Best action camera: Is GoPro still king?

Action cameras are small and rugged, so are an ideal way to capture your high-octane activities. Here are five of the best

goprohero4sqGoPro Hero 4 Blackdrift_innovation_ghost-s_1_0Drift Innovation Ghost SmuviVeho Muvi K2NPNGion_air_pro_3_1_0Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-FigoproheroplusGoPro Hero+ LCD
Our ratingalphr_5_starsalphr_5_starsalphr_5_starsalphr_5_starsalphr_5_stars
Sensor1/2.3in CMOSNot disclosedNot disclosed102.3in CMOSNot disclosed
Resolution4K (30fps)1080p (60fps)1080p (60fps)1080p (30fps)1080p (60fps)
Size41 x 59 x 30mm105 x 52 x 33mm40 x 23 x 60mm21x53x111mm54x70x37
Warranty1yr RTB1yr RTB1yr RTBOne year RTBOne year RTB

Thanks in part to the wonders of social media and the internet, our lives are lived increasingly through a lens. We want to be able to upload our experiences to the web to share with friends and family, but why stop at boring old photos? Videos are where it’s at, and if you really want to show off your madcap endeavours, you need an action camera.

You might be zip-lining under a rainforest canopy in Laos, battling the rapids in Alaska or simply cycling down the A590, but no matter what the activity, you’ll need an action camera that’s both tough and versatile enough to be mounted where you need it. That could be on a helmet, a surfboard, a car dashboard or anywhere else. It should also be able to survive a few knocks along the way and be resistant to the elements. 

Best action cameras

1. GoPro Hero4 Black

Price when reviewed: £359best_action_cameras_gopro_hero_4_black_review

The GoPro Hero4 Black was the best GoPro you could buy, but while it’s been superseded by the Hero 5 (which we’ll be reviewing shortly) the tumbling price means that it’s still a worthy purchase in 2016. It has 4K resolution support at an actual usable 30fps where many rivals limit you to far jerkier framerates. Video can be recorded in high bit rates resulting in supremely sharp and detailed images. You also have a wide range of high-frame-rate options without sacrificing too much resolution, making the Hero4 Black incredibly versatile.

Specifications – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps) AV connections: micro-HDMI output; 3.5mm microphone to mini-USB (optional) Size (HWD): 41 x 59 x 30mm Weight: 89g (152g with housing) Warranty: One-year RTB

Read Expert Reviews’ in-depth GoPro Hero4 Black review for details

2. Drift Innovation Ghost S

Price when reviewed: £330best_action_cameras_drift_innovation_ghost_s_review

The Drift Innovation Ghost S’s low-profile squat design makes for some rock-solid, stable footage. The lens rotates on the front, meaning you can mount it in any orientation and still have footage come out the right way up. Decent battery life and video quality makes it a great choice.

Read Expert Reviews’ in-depth Drift Innovation Ghost S review for details

Specifications – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: mini-HDMI; 3.5mm microphone input Size (HWD): 105 x 52 x 33mm Weight: 171g Warranty: One-year RTB

3. Veho Muvi K2NPNG

Price when reviewed: £189best_action_cameras_veho_muvi_k2npng_review

The Veho Muvi K2NPNG was a real bargain surprise when we reviewed it. It comes with plenty of useful mounts and accessories, including a handy hard case for transporting the camera. Being able to shoot 1080p at 60fps is a real boon for a camera at this price point, too. It’s got excellent battery life as well.

Read Expert Reviews’ in-depth Veho Muvi K2NPNG review for more details

Specifications – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 16 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: mini-HDMI Size (HWD): 40 x 23 x 60mm Weight: 84g Warranty: One-year RTB

4. Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi

Price when reviewed: £300best_action_cameras_ion_air_pro_3_review

The Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi takes a different design approach to most action cameras, with its long cylindrical body that makes it resemble a small telescope. Useful haptic vibrations let you know when it’s recording, perfect for when you can’t see the camera – such as when it’s mounted on a helmet. It’s also waterproof to 15m without the need to put it in a separate case. It has dropped in price drastically, meaning it can be had for around £100, making it an absolute bargain.

Specifications – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS Sensor pixels: 16 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (30fps) AV connections: micro-HDMI Size (HxWxD): 21 x 53 x 111mm Weight: 177g Warranty: One-year RTB

Read Expert Reviews’ in-depth Ion Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi review for details 

5. GoPro Hero+ LCD

Price when reviewed: £250best_action_cameras_gopro_hero_lcd_review

The GoPro Hero+ LCD is one of GoPro’s entry-level action cameras but it doesn’t skimp on some of the more useful features such as an LCD screen and app connectivity. The touchscreen LCD also allows for useful functions such as quickly trimming videos down in length for quick sharing on social media. Image quality is great for the money, too.

Specifications – Sensor: Not disclosed Sensor pixels: 8 megapixels Max recording resolution: 1080p (60fps) AV connections: None Dimensions (HWD): 54 x 70 x 37mm Weight: 127g Warranty: One-year RTB

Read Expert Reviews’ in-depth GoPro Hero+ LCD review for details 

How to buy the best action camera: Buyer’s Guide

What shapes and sizes of action camera are there?

Action cameras vary greatly in terms of design, and this affects the situations in which the cameras can be used and what kinds of mount are available. Mounts can range from helmet mounts, to chest mounts, to adhesive mounts that attach to anything. Action cameras also differ in how ruggedised and water-resistant they are. Most of the cameras we test offer a degree of water resistance right out of the box, but some also come with a waterproof case that will allow you to take them to far greater depths. Such cameras make for great companions on scuba-diving trips or even just larking about at the water park.

Action cameras can vary considerably in size and design depending on what they’re intended for. It’s therefore important to consider what kinds of activities you’ll want to record before you buy. In our reviews we discuss what mounts the camera comes with as standard, and if there are any optional mounts or accessories available. Some action cameras also have standard camera tripod threads, which means you can use them with third-party accessories or a tripod.

What resolution do action cameras shoot at?

Most cameras will be able to shoot in 1080p/60fps at a minimum, although the more budget options might only provide 30fps. The frame rate will affect how smooth the resulting footage is. Some of the more high-end action cameras can shoot at 4K resolutions, but again it’s worth noting what frame rate is available. Some might limit you to a slightly jerky 15fps at their highest resolution. There are normally many resolution and frame-rate combinations on offer.

If you want to create impressive slow-motion videos, some cameras will allow you to record at 100fps or even as high as 240fps if you’re willing to sacrifice some resolution. Slow-motion videos are useful if you plan on recording sport and want to critique form, or simply if you want to create fancy-looking videos to impress your friends.

Action cameras aren’t just good for recording video. You can also use them to capture still images where traditional cameras dare not venture. It’s worth taking a look at the megapixel rating of the sensor although you don’t need much for printing at smaller sizes and most will suffice for sharing on social media. Photos can also be compiled together to create a timelapse effect, with some cameras have automatic exposures at various durations to achieve this.

How long do the batteries last?

Battery life is also going to be very important for an action camera. There’s little point lugging one around on your adventures if its battery won’t go the distance. We test the battery life of each camera while recording video constantly to give you an idea of what to expect. We also mention if the battery is user-replaceable, too, meaning you can carry a spare with you for longer adventures.

It’s worth noting that temperatures will affect battery life. More adverse conditions, particularly extreme cold, can impact battery performance. We do our testing in temperate London, but you might not see the same battery life we got if you’re scaling the Alps in subzero temperatures. If in doubt, buy an action cam that can take extra batteries and pack some for your trip.

What other features should I look out for?

Some action cameras have controls on the unit to let you change settings, as well as colour displays to help you preview the footage you’ve taken. Others have very simple controls on the camera’s body, and rely on connecting over Wi-Fi to your smartphone to change settings such as the video record mode. These apps also often let you play back footage wirelessly on your phone; we discuss how well each app worked in our reviews. 

Specifically looking for a GoPro? We outline every current GoPro model

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