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With camera technology getting smaller, more versatile and more dynamic, action cameras have come a long way since GoPro’s founder, Nick Woodman, launched the original 35mm GoPro Hero in 2005.
The original model was only £30, and with its launch, a new era of home action-movie making was born.
Famously durable and waterproof, once video recording capability was improved, this new family of cameras could be taken anywhere and everywhere, with short snippets of hitherto uncapturable footage able to be spliced together on editing software to create dramatic and captivating material.
What is an action camera?
Essentially, action cameras are small, portable camera devices with a hard, durable, shockproof shell designed to withstand being taken on adventures and into extreme conditions.
They tend to provide a good degree of electronic image-stabilisation, have wider-angled lenses to fit in more of the action, and fit on a range of mounts to attach to equipment such as bikes, helmets and climbing gear.
Popular amongst vloggers, a number of cameras we tested also feature a front screen which makes easy work of selfies and taking into the lens.
In this article, we look at some of the best action cameras on the market today, including the more well-known examples and some fun alternatives worth considering.
Insta 360 ONE R
Key Specs: Weight: 121g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 30fps, Waterproof? 5 metres, Stabilisation? Yes
One of the most exciting and alternative camera options we tested, the Insta 360 One R is a full 360-degree camera with a modular system designed to suit the user’s requirements.
It comes with a battery base, on which you plug in a core camera, and then optionally a dual-lens 360 ability and/or a 4K wide angled mod.
It provides a versatile and dynamic experience, which is easy to use and understand – we started shooting excellent 360 footage in next to no time when testing. It can also shoot 4K footage out the box at 30fps. We liked the flip-screen, too.
GoPro Hero 9 Black
Key Specs: Weight: 158g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 60fps, 5K @ 50fps available, Waterproof? 10 metres, Stabilisation? Yes
Perhaps the undisputed champion amongst action cameras, this is the brand everyone’s heard of, and for good reason.
GoPro’s new incarnation, the Hero 9 Black, provides a large sensor, an easy of use which is unparalleled in the market and an ability to shoot 5K footage at 30fps.
We also liked the addition of a front-facing screen straight out the box. It retails at more than £400, but we found there are currently good deals to be had and for our money, the GoPro Hero range is still one of the most impressive out there.
DJI Osmo Action
Key Specs: Weight: 124g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 60fps, Waterproof? 11 metres, Stabilisation? Yes
DJI are well-known for their ability when it comes to creating drone cameras, but the brand’s first foray into the action camera world is impressive and has been well-received by the community.
Had GoPro not produced the improved Hero 9 Black, this perhaps would have been the best camera in this round-up, and we were certainly very impressed with it in vital areas such as image stabilisation, durability, weight and size.
The Osmo Action was also the first camera, ahead of GoPro, to feature a front-facing camera. It bodes well for future incarnations of this model, but we’d heartily recommend this in the meantime.
SJCAM SJ8 Pro
Key Specs: Weight: 85g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 30fps, Waterproof? 30 metres (with case), Stabilisation? Yes
On the slightly more affordable end of the spectrum comes the SJ8 Pro offering from SJCAM.
Although not necessarily a household name, we were impressed with the build quality of this camera, its stylish design and excellent video quality – the image stabilisation for example, whilst not quite up to GoPro standards, was more than ample and its 4K footage good even in lower-light conditions.
An added benefit is that this should work on universal mounts too, meaning you can hook it up to GoPro mounts and accessories should you wish.
Garmin Virb Ultra 30
KeySpecs: Weight: 88g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 30fps, Waterproof? No (40metres with case), Stabilisation? Yes (not in 4K)
We liked the large 1.75in touchscreen on this offering from Garmin, and we also appreciated the hands-free shooting ability which uses your voice to start and stop footage – this worked well.
You need a case to make it waterproof, and that’s a separate entity, but we found that it performed well in both the build-quality and usability stakes.
We would have liked to have seen image stabilisation offered for 4K footage, however.
GoPro Hero 8 Black
Key Specs: Weight: 126g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 60fps, Waterproof? 10 metres, Stabilisation? Yes
We included this option from GoPro as we liked the cost saving compared to the Hero 9 Black, and if having the very latest gadget on the market isn’t your bag, we’d very readily recommend this previous version, the Hero 8 Black.
It doesn’t have a front facing display like the Hero 9 does, but let’s be honest, the camera itself is only two years old so you’re still getting excellent 4K video up to 60fps (which even today is class-leading, even though it doesn’t feature the 5K of the Hero 9 Black) and exactly the same HyperSmooth image stabilisation system. A great buy.
Akaso Brave 7 LE Action Camera
Key Specs: Weight: 127g, 4K Footage: Yes @ 30fps, Waterproof? 1 metres without case and 30m with included case, Stabilisation? Yes
We really liked this budget option, and for our money it provides image quality and stabilisation far in excess of its price-point.
We especially liked the fact that it is waterproof straight out of the box, without the need of a case, and the fact that it can shoot 4K video footage and also 20MP stills is excellent. It also has a front screen and supports a number of accessories such as a remote control.
We also liked its slow-motion and time-lapse features. Overall, an impressive system for the price, but those who will miss GPS support, app support and premium image stabilisation might want to head elsewhere.