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7 best action cameras

Always be ready to capture your most exciting moments with one of these all-action cameras

Amy Davies
Wednesday 01 August 2018 20:14 BST

Action cameras are one of the most rapidly-growing and interesting sectors of the camera market. You’ll find them popping up in all manner of places, even if you ordinarily might think that a cell phone camera does the job.

These are cameras that can handle all sorts of scenarios that your cell phone can’t. They’re (usually) waterproof, can stand to be chucked around, and give you the opportunity to record all of your various adventures.

You don’t need a huge budget to pick up an action camera, with some starting from as little as $50. As you might expect, cameras at this end of the pricing spectrum aren’t always super reliable, but by the time you reach the $100-$150 mark, you start to get real quality.

Think about video quality before you pick up an action camera. 4K is starting to become the standard across all types of camera, but some action models - especially the cheaper ones - stick to Full HD. Also, think about frame rates - the higher the frame rate, the smoother your video will be. Optical image stabilization is particularly important for action cameras, which tend to be used in bumpy situations, so that’s another specification to look out for.

This group of cameras consists of the best currently available on the market.

1. GoPro Hero 6: $399, Amazon

GoPro is pretty much the dominant force in the action camera market, but with a camera that offers decent value for money, as well as some of the best specs available, it’s not hard to see why. The GoPro Hero 6 isn’t the cheapest camera in our group - heck, it’s not even the cheapest GoPro camera in our group - but if you’re looking for something which ticks all the boxes, then the Hero 6 is the one to go for.

For your money, you get 4K video recording which is available up to 6ofps. Image stabilization is present - but note that you can only use it on frame rates up to 30fps. It’s very well-performing and one of the main reasons for choosing the Hero 6 over the Hero 5, if your budget can stretch to it.

Voice control means you can get the Hero 6 to do a few things without needing to touch it. Waterproofing down to 32 feet is included without the need for any additional housing - but you can buy some separately if you want to go deeper. Use the Hero 6’s inbuilt WiFi to connect to your phone, especially with the free QuikStories app, which collates clips together for something you can share on social media.

Shooting still images is also possible, with raw format shooting even included (giving you greater flexibility when editing in programs such as Photoshop). Battery life is pretty good, with around an hour of continuous 4K video recording promised.

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2. Olympus TG Tracker: $279, Amazon

Giving you the capability to dive as deep as 98 feet, the Olympus TG Tracker offers the joint best standalone waterproofing of the group - without any need for any additional housing. It’s also freeze-proof and crushproof, giving you a little bit of added reassurance that it’ll be able to handle several different scenarios.

Video recording is available in 4K, plus there’s super-slow-motion video recording - but only at 720p. The slightly strange look of the Tracker is partly down to the fact that it has a super-wide angle lens, giving you fantastic scope to record a wide scene area. A tilting screen is also very useful for composing from slightly awkward angles, although it’s a shame it doesn’t tilt all the way forward for video selfies - still, any kind of screen movement at all is reasonably rare in the action cam market.

Battery life should see you right for around an hour of constant video recording, but you can switch off WiFi in order to help the battery last a little longer. A basic accompanying app is available which you can use to grab files from the camera.

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3. GoPro Hero 5: $249, Amazon

GoPro has kept the Hero 6’s predecessor in its line-up in a bid to appeal to as many different budgets as possible. Currently available for a significant chunk of cash less than the Hero 6, with this older model you still get a heap of great specifications.

4K video recording is still here, but image stabilization isn’t quite as successful, while frame rates are limited to 30fps. If you’re somebody who wants an action camera for more sedate movement, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, though. Plenty of other advanced features are still included, such as voice control, built-in WiFi and waterproofing down to 32 feet. Battery life should last you as long as two hours, depending on the type of video you’re recording.

There are so many accessories and add-ons for the GoPro range that it makes a lot of sense to stick with this brand - but if you don’t want to spend too much, the Hero 5 makes for a great choice. If you decide to upgrade to a Hero 6 later on, all of your accessories will be compatible too.

