Action cameras are a great invention, rugged enough to tackle the elements but small enough to slide into your pocket.
Whether you’re snowboarding, surfing, skydiving or just taking a little hike on a drizzly winter day, an action camera is a great choice to capture those moments.
The good news is that these dinky devices are now more capable than ever before, with great image stabilisation, high-resolution options and more mounting options than anyone can count.
There are even modular options that allow you to build the perfect camera for any action-packed moment. With all this choice it can get a bit overwhelming, so we’ve narrowed down what we believe to be the top picks for anyone buying an action camera.
We’ve also got a section down below that explains some of the jargon, and how best to find the right model just for you.
Without further ado, here are our top picks
GoPro Hero 12 Black
1. Best action camera overall
GoPro’s latest action camera is all about refinement. It may not be vastly different to its predecessor but every upgrade is a smart one, and it’s undoubtedly GoPro’s best camera yet.
- Mounts to tripods without an adapter
- Can record audio with Bluetooth mics/earbuds
- Longer battery life and better thermals
- Very similar to the Hero 11
- No onboard GPS
The GoPro Hero 12 Black may not improve on the resolution and frame rate of the Hero 11 Black, but all the small changes with this model combine to offer the most polished and well-thought-out GoPro experience to date.
The first thing to note is that the battery life is significantly improved and it stays cooler for longer, too. But, there’s a lot more than just that. There’s a tripod thread built-in, the image stabilization is even better than before, there are pro-level features like Timecode Sync and GP Log and you can even pair the Hero 12 with wireless Bluetooth microphones and earbuds.
Our favourite upgrade, though, has got to be the redesigned menu system. The Hero 12 Black is so much easier to navigate than its predecessors, and that applies to both Pro and Easy settings modes. The only downside is that it has no onboard GPS, so if you like to use speedometer overlays, then you should stick with the Hero 11.
DJI Osmo Action 4
2. Best action camera for low-light
The latest DJI action camera packs a massive sensor, one of the largest available in an action camera today, and that makes it a brilliant low-light performer.
- Unmatched low-light performance
- Brilliant front-facing touchscreen
- Awesome magnetic mounting system
- Very similar to its predecessor
- On the pricey side
The DJI Osmo Action 4 is a lot like the Osmo Action 3 that came before it, both in terms of looks and in its specifications. There’s one key difference, though, and that’s the fact that it has a massive 1/1.3-inch sensor inside.
This means that it outperforms any other action camera that we’ve tested in dimly lit conditions. So, if you shoot at night a lot, or primarily indoors, then this is the action camera for you.
It can’t quite match the Hero 12 Black in daytime performance, nor is it as high resolution, but it also brings some quality-of-life improvements that give it the upper hand. There’s a very handy touchscreen on the front of the camera, and it makes it so much easier to change settings when the camera is mounted on a helmet, plus, there’s a sturdy quick-release magnetic mounting system, so you can switch mounts in a flash.
Insta360 Go 3
3. Best micro action camera
Insta360’s third-generation Go camera is its best one yet, it’s easier to use, higher resolution and has greatly improved battery life.
- Tiny and unobtrusive
- Remote monitoring with the Action Pod
- Excellent mounting options
- Quality can’t compare to larger cameras
- More expensive than its predecessor
We fell in love with the Go 2 when it was released in 2021, and now the Go 3 is here, and it’s even better. The Go 3 is a tiny pill-shaped action camera, and it can be mounted in places where even something as small as a GoPro is too large and heavy – we love using it with things like RC cars and tiny drones, but it’s great for squeezing into all manner of tiny spots.
The caveat is that such a tiny camera doesn’t have room for a large battery, or a display, but Insta360 has solved these issues with the Action Pod. The Go 3 snaps into its Action Pod for charging, similar to how AirPods work with their charging case. When it’s mounted, you also get an articulating touchscreen display and a form factor that’s very similar to a GoPro.
The best part is that the Action Pod also works wirelessly, so you can use the display to frame your shots and change your settings, even while the Go 3 itself is mounted in a hard-to-reach location. It’s so much easier to use than the previous model, and the battery lasts a lot longer, too.
Insta360 One RS
4. Best modular action camera
Thanks to its completely modular design, the Insta360 One RS can be used as a traditional action cam, a full 360 camera or a large sensor 5K beast.
- The most configurable of the bunch
- Robust and waterproof despite modularity
- Up to three cameras in one
- Small screen
- Can’t compete with GoPro on image quality
The Insta360 One RS takes modularity to the next level, allowing you to effectively have three different action cameras in one. The 4K Boost module gives you a traditional action camera, the dual-lens mod gives you a full 360 camera and the 1-inch sensor mod gives you 5.3k video and better low-light performance.
