Photography

The 6 best action cameras of 2016

The 6 best action cameras of 2...
New Atlas looks at some of the best action cameras available in 2016
New Atlas looks at some of the best action cameras available in 2016
View 13 Images
New Atlas looks at some of the best action cameras available in 2016
1/13
New Atlas looks at some of the best action cameras available in 2016
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is a 4K-shooting voice-controlled action camera
2/13
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is a 4K-shooting voice-controlled action camera
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 can also log metrics such as GPS location, speed, altitude, and G-force
3/13
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 can also log metrics such as GPS location, speed, altitude, and G-force
The GoPro Hero5 Black records 4K at up to 30 fps (frames per second), in a number of fields of view
4/13
The GoPro Hero5 Black records 4K at up to 30 fps (frames per second), in a number of fields of view
The GoPro Hero5 Black features a rear touchscreen
5/13
The GoPro Hero5 Black features a rear touchscreen
The GoPro Hero5 Session is  a small cube-shaped 4K action camera
6/13
The GoPro Hero5 Session is  a small cube-shaped 4K action camera
The size of the GoPro Hero5 Session makes it easier to use in some situations
7/13
The size of the GoPro Hero5 Session makes it easier to use in some situations
Two lenses on the Nikon KeyMission 360 allow it to shoot 360-degree videos
8/13
Two lenses on the Nikon KeyMission 360 allow it to shoot 360-degree videos
The Nikon KeyMission 360 is waterproof to 30 m (98 ft) as well as being shockproof and freezeproof
9/13
The Nikon KeyMission 360 is waterproof to 30 m (98 ft) as well as being shockproof and freezeproof
The Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam comes with a waterproof housing
10/13
The Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam comes with a waterproof housing
Sony's FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam features optical image stabilization 
11/13
Sony's FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam features optical image stabilization 
The YI 4K Action Camera is a budget-friendly actioncam which cost $250
12/13
The YI 4K Action Camera is a budget-friendly actioncam which cost $250
On the rear of the YI 4K Action Cam is a high-resolution touchscreen
13/13
On the rear of the YI 4K Action Cam is a high-resolution touchscreen
View gallery - 13 images

While a certain brand of action camera will probably come to mind when you decide you want to record your extreme exploits, there are actually plenty of options to choose from. Here we look at some of the best action cameras available in 2016, including models from GoPro, Garmin, and Sony.

Action cameras have, since their introduction, been great at helping users to record previously difficult-to-capture moments. They are generally small enough and tough enough that they can be mounted on your bike, skateboard or body without getting in the way. But new cameras are also beginning to address the shortcomings of earlier models by offering improved image quality, higher resolutions, and stabilization to cut the distracting wobbles from your footage. They can also make the tedious act of editing footage faster, along with making the resulting clips easier and quicker to share.

Here we'll look at our pick of the best tough action cameras currently available, while highlighting notable features and reasons why one model might suit your intended use better than others.

GoPro Hero5 Black

The GoPro Hero5 Black records 4K at up to 30 fps (frames per second), in a number of fields of view
The GoPro Hero5 Black records 4K at up to 30 fps (frames per second), in a number of fields of view

It will come as no surprise that the flagship GoPro Hero5 Black features in this roundup. If you're looking for an action camera you will almost certainly have considered this 4K shooter. It records 4K at up to 30 fps (frames per second) in a number of fields of view, and has higher frame rate and slow-motion recording options at other resolutions. It also shoots 12-megapixel stills.

Key improvements over previous generations of GoPro see it being waterproof (down to 10 m, 33 ft) without the need for an extra housing, and the addition of voice controls which let users operate it by saying things like "GoPro, start recording." The camera also has a rear touchscreen monitor for composing shots and reviewing footage.

The GoPro Hero5 Black features a rear touchscreen
The GoPro Hero5 Black features a rear touchscreen

The GoPro Hero5 Black features GPS along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and is able to automatically upload footage to the subscription-based GoPro Plus cloud service. It's also compatible with the Karma drone. The GoPro Hero5 Black is available for US$400.

