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Best action camera 2021: the 10 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

Want the best action camera of 2020? You’re in luck - we’ve got the list you need. If you’re looking for either a GoPro or are happy to settle for a more-affordable alternative, we’ve got some recommendations for you in this detailed guide. We’ve tested all the newest models to bring you our definitive list.

You’d be right to think that smartphones are more than capable of shooting top-quality 4K video these days, but action cameras can accompany you in places that your smartphone is unlikely to survive. 

The most up-to-date action cameras bring you fantastic 4K video quality, superb image stabilization which should result in smooth footage from even the most chaotic and bumpy mountain bike ride. You might also be keen on other features such as waterproofing, shock proofing and wind-resistant microphones for high-quality sound. 

Other fancy tricks include the ability to create moving time lapses (or Hyperlapses). Perhaps you’re not sure where you should be posting your camera, or you don’t know exactly when the opportune moment will happen. In which case, look for 360-degree models such as the GoPro Max or the Insta 360 One R, which should suit you well. How they work is by recording the entire scene as it happens around you, from which you can extract a ‘flat’ movie to show off the highlights. The sacrifice is a slight reduction in quality, but they deliver video that you might otherwise miss.

Right now, our pick of the best action cameras is the GoPro Hero 8 Black, which combines many of the features above, while delivering great value thanks to being one-generation old.

You might want to save your cash to put towards your adventures, but the good news is that there’s plenty of older bargains for you to choose from. Models such as the GoPro Hero 7 Black and the the Olfi One.Five Black are two such great-value options. Those cameras are a good choice if you just want a simple cycling safety camera for your helmet or your handlebars. 

So strap yourself in, whatever kind of tough action camera you’re after, here’s our top tips for the best action cameras you can buy in 2020.

Best action cameras 2021 at a glance:

  1. GoPro Hero 8 Black
  2. GoPro Hero 9 Black
  3. GoPro Hero 7 Black
  4. DJI Osmo Action
  5. Insta360 One R
  6. GoPro Max
  7. GoPro Hero 7 Silver
  8. GoPro Hero 7 White
  9. Olfi One.Five Black
  10. Sony RX0 II

Best action cameras in 2020:

GoPro Hero 8 Black

(Image credit: Future)

1. GoPro Hero 8 Black

A fine all-rounder that edges GoPro's latest for value

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 by the GoPro Hero 9 Black, but we think that this model is the best action camera for most people when you factor in value. What are you missing out on by going for this 2019 flagship? The Hero 8 Black doesn't have the new model's front display, slightly better battery life or a 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)

GoPro Hero 9 Black

(Image credit: Future)

2. 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

The latest GoPro flagship is the most versatile action camera ever made and one of the few that's capable of shooting 5K video. Like the DJI Osmo Action (see below), it has a color front display to help you frame shots, and brings a larger battery with some handy new software tricks, like HindSight for capturing the action that happened 15-30 seconds before you hit the shutter. The detail and sharpness of its 5K mode is excellent and its front display is very handy. Why isn't it our number one pick? Partly because it has a few minor issues to iron out, like an unresponsive rear touchscreen and slightly unreliable auto-exposure. We'll update this page if its new firmware fixes these. But it's also just edged out by the Hero 8 Black for value – if you just need an action camera for shooting 4K video and don't need the Hero 9 Black's front screen, then the Hero 8 Black is the better choice. If you want the most capable GoPro you can buy, though, then this is definitely it.

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 9 Black review

(Image credit: Future)

Best action cameras: GoPro Hero7 Black

Image Credit: TechRadar

3. 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)

4. 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)

5. 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 8 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, which we're in the process of testing. But does it 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)

6. 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

7. 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. 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)

8. 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: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

9. Olfi One.Five Black

Cheap and extremely cheerful

Specifications
Weight: 60g
Waterproof: 30m (with case)
4K-video: up to 30fps
1080: up to 120fps
720: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: 16MP
Battery life:: 1 hour 20 mins
Reasons to buy
+Fool-proof menu system+Impressive picture quality
Reasons to avoid
-Mounts and accessories feel cheap-App is basic and clunky

There's not much an Olfi one.five owner is left wanting, despite the unit costing half the price of GoPro's leading camera. 

GPS, voice activation and the ability to link external sensors, such as Garmin's numerous cycling products, are just a few things missing from the package, but for those who simply want to capture good-looking footage without breaking the bank, there's very little to complain about.

Read our in-depth Olfi One.Five Black review

Image Credit: Sony

Image Credit: Sony

10. 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 Hero7 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. We've already got our hands on one, and you can see what we think by clicking the link below.