Best action camera to buy in 2023

Take your image-making on an adventure with the best action camera. Our guide includes GoPro, DJI, Insta360 and more.

There’s nothing like the best action cameras for sheer knockabout fun. For capturing adventurous video of extreme activities and remote places, these hardy little box-like devices are your most reliable friend. A good action camera can be taken to places you’d never think of taking a mirrorless camera or a smartphone, and come back with the high-quality video and stills to prove it. It’s a market that’s always moving and heaving with new products – like the just-announced DJI Osmo Action 4, which is a little too new for us to include on this list, but sports a impressive set of features.

The definition of an action camera is a little more malleable than you might think. In general, an action camera is defined as a small, wearable device with extensive waterproofing. When most of us think action camera, we think GoPro – and the pioneering design of the GoPro Hero, fundamentally unchanged through eleven iterations, is indeed the inspiration for most of the models that come under the action camera umbrella.

But, as we’ll see, action cameras can vary in form and function. Before we get to our list proper, here’s a quick run-down of the key specs to look at when you’re choosing the best action camera…

How to choose the best action camera

Choosing the best action cameras means weighing up a few different features. You’ll want to pay attention to the top video resolution – while you don’t always need to shoot at the maximum resolution, it’s useful to know how many pixels you have to work with, especially if you’re going to be creating content for professional clients. If you’re going to be capturing photos as well as videos, it’s also worth being aware of the maximum photo resolution.

The level of waterproofing is important to be aware of, so that you don’t accidentally take your camera too deep. Many action cameras can be bought with optional housings that extend the depths to which they can be submerged – and there are some that can’t be submerged at all.

Stabilisation is an important part of an action camera’s make-up, as it makes POV footage much more pleasant to watch. You may also want to consider the weight of the camera if it’s something you’re planning on wearing.

The best action cameras to buy – our full list

GoPro HERO11 Black

GoPro HERO11 Black

The GoPro HERO11 Black has significant internal upgrades over previous HERO cameras. Photo credit: GoPro

At a glance:

  • 5.3K 60p video
  • 27MP photos
  • Natively waterproof to 10m
  • Weight: 154g
  • Price: $399 / £399
  • GoPro brings out new versions of its classic Hero action camera with impressive regularity – there’s a reason we’ve already reached the eleventh iteration. These updates tend to focus on one specific upgrade rather than reinventing the wheel. Previous iterations have introduced features like the famous HyperSmooth stabilisation, now a GoPro fixture, which makes video footage super-smooth even when the camera is moving.

    For the HERO11 Black, the upgrade was the sensor. This iteration sports a brand new 1/1.9-inch sensor capable of producing 5.3K video in a near-square 8:7 aspect ratio. This makes your footage much easier to crop into for vertical video formats, giving you TikTok-friendly clips straight out of camera. Fear not though – you can also use the HyperView digital lens to create footage in gorgeous, cinematic 16:9, if you’re feeling more traditional.

    With other minor but welcome upgrades across the board, including Horizon Lock for stabilisation and improved battery life, the GoPro HERO11 Black is the best GoPro you can buy right now, and the best action camera too.

    Find out more about the GoPro HERO11 Black.

    DJI Osmo Action 3

    DJI Osmo Action 3

    The DJI Osmo Action 3 is rated to keep running in extreme cold temperatures. Photo credit: DJI

    At a glance:

  • 4K 120p video
  • 12MP stills
  • Natively waterproof to 16m
  • Weight: 145g
  • Price: $329 / £309
  • Never ones to back down from a fight, DJI released their long-awaited Osmo Action 3 on the same day as GoPro took the wraps off its HERO11 Black. A return to the traditional action camera format after the odd modular departure of the DJI Action 2, the Osmo Action 3 undercuts GoPro on price, and also gains a few enticing features of its own.

    The big one is battery life. DJI crammed into the Osmo Action 3 a 1770mAh Extreme Battery, rated for up to 160 minutes of continuous recording and able to function in temperatures as low as -20°C. It’s also quick-charging, able to gas up to 80% in 18 minutes and 100% in 50 minutes.

