Camera tech has come a long way. Today's best action cameras are incredibly feature-rich, waterproof, ridiculously rugged and can be securely mounted to anything from your bicycle helmet to your pet dog. Capture top-quality footage and stills in places where you just couldn't take a regular camera.
The best action camera right now is the GoPro HERO 9 Black – the latest and greatest model in GoPro's flagship range. This new cam landed in September 2020, and one-ups the HERO 8 Black with, amongst other things, an integrated front-facing screen. Although GoPro dominates in the action camera market (and if you heart set on this brand, our best GoPro guide will run through all the models on offer there), over recent years we've seen increasingly strong competition – mainly from drone royalty DJI, and its excellent DJI Osmo Action.
Beyond GoPro and DJI, there are several other genuinely ace action cams worth checking out. For cheaper, less feature-rich options, explore out our guide to the best budget action cameras. Alternatively, you might well be able to pick up a bargain in the winter sales: you'll find the best cheap GoPro deals here.
How to choose the best action camera for you
There's a huge amount of choice in this market, which can make finding the best action camera for your needs a little difficult. Image quality is one of the most important factors to consider, and it's always worth checking out frame rates rather than max resolution. This is because while a lot of cameras shoot in 4K resolution, some cheaper models use a frame rate of 15fps, which makes the video look jumpy. If you're shooting in 4K you want at least 30fps, or just shoot in 1080p HD at 60fps.
The best action cameras also come bundled with accessories and a versatile system of mounts – or least have the option to buy the ones you want. Waterproofing without a case comes as standard with some models, but with others you'll probably want to invest in waterproof casing to safeguard your cam for everything from watersports to an unexpected downpour.
Because things can get expensive at the top end of the market, it's key to consider which features are most important for how you're going to actually use your cam. Things like image stabilisation and GPS are mainstays, while newer additions such as voice control might be important to you depending upon your chosen sport and whether you need to be hands-free to do it.
The best action cameras right now – ranked
The GoPro HERO 9 Black is hands-down the best action camera right now. The newest GoPro, released in September 2020, may appear similar to the HERO 8, but look closer and the improvements are many and varied (check out our GoPro HERO 8 Black vs HERO 9 Black showdown for a direct comparison).
When you peer under the hood, there's a bigger sensor (23.6MP), which means this cam can now shoot 5K/30 video and 20MP stills, and a very welcome 30% battery boost. Incredibly impressive horizon levelling now comes bakes in, and new Hindsight and Scheduled Capture tools add new opportunities to get creative. The Hypersmooth and Timewarp features have also had an upgrade, from v2 to v3.
Design-wise, the one obvious addition is the inclusion of a vlogger-friendly front-facing screen – previously only available with the addition of a Mod (unless you fancied a DJI Osmo Action instead). The bunny-ears mount from the H8 is present here, along with caseless waterproofing to 10m, and the removable lens cover has been reinstated.
This action cam that's both extremely easy-to-use for beginner, but still astonishingly capable for the pro – an impressive balance. While the HERO 8 is still an incredible action cam (actually, you won't go far wrong with any of GoPro's HERO range), the HERO 9 improves on it in almost every way, which is why it's firmly at the top of our best action camera list.
Read more: GoPro HERO 9 Black review
The frameless GoPro HERO 8 Black may have had its crown stolen by the newer HERO 9, but this is still an exceptional action camera. This is the HERO 7 Black and then some, bringing to the party HyperSmooth 2.0 and TimeWarp 2.0, as well as enhanced functionality. There are lots of easy-to-use presets for enhanced levels of action photography, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or are more experienced. And there’s a new system of GoPro accessories for the Hero 8 Black called GoPro Mods.
The most obvious thing about GoPro’s new camera is that it has a frameless design fitted with two ‘folding fingers’ at the base. These magnetic fingers lie flat when not in use, but pop them out and you can use the camera with a mount.
