With durable and weather-resistant exteriors, action camcorders are the best option for capturing extreme footage in unforgiving environments.
Why Buy A Cheap Action Camera?
The top performers in our Cheap Action Cameras review are The GoPro HERO4 Silver, the GoPro HERO4 Black, and Drift Innovations Ghost-S. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of top 10 cheap action cameras to buy now.
Action camcorders, also known as action cameras or action cams, are compact, rugged video cameras that capture footage in places that conventional video recorders can’t go. Whether you’re a skydiver, surfer, or musician, there’s an action camera designed to capture footage of you doing what you love.
Action cams are different from conventional video recorders in a number of ways. They’re much tougher, often featuring thick shockproof exteriors that are sealed to keep water out and your camera functioning properly even when submerged. They also have a much wider field of view than a traditional video camera, which allows you to capture all the action in one shot. Most action cameras also shoot at higher framerates than conventional video cameras, which makes it possible to slow down footage and emphasize the action in your recordings.
The devices we reviewed differ in design features and image quality. Some cameras provide better shock and water protection than others, some provide a wider field of view and some provide faster framerates for even slower slow-mo. These factors, in combination with the resolution, battery life, and convenience features like built-in Wi-Fi are exactly what you should consider as you choose the best action camera for you.
Top 10 Cheap Action Camera Reviews
GoPro HERO4 Silver
- Built in touch display for easy camera control, shot framing and playback
- Professional 1080P60 and 720P120 video with 12MP photos at up to 30 frames per second
- Built in wi fi and bluetooth support the GoPro app, smart remote and more
PROS: Its touchscreen makes the HERO4 Silver easier to use than previous generations.
CONS: At 90 minutes, its battery life isn’t competitive.
With advanced shooting options and a touch-enabled display, the GoPro HERO4 Silver offers a great balance between technical performance and usability.
The GoPro HERO4 Silver is part of the latest generation of GoPro action cameras, offering better features, faster framerates and larger resolutions than ever before. It can’t boast the best shooting options like the HERO4 Black, but it more than makes up for its technical shortcomings with the addition of a built in touchscreen display. This display, in combination with framerate and resolution options that are only second to the Black model, makes the GoPro HERO4 Silver the best action camera available and our pick for the Top Ten Reviews.
GoPro HERO4 Black
- Professional 4k30, 2.7k60 and 1080P120 video, 720P240 video for super slow motion playback and 12MP photos at up to 30 frames per second
- Built in wi fi and bluetooth support the GoPro app, smart remote and more
- Improved camera control and built in video trimming lets you create and save short video clips right on your camera
PROS: Its resolution and framerate combinations are far above anything else on the market.
CONS: Its battery life lags behind the competition.
The HERO4 Black isn’t the easiest camera to use, considering its lack of a display for reviewing and framing shots, but it’s got the best technical specs out there. This makes it very attractive for advanced users.
The GoPro HERO4 Black is in GoPro’s long line of industry-defining action cameras. As such, it advances from previous iterations and once again allows GoPro to define what the premium action camera should look like in terms of features, design and image quality. For its performance and classic design, the GoPro HERO4 Black is our Top Ten Cheap Action Cams.
Drift Innovations Ghost-S
PROS: It has the longest battery life of any action camera we reviewed.
CONS: It is large and bulky, which can make it a little cumbersome.
The Ghost-S is an excellent choice for those who need good image quality and even better battery life. Those who need the very best image quality or smaller dimensions, however, would be better off looking elsewhere.
The Drift Ghost-S may be heavier and larger than other action cameras, but it also has improved battery life and a built-in preview screen. It also excels when it comes to image quality and features, making it one of the best action cameras available. For its combination of battery life, image quality and features, the Ghost is our Top Ten Cheap Action Cams.
GoPro Hero+ LCD
- HERO+ LCD Camera with Built in Touch Display
- Records stunning, immersive 1080p60 and 720p60 video with built in video trimming, SuperView, Auto Low Light, HI Light Tag and Quick Capture
- Captures 8MP single, Time Lapse and Burst photos up to 5 fps
PROS: A built-in display makes for easy framing.
CONS: The battery cannot be removed or replaced.
With good image quality, a built-in screen and a non-removable waterproof case, the HERO+ LCD is a good choice for casual users. However, advanced users may find its resolution, frame rate and lack of a removable battery limiting.
