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Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures

Action cameras are perfect for filming top quality video anywhere – and there’s one for every budget

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures

The arrival of the action cam made capturing top quality video much easier. These increasingly potent gadgets are a fraction of the size of a traditional camera but are often just as capable.

We’ve rounded up the best action cameras you can buy today, evaluating how easily they can be used, how well they shoot video, and just how durable these go-anywhere gadgets really are.

Related: Best running shoes for every kind of runner

We spent a couple of weeks testing a selection of models from the likes of GoPro, Sony and Yi Technology, and put the cameras through their paces in a variety of shooting scenarios.

Scroll down for the expert's view, or have your say by upvoting and downvoting on our shortlist below.

The Shortlist: Best action cameras for epic adventures

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1. Sony FDR-X3000R 4K

£499
View now at Amazon

Sony’s action camera dazzles with 4K high-resolution video, boosted by particularly effective image stabilisation. It’s light, comes with a waterproof case that allows you to dive up to 60 metres underwater and can even be operated remotely. Good quality still images and a battery life of up to 2 hours add further appeal.

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2. GoPro Hero7 Black

£379.99
View now at Amazon

Perfect for anyone who hankers for the GoPro pedigree, but isn’t ready for the chunky features found on the premium models. It’ll still deliver high-definition video and great-looking stills images, plus there’s the indestructible design and build quality that promises a long life of shooting. A touchscreen and lots of cool functionality make it a bit of a bargain.

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3. GoPro Hero7 White

£197.93
View now at Amazon

Perfect for anyone who hankers for the GoPro pedigree, but isn’t ready for the chunky features found on the premium models. It’ll still deliver high-definition video and great-looking stills images, plus there’s the indestructible design and build quality that promises a long life of shooting. A touchscreen and lots of cool functionality make it a bit of a bargain.

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4. Yi 4K+

£219.99
View now at Amazon

Budget-conscious buyers will love the Yi 4K+ for its beefy set of features that include crystal clear 4K video and pin-sharp stills, plus battery life of around 2 hours. There’s a strong supporting app and it’s very light and reassuringly easy to use, though the trade-off is that it isn’t waterproof.

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5. Olympus TG-5

£349.99
View now at Amazon

Perfect for anyone who wants a seemingly indestructible action camera, but in a more conventional compact design. It’s pricey, but you get impressive 4K video and waterproof capability. An impressive suite of mounting accessories let you shoot with it in any kind of challenging indoor or outdoor adventure scenarios.

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6. Nikon Coolpix W300

£329.99
View now at Amazon

A compact camera as opposed to very small action cam, the Coolpix W300 is ready for anything. It’s waterproof, dustproof and freezeproof, too, while it features super-slick 4K video recording and quality stills, just as you’d expect from Nikon. A great option if you struggle with the tiny controls found on traditional action cameras.

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7. DJI Osmo Pocket

£329
View now at Amazon

This dinky gizmo isn’t really an action camera, but it can capture very smooth video thanks to a 4K camera that’s mated to a miniaturized gimbal, which irons out bumps and knocks as you shoot. Dual microphones and a couple of hours of battery life make it a pocket-friendly option for aspiring filmmakers.

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8. Veho Muvi KX-2 PRO 4K

£279.95
View now at Amazon

This chunky action camera is ideally suited to anyone who finds smaller models too fiddly. There’s a robust design with easy-to-use controls and a similarly agreeable detachable touchscreen. Impressive 4K video capture and solid stills images, 3 hours or so of battery life and multiple options for mounting it to a variety of objects makes this a solid choice.

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9. GoPro Hero7 Silver

£238.99
View now at Amazon

Not as heavyweight, feature-wise, as the pricier Hero7 Black, but this fun and user-friendly GoPro is perfect for everyday shooting. You still get professional-looking 4K video capture, there’s a 2-inch touchscreen and voice control, while it’s just 118 grams and boasts a battery life of up to 3 hours. A solid all-rounder.