There’s no integrated front-facing display like you'd find on the new HERO 9 Black and DJI Osmo Action elsewhere in this best action camera guide, but that isn't to say you can't have a front-facing display on the Hero 8 Black: you can, via the 'Display Mod'. This essentially adds a front- or rear-facing flip-up display to the action camera. HyperSmooth 2.0 video stabilisation improves pitch-axis stabilisation and works across all frame rates and resolutions as standard (this has been improved again for the H9).
The action camera also features four digital lenses, making it simple to select the ideal field of view for whatever you’re shooting – choose from SuperView, Wide, Narrow and Linear. This literally takes the guesswork out of action photography for everyone. The audio has also been improved, with enhanced wind suppression on the front-facing mic. Again, the Media Mod boosts the HERO 8 Black’s audio further by delivering shotgun-mic directional audio performance.
New-to-this-model capture presets enable you to intuitively select the right setting for whatever activity you're filming. A revamped SuperPhoto feature offers up ghost-free HDR action photos, and all-new LiveBurst captures 1.5 seconds of 12MP (4K 4:3) footage before and after the shutter.
Read more: GoPro HERO8 Black review
The GoPro HERO7 Black is the lowest-specced in GoPro's current range, but still an excellent choice. This cam brought a bevy of updates and refinements to the HERO 6 – arguably the most important being stabilisation at 4K60 (more on that shortly). Note: it's a very close call between the Hero 7 Black and the DJI Osmo Action, with both landing five-star reviews from us – check out our GoPro HERO7 Black vs DJI Osmo Action if you're having trouble choosing between them.
Waterproof down to 10 metres on its own, you can expand that to an impressive 30 metres with an optional GoPro waterproof housing. Plus, there’s a positively gargantuan amount of compatible mounts and extras that work with a GoPro action camera. One of our favourite features is the ability to record video at frame rates all the way up to 60fps, while image stabilisation, although not the best in the range, has still been improved and refined to the point where you don't need a gimbal. We also love the TimeWarp video function, plus the accurate face, smile and scene detection.
There’s a touchscreen on the rear of the HERO 7 Black, which has been improved for smoother gestures, and you can also use your voice to control the action cam. This is handy in situations where you can't physically reach the Hero7 easily, such as when it's mounted to your helmet during climbing or snowboarding, or fixed on the end of your surfboard. The hugely useable and creative GoPro QuikStories app is on hand to condense all of your buttery smooth videos and unique shots into one shareable nugget, too, ready to delight your social media fans (and your proud mum, of course).
Read more: GoPro HERO7 Black review
Drone royalty DJI has spent the better part of a decade dominating the world of aerial shooters, developing class-leasing image stabilisation tech and intuitive flight control. And now it has poured that know-how into making its first action camera. The DJI Osmo Action is fractionally bigger and fractionally heavier than the Hero 7 Black, but that’s acceptable considering how it’s packing a colour front-facing screen in addition to a 2.25-inch touchscreen at the back.
Just like the GoPro, the Osmo Action offers a range of control options, including voice activation. There are two built-in microphones, but we’d recommend adding an external microphone to enjoy the best audio quality. As you’ll see from our full review of the Osmo Action, in terms of spec there’s little separating it from the Hero 7 Black. Considering the pretty even match, the DJI is typically cheaper and offers that front-facing screen, which is ace for vloggers or any pursuit where you want the camera trained on you and need to see how you're framed.
However, there is no live streaming support on the Osmo Action, so if that’s important to you, choose the Hero 7 Black. Similarly, if you want the widest field of view possible, choose the Hero 7 Black with its SuperView wide angle mode. The Osmo's Mimo app is also limited compared to the established GoPro companion app, and its range of accessories are dwarfed by the GoPro canyon. That said, the Osmo Action is compatible with some third party mounts.
Ultimately, the Osmo Action is simple to use, produces excellent images and benefits from RockSteady electronic image stabilisation. It should be attractive to vloggers looking for a rugged, reliable and easy setup. Like the GoPro, this DJI will rock out with you in the surf, at the bike park and when skateboarding, so it’s an ideal playmate for extreme sports too.