GoPro has always been at the forefront of the action camera market. Year after year, GoPro pushes the industry boundaries with larger resolutions, faster framerates and more features. The HERO+ LCD is more akin to a mid-range option. It has good image quality, a solid, familiar design and a comprehensive mount system, but most of its features are simplified in favor of a more attractive price.
Like most action cameras, the HERO+ LCD offers a maximum resolution of 1080p. That’s the same resolution found on the majority of today’s televisions. Although the standard of 4K is rapidly approaching, it could be a while before that’s a practical shooting resolution for most people. Still, if you need the freedom afforded by larger resolutions, it may be time to look into one of GoPro’s flagship models.
Sony Action Cam AS100V
- Advanced image stabilization adjusts to vibration
- New splash proof body with tripod mount
- View and control via smartphone/ Live View Remote1
PROS: This camera has excellent image quality.
CONS: The included case is only waterproof to 16 feet.
The Sony AS100 is one of the best action cameras available, offering solid image quality for a good price.
The Sony Action Cam AS100 is Sony’s premium action camcorder. It features 240 fps in standard definition, 1080p max resolution and a weight of only 4.5 ounces. With its mix of exceptional image quality and thoughtful design, the AS100 is one of the best action cameras available, though its specs don’t quite match the top devices in our comparison.
The AS100 features a maximum resolution of 1080p and can shoot at up to 60 frames per second at that setting. It also can shoot at 120 fps in 720p, which is on par with other top action camcorders. The device takes the brightest and most vividly colored videos and pictures of any action camcorder we reviewed. If you don’t typically use video editing software, this is especially useful because the AS100 amplifies color automatically.
Garmin Virb Elite
PROS: A built-in GPS means you can overlay your videos with speed and location data.
CONS: The design is more awkward and fragile than competing products.
The Virb Elite is best for those who own a Garmin bike computer or GPS watch since it connects easily with other Garmin devices. If you don’t have another Garmin device, its fragility and average image quality lessen its appeal.
The Garmin Virb Elite is an action camcorder with good image quality, a unique design and several GPS-enabled features. Garmin has long been the one of the world’s premier GPS companies, and the Virb Elite represents its first foray into the HD action cam market.
The Virb Elite has average image quality. It can shoot at a resolution of 1080p at up to 30 frames per second (fps) or in 720p at up to 60 fps. Some of the best action cameras on the market can shoot in 1080p at 60 fps, which is the optimum setting for capturing fast action sequences, but the 720p/60 fps setting offered by the Virb Elite should be sufficient for filming most of your adventures, provided you don’t do a lot of zooming or image stabilization in the editing process.
PROS: This camera boasts a much higher level of performance than its price would suggest.
CONS: Short battery life means limited recording unless you pack extra batteries.
For most people, The SJCAM’s best shooting combination of 1080p at 30 frames per second is enough. Those who value image quality and editing options, however, will likely feel limited. The SJ4000 is well suited for simple shooting and editing, but don’t expect anything spectacular.
Resolution and framerate are typically the two largest factors that cause an action camera to stand out from the rest. Offering a higher resolution or faster framerates improves the quality of your footage and gives you more freedom to be creative with your shots. The SJCAM SJ4000, however, stands out from the rest for a different reason: price. Although its image quality and shooting options are only average, its cost is far lower than the competitors that we reviewed. For this reason, it’s an option well worth considering.
As is the case with most action camcorders, the maximum shooting resolution for the SJ4000 is 1080p. While 2.7k and 4k are becoming more commonplace, 1080p remains the standard for high-definition consumer video and more than adequate for most users. Furthermore, cameras that offer 2.7 and 4K typically cost $300 to $400 more than the SJCAM.
- 4k HD video camera provides the highest resolution action footage
- Long battery life allows for 3 hours of nonstop filming with cable free batt stick
- The sport action camera contains built in sensors to monitor speed, G Force, altitude, and rotation and appears in playback videos to prove your performance
PROS: Special sensors flag the most interesting parts of your footage for later use with an automatic editing application.
CONS: This camera requires extra parts to be dive capable.
The TomTom has its problems like sub-par waterproofing, an unusual battery design and increased size and weight, but it provides solid framerate/resolution options, a useful design and a unique auto-editing method. Although it’s not for everyone, it’s hard to be displeased with its overall performance.
The first thing you’ll notice about the TomTom Bandit is its unusual barrel shape. While it isn’t the first action camera to take such an approach, it’s one of few. Its design allows you to mount the camera on top, on the side or on the underside of something, and then swivel the camera on its mount to film in the correct orientation. While its design can be useful in certain situations, the camera is also one of the largest and heaviest we’ve seen.
