Home / Features / Best action cameras 2016 – reviewed

Best action cameras 2016 – reviewed

Capture your sporting life with one of these tiny rugged video cameras

It doesn’t matter if you’re jumping out of planes, skiing down mountains, or taking your fixie on a joyride through London Fields (you great big hipster) – unless you’re recording it, it might as well not have happened.

That’s why there’s never been a better time to buy an action camera. They’re getting smaller, last longer than ever between charges, and a lot of ’em will capture whatever you point them at in glorious 4K. But which one to choose?

There are so many action cams out there, but we’ve done all the legwork for you. Head on down the page to find our top picks for 2016.

JUMP TO: GoProGarminVehoSonyPanasonic

GoPro Hero4 Black Edition

GoPro Hero4 Black Edition

WHAT’S THE STORY?

GoPro is easily the go-to name in action cams, and the Hero4 Black Edition is its most advanced, highest-specced model of the lot. It’s also the most expensive.

Despite the tiny size, it can record 4K video footage at 30fps, 2.7K at 60fps, 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps, so you’re covered for silky slo-mo playback as well as super-sharp 4K clips. It’ll do 12MP stills, too, in bursts of up to 30fps.

It’s such a succesful formula that imitators like the Veho K-2 Pro have tried to follow suit. Both take 64GB microSD cards, have removable batteries, use the same mounting system (with curved and flat adhesive mounts thrown into the box), and need a protective housing to work underwater.

There are some differences, though: on the plus side, the GoPro’s water housing (which works to 40m) is supplied as standard; it doesn’t have a screen, though, so you really need to use the (admittedly excellent) mobile app to frame shots and change settings.

GoPro has a huge range of mounts, tripods, remote controls and other accessories, so if you’re already invested in the company’s “ecosystem” it may actually save you money to buy the Hero4 Black than switch to a different brand. Just keep in mind that it won’t play nice with older GoPro batteries.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

Image quality goes a long way towards justifying the wallet-pounding price tag. Auto-exposure is superb, so you can quickly zip indoors from a bright area without the camera lagging behind. Colour saturation and detail are also big strengths, and low light performance means you can rely on it to deliver usable shots – even when the sun starts to dip below the horizon.

It also packs in the high-bitrate Protune video mode, which boasts less compression than normal videos, leaving you more room for tweaking and colour correction in post production.

That said, if you’re not desperate for this kind of pro-friendly comprehensiveness, you’ll likely be better off with a cheaper camera – either one of GoPro’s alternative models like the Hero4 Silver (which has an LCD touchscreen) or one of the other models in this test.

The battery delivers around 1.5 hours of 1080p recording or 50 minutes of 4K recording – the Veho has better stamina.

BEST FOR: Grabbing professional-grade footage on the go(pro)

STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✭

The best action cam here by a stretch, but not everyone may require all of its expensive talents

Buy the GoPro Hero4 Black Edition from Argos

Tech specs

GoPro Hero4 Black Edition in figures Dimensions: 41x59x29.6mm • Weight: 89g • Video resolutions: 4K (3840×2160) @30fps, 2.7K (2704×1520) @60fps, Full HD (1920×1080) @120fps • Video/Photo modes: Time lapse, looping video, burst photo, • Photo resolution: 12MP • Battery life: 1hr-3hrs • Connectivity: Mini USB, Micro HDMI, microSD • Smartphone app: Yes

NOW IN SESSIONGoPro Hero Session review

Garmin VIRB XE

Garmin VIRB XE

WHAT’S THE STORY?

Garmin’s VIRB XE stands out from the pack by slapping extreme sports metrics (speed, elevation, latitude and longitude, distance travelled, gradient etc.) on its videos. Some of these are measured by sensors in the camera itself, and others come courtesy of a paired smartphone running the companion app.

The app also works as a viewfinder and, thanks to low lag, it does the job well. You can use it to change settings, but it’s not a requirement – you can also tweak video and photo settings with the buttons and LCD screen on the camera itself.

There’s no 4K option, but you can shoot at 1440p at 30fps, 1080p at up to 60fps, 960p at up to 100fps, 720p at up to 120fps and 480p at 240fps for slo-mo playback, as well as 12MP and 7MP stills. There’s also a burst mode (12MP at 30fps) and a time lapse mode, which allows you to set intervals of up of 120 seconds between photos.

It might look like it’s encased in a special cage, but this is actually how the VIRB XE looks normally. Yep, it’s a very chunky and sturdy camera straight out of the box: dust-proof, water resistant to 50m and (while there aren’t any official claims here) seemingly able to withstand a fall onto concrete from at least a couple of metres.

The proprietary magnetic USB charging clip is a bit fiddly, and you’ll need to hold onto the one you get in the box – regular microUSB leads won’t work. At least you can slap in a 128GB microSD card, so you won’t run out of space in a hurry.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

The VIRB XE borrows the GoPro mounting system, so it’s got access to a huge wealth of accessories – very handy if you’re upgrading from an older GoPro, or hoping to borrowing mounts off your GoProing mates.

