Best Action Cameras 2019: top 9 cameras to capture life’s adventures

We’ve tested the best and latest action cameras on the market, including the new DJI Osmo Action, to bring you this list of the finest ones you can buy. 

Smartphone cameras are now incredibly capable, so why buy a standalone action camera? There are three main reasons: ruggedness, a huge range of mounting options and, particularly in the case of the GoPro Hero 7 Black and DJI Osmo Action,  some of the best electronic video stabilisation around.

Most action cameras have rugged designs or are, in the case of GoPro and DJI’s designs, completely waterproof without the need for a case. This means you can take them places where your smartphone wouldn’t dare tread. Their sheer variety of mounting options, from helmet mounts to chest straps, means you can shoot from angles that simply aren’t possible with phones or standard cameras.

You don’t have to be a fearless downhill mountain biker to justify buying one either – action cameras are handy in more mundane situations too, like filming your cycling commute or your dog’s adventures, thanks to their size and versatility.

One name that’s become synonymous with action cameras is GoPro. It’s not the only brand to consider, but GoPro has become incredibly popular for a reason – and its most recent Hero 7 Black is particularly good, thanks to some boosted electronic image stabilisation and audio recording.

That said, the DJI Osmo Action pushes it extremely close and beats it in some areas, like its handy front-facing screen. If your budget is a little tight, there are some cheaper options from the likes of GoXtreme that are worth considering, as long as you’re aware that video quality is often upscaled rather than ‘true’ 4K.

Overall, the best action camera is (at its current price) the GoPro Hero 7 Black, but you should definitely also check out the DJI Osmo Action. If you’re on a tighter budget, the GoPro Hero 7 White or GoXtreme Endurance are the best for under £200.

How we test action cameras

Each of the action cameras in this roundup was subjected to the same rigorous tests. We take each action camera through a series of real-world tests including cycling, running and, if suitable, a swimming or underwater test. To test battery life, we start continuously recording at various resolutions and frame-rates (including the camera’s top shooting mode) and time its endurance in each setting with a stopwatch. We also time its battery life during intermittent real world use.

Once we’ve shot a range of videos and still photos in various conditions (including daylight, low light and action), we then examine them on a hardware calibrated monitor. We look at colour, noise, resolution and evaluate any image quality issues like image softness or barrel distortion. If any special shooting modes are available, like slo-mo or timelapses, we evaluate those too. Finally, we go through each action camera’s user interface to gauge how intuitive and easy to control it is.

Related: Best GoPro mounts and accessories

1. GoPro Hero 7 Black

At its current price, still the best all-round action cam

GoPro Hero 7 Black

Pros:

  • Superb electronic image stabilisation
  • Improved audio quality
  • Vast range of mounts and accessories
  • Waterproof to 10m without a case
  • Now has live-streaming

Cons:

  • User interface can occasionally be sluggish
  • Can get hot when recording 4K
  • Still relatively pricey

In the month since we called the DJI Osmo Action “our new number one action camera”, the GoPro Hero 7 Black’s price has dropped to £319, which is £10 less than its new rival. At this price, GoPro’s flagship takes back the number one slot – for now.

There’s very little between the two action cameras, with both capable of shooting excellent 4K at up to 60fps. But at its slightly lower price, the Hero 7 Black edges it thanks to its slightly more polished app and ability to livestream. Add this to its 10-metre waterproofing, impressive HyperSmooth stabilisation (matched only by the Osmo Action) and huge range of accessories, and you have a fine companion for your holidays and extreme adventures.

It isn’t perfect, of course, and the Osmo Action could be better option if you mostly film yourself (when vlogging, for example) thanks to its front-facing screen. It’s also likely that we’ll see a GoPro Hero 8 Black in September 2019, although that will probably debut somewhere closer to the current model’s original £379 RRP. At its current price of £319, the Hero 7 Black is still a great buy, even with a successor in the pipeline.

2. DJI Osmo Action

Matches GoPro in most areas – and exceeds it in others

DJI Osmo Action

Pros:

  • Stabilisation matches GoPro’s Hypersmooth
  • Most user-friendly action camera
  • Waterproof to 1mm without a case
  • Excellent video quality
  • Lots of manual shooting controls

Cons:

  • No livestreaming or GPS
  • Official accessories not yet available
  • No stabilisation in HDR mode

The Osmo Action is a brilliant debut action camera from drone-maker DJI. It largely matches the GoPro Hero 7 Black for shooting power, taking impressive 4K video at up to 60fps, and adds a few new features – most notably, that front screen to help you frame video selfies or vlogs.

A 1.4-inch screen isn’t a massive help if you have the Osmo Action mounted on a huge selfie stick, but it is still a unique bonus over other action cams. DJI’s action camera is class-leading in other ways too. Its snappy operation and large rear screen make it by far the most usable one around, while its manual mode lets you dig deep into the settings and push the shutter speed all the way up to 1/8000s (which is handy for freezing action in bright sunshine, for example).

