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Best action camera 2021: the 11 top rugged cameras for video adventures

GoPro Hero 9 Black
(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Looking for the best action camera you can buy in 2021? Whether you want a GoPro to shoot extreme sports or something more affordable to attach to your handlebars, we’ve tested all of the latest and greatest action cameras. 

From cycling to surfing to skydiving, a rugged camera is ideal for capturing your adventurous pursuits. The best action cameras can shoot crystal-clear 4K footage, with image stabilization that smooths out all the bumps in the road. And with features such as shock-resistance and waterproofing, they can go places where no smartphone would survive.

More than stable, high-resolution video, the top action cameras in 2021 also offer a range of smart features and shooting modes to help you capture and share cinematic shots. Frame rates of up to 240fps mean the best rugged cams can deliver silky slow-motion footage, while time-lapse and Hyperlapse modes allow you to capture the passage of time with dramatic effect. 

Many of the best action cameras also include smartphone connectivity for easy editing, sharing and streaming, while models such as the GoPro Max and Insta360 One R even let you record video in full 360 degrees, so you’ll never miss a moment. You can then extract a ‘flat’ crop from the footage or, for full immersion, watch your adventures back with a virtual reality headset.

When choosing your ideal action camera, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Budget will always be important, but other aspects should also have a bearing. Certain models feature wind-resistant microphones, for example, which allow vloggers to capture high-quality audio in all conditions. Action cameras also come in a range of shapes and sizes, from the pint-sized Sony RX0 II to the modular Insta360 One R.

The buying guide below features a range of recommendations to suit every need and budget. Our favorite action cam right now is the GoPro Hero 9 Black. Following a firmware update, the most versatile action camera ever made is now also one of the slickest, smartest and easiest to use. That said, if you’re looking for something more affordable, slightly older models such as the GoPro Hero 7 Black now represent excellent value.

So whether you want a flagship action cam that can do it all, or a simpler budget solution to strap to your handlebars, you’ll find your ideal tough action camera reviewed and featured in the list below.

Best action cameras 2021 at a glance:

  1. GoPro Hero 9 Black
  2. Insta360 One R 1-Inch Edition
  3. GoPro Hero 8 Black
  4. Apeman A100
  5. GoPro Hero 7 Black
  6. DJI Osmo Action
  7. Insta360 One R
  8. GoPro Max
  9. GoPro Hero 7 Silver
  10. GoPro Hero 7 White
  11. Sony RX0 II

Best action cameras in 2021:

GoPro Hero 9 Black

(Image credit: Future)

1. GoPro Hero 9 Black

The most versatile action camera ever made

Specifications
Weight: 158g
Waterproof: 10m
4K video: up to 60fps
1080: up to 240fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 20MP
Battery: 1720mAh
Reasons to buy
+5K video captures lots of detail+Front display for vlogging+Improved battery life+New software skills
Reasons to avoid
-Rear screen currently unresponsive-Little improvement to 4K video

GoPro’s latest flagship is the most versatile action camera ever made. It’s also one of the few that’s capable of shooting 5K video, courtesy of a new 23.MP sensor that captures excellent detail. Like the DJI Osmo Action, it features an additional color display on the front for easy framing, while a bigger battery improves longevity. As you’d expect from GoPro, it’s also properly rugged and smart to boot, with fresh software tricks such as HindSight, which lets you to capture action that happened 15-30 seconds before you hit the shutter. The Hero 9 Black is also the first GoPro to offer HyperSmooth Boost – GoPro’s strongest stabilization – in all modes. And thanks to a firmware fix, issues with auto-exposure and touchscreen responsiveness have now been pretty much resolved. Other models might represent better value if you have specific shooting requirements, but for a capable all-rounder that’s clever and accessible, the Hero 9 Black is the complete package.

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 9 Black review

(Image credit: Future)

Insta360 One R 1-inch edition

(Image credit: Future)

2. Insta360 One R 1-inch edition

Better than a GoPro in low light

Specifications
Weight: 158.2g
Waterproof: 5m
5.3K video: up to 30fps
4K video: up to 60fps
1080p video: up to 120fps
Stills resolution: 19MP
Battery: 1,190mAh
Reasons to buy
+Large sensor for great image quality+Strong low-light performance
Reasons to avoid
-Processing niggles-Sluggish software

Already a proven rival to GoPro’s Hero series, the modular Insta360 One R is now available with a sizable 1-inch sensor. That gives it low-light abilities which are brighter, cleaner and more detailed than the GoPro Hero 9 Black, as well as a native dynamic range better than any other action camera. Raw stills are impressive, while videos are sharp and punchy, in both 5.23K/25p and 4K/60p modes. That said, GoPro’s processing powers are more effective overall, with video from the Insta360 One R suffering from shimmer and fizz in detailed areas. The One R also lacks the point-and-shoot simplicity of a GoPro, with more sluggish software when it comes to exporting. All the same, the Insta360 One R produces some of the best stills and video you can get from an action camera. Its 1-inch sensor also handles the crop of image stabilization better than most. A flexible 5K camera with solid low-light skills, the Insta360 One R is one of the best action cams around.

