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.
What GoPro Hero5 Session Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon customers liked the Hero5 Session's video quality, which they found was a significant improvement over the Hero Session, and were impressed with the image stabilization. There were some owners that also liked the variety of shooting options and settings, and that it's rugged and waterproof. They also liked that it's very easy to use. Others found wind and noise cancellation to be very good, as well.
Dislikes: Like many action cams, performance in low light is not great. Other owner cons included problems with the GoPro's auto upload cloud feature, microSD card compatibility, and having issues with connecting the mobile app to the action cam. Some were also disappointed with the quality of customer service support.
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
This new top-of-the-line GoPro looks similar to its predecessor, the Hero5, but its new GP1 processor allows you to capture 4K video at 60 frames per second, which will produce smoother video than the Hero5 (which had a top frame rate of 30 fps). But what snowboarders, skydivers, and thrill seekers will all love is that you can produce smooth 1080p-resolution slow-motion video at 240 fps, giving you lots of detail in your slow-motion clips.
GoPro claims the new model has other enhancements, including a new advance image-stabilization system (although it still appears to be electronic, which generally is not as robust as optical or mechanical IS). GoPro also notes improved dynamic range and low-light performance, which has always been a weak spot for action cams. It's added digital zoom, too, although like most digital zoom features, expect it to reduce video and photo quality.
The Hero6 keeps other powerful features from the Hero5, including the very useful voice-command capability, a rugged exterior that's waterproof to a depth of 33 feet, and the ability to capture RAW photos, which allows you more creative control when editing images.
Sony's DSC-RX0 combines the features of its RX-series cameras (a 15.3 MP6 Exmor RS CMOS image sensor, BIONZ X processor and a wide-angle ZEISS Tessar T* 24mm F4 fixed lens) in a compact (2.4 x 1.6 x 1.2) case that weighs 3.9 ounces. The camera can record super slow motion (up to 960 fps), and can capture images in RAW format. It's waterproof to up to 33 feet, and can be dropped from as much as 6.5 feet. But it won't be cheap: The RX0 will cost $700 when it ships in October.
See Also : 21 of the Best GoPro Accessories
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