1. Expert reviews

The Best Action Cameras of 2021

Daniel Hessel

Updated September 7, 2020

We have tested action cameras and name GoPro Hero4 Black Edition as best action camera of 2020. It produces pictures of very high quality, despite having a very compact format. There is also a wide range of accessories available for this camera, such as a mount for your bicycle helmet or a waterproof case for when you need to film under water.

The Best Action Cameras of 2020

How we did the test

We asked an experienced user of action cameras to test the various models in their family activities, taking cameras along to capture holidays and excursions. But our tester also has a very active leisure life, runs often and cycles regularly in a range of terrain. Our tester has used every camera with several different mounts and compared both how they handled and what the results were like.

  • Ease of use: How clear are the enclosed instructions, are the menus and buttons of the action camera easy to understand and use? Can the camera be controlled via apps and remote control?

  • Accessories: What kinds of mount are included with the camera, and which are available to buy? How easy are the accessories to use and how well designed are they?

  • Film and image: How many images per second can the camera take, what are the focus, light and colour reproduction like? What resolution can the action camera take still images at?

Our tester has given every action camera a rating based on these properties, with design and price also affecting the final review.

1. GoPro Hero4 Black Edition - BEST CHOICE ACTION CAMERA 2020

Size: 58 x 40 x 24 mm. Weight: 89 grams. Resolution: 12 MP. Maximum resolution of still image: 4000x3000 pixels. Frame rate per second (varies depending on resolution): 24-240 fps. Power supply: Rechargeable battery Supplied accessories: Standard Housing 131’(40m), Skeleton Backdoor, rechargeable battery, two brackets, Quick Release Buckles, 3-Way Pivot Arm (Mounting Hardware) and USB cable.

GoPro Hero4 Black

GoPro has a reputation for being at the cutting edge when it comes to action cameras. Ever since the first model of Go Pro was launched, their subsequent models have contributed to setting the industry standard. But the brand has also contributed by spreading the concept of action cameras to many consumers. When the HERO4 Black Edition was released, GoPro once again showed that it wasn’t just coincidence that their cameras are often used in professional contexts such as in television productions. The strengths of GoPro's HERO4 Black Edition are many. For those who want to film, it offers 4K Ultra-high definition video at 30 fps, and for great slow motion sequences there is the possibility to shoot 1080p in 120 fps. Previous GoPro action cameras sometimes failed to meet the high demands of film enthusiasts, but the technology has now improved considerably. This is clearest in increased image quality in general, but above all in pictures taken in poor light conditions, where the HERO4 Black Edition can produce higher quality images than previous models of GoPro action cameras.

GoPro is unbeatable in terms of available accessories, and this is relevant if you want to be able to shoot in many different environments. A virtually unlimited range of mounts and other gadgets are available, although it would have been nice if some of them were integrated into the camera from the start. Unfortunately, the GoPro HERO4 Black Edition isn’t waterproof, so to use it in wet environments you have to mount it in the waterproof case. This is waterproof up to a depth of 40 metres and is included with the camera, but it’s an extra hassle to use. We’d also have liked to see a display on the action camera, particularly as even the cheaper sister model GoPro HERO4 Silver Edition is equipped with one. The HERO4 Black Edition is small and has a very low weight which is a big plus as it’s not too heavy to have in a mount on your helmet but it’s also easier to get a stable picture. A heavier camera is more affected by vibration, but with GoPro the end result is great even at high speeds and in terrain with numerous, rapid altitude changes. If your budget is generous enough, it's hard to be disappointed with your action cam when you choose a GoPro HERO4 Black Edition, and that's why we name it as Best in Test in 2016.

Great picture qualitycompact format and plenty of accessories
High purchase pricenot able to withstand water without waterproof case

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2. Sony HDR AZ1VR

Size: 24.2 x 36 x 74 mm. Weight: 63 grams. Resolution: 11.9 MP Maximum resolution of still image: 4608 x 3072 pixels Frame rate per second (varies depending on resolution): 60 - 120 fps Power supply: Rechargeable battery Supplied accessories: Water resistant case, 2x batteries, Live View remote control, stand, tripod adapter, bracket, micro USB cable.

Sony HDR-AZ1

The Sony HDR AZ1VR Action Mini Camera is an action camera in the medium price range, with the ambition to compete with the biggest players on the market. As the name suggests, this model is smaller than its predecessors. But the elongated model makes it feels awkward when it's mounted on your chest; the fact that it protrudes so much lengthways gives the impression that it wasn’t designed for this type of use. The Sony HDR AZ1VR has no display or controls on the camera itself in the VR version – everything is controlled from the included remote control, which you attach to your wrist with Velcro. Via the remote control you can also see live what the camera sees, delete video that you don’t want to keep and GPS log video sequences. The Sony HDR AZ1VR is a genuine action camera, intended for hard use in all kinds of climates. Without an extra casing, the camera can withstand rain and water splashes. With the included water-resistant case, you can also shoot under water, to a maximum depth of 5 metres, and the case also works as a protection against both dust and shock. Sony states in the camera specifications that it isn’t designed for focusing under water, which becomes clear in the impaired sharpness of the images taken during our pool tests.

