Action cameras are unlike any other kind of camera. They're designed to be attached to helmets, surfboards, cars and other objects, and they're small, tough and simple to operate, with a lens that captures the world in high-definition video and in a wide-angle fish-eye perspective.
Their small size and dramatic POV ('point of view') footage has made them popular with extreme sports participants, who capture their adventures by attaching cameras to themselves or their equipment. They're also used by TV production companies where using a regular video camera would be impossible.
GoPro is the market leader with its iconic box-shaped Hero cameras, but action cams also come in a 'bullet' style, like the iON Air Pro. There's lots of choice now, and you shouldn't just buy on brand – think about what you want from an action camera and how you plan to use it.
If you're helmet-mounting, then a bullet cam will probably be the best choice. For a chest mount a box design will be more stable. And when it comes to features, do you really need Wi-Fi, 4K, GPS or even a screen? These all bump up the price, and while they are invaluable in some situations, you can still get great footage without them.
1. GoPro Hero5 Black
The best in the business just gets better
Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: 30/25/24fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs est
GoPro really had to step up its game if it wanted to remain at the top of the action cam pile, and the Hero5 Black is a great reminder of why the name is so revered and why it's our top pick. Simple to use, the addition of a rear touchscreen, voice control and GPS make it one of the most feature-packed cams currently available. Video footage is now smoother than ever too, while the ability to shoot stills in raw, and the Wide Dynamic Range feature, make the Hero5 Black more versatile than ever.
Read the full review: GoPro Hero5 Black
2. TomTom Bandit
Shake-to-edit features could tempt users away from GoPro
Weight: 190g | Waterproof: Splashproof, with lens swap | 4K video: 15fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 3hrs
Bullet shape cams might have fallen out of fashion recently thanks to GoPro and its box-shaped cameras, but the TomTom Bandit bucks the trend. In fact, the Bandit packs features that other manufacturers will need to follow if they're to keep up with this newcomer. Taking years of GPS experience, TomTom has built in a series of sensors that not only record location but speed and G-force too, so that when these sensors pick up that something exciting has happened they automatically tag the footage. Back in the pub and with the app open and connected, a quick shake of your phone and the app will automatically edit your footage ready for upload. It really couldn't be easier.
Read the full review: TomTom Bandit
3. Olympus TG-Tracker
The next generation of sensor enabled action cameras has arrived
Weight: 180g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: 30fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 7.2MP | Battery life: 3hrs
The TG-Tracker's futuristic design is hard to miss with an ultra wide 204 degree lens fronting a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor. Headline video resolutions include 4k at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps and an impressive 240fps at 720p for slow motion capture. This is an action camera ready for anything and even features a small LED video light built in. Sensors are the big news for the Tracker with GPS, compass, acceleration sensors plus a barometer and thermometer all capturing data from inside the compact case. The intel from these can all be displayed when viewing back the footage or in the video edit so you can show just how extreme you are. What's more, it's waterproof to 30m, features built in stabilization and can withstand temperatures down to -10C.
Read the full review: Olympus TG-Tracker
4. YI 4K Action Camera
A 4K action camera at a cheap price
Weight: 94g | Waterproof: N/A (optional case available) | 4K video: 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: Up to 2hrs
How often do you take an action cam underwater? Most people never will, so in some regard the YI 4K ActionCam is about cutting corners, but what it leaves out – GPS, voice control, auto-upload, and raw shooting – are hardly core features. In fact, it gives as much as it takes, with a large and responsive touchscreen, a big battery and a fast file transfers. It may lack a few niceties – and we would include lens distortion correction and image stabilisation in that list – but the YI 4K Action Cam remains a great value addition to any adventurer's kit bag.
Read the full review: YI 4K Action Camera
5. Olfi one.five
Cheap, and extremely cheerful
Weight: 55g (110g with housing) | Waterproof: 30m (case included) | 4K video: 24fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 1-2hrs
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 the full review: Olfi one.five
6. Garmin Virb XE
Capture your action, speed and location at the same time
Weight: 152g | Waterproof: 50m | 4K video: No | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 12Mp | Battery life: 2hrs
The original Garmin Virb introduced motion sensors and GPS tracking to action cameras, adding an extra element to capturing the action, like the TomTom Bandit. Building on the solid foundation of the original Virb, Garmin has revisited the design, losing the bullet shape and remodeling the camera around the popular 'box' style. This new shape makes chest mounting far easier and, as with the original, the build quality is excellent. The XE offers increased video quality, it's waterproof without an additional case, features Wi-Fi along with compatible app and software, this all makes the Virb XE one of the best action cameras at present.
Read the full review: Garmin Virb XE
7. GoPro Hero5 Session
Back-to-basics box-shape action camera
Weight: 74g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: 30/25/24fps | 1080: up to 90fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 10MP | Battery life: 1.5-2hrs est
The Hero5 Session follows on from the Hero4 Session, stripping back the action camera concept to its basics, but sharing many of the same specs as the Hero5 Black. That includes 4K video capture up to 30fps, image stabilisation, voice control and is waterproof down to 10m. The large Record button on the top starts and stops recording so there's no worrying about different modes and options – that's all handled by the app. Back to basics, but still captures the quality of video that you'd expect from GoPro.
Read the full review: GoPro Hero5 Session
8. Veho Muvi K-Series K2 NPNG
Comprehensive package and amazing 100m dive depth
Weight: 84g | Waterproof: 100m | 4K video: No | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16Mp | Battery life: Up to 4hrs
It's not a familiar High Street brand, but UK-based Veho has put a great deal of effort into making sure that its Muvi range of action cameras is a major contender in this competitive action cam market. The box design and wealth of mounts included in the box is a great move. Its design and build show that it is made to withstand the action, and an ultra-tough dive case quotes a maximum depth of 100m – deeper than all the rest and far greater than we're able to test.
9. iSAW Edge
Leading the pack of high-spec budget action cameras
Weight: 64g | Waterproof: 40m, with waterproof housing | 4K video: 10fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16Mp | Battery life: 2hrs
It has its limitations but the iSAW Edge is still an incredibly capable action camera at a price that defies its features. The spec sheet really does look too good to be true for the price, with 4K capture, 120fps slow motion at 720p and up to 60fps at 1080p. The design is similar to the GoPro Hero series and the 40m waterproof housing is fully compatible with the majority of GoPro mounts, but where the camera really wins confidence is in the quality of both the build and video. Footage is sharp clear and crisp and the overall design takes on board easy clean elements such as a flat, wipe-clean lens, that so many of the newer manufacturers totally overlook.
Read the full review: ISAW Edge
10. Sony FDR-X1000V
Clear, crisp 4K video quality
Weight: 114g | Waterproof: 10m, with waterproof case | 4K video: 30/25/24fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 8.8Mp | Battery life: N/A
The X1000V demonstrates Sony's long standing expertise in imaging. It offers outstanding visual quality with 4K video and full 1080p video at 120fps, so you can capture stunning large scale or slow motion footage. The only snag is that while many other cameras have adopted the GoPro mounting system, Sony has stuck to its own. However, this does lock solid and is of exceptional quality – and mount adapters for GoPro accessories are available if you need them. There is also the option to use the RM-LVR2, a wearable wrist live view remote that gives complete control over the camera and is a great accessory if you're mounting the camera out of reach.