You don’t get a standard tripod mount in the box, and Garmin’s add-on costs an additional £7.99 – it’d be nice to get one for free, given the VIRB’s steep price. What you do get are flat and curved surface mounts.

The on-camera controls are well-proportioned and positioned, with video recording being triggered by a toggle and stills being triggered by a large button. I’d say it’s the easiest control system to use of the five models here, in fact.

As for imaging quality, the VIRB XE doesn’t quite match up to the GoPro or Sony. For starters there’s no 4K, but even if Ultra HD doesn’t matter to you, the 1080p footage comes across as a little soft and washed out. The addition of on-screen info will undoubtedly be a worthy bonus for some – particularly those making extreme sports videos – and the exposure metering does react quickly to changes in light, so it’s not entirely a disappointment.

BEST FOR: Extreme sportspersons

STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✩

Rugged with great features for sporty types, but footage could be better

Buy the Garmin VIRB XE from Amazon

Tech Specs

Garmin VIRB XE in figures Dimensions: 77x41x37mm • Weight: 152g • Video resolutions: 2K (2560×1440) @30fps, Full HD (1920×1080) @60fps • Video/Photo modes: 480p slow motion video, Time lapse photo, burst photo, • Photo resolution: 12MP • Battery life: 2hrs • Connectivity: micro USB, microSD, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi • Smartphone app: Yes

BIRD’S EYE VIEWDJI Phantom 4 review

Veho Muvi K-2 Pro

Veho Muvi K-2 Pro

WHAT’S THE STORY?

The K-2 Pro is upstart Veho’s attempt to offer a GoPro Hero4 Black-equalling (or beating) camera at a lower price. It’s got a similar shape to a GoPro, uses the same mount system, and records video at the same high resolutions: 4K and 2.7K (as well as stills at 12MP).

However, it bears noting that here, 4K will only record at 15fps – so akin to a slideshow that it’s next to useless.

It beats the Hero4 Black in one respect, coming with its own LCD touchscreen. That makes it easy to change settings, as well as compose and review your videos and photos, without having to link up to a smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi. Veho does have a Muvi app, however, so if you do prefer triggering recordings and tweaking settings via your phone, you’ve got that option – and its Wi-Fi works to about 60m.

The K-2 Pro has a removable battery, so swapping it for a spare is simple. Handy for long trips – and one battery should last you three hours.

Veho makes no specific claims as to the degree of the K-2 Pro’s ruggedness, but it come with a “weather resistant” silicone case as standard, and can be equipped with a proper waterproof case (£35) that works to a depth of 100m, as well as adding a lot more protection against dirt and drops.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

Video footage and stills are markedly better than the Panasonic, with 1080p clips benefitting from the frame rate jump to 60fps and the stills far cleaner and sharper, with better colour reproduction. The colour and contrast still makes videos a touch flat and washed-out by default, particularly when the lighting isn’t great, but that’s something that fixed by colour correction later.

The 15fps 4K clips are too choppy to be truly enjoyable, but 2.7K footage, at 30fps, is usable and impressively detailed.

The selection of mounting options in the box (tripod, helmet and flat – the latter two via 3M adhesive strips), and the fact that this camera will work with any GoPro mounts you already have, mean it may not require too much extra investment – but if you’re taking it on any truly testing adventures, investing in the £35 waterproof case is a must.

BEST FOR: Grabbing those GoPro-like features at a lower price

STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✩

Not a GoPro-beater on video quality, but the price and screen make it a tempting choice

Buy the Veho Muvi K-2 Pro here from Amazon

Tech Specs

Veho Muvi K-2 in figures Dimensions: 60x40x23mm • Weight: 84g • Video resolutions: 4K (3840×2160) @15fps, 2.7K (2704×1520) @30fps, Full HD (1920×1080) @60fps • Video/Photo modes: Time lapse, burst photo, • Photo resolution: 12MP • Battery life: 3hrs • Connectivity: MicroUSB, microSD, microHDMI, Wi-Fi • Smartphone app: Yes

BACK ON DRY LANDSony RX100 IV Review

Sony FDR-X1000V

Sony FDR-X1000V

WHAT’S THE STORY?

The pricier of Sony’s two action cams, the X1000V’s headline feature is 4K video recording at a respectable frame rate of 30fps, alongside 1080p at 60fps, and high frame rate recording at 120fps (full HD) or 240fps (720p) for buttery smooth slo-mo playback. It’s got a burst photo mode too, for snapping 10 high res shots over a space of either one, two or five seconds.

It’s a rare beast within the action cam herd because it has a 3.5mm input for external microphones – most cams either have a USB mic input, or none at all. It’s something that adds a nice dash of pro filmmaker appeal.