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10. TomTom Bandit

£299.99
View now at Amazon

This dependable action camera with a barrel-shaped body has been around for a while, but it’s a handy alternative to the GoPro range. You get top-end 4K recording plus great-looking stills. Battery life is around 3 hours and TomTom’s roots in GPS technology means action footage gets automatically tagged for sharing purposes.

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The Expert's View

20
Hours tested
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PRODUCTS CONSIDERED
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EXPERTS CONSULTED
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SHORTLIST BEST BUYS

For our money the GoPro range is still the best for its ease of use, features and functionality and, above all, durability. And thankfully GoPro now offers a model to suit most pockets and requirements, but don’t worry, we also have the verdict on the best of the rest.

Best value and best overall action cameras

Best Value
Best Value
GoPro Hero7 White
£238.99
Perfect for anyone who hankers for the GoPro pedigree, but isn’t ready for the chunky features found on the premium models. Lots of cool functionality make it a bit of a bargain.
View now at Amazon

If you’re looking for a competitively priced action camera that works brilliantly every time, the GoPro Hero7 White is ideal. It’s a minimalist edition of others in the GoPro range, but has features and functionality that let you capture video in a simple-but-effective fashion. Added to that, it has the same build quality found in their premium models. It’s a safe bet for anyone with an action-packed hobby.

Best Overall
Best Overall
GoPro Hero7 Black
£379.99
If you’re looking for a competitively priced action camera that works brilliantly every time, the GoPro Hero7 White is ideal. It’s a minimalist edition of others in the GoPro range, but has the same build quality found in their premium models. A safe bet for anyone with an action-packed hobby.
View now at Amazon

The GoPro Hero7 Black is a hard act to follow if you’re after an exceptional action camera that is easy to use, comes packed with useful features and delivers excellent quality video in all conditions. It’s our best overall choice, an action camera that can do it all and has capabilities carefully honed over successive model releases.

Author Bio

Rob Clymo
Rob Clymo
Rob Clymo is a long-time technology journalist who has first-hand experience of the action camera market after being editor of Digital FilmMaker magazine for the last six years. He’s filmed footage upside down in a light aircraft, going sideways in a rally car and beneath the waves while scuba diving.

How we selected the action cameras to test

Action cameras have improved immeasurably over the last few years. There is now a huge range to choose from. Specifications and prices vary, and the models reviewed here range from £179.99 to £499. We want to cater for any budget or requirement. Of course, the core point of an action camera is its ability to capture video, and take photos, in any kind of geographical situation along. They need to make filmmaking simple and fuss-free.

GoPro swiftly became the action camera brand a few years ago, but other manufacturers have been quick to get in on the act. As a result you can now find one to suit any budget and, depending on what you want to do with it, film anytime and anywhere. That said, you’ll notice a lot of GoPro devices on our list, because they now offer a range of different models to suit all needs – whether you’re a spelunking specialist or new parent.

Elsewhere, other action camera models like those from respected brands such as Sony, TomTom and Yi Technology, are also very good at capturing high-quality footage. While some don’t have every high-end feature, each device we tested produces perfectly serviceable video.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


It’s not just about the camera though. You’ll want to be able to attach your action camera to all sorts of things. That might include cars, bikes, boats, surfboards, skis, crash helmets, people and pets, too. Therefore, one of your main considerations is just how easy that’ll be and what kind of mounting accessories come with the camera.

Some, though not all, action camera bundles come with accessories included. If they’re not provided, be sure to factor in the additional cost of add-ons such as clips, harnesses, suction pads and so on. Similarly, check that it comes with a simple-but-effective solution for moving footage from the unit to your smartphone, laptop, storage or TV. After all, your video, no matter how ‘extreme’, is going to be useless if nobody can see it.

Many action camera models have supporting software and, increasingly, an app that can be installed on your smartphone or tablet to allow easy transfer of footage and basic editing functions. If you’re more ambitious, look out for standalone editing software, either for your mobile device, laptop or desktop computer.