(Image credit: Future)

GoPro Hero 8 Black

(Image credit: Future)

3. GoPro Hero 8 Black

A fine all-rounder that's ideal if you don't need a front-facing screen

Specifications
Weight: 126g
Waterproof: 10m
4K video: up to 60fps
1080: up to 240fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 12MP
Battery: 1220mAh
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class digital stabilization+Time-saving Capture Presets+Built-in mounting arms+Improved mic
Reasons to avoid
-Poor low-light performance-No front display

It's now been succeeded by the GoPro Hero 9 Black, but this model could well be the better value choice for you – particularly if you don't need a front-facing screen. What else are you missing out on compared to the GoPro's latest? The Hero 9 Black also brings a slightly better battery life and 5K video mode. But if none of those features are deal-breakers for you, you'll find that the Hero 8 Black shoots equally impressive 4K video, offers almost identical HyperSmooth stabilization and has one less color screen to worry about breaking. Thanks to compatibility with GoPro Labs, which is the manufacturer's new platform for trying out unreleased beta features, it also offers much of the same versatility. With the same folding 'fingers' on the underside for mounting it to accessories without a case, waterproofing down to ten meters and compatibility with GoPro's Mods accessories, the Hero 8 Black is a fantastic all-rounder for its current price.  

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 8 Black review

(Image credit: Future)

Apeman A100

(Image credit: Future)

4. Apeman A100

A bargain cam with flagship 4K skills

Specifications
Weight: 74g
Waterproof: 40m (with a case)
4K video: up to 50fps
1080p video: up to 60fps
720p video: up to 120fps
Stills resolution: 20MP
Battery: 1,350mAh
Reasons to buy
+High-quality 4K video+Outstanding value
Reasons to avoid
-No-frills build quality-Stabilization could be better

Don’t let its underwhelming shell fool you: the Apeman A100 might be a plastic brick without the finesse of a GoPro, but it’s easily the best budget action cam you can buy. In the right conditions, the A100 produces sharp 4K footage at up to 50fps, with detail that’s not far off a GoPro Hero 8 Black – albeit without its charming color profile. The A100 also does a reasonable job of shooting in low light, while panned motion is smoother than almost any other affordable action cam. Stills are solid too, especially if you take the time to tweak the color balance in post-production. Image stabilization is not nearly as good as a GoPro, with evident footfall judder, while audio quality is a real let-down, limiting the A100’s usefulness for vloggers. All the same, it’s a very appealing little package. At 74g it’s perfect for pockets, while port covers and soft-click buttons belie its price tag. You simply won’t get a better 4K action cam experience in this budget bracket.

(Image credit: Future)

Best action cameras: GoPro Hero7 Black

Image Credit: TechRadar

5. GoPro Hero 7 Black

A former flagship that still offers great value

Specifications
Weight: 118g
Waterproof: 10m
4K video: up to 60fps
1080: up to 240fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 12MP
Battery life: 1-3hrs (est)
Reasons to buy
+Great 4K video and image quality+HyperSmooth is very effective
Reasons to avoid
-Can struggle with voice commands-Screen unresponsive at times

Now the entry-level model in GoPro's revamped line-up, the Hero 7 Black is well worth considering if you need a more basic action camera that nevertheless has GoPro's excellent HyperSmooth stabilization. While it shoots 4K video, the Hero 7 Black doesn't offer this in 'Linear' shooting mode, which corrects the fish-eye distortion you get in wider shooting modes, and there's no high bit-rate 100Mbps mode either. But if you're happy to mainly shoot in 2.7K or 1080p, the Hero 7 Black captures excellent quality video at frame-rates up to 120p, while offering the original versions of TimeWarp (for shooting hyperlapses) and HyperSmooth stabilization for smoothing out any judder. The other main difference from the Hero 8 Black is that this model lacks built-in mounting fingers, which means you'll need the included mounting frame to attach it to objects, but that's not a huge deal and in most other respects (battery life, ruggedness, waterproofing and 12MP SuperPhotos) it's a match for the Hero 8 Black. 

