LAST UPDATED: June 07, 2021

Best action camera: Capture life’s most exciting moments

Best travel action camera gopro hero9 prime day GoPro Hero 9

Capture stunning and stabilized 5K video with the help of this ultra-durable, lightweight, and waterproof pick.

Best action camera for vlogging dji osmo action cam DJI Osmo Action

With superior stabilization technology, dual screens, 4K video, and voice control technology allow you to capture action vlogs with ease.

Best action camera for beginners Insta360 GO Insta360 GO

The one-button operation and seamless automated features take the hassle out of shooting, so those new to shooting can still capture stabilized and crisp clips.

Action cameras are a high-speed, high-resolution ticket to capturing the most immersive and engaging footage possible. They bring viewers as close to your most cherished experiences as they can be without actually being there, and are hugely popular amongst surfers, bikers, climbers, and other athletes. The best action cameras have diminutive and portable form factors, high-capacity storage systems, and all-around durability that puts them a cut above other camera systems. These video cameras excel in environments where stability and reliability are key to attaining the highest caliber of footage, making them ubiquitous in creative environments as well. Vloggers, video production teams, and hobbyists of all kinds can benefit from the compact and easy-to-handle design of action cameras, which have plenty of novel applications in environments where traditional cameras and smartphone cameras fall short. From travel photography to underwater photography, the best action cameras provide a totally unparalleled video production experience to users of every interest and passion.

Features to consider when shopping for the best action camera

The best action camera for your needs will depend on the nature of the filming environment as well as the ultimate use of the footage. Considering the size, waterproof features, and budget is essential, whether you’re traveling, vlogging, or just starting out on your action camera journey.

Looking for an action cam for travel photography?

You don’t have to be a travel blogger to enjoy the benefits of documenting your journey as you venture out to see the world or travel across long distances. Travel photography is an incredibly positive and powerful tool for safekeeping memories of unique and novel experiences while you’re on the go, and there’s really no wrong way to partake in this activity. The best action cam for travel photography excels at capturing high-quality images and video throughout the wide variety of scenarios that often arise during travel, and by selecting a dedicated action camera for this purpose, you can free up your hands and potentially soak up the experience without needing to stare at a screen.

Because action cameras are built to be portable, light, and tough, the best action camera for travel photography will excel at mounting on wearables or on lightweight extension poles that allow users to curate and control their shots according to each event or experience. Action cameras are lightweight and rarely bulky, so they fit perfectly into any luggage or backpack without adding significant weight.

Need a video camera for vlogging?

The foremost feature to keep an eye out for in a vlogging action camera is the use of image stabilization, which can make or break the watchability of the final footage and greatly affect how much or how little time is required to spend fixing up your clips in the editing process. Selecting an action camera that includes an on-board screen is another crucial feature to consider for vlogging. A dedicated screen allows you to monitor the framing and quality of your footage in real-time as you record, and because vlogging most often involves some measure of speaking on camera and filming oneself, a screen can make the difference between accidentally creating a days’ worth of bad clips and having perfect footage every time. An action camera with dual screens can also allow vloggers to remain engaged with viewers while retaining the ability to dynamically film elements in front of and behind the camera without missing a beat.

How compact do you need your camera to be?

In the days before digital video and memory card storage, the size of a video camera and its specific storage media had a large impact on the fidelity and the production value of recorded footage. High-quality images, such as those captured for feature films and other high-budget productions, required bulky camera gear and heavy magnetic tape to get the job done. Today, miniature video cameras can be found literally everywhere—on smartphones and tablets, vehicle dashboards, drones, home security systems, and more—and they provide all the high-quality and high-resolution filming needed while maintaining a portable and unassuming size. Action cameras take advantage of this technology’s diminutive form factor to pack ultra-high-resolution image capture and high-capacity storage media into durable standalone devices.

Compact action cameras are an ideal choice for wearing while skating, surfing, running, biking, and traveling to capture intimate footage while being virtually unnoticeable. Users engaged in weight-sensitive activities such as skydiving, hang gliding, flying, or swimming can benefit from choosing a compact model of action camera to ensure minimal disruption to their favorite activity of choice.

Underwater photography enthusiast?

Waterproof action cameras are popular amongst scuba divers and surfers, allowing them to capture and share a record of these unique activities in high resolution without added bulk or weight. Even users who aren’t dedicated to a niche underwater activity can benefit from considering a waterproof action camera thanks to the flexibility and peace of mind this feature provides in the event of spontaneous downpours or vacation activities such as swimming and snorkeling.

The best action camera for underwater photography should provide complete waterproof functionality up to a significant depth to ensure maximum flexibility as well as protection of your photography equipment and precious footage. Action cameras that offer short-term water resistance at modest depths are good at surviving accidental trips, slips, and drops—but you’ll need a dedicated waterproof camera if you’re looking to film underwater or in wet environments for any meaningful length of time.

Are you starting out?

Small video cameras and portable action cameras are well-liked for their ability to offer users multiple features in a compact package, which makes them suitable for fine-tuning during video production. But if you’re just starting out, ask yourself if too many options will make learning and growing accustomed to your first action camera a challenging or cumbersome process. We think that the best action camera for beginners will have an easy-to-operate interface that doesn’t require a lot of jumping through menus or manual adjustments just to get a clean, usable picture. Features like automatic clip editing, event detection, and single-button operation are standout options beginners should look for. These automated features reduce guesswork for new users and are fine-tuned to render usable footage without any intervention. By taking the focus off of the camera itself and placing it squarely upon the experience and the surrounding environment, new users can enjoy and get used to the simple physical act of filming and collecting footage.