Options include free software that let you edit your video in simple steps, through to complex programs that can turn your footage into something rather special. They can also spruce up any substandard audio you’ve captured.

Finally, be sure to have a memory card or two to hand – most action cameras use the microSD card format. These things are small and annoyingly easy to mislay, but they’re also affordable and come in a range of speeds and sizes, from those that handle a few clips through to others that hold feature-length movies and more besides. Stick with a decent brand rather than the cheapest you can find for extra reassurance and better recording/playback performance.

How we tested the action cameras

Action cameras are designed with rough-and-tumble situations in mind. They are perfect for anyone into outdoor pursuits. We took ours to a windswept beach in Cornwall and tried them out in the surf, and while mountain biking over the dunes.

However, because an action camera is small, light and robust it can be used in just about any kind of situation – and that doesn’t have to be the great outdoors. Action camera specifications are so good they are a great choice if you will film indoors, underwater, inside caves and so on.

Dealing with less than ideal lighting situations is less of an issue than it used to be, although if you’re looking to improve your video-making prowess there are lighting accessories that you can investigate further down the line.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


You can even buy ‘rigs’ that let you attach extra lights, microphones and batteries if you really want to push the boat out. We also tried fixing our test models to a car using a special suction mount and bracket. However, starting out, all you’ll need is a fully charged action camera and a means to attach it to something, although if it is practical you can always hold it in your hand.

Ease of use was one of the main things we were looking for in our testing. We wanted to select a range of action camera models that work in any environment and still deliver great results, without the need to spend hours picking through manuals.

If you’re on the go and want to record video with little or no advance warning, a decent action camera needs to be operational in a second or so. All of the GoPros models tested excel at this, and can be powered up and shooting in an instant. We also wanted to be sure of top quality results, too, in a format that can be used anywhere, from social media posts through to professional filmmaking.

How easily it lets you make use of the footage is another important aspect of the action camera. Sharing video or repurposing it for others needs to be quick and easy. For each camera on test we checked how simple it was to download, edit and share a short clip. We looked for models that ideally had everything we needed to get us started inside the box, or if they didn’t, whether they were compatible with things like mounts and tripods.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


Storage capacity was another consideration, as was battery life, particularly considering many action cameras are used in inhospitable surroundings, where something like extreme cold, for example, can severely deplete the life of a battery.

And, naturally, we were keen to see just how robust our range of action cameras would be, so we spent time looking at build quality, ergonomics and just how well components including lenses and activation buttons were designed and engineered. And yep, we dropped them and dunked them all, both deliberately and accidentally!

One final point we were keen to explore was how well each camera worked alongside our phones, which is often the first port of call for anyone wanting to check over footage, especially if there’s no built-in screen on the camera itself.

Action camera reviews: The test results

A decent action camera should ooze fun from every corner, set-up should be simple and operation a breeze. The whole point of an action camera is to not be bogged down with lots of complex settings. Capturing video or still images, when you’re often not in a position to consider the finer points such as lighting conditions and composition, needs to be quick and easy.

This is why there’s a model here for every occasion. GoPro is the go-to brand. Its models do everything you’d expect from an action camera, and you can just pick the one that suits your needs and budget.

We also liked the usability factor of the Yi 4K+, the Sony, TomTom Bandit and Veho models. That said, the compact designs of the Nikon and Olympus models made them handy for more straightforward shooting, when they were not mounted to anything. Nevertheless, they each have a thread that lets you attach them to a tripod or similar accessory.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures

The Veho scored highly for the assorted accessories included in the package. You can get up and shooting, quick.

Another great thing about using an action camera, or action compact camera for that matter, is that unlike conventional designs such as DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, they are light, and easy to take with you.

