(The Gear Loop) - In years gone by, the only way to share your daredevil exploits with the world was to have someone standing nearby with a rudimentary camera phone, recording shaky and pixelated footage.
The notion of buttery smooth, ultra-slow motion video, insane POV angles and burst photography were merely daydreams back then.
Fast forward to 2022 and a slew of tiny cameras are poised to record you smashing the gnarliest lines in the snow park, dropping off insane ledges on the mountain bike or capturing the stunning scene at the top of your favourite summit.
These cameras pack a huge amount of tech into a minuscule package, with 5K resolution and 120 frames per second filming rates now the norm and their diminutive size means they can be mounted almost anywhere.
The range of options has also exploded in recent years. Industry stalwarts GoPro have been joined by DJI and Insta360, all of which are offering a different take on the action camera formula.
Fortunately, we’ve done the legwork and have tested a slew of action camera from numerous brands, so you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your extreeeeeeme (or not so extreme) activity of choice.
The best action cameras to buy
GoPro Hero 10 Black
- Superior image quality
- Huge number of first and third party mounts
- Stabilisation is class-leading
- The most expensive on test
- Occasionally overheats
Founded in 2002, GoPro has enjoyed a monopoly on the action camera market for several years and continues to produce some of the most feature-rich cameras on sale today.
The Hero 10 Black is no different. Offering a dizzying array of frame rates, resolutions and stabilisation options, the Hero 10 Black retains its crown as the king of the action cameras in 2022.
This mini powerhouse can shoot 5.3K resolution at 60fps, a feat that wouldn’t look out of place on a professional level mirrorless camera. Coupled with the fourth generation of GoPro’s HyperSmooth technology, which offers horizon levelling up to a staggering 45 degrees, the Hero 10 Black is an absolute powerhouse.
Couple this with the huge range of first - and third-party - mounts, the GoPro Hero 10 is a very attractive package for those looking for all out-image quality, performance and the ability to attach it to almost anything.
However, compared to its competitors, the Hero 10 Black is heavy by action camera standards, weighing in at a portly 154 grams.
Plus, the fact that it is choc full of features and broadcast quality recording abilities doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the perfect choice for everyone. Some won’t require all the belts and whistles and could, in turn, save some money.
There’s such a variety of options that it’s worthwhile looking at the alternatives.
Insta360 One RS
- Range of interchangeable lenses is impressive
- 5.7k 360 degree footage is versatile
- Software is feature-rich
- Grainy image quality in low light
- Poor audio quality
Taking design cues from both GoPro and DJI (see below) with its form factor and modularity, the One RS from Insta 360 is now the company’s flagship action camera.
Boasting 6K widescreen resolution at a cinematic 24fps, the One RS has a very beefy spec sheet. Capable of shooting 200fps at 1080p, this is just one of the headline specs in an otherwise bewildering range of frame rates and resolutions.
What’s more, these excellent resolutions are coupled with 360 FlowState stabilisation to make sure your footage stays the right way up and proves smooth and enjoyable to watch, straight out of the camera.
One of the most interesting features of the One RS is its interchangeable lenses. There are three to choose from, with two standard options and a very interesting 360 degree variant, which allows you to reframe in post-production thanks to a dual camera setup that captures everything around you and using clever AI technology.
Here, the selfie stick becomes invisible to create those even more immersive shots when barreling down a tricky ski run or mountain bike course.
Like the DJI Action 2, the One RS has a detachable battery base to provide extra juice for those long days of epic adventures.
DJI Action 2
- Versatile design means you can tailor the camera to any application
- Impressive 120fps at 4K
- Image quality carried over from drone tech
- Expandable storage requires an additional module
- Low light footage is noisy
- Prone to overheating
If you’ve spent any time using drones, you’ll no doubt be familiar with DJI. The company’s hardware graces the skies and has become synonymous with fantastic (and fantastically small) camera technology.
Remove the drone from the equation, and you essentially have the DJI Action 2. In terms of specs, it falls somewhere between the Hero 10 and Insta360 Go 2 in so much that it is a recording device, but it’s also much smaller and more modular than its GoPro rival.
Capable of shooting 4K at 60fps and 1080p (HD) at 240fps, the Action 2 isn’t short on muscle, but the real party piece of this camera is its ability to attach different modules to the base unit.
Want more battery life? Strap on the power module and film for up to three hours. Need a bigger screen to see what you’re filming? Snap on the touchscreen module.
