When you’re filming someone else, like your kids as they participate in sports, a handheld camera is fine. What, though, if you want to capture proof of your own athletic skill or proof that you really did go bungee jumping, zip lining, parasailing, or deep sea diving? What if you want to show your family, friends, and potential YouTube followers a drone’s camera lens view of your world? An action camera lets you capture these images.
What Is an Action Camera?
Dedicated video cameras are designed to capture other people in motion as you film them. Most other digital cameras are designed to capture still images as well as videos, but you’ll find most of the user manual is dedicated to still photos. Action cameras are cameras dedicated to allowing you to record either yourself in action or your world from your point of view.
In general, action cameras are small and lightweight. Some also have aerodynamic designs. That’s because they frequently are worn mounted on a helmet, a chest strap, or your ski boot or snowboard boot. If they aren’t being worn, then they are mounted on some piece of your sports equipment such as your kayak, your surfboard, or the handlebar of your bike, jet ski, or ATV.
Another place you might mount an action camera is on a fence beside a snowboarding halfpipe or the area of a snowboarding, skateboarding, or motocross course where you intend to do a trick that you want to immortalize. As already mentioned, the small size and light weight of action cameras also makes them ideal for mounting on a drone’s camera platform, the gimbal.
As you might expect from the sports mentioned above, action cameras are made to be durable and to continue to operate in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. They also are somewhat water- and weatherproof even without any special weather- or waterproof case, but most have an accessory case for even greater water- and weatherproofing.
Our Best Action Cameras Under $200 For 2020:
- SJCAM SJ5000X Elite Action Camera
- GoPro Hero5 Black (In E-Commerce Packaging)
- GoPro Hero7 White
- YI 360 VR Camera
- Akaso V50 Pro Native Action Camera
- Xiaomi Mijia Camera Mini
What Features Should I Look for in an Action Camera?
Some of the important features that you should consider are mentioned above, but there are others.
Auto-Focus and Hands-Free and Remote Control
If you’re in the middle of the action, it’s not likely that you’re going to be able to adjust the camera settings yourself by hand. You’ll rely heavily on the camera’s autofocus system to adjust the camera’s settings especially as the action moves from sunlit areas to shade. Having a camera that responds to voice commands would also be a plus.
If you’re wearing your action camera to capture vacation video of, for example, the local market or nightlife, the autofocus system will need to adjust from sunlight to indoor lighting.
If you are trying to capture video of yourself performing a snowboarding or motocross trick and you have the camera mounted on a fence beside the track with no one to operate it, being able to set the shutter to activate when a subject enters the scene would be a useful feature.
Most action cameras also have apps that allow someone to use a smart phone or tablet to control the camera remotely. This allows you to control a camera that’s flying high on a drone, and it also eliminates the camera shake that might come from someone excitedly pressing down hard on the shutter as you come into view to perform a trick.
Because of their necessarily compact size, action cameras use smaller image sensors. Because the action these cameras capture occurs at high speed, they also use fast CMOS image sensors.
Image sensors are covered with photoreceptors that receive the image from the camera lens. Each photoreceptor equals one pixel. Larger image sensors can hold larger photoreceptors, and that helps improve the quality of the images taken by CMOS image sensors. With cameras that use smaller image sensors, though, the larger the number of pixels, the better the quality of the image.
When it comes to pixels and video, high definition 4K video offers more pixels and thus more detail than 1080p. The latter, however, has been the standard format for YouTube videos. Some YouTube vloggers say that they can tell the difference between videos shot in 4K and those shot in high definition 1080p when viewing them online.
In most cases though, the real deciding factor might be whether or not you will be showing your videos to family and friends at home on a 4K television. If you have a 4K television, then you will notice a difference in the image quality of videos shot in 4K and those shot in 1080p when you view them on your television. If you have a 4K television or if your planning to purchase one, you will probably want an action camera that can shoot in 4K. It’s also likely that 4K could replace 1080p as the new standard. For now, though, 1080p is fine.
Again because these cameras capture images of high speed action while the camera is either being worn or mounted on sports equipment, a high quality image stabilization system is extremely important.
Selecting an action camera with image stabilization is imperative.
