in better low-light performance than smaller sensors.
The camera features hallmark insta360 features, including the company’s excellent stabilization and the ability to lock the horizon for a steady and static shot even if you’re being thrown around. You can capture up to 6K video or 21-megapixel 360-degree stills, either handheld or using insta360’s “invisible” selfie stick.
insta360 doesn’t strictly market this camera as a rugged action camera, and as such, it’s only rated for IPX3 water resistance against light rain or snow. If you’re throwing the camera around, something like the insta360 X3 might be better, but low-light performance and image quality suffer since the dual sensors are half the size.
If you want an action camera for its versatility rather than its durability, the ONE RS 1-inch 360 edition is hard to pass up. insta360’s marketing shows the camera mounted on dirt bikes and off-road vehicles, used on hiking trails, and mounted on cars and scooters.
Best 360 Action Camera
insta360 ONE RS
For the best image quality and low light performance, the insta360 ONE RS 1-inch 360 camera is hard to beat. It’s not strictly a rugged action camera, but it offers many of the features you’d expect including stabilization and horizon lock.
- ✓ 10-bit 4K HDR video at up to 30 frames per second
- ✓ SDR 4K video at up to 120 frames per second
- ✓ Rugged, waterproof, and cold-proof design
- ✓ Image stabilization, horizon balancing, and RAW photo capture
- ✓ Cheaper than a GoPro
- ✗ 4K maximum resolution
- ✗ Less developed ecosystem than GoPro
The DJI Osmo Action 3 is DJI’s third shot at an action camera and one that tops out at 4K resolution. Despite this limitation, you can capture high-quality 4K HDR video in 10-bit color at up to 30 frames per second.
Alternatively, you can capture up to 120 frames per second of standard definition video at up to 4K resolution. The DJI Osmo 3 also includes a timecode function that makes syncing footage from multiple cameras easier in post.
DJI built the Osmo Action 3 to be tough. It can withstand a depth of 52 feet underwater or up to -4ºF without external housing. Slap a case on it, and you can get to almost 200 feet underwater. Like other competing brands at this price point, the camera includes image stabilization (what DJI calls RockSteady 3.0) and horizon lock from any angle or rotation.
The Osmo Action 3 is cheaper and smaller than GoPro’s HERO range, and though there have traditionally been teething issues with DJI’s firmware, the camera has come a long way since its launch. You’ll also get features like timelapse, hyper-lapse, still image capture up to 12-megapixel, RAW photos, and vertical shooting mode. On top of this, different kits and accessories are available for adventurers, cyclists, skiers, and divers.
Best 4K Action Camera
DJI Osmo Action 3
For 10-bit HDR video at up to 4K resolution, look no further than the DJI Osmo Action 3. The camera features the usual gamut of premium action camera features including stabilization, weatherproofing, dual touchscreens, and more.
- ✓ The best GoPro action camera you can buy in terms of overall features
- ✓ Creator Edition includes useful extras like the Media Mod, a grip, and LED light
- ✓ 5.3K video at up to 60 frames per second (or 4K at 120 frames per second)
- ✓ A new sensor for better vertical and square cropping
- ✗ The most expensive GoPro and the most expensive bundle
- ✗ Not everyone will need the extra features or bundle accessories
- ✗ Additional mounts will cost you more
The HERO11 Black is the latest in the GoPro action camera range, and the GoPro HERO11 Black Creator Edition is the most complete version. The HERO11 Black offers 5.3K at 60 frames per second (and 4K at 120 frames per second) but improves on its predecessor with larger 27-megapixel stills and RAW capture in all modes (including video). At the heart of the improvements is a new 8:7 sensor, which allows for better vertical and square video cropping (what GoPro calls the lens).
On top of this, the HERO11 Black includes even better stabilization with HyperSmooth 5.0 and a feature called AutoBoost, which zooms in automatically to avoid unwanted movement. There’s also full horizon lock in 5.3K video, a simplified menu system, better long-exposure night photography modes, and a new light painting mode.
The Creator Edition includes some nice-to-have extras, including the Media Mod which adds a superior microphone with a windshield, an LED light for illuminating your shot, and the Volta Battery Grip which offers improved shooting time and remote control functionality. If you want the extra features in the camera, you can buy the GoPro HERO11 Black without the Creator Edition bundle.
GoPro HERO11 Black Creator Edition
The HERO11 Black packs in a new sensor that makes it easier to crop for vertical and square video formats, better stabilization, simpler shooting modes, and larger still images. The Creator Edition includes the Media Mod, LED light, and grip.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use an action camera for recording video and taking still photos in all sorts of situations and conditions. These cameras are designed to be small, rugged, and easy to mount. That makes them ideal for use outdoors and in circumstances where other cameras may be damaged by the elements. This includes underwater, attached to a bike or the outside of a vehicle, or even mounted on your dog. Their small size and relative ease of use (plus excellent compatibility with accessories) makes them ideal travel companions.
Most action cameras allow you to transfer footage wirelessly to a smartphone or computer and even control aspects of the camera over Wi-Fi. You can use the in-built menu to create a temporary Wi-Fi network and then connect to it using your smartphone or computer. Instructions will differ depending on your model of choice, your camera’s smartphone app should guide you through the process.
Some action cameras are ideal for vlogging on account of their size, performance, and compatibility with accessories like lights and microphones. For vlogging, a forward-facing screen is going to help you frame your shot so be on the lookout for that. The GoPro HERO range is especially good for this since these cameras include a forward-facing screen, an optional Media Mod with an improved microphone, and even a LED light attachment.
Yes, pretty much all action cameras include still photography modes. Some can shoot in RAW which gives you greater flexibility when editing your photos in post, while others can even capture full-size images (at sizes of 20 megapixels and above) while simultaneously shooting video. Despite this functionality, most cameras suffer compared to dedicated point-and-shoot, mirrorless, or digital SLRs on account of their small sensor size.
Some action cameras can be used as a webcam since this functionality is built right in (including many GoPro models). Others can work as a webcam when connected to a capture device using the camera’s HDMI output. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should however and the wide-angle lens used on most action cameras might not make for a flattering perspective on your next video call.
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