If you’ve been looking among the best action cameras to take epic videos of you and your friends snowboarding or mountain biking, then you are in luck. New action cameras have hit the market in a big way! It is possible for you to mount a camera to just about anything and record your adventures.
Action cams are small and rugged enough to go almost anywhere. In some cases, they can be mounted to your handlebars, helmet, or even your dog! Many are waterproof or have the option to add waterproof housing to be taken underwater or attached to a surfboard. These cameras go just about anywhere with you. Most fit right in your pocket.
With so many options, deciding on a camera is challenging. We’ll give you an idea of what to look for in a camera and give you some helpful suggestions.
The 9 Best Action Cameras
- GoPro HERO6
- DJI Osmo+
- DJI Osmo Pro
- Kodak PixPro SP360
- DJI Osmo RAW
- GoPro Fusion 5.2K
- YI Technology 4K
- Nikon KeyMission 360
Things to Consider in an Action Camera:
While 1080p used to be the gold standard, video resolution is moving into 4K and beyond. Do you really need 4K? It is a nice feature to have. 4K videos give you more latitude in post processing. It may be worth looking for a camera that can shoot in 4K.
Generally speaking, the higher your resolution, the clearer, sharper, and brighter your images will be. Action cameras are typically in the 12-16 MP range. This may not seem like a lot when compared to DSLRs but it is enough for many uses. A camera with a resolution of at least 12 MP will produce nice looking photos, while also giving you options for printing them in fairly large sizes.
Different action cameras record video in different file types and the type that is best for you will depend on how you intend to use your footage. The type of files your camera records will impact how much flexibility you have in post processing. If you are a videography hobbyist, a camera that records video in .MP4 format will likely get the job done. But if you want a lot of latitude when it comes to editing, look for a camera that records CinemaDNG video. CinemaDNG videos are comprised of a series of RAW format files, giving you ultimate flexibility. If still photos are important to you, look for an action cam that can shoot RAW as well as JPEG.
Size may play an important role in your decision. Action cameras are all pretty small but they do vary in size. If you are planning to mount your camera on a helmet, you’re going to want something that is pretty tiny. If you plan to hand-hold your camera while hiking or walking around the city, size is probably less important.
Action cameras typically have different shooting modes, allowing you to customize the type of videos you take. For example, you can opt for a wider or narrower field of view or faster frame rates. Some cameras offer built-in options for taking videos in low light. Some even give you the ability to control your camera in full manual mode. The types of shooting modes you want will depend on what you plan to do and how much experience you have with video (or how much you want to learn).
The key to capturing slow motion video is to have a high frame rate. The faster your camera can shoot, the more you can slow down the action. If slow motion is important to you, look for a camera that can shoot 60 FPS or faster. Many action cameras aren’t able to shoot 4K video at 60 FPS, so you will lose a bit of resolution as you speed up your frame rate.
The last thing you want when you’re out exploring is a dead battery. Since action cams aren’t known for having especially impressive battery life, you should consider this. Keep in mind that things like WiFi and LCD screens tend to drain batteries. If battery life is important to you, you should buy backup batteries so that you can swap them out on the fly.
Low Light Capability
Action cameras are not known for excelling in low light. ISO is the measure of how sensitive a sensor is to light. A higher ISO will generally equate to better low light performance. When it comes to low light, the higher the ISO, the better your camera will typically perform.
Waterproofing (or weatherproofing) is one feature that is non-negotiable for many action cam users. If you are planning to take your camera in the water, you are going to need one that’s fully waterproof. Some cameras, like the GoPro HERO6 Black, are waterproof right out of the box. Others are waterproof only with the addition of special housing. Other action cams are designed to stay on terra firma and can’t be taken in the water at all.
Audio quality from built-in microphones on most cameras is generally pretty bad. The same is true for action cams. Add underwater housing to a camera and you’ve got a recipe for super muffled sound. This isn’t a big deal if you are planning to put your videos to music. But if you want to talk or record the actual sound, look for a camera that gets good audio quality straight from the camera or one that can be used with an external microphone.