The TomTom makes good use of its increased size by including a preview screen and twice as many buttons as you’d find on a GoPro. This makes navigating menus and reviewing footage easier, although we did find the actual menu to be somewhat clunky. The interface is just not immediately easy to understand. With time, that issue fades.
Kodak Pixpro SP1
- Advanced CMOS sensor with 14 million image pixels gives you more speed, quality and clarity than a traditional CCD sensor.
- Waterproof to 32ft/10m, shockproof to 6.5ft/2m, freeze proof to 14F/-10C and dustproof.
- Capture all the high speed action with 1080p full-HD video or full-res images in 10fps with a push of a button. Switch the setting to High Speed Movie in 120 fps for time-lapse videos in slo-mo with more cool and fun detail.
PROS: Good controls make this camera easy to use.
CONS: This camera is a little bulkier than similar devices.
The Kodak Pixpro SP1 is an excellent choice for those looking for an inexpensive, high-quality camera. It provides good enough image quality for most people and a control system that’s easy to understand. It’s is a good option for casual users.
The Pixpro SP1 is a midrange action cam from Kodak that offers a robust design, good controls and solid image quality. While these features are nothing unusual for an action camera, they’re all most users will need to capture the footage they’re after. If it’s slow-motion video or high-resolution shooting you’re after, however, you should check out our higher-ranked products that are intended for professionals and enthusiasts.
The standard shooting resolution for most action cameras is 1080p. Staying true to its midrange focus, the SP1 reaches this standard but offers nothing beyond it. There are, of course, lower resolutions like 720p or 480p, but there’s not option to shoot at 2.7K or 4K – even with reduced framerates.
- Amazon exclusive! Includes a Contour Flex Mount Strap.
- Easy to Use Simply slide the Instant On-Record Switch into its locking position and the camera powers on and starts recording to ensure you begin filming exactly when you're ready. The Laser Level ensures you get the perfect angle every time.
- Low-Profile Design Contour cameras have won numerous awards for their stylish, yet functional, low-profile design that's simple and fun to use.
PROS: This camera has a durable, well-thought-out design.
CONS: Its resolution and frame rate specs aren’t competitive.
The Contour+2 is being outpaced by newer cams with better specs, but its physical characteristics keep it relevant for capturing outdoor adventures.
The Contour+2 is an action camcorder with average video quality and an exceptional design. Despite having been on the market for some time, the camcorder remains a surprisingly strong contender.
The image quality of the Contour+2 is about average for a HD action cam, shooting 30 fps at 1080p, or 60 fps at 720p. You can use the 60 fps setting to achieve more detail during quick movements compared to 30 fps.
What We Tested, What We Found
Imaging: Resolution, Framerate, and Field of View
Image quality among action camera brands and models has a lot to do with available resolutions and framerates. Higher resolutions make for pixel-dense videos that you can clearly display on large screens, while higher framerates make for smoother action footage – especially when you slow it down. When ranking these action cameras, we took both of these into account. While framerate and resolution give us a good idea of the imaging capabilities of each camera, image quality is about more than raw specifications.
In order to get a real-world perspective on each of these cameras and compare them fairly, we first set each camera to shoot at 1080p at 30 frames per second. We then attached the cameras to a luggage-rack mount that would allow us to record the same scene with each camera at the same time. With all the cams mounted to the roof of our vehicle, we captured footage as we climbed through a snowy canyon. Capturing this side-by-side video allowed us to compare cameras based on their dynamic range, sharpness, and color accuracy.
In a second test, we used a chest mount to attach two cameras on our tester – one for testing, one for reference – and had him climb routes at a local indoor climbing gym, switching out the test cameras as the evening progressed. This allowed us to get a better perspective of how each camera performs with typical use. The lighting was dim, which allowed us to compare the low-light performance of each camera.
Most action cameras have a field of view between 150 and 170 degrees. Because of this small variation between models, you should consider the field of view to a lesser degree. Just keep in mind that the wider the angle, the more you can capture in your frame.
Design: Battery Life, Waterproofing, and Ease of use
Battery life among action cameras is typically short, ranging between an hour and a half and three hours. Although battery life is important, it’s not the only thing to consider here. When it comes to action cameras, longer battery life often means a bulkier and heavier camera. If you want something small and light to blend more seamlessly into your experience, you may want to sacrifice some battery life. After all, you can bring spare batteries along.
Waterproofing varies significantly from brand to brand and often depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what kind of casing you’re willing to deal with. Large waterproof cases, like those found on the GoPro HERO series, provide the best water protection, but they also have their drawbacks. First, without this casing, some of the devices are hardly more durable than a normal camera. Secondly, buttons become much more difficult to use, and touchscreens are impossible to use through a case.
Features: Wi-Fi, Mobile Applications, and Automatic Editing
Most modern action cameras come equipped with Wi-Fi. These cameras broadcast a wireless signal that you can find and connect to using your smartphone or tablet. Then, using a mobile application, you can change settings, preview and capture video or download footage for editing and sharing. For cameras that lack a preview screen, this can be particularly useful.
Automatic editing is one of the newest features to make an appearance in the action camera market and is, as of yet, only supported by one model on our lineup: the TomTom Bandit. The Bandit makes use of its GPS and motion sensors to tag the most exciting sections of your footage. Once the video is uploaded to your smartphone, TomTom’s app uses these tags to automatically edit content using only your most exciting moments. This saves a lot of time and works pretty well. If you’re worried about missing something, you can also tag things manually at the touch of a button. Though auto-editing is still in its fledgling stages, we’re excited to see where the technology goes from here.
What Else Is Important?
Action Cameras: Mounts and Accessories
You can mount an action camera to almost anything. From handlebars and helmets to kayaks and cars, an action camera can go anywhere that you can – provided you have the correct mounts. Aside from the actual specifications of your camera, it’s a good idea to make sure that the accessories you need are available from your chosen action camera manufacturer.
Also, look out for replacement batteries, chargers, and remote controls. Although you might not need these add-ons initially, it’s better to go for a model that gives you more options than one that limits you to what you get out of the box.
Action Cameras: Dimensions and Design
The dimensions of your camera can influence where and how you can mount your camera. Thin or barrel-shaped cameras, for example, work well when mounted on the side of a helmet because they don’t protrude far from the mount. Square cameras, on the other hand, can stick out awkwardly when mounted on the side.
In addition to this, the sheer size and weight of a camera can make a camera more or less convenient to mount. While most action cameras are fairly compact, it’s up to you just how small you need to go. Just keep in mind, that weight savings often mean increased prices or the loss of axillary features.
Action cameras typically come with the same set of base features, but every model integrates these features differently. This can make a big difference in the way you interact with your camera. Some cameras are water-resistant out of the box, so their controls and screens are easily accessible at all times. Others require additional waterproof housing to be safe for use in and around water. Although these models are often better protected, they often give you less access to the camera’s primary functions.
Verdict and Recommendations
All action cameras perform the same basic function – they are all durable, mountable, and feature wide-angle lenses for capturing all the action in a single shot. If this basic functionality is all you’re after, then there’s no need to spend more than $100 on an action camera. For that, you can get a camera like the SJCAM SJ4000 that’s waterproof, shoots HD video, and mounts to just about anything. It’s great for kids and adults who simply don’t need the highest quality video.
For people who want a little more out of their camera, however, the best action camera has to be the GoPro HERO4 Silver. Although it doesn’t boast the incredible 4k/30fps resolution/framerate combination of the HERO4 Black model, it’s no slouch, offering up to 2.7k at 30 frames per second. In addition to this, it includes a built-in touchscreen that you can use to frame and review your shots. Up until recently, a screen was something that most GoPro users simply did without, but the usefulness of a built-in screen really can’t be overstated.
If you need the best possible image quality, go with the GoPro HERO4 Black. In addition to its previously mentioned ability to shoot 4k video at 30 frames per second, the Black model also boasts some of the highest framerates available. In fact, it’s the only camera on our lineup that can capture 120 frames per second while shooting a full 1080p HD video. Unfortunately, there’s no preview screen to review your shots.
If you’re looking to save a little money but still want premium features and a well-made, reliable camera, check out the Drift Innovations Ghost-S. This camera doesn’t offer the best resolutions or framerates, but it does offer full HD video at 60fps, 720p video at 120fps, and a built-in preview screen to help you frame shots. If you’ve tried a GoPro and decided it’s not for you, this is a good option.
Whether you’re looking to capture high-quality video to incorporate into a personal film project or just to capture some memories, there’s an action camera for you. Check out our matrix for direct comparisons of features and recording capabilities and read our individual product reviews for even more in-depth product information.