Every model tested was wonderfully portable and the unobtrusive designs meant they could be chucked in a bag or pocket when not needed. That’s hugely beneficial if you like to travel light or want to head to filming locations where lugging around a bulky camera is not a good idea. The same goes for filming unobtrusively. A big, regular-style camera can attract unwanted attention, so filming with an action model means you can get great footage in a low-key way.

All of our action cameras managed this, particularly the models with understated colour schemes. Black or grey fades into the background and it’s often difficult for people to see if you’re even shooting with one. It is perfect if you’re looking to carry out a covert – not in a seedy way, obviously – operation.

As for the resulting videos and photographs we captured along the way, all models performed admirably. The GoPros were most forgiving, and ironed out many irregularities in the quality of our shots. In fact, the way a GoPro Hero7 Black can smooth footage on-the-fly is really quite something.

However, we also took a shine to the Sony FDR-X3000R 4K. It has a real ability to deliver video that oozes quality. Its additional live preview screen accessory is another thing to carry but works to good effect. All of the resulting video captured was also easy to edit, and we found the smartphone-friendly Quik app as good as anything if you’re just looking to do some rapid editing.

The best action camera reviewed

GoPro Hero7 Black, £379.99

We love the GoPro Hero7 Black. It’s the latest iteration of the long-running series of action cameras. If you’re prepared to pay the premium – it costs upwards of £300 – you’ll be rewarded with the finest suite of features and functionality on the market.

Because the GoPro Hero7 Black can shoot in 4K you get crystal clear moving images and high-resolution stills. There are other video settings, however, so you can pick and choose depending on what you need your video for, bearing in mind that higher-resolution video uses up a lot more storage space and requires more of your time to edit. You’ll also need a 4K screen to enjoy the best possible playback.

The Hero7 Black is also better than most at capturing audio, which is an often-overlooked aspect of filmmaking. As GoPro was more-or-less the original action camera maker, it has become very good at cramming lots of technology into a small form. The Hero7 Black has a hugely robust shell that will happily get bashed about or taken to depths of up to 10 metres underwater.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


While the rubbery camera body sits nicely in your hand, it also feels almost indestructible. That said, if you have chunky fingers you might find opening the battery and memory card doors a bit challenging. The mounting frame that comes with the camera and allows you to fix it to just about anything is similarly robust.

You could perhaps level the same criticism at the touchscreen functionality on the Hero7 Black. It’s a little fiddly. But GoPro has worked hard to make this more intuitive and, by and large, it just works, which is all you need it to do. More importantly, basic but vital stuff, like how much space you have left on your memory card, is clearly flagged up so you don’t miss a video opportunity due to your storage being full.

At just 118 grams, the Hero7 Black is one of the lightest action cameras on the market, and battery life is respectable during normal use. We got a couple of hours of shooting between charges, although opting for the high-resolution 4K setting meant this dropped to about 45 minutes in cold, wintery conditions. GoPro has also done a nice job with the user interface and, considering its beefy shooting capacity, actually getting to see your shots is easier than ever.

There’s plenty of help on hand from the camera but if you are keen to get more creative, the ProTune feature lets you take a deep dive into the manual controls and tweak and fine-tune still images.

More adventurous users can even opt for working the controls using voice commands, leaving you hands-free and needing only to say ‘GoPro start video recording’ in order to record footage.

GoPro Hero7 Black
£379.99
View now at Amazon
View now at Amazon

The best value action camera reviewed

GoPro Hero7 White, £179.99

Choosing the GoPro Hero7 White means making a few compromises. It doesn’t have the same GP1 processor as the mighty GoPro Hero7 Black, but it still very good.

Considering the camera is rather like a ‘lite’ edition, it still features an unbeatable body design and housing ready to take on whatever you want to throw at it. The other bonus: it’s less than half the price of its market-leading relative. This is a rock-solid choice if you don’t want to break the bank but demand the quality and reliability of a decent brand.