If you’re using your action cam for specific activities, be sure to get one that has mounting options for what you want to do. You should also make sure that the size and the shape of the camera works with your activities. Action cams can be mounted to the front of a kayak, attached to your dog with a special harness, or even sent into the air via drone. GoPro is the leader in action cam mounting options but mounts and adapters are available for many non-GoPro options. If you have one of these specific uses in mind, be sure to pick a camera with mounts that support these activities!
|Camera||GoPro HERO6||DJI Osmo+||360Fly||DJI Osmo Pro||Kodak PixPro||DJI Osmo RAW||GoPro Fusion||YI Tech||Nikon KeyMission 360|
|Photo Resolution||12 MP||12 MP||16 MP||16 MP||12 MP||16 MP||18 MP||12 MP||30 MP|
|Video Resolution||4K, 30 FPS||4K, 25 FPS||4K, 30 FPS||4K, 25 FPS||4K, 30 FPS||4K, 25 FPS||5.2K, 30 FPS||4K, 30 FPS||4K, 24 FPS|
|Max Burst Rate||30 FPS||7 FPS||N/A||7 FPS||10 FPS||7 FPS||30 FPS||30 FPS||N/A|
|Waterproof||Yes, to 33′||No||Yes||No||Yes, with housing||No||Yes, to 16′||Yes, with housing||Yes, to 98′|
|Weight||4.8 oz||2 lbs||6 oz||4.1 oz||3.6 oz||4.1 oz||8 oz||3.4 oz||7 oz|
|Display Screen||Yes, touchscreen||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes, touchscreen||No|
|3 Day Rental*||$36||$40||$36||$99||$72||$199||$47||NA||NA|
*All pricing is as of this writing and subject to change.
GoPro lead the sports camera market when it released the original HERO in 2006. Their cameras have only gotten better since! The HERO6 Black takes many of the best features of the HERO5 Black and pushes them even further. Frame rates have been improved, allowing you to shoot 60 FPS at 4K or up to an incredible 240 FPS at 1080p. The GoPro HERO6 Black also features a variety of view settings to adjust your angle of view. It also has improved sound recording that draws from 3 microphones. You’ll also be happy with an enhanced image stabilization system.
If you’ve used the HERO5 Black, you’ll find many of its best features retained. The HERO6 Black features native waterproofing up to 33′ and sports a rear touchscreen LCD (which was missing from earlier GoPros). Especially useful for those coming from the HERO5 Black is that GoPro has kept the same form factor, meaning the HERO6 Black is compatible with all of the HERO5 Black’s accessories.
One of the most challenging, yet most important, parts of creating quality video is keeping your footage stable and the DJI Osmo+ excels at this. With a small camera mounted on a handheld gimbal, the Osmo+ gives you 3-Axis stability to keep your video rock steady no matter how you move.
Despite its small size, the Osmo+ features impressive shooting capabilities. It can film both DCI 4K and UHD 4K (at 25 and 30 FPS, respectively) as well as up to 120 FPS 1080p. Unlike the original Osmo, the Osmo+ features a 3.5x optical zoom (and a 2x digital zoom if filming in 1080p). You will also be able to shoot for almost twice as long thanks to its improved battery life.
If you are looking for a camera for virtual reality videos, the 360Fly is a great place to start. This camera has a 240º field of view and a lens that points straight up into the air, giving you the ability to record footage from any angle (kind of like a fly). Mount it to the top of your helmet and you can capture what is in front of you, behind you, and even directly above you with ease. The 360Fly is waterproof to 16′ so you can take it with you on your next kayaking trip or shoot video of your kids in the pool.
This camera records 4K video at up to 30 FPS, has a wide aperture of f/2.5, and a minimum focusing distance of 30 cm. It connects to your smartphone, allowing you to control the camera, edit videos, and share them on social media. The camera has a hard shell to protect it from the elements and handles the extreme temperature changes that often happen in adventure sports. Because the 360Fly works with GoPro’s mounting system, you have a lot of options for how to mount it. If you want a 360º action cam, the 360Fly is a great choice and may be the best 4K camera for people on a budget.
The Osmo Pro kit includes the Zenmuse X5 camera, a gimbal, and a handle. This is a great way to get high-definition stabilized videos from a handheld camera. This camera has an ISO range of 100-25,600, 12.8 stops of dynamic range, and the ability to shoot 4K video at up to 30 FPS. It also has a removable lens, which is uncommon in action cameras. The X5 camera has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, zebra pattern, and focus peaking for improved shooting precision.
The DJI Osmo Pro is ideal for people who want to take exceptionally high-quality, stabilized video and don’t need or care about shooting RAW video. It is perfect for people who want to walk or move around with their camera and take super smooth videos. This isn’t the type of action camera that you would want to mount to a helmet, but for walking around and shooting video it is an excellent option.
The PixPro SP360 is Kodak’s take on the panoramic action camera and it’s a good one! The PixPro SP360 includes two action cameras and a mount that holds the two cameras back-to-back, giving you a full 360º effect. These compact, box-shaped cameras are weather and dust-resistant and can be made fully waterproof with the addition of housing. The SP360 has a 235º field of view and can record 4K video at up to 30 FPS. If you are looking for a camera that can do virtual reality video, this is a great choice.