The Osmo Action is a fine point-and-shoot action cam too, though, with excellent video quality that has a slightly less ‘processed’ look than the Hero 7 Black and stabilisation that manages to equal GoPro’s Hypersmooth in most situations. Only a slightly limited app (at least, compared to GoPro) and the slow roll-out of its official accessories hold it back – although its universal two-prong mount means it’s compatible with most GoPro ones in the meantime.

3. GoPro Hero 7 White

The best budget, point-and-shoot action cam around

GoPro Hero 7 White

Pros:

  • Impressive 1080p video for the price
  • Solid stabilisation
  • Simple to use
  • Reliable water-resistance

Cons:

  • Limited modes with no Protune
  • Battery isn’t removable
  • No 4K shooting

Why buy a GoPro when there are dozens of budget action cameras around for half of the price of the Hero 7 White? This model might only be able to shoot in Full HD, but its usability, stabilisation and dependable, case-free waterproofing mean it’s a far more polished point-and-shoot camera than its cheaper rivals, which tend to only look good on paper or when mounted very still.

Two other features you don’t get on the Hero 7 White are GoPro’s HyperSmooth stabilisation (which is only available on the Hero 7 Black) or ProTune (for making manual tweaks). But the stabilisation the White does have is very good, much like other pre-Hypersmooth models from the last few years, and its video and audio quality are better than expected too.

If you don’t need to attach an external microphone (there’s no option do that here) and are generally happy with a no frills, point-and-shoot action camera, then the Hero 7 White is the best budget option around at this price.

4. GoPro Hero 5 Black

If you can find one, this former flagship is still a fine performer

Best action cameras: GoPro Hero5 Black

Pros:

  • Shoots impressive 4K video
  • Battery is removable
  • Has Protune for tweaking manual settings
  • Reliable water-resistance

Cons:

  • Stabilisation not as good as more recent GoPro flagships
  • Touchscreen not especially responsive
  • Electronic image stabilisation doesn’t work in 4K

With GoPro now offering a mid-range Hero 7 Silver model, why would you want to buy an older 2016 model like the Hero 5 Black? While new, unused models can be hard to find, at the time of writing you can find the Hero 5 Black for £279.99 – and at that price, it’s probably a better buy than the Hero 7 Silver.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, unlike the Hero 7 Silver, the Hero 5 Black has a removable battery, which is very handy for longer shoots – buy a spare battery (available for only £16) and you simply swap it in when it runs out of juice after the typical hour or so. Also, the Hero 5 Black has Protune, which is a handy mode for digging into manual settings and unlocking better video quality in some situations, which is another feature lacking from the Hero 7 Silver.

Still, the two models are otherwise very similar, with the ability to shoot 4K video at 30fps and very comparable stabilisation, build quality and WDR (wide dynamic range) stills shooting. If you can find one, the Hero 5 Black is just that bit more flexible though.

5. GoPro Hero 6 Black

The former top dog, now a potential bargain

Best action cameras: GoPro Hero 6 Black

Pros:

  • Shoots impressive 4K video
  • Impressive stabilisation (if not quite as good as HyperSmooth)
  • Includes Protune for dipping into manual settings
  • Water resistant to 10m without a case

Cons:

  • Voice controls not always reliable
  • Still fairly expensive

Prices for the now discontinued Hero 6 Black haven’t quite plummeted as much as we’d hoped, but what’s left of the stock might soon slip into ‘steal’ territory as rumours about a Hero 8 Black hot up. If you can’t find a Hero 5 Black, then it’s worth considering over the newer Hero 7 Silver for much of the same reasons.

With a removable battery and Protune manual controls, plus electronic stabilisation that laid the groundwork for HyperSmooth, it’s a more flexible action camera than the Hero 7 Silver, even if the latter is currently cheaper.

Make no mistake though – the Hero 7 Black was a big step up from this model, despite them sharing the same GP1 processor, so we’d certainly stump up an extra £20 or £30 for the current flagship. If you can find a Hero 6 Black for under £280, though, then it’ll be a good buy that can shoot 4K at 60fps and 240fps slo-mo, all from a waterproof body that doesn’t need a case.

6. GoPro Hero 7 Silver

This middle GoPro is solid, but its siblings offer better value

GoPro Hero 7 Silver

Pros:

  • Shoots 4K video
  • Impressive stabilisation (if not quite as good as HyperSmooth)
  • Includes Protune for dipping into manual settings
  • Water resistant to 10m without a case

Cons:

  • No removable battery
  • 4K video quality not as good as the Hero 7 Black
  • Doesn’t have Protune

The Hero 7 Silver might sit just below the Hero 7 Black in GoPro’s lineup, but don’t mistake it for the latter minus a few features. Its 4K video quality isn’t as good as the Black’s and the lack of Protune or a removable battery mean it’s more like a souped up version of the Hero 7 White.