Read more: DJI Osmo Action review
Released around the same time as the Hero 8 Black, the GoPro Max shares many design cues with its conventional stablemate and addresses the issues that marred GoPro’s original 360-camera – the Fusion. The Max also boasts some of the Hero 8 Black’s excellent video capture facilities such as HyperSmooth image stabilisation and TimeWarp video sequences, as well as a user interface that operates in the same intuitive manner.
The offset front and rear mounted lenses allow you to easily create stunning 360 visuals via the in-built software that stitches together what each lens is capturing. The only way to see the live, stitched together, 360-degree view though is via the GoPro app on your smartphone – which handily also allows you to operate the camera remotely. Once you’ve captured your content, downloading to it your phone allows you to use the powerful app to get seriously creative and create kaleidoscopic stills, mesmerising videos with shifting POVs and much more. The Max’s only weak spot is that it can’t shoot conventional footage in 4K, but despite that, it’s still the best and most feature-rich 360-degree action camera available.
Read more: GoPro Max review
Insta360 has plenty of experience making dedicated 360-degree cameras, but the Insta360 One R is its first venture into the action cam market. The One R’s headline feature is a totally modular system, in which the camera comes as four separate modules: a processor and touchscreen, battery base, wide angle lens and a twin-lens for 360-degree capture. To start shooting, decide whether you want to record conventional or 360-degree content, select the relevant lens, then clip the modules together. The system works really well and enables you to add additional parts and upgrade or replace as necessary. The quality of the 360-degree video is excellent and only really falls short of what the GoPro Max can achieve due its more obvious stitching errors. However, the Insta360 One R can record conventional video in 4K, albeit at a 4:3 ratio at 30fps, which trumps the Max’s highest conventional resolution of 1440P at 60fps. If you’re looking for the most versatile action camera system available, the Insta360 One R is for you.
Read more: Insta360 One R review
If you're on the hunt for GoPro-matching 4K60fps resolution at a snip of the price of our number one action camera, the SJ8 Pro is a worthy contender. This stealthy cam offers plenty of other resolution options too, including 1080p120 and 720p240 for capturing ace slo-mo shots. With a clear focus on shooting the best quality video footage possible, the SJ8 Pro’s lens comprises 7 layers of glass for added clarity and reduced distortion, alongside a fixed 2.8mm focal length, f2.8 aperture and 170° field of view. Driving the show is a powerful Ambarella H22 S85 chipset and SONY IMX377 sensor.
An ace up this camera’s sleeve is the 8x digital zoom function, on-hand to capture those extreme action close-ups. To cap it all off, 6-axis image stabilization helps smooth out footage during the bumpiest activities. Out back is a 2.33-inch IPS Retina touchscreen for crystal clear playback and tweaking settings. The SJCAM Zone app (iOS/Android) is a simple affair, but makes post production and sharing easy – footage transfer takes place over 2.4GHz or zippy 5GHz connections. It might lack voice control and native waterproofing (the SJCAM is waterproof down to 30m once nestled in the supplied case), but the SJ8 Pro is a great little shooter if video quality is the main requirement of your next action camera.
The Sony RX0 has long sat in our best action cameras buyer's guide, and now it has been reimagined into the Sony RX0 II, a 'tiny tough' cam with a super-rugged build to help it to withstand knocks, bumps and scrapes during your outdoors adventures and everyday use. While Sony's camera features its own take on electronic image stabilisation (EIS), plus some nifty imaging tech, when we tested the RX0 II, we found that overall it's just too fiddly to use for capturing properly spontaneous bursts of action like the other cameras featured above. Why do we say that? It's because you need to get used to surfing through detailed menus using buttons – there's no touchscreen here! – and you'll need a tripod if you want properly smooth footage (which the likes of the GoPro and DJI don't).
However, if you want a super-tough outdoors-friendly compact camera for capturing fantastic stills plus video (if the camera is stabilised by a tripod), the RX0 II can be relied upon due to its monster 1-inch sensor. It also features a 180-degree tiltable 1.5-inch rear screen, which is handy for vlogging as you can see whether you're in frame.
Read more: Sony RX0 II review
If you like the look and feel of the best GoPro action cams but don’t quite have the budget for one, here's a good lookalike. The YI 4K+ is a well-featured action camera with the ability to record 4K at 60fps. Video recording is smooth, although admittedly not as impressive as what the GoPro delivers at 4K 30fps. YI technology makes a big deal about the 4K+'s voice command function, but we that it can be a little patchy. The screen is crisp and easy to read, which is handy for viewing and framing in sunlight. Unlike the GoPro HERO6, the YI 4K+ isn't waterproof and requires a waterproof casing before you can take it beneath the waves. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but it adds an extra layer of faff and cost that might put you off.
Want your own camera crew? A seriously impressive 360º camera as adept with creating widescreen action camera-style video as it is wraparound imagery, the Insta360 One X2 is all about 'shoot first, edit later’. The editing suite is comprehensive, permitting everything from third-person perspective video, time-lapses and hyperlapses to freeze-frames, 'smart track’ face recognition and much more besides. Waterproof and with new modes for vlogging and for instant panoramic photos, the pocket-sized camera is processing-intensive, with editing on a phone a battery-hungry exercise, but here’s a 360º camera that will exceed the expectations of anyone trying to do something new and expansive-looking without the need for drones and a camera crew.
Read our full Insta360 One X2 review
Here’s a tiny 4K camera that wants to go everywhere with you. While the likes of GoPro tout wide-angle footage, the 36g Akaso Keychain – so-called because it’s just so tiny – has a narrow field of view. That’s actually a lot better if you want to film something specific. As well as being small, this camera is magnetic, so begging to be attached to everything from a car to a bike to weights in a gym or a kitchen knife. It’s for getting new perspectives and creativity, which is why it comes with an app that allows you to endlessly edit its portrait or landscape videos and photos with fades, wipes, subtitles and special effects. Its six-axis image stabilisation system helps produce smooth-looking video while time-lapse, loop record and 20-megapixel photo options make this a novelty camera with legs.
Read more: Akaso Keychain review
The Drift Ghost 4K offers a range of resolution and frame rate options ensure you bag the best footage for any situation. When shooting more sedate activity, the max 4K Ultra HD resolution dialled to 30fps makes your antics shine on screen. Digital image stabilisation kicks in below 1080p, taming the vibrations of more high-octane action and producing smooth footage. The camera’s low-profile design and rugged outer shell make the Ghost 4K ideal for two-wheeled adventures (mounted to bars or helmet), or accessorise with Drift’s waterproof housing to explore depths of up to 40m. Some action cameras fall short when it comes to audio, but not the Ghost 4K. The camera houses dual microphones, front and rear, which enhance sound quality and help combat pesky wind interference.
The original Virb introduced GPS and motion sensors to the action camera pie, and the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 builds on that with 3-axis image stabilisation, a 1.75-inch touchscreen, GPS capture, high-quality microphones and a G-sensor. Those of you who ride downhill will get the most of out of the G-Matrix tech, as it captures performance data including speed, altitude, G-force and heart rate; the latter if you pair the action cam with a compatible heart rate monitor. As with some of our newer best action camera choices, voice control is one of the Ultra 30's key features. You can tell it to start, stop or pause filming, as well as “remember that” to make finding specific events easier. Video quality is good with 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps, and the Wi-Fi connection and compatible app are well designed.
The Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Camera is designed to be three times more stable than previous Sony action cams, thanks to advanced SteadyShot system. A ZEISS lens ensures your video is sharp and free from glare. One big advantage to this action camera is the built-in measure. This reduces wind noise so the audio on your videos should be clear. This could be particularly important to those of you looking for a camera to take on climbing trips. This action camera also has a waterproof case, micro HMDI output, micro USB, and a microSD card slot, so you're up and running straight out of the box.