The PixPro SP360 can take 12 MP still photos at burst rates of up to 10 FPS. Different unfolding modes in the mobile app allow for different effects in your final photos. For example, you can unfold an image into a long panorama or make the scene look like a big bubble. This camera also has different modes, such as burst mode and looped recording. The mobile app gives you the option of Live View right on your phone, which is extremely handy for framing shots and videos. This is not the most inexpensive option on our list, but for a 4K 360º setup, it’s an excellent choice.
The DJI Osmo RAW is one of the best small video cameras on the market for serious videographers who want a stabilized, highly portable camera. The Osmo RAW kit features an X5R camera, which has a 16 MP Micro Four Thirds sensor and 12.8 stops of dynamic range. It shoots 4K video at 30 FPS and records it as a CinemaDNG file, giving you maximum control in post processing. As with all the DJI Osmo kits, the Osmo RAW is fully stabilized. The DJI Osmo RAW has a longer battery life than most action cams and that battery life can be extended to up to over five hours with the use of an external battery pack.
The downside of the DJI Osmo RAW? It’s expensive. Whether it’s worth the upgrade from one of the other cameras on our list depends on how you plan to use it. If you’re someone who wants the kind of flexibility in post processing that RAW file formats allow, then this is probably the action cam for you. If you don’t need that kind of firepower, stick with the Osmo or Osmo Pro. This is a serious rig for serious videographers and it comes with a serious price tag!
It’s well known that GoPro laid the foundation for all of the action cameras that have since been released. It’s also clear that 4K is quickly becoming a prime consideration for many people. But now GoPro is pushing into what could well be the next frontier with it’s Fusion camera: virtual reality.
The GoPro Fusion 5.2K uses a pair of cameras and some snazzy software to create a 360º sphere of video, capturing every angle at once. Once stitched, the footage can be viewed in fully responsive VR for those with VR headsets. Don’t have a headset? When viewing on your computer, simply use your mouse to drag the view around. And because this is a GoPro, it features all the things that go into a GoPro. You’ll get built-in stabilization, waterproofing to 16′, and the ability to mount it onto any GoPro mount.
Perhaps most intriguing about the Fusion is the ability to create full HD videos from the footage you get. While it may sound underwhelming to turn a 360º video into a standard 1080p one, in practice it offers some tantalizing possibilities. The 5.2K resolution of the full recording offers enough resolution to frame your 1080p video from anywhere within the 360º sphere. Don’t know where you want to point your camera? Just record everything and decide later!
If you’re looking for the best GoPro alternative, look no further than the YI Technology 4K. This little camera looks and acts a whole lot like a GoPro but it is a lot less expensive. This camera’s ability to record 4K video at up to 30 FPS and capture 12 MP stills at burst rates of up to 30 FPS puts it on par with even GoPro’s HERO5 Black. Like the GoPro, the YI 4K has a touchscreen for framing shots and changing settings. It also has built-in WiFi for easy file transfer. Add the optional waterproof case and this camera ready to go on all of your adventures.
Does the YI 4K rival GoPro in all areas? Not really. The images and videos that come out of this camera are good but they’re not quite as sharp as those produced by the HERO5 or HERO6 and the YI can’t quite match its rival’s dynamic range. The mobile app is a little clunkier as well, making the user experience slightly less enjoyable. The YI 4K also lacks some of the shooting modes that GoPros have (for example, the YI camera is locked at a 155º field of view). Whether it’s worth upgrading from the YI 4K to a GoPro will depend on whether you will use these features and how much you want to spend. This camera may not quite be at GoPro’s level but it is also half the price!
Similar to the GoPro Fusion, Nikon’s KeyMission 360 gives you the ability to take 360º video, capturing the entire scene around you for an immersive experience. While you won’t get as high of resolution as the GoPro (the KeyMission 360’s full video is 4K) or the ability to create a static 1080p video after the fact, Nikon’s camera has some very appealing features.
Being designed as an action camera, the KeyMission 360 is waterproof up to 100′ and shockproof to 6′ without the need for an external housing. Nikon offers switchable lens covers to help you with different scenarios, including one made to eliminate distortions from underwater shots. Unlike most action cameras, the KeyMission 360 includes a removable battery and microSD card, meaning there is nothing to stop your shoot if you carry extras. Perhaps most appealing, the KeyMission 360 stitches your videos in-camera, eliminating the need to spend time stitching after you film.
The best action cameras come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and features. Deciding which camera is right for you will depend on your intended use. If you’re still having a hard time deciding which camera to buy, renting a few to take for a spin is a great option. Getting some of these cameras in your hands for a test makes your decision that much easier!
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