Product page: GoPro Hero5 Black

Buy now on Amazon

GoPro Hero5 Session

The GoPro Hero5 Session is  a small cube-shaped 4K action camera
The GoPro Hero5 Session is  a small cube-shaped 4K action camera

Joining the Hero5 Black is GoPro's smaller and more affordable action camera, the Hero5 Session. The second generation of the cube-shaped camera offers a number of improvements over its predecessor. It shoots 4K video at 30 fps, though only with a wide field of view, and again offers higher frame rates at lesser resolutions.

The diminutive dimensions of the Hero5 Session mean it can be mounted in more places than the Hero5 Black and is less obtrusive, while being just as waterproof. However, the savings in size comes at the cost of the rear monitor, meaning that you need to use a paired smartphone or tablet to view your content.

The size of the GoPro Hero5 Session makes it easier to use in some situations
The size of the GoPro Hero5 Session makes it easier to use in some situations

As with the flagship GoPro, the Hero5 Session also benefits from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and is compatible with the GoPro Plus cloud service, and the Karma drone. The GoPro Hero5 Session will set you back around $300.

Product page: GoPro Hero5 Session

Buy now on Amazon

Garmin Virb Ultra 30

The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is a 4K-shooting voice-controlled action camera
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is a 4K-shooting voice-controlled action camera

Showing off your extreme activities doesn't need to just be about the footage you captured. For the past couple of years Garmin's action cameras have also captured metrics such as GPS location, speed, altitude, and G-force, which can be displayed on your footage as overlays. They can even pair with some heart rate monitors to show how your ticker was pounding as you hurtled down that hill, or pulled that stunt.

The new Garmin Virb Ultra 30 also introduces voice control (which it launched before GoPro revealed the feature) allowing users to give commands to the camera such as "start recording" or "take a picture." The high-end camera also shoots 4K video at 30 fps, and features a 1.75-inch touchscreen on the rear which will work even when the camera is in the included waterproof case.

The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 can also log metrics such as GPS location, speed, altitude, and G-force
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 can also log metrics such as GPS location, speed, altitude, and G-force

Wireless connectivity (which includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+ and GPS) means the camera can be used with the Virb mobile app for Android and iOS which lets users view, edit and share videos as well as stream footage live on YouTube. The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 currently costs around $400.

Product page: Garmin Virb Ultra 30

Buy now on Amazon

Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam

Sony's FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam features optical image stabilization 
Sony's FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam features optical image stabilization 

Annoyingly wobbly footage has been a problem for action cameras since their launch; it's hard to keep your camera steady when hitting a mountain bike trail. While some try to fix this with electronic stabilization, Sony has gone down the Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) route with its FDR-X3000 Action Cam which has technology that causes the lens to move to counter bumps and shakes. From what we've seen, it's about the best all-round action camera stabilization available.

Flagship specification of the FDR-X3000 Action Cam include 4K video recording at up to 30 fps, and Full HD 1080p shooting at up to 120/100 fps. The camera is splash proof on its own, but comes with a waterproof housing for even wetter occasions. Other optional accessories include a quirky but useful finger grip and a live-view remote which can be worn like a watch.

The Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam comes with a waterproof housing
The Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam comes with a waterproof housing

There's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS connectivity, and the camera offers live streaming and control via Android and iOS apps (or control via the new live-view remote). The X3000 comes in at US$400 body-only, or $550 with the remote as the X3000R.

Product page: Sony FDR-X3000 4K

Buy now on Amazon

YI 4K Action Camera

The YI 4K Action Camera is a budget-friendly actioncam which cost $250
The YI 4K Action Camera is a budget-friendly actioncam which cost $250

The YI 4K Action Camera, as you might expect from the name, is a 4K-shooting action cam. While its 4K 30 fps recording matches that of other high-end devices, and it boasts a high-resolution touchscreen, its real standout feature is its price. At $250 it's considerably more budget friendly than many rival devices.

Unlike most action cameras, the YI 4K comes in a range of color options including black, white and rose, though you'll need to pop it in a waterproof case if going underwater. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth allow the camera to be used with the iOS or Android YI Action Camera app for editing and sharing footage.

On the rear of the YI 4K Action Cam is a high-resolution touchscreen
On the rear of the YI 4K Action Cam is a high-resolution touchscreen

Other features of the YI 4K worth noting are an impressive two-hour battery life, and a dual-microphone setup which offers better-than-average audio recording. The YI 4K Action Camera costs $250 for the camera only, or around $275 bundled with a waterproof housing.