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4. Yi 4K+: $299.99, Amazon

The Yi 4K+ is a good option for those who like the idea of a GoPro, but don’t quite have the budget you need to get the flagship Hero 6.

This lesser-known brand gives you a lot of impressive specifications for your money, including recording 4K video at up to 60fps. Image stabilization also does a pretty good job, if not quite on a par with the Hero 6’s capabilities.

You also have voice commands and a nifty touchscreen. The one downside - and it’s a biggie - is that this camera is not waterproof all by itself, for that you’ll need a waterproof casing - luckily, you can usually buy it with one included in the box.

Battery life is promised to last around 90 minutes if shooting 4K video at 30fps, with roughly half an hour less if you up the frame rate to 60fps.

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5. Nikon KeyMission 360: $496.95, Amazon

Here’s an action camera that’s a little bit different from all the rest on our list. With the KeyMission 360 you can create 360-degree videos, putting you literally in the center of the action.

Nikon’s camera utilizes a slightly strange design, with no space for a screen to see what you’re recording. Luckily an accompanying app is on hand to help you adjust settings and make recordings, while if you’re in a hurry, a quick record button on the top of the camera comes in very handy.

4K video recording is available here and it's also waterproof down to 98 feet - imagine the mysterious marine life you could capture with a camera like this. Directly from the camera, you can upload videos straight to YouTube and Facebook, with those sites allowing you to view 360-degree video without the need for any complicated conversions. Virtual reality content is also something you can explore with this camera.

Battery life should last around an hour of constant recording, however, it’s worth packing a portable battery pack if you intend to create something extensive.

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6. GoPro Hero: $199, Amazon

The newest camera in GoPro’s line-up is also one of its simplest offerings. Designed to give a good entry into the action camera market, the GoPro Hero (it doesn't have a number, but some places list it with “2018” in the name for clarification), costs under $200.

It’s waterproof down to 32 feet and is limited to 1080 and 1440p video recording with image stabilization. So that means you don’t get 4K video, GPS, HDR Photos, raw-format recording, or touch to zoom. There’s a host of other differences, too, but the Hero is a great option for somebody that just wants something simple and easy-to-use for beach holidays with the occasional adventure thrown in for good measure.

The Hero looks and feels a lot like the Hero 5 or Hero 6, even keeping a 2.0-inch touchscreen on its rear. That makes it a lot easier to use than GoPro’s other low-cost option, the Hero Session. It also shares the same battery as its siblings - good news for anybody who wants to buy the Hero as a backup for their main Hero 5 or Hero 6 device. Battery life could get you up to 2 hours of continuous video recording, but expect to see a little less if you’re using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth a lot.

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7. Sony X3000R 4K: $368, Amazon

The Sony X3000 comes with an underwater housing bundled in the box, allowing you to go as deep as 196 feet - ideal for those who like diving and similar sports.

This camera offers 4K video recording at up to 30fps, but particularly impressive is the quality of image stabilization, thanks to having Sony’s Balanced Optical Steadyshot (BOSS) onboard, which you can use when shooting at all resolutions and frame rates.

As well as video recording, you can also capture stills with the wide-angle lens and powerful Bionz processor that is found in Sony’s A7 line-up of high-end compact system cameras. As a point of difference from pretty much any other action camera, the X3000R comes with a live view remote, which you can use to control the camera from a distance, with images previewed in real time.

This is one of the most expensive action cameras on our list, so it’s perhaps best reserved for those who are pretty serious about capturing their extreme sports, but it’s a good performer.

Buy now

The Verdict: Best action cameras

With a decent amount of choice currently on the market, the action camera you choose will probably come down to how serious you are about action videography.

Go for one of the cheaper models if you’re just looking for something simple and light to chuck in a bag for the odd biking or hiking trip, but if you’re the kind of person who embarks on an adventure every weekend, you might want to think about investing in a little more.

The best action camera currently on the market is the GoPro Hero 6, but also consider the YI 4K+ if you want something similar for a cheaper price (but remember only the GoPro offers water-proofing without housing).

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