When you shoot with an action camera, everything may be in motion, you, your subject, and the background. Image stabilization prevents blur due to camera shake in any type of photography, but it is especially important when you are in motion when shooting. It’s even more important when the camera will be jarred by a bumpy trail, waves, whitewater, or other types of uneven terrain or rough water.
There are two types of image stabilization – optical and digital.
Optical image stabilization systems use gyroscopes in the camera lens to adjust the lens components to compensate for motion as the video is being filmed. Optical image stabilization systems are the better of the two systems for most cameras because the adjustments occur as or just before the image is captured. If further adjustments are needed, it’s easier to use video editing software to make them to an image that has been stabilized optically. However, digital image stabilization systems may be better suited to action cameras.
Digital image stabilization uses the cameras image processor to make adjustments to the video after it has been captured. Digital image stabilization systems have fewer moving components than optical image stabilization systems. As a result, they may be the more durable system for action cameras.
The main drawback to a digital image stabilization system is that it saves the movie or photo with the adjustments it makes.
When you are editing video yourself, you easily can try an adjustment and then undo it if you’re not happy with the result. Once you save the results, however, you no longer can simply undo them. You must try to rework the corrections you made to produce a result that suits you.
When the camera’s image processor digitally stabilizes the image, it saves the corrected image without giving you the chance to view the corrections and accept or undo them. If you aren’t happy with the results, then you must try to use your video editing software to correct them.
Some action cameras now use a single gyroscope to improve the accuracy of the corrections made by the digital image stabilization system. The gyroscope senses and measures motion on six axes – up and down, right and left, and forward and backward. The digital image stabilization system then uses the information from the gyroscope to fine tune its adjustments on each axis.
Manufacturers design and build action cameras to be more durable than other types of cameras. Nevertheless, you should check the camera’s specifications to make sure it will operate when and where you will be using it.
Depending on the conditions in which you will use the camera, you should check the following information:
- How large of a drop or fall will the camera withstand?
- What is the highest temperature range at which the camera will operate?
- What is the lowest temperature at which the camera will operate?
- What level of water and weather protection does the camera have?
- At what underwater depth can the camera operate without being enclosed in a waterproof case?
- At what underwater depth can the camera operate within a waterproof case?
When looking for this information, you may find it’s presented as an Ingress Protection Marking. This rating system was created by the International Electrotechnical Commission (TEC). This code also is referred to as an IP Code or Ingress Protection Code. These codes consist of one to three numbers, and some contain an additional letter. The first two are required. The third number, which indicated how well the camera was protected from impacts, is no longer used. The letter is optional and provides additional information about the conditions under which the camera was tested.
The first number indicates how well the camera’s interior is protected against the entrance of solid particles like blowing sand or dust. The ratings range from zero for no protection up to six for air tight protection from dust. An X indicates that no information is available. You will probably want the highest level of protection available for an action camera.
The second number indicates how well the camera is protected from liquids. Again, X means no information is available, and zero means no protection. The ratings go up to nine with the levels indicating that the camera is protected from dripping water, sprays of water, splashes of water, jets of waters of varying force, immersion up to 1 meter (a rating of seven), and immersion to depths greater than 1 meter (a rating of 8). A rating of nine indicates protection from strong jets of water. You could probably place a camera or case with that rating under a waterfall or use it to record whitewater runs.
While there are other letters, “W”, “S”, and “M” are the most important for action cameras. A “W” means that the camera was tested for the protection it provides against weather. An “M” means that the water tests were performed while the camera was moving, and an “S” means that the camera was stationary during the water tests. If your action camera is rated using an IP Code, look for the letters “W” and “M”.
Shooting Modes, Sound, Wi-Fi, and Other Features
Some action cameras allow you to shoot in time lapse mode or to capture the action in slow motion. Some can take still photos as well as capture video, and some will let you isolate frames of video as still photographs.
The features offered by more advanced action cameras might include a compass and readings of temperature, barometric pressure, and height above sea level. These cameras might also be able to record your heart rate and your pedaling RPM.
While all action cameras come with wide angle lenses, some allow you zoom in on your subject and narrow the focus to medium or narrow range.