Product page: YI 4K Action Camera

Buy now on Amazon

Nikon KeyMission 360

Two lenses on the Nikon KeyMission 360 allow it to shoot 360-degree videos
Two lenses on the Nikon KeyMission 360 allow it to shoot 360-degree videos

The Nikon KeyMission 360 is different to all the other cameras here in that it has two lenses. These face in opposite directions enabling you to capture your activities in 360 degrees, which can be experienced with a VR viewer. It's a bit like a tougher and higher resolution Ricoh Theta S.

4K 360-degree video can be captured at 24 fps using both lenses, while 360-degree stills come in at 23.9-megapixels, and all stitching is done in-camera, so you don't need to worry about editing it together. The camera is also waterproof to 30 m (98 ft), shockproof to drops of 2 m (6.6 ft), and freezeproof to -10° C (14° F).

The Nikon KeyMission 360 is waterproof to 30 m (98 ft) as well as being shockproof and freezeproof
The Nikon KeyMission 360 is waterproof to 30 m (98 ft) as well as being shockproof and freezeproof

The KeyMission 360 uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connecting with Nikon's SnapBridge 360/170 app, where you can edit, frame and share your images and video footage. Though we've included this camera in our pick of the best action cameras, it's worth remembering that this is a first-generation product and probably one best suited to early adopters who want to play with 360-degree video. The Nikon KeyMission 360 costs $500.

Product page: Nikon KeyMission 360

Buy now on Amazon

In conclusion…

As you can see, there are some great action cameras out there, each offering slightly different features which might make one the right fit for you and the sort of activity you plan on recording. It could be that for mounting reasons you prioritize size and don't mind missing out on a monitor, or that you need voice control as your camera is going to be out of reach. Maybe you really want to capture yourself in the footage and think a 360-degree camera is the way to go.

Whatever your priorities and (to an extent) budget, there's an action camera which will suit your needs, and hopefully we've helped point you in the right direction.

View gallery - 13 images
7 comments
Calson
If the user wants to attach the camera to something like a helmet, surfboard or kayak, bicycle, drone, etc. then the only game in town are the GoPro cameras with the hundreds of attachment devices and the new GoPro drone.
Martin Hone
So where are the DRIFT Innovation range of action cams ?
Synchro
GoPro's helmet mounts are pretty annoying. They stick way up in the air and seem deliberately designed to be smashed off by chairlifts. They're also mostly impossible to use with gloves on. The Sony/Contour/Drift form factor works much better on helmets, mounted on the side where they don't stick up, don't stop you lifting up your goggles. Pretty much all the cheaper Chinese cameras (Yi, SJCam etc) use GoPro-compatible mounts, so many parts are interchangeable.
SJCam's M20 should have made this list. It's an amazing little thing, offering stabilised 2.5k, a waterproof housing, built-in screen, Wifi, remote control, ~30% smaller and lighter than a hero session, and goes for around $100. The older M10+ cube cam is pretty good too for around $75.
Milton
I have a GoPro Hero5 Session and I love it. I may also be getting the Hero5 Black.
One thing that I never see mentioned in the reviews (or overviews) of action cams is that GoPro offers the opportunity to earn $ for your footage. If you capture something awesome, GoPro could potentially buy it from you for a good chunk of change.
judosurfer
GoPro Hero5 cameras are by far the best choice and at the lowered price than previous Hero cameras, a great deal. Voice activation works great and the images are amazing. The software allows you to make awesome videos in minutes from your phone or computer and all of your photos and videos can be uploaded to the GoPro cloud by just plugging your camera in to charge. Mounting options are almost limitless (including mounting on the SIDE of your helmet) and with the Hero5 Session, very discrete looking and in weight. The cameras have the best audio of all the competitors and being waterproof without a case means you don't have to sacrifice sound for protection. The protective lens can also be replaced on both cameras so there is no worry about damage from rough activities.
oldguy
These cameras make splendid pictures. Wouldn't it be great if we could change the lenses and actually use them to make films. Am I making trouble here?
RogerBrown
What about iON cameras ?