Better still, you also get many of the cool features that the higher-end models boast, so there’s a touchscreen display, voice control and it’s safe to a depth of 10 metres underwater without the need for an additional protective case. As for the all-important footage, you won’t get quite the same level of quality – 1440p or 1080p at 60 frames per second as opposed to full-on 4K – but considering this is an action camera that can cost you up to £200 less than the GoPro Hero7 Black, that is a reasonable compromise.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


You’ll find that video is still perfectly serviceable and stills images aren’t bad either. But you don’t get the likes of the Hypersmooth video or TimeWarp video options offered by the pricier GoPro. While that may put off people with high-end needs or the desire to produce cutting-edge videos, it’s hardly a dealbreaker.

And, as you’d expect, the other bonus about this model is the ease with which you can mount it to anything because it’s so light and unobtrusive. GoPro makes all manner of accessories to help out. The little GoPro is also brilliant at fending off stuff that wants to stick to it, with sand in particular finding little on the smooth lines of the body to adhere to.

GoPro Hero7 White
£238.99
View now at Amazon
View now at Amazon

Comparing the rest on test

Generally speaking, the more money you choose to spend the better quality video you’ll get, so if you want to start producing footage to use in a professional environment then that’s something to consider carefully. The Sony FDR-X3000R is a good bet if you have a decent budget and want the super-stabilised 4K footage. And a live view remote gizmo can be attached to your wrist, and gives you a preview of your footage from a separate location.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


But, the best for everything accolade has to go to the GoPro Hero7 Black, which is well suited to any kind of shooting scenario. It has great stills potential too. The GoPro Hero7 Silver, meanwhile, is best for that middle ground if you want quality and features but less damage to your bank balance. Cheaper still is the GoPro Hero7 White, which obviously sacrifices a little specification-wise but offer the best value for money.

Similarly, the DJI Osmo, although not a true action camera, delivers slick-looking footage that’s made all the better by its gyroscopic gimbal camera mount that provides movie-like filmmaking in one tiny package.It’s the smart option for any budding movie directors. We also like the TomTom Bandit, which has to be the best you can buy in terms of GPS tagging capability.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


Conversely, if you are just after something to capture holiday memories, family occasions and other random video opportunities, you’ll want ease of use and convenience. The Nikon Coolpix W300 or Olympus TG-5 action compacts are the best for this arena. They are very family friendly. Best for coming with everything in the box is probably the Veho Muvi KX-2 PRO 4K.

Best action cameras for shooting epic adventures


Of course, as with any other camera, there seems little point in buying a model with more features and functionality than you’ll ever need. While we all tend to start exploring features once we get acquainted with a new gadget, lots of us just require a record button and that’s about it. Similarly, while you might like the sound of taking still images on an action camera, they’re often bettered by modern smartphones.

However, having one at your disposal is still pretty handy if you want off-the-cuff snaps, but can’t be bothered with the bulk of a traditionally proportioned camera. It’s also the reason a GoPro is a hard act to follow. They are so “simple but effective”. The design of their cases makes them additionally appealing because you can get sand, mud and any other kind of dirt off them with a quick wipe over or a splash under the tap.

Any action cameras to avoid?

While there aren’t any action cameras on our list that we’d advise you not to buy, there are many out there that aren’t exactly great.

While you might see lots of fizzy marketing descriptions as you shop around online, be warned – the internet is full of cheap but not so cheerful action cameras that, while they might capture video, do it poorly. It's therefore probably prudent to stick with a tried and trusted brand name, such as these we've listed here.

Price is critical for many of us, but if you go in too cheap and plump for a dubious looking model from a budget supermarket or petrol station then you might have to live with substandard video, poor stills quality and, even worse, an action camera that isn’t as robust as you’d have hoped for.

Compromises on build quality can result in seals leaking, allowing water, dust and dirt to get in, while other weak areas can be disappointing battery life and a lack of mounting options. Worse still, some low-budget models are frustrating to use, with clunky interfaces and sluggish controls.

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