What’s your budget for camera gear?

Action cameras are a feature-packed category of electronics with price tags to match, but it’s still possible to get your hands on a cheap one that delivers high-resolution performance if you’re willing to make some sacrifices in battery life, file management, and overall durability. Some cheap action cameras include extra batteries to compensate for shorter power times, or accessories that enhance durability such as waterproof cases. If you’re on a budget, consider a budget-friendly 4k action camera!

Best travel camera: GoPro Hero 9

GoPro Hero 9

A large rear screen and integrated touch front screen allow for effortless control and framing at a moment’s notice. Amazon

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The GoPro Hero 9 is among the most well-known models of action cameras thanks to its durable and full-featured reputation. This latest model features stunning 5K video recording, 1080p video streaming capability, a 12-megapixel camera for still photography, time-lapse, slow motion, image stabilization, and so much more. All these features plus a new and improved battery life that’s 30% longer than its predecessor make it one of the most versatile choices for a travel camera. This pick is also ultra-durable and waterproof up to 33 feet, so you can shoot from the most rugged locations risk-free.

Best action camera for vlogging: DJI Osmo Action

DJI Osmo Action

Films high-resolution, slow-motion footage, too. Amazon

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Proprietary RockSteady stabilization technology and extreme cold resistance make the DJI Osmo Action one of the best action camera options for vloggers. This unit includes a number of mounts and accessories to maximize flexibility and allow the camera to excel in studio and field environments alike. Dual screens, RockSteady technology for image stability, 4K video capture, 11-meter waterproof construction, and voice control also help make it one of the most versatile options on the market. You can even shoot in 8x slow motion for dramatic clips that will make your next vlog stand out from the crowd.

Best small action camera: Sony RX0 II

Sony RX0 II

Features remote control via an optional app. Amazon

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When pocket-sized portability is a priority, the Sony RX0 II delivers, packing 4K video and a 15-megapixel sensor into a form factor no bigger than a matchbox. Its waterproof housing and internal image stabilization system make it one of the best small cameras on the market for on-the-go shooting. The unit is rounded out by a 180-degree tiltable screen and time-lapse interval recording to make it a truly full-featured action camera in an unimaginably small size.

Best waterproof camera: Garmin VIRB

Voice-Controlled Powerhouse

Onboard GPS sensors capture speed and distance data while filming. Amazon

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When paired with Garmin’s proprietary waterproof case, the Garmin Virb is one of the best waterproof cameras in the action camera market. Thanks to the case’s anti-glare, water-repellent lens, the Garmin Virb can withstand pressures at depths of up to 40 meters and deliver stabilized 4K footage at 30 frames per second without breaking a sweat. The small touchscreen also ensures your footage is captured correctly, so even if you’re enjoying an extreme water sport you’ll never miss that must-have clip. You can even use the camera for live-streaming via your provider of choice when paired with the Garmin VIRB smartphone app.

Best action camera for beginners: Insta360 GO

Insta360 GO

Excels at mounting almost anywhere thanks to an abundance of included accessories. Amazon

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The Insta360 GO is one of the top contenders for beginners thanks to its brilliant one-button operation and versatile automated features. Shoot 30- or 60-second clips instantly and sit back while the onboard AI determines the highlights and selectively edits your footage to perfection. With the inclusion of image stabilization, time-lapse functionality, slow-motion, and IPX4 water resistance, this camera packs every feature you’d expect from an action camera while minimizing downtime and emphasizing activity.

Best cheap action camera: SJCAM SJ4000 Air

SJCAM SJ4000 Air

Captures true 4K video at 30 frames per second. Amazon

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The SJ4000 Air from SJCAM sports a two-inch LCD screen, a microSD slot, and connectivity via USB and WiFi to allow for flexible user control and file management. It has a 170-degree wide-angle lens and includes time-lapse and slow-motion features as well as still photo capabilities. Topped off with a Wi-Fi-capable remote control function, the SJCAM is an ideal candidate for action camera enthusiasts on a budget or video content producers who want to stock up on multiple cameras. While a cheaper option, this pick still offers 4K HD footage and waterproof capabilities up to 30 meters, so you don’t need to sacrifice quality for cost.

Action camera FAQ:

How do I choose an action camera?

Most models of action cameras include similar features across different brands, but the key factors to consider are the intended environment of use, the resolution required, and the desired weight and size of the camera. When in doubt, a 4K camera with a highly durable casing should fare well in a large majority of situations.

What is the best alternative to a GoPro?

The DJI Osmo Action is one of the best alternatives to a GoPro thanks to its durable construction and mounting flexibility. This class of action camera is set apart by being compatible with a large range of proprietary accessories which enables them to excel in almost any environment.

Can action cameras be used for photography?

Yes. Action cameras are used for photography all the time—the high-megapixel sensors that help an action camera excel at capturing high-resolution video are the same that allow units to take high-quality still photos. Many units include such a photography mode by default but double-check before buying if it’s a must-have feature on your list.

A final word on shopping for the best action camera

The main traits found in all the best action cameras on the market are high-resolution, high-speed video capture, and compact durability. Whether you’re looking for a camera for beginners, a waterproof camera, a vlogging camera, or some combination of all three, consider the main activities and the environment that you plan to film to help you make your final choice.