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Holiday 2020: The Best Action Cameras

GoPro HERO9 Black on a multi-color backdrop

For the adventurous folks around you, action cams can do some impressive stuff. These durable and specialized cameras do a great job at capturing your most exciting moments, and the five we’ve picked out here are the cream of the crop.

What to Look for in an Action Camera

There are a few key things you want to look out for when it comes to action cameras.

  • Video Quality: This mainly pertains to two things: resolution and frame rate. Both of these are vital to an action camera, as you want your videos to appear clear and smooth. Generally, you’d want to get at least 1080p out of an action camera, but higher resolutions like 4K are preferable. When it comes to frame-rate, 60 FPS does a great job of capturing movement in a smooth and convincing manner. You can get away with lower frame rates like 30 FPS, but 60 is definitely what you want to look out for.
  • Video Stabilization: If you’re using your action camera right, it will always be moving. These cameras are supposed to be designed to be used in motion, and they need the stabilization tech to back that up.
  • Durability: A camera in motion is at high risk to be dropped or bumped, so these cameras need to be rugged and durable. Waterproofing is also important, as weather can be unpredictable. Many cameras also feature full waterproofing, which protects the camera even in deeper water, so you can get some great underwater shots.
  • Accessories: Versatility is important, so having some accessories included with the camera or, at the very least, are available to purchase is a major positive. Whether it’s a waterproof case or a simple light, these accessories can open up more opportunities to use your action camera.

Best Overall: GoPro HERO9 Black

GoPro HERO9 Black

There’s no name more well-known than GoPro when it comes to action cameras. GoPro makes fantastic cameras, and that’s clearly seen with its latest and greatest HERO9 Black. The HERO9 features advanced stabilization to smooth out video and GoPro’s new “Max SuperView” wide angle lens. It can record 4K footage at 60 FPS or 5K at 30 FPS, and the 20 MP lens guarantees crystal-clear pictures.

But on top of all of those amazing specs are the smaller features that make this camera a step beyond the rest. It’s simple to record slo-mo or sped-up footage, you can use “Hindsight” to capture the previous 30 seconds of footage before you hit record, and “LiveBurst” will help you take the best shot possible. (It records 1.5 seconds of footage before and after you take a photo so you can pick the best frame.)

There are also quite a few accessories that expand the utility of the HERO9: The media mod adds a directional microphone and more ports, the light mod adds, well, a light, the max lens mod takes wider-angle shots and grants better stabilization, and the display mod gives you a larger screen. This camera is also extremely durable and waterproof up to 33 feet to ease any concerns you might have.

It’s always been hard to wrong with GoPro, and we’re glad to see the company uphold that track record. It’s important to note if you buy the HERO9 Black directly from GoPro, you’ll receive a $50 discount and a year of GoPro’s subscription packed in. The subscription grants you unlimited cloud storage, discounts up to half off on products sold on GoPro’s site, and free camera replacement—no questions asked. After your free period is over, the subscription will cost you around $50 a year, or $4.99 a month.

A More Affordable GoPro: GoPro HERO8 Black

GoPro HERO8 Black

The HERO9 Black is great, but it’s certainly not cheap. However, when a new generation of GoPro is released the previous generation receives discounts, which means you can snag a HERO8 for a pretty good price. The HERO8 is still capable of filming in 4K at 60 FPS and features great stabilization and slo-mo/speed-up features for video as well.

The camera isn’t as good for photos with a mere 12 MP lens, but it still takes solid shots and features “LiveBurst” (which takes 1.5 seconds of footage before and after taking a photo, so you can choose the best frame) to ensure you get the best photos possible. And like the HERO9, the HERO8 is a rugged camera that’s waterproof up to 33 feet. You can also purchase most of the same mod accessories as the HERO9 in the media, light, and display mods. (Only the media mod is camera-specific, the light and display mods work on both the HERO8 and HERO9.)

At the end of the day, the HERO8 is basically just the HERO9 but slightly less premium—considering it’s $50 cheaper that’s more than acceptable. Just like the HERO9, you’ll want to buy the HERO8 from GoPro directly for a $50 discount and a year of GoPro’s subscription packed-in.

A Modular Option: Insta360 One R Twin Edition

Insta360 One R Twin Edition

The One R Twin is a modular beast of a camera. Inside the box, you’ll find two cameras: a wide-angle 4K 60FPS action camera and a 360-degree camera. You can switch between these two cameras on the fly, and the camera packs in enough features to ensure using both is a quality experience. The 360 camera records up to 5.7K footage but the frame rate varies per resolution (you can see the list on the camera’s specs page). You can tap on a subject (or use voice commands) for the camera to automatically follow them while recording. There’s also advanced stabilization and easy slo-mo/sped-up video.

On top of the cameras themselves, you’ll also find the core part of the camera where you’ll attach everything, a battery base, and a mounting bracket for setting up the camera. Once you have all the parts together (lens of your choice, the base module, battery module, and mounting bracket), the camera will be waterproof for up to 16 feet of water. The One R Twin offers something unique in the action camera world, and if having on-the-fly access to both a 360-degree camera and an action camera sounds exciting, then it’s definitely the way to go.

After filming, videos can be edited through Insta360 Shot Lab (Android/iOS). Shot Lab is an AI-driven video editor, so you can give it your footage and make a few choices,and it’ll pop out a nice-looking video for you without all the hassle. It performs excellently with both standard video and 360 videos—so if you’re new to the latter, then this should definitely help out.

A Modular Option

Best Budget: Akaso Brave 7

Akaso Brave 7

The Brave 7 puts on an impressive display for the money, and while it obviously can’t compete with the more expensive options here, it’s still a great action camera. It can record at 4K but only in 30 FPS, if you want to boost the frame rate up to 60, you’ll need to drop the resolution down to 2.7K or under. Regardless, with the six-axis stabilization, your videos should come out looking smooth and the 20 MP lens is great for taking still photos.

On its own, the Brave 7 is waterproofed for up to a meter of water, but when you put it into the included waterproof case, then it’s waterproof for up to 40 meters. The Brave 7 also comes with a wristwatch remote for controlling the camera wirelessly, mounts for bikes, helmets, and general use (they even work with GoPros), and two batteries you can switch between on the fly. The included accessories only increase the value of this camera even more, and Akaso definitely outdid other companies like GoPro when it comes to stuff included in the box.

On the whole, the Brave 7 doesn’t do anything to blow you away, but it also doesn’t need to. The price justifies its place in the market alone, and the fairly impressive specs make this an action camera well worth its low price tag.

Best 360 Camera: Insta360 One X2

Insta360 One X2

If you just want to film 360-degree videos then the One X2 is your best bet. This pocket-friendly camera records stable 360 footage at 5.7K. With “Deep Track 2.0,” the camera will follow the subject you choose while recording. Using AI the app (Android/iOS) will try to pick out the best shots and moments from a recording automatically.

Even when you’re not recording 360 videos, the One X2 can still take some impressive single-lens photos/videos with its ultra-wide angle for capturing everything going on in a shot. “Timeshift” also makes it easy to record great-looking slo-mo or sped-up footage. And finally, with the Shot Lab software (Android/iOS), you can have the AI edit your videos for you to get great videos quickly and easily.

Eric Schoon Eric Schoon
Eric Schoon is a writer for Review Geek and has spent most of his life thinking about and analyzing products of all shapes and sizes. From the latest games to the hottest smartphones, he enjoys finding the greatest strengths and weaknesses of everything he gets his hands on and then passing that information on to you. Read Full Bio »