The wide angle view on some action cameras creates a fisheye look that may have the effect of immersing viewers in the action when shown on a wide-screen TV. Some don’t like that fisheye look, but setting the camera to medium eliminates the outer edges of the scene and reduces the fisheye effect. Setting the camera to narrow zooms in more tightly on your subject.
One professional wedding photographer puts the medium and close up ranges to good use by attaching an action camera to his still camera. He is then able to capture still photos and video at the same time.
However, while the medium and narrow ranges on an action camera are similar to what a zoom lens accomplishes for other cameras, it is not identical, and some action cameras lack the ability to choose distances between the preset ranges.
Batteries and Memory
You will want to check the battery life of the camera and also how the battery life differs with the use of different shooting modes. You might want to look for a camera with a battery saving mode. Also, take plenty of batteries with you. If you are on an extended trip, take along a USB charger. You don’t want to run out of batteries before you run out of things to film.
If your camera shoots video in 4K, be certain that you purchase SD cards with the storage capacity needed to handle the larger files. Being able to upload videos to the internet through a Wi-Fi connection reduces the need for storage cards if you have a connection readily available. If you can’t readily access such a connection, however, be certain you have plenty of memory cards on hand.
The right mount enables you to perfectly position your action camera to capture just the video you want. Most cameras come with a few different types of mounts. Some even allow you to change the angle of the camera.
Find out what types of mounts come with the cameras you are considering to see if you will have the mount you need to position the camera for the types of video that you want to capture. If not, you can purchase different types of mounts separately.
Go Pro is a leader in producing different types of mounts, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a Go Pro camera. Many manufacturers include 1/4 inch screws with their cameras that allow you to attach the camera to a tripod mount and use Go Pro mounts.
the Best Action Cameras Under 200 for 2020
The SJCAM SJ5000X Elite action camera features a 12.4 MP 1/2.3 CMOS image sensor, which is a common size for small cameras. It captures full HD video at a resolution of 4K, and you can capture your still images as either JPEG or RAW files.
You can zoom out to capture 170° views or narrow your image down to 70°. The SJCAM Elite also allows you to adjust the camera’s white balance, exposure value, and ISO sensitivity settings if you choose. In addition, you can adjust the camera’s color settings to add warmth, to add coolness, or to shoot in black and white or sepia (retro mode).
You can capture standard videos or record them in slow motion or in short loops. You also can choose between time lapse and video lapse mode. In time lapse mode, each image has a frame with its own picture file while in video lapse mode the time lapse images are recorded as a video file.
During still photography, you can set the camera to WDR (wide dynamic range) mode to help the camera adjust to scenes with contrasting highly shaded or very dark areas and very brightly lit areas. You also can set the camera to record still photos with long exposures to capture, for example, the trails of star light as the earth rotates or the streams of headlights and taillights from traffic.
The SJCAM comes with a waterproof case for underwater photography, and when you set the camera to underwater mode, the camera adjusts the colors to add the red tones that are filtered out by the water when you are diving to deeper depths.
Like all of the above cameras, you can set a timer to delay the activation of the shutter, but the SJCAM Elite also has a motion detector that can be used to activate the shutter.
In addition, with the optional car charger accessory cable, you can put the camera in car mode and use it as a dash cam. The camera automatically comes on and begins filming when you start your engine.
Like the Xiaomi Mijia, the SJCAM Elite uses a gyroscopic sensor to improve the accuracy of its digital image stabilization system.
The SJCAM Elite also offers built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Along with the waterproof case, the SJCAM Elite comes with two short connectors with a screw, a universal 1/4 inch tripod mount, and a tripod mount adaptor so that you can use it with GoPro’s camera mounting accessories. Unlike the other camera’s though, the SJCAM Elite comes with most of the mounting accessories you would commonly use – a backpack mount, a bike handlebar seat post pole mount, a quick release J-shaped buckle, curved and flat adhesive mounts, and adhesive tape.
- Captures full HD video at a resolution of 4K.
- Captures still photos as either RAW or JPEG files.
- Has built-in motion detector that automatically activates the shutter.
- Can be used as a dash cam with optional car charger accessory cable.
- Comes with a waterproof case, a backpack mount, a bike handlebar seat post pole mount, a quick release J-shaped buckle, curved and flat adhesive mounts, and adhesive tape.
- Universal 1/4 inch tripod mount allows camera to be used with GoPro mounts.
- Uses electronic image stabilization
The GoPro Hero5 uses a 12MP 1/2.3” CMOS image sensor that is identical in size to the image sensors used in so many cameras that they are referred to as two-thirds cameras.
The Hero5 captures full HD video in 4K and stereo with wind noise reduction, and it shoots still images in your choice of either JPEG or RAW format. You can even capture still images while shooting videos. It’s also waterproof to a depth of 30 feet, and it includes GPS tracking.
The Hero5 responds to your voice commands, but it also offers built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity so that you can control the camera remotely with your smart phone and stream or upload videos to the internet from wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection.
The Hero5 offers a low light/nighttime shooting mode, daytime and nighttime time lapse shooting modes, and loop recording.
It comes with flat and curved adhesive mounts, a frame mount, and a mounting adapter.
The Hero5 accepts up to 128 GB MicroSD cards for storage.
Some purchasers assert that cameras contained in the e-commerce packaging had been either returned or refurbished.
- 12MP 1/2.3” CMOS image sensor is identical in size to image sensors used in many cameras.
- Captures full HD video in 4K and stereo with wind noise reduction.
- Shoots still images in your choice of either JPEG or RAW format.
- Capture still images while shooting videos.
- Waterproof to a depth of 30 feet.
- Includes GPS tracking, voice control, and built-in Wi-Fi.
- Shooting modes include low light/nighttime, daytime and nighttime time lapse, and loop recording.
- Some purchasers assert that e-commerce packaging means cameras had been either returned or refurbished
The GoPro Hero7 White comes with a 10 MP 1/2.3 CMOS image sensor. That’s the same size as the 12 MP image sensor used by the Hero5 Black. It may seem that 12 MP would be better than 10 MP, but when comparing the megapixels or the number of photoreceptors on two image sensors of the same size, fewer photoreceptors mean larger photoreceptors. Larger photoreceptors actually improve image resolution.
The Hero7 White captures full HD video at a resolution of either 1440p or 1080p and still images as either JPEG or RAW files at a resolution of 10 MP. Whether you’re shooting audio or video, the Hero7 automatically stabilizes your images. In addition, the Hero7 adjusts the angle of your video images to follow the curves of your path so that your viewers feel part of the action.
This camera lets you capture photos and video in either a landscape (horizontal) or vertical (portrait) format. Additionally, you can capture standard videos, capture them in time lapse mode or at 60 fps so that they replay in slow motion, or capture then in short 15 second or 30 second clips for easy sharing.
You can immerse the Hero7 to a depth of 33 feet (10 meters) to capture underwater video without a case. However to shoot at greater depths, you will need the optional waterproof case.
With the Hero7, you can record either monaural or stereo sound, and wind noise reduction is included.
You can control the Hero7 by voice command for hands-free operation or with the touchscreen (if you’re not shooting underwater).
The built-in Wi-Fi also allows you to control your camera remotely with your smart phone and upload videos and photos from wherever you have an internet connection. The built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections also allow you to share your images and videos with other devices and use Bluetooth devices to control the camera.
The Hero7 comes with a mounting buckle, a mounting frame, flat and curved adhesive mounts, and a thumb screw.
- Shoots full HD video at a resolution of 1080p.
- Captures still images as either JPEG or RAW files.
- Can shoot videos in either horizontal or vertical formats.
- Automatically tilts videos to reflect twists and turns of curved paths.
- Records in either stereo or monaural.
- Can be used in dives to 33 feet without a case, and can be used at greater depths with a waterproof case.
- Responds to voice commands for hands free operation.
- Has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
- Comes with a mounting buckle, a mounting frame, flat and curved adhesive mounts, and a thumb screw.
- Does not shoot video in 4K.
With two 220° lenses and two 1/2.3 CMOS image sensors, the YI 360° VR camera stitches together professional-grade 360° videos at a resolution of 5.7K in camera. You won’t need to wait to get back to your computer to match up scene segments.
You’ll be able to share videos with immersive 360° views from wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection. You can also control your camera with your smart phone or tablet. The camera’s built-in Bluetooth connection allows you to share videos with other Bluetooth devices