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 7 Black review

(Image credit: Future)

DJI Omso Action

(Image credit: Future)

6. DJI Osmo Action

More than just a GoPro clone

Specifications
Weight: 134g
Waterproof: 11m
4K video: up to 60fps
1080: up to 240fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 12MP
Battery life: 1-2.25hrs (est)
Reasons to buy
+Forward-facing color monitor+Good motion stabilization+Rich color reproduction
Reasons to avoid
-No motion stabilization for HDR video-No livestreaming

DJI might be better known for its class-leading drones, but the Osmo Action is a compelling GoPro alternative with some nifty tricks and a tempting price tag. The front display and general user-friendliness mean it trumps the Hero 8 Black (if not the new Hero 9 Black) for vloggers who like to shoot a lot to camera, while the video quality is right up there with the best 4K action cams. 

The image stabilization, known as RockSteady, might not be quite up to GoPro's HyperSmooth, but it's not far off and the Osmo Action does also offer handy extras like a removable battery and lens cover. If you're a vlogger who shoots in places that are too demanding for most phones or cameras and don't want to pay top dollar for a Hero 9 Black, then this is a great alternative. 

Read our in-depth DJI Osmo Action review

Insta360 One R

(Image credit: Future)

7. Insta360 One R

An imperfect but impressive modular option with solid quality

Specifications
Weight: 130.5g
Waterproof: 5m (with case)
5.7K video: up to 30fps
4K: up to 30fps
1080: up to 200fps
Stills resolution: 18.5MP
Battery: 1150mAh
Reasons to buy
+Modular design offers unrivaled versatility+Solid 4K and 360-degree image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Very small screen-Significant bugs at launch

The GoPro Hero 9 Black may offer handy add-ons, but the Insta360 One R is a properly modular action camera, comprised of a battery, control and camera block. This means you can switch the latter at will to suit your shooting situation, choosing between a 4K action cam and a 360-degree camera. There's even a 1-inch sensor block (see the Insta360 One R 1-Inch Edition at number 2). But does this base model deliver on its promise of being three cameras in one? In many ways, yes: clipped together, the One R is only slightly larger than the Hero 8 Black and feels surprisingly sturdy – though you need to fit the mounting case to make it water resistant. Image quality is also sharp and relatively stable, with good detail in darker areas. 

In other ways, though, it's less successful: the image processing (at least on the 4K module) can't match the Hero 8 Black or Hero 9 Black, while the 1.3-inch touchscreen is too small for framing 16:9 footage. It’s worth remembering, though, that the dual-lens bundle costs less than the GoPro Max alone. For that, you get a modular approach that’s flexible and well-executed, delivering great 4K video and solid 360-degree footage. Provided software updates can iron out some of the processing issues, the Insta360 One R is well worth a look for those who want to tinker with both 360 video and standard action cam footage.

Read our in-depth Insta360 One R review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

8. GoPro Max

The best waterproof, 360-degree action camera

Specifications
Weight: 163g
Waterproof: 5m
5.6K spherical video: Up to 30fps
1440p 2D video : up to 60fps
Stills resolution: 16.6MP
Battery life: 108 minutes (1440p), 78 minutes (5.6K)
Reasons to buy
+Shoots 5.6K, 360-degree video+In-camera stitching
Reasons to avoid
-Low-resolution 2D footage-Not the best in low light

If you only want to shoot traditional action camera footage (that is, non-360 video) at the best possible quality, then the GoPro Hero 8 Black and Hero 9 Black remain better choices. But if you like the sound of being able to reframe your videos after they've been shot, and are looking for great audio quality, then the Max is well worth considering.

GoPro's most expensive action camera uses two fisheye lenses to shoot spherical 5.6K video, which you can later crop into standard 2D video using OverCapture software. It's also packed with features including six-microphone audio (which records excellent audio, if not quite up to the level of GoPro's 'shotgun mic' claims), shooting modes like TimeWarp, and built-in mounting fingers to ensure you don't need a extra mount mount to attach it to anything.

The downsides are the fact that it doesn't offer the best 2D video quality (due to the need to convert it from a fish-eye image, and the max 1440/60p resolution) and that it can't quite match the Hero 8 Black or Hero 9 Black in low light situations. But it remains the best waterproof, 360-degree action camera around.

