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Like Q-tips, Post-it Notes, Kleenex, and other ubiquitous brands, GoPro has come to define the category of action cameras so completely that shoppers sometimes forget to consider the alternatives.
A favorite among outdoor and extreme sports enthusiasts, the GoPro brand has championed the idea of miniaturized, rugged camcorders that can be strapped or hitched to a variety of mounts. Despite the name recognition, though, GoPro models haven't always excelled in our labs. According to Consumer Reports testers, action cams from other brands often perform better and cost less.
In fact, it’s Sony, not GoPro, that dominates our ratings, with five of the top 10 action cam models. And GoPro? Just three.
“Sony’s imaging prowess extends beyond its mirrorless cameras,” says Charles Davidman, who leads CR’s camera testing program. “The brand makes so many strong-performing action cameras that no matter what your budget, you can likely find a Sony that can work for you.”
That doesn’t mean you should dismiss GoPro cameras, however. The GoPro Hero5 Black, $250, which responds to voice commands and offers extra frame-rate options for shooting 4K video, is one of the best budget models in our ratings. The GoPro Hero8 Black, $350 (shown below), features impressive new motion stabilization technology. And oodles of accessories make it easy to use GoPro cameras for just about any sport or other activity you can think of.
Whichever model or brand you choose, don’t expect an action cam to offer the same image quality as a traditional camcorder. “Action cams have limited zoom, can distort images, and create blotchy videos compared with their larger cousins,” Davidman says.
On the upside, they're small enough to attach to a bicycle's handlebars or a kayak deck without becoming a nuisance. And most can withstand a dip in a lake or a short fall, so it’s easy to see why an action cam might be a great companion for your next hiking expedition. (PSA on that topic: Watch out for ticks.)
The sub-$400 action cams from Kodak, Sony, and GoPro listed below are rugged, easy-to-use, connect to a smartphone wirelessly, feature image stabilization, and weigh less than a half-pound. CR's testers grade the cameras on 350 data points over the course of a week of testing. And like every product in Consumer Reports’ ratings, we buy the cameras in retail outlets, just like you.
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Kodak PixPro SP1
Despite its diminutive size, this Kodak PixPro action cam is rugged enough to withstand a 7-foot drop and water-resistant to a depth of 33 feet. The 2-plus hours of battery life per charge put it among the best in its class. The camera comes with a 1.5-inch LCD and an image stabilizer to counteract shaky hands, not to mention vibrating handlebars. According to our testers, the camera delivers good photos and video. And there’s a nice extra: the ability to capture photos at 10 frames per second in burst mode.
Like most Sony models, the HDR-AS50 has a very good image stabilizer. It provides a simple, intuitive interface, so you can get the camera up and running in a jiffy. The video quality is good, as is the audio quality. The battery life stretches to 100 minutes. Like the other models on this list, this Sony survived our dunk and drop tests, but the company also sells an additional protective housing that it claims will keep this model dry up to a depth of 197 feet. For a little bit extra, you could opt instead for the Sony HDR-AS50R, which includes a wrist-mounted remote and an LCD screen.
GoPro HERO8 Black
When mounted on a snowboarder's helmet or the fork of a motorcycle, a great action camcorder needs great image stabilization. And the Hero8 Black delivers better performance in this regard than any previous GoPro, providing hi-def images that are almost gimbal-smooth.
The Hero8 also has a new housing that removes the need for separate mount, meaning you can pocket it and attach it to your helmet or other gear as needed.
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