The X1000V comes with a waterproof case in the box, which gives it sub-aqua imperviousness to a depth of 10m, but even without the case it’s watertight enough to survive rough outdoor weather. You may want to leave the case off, as it adds a lot of bulk to the camera, as well as blocking off the external microphone input.

Sony offers a respectable range of mounting accessories, too – including a harness for your pooch! – and the fact that it uses a standard tripod mount (both on the underwater case and the camera itself) means you can attach all manner of third-party clamps, tripods and monopods.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

The X1000V’s long, flat shape makes it good for attaching to helmets, but otherwise it feels irritatingly bulky compared to the GoPro – especially when inside its waterproof case. Sony’s range of mounts and attachments seems similarly oversized and clunky, so if keeping things small is important the GoPro’s elegant mount system will suit you better. That said, there’s nothing clunky about this camera’s footage.

4K video quality is superb, albeit lagging a little behind the GoPro Hero4 Black when it comes to detail, dynamic range and colour neutrality. One advantage the Sony holds over the GoPro is its SteadyShot image stabilisation, which helps to smooth shaky footage – a particularly useful skill for an action cam even if it isn’t available when filming in 4K.

Meanwhile, controlling the X1000V is a mixed bag. While it has a basic LCD display, the physical buttons aren’t particularly tactile, and you’ll probably need to use Sony’s PlayMemories app and a phone as both a remote control and a viewfinder.

BEST FOR: Video quality to price balance

STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✩

Lacks the elegance and user-friendliness of the GoPro, but delivers video that’s almost as good and costs a lot less

Buy the Sony FDR-X1000V here

Tech Specs

Sony FDR-X1000V in figuresDimensions: 24x52x89mm • Weight: 114g • Video resolutions: 4K (3840×2160) @30fps, Full HD (1920×1080) @60fps, 720p (1280×720) @240fps • Video/Photo modes: Slow motion, Live streaming, looping video, burst photo, • Photo resolution: 8.8MP • Battery life: 1hr-2hrs • Connectivity: Mini USB, Micro HDMI, microSD, Wi-Fi • Smartphone app: Yes

Panasonic HX-A1M

Panasonic HX-A1M

WHAT’S THE STORY?

Panasonic keeps things simple to stay the most affordable cam on test here. There’s no 4K video recording, only a handful of settings, and just three buttons on its cylindrical body.

Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, of course, and its streamlined shape and lightweight build make it more suited to helmet mounting than the blockier Veho and GoPro.

There’s not a wealth of mounting options to match GoPro’s, but Panasonic includes a standard tripod mount and a “Multi Mount” in the box. The latter lets you attach the HX-A1M to helmets and similar flat surfaces (with adhesive tape), or backpack straps (via an adjustable velcro band). Bike, suction cup, harness and head mounts are sold separately.

While sturdily made, it’s not designed for divers or the most extreme of sportspersons, being shockproof to drops of up to 1.5m and waterproof to depths of 1.5m – and there’s no accessory that’ll improve its sub-aqua suitability. The card slot and USB charging port sit behind a screw-off cover, which includes a seal to prevent water getting inside.

It’ll hold a 128GB microSD card, which by our calculations will allow you to store well over 1000 hours of its highest quality video (1080p at 30fps – you can also record 720p at 60fps, or 120fps slo-mo videos at 480p).

IS IT ANY GOOD?

In decent lighting, the HX-A1M produces pretty decent videos – not up to the lofty standards of the Sony and GoPro, but then again it’s much cheaper, and not billed as a professional quality option. 1080p footage is a tad grainy, and can look slightly washed out at points, and with no image stabilisation everything can be a little wobbly.

Sound quality is also average, with wind noise proving an issue even when moving at walking speed.

However, the wide angle lens means you can fit plenty in the frame, and overall, given the price, it’s hard to be too critical. Still images are captured at only 2.6MP, and don’t look great – you’d do much better with your phone camera.

Control-wise, you’ll really need a phone or tablet too. There’s no remote, and Panasonic’s mobile app, which connects to the camera via Wi-Fi, is the best way to adjust settings, check the camera is level and stop/start recording.

BEST FOR: Cyclists, and anyone who values simplicity over video quality

STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✩

Its size, shape and light weight are the Panasonic’s biggest advantages, but image quality is just about good enough

Buy the Panasonic HX-A1M here

Tech Specs

Panasonic HX-A1M in figures Dimensions: 26x26x83mm • Weight: 45g • Video resolutions: Full HD (1920×1080) @30fps, 720P (1280×720) @60fps • Video/Photo modes: slow motion, • Photo resolution: 2.6MP • Battery life: 1hr-2hrs • Connectivity: Mini USB, microSD • Smartphone app: Yes

GET THE WHOLE PICTURELG 360 Cam review