Capture Your Daring Feats With Our Favorite Action Cameras

Choosing the right action camera used to be simple: Go with GoPro. It’s still good advice. The GoPro ranks high on our list and is our top pick for most people. But we’ve finally found a few worthy competitors.

To figure out which camera is the best, we tried them all. We dove with them, climbed with them, biked with them, and handed them to reckless 6-year-olds on bikes. We found a number of great options that will record, and survive, your future adventures.

If an action cam isn’t your speed, be sure to check out our Best Compact Camera, Best Mirrorless Camera, and Best Instant Camera guides as well.

Updated April 2021: We’ve added the Occu 4K camera, and removed the GoPro Hero7 and Sony FDR-X3000, as both are discontinued.

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  • Photograph: GoPro

    Best Overall

    GoPro Hero 9 Black

    The Hero 9 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is GoPro’s most compelling update to the Hero line in years. It features a new 23.6-megapixel sensor—a huge jump from the Hero 8’s 12-MP sensor. More megapixels means the Hero 9 Black can shoot 5K video and snap 20-MP still images. Perhaps even more exciting, you can now extract 14.7-MP images from that 5K video.

    The software has been improved as well, especially HyperSmooth 3.0, which really does create a nearly gimbal-like smoothness. The Hero 9 manages to have much better battery life—especially in cold conditions according to GoPro, which are always hard on batteries. You’ll still want to pick up a couple of extra batteries, but you probably won’t need the sackful it used to take to get through a full day’s shooting.

    My one complaint with Hero 9 is that the 5K footage is ahead of its time—most high-end phones today should manage to edit it just fine, but if you have an older phone, it will struggle. It’s something to keep in mind if you primarily edit on mobile. Also note that if you buy a one-year subscription to GoPro, you can get the Hero 9 for $350. We have not tested the services offered through the subscription, but if you go that route, know that it will cost $5 a month.

  • Photograph: Insta360

    Best for Those Who Want It All

    Insta360 One R Twin Edition

    Do you want an action cam? How about a 360-degree cam? The answer is, you want both, and now you can get both. Insta360’s One R (8/10, WIRED Recommends) eliminates this debate by bringing interchangeable lenses to the action camera. There are three lenses, or “mods”, right now: A 4K mod that mirrors what you’ll get from the other cameras on this page, a dual-lens 360-degree camera, and a wide-angle Leica lens paired with a 1-inch sensor that’s capable of capturing 5K video. The best value lies in pairing the 4K mod with the 360 mod, but if you can afford it, the Leica 1-inch mod delivers the best image and video quality I’ve seen from an action camera.

    Insta360 has released a series of firmware updates for the One R that have greatly improved low-light performance, and added a slew of new features, like the ability to turn your One R into a webcam. Not only is it nice to get some new shooting capabilities, but it’s also nice to see this level of ongoing support in a world where some companies churn out a new model every year.

  • Photograph: GoPro

    Best Value

    GoPro Hero 8 Black

    The GoPro Hero 8 Black (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is one of our favorite cameras in this class. It has most of what we like about its successor: customizable menus, a cageless design, and improved software. With HyperSmooth stabilization now available in all video modes and the ability to capture RAW images even in time-lapse, the Hero 8 produces excellent results and sells for less than the Hero 9.

    The one complaint we have is that the lens housing is not removable—a design flaw that GoPro fixed in the Hero 9. Still, if you pair a Hero 8 with GoPro’s lens protector set (available at B&H Photo), it can preserve your investment.

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