Best Action Cameras 2018: top 7 cameras to capture life’s adventures

We’ve tested the best and latest action cameras on the market, including the new flagship GoPro, to bring you this list of the finest ones you can buy. 
Smartphone cameras are now incredibly capable, so why buy a standalone action camera? There are three main reasons: ruggedness, a huge range of mounting options and, particularly in the case of new 360-degree action cams, innovative new editing options that completely remove the need to frame your shots while you’re filming.
Most action cameras have rugged designs or are, in the case of GoPro’s designs, completely waterproof without the need for a case. This means you can take them places where your smartphone wouldn’t dare tread. Their sheer variety of mounting options, from helmet mounts to chest straps, means you can shoot from angles that simply aren’t possible with phones or standard cameras.
You don’t have to be a fearless downhill mountain biker to justify buying one either – action cameras are handy in more mundane situations too, like filming your cycling commute or your dog’s adventures, thanks to their size and versatility.
One name that’s become synonymous with action cameras is GoPro. It’s not the only brand to consider, but GoPro has become incredibly popular for a reason – and its latest Hero 7 Black is particularly good, thanks to some boosted electronic image stabilisation and audio recording.
If your budget is a little tight, there are some cheaper options from GoXtreme and Apeman that are worth considering, as long as you’re aware that video quality is often upscaled rather than ‘true’ 4K. And we’ve included some 360-degree options for those looking to try out the latest in action camera innovation.
Overall, the best action camera we found was the GoPro Hero 7 Black, which has the best image stabilisation and image quality on the market. If you’re on a tighter budget, the Yi 4K+ offers fantastic video quality for the money.
Related: Best GoPro mounts and accessories
How we test action cameras
Each of the action cameras in this roundup was subjected to the same rigorous tests. We take each action camera through a series of real-world tests including cycling, running and, if suitable, a swimming or underwater test. To test battery life, we start continuously recording at various resolutions and frame-rates (including the camera’s top shooting mode) and time its endurance in each setting with a stopwatch. We also time its battery life during intermittent real world use.
Once we’ve shot a range of videos and still photos in various conditions (including daylight, low light and action), we then examine them on a hardware calibrated monitor. We look at colour, noise, resolution and evaluate any image quality issues like image softness or barrel distortion. If any special shooting modes are available, like slo-mo or timelapses, we evaluate those too. Finally, we go through each action camera’s user interface to gauge how intuitive and easy to control it is.
Incoming – new action cameras we’ll be testing soon

There are a few recently announced action cameras that we’ll be taking out for a thorough testing soon. With the launch of the Hero 7 Black, GoPro slimmed down its range with the simultaneous announcement of the more affordable Hero 7 Silver Hero 7 White. You can read about how they compare to GoPro’s flagship on paper in our everything you need to know story. We’ll be getting them both in to test soon.
The 360-degree camera space is hotting up too. These cameras aren’t just for those with VR headsets – software trickery from the likes of Insta360 and GoPro means you can crop into spherical video and decide where to point the camera’s gaze long after you’ve finished filming. We’ll be testing new models like the HumanEyes Vuze XR and an incoming new contender from Insta360 soon.
Best overall action camera: GoPro Hero 7 Black

Pros:

Superb electronic image stabilisation
Improved audio quality
Vast range of mounts and accessories
Waterproof to 10m without a case
Now has live-streaming

Cons:

User interface can occasionally be sluggish
Can get hot when recording 4K
Still relatively pricey

GoPro’s new flagship is its best yet, which means it’s also the finest action camera you can buy right now.
There aren’t drastic improvements over the Hero 6 Black (and if you already own that version, it’s unlikely you’ll want to upgrade). But together its improved electronic image stabilisation, boosted audio quality, and the addition of live-streaming make it an excellent all-rounder for holidays or outdoorsy adventures.
The real star is that new ‘HyperSmooth’ stabilisation. For handheld shooting, it comes very close to emulating the smoothness of a mechanical gimbal, which is a real bonus if you tend to do most of your shooting while on foot. This stabilisation is also now available on the Hero 7 Black’s headline 4K/60fps mode and it can also shoot excellent 120fps or 240fps slo-mo, as long as you have decent available light.
Throw in some improved audio quality from the redesigned speaker, the handy addition of live-streaming to sites like Facebook (via your smartphone), and a new stabilised timelapse effect called ‘TimeWarp’, and you have an excellent little tool for anyone’s photographic arsenal.
Related: Best GoPro deals
At time of review the GoPro Hero 7 Black was available for £379.99.
Best value action camera: Yi 4K+ Action Camera

Pros:

Great image quality
Long battery life
Quality touchscreen display
Super-reliable Wi-Fi connectivity

Cons:

No mounts included
No waterproof case included
Fiddly one-button control makes underwater use difficult

When the Yi 4K Action Camera first came out, it was touted as a much cheaper alternative to the GoPro Hero 4 Black. In many aspects it fulfilled a lot of that potential. Things have changed a little since the release of the excellent GoPro Hero 5 Black, but the Yi 4K Action Cam still makes for an excellent action camera for the money.
Its touchscreen display is great for changing settings and is a lot more responsive than the Hero 5 Black’s. Its Wi-Fi pairing to its smartphone app is also one of the most reliable we’ve ever tested.
Video quality is fantastic, as is its still image capture, too. It’s a fantastically well-built camera for the money, although there are some hidden costs to keep in mind. No waterproof case or mount are included in the basic package for starters. Keep that in mind before you set off on your holidays.
Best action camera for travel vloggers: Sony FDR-X3000R Action Cam

Pros:

Excellent image and audio quality
Good optical image stabilisation
Long battery life
Thoughtful design improvements