Like its competitors, the Action 2 has inbuilt stabilisation to keep the horizon steady above or below sea level thanks to its 10m water resistance. It also has an array of magnets, which can attach to the headband or lanyard, available separately.
It’s pricey, but we have been impressed with the quality of its video and the modular ability is a nice touch. But like so many on this list, it still falls a little short of GoPro’s overall package.
Insta360 Go 2
- Tiny Size and very lightweight
- Versatile mounting solutions
- Great charging and remote case
- Battery life is poor out of the case
- Resolution tops out at 1440p
- Not waterproof beyond splashes
In no way related to social media behemoth Instagram, the Insta360 Go 2 is one of the smallest cameras we’ve ever seen and when we looked at the spec sheet, we were blown away.
This tiny camera weighs in at 26.5g which is insane considering it can shoot 1440p video at a respectable 30fps. And if you drop the resolution down to standard HD, it’ll do 120fps.
We wouldn’t recommend the Go 2 for anything where you’re looking for pure resolution or extreme slow motion, but to capture those moments on holidays and in general life, this could be the camera for you.
Offering the ability to be mounted almost anywhere thanks to built in magnets and a handy clip, you’ll barely notice its presence. One of the biggest downsides to the Go 2 is its limited battery life of 30 minutes, but that’s still impressive given its tiny size.
Fortunately, Insta360 have thought of this and include a wireless charging case, which doubles-up as a tripod and remote.
GoPro Hero 9 Black
- Same excellent image quality as Hero 10
- Great stabilisation
- Cheaper thanks to it’s successor
- Still pricey compared to rivals
- Fiddly touchscreen
The Hero 10 might be the new flagship of the GoPro range, but that doesn’t mean the previous model is now obsolete. In fact, it’s far from it.
The predecessor still shoots up to 5K at 30fps and includes the previous generation HyperSmooth technology, which we think remains perfectly good.
Seeing as the Hero 9 has taken a price cut since the release of the Hero 10, it could be the perfect choice for those looking to jump into the GoPro ecosystem at a discounted rate.
How to choose the best action camera for you
With such an array of action cameras on the market, it can be a minefield to work out which is best for you, and that’s before you’ve even looked at spec sheets. Here’s a breakdown of the common terms thrown around when discussing action cams.
It wasn’t long ago that 1080p was as good as it got, christened 'high definition’. These days, it isn’t uncommon to see cameras that can shoot 4 and even 5K. 1080 refers to the number of vertical pixels in the frame, at an aspect ratio of 16:9.
A 'HD' frame measures 1920 x 1080 pixels. A 4K frame is 4 times bigger than HD, so measures 3840 x 2160 and can retain four-times more detail.
"But, I don’t have a 4K TV or monitor!", we hear you cry. Shooting in 4K is much more than just pure resolution, as it allows you to reframe shots in post-production and generally retains more detail, even when scaled down to a smaller image size.
Most things we watch on a screen is shot at 24 or 25 frames per second, or FPS. This translates the motion the human eye sees in real life onto the screen, because the footage has the optimum level of motion blur to make it look natural. It’s often referred to as the “most cinematic” frame rate because of this.
This doesn’t mean that cameras shooting 240fps are pointless, far from it. Shooting at a higher frame means that the footage can be slowed down, while still capturing all the action as sharply and crisply as possible with the minimum amount of motion blur.
Most cameras can capture a range of frame rates, but it’s important to strike a balance between storage and frame rate, because slow motion footage takes up much more space than anything shot at normal speeds.
Most action sports and vigorous outdoor activities involve a bit of bumping around, with something like mountain biking being the perfect example.
No trail is perfectly smooth and as you crash over roots and rocks, that motion is transferred to the camera. This can sometimes be very difficult to watch back, as the trail becomes a blur thanks to all of the bumps and vibrations.
Thankfully, good old technological advancements have stepped in to save the day. Much of the stabilisation offered is in the software rather than hardware, but this means more extreme levels of stabilisation are now available, keeping footage smooth.
Some cameras are able to keep the horizon level even when the camera is mounted at a 45 degree angle, for example.
An action camera would be a bit of a let-down if it blew itself to pieces after meeting a rock but fortunately they’re built very tough. Using advanced polymers and lightweight alloys, the modern crop of action cameras are a great companion when the going gets rough. Even the lenses and screens are tough to thanks to Gorilla Glass and scratch resistant coatings.
All the cameras except the Insta 360 Go 2 in this round up are waterproof to around 10 metres but manufactures offer waterproof housing if you want to go deeper.