Editor's choice

Best Overall

GoPro Hero5 Black

GoPro's newest flagship camera sports a major redesign, and is now waterproof to 33 feet without needing a case. It has a rear 2-inch color touch-screen LCD that makes navigating the camera easy. And for those moments when you can’t reach it, you can...

$399 Amazon
Product Use case Rating
GoPro Hero5 Black Best Overall 9
Kodak PixPro SP1 Best Budget Action Camera 9
GoPro Hero5 Session Most Compact Action Camera N/A
Garmin Virb Ultra 30 Best for Data Junkies 8
Best Budget Action Camera
Kodak PixPro SP1
$179.99 Amazon
Most Compact Action Camera
GoPro Hero5 Session
Best for Data Junkies
Garmin Virb Ultra 30
$399 Amazon

Action cameras aren’t just ruggedized and protected against the elements, they offer ultrawide viewing angles to capture the full experience of ski runs, skateboard tricks, snorkeling adventures or just pet antics (several companies make harnesses for your dog). And after testing a number of action cameras in a variety of conditions, including a mountain biking trip and a rafting adventure, we have action cam recommendations for every budget.

The GoPro Hero5 ($399) is our pick for the best action camera overall, because it offers the best video quality, is waterproof to 33 feet without requiring a protective shell, has a built-in touch screen and responds to voice commands.

GoPro entire lineup consists of three cameras, the Hero5, the Hero5 Session ($299) and the Hero Session ($199). If you're having trouble deciding which GoPro or GoPro add-ons to purchase, check out our GoPro Buying Guide and list of the 20 Best GoPro Accessories.

If you're looking for something a bit less expensive, the Kodak PixPro SP1 is our current favorite budget action cam. For half the price of the Hero5, the PixPro SP1 features full HD video recording, the ability to shoot 14-MP stills, and the same 33-feet of water resistance.

Finally for people who just need something compact that they can strap to a helmet or backpack, the GoPro5 Hero Session features the same level of rugged durability as the Hero5, but in a body that's almost 50 percent lighter and significantly smaller. While it doesn't have a touchscreen, the Session can record in 4K.

Although the name brand "GoPro" has become synonymous with "action cams", the market has been inundated with new models at significantly lower prices. For example, the FITFORT Action Camera , also 4K capable, sells for $63.99, and has a very strong 4.5-star rating on Amazon. So, if GoPro, Kodak, or Sony action cams are out of your price range, you can still find more models that fit your budget.

MORE: Which GoPro is Right For You?

How We Tested

We review action cameras based on a number of factors, including video and image quality, ease of use, features (including waterproofing) and value. In order to provide the most meaningful comparisons, we test cameras side-by-side, shooting at 1080p resolution and 60fps, when possible (some cameras can do only 30fps). We also shoot 4K videos from the cameras that support that resolution. We take the cameras biking, canoeing and running (among others), and see how they hold up in the elements.

What to Look For

Your choice of camera depends mostly on the kind of activities you want to shoot. Love the water? Most action cameras are waterproof, but some can only survive just a few feet underwater, which is fine for surfing or boating, while others can withstand depths of up to 160 feet meters, which is makes those much better for SCUBA divers.

Size and heft matter, especially if you will be mounting the camera on helmet. Weights vary from 2.6 to more than five ounces. Another feature you want to consider is mounting options. The most versatile action cams, such as those from GoPro, will have accessory mounts for just about any situation, from surfing to skiing.

Image quality, especially in daylight, is the most important consideration. However, ease of use is also critical, as confusing controls can cause you to miss that killer clip or shoot it on the wrong settings. Some cameras can even be paired with a smartphone for wireless shooting and image sharing.

New & Notable Action Cams

Create a new thread in the Digital Cameras forum about this subject
No comments yet
Comment from the forums
    Your comment