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Best Action Cameras of 2018

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Best Budget Action Camera

Kodak PixPro SP1



Most Compact Action Camera

GoPro Hero5 Session



Best for Data Junkies

Garmin Virb Ultra 30

Action cameras aren’t just ruggedized and protected against the elements, they offer ultrawide viewing angles to capture the full experience of ski runs, skateboard tricks, snorkeling adventures or just pet antics (several companies make harnesses for your dog). And after testing a number of action cameras in a variety of conditions, including a mountain biking trip and a rafting adventure, we have action cam recommendations for every budget.

The GoPro Hero6 ($399) is our pick for the best action camera overall, because it offers the best video quality, is waterproof to 33 feet without requiring a protective shell, has a built-in touch screen and responds to voice commands. If you’re looking for something a bit less expensive, the Kodak PixPro SP1 is our current favorite budget action cam. For half the price of the Hero6, the PixPro SP1 features full HD video recording, the ability to shoot 14-MP stills, and the same 33-feet of water resistance. You may also want to consider the Hero5 Session, which is $20 more, but can record 4K video.

Looking for a camera that can capture everything around you? Check out our best 360-degree cameras.

Latest News & Updates (June 2018)

  • Drift has just introduced the Ghost X ($129.99), an inexpensive action cam that the company claims will provide up to five hours of battery life. It doesn’t shoot 4K or 1080p/60fps, but it does capture full HD 1080p video at 30fps video recording, which should satisfy many consumers. It shoots 12-MP photos and can capture timelapse videos. It also has Wi-Fi, a low-light mode, and lets you adjust the ISO sensitivity. 

  • GoPro’s new budget action camera, simply called the GoPro Hero, has the same design as the Hero5 and Hero6 Black (including a color touchscreen, voice control, and water resistance to 33 feet), but shoots at a max resolution of 1440p/60 fps and takes 10MP stills. It’s available for $129.

  • Removu, which makes a variety of accessories for GoPros and other imaging devices, has come out with the K1, an action cam that comes with a gimbal, a powerful stabilizer accessory pros use to capture smooth, jitter-free footage. The new all-in-one action cam/gimbal can shoot 4K-resoluion video (at 30fps) with its f/2.8 lens and captures footage on a 1/2.3-inch, 12-megapixel CMOS image sensor. In addition, it can capture 1080 slow-motion video (120fps) as well as time-lapse movies, burst photo modes, panoramas, and more. It also has an LCD, a 3.5mm mic input, can connect to a mobile app, and unlike most action cams, includes a variety of buttons and controls to quickly changes settings on the action cam. The K1 costs $429.

MORE: Which GoPro is Right For You?

The GoPro Hero6 shoots standard video at 4K/60 fps and slo-mo footage at 1080p, 240 fps.

Rafting with the kodak pixpro sp1

Garmin Virb Ultra 30

What GoPro Hero5 Session Owners Are Saying

Likes: Amazon customers liked the Hero5 Session’s video quality, which they found was a significant improvement over the Hero Session, and were impressed with the image stabilization. There were some owners that also liked the variety of shooting options and settings, and that it’s rugged and waterproof. They also liked that it’s very easy to use. Others found wind and noise cancellation to be very good, as well.

Dislikes: Like many action cams, performance in low light is not great. Other owner cons included problems with the GoPro’s auto upload cloud feature, microSD card compatibility, and having issues with connecting the mobile app to the action cam. Some were also disappointed with the quality of customer service support.

How We Test Action Cams

We review action cameras based on a number of factors, including video and image quality, ease of use, features (including waterproofing) and value. In order to provide the most meaningful comparisons, we test cameras side-by-side, shooting at 1080p resolution and 60fps, when possible (some cameras can do only 30fps). We also shoot 4K videos from the cameras that support that resolution. We take the cameras biking, canoeing and running (among others), and see how they hold up in the elements.

What to Look for When Buying an Action Cam

Your choice of camera depends mostly on the kind of activities you want to shoot. Love the water? Most action cameras are waterproof, but some can only survive just a few feet underwater, which is fine for surfing or boating, while others can withstand depths of up to 160 feet meters, which is makes those much better for SCUBA divers.

Size and heft matter, especially if you will be mounting the camera on helmet. Weights vary from 2.6 to more than five ounces. Another feature you want to consider is mounting options. The most versatile action cams, such as those from GoPro, will have accessory mounts for just about any situation, from surfing to skiing.

Image quality, especially in daylight, is the most important consideration. However, ease of use is also critical, as confusing controls can cause you to miss that killer clip or shoot it on the wrong settings. Some cameras can even be paired with a smartphone for wireless shooting and image sharing.

Three Action Cam Features that Make the Most of Motion

As the name implies, action cams are generally used by those who are active and engaged in activities that depict a lot of motion, like skiing and sky-diving. It’s why no matter what type of action cam you use, you’ll want to make the most of motion when shooting. Here are three action-cam features that make the most of your movements:

Burst Mode: Most digital-imaging devices, from high-end stand-alone cameras to smartphones, include the ability to fire off lots of photos in a row. Action cams do this as well, but often present it from a great point-of-view vantage point. So, when you’re hitting a baseball, it can be a great way to feel like you’re taking part in the game. Newer models, like the GoPro6, use voice command features and let you activate the feature by saying “GoPro, shoot burst.”

Time-lapse: Action cams have had the ability to create time-lapse movies for some time now, which are created by taking one photo a second or slower, such as one photo every ten seconds. The results, when played back in normal speed (generally 30 fps), speed up the movement of time.

Slow-Motion Video: This feature works in the opposite way that time-lapse does. In other words, if you speed up the frames per second to 120 or 240 fps, when you play it back in regular speed, motion slows down.

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