Action cameras are an increasingly popular sector of the camera market. Originally designed for the adventurous, you don’t have to be a mountaineer to appreciate rugged design, waterproofing, small sizing and a range of other features that action cameras tend to bring over your smartphone.

As the sector grows in popularity, it also grows in range. There is a huge array of different action cameras available, as well as plenty of options to suit different budgets.

You can pick up relatively cheap action cameras, too. For as little as £50 you can be ready to go – but buyer beware, often these cheap cameras are unreliable and low-quality, so you really do get what you pay for.

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When it comes to what you should be looking for in an action camera, think about what you will be using it for. If you plan to use it in or near water, one which is waterproof (with or without a special housing) is essential; 4K is the video buzzword of the past couple of years and that’s no different for action cameras, the majority of which now offer 4K recording. Rates up to 60 frames per second are available – generally the greater the fps, the smoother your shots will look.

Also look for those which offer some form of image stabilisation. Generally speaking, the action of filming is not the smoothest of movements, so anything in-camera that can help is welcome. You might also want to look out for wi-fi capability, voice controls and a good range of different accessories.

We tested action cameras for the quality of their final video (and stills), as well as how easy they were to use, how rugged or durable they were, and any other appealing extras which make them worthy of consideration.

Go Pro Hero6: £490, John Lewis

The best action camera on the market right now is the GoPro Hero 6. GoPro is the brand that popularised action cameras, and it’s easy to see why it remains the go-to name when it comes to cameras of this type. It might not be the cheapest available here, but for your money, you get a superb range of specifications – which is what makes it our Best Buy. There’s 4K video recording available up to frame rates of 60fps, while image stabilisation is available up to 30fps. Image stabilisation is one of the key improvements made to the Hero 6 over the Hero 5, with seriously impressive results even when shooting in very shaky conditions. There’s also voice control, which means you don’t need to touch the camera to start it recording, while the body of the Hero 6 is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres, without the need for any additional housing. Inbuilt wifi is available for connecting the GoPro to your phone, while the new QuikStories app is great for bundling up your clips together for a shareable package. Although action cameras are primarily aimed at those who like to record videos, the Hero 6 is also capable of taking good still images too, with raw format also available (meaning you can have great flexibility when editing your shots using software such as Photoshop). Battery life is reasonable here, varying depending on the type of video you are shooting. You can expect less than an hour if you’re shooting at best quality (4K/60fps), but you can eek out a lot more if you drop down to 1080p/30fps – you may even get up to two hours.

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GoPro Hero5: £370, John Lewis

Recognising that the GoPro Hero 6 is quite an expensive proposition, the brand is selling the last iteration in its line-up, for the budget-conscious. You still get 4K video recording, but it is limited to 30fps, while image stabilisation isn’t quite as good – if your action errs on the side of cautious movement, then that might not be a huge deal-breaker for you. Other advanced features include voice control, in-built wi-fi, and waterproofing to a depth of 10m. In other words, if you’re not too bothered about having the latest and greatest technology, but are drawn in by the GoPro name – with its huge range of compatible accessories, such as tripods and pole mounts – the Hero 5 is still an excellent choice. At the longest, battery could last you up to two and a half hours.

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Sony DSC-RX0: £780, Jessops

Sony has become a very respected name in the camera industry, especially with its RX range of premium compact cameras. Bringing this expertise to the action camera means that you get a much-larger-than-average (for an action camera) 1-inch sensor inside a body that manages to remain very small indeed. The RX0 is waterproof and shockproof, without need for any additional housing or casing. As well as the large sensor, there is a high-quality Zeiss lens, making the RX0 great for shooting stills, as well as video – in fact, it could be argued that it’s an underwater stills camera that happens to shoot video as well. You can shoot in the flexible raw format, but when it comes to video, the RX0 is a little more limited – 4K recording is only available via an external recorder, such as the Ninja Atomos Inferno – which is not strictly a problem for the professional market, but a little more limited for the average consumer. Expect a battery life of around 60 minutes if using the RX0 continuously – a decent performance considering the power behind it.

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Yi 4K+: £334, Wex Photo Video

Very much designed to appeal to typical GoPro customers, the YI 4K+ is very similar to the Hero5 and the Hero6 in look and feel but without such a high price tag to match. Impressively for this price point, you can shoot at 4K at up to 60fps, giving smooth video footage. Image stabilisation is pretty good – and while it’s not quite as effective as we see on the GoPro Hero 5, considering the price difference, it’s very impressive. There are also voice commands, and a very useable touchscreen on the back of the camera. The biggest downside for this camera is the lack of waterproofing – this can be easily solved with the addition of an optional extra housing, but it does mean some restrictions on using the camera. The battery should last up to 90 minutes if you’re recording 4K at 30fps, but drops to just over an hour when shooting at 60fps – a decent performance, especially given the size of the camera.

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Olympus TG Tracker: £249, John Lewis

Offering the best standalone waterproof offering here, the Olympus TG Tracker may be a little strange to look at, but it’s got some great features – especially for the price. You can go as deep as 30 metres, while it is also freeze-proof and crushproof. You can record in 4K, plus there’s the ability to capture super-slow motion recording if you’re happy to record at 720p HD. With a very wide angle of view, the Tracker’s lens is capable of capturing all the action unfolding in front of you, while the tilting screen is helpful for composing from awkward angles (sadly, it doesn’t turn all the way round for video selfies). There is an accompanying app for the TG Tracker, which although simple to use doesn't offer quite the same level of functionality as other cameras on this list. Still, you can download files to your phone for quick sharing online. Video recording lasts for around an hour or so with a fully charged battery – you can eek out more if you don't use wi-fi.

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Nikon KeyMission 360: £320, Currys

Nikon has a range of KeyMission Action cameras, but the most intriguing is the 360. As highlighted by the camera’s name, it can record 360-degree videos to truly put you in the centre of the frame. Slightly alien-esque in its design, the 360 doesn’t have room for a screen as each side has a lens. Instead, the KeyMission 360 can be controlled and adjusted from your smartphone – there is a quick record button on the top though if you’re happy to record in whatever setting you last used it in. As well as a way to capture truly immersive video, the KeyMission 360 also offers 4K shooting and waterproofing to a depth of 30m. Videos created with it can be uploaded directly to sites such as YouTube and Facebook, being viewable as 360 degree videos automatically – the stitching together of the two images captured by the dual lenses is impressive, and you really do feel as if you’re immersed into the footage. This is not a camera for creating standard action-type videos, but if you’re interested in making an entry into the VR (virtual reality) market, it’s certainly worth a look. You can expect just over an hour of video recording with the KeyMission 360, not bad if you're only creating short clips, but you should make sure to pack a charger if you want to use the camera extensively throughout the day.

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TomTom Bandit: £169, TomTom

One of the most keenly priced action cameras currently available, the TomTom Bandit is a simple camera which is great for capturing action memories without breaking the bank. There is 4K video recording, but it’s a little stilted at just 15fps. However, dropping down to 1080 HD gives you more choice. It’s got a sturdy design, with waterproofing to a depth of 40 metres. It’s compatible with a variety of different mounts and accessories – including those made for GoPro. With no screen, you’ll need to use a companion app on your smartphone to make changes, which is simple and easy to use. But otherwise it’s a great camera to just strap and go with. Battery life offers you up to three hours of recording when shooting at full HD at 30fps . That drops to two hours if you shoot at 60fps, and further again if shooting in 4K. Still, it’s a decent run, especially compared to some of the other cameras mentioned here.

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Garmin Virb Ultra 30: £313, Halfords

For your money, you get a lot of impressive specifications with the Garmin Virb Ultra. There’s 4K video recording up to 30fps, with three-axis stabilisation doing a good job of keeping things smooth and steady. Voice control is available, which is good when you can't reach the camera, but it can be fooled by heavy winds or other loud noises, plus built-in sensors capture data to show how fast, how high or how far you have travelled – for this reason, the Garmin is ideal for cyclists. Waterproofing is available but you’ll need to slip into the extra case which is included in the box to go as deep as 40m – the touchscreen still works fully while the case is attached, which is great news for usability. Battery life is reasonable, offering two hours and 15 minutes if recording in full HD. You can expect around an hour less than that if you want to shoot in 4K.

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Olfi One Five: £150, Amazon

Another great choice for those looking more at the budget end of the scale, the Olfi One Five manages 4K video recording but only at 24fps. A range of other features impress for the price though, including a 240fps slow motion video mode, a rear LCD screen and decent image stabilisation. Waterproofing to a depth of 30m is available via the supplied hard case, while there are a selection of mounts that you can buy to use the Olfi in a variety of different scenarios. Battery life is on the low side here, as you can expect up to 45 minutes recording per charge, less so if you connect the camera to your phone, so make sure to take a charger with you for your travels.

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The Verdict

Which action camera you’ll be drawn towards perhaps depends on how seriously you take recording your action. If it’s just a bit of fun while on a simple bike ride, those at the cheaper end of the scale should do the job for you. If on the other hand, you’re really looking for the best you can buy, the GoPro Hero 6 is the best all-rounder currently available. Cameras such as the YI 4K+ get very close, but that model is ultimately beaten by the GoPro thanks to in-built waterproofing. The great news is that with a superb amount of choice currently on the market, prices are bound to fall. It also means that there’s something for every type of consumer – for example, those who want to create VR content are well-served by the Nikon KeyMission 360.

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