That’s no disaster, of course, and if you want a point-and-shoot action camera that can shoot solid 4K/30fps video, then the Hero 7 Silver will serve you well. At its current £250 price, though, it’s just a little bit too expensive considering it lacks bells and whistles like Livestreaming, SuperPhoto or TimeWarp video, which are powered by the Hero 7 Black’s GP1 chip.

With similar video stabilisation and features to the Hero 7 White aside from its top resolution, we’d be inclined to either save some cash with the White and shell out a bit more for a Hero 7 Black.

7. GoXtreme Endurance

A solid sub-£100 option

Pros:

  • Decent image quality for the price
  • Generous range of bundled mounts
  • Compatible with GoPro accessories

Cons:

  • ‘4K’ mode is interpolated
  • 4GB maximum recording file size limits recording length
  • Maximum memory card size is 32GB

There are naturally good reasons why a sub-£100 action camera can’t match a DJI Osmo Action or GoPro Hero 7 Black – video stabilisation, waterproofing and the app experience being four of the main ones. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some passable results from a budget action camera, and the GoXtreme Endurance is one of the best of that bunch.

While it can’t shoot ‘proper’ 4K (instead using interpolation to upscale the image), it can shoot decent 2.7K video at 30fps or Full HD at 30fps. Image detail obviously falls short of the true 4K action cameras above, but contrast and colour fidelity are both passable for the price.

What makes the GoXtreme Endurance particularly good value, though, are the range of mounting options it comes bundled with. Although it’s also compatible with GoPro’s huge range of peripherals, you may not need them as the GoXtreme comes with a generous range of mounts, including a clip-on option for jackets and a bar mount. It also comes with a case that keeps it waterproof down to 30 metres, and there’s also a smartphone app for remotely controlling the camera over Wi-Fi.

8. Sony FDR-X3000R

Pricey and a bit dated, but still a good vlogging option

Best action cameras: Sony FDR-X3000R Action Cam

Pros:

  • Excellent image and audio quality
  • Good optical image stabilisation
  • Long battery life
  • Thoughtful design improvements

Cons:

  • Poor display on the Live-View Remote Control
  • Slow to power on (when using the Remote Control)
  • Bulky waterproof case

Launched back in 2016, this premium 4K action camera was the first to have optical image stabilisation – a feature that was pioneering back then, but has since been made largely irrelevant by the leaps in electronic stabilisation seen in the likes of the GoPro Hero 7 Black and DJI Osmo Action.

Still, it does also have another feature that remains unique – a separate live-view remote control that can be worn on your wrist. While its low-res screen is far from ideal, this is still very handy if you’ve mounted the camera to your helmet while hurtling down a ski slope, or just want to snap a selfie.

The FDR-X3000R also has the ability to shoot very good 4K at 30fps, which isn’t too far off today’s flagship despite its age. Considering its price is still at the premium end, we’d still recommend the GoPro Hero 7 Black or DJI Osmo Action for most people, particularly as the latter has a front screen for vlogging. But this model’s impressive combination of optically stabilised 4K footage and that separate live-view for your wrist makes it one to consider for travel vloggers.

9. Garmin Virb Ultra 30

An older action cam for sports nuts

Best action cameras: Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

Pros:

  • Robust waterproof chassis
  • 4K and high-speed shooting options
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth sensor connectivity
  • Wi-Fi smartphone control including live streaming to YouTube
  • 3-axis electronic image stabilisation

Cons:

  • No image stabilisation in 4K
  • Not waterproof without a case

If you’re looking for an action camera spec

Like the Sony FDR-X3000R, the Virb Ultra 30 is a relatively old action camera that still offers a unique feature – the ability to talk to external sensors through ANT+ and Bluetooth, then overlay your videos with data like your heart-rate.

Image quality and stabilisation has since been surpassed by newer action cameras, but it does shoot very good 4K video at 30fps, and offers a big range of other resolution and frame-rate options – including 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps for impressive slow-motion footage.

You’ll also find a display on the back for framing your shots and changing settings, while the Virb Ultra 30 also pairs nicely with Garmin’s companion apps.

This means while you’re hitting the slopes you can capture route, speed and distance data to bring an added layer of information to your videos. The VIRB Ultra 30 also supports external sensors through ANT+ and Bluetooth. These include heart rate monitors and bike sensors.

Image quality is also right up there with the best. You get plenty of resolution and frame rate options, including 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps – perfect for impressive slow-motion footage.
You’ll find a display on the back for framing your shots and changing settings, otherwise you can pair with the companion apps.

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