    Like GoPro, DJI also noticed that a lot of the kids these days are mostly watching video in a vertical 9:16 format, and most of the adults are too, for that matter. As such, the Osmo Action 3 features a dedicated vertical recording mode, and can be mounted vertically to facilitate using it.

    It’s not got the raw resolution of GoPro’s latest Hero, with video resolution topping out at 4K (albeit with a lovely 120p option) and stills resolution at 12MP. Still, it’s significantly cheaper than the latest GoPro, even after the latter received a significant price slash, and is one of the most compelling Hero alternatives on the market – at least, until we get hands-on with the Osmo Action 4.

    Find out more about the DJI Osmo Action 3.

    Insta360 X3

    Insta360 X3

    Insta360 X3. Photo credit: Insta360

    At a glance:

  • 5.7K 360-degree video
  • 72MP 360-degree stills
  • Natively waterproof to 10m
  • Weight: 180g
  • Price: $449 / £459
  • As the name implies, Insta360 specialises in putting 360-degree imaging in the palm of your hand – making it possible to capture it, well, instantly. The Insta360 X3 is a palm-sized action camera, waterproof down to depths of 10m, which can be extended down to 50m with the recently released ‘Invisible Dive Kit’.

    The video the X3 captures with its dual 1/2-inch sensors is 5.7K 360°, which you can either use to create immersive virtual reality content, or simply crop into the parts where the action happened. The X3 can also capture 4K footage with a more standard ‘action camera’ field of view – if this is mostly what you’re going to be shooting, you’ll probably get more value out of a GoPro or DJI camera. However, if you’re up for experimenting with 360° content, the X3 is blast. It’s got generous battery life (rated to 81 minutes!), effective stabilisation and fun editing tools that make fiddling about with your clips a genuinely enjoyable process.

    GoPro HERO11 Black Mini

    GoPro HERO11 Black Mini

    GoPro HERO11 Black Mini. Photo credit: GoPro

    At a glance:

  • 5.3K 60p video
  • 24.7MP stills (video framegrabs)
  • Natively waterproof to 10m
  • Weight: 133g
  • Price: $299 / £299
  • The HERO11 Black Mini is exactly what it sounds like – a stripped-back, slimmed-down, cheaper version of the HERO11 Black. If you read the headline specs it may seem like a no-brainer that this is the one to go for – after all, it still shoots 5.3K 60p video, it still has HyperSmooth stabilisation. But before you go slapping down your credit card, excited at the prospect of an ultra-cheap GoPro, it’s worth appraising yourself of exactly where the cuts have been made.

    Probably the biggest, most glaring omission, the one that’s worth getting out of the way up top, is that the GoPro HERO11 Black Mini doesn’t have a photo mode. Yep – there’s no dedicated mode in which you point, you click and a still image is produced. Granted, you can produce stills – the camera will let you have 24.7MP stills extracted from your high-quality video footage, and they look pretty good. Some reviewers have declared that this renders the lack of a photo mode ‘moot’ – whether or not that statement made you recoil is probably a pretty good indicator as to whether this camera is for you or not.

    There’s also no display of any kind, and the battery is built-in rather than removable. All these shavings mean the HERO11 Black Mini weighs an incredibly slender 133g, and if you mainly want to use it for wearing to capture POV shots, none of these omissions are going to bother you anyway. Plus, recent price cuts have rendered it even more tempting than it was before.

    Find out more about the GoPro HERO11 Black Mini

    Insta360 GO 3

    Insta360 GO 3

    The Insta360 GO 3 with its Action Pod housing. Photo credit: Insta360

    At a glance:

  • 2.7K 30p video
  • 9.2MP photos
  • Natively waterproof to 4.87m
  • Weight: 35g
  • Price: $399 / £399 (64GB version)
  • The Insta360 GO series is a leftover from the era of ‘lifelogging’ cameras, a brief period when a few dedicated manufactures and enthusiasts thought that everyone would take to wearing cameras at all times to record the minutiae of their day. That didn’t really pan out (turns out we’re all quite boring and no one wants to watch us walk to the shops), but a few of the cameras did survive. The Insta360 GO 3 is the latest incarnation of probably the most wearable camera out there – at an incredible 35g in weight, it’s a camera you can easily pin to your chest and forget it’s there.

