Products featured are independently selected by our editorial team and we may earn a commission from purchases made from our links; the retailer may also receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.
Until recently the only way to record video of a dirt bike ride or ski run was to ask a friend to hold a camcorder steady while you made a run. Action cameras, popularized largely by GoPro, changed that.
These pocket-sized cameras can record 4K video, and have features that compensate for jittery movements in real time. You could get similar results from your smartphone, but run the risk of damaging it beyond repair — action cameras, as their name implies, were built to be used during fast-paced, challenging situations.
Because of their size, action cameras have also become a favorite gadget of frequent travelers who want to take high resolution photos and videos of their trips without depleting their phone’s battery. Whatever the case may be, action cameras have become mainstream, and we’ve compiled this guide of the best ones you can get right now.
If you’re planning a safe trip after a year of feeling stir crazy, or want to chronicle your attempts to master a new sport or activity, these are the cameras to get.
What Are The Best 4K Action Cameras?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right 4K action camera for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Picture and video resolution: If you’re shooting a once in a lifetime event, you’re going to want the pictures and videos to look as good as possible. The video and photo resolution (image quality) can vary by action camera, but our minimum requirement was the ability to shoot at 4K and take 12MP (megapixel) photos. This ensures your memories will look clear on every screen in your home, from a laptop to a giant TV.
Video stabilization: Cameras with video stabilization reduce the jittery-ness in photos and videos through using a mix of hardware and software to compensate for your movement. All of the 4K action cameras in our guide have this feature, but some do a better job than others.
Dynamic range: This is a fancy way to say better color accuracy, and more contrast between dark and light parts of your pictures and footage. The more dynamic range a camera is able to capture, the more lifelike everything looks.
Durability: You’re going to be taking your 4K action camera to places it’ll be exposed to the elements. Our recommendations are all waterproof, so you use them to capture video of a mountain bike ride in the rain, or your latest snorkeling adventure.
Connectivity: Most 4K action cameras can be wirelessly connected to your phone over Bluetooth and WiFi, which makes it easy to transfer, edit, and share clips. You can also adjust the camera’s video settings, including white balance, sharpness, and exposure. Some models also have built-in hardware that lets you start a livestream from the camera itself.
1. Victure AC940 Action Camera
Victure’s AC940 Action Camera is jam packed with features you wouldn’t expect for a gadget under $100.
The camera can take 20 megapixel photos and record 4K video at up to 60fps (frames per second), so it won’t miss a second of the action. It has six-axis image stabilization, which means the camera compensates for movement. That way you can get a smooth shot while biking on a bumpy road, or catching the surf. Speaking of the ocean, this camera’s bare metal frame makes it waterproof in up to 26.25 feet of water.
The AC940 can’t record HDR video, but colors will still look accurate when you play them back. On the upside, this camera does have a lot of useful camera shooting modes, which let you take time lapses, burst photos, and slow motion video. You won’t have a problem taking the photo or video you want with this camera.
You can connect the AC940 to your phone using the iSmart DV app (iOS and Android) to view or transfer photos and videos, or adjust settings. You can also connect it to your computer using the included USB Cable. If it’s connected to your computer, you can even use it as an HD webcam. Victure bundles the AC940 with 20 accessories, including a wireless remote control, and a mount you can use to attach it to a helmet or bike.
Victure’s AC940 is an incredible value, offering a similar experience as more premium action cameras at a fraction of the price.
2. DJI Osmo Action Cam
DJI is known for their popular line of drones, but its Action Camera is a seriously impressive piece of gear.
This camera can take 12 megapixel photos and record 4K video at up to 60fps, so you’ll end up with images that look crystal clear on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. It captures photos and videos with HDR, so colors will look vibrant and more accurate. The EIS (electronic image stabilization) system inside the camera uses algorithms to keep your shot steady.
The biggest feature that sets the DJI Osmo apart is its second screen, which lets you frame your shots, and lets you make adjustments in real time. You may only have one chance to take a video of an incredible wave or run down the slopes, and this feature ensures you’ll actually get it.
DJI says you can take the Osmo Action Cam in water up to 36 feet deep without a case, and use it in temperatures as low as 14 degrees. You can basically take this camera anywhere without worrying about it getting damaged during regular use.
You can view, edit, and save photos and videos from the DJI Osmo on your smartphone using the DJI Mimo app. The app also allows you to use your phone as a viewfinder for the camera, which can be useful if you want the camera in a static place while you perform a trick.
The DJI Osmo’s second screen makes it the ideal action camera for anyone who wants to be absolutely sure they’re going to get the perfect shot.
3. GoPro MAX
GoPro has become synonymous with the term action camera, and its premium Max model proves this reputation is well deserved.
It can take massive 24 megapixel photos and stunningly clear 5.6k HDR video at up to 30 frames per second. Most TVs and computer monitors can’t show that quality of video at its native resolution, so we recommend taking 4K video at 60 frames per second instead. This video hardware is complemented by a six microphone system that can record 360 degree audio.
The GoPro Max uses the company’s custom HyperSmooth image stabilization for buttery smooth video in any condition. It also supports the company’s “horizon leveling” system, which can straighten footage taken at an off angle in real time. This is the only camera in this guide to have two lenses, which lets you take ultra high definition 270 degree video. It only has one screen, but you can have it pointed toward or away from you thanks to the Max’s dual-lens system.
In addition to being an action camera and 360-degree camera the Max is also great for livestreaming. You can stream full HD 1080P video to YouTube or Facebook Live from the camera if it has a Wi-Fi connection. Like all of GoPro’s cameras, the Max is waterproof, so you can live stream a rainstorm or snorkeling trip without worrying about damage.
The GoPro MAX is the Swiss Army Knife of action cameras, and we can highly recommend it to serious athletes, avid travelers, and everyone in between.