Best Action and Sports Cameras

Updated November 2021
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best action and sports cameras

Action and sports cameras allow you to shoot video and photographs as you would with a traditional digital camera — but with a twist. Action cameras are typically smaller than traditional cameras, making them easier to carry, and they’re more durable so they can withstand rough treatment.

Action and sports cameras allow you to shoot video or photographs in difficult terrain and on the move. You can attach one to your clothing, helmet, bicycle, or skateboard to record your adventures. Action cameras can withstand normal bumps and jolts, but even if you take a tumble off your bike or drop the camera, it should continue operating without breaking. Many action cameras work underwater too, allowing you to shoot videos or photos of dives, surfing, or pool parties.

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Action cameras made for use underwater should have a depth rating listed in the marketing materials. This tells you the maximum depth at which you can use the camera.

Key considerations

Size and shape

If you’re going to wear the action camera on your body, you don’t want a large device that’s so bulky or heavy that it throws you off balance or weighs you down.

Size: A typical action and sports camera measures about 2 to 3 inches long, 1 to 2 inches tall, and about .5 to 1 inch deep. These dimensions don’t include any mount you use to connect it to your body, bike, tripod, and so on.

Weight: The average action and sports camera weighs 4 to 8 ounces, though some are larger or smaller than this range.

Shape: Most action cameras are rectangular, which works well for mounting on your chest or helmet, but you can mount one almost anywhere. Square action cameras are even smaller and can be mounted almost anywhere. Cylindrical action cameras are made for easy attachment to handlebars, skateboards, and surfboards.

Water resistance

Some action and sports cameras are water-resistant or waterproof.

A water-resistant action camera can be used near water, such as lakes and rivers, and the camera can withstand being damp or wet for a brief period of time.

A waterproof action camera works underwater for a certain period of time. Check the user instructions that come with your specific camera to determine how long it can remain in the water.

Most waterproof cameras work underwater for up to 60 minutes, but each camera is a little different, so stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

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Features

You will find some of the same features on action and sports cameras that you find on typical digital cameras. You can use these specifications to compare sports cameras.

Image sensor

The image sensor is the chip inside the camera that measures the light coming through the lens and records the scene. The size of the image sensor is important because a larger sensor can record clearer photos and videos than a smaller sensor.

The smallest sensors in action cameras measure 1/2.3 inches. Higher-quality action cameras have an image sensor measuring 1 inch. Understand that these image sensors are quite a bit smaller than what you’d find in a traditional DSLR camera, which is why DSLRs can record videos and photos of far higher quality than action and sports cameras.

Image quality

Videos: Action and sports cameras are able to record video at either HD or 4K resolution. HD videos have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, while 4K videos have a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. However, if the action camera has a poor-quality or small image sensor, your 4K video may be muddied and not look much better than HD video.

Photos: The resolution of photographs is measured in megapixels (MP). An action camera can record photos with resolutions from 10 to 24 megapixels. Cameras with higher resolution store more details but also require quite a bit more storage space on the memory card.

Screen

The LCD screen on an action camera allows you to preview the image the camera will record as well as the photos and videos you’ve already taken. These screens are quite a bit smaller than what you find on traditional cameras, usually measuring around 2 inches diagonally.

Battery

Battery life is a key consideration for any action camera because you’ll likely be using the camera in remote locations where recharging the battery isn’t possible. Expect to get up to four hours of battery life from a single charge.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Waterproof action cameras have been around for decades, and the newer models can go deeper than ever.
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Accessories

Skateboard: MINORITY Skateboard
If you want to record your skating tricks, your action camera and this durable-grip 32-inch maple skateboard are all you need.

BMX bike: Mongoose Legion L60 Freestyle BMX Bike
The Legion L60 has 2.3-inch tires to deliver a smooth ride, which is ideal when you want to shoot videos of your adventures with an action camera.

Action and sports camera prices

Inexpensive: The least expensive action cameras cost $20 to $75. These are basic action cameras with tiny image sensors that give you limited ability to control the image and video quality.

Mid-range: These action cameras cost $75 to $200. You can use these cameras in deep water, and they have plenty of advanced features for controlling the shots. Some older GoPro cameras fall in this price range.

Expensive: The priciest action and sports cameras cost $200 to $500. These are durable cameras that yield the highest-quality images and offer the largest image sensors.

Tips

  • Test the camera first. Although it’s tempting to unbox the camera, attach it to your helmet, and go, you should try the camera at home first and test its various features. Once you have a feel for how to use it, then take it outdoors and start filming.
  • Attach the camera securely at the right angle. If you mount the camera to your helmet, bicycle, or skateboard, be certain it’s securely attached. A wobbly camera could fly off in an accident. Wobbly cameras also create bouncy, poor videos. You might have to experiment to find the proper angle. You don’t want the camera pointed at the ground or the sky. The right angle helps you frame the scene exactly the way you want it.
  • Conserve storage space. If you’re running out of space on your memory card, lower the video resolution: 4K video resolution requires about four times more storage space than HD, for example.
  • Record for shorter periods. For more success recording cool videos, record shorter clips and edit them together later. With shorter clips there are fewer chances for something to go wrong that would ruin the whole clip. Record longer clips once you’ve mastered a trick.
  • Keep it simple. It might be tempting to set up complex shots with a lot going on in the background. However, if too much is happening at once, viewers will struggle to focus on any one item. Stick to one theme and keep the background as free of distractions as possible.
  • Be creative. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can let your creativity show. Activate some odd settings on the camera or look for some special effects you can try with videos. You also can apply some special effects when you edit the videos.
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If you want to mount an action camera to a bicycle or skateboard, you might need to purchase a compatible mounting bracket separately.

FAQ

Q. Can’t I just use my smartphone camera as an action camera and save some money?
A.
Some people record action scenes on a smartphone, but they rarely attach it to a helmet for first-person video. A rugged action camera is a much better choice. It’s designed to handle the toughest conditions, so you don’t need to risk damaging your smartphone.

Q. Can I mount an action camera to a bike or skateboard helmet?
A.
You can, but you might need to purchase a certain type of helmet that can accommodate the mounting bracket for the action camera. Sometimes you can add the camera to the helmet with strong double-sided tape, but this probably won’t hold up to extremely rough treatment.

Q. Do I have to use the action camera inside a case?
A.
Not necessarily. Some action cameras come with an extra case that fits around the camera body to protect it from drops and water. Other action cameras don’t need an additional case for protection.

Q. Can I use the action camera as a regular camera too?
A.
Sure. You can shoot videos and photographs with the action camera just like you would with a regular DSLR or another type of camera. However, you won’t be able to control the settings on the action camera as easily as you can with a dedicated digital camera. Additionally, the action camera has a smaller image sensor than a DSLR, which negatively affects the image and video quality.

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