The Sony HDR AZ1VR is a small, easy to use and easy action camera. It has a good weight which means it doesn’t feel heavy. The mounts are sturdy without being unduly large or bulky. Both design and functionality give a good impression, and the HDR AZ1VR feels well designed, robust and plenty of quality for your money. Sony’s SteadyShot camera technology works well as built-in image stabilisation, and in general the HDR AZ1VR maintains good image quality even over rough terrain at high speed. With high quality in both design and features, plus the action camera's separate remote control, which feels logical and very easy to use, the overall impression of the Sony HDR AZ1VR is very positive. For those who don’t want to spend too much on an action camera but at the same time want quality that the budget alternatives can’t provide, the Sony HDR AZ1VR is a good choice.

Easy-to-use, good picture quality with built-in image stabilisation
Worse sharpness under water, camera shape makes it awkward when chest mounted

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3. Polaroid Cube

Size: 35 x 35 x 35 mm. Weight: 9 grams. Resolution: 6 MP. Maximum resolution of still image: 1080 pixels. Frame rate per second (varies depending on resolution): 30 fps. Power supply: Rechargeable battery. Supplied accessories: USB cable

Polaroid Cube

The Polaroid brand is familiar to most people, and with their small Cube camera they have now also turned to the field of action cameras. The Cube looks playful and has an appealing design, making it stand out from other action cameras. It may also attract those who are deterred by the more complicated shape and configuration options of other models. The Polaroid Cube takes a straightforward approach; you don't need any special knowledge to use it. On top of the camera there is a button that you use this to change all the settings. This is easily done and feels like a fun idea that distinguishes this action camera from the competition. But because the Cube has no display, it’s actually a bit tricky to operate the menu in practice. In the middle of an activity that you want to document, you often find yourself thinking "Now how do I do this again?" when you need to adjust the settings on the Polaroid Cube.

Unfortunately, the Polaroid Cube also suffers from a lower image quality and colour reproduction. In certain lights and environments, the picture looks good, while in other circumstances the picture has shades of blue and other tones, so some videos aren’t particularly watchable. The various mounts could also be improved. With the mounts we were able to test, the camera could never be firmly attached, and the mounts were always a bit loose – meaning that when the Cube was used to shoot motion, the film became unnecessarily shaky. This is despite the fact that the Cube itself has a very low weight, which of course is a plus. The mobile mounts should be easy to adjust, and if the camera could be firmly attached the end result would be a lot better. As we see it, however, the Polaroid Cube simply isn’t an action camera, and there are other brands that can do a lot better. However, the price of the Polaroid Cube is very attractive and gives the brand a large potential target group. With adjusted mounts and if Polaroid could fix the image quality and colour reproduction, the Cube could become both a really good and fun 'Party Trip to Ibiza' camera and one that you might give to a film interested child to explore the world with.

Great design, low weight and very good price
Some problems with colour reproduction and picture quality, loose mounts

4. Ricoh Pentax WG-M1

Size: 489.5 x 66.5 x 42.5 mm Weight: 190 grams. Resolution: 14 MP. Maximum resolution of still image: 4320 x 3240 pixels. Frame rate per second (varies depending on resolution): 30-120 fps. Power supply: Rechargeable battery Supplied accessories: Power adapter, USB cable, rechargeable battery, lens cap, underwater lens, WG Flat Adhesive Mount and carabiner strap.

Ricoh WG-M1

The design of the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 action camera exudes technical advancement and seriousness. Great emphasis has been placed on the camera focus and overall image quality. The resolution is one of the highest in our test of action cameras. For the hobby photographer who is happy to give priority to great images, the WG-M1 is just right. During our test, there was an overall feeling that the designer of the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 was a photographer rather than an action sports practitioner. This is evident, for example, in the weight of the camera and in the various mounts. The weight is relatively high, as you will quickly notice if the camera is to be used on a bike or ski helmet. To be used effectively like this, the WG-M1 would have to lose quite a lot of weight. It also seems quite large overall; a smaller version would have been easier and smaller dimensions would also have reduced the camera weight.