Read our in-depth GoPro Max review 

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

9. GoPro Hero 7 Silver

Still a good value option for beginners

Specifications
Weight: 118g
Waterproof: 10m
4K video: Up to 30fps
1080: up to 60fps
720: up to 60fps
Stills resolution: 10MP
Battery life: 1-3hrs est
Reasons to buy
+Pleasing 4K video quality+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-LCD can be unresponsive at times-Limited image capture control

Once GoPro's mid-range action camera when it launched in 2018, the Hero 7 Silver is now officially no longer in its lineup – though you can still buy it at increasingly tempting prices. Should you? If you're mainly looking for a point-and-shoot model with limited manual controls and decent 4K image quality, there's certainly a case for it. Like more recent GoPros, it's waterproof down to ten meters and offers both a 2-inch touchscreen and voice controls. Its video stabilization isn't quite as powerful as HyperSmooth and you can only shoot 4K/30p, rather than the 60fps offered by models from the Hero 7 Black up. But it remains a good-value option for beginners or those looking for a more basic action camera.

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 7 Silver review

GoPro Hero 7 White

(Image credit: GoPro)

10. GoPro Hero 7 White

Officially discontinued, but a good 1080p option if you can find it

Specifications
Weight: 92g
Waterproof: 10m
4K video: None
1080: up to 60fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 10MP
Battery life: 1-3hrs est
Reasons to buy
+Good 1080p video quality+Easy to use+Waterproof without a case+Decent stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video mode-Limited shooting modes

Just looking for a waterproof, rugged helmet camera that can shoot good quality 1080p video? The Hero 7 White is a fine option, if you can find it. It was officially discontinued just a year after it arrived, but there is still stock available and it's worth considering if you don't need any of GoPro's fancier shooting modes like TimeWarp or slo-mo. The big miss is 4K video and you're restricted to the trademark GoPro fisheye look, because there's no option to change its field of view. But the 1080p video quality is very good, with impressive dynamic range and detail that's on a par with the Hero 7 Silver (above), and audio quality is decent too. Its simplicity is also a strength if you don't want to fiddle around with Protune settings or creating social media-friendly special effects.   

Image Credit: Sony

Image Credit: Sony

11. Sony RX0 II

The world’s smallest 4K video cam

Specifications
Weight: 132g
Waterproof: 1m
4K video: up to 30fps
1080: up to 120fps
720: up to 960fps
Stills resolution: 15.3MP
Battery life: Approx. 2hrs
Reasons to buy
+Impressive specs+Articulating screen
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

The RX0 II is part action camera, part stills camera. This tiny second-generation camera boasts a large 1-inch sensor (just like Sony's premium compacts) that can shoot 15.3MP still images, while there's a top class Zeiss Tessar T* 24mm f/4 fixed wide-angle lens. 

Not only ultra compact, but crushproof and waterproof with it, the RX0 II can shoot 4K footage at 30fps and Full HD footage at 120fps. This second-generation model comes with a Soft Skin Effect mode and advanced Eye AF, while Sony's also managed to squeeze in a tilt-able LCD screen (capable of tilting up to 180° and down by 90°). 

It's a bit fiddly to use and expensive, so doesn't lend itself to the casual user, but for those looking for a rugged camera that can shoot great 4K footage, this shouldn't be ignored. 

Also consider...

Image Credit: DJI

Image Credit: DJI

DJI Osmo Pocket

A pocketable DJI gimbal that records 4K video

Specifications
Weight: 116g
Waterproof: N/A
4K video: up to 60fps
1080: up to 120fps
720: N/A
Stills resolution: 12MP
Battery life: Up to 2hrs
Reasons to buy
+Miniaturized gimbal stabilization+Records 4K video up to 60fps
Reasons to avoid
-Audio isn't great in all situations-Not nearly as durable as a GoPro

Though not technically an action camera, DJI's Osmo Pocket is still going after the same audience. While it's not as rugged as dedicated action camera rivals, the Osmo Pocket has a clever trick up its sleeve in the shape of a built-in gimbal. 

Gimbals as designed to counteract unwanted movement and help you shoot super-smooth videos – while GoPro's Hero 9  Black has some clever image stabilization tricks, there's no substitute for dedicated hardware. The Osmo Pocket features three-axis stabilized gimbal and measures just four inches tall. 

The 1/2.3-inch sensor is capable of recording 12MP still images and 4K video footage up to 60fps, while there are built-in dual microphones that use advanced noise-canceling algorithms, which DJI says should ensure that you capture high-quality audio to match your footage. It's since been succeeded by the DJI Pocket 2, but that means the original Osmo Pocket now offers very good value as an action cam alternative.