Best action camera 2018: 10 cameras for the GoPro generation

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If you're looking for the best action camera, then you've come to the right place. 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. 

You don't have to be an adrenaline-junkie or filming your own TV show. Action cameras are also great fun for the family, especially on days out or vacations when you simply want to hit record and document you time together. 

Who makes the best action camera though? GoPro is without question the market leader - in fact, they invented this whole action camera genre. They're not alone though, with a number of new rivals out there to tempt you. 

When it comes to key features on action cameras, most now shoot 4K footage, though some do these better than others, offering faster frame rates for buttery-smooth footage. 

While action cameras are principally for shooting video, the best action cameras also shoot pretty decent still images as well, though don't expect anything better than a point-and-shoot compact camera. 

Other features to consider when looking for the best action camera include Wi-Fi, GPS and touchscreen control. These all bump up the price, and while they are invaluable in some situations, you can still get great footage without them.

Here are our top picks of the best action cameras you can buy right now.

1. GoPro Hero6 Black

The best just got better

Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: uUp to 60fps | 1080: up to 240fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs est

Refined design
Great image quality
Expensive
Touchscreen fiddly to use

While it may appear to be a minor update from the Hero5 Black on the outside, a lot's changed on the inside. The Hero6 Black gets a new GP1 processing engine, allowing you to record super high-quality 4K footage at 60fps. Other highlights include an improved image stabilization system, while the Hero6 Black offers a wider dynamic range and better low-light performance than the Hero5 Black. Waterproof down to 10m, the Hero6 Black has a useful 2-inch touchscreen, voice commands and an updated app with QuikStories that automatically transfers and edits your footage for you. If you want the best action camera, this is it. 

2. GoPro Hero5 Black

If you don't need the latest and greatest, this is still a good buy

Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 1-3hrs est

Voice activated controls
Excellent 4K footage
Touchscreen fiddly to use
Few accessories included

It may have been overshadowed by the new Hero6 Black, but the Hero5 Black still has a lot to offer. Shooting 4K footage up to 30fps, video footage is incredibly smooth, while the ability to shoot stills in raw format brings even more flexibility. Waterproof down to 10m without the need for a protective case, it's also simple to use, while the addition of a rear touchscreen, voice control and GPS make it one of the most feature-packed cams currently available. The great news is that GoPro's just wiped $100/£100 off the price, making it an even more tempting proposition.

3. Yi 4K+ Action Camera

The world’s best value action camera

Weight: 93g | Waterproof: N/A (optional case available) | 4K video: up to 60fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: Up to 2hrs

Sharp 4K/60fps video
Comprehensive and simple app
No mounts in the box
Not natively waterproof

If you're aquatic-minded, or you need to know exactly where you were, and how fast you are going when you took a video, buy a GoPro Hero6 Black. However, if you're more interested in saving money on features you didn't even want, the Yi 4K+ Action Camera is one of the simplest and best designed gadgets around. Everyone considering buying an action cam should have a look at the Yi 4K+ Action Camera because it's almost exactly the same and, in some ways, even better than a GoPro. 

4. GoPro Hero

Back to basics, and all the better for it

Weight: 118g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: N/A | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: N/A | Stills resolution: 10MP | Battery life: Up to 2hrs

Easy to use
Good Full HD footage
No exposure control
1440p footage is 4:3

If you've been eyeing up a GoPro for some time, but haven't been able to justify the price, the stripped-down Hero could be the answer. It doesn't shoot 4K, but does shoot nice and smooth Full HD footage and is a great camera for the novice or casual user who just wants to capture the action without worrying about which frame rate or resolution they should be using. There are better specified-action cameras out there for a similar price, but they don't have the refined design and polished control of the Hero. 

TomTom Bandit

5. TomTom Bandit

Shake-to-edit features could tempt users away from GoPro

Weight: 190g | Waterproof: Splashproof, with lens swap | 4K video: up to 15fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 3hrs

Clever editing features
Easy to mount and position
Heavy compared with competitors
Requires a lens swap to water proof

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.

Olymous TG-Tracker

6. Olympus TG-Tracker

The next generation of sensor enabled action cameras has arrived

Weight: 180g | Waterproof: 30m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 7.2MP | Battery life: 3hrs

Packed with Sensors
Easy to use
Heavy compared with competitors
No in app auto editing

The TG-Tracker's futuristic design is hard to miss with an ultra wide 204 degree lens. 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.

7. Yi 4K Action Camera

A 4K action camera at a cheap price

Weight: 94g | Waterproof: N/A (optional case available) | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 120fps | 720: up to 240fps | Stills resolution: 12MP | Battery life: Up to 2hrs

Detailed 4K footage
Bigger touchscreen than a GoPro
No voice activated controls
Too easy to switch on and off

How often do you take an action cam underwater? If the answer's not a lot, then the Yi 4K Action Camera could be for you. While there's an optional underwater case available, the camera isn't waterproof. There is a large and responsive touchscreen, a big battery and a fast file transfers however, and while it may lack a few niceties – and we would include lens distortion correction and image stabilisation in that list – the Yi 4K Action Camera remains a great value addition to any adventurer's kit bag.

8. Yi Lite Action Camera

Cheap, and extremely cheerful

Weight: 72g | Waterproof: N/A (optional case available) | 4K video: up to 20fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16MP | Battery life: 1-2hrs

Smooth Full HD video
Simple to use
No voice control
4K 15/20fps jerky

Yi's range of action cams are pretty cheap, but this is the most affordable model in the range. While it shoots 4K footage, the frame rate is pretty slow and jerky. Don't let that put you off though as the Yi Lite can shoot some really smooth Full HD footage up for 60fps. With easy to use touchscreen navigation, a decent app and all the essential features most occasional users want, the tough, reliable and affordable Yi Lite proves an impressive entry-level action camera. If you're looking for something even more affordable, take a look at Yi's Discovery Action Camera - you won't find a better camera for the price. 

GoPro Hero4 Session

9. GoPro Hero5 Session

Back-to-basics box-shape action camera

Weight: 74g | Waterproof: 10m | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 90fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 10MP | Battery life: 1.5-2hrs est

Compact design
Simple one button control
App required to adjust settings
No screen

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 (though it does have a simple menu system if you wish). Back to basics, but still captures the quality of video that you'd expect from GoPro.

10. Sony FDR-X3000R

Action camera with a remote live view display

Weight: 114g | Waterproof: 60m (case included) | 4K video: up to 30fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 8.2MP | Battery life: 1-2hrs

Image stabilization
Remote monitoring
Expensive
Live View drop-outs

All action cameras are now promising 4K at 30fps, but Sony’s effort is about a lot more than just resolution and frame rate. The diminutive FDR-X3000R's biggest claim is Balanced Optical SteadyShot (B.O.SS) image stabilization, which works across all resolutions and recording modes. It also includes an underwater housing – a rarity in the action camera market – and comes with a wearable, mountable live view remote, a smartwatch-sized contraption that allows the FDR-X3000R to be operated from afar, and its images previewed in real time.