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Best action camera 2021: The best Full HD, 4K and 360 action cameras from GoPro, Insta360 and DJI

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Capture the action in any environment with our pick of the best action cameras available in the UK

The best action cameras are the ideal gadget for documenting the interesting, exciting or downright extreme. Whether you're going skiing, skydiving, mountain biking, or simply looking to vlog your daily life, there's a quality action camera for that.

While most of us have a smartphone at the ready to capture the day to day, there are certain situations where, unless you're feeling particularly courageous, you'll want a camera made of tougher stuff. Action cameras like GoPro's eponymous Hero have built a reputation on being versatile and reliable, go-anywhere devices.

If you're in the market for a Full HD, 4K or 360-degree action camera capable of going the extra mile then you're in luck. Here you'll find our tried and tested roundup of the best action cameras on the market, along with a comprehensive action camera buying guide.

Save £30 on the Insta360 Go 2

Small, light and incredibly versatile the Insta360 Go 2 can go where other cameras simply can't. It’s compatible with a range of different mounts and its magnetic base and medallion allow you to wear it directly on your chest. While the Go 2 is usually priced at £295, right now on Amazon it's down to just £264 - its lowest-ever price.
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READ NEXT: The best GoPro deals


The best action cameras at a glance


How to choose the best action camera for you

Who are action cameras for?

Action cameras are designed to go where other cameras can’t. If you’re keen on skiing, white water rafting, mountain biking or skydiving, then an action cam is an obvious purchase. Tough and reliable, you can toss them into just about any situation you’re likely to encounter and trust they’ll get the shot.

Fortunately, for days that aren’t quite so action packed, action cams are incredibly versatile too. Small and lightweight, action cams are easy to pack and carry, making them ideal for travellers, vloggers and hikers.

The adaptability of their attachments and mounts makes them great for cycling commuters, motorcyclists too, and they can even be employed as dashcams. Their durability and user-friendliness also means they’re safe in the hands of kids.

READ NEXT: The best GoPro action cameras

Do I need a 4K action camera?

In a world where most people watch videos on their phones, tablets and laptops, Full HD video continues to be high enough quality for most applications. The price of 4K action cameras has, however, come down markedly in recent years and so, unless you’re on a super strict budget, we'd recommend a 4K-ready model.

4K recording provides you with crisper, more detailed footage, gives you more flexibility in editing, and adds a little more future proofing. 4K cameras are also fully capable of shooting Full HD when that's all that's required.

If you do plan on investing in a 4K action camera then it’s worth noting that not all devices are created equal. Some cheap models available online may advertise 4K video recording, but may actually just upscale lower resolution footage. These cameras should be avoided - if in doubt check whether the sensor resolution is specified and avoid if not.

When it comes to true 4K action cameras you’ll still want to check the specific recording options available while shooting at that resolution and whether there are any limitations. Top-end cameras like the GoPro Hero 9 support 4K recording at 60fps with full image stabilization enabled. You may find that some of the more affordable options limit your frame rate to 30fps while shooting in 4K and/or disable image stabilisation. Decide which features and frame rates you need and narrow your search accordingly.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best GoPro accessories

How important is image stabilisation important?

Quality image stabilisation is the killer feature that will truly transform the look of your footage, transforming jerky clips into smooth, cinematic-looking videos. It’s an essential feature if you’re filming activities that are particularly action-packed.

Not all image stabilisers work or perform in quite the same way. Some rely entirely on digital stabilisation, while others also employ some degree of lens or sensor stabilisation. Most stabilisation involves some degree of cropping into the overall field of view of your footage, though, so it’s worth checking the details for each particular camera.

GoPro’s Hero 9 Black and Max cameras also have a feature called Horizon Leveling, which not only stabilises movement but also keeps your footage level, which is a really nifty trick.

What about slow motion?

Slow motion recording can be an incredibly useful creative tool, allowing you to turn fast action into smooth, flowing shots. It can also make for some pretty impressive B-roll footage for when you want to get a little creative with your editing.

While most action cameras do have a slow motion mode you’ll want to check exactly what frame rates are on offer and in which resolutions. Top-end action cameras can provide up to 240fps in Full HD, allowing for 8x slow mo footage when played back at 30fps. You may find that some other cameras require you drop the resolution to 720p to access the highest frame rate options.

Are 360 action cameras worth buying?

Once a little clumsy and complex, 360 action cams have recently matured into polished, accessible creative tools.

Equipped with a pair of wide-angle lenses, 360 action cameras can either be used to record full 360 degree footage for immersive playback. Or, once your 360 video has been recorded, you can pan around and crop your footage in editing, producing “reframed” clips with complex camera movements.

Plus, when full 360 isn’t called for, most 360 cameras allow you to engage one lens only so it can be used as a standard action cam. You will, however, find that most 360 action cameras offer lower resolution and framerate options when compared to comparable single lens cameras.

While they may not be for everybody, 360 action cameras provide access to a world of creative possibilities that you simply won’t find with any other device.

Are all action cameras waterproof?

A key selling point for action cameras is their go-anywhere durability - and underwater is no exception. While it used to be the case that you’d need an external case before you could get your camera wet, it’s becoming increasingly common to find action cams that feature some degree of waterproofing straight out of the box.

While specific waterproof ratings will vary from one model to the next, GoPro’s Hero 9 Black camera is safe to take down to 10m on its own, and should you need to go deeper, a protective housing is available that’s rated to 60m. You will, however, want to refer to the manual before submerging any action camera as additional maintenance precautions are often necessary.

What additional action cam features should I consider?

Depending on how you plan to use your action cam there are several other features outside of the headline video specifications that you may want to take into account.

On the hardware side of things you may want to consider a camera that has a touch screen display for simplified ease of use - or a camera that has a front-facing display if you plan on spending time in front of the lens.

While most action cams share a common two-pronged mount, allowing many attachments to be interchanged, you’ll want to check the compatibility for any specific accessories you plan on using.

On the software side it’s worth looking at what additional shooting modes beyond standard recording and slow motion are on offer. Advanced time lapse, hyper lapse and motion lapse modes are all worth considering, as is whether you can connect the camera to a companion smartphone app for editing and sharing on the go.

READ NEXT: The best GoPro action camera deals

The best action cameras to buy in 2021

1. GoPro Hero 9 Black: The best action camera yet

Price: £330 | Buy now from GoPro

GoPro is synonymous with action cameras, and with more screens, more resolution and more stabilisation, their latest Hero 9 Black is the best action cam to date.

While its silhouette may seem familiar, the Hero 9 has received a top-to-toe revamp over its predecessor, with an all-new 23.6 megapixel sensor, increased battery capacity, and a front-facing screen. That new sensor allows the Hero 9 to record video at up to 5K at 30fps, while the secondary display makes selfie-style filming and vlogging a breeze.

Its body is natively waterproof and features mounting prongs built into the base, eliminating the need for external cases and cages. While the lens housing is user-replaceable and can be interchanged with GoPro's ultrawide Max Lens mod. The Hero 9 is also compatible with GoPro's range of accessory Media Mods.

The Hero 9 Black comes with GoPro's new and improved Hypersmooth 3.0. Simply put, Hypersmooth 3.0 is the best action cam stabilisation around and allows you to record smooth, jerk-free footage at all resolutions and frame rates. GoPro has also added the Horizon-Leveling feature first found in their 360 cameras, which means not only can you keep your footage stable, but level too.

While the retail price of the GoPro Hero 9 is £430, you can currently pick it up bundled with a one year GoPro subscription for just £330 if you buy direct.

Read our full GoPro Hero 9 Black review for full details

SpecsSensor: 1/2.3in CMOS; Sensor pixels: 23.6 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 5K (30fps); Size (WDH): 71.0 x 33.6 x 55.0mm; Weight: 158g; Waterproof: 10m (60m with case); Warranty: One-year RTB

Buy now from GoPro


2. GoPro Max: The best 360 action camera

Price: £380 | Buy now from GoPro

We've tested 360-degree cameras before but never been very impressed with either their quality or ease of use. The GoPro Max changes all that. Not only is the video quality very good but the GoPro Max stitches together footage from its twin-fisheye lenses in-camera, which makes it child's play to edit and process the resulting 360 footage.

Simply record your footage, transfer it to your phone or tablet and you can either upload to YouTube as an interactive 5.6k, 30fps 360 video that viewers can pan around themselves, or process it using GoPro's amazingly simple "reframe" editing tool. This lets you take any angle from your 360 video, turn it into regular 1080p video and cut between them; it's like having multiple cameras in one tiny package.

Alternatively, you can use the GoPro Max as a regular action camera, using either one of its two back-to-back lenses. In this mode, the camera's amazing Max HyperSmooth stabilisation and in-camera horizon levelling comes into play, keeping footage incredibly smooth, stable and dead-level even if the camera itself is upside down.

With top-quality audio from six onboard microphones and a built-in touch screen, the GoPro Max is an incredibly flexible camera. For outright quality we'd still recommend the GoPro Hero 8 Black, but the Max offers so much more.

Read our full GoPro Max review for full details.

SpecsSensor pixels: 18 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 5.6K (30fps) 360-degree video; Size (WDH): 64 x 24 x 69mm; Weight: 163g; Waterproof: 5m; Warranty: One-year RTB

Buy now from GoPro


3. GoPro Hero 8 Black: The best mid-range GoPro

Price: £260 | Buy now from GoPro

While it may no longer take pole position within GoPro's lineup, if you can live without the front-facing screen and 5K recording of the flagship Hero 9 Black, then the Hero 8 Black is still an excellent option at a reduced price.

It features a fully waterproof body with in-built mounting prongs, video recording at up to 4K video recording at up to 60fps, and GoPro's exceptionally smooth Hypersmooth 2.0 image stabilisation.

For added versatility, the Hero 8 Black is also compatible with GoPro's range of Media Mods, allowing you to attach an external light, microphone, or display.

As with the Hero 9 Black, you can currently save on the purchase of a Hero 8 Black if you purchase it direct bundled with a one year GoPro subscription.

Read our full GoPro Hero 8 Black review for full details

SpecsSensor: 1/2.3in CMOS; Sensor pixels: 12 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 4K (60fps); Size (WDH): 66.3 x 28.4 x 48.6mm; Weight: 122g; Waterproof: 10m (60m with case); Warranty: One-year RTB

Buy now from GoPro


4. DJI Pocket 2: The best stabilised pocket camera

Price: £320 | Buy now from Amazon

The DJI Pocket 2 is a complete stabilised video platform that's small enough, as the name suggests, to fit in your coat pocket. The camera module sits on top of a dedicated, lightweight 3-axis motorised gimbal. This set-up allows the Pocket 2 to achieve rock steady shots while on the go, superior to those you'd get from digital stabilisation and all without the bulk that's usually involved in using a motorised stabiliser.

While the Pocket 2 is a standalone camera in its own right, it can also be connected directly to your smartphone. Once paired up you can use your smartphone can take full control of the device, playback your footage and even share directly to social media.

As for the performance, it shoots up to 4K video at 60fps and adapts extraordinary well under low-light conditions; auto exposure works a treat. There's also a wealth of smart shooting modes allowing you to easily create time lapses, panoramas and hyper lapses. The only downside is that it's not waterproof unless you pop it in a case. The Pocket 2 is also compatible with a range of accessories including a wireless transmitter, wireless microphone, wide-angle adapter, ND filters and a charging case.

Read our full DJI Pocket 2 review for details

SpecsSensor: 1/1.7in CMOS; Sensor pixels: 64 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 4K (60fps); AV connections: Apple Lightning output, USB Type-C output; Size (HWD): 125 x 38 x 30mm (total); Weight: 117g; Waterproof: No; Warranty: One-year RTB


5. Insta360 Go 2: The best micro action camera

Price: £294 | Buy now from Amazon

As small as your thumb and weighing in at a mere 27g, the Insta360 Go 2 is a fantastically versatile action camera.

Thanks to its unique form factor the Go 2 can be mounted in places that other action cameras simply can’t, opening up a whole new world of creative possibilities. It’s compatible with a range of different mounts for attaching to windows, helmets and bags, while its magnetic base and medallion allow you to wear it directly on your chest.

As for recording, resolutions of up to 1440p at 50fps are available along with HDR video at 24fps. 120fps is possible at 1080p for slow motion footage and Insta360’s FlowState technology provides excellent electronic stabilisation and keeps everything levelling.

There are a few compromises: due to its small size the controls can be a little fiddly, storage is limited to 32GB, and with a maximum resolution of 1440p it’s not the highest specced action camera at this price point. However, if you’re prepared to work around the niggles, no other action camera can offer this level of image quality in a comparable form factor.

Read our full Insta360 Go 2 review for details.

Specs – Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS; Sensor pixels: 9 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 1440p (50fps); AV connections: USB Type-C; Size (HWD): 52.9 x 23.6 x 20.7mm (total); Weight: 26.5g; Warranty: One-year RTB


6. GoPro Hero 7 Silver: The best budget GoPro

Price: £200 | Buy now from Very

Although the GoPro Hero 7 Silver has recently been discontinued, it's still available to purchase and brings some of GoPro's more expensive action camera features down to a more affordable price-point.

The Hero 7 Silver lacks any front-facing display and has an inbuilt battery that can't be removed for charging. But, it still features a rugged and waterproof body, supports 4K recording up to 30fps, and has in-camera image stabilisation.

If you want a GoPro but can't quite stretch to the pricier Hero Black models, the Silver is certainly worth considering.

SpecsSensor: 1/2.3in CMOS; Sensor pixels: 10 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 4K (30fps); AV connections: None; Size (WDH): 62 x 28 x 45mm; Weight: 97g; Waterproof: 10m; Warranty: One-year RTB

Buy now from Very


7. DJI Osmo Action: Excellent 4K footage and stabilisation

Price: £329 | Buy now from Amazon

The DJI Osmo Action is a more conventional-looking action camera than the firm's ingenious Osmo Pocket and a direct rival to the GoPro Hero range. It records up to 4K at 60fps, is waterproof to 11m without a case and has dual colour LCD touch displays, with a 1.4in screen at the front and a 2.25in screen at the back. Having the front screen is great for selfies and vloggers and makes it easy to keep your face in-frame.

As for performance, both stills and videos look stupendously good on the Osmo Action, and its image stabilisation is seriously impressive. Like the Hero 8 Black, you can use it on all modes, right up to 4K at 60fps. At a price of around £315 it's now a little more expensive than the GoPro Hero 8 Black but a strong contender nonetheless.

Read our full DJI Osmo Action review for details

SpecsSensor: 1/2.3in Sony IMX377; Sensor pixels: 9 megapixels; Max recording resolution: 4K (60fps); AV connections: USB Type-C output; Size (HWD): 42 x 65 x 35mm; Weight: 124g; Waterproof: 11m (60m with case); Warranty: One-year RTB


8. Insta360 One R: A 4K and 360-degree action cam in one

Price: Twin lens pack - £485 | Buy now from Amazon

The Insta360 One R is an action camera like no other. It's modular, meaning that you can shoot crisp 4K footage on it at up to 60fps one day, then the next capture stunning 360-degree footage with the 360 mod. Image quality isn't quite up to the best standalone cameras that GoPro offers but it's close, the price is very competitive considering you get two for one, and there's also a pro camera mod which has a large 1in sensor available as an upgrade.

The cameras also have some interesting features and our favourite is the tracking mode. In 360-degree footage this lets you select a person or a pet on the screen of your phone and have the virtual camera follow that subject around the scene without having to fiddle around moving the view manually.

In summary, the One R offers something unique and although neither of the camera mods supplied in this twin pack is quite as good as the GoPro equivalent, there's nothing else that gives you both types of action camera in one for this price.

Read our full Insta360 One R review for details

SpecsSensor: 1/2.3in (4K build), 2 x 1/2.3in (360 build); Max recording resolution: 4K@60fps or 5.7K@30fps (360 build); AV connections: USB-C; Size (WDH): 72 x 32 x 48mm (4K build) or 72 x 43 x 48mm (360 build); Weight: 128g (4K build) or 131g (360 build); Waterproof: 5m (60m with case); Warranty: One-year RTB


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