You can even unclick the screen and reverse it for vlogging action. Combine this with great features, like being able to pair to an Apple Watch or AirPods, and you have the most versatile action camera on the market.
The One RS makes some significant improvements over its predecessor but it still can’t quite match GoPro when it comes to pure image quality. That said, the gap has certainly narrowed. If you need both an action camera and a 360 camera, the One RS offers unrivalled value for money and convenience.
GoPro Hero 11 Black
5. Best value action camera
$346 $399 Save $53
With its high bitrate recording, 10-bit colour and endless features, we think the Hero 11 Black is one of the best action cameras around – especially now it’s getting cheaper.
- Now excellent value
- 10-bit colour video capture with high bitrate
- Extremely wide HyperView digital lens
- Fairly bulky
- Misses out on some of the latest features
While it has been succeeded by the Hero 12, the Hero 11 Black offers most of the same experience, plus onboard GPS, which makes it the right choice for a lot of people. Plus, now that it can be found at discounted prices, it’s exceptionally good value.
It still shoots at up to a staggering 5.3K resolution at 60fps and even 4K at 120fps. It also uses the same 1/1.9-inch 8:7 sensor allowing for amazing stabilisation, 8:7 full-frame recording and the widest FOV you can get from a GoPro.
Basically, that means that the Hero 11 Black can deliver the same image quality as the 12, the main things you’ll lose out on are the slightly improved image stabilisation, the GP Log profile and the ability to connect to Bluetooth mics/earbuds.
How we selected these action cameras
We’ve tested every action camera on this list, and we’ve analysed the image quality, durability, mounting options and ease of use with each model. We take a lot of things into consideration when we add an action camera to our buyer’s guide, including the value for money, performance, company reputation and customer support.
We’ve taken these cameras mountain biking, swimming, snowboarding and even strapped most of them to FPV drones. This means that we can confidently vouch for their ruggedness, waterproofing and stabilisation in a variety of challenging scenarios.
How to choose an action camera
With action cameras now coming in so many different shapes, sizes and price ranges, it can be especially difficult to find the right one for you. Before you commit to a camera, we’ve laid out some things to think about as well as explaining some of the more common features found on action cameras today.
Image stabilisation is one of the key things that sets the premium action cameras apart from the no-name cheaper options. When done well, it makes your footage look steady and smooth like it was shot on a gimbal – even when you’re hurtling through the woods on a mountain bike.
The big players all have their own version of this, and, while some excel in certain areas over others, they all do an outstanding job. GoPro calls it HyperSmooth, Insta360 calls it FlowState and DJI calls it RockSteady. A few short years ago, none of this was possible without external accessories, and it really opens up a whole new world for these diddy cameras.
All of these systems are capable of horizon levelling, too. This means when you tilt the camera off-axis the image will stay perfectly level. The more premium options tend to have a larger angle at which they can keep the horizon locked, whereas more entry-level cameras will have to stay fairly level for the feature to work correctly.
Resolutions and frame rates
Action cameras can now shoot at incredibly high resolutions up to 5.3K. You might be thinking to yourself, “How can I even watch content of this quality when my TV is only 4K?”.
Well, the truth is, you probably can’t.
The reason for these high resolutions is editing flexibility. For example, if you export your video at 4K, the extra resolution allows you to crop in and reframe your footage with zero loss of quality.
The same goes for high frame rates. Almost no one wants to watch 120fps footage at full speed, but it gives you the flexibility to have incredibly smooth slow-motion shots. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the slow-mo.
It’s important to think about whether you will need the higher resolutions offered today. If you’ll mostly be posting on Instagram, then 5K video is total overkill and takes up a huge amount of storage space on both your SD card and hard drives. In this case, you might be able to save some money by going for the last-generation GoPro, rather than the flagship, for example.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an action camera if it wasn’t durable. We want these things to be water-proof, drop-proof, and everything-proof!
As well as the general build quality of the device, it’s important to think about repairability. For example, many of the options on our list have swappable lens protectors. In the event of a smashed lens, you can unscrew the protector and replace it with a new one.
Some, like the Insta360 One RS, have the lens built-in and the only way to repair it is to send it off to to be fixed up. It’s still very durable but if you’re doing something very dangerous like slapping it on the outside of a rally car, then it should be a consideration.
Size and weight
You might not think it’s a huge deal, since all the cameras are pretty tiny but, in practice, it can make a huge difference. If you’re doing something particularly challenging, the added weight on your helmet can be quite distracting. Similarly, if you’re strapping the camera to a drone or RC plane then the extra weight can throw off the flight characteristics quite dramatically.
Of course, they’re all still lightweight and if the main purpose will be something like travel vlogging, an extra few grams isn’t likely to matter that much. It will always be handier than lugging around a DSLR, but getting the lightest and the most portable camera can often mean that it gets used more.