The mounts provided with the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 are higher than they need to be. If using the camera at high speed or when the wearer moves over rough terrain, such as during a bike ride in the woods, the height of the mounts contributes to the video becoming shakier than you’d want and sometimes difficult to use at all because of the unstable image. On the plus side, the inside, software and components have been well thought out. In addition to the good image quality, the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 has a well-designed menu. It’s easy to move between the different settings and easy to understand how the camera works. For those who want to film in wet environments, whether it’s in the pool with the kids or outdoors in heavy rain, it’s an obvious positive that the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 is waterproof without having to add an extra case. Given its price tag, the Ricoh Pentax WG-M1 feels like a good camera, but it's best suited for less action-packed activities.

Price, image quality, waterproof without extra case
Weight and size, unnecessarily high mounts

5. Garmin Virb Ultra 30

Exciting features but mediocre picture quality

Size (W x H x D): 57.5 x 45.9 x 31.3 mm Weight: 87.9 g Resolution: 12 MP FPS: 4K/30 b/s, 2.7K/60 b/s, 1080p/120 b/s, 720p/240 b/s and 480p/300 b/s Power supply: Rechargeable battery Accessories included: Water resistant case, brackets Miscellaneous: G-Metrix, mobile app, voice control

Garmin Virb Ultra 30

The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is an action camera packed with flashy features and metrics. It keeps track of everything, from what height you’re at to your speed and the G-force. The system is called G-Metrix.

This is a small and light camera that’s easy to stow away in your bag or fix to your helmet. The design is slim and feels good in the hand. The brackets included for fixing the camera to a helmet and so on are solid, feel robust and durable and are of high quality.

The battery lasted just under two hours when we used it constantly, which is fine, but if you’re out all day we recommend carrying an extra battery or powerbank with you.

What are we talking in terms of quality?

At 30 frames per second, in 4K resolution, the Virb Ultra 30 sounds like an exciting prospect. It also offers the opportunity to connect via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ANT+. This makes Virb a stable, versatile camera. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to avoid comparing the Virb with the Gopro Hero 8 that, for an almost identical price, offers 60 frames per second in 4K resolution, which is twice as high, making a big difference in terms of the quality.

The Ultra 30’s image quality is OK. However, the colours feel a bit dull and the contrast is more or less absent, which gives your videos a flat feeling. Because the depth that contrast ought to provide simply isn’t there.

Of course you could improve that using editing software, but given that the competitor can pretty much directly pipe the material to your channel and here you have to instead go via your computer and improve the quality first, we think the price of the Ultra 30 is too high. The camera also falls short when it comes to backlight, as the details in the image disappear more than they do for the competitor. And the screen isn’t really sharp enough.

On the back of the Virb Ultra 30, you get a colour 1.75-inch screen with touch control. This screen has nice colours and it’s sharp. The problem when making touch screens smaller than two inches is that menus etc. must be extremely well thought out so that they don’t deliver a poor user experience. Unfortunately, the experience here is clumsy, and the menus feel disorganised. The screen just feels ridiculously small for Garmin's menu system.

So even though the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is equipped with the truly awesome G-Metrix system, it’s first and foremost an action camera, and that means image and manageability are most important. And when those aren’t there, the extra features feel like small consolation.

Small & neatsolid qualitypacked with features
Slightly blurred screenmatte colourslow FPS 4KClumsy menu on touchscreen


Is the action camera the new replacement for both digital cameras and video cameras? Given the pace of product development in recent years, we have every reason to suspect that this is the case. The action camera also has many more uses than its predecessor, and in an even more flexible package. As the name implies, an action camera is a camera that can keep up with you, whatever life has to offer. If you want to use the camera to film your running, on the ski slopes or for capturing your next fishing trip, an action camera can be adjusted to your exact needs.

The functions and features of an action camera can vary from model to model. In our reviews, we have tested everything from attachments and other accessories to the resolution, zoom and how long the action camera’s battery life is. In addition to keeping up with sporting activities, an action camera is ideal for capturing family life or filming your kids or dog playing. The videos can either be saved privately or shared with others on YouTube or social media via Wi-Fi or other connections. You can even transfer them to your iPad, iPhone or other smartphone or tablet.

We also tested the action cameras in our test for their ability to take photos and videos underwater, as many of the cameras are waterproof or can be made waterproof using an accessory. With some cameras, you can choose to shoot with or without fisheye, some have tripods as accessories for more stable operation and still others have a special storage case. Even the range of mounts is extensive for most models. There are camera mounts that you can fit to your helmet, mounts for your bike or for attaching to your chest. You can also fit the action camera to your dog's harness while hunting. We also checked whether the action camera can film in HD, if it’s equipped with GPS, the size and weight of the camera, and whether it has a display screen.

Prices of action cameras vary greatly, from cheap to very expensive, but sometimes you can find special offer prices for even those in the premium price range, making them a more affordable option. To determine which action camera is best, we compared all the models' features and characteristics against each other, and after a long period of testing we nominated one model as best in the test.

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