We have several articles that review some of the many action cameras out there today. Some are inherently waterproof without a housing, while others require a housing to be used when snorkeling or diving. Splashproof cameras are fine for jet ski videos, but usually can’t be submerged beyond a few feet.
For all around use, we recommend the following three cameras at different price points. And we have a novelty 360 recommendation at the end.
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GoPro Hero 9
OK, let’s face the truth. It may not be the cheapest, but with the improved image stability and no need for any type of housing, the Hero 9 will be the best choice for Scuba, Snorkeling, PWC’ers, and Paddle Boarders. Shooting at 4K, the new Hypersmooth 2.0 stabilization, with live-streaming built in (at 1080p) and the huge universe of mounts, accessories, filters, handles, and more put this one on top of our list.
The Hero 8 is also the only camera on our list that can shoot 4K at 60 FPS. It also shoots 1080p at 120 or 240 FPS for great slow motion video. The other cameras here max out at 30 FPS in 4K mode, and shoot 60 FPS at 1080p.
There are many (way too many) accessories, mounts and cases available for this camera. I recommend you start with just the camera and whatever mount or handle you will need at the beginning. Then add other mounts, filters and accessories after you determine your particular uses.
For example, divers will want a red filter. Head to YouTube and search why this is the case. Basically, underwater videos look flat and grey until you add the warming effects of a red filter. Images and videos then look much more realistic.
You may want other filters or mounts depending on uses. Jet skiers will want suction cup mounts, head mounts or chest straps for action videos. Mounts that face the rider can be cool, too. The GoPro accessory universe is almost unlimited. Just buy the ones you need to save money. One accessory that will actually be a must have is a lens cover. That’s right, GoPro did not include a detachable lens or cover. So if that beautiful lens gets scratched or chipped, the camera will need a new lens. While this a bad oversight, it isn’t enough to knock it from the top of this list.
If you can’t spring the full price of the Hero 9 but want to stay in the GoPro line, read our GoPro cameras for scuba article. There we discuss buying an older, cheaper model or a refurbished camera from Amazon to get the right features at a better price. More specific tips for using the GoPro are found in our snorkeling with one article.
Best budget action cameras
We have an article discussing 5 additional waterproof cameras at different price points. You can read that at this link. These are our favorite 2 budget action cameras from that review.
AKASO Brave 4 4K 20MP WiFi Action Camera Ultra HD
The AKASO Brave 4 4K 20MP WiFi Action Camera Ultra HD offers as many features as the GoPro Hero 8, and the above package includes a second battery. This is extra when buying a GoPro. It will shoot 1080p at 60 FPS, which underwater videographers recommend as the best frame rate for shooting diving videos.
But it doesn’t offer the live-streaming capabilities of the Hero 8, and stabilization isn’t quite as good as the new Hero 8’s Hypersmooth 2.0 mode. And the number of available accessories doesn’t match the GoPro line, which has been out long enough to attract many aftermarket manufacturers.
But at one third the price of the Hero 8, it’s a perfect waterproof action camera for those on a budget.
Campark ACT74 Action Camera
Campark’s budget line of action cameras offer a lot of the features of premium cameras at a fraction of the price. You will give up some features, though. For example, it is not waterproof for diving unless used with a case. In addition, the rear touch screen is smaller than more expensive cameras, color calibration will be slightly worse, and stabilization won’t quite match the GoPro’s Hypersmooth system.
But for people who are recording the occasional dive or snorkeling trip, or want to get photos and videos of their kids at the pool or water park, this will definitely do the trick. Not everyone is shooting a professional series for YouTube. Click the above Amazon links for latest price and availability.
Insta360 One R
Here’s the bonus camera we promised at the top of the page. It goes into and out of stock regularly on Amazon. We’ve provided Amazon links, but this camera is so popular, they can’t keep it in stock. Be careful not to end up on a reseller site with highly inflated prices. Just try to catch it when it’s available from the manufacturer at list price.
I own this one, and it provides a very different experience. You can make interactive 360 degree videos that viewers can pan around using their keyboard or touch screens, and when viewed on mobile, moving your device around will show you every direction including up and down.
The included selfie stick is necessary because the software will automatically remove it from the captured video, creating the effect that you’re being filmed by someone else. It has to be seen to be believed. You can also take the original footage and create standard video providing the viewer exactly what parts of the scenes you want them to see.
So how about downsides? Well, there are 2 that standout. First, editing video takes time. To do it right, a lot of time. And you can only use their software due to the 360 degree captured video. Once you’ve pared down your shots to standard video clips, you can export and edit in other video software. Full 360 videos are only supported online by YouTube and Facebook, so you’ll have to share using only those services at this time.
Introduced in spring 2020 to replace the One X, this modular 360 degree camera system lets you build or add just which components you want or need. It is just hitting the market, but there are a lot of good reviews on YouTube. If you are an early adopter, this could be a great alternative to the One X, the GoPro Max and other 360 degree cameras popping up.