Cons:

Poor display on the Live-View Remote Control
Slow to power on (when using the Remote Control)
Bulky waterproof case

Sony’s FDR-X3000R Action Cam is one of the priciest action cameras on the market at around £500. But if you have deep pockets it’s also one of the best you can buy. What goes some way to justifying its hefty price tag is its optical image stabilisation.
No, you read that right – there’s proper optical image stabilisation here, not digital trickery as is the case with electronic image stabilisation. This means there’s a floating lens system that counters your hand movement. The big draw is the OIS still works even when you’re shooting at glorious 4K resolution.
You also get a separate live-view remote control with the FDR-X3000R that can be worn on your wrist. Perfect if you’ve mounted the camera to your helmet or you want to snap a selfie. New with the FDR-X3000R’s remote is the ability to detach the display and attach it to other accessories such as the Shooting Grip or Finger Grip. The latter is a tiny little holster that’s perfect if you’re using the FDR-X3000R as a travel camera.
Both video and still image quality from the FDR-X3000R are excellent, and you get all of the resolution and frame rate options you would expect from a high-end action camera.
At the time of review the Sony FDR-X3000R Action Cam was available for £500.
Best action camera for stattos: Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

Pros:

Robust waterproof chassis
4K and high-speed shooting options
ANT+ and Bluetooth sensor connectivity
Wi-Fi smartphone control including live streaming to YouTube
3-axis electronic image stabilisation

Cons:

No image stabilisation in 4K
Not waterproof without a case

If you’re looking for an action camera specifically for sports, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 might be the action camera for you. Not only does it have 4K resolution at 30fps, it also has a GPS sensor inside to capture telemetry data.
This means while you’re hitting the slopes you can capture route, speed and distance data to bring an added layer of information to your videos. The VIRB Ultra 30 also supports external sensors through ANT+ and Bluetooth. These include heart rate monitors and bike sensors.
Image quality is also right up there with the best. You get plenty of resolution and frame rate options, including 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps – perfect for impressive slow-motion footage.
You’ll find a display on the back for framing your shots and changing settings, otherwise you can pair with the companion apps.
At the time of review the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 was available for £370.
Best sub-£100 action camera: GoXtreme Endurance

Pros:

Decent image quality for the price
Generous range of bundled mounts
Compatible with GoPro accessories

Cons:

‘4K’ mode is interpolated
4GB maximum recording file size limits recording length
Maximum memory card size is 32GB

If you’re looking to dip your toe into action cam waters rather than jump in with a full front flip, this budget model is a good value option.
While it can’t shoot ‘proper’ 4K (instead using interpolation to essentially upscale the image), it can shoot decent 2.7K video at 30fps or Full HD at 30fps. Image detail obviously falls short of the true 4K action cameras above, but contrast and colour fidelity are both passable for the price.
What makes the GoXtreme Endurance particularly good value, though, are the range of mounting options it comes bundled with. Although it’s also compatible with GoPro’s huge range of peripherals, you may not need them as the GoXtreme comes with a generous range of mounts, including a clip-on option for jackets and a bar mount. It also comes with a case that keeps it waterproof down to 30 metres, and there’s also a smartphone app for remotely controlling the camera over Wi-Fi.
Naturally, the GoXtreme Endurance falls short of the image quality, shooting modes, user-friendliness and editing options offered by a premium action camera like the GoPro Hero 7 Black, but for the £80 price tag it’s a decent option if you’re not sure how often you’ll really use an action camera.
360-degree action cameras
Best overall 360-degree action camera: GoPro Fusion

Pros:

Great image quality
OverCapture delivers compelling traditional footage
Easy to use

Cons:

Transferring footage through the app is slow and fiddly
Limited Android support for OverCapture
Relatively expensive

While GoPro is known for its Hero range of action cameras, its Fusion 360-degree video sees the company take its first steps into VR cameras. With the ability to capture 5.2K video and 18-megapixel still images, it has some very capable specs.
But it’s its OverCapture mode that makes things particularly interesting. This lets you re-shoot your VR footage as a ‘flat’ 1080p video, letting you re-frame and re-compose your shots after the fact, and not worry about having to point a standard camera at the action. It’s also a great way to share footage for those not wanting to wear a VR headset or have to swipe around a 360-degree video. Image quality is some of the best you’ll see from a consumer-grade VR camera, too.
Adding to the Fusion’s action camera capabilities, the Fusion is water-resistant to 5 metres without the need for a case and there’s GPS inside for capturing an extra layer of information. The electronic stabilisation is also the best you’ll see on a VR camera.
At the time of review the GoPro Fusion was available for £649.99.
Best 360-degree action camera for image quality: Garmin VIRB 360

Pros:

Shoots 360 video at up to 5.7K
Pre-stitched 4K 360 video
VIRB Edit enables stabilisation and G-Metrix overlays

Cons:

Relatively pricey
Stitching 5.7K shots not straightforward

Garmin’s VIRB 360 is a ruggedised 360-degree camera that can handle being submerged to 10 metres, meaning you can get some exciting VR-friendly footage even out in the water.
Inside it has GPS and G-Metrix overlays on your video, so if you want an extra layer of information such as speed and location on your video, this clever VR camera has you covered.
Able to record 5.7K resolution 360-degree video, this camera captures some of the highest resolution VR footage in a consumer-grade camera.
If you’re looking for an action camera specifically for sports, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 might be the action camera for you. Not only does it have 4K resolution at 30fps, it also has a GPS sensor inside to capture telemetry data.
Image quality is also fantastic and you get access to some handy editing software for both your desktop and mobile.
At the time of review the Garmin VIRB 360 was available for £649.99.
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