    This model still has action camera credentials, with waterproofing down to almost 5m and the ability to shoot 2.7K video at up to 30p. It can capture stills too, and can even do it in DNG RAW format, though even by RAW standards these files need a good edit, with heavy black vignette in the corners. There’s also the option of the Action Pod housing, which the GO 3 snaps into and makes it look and feel a little more like a traditional action camera – it adds a flip-back screen for capturing the perfect selfie. The FlowState stabilisation also works well, helping keep footage smooth when you’re on the move.

    It’s neither as tough nor as powerful as the other cameras on this list – but as far as portability goes, a camera that weighs about the same as a pack of crisps is in a league of its own.

    Insta360 ONE RS 1-Inch 360 Edition

    Insta360 ONE RS 1-Inch 360 Edition

    Insta360 ONE RS 1-Inch 360 Edition in use. Photo credit: Insta360

    At a glance:

  • 6K 30p video
  • 21MP photos
  • Not waterproof (IPX3 rain/snow resistance)
  • Weight: 239g
  • Price: $799 / £799
  • If you’re serious about creating 360° content, then the premium Insta360 ONE RS 1-Inch 360 Edition might well be the best pick for you. A much-requested camera configuration (according to the makers, anyway), it jams two 1-inch sensor modules together to create a high-quality 360-degree camera that’s capable in low light and produces pristine 6K video.

    The content it produces is genuinely a cut above, aided by the excellent FlowState Stabilisation that has been specifically optimised for shooting in 360 degrees. Once again, Insta360’s well-designed apps for desktop and mobile make it easy to make sense of your spherical footage, cropping in to find the action if necessary. One thing that’s worth noting though is that this ambitious camera is nowhere near as rugged as other action cameras – its IPX3 rating means it can handle light rain or snowfall, but you wouldn’t want to submerge it. Snorkelling and windsurfing are off the table.

    Then, of course, there’s the price. While the Insta360 ONE RS 1-Inch 360 Edition does offer a unique, premium shooting experience, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you could buy pretty much any two other cameras on this list for the same cash outlay. If you absolutely need the kind of 360-degree quality it’s offering, then it’s worth it – if not, you can get more value for money elsewhere.

    Olympus / OM-System Tough TG-6

    Olympus TOUGH TG-6 Review

    The OM System Tough TG-6. Image credit: Kirk Schwarz.

    At a glance:

  • 4K 30p video
  • 12MP photos
  • Natively waterproof to 15m
  • Weight: 250g
  • Price: $499 / £399
  • While the Olympus (or OM-System) Tough TG-6 doesn’t quite fit the definition of an action camera, it performs many of the same functions and is a compelling alternative for anyone who prefers the idea of a more traditional camera format. The Tough TG-6 is a tough compact, meaning it can take an absolute pounding and a soaking – there are a few of these on the market, but the TG-6 is generally regarded as the best.

    As well as a more comfortable, grippable form factor, the TG-6 has one key advantage over traditional action cameras – a 25-100mm f/2-4.9 equivalent zoom lens, giving you much more compositional flexibility and an ability to get in close to distant subjects. It’s also got a nice big 3-inch 1.04m-dot LCD screen, which provides a much more pleasant composing experience than any of the small screens on traditional action cameras.

    Of course, the TG-6 is not nearly as wearable as a GoPro, DJI or Insta360 camera, and isn’t as good for capturing POV footage. There is some built-in stabilisation, though it’s not on the level of GoPro’s or DJI’s.

    Read our full Olympus Tough TG-6 review

    Related reading: If you’re looking for a mirrorless or compact camera for video, have a look at our guide to the best cameras for video, or why not have a look at the best waterproof cameras.

    Follow AP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

    amateurphotographer.com

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *