“Pics or it didn’t happen” may be played out, but if you’re going to be shredding the slopes, rafting down Class V rapids, or even running around really enthusiastically with your dog in these still-Insta-obsessed times, you’re probably going to want to document it. But unless you’re shockingly cavalier about your electronics, your DSLR probably isn’t the best choice. Consider, instead, an action camera.
The action camera class contains models designed specifically for recording, well, action. Think of the GoPro, arguably the best-known member of this category. They’re generally smaller, built to withstand significantly more abuse, and equipped with a range of accessories to attach them to yourself or your equipment
Electronics retailer Crutchfield offers a helpful guide to the many features and considerations in the world of action camera purchasing. You’ll want to consider image quality, frame rate, and battery life, to start, along with the activities that you’ll be using it for.
It’s an increasingly crowded field and once you get past the GoPro and DJI, consensus starts to break down, but some brands are strong front-runners. We scoped out what the gear testers were saying and rounded up some of their favorites.
GoPro Hero7 Black
The brand nearly synonymous with “action camera,” GoPro’s most recent model has won praise from a multitude of reviewers, including Wirecutter and Digital Camera World, for its super-smooth stabilization and a new time-lapse mode and touch interface. If you aren’t quite ready to splurge on the newest model, the Hero6 and Hero5 are still receiving rave reviews and can probably be snagged at a discount.
To buy: amazon.com, $349
DJI Osmo Action
DJI once briefly partnered with GoPro to couple GoPro’s cameras with DJI drones, but has now branched out into its own camera development and is making a run for GoPro’s title. The Osmo doesn’t have quite the same range of accessories yet, but does have a color display on the front (which GoPro does not), along with excellent image stabilization and an easy-to-use interface.
To buy: amazon.com, $349
Garmin Virb Ultra 30
If you want to nerd out with your footage, check out the Virb Ultra 30. Fittingly for a company known for their GPS tech, Garmin added what they dubbed G-Metrix to this model, which captures performance data like GPS, speed, altitude, temperature, G-force, and even heart rate if you pair with a compatible monitor.
To buy: amazon.com, $382
Sony FDR-X3000 4K
This camera made it onto a few best-of lists for its slim design and quality Zeiss lens. Digital Trends was especially impressed by its excellent optical stabilization (versus electronic stabilization, which can potentially create a loss of resolution).
To buy: amazon.com, $348
Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
When your camera is really going to see some serious action, you want the Tough TG-Tracker. It lives up to its name by being waterproof to 30 meters, drop-proof, and crush-proof (within limits). It also includes an LED light for dimmer scenes.
To buy: amazon.com, $199
Kodak PIXPRO SP1
Consumer Reports dubbed the PixPro “Best Bang For Your Buck.” It’s nearly as tough as the Olympus and has an impressively long 2-plus hours of battery life.
To buy: amazon.com, $180
Yi’s 4K+ camera was another reviewer favorite for providing performance close to GoPro for half the cost. If you can find it, it’s a solid choice (though it does lack waterproof housing), but we could only find used models on Amazon and are concerned Yi may be discontinuing or replacing it. However, if you’d like to spend even less, the Yi Lite is Tom’s Guides’ favorite budget option for its low price and good video quality.
To buy: amazon.com, $80
If you’d rather go by the judgment of the masses, the Akaso is the top-selling action camera on Amazon and has a 4.5-star average across more than 8,900 reviews. Its upgraded cousin, the EK7000 Pro, doesn’t have quite the same status yet but does add a touchscreen interface to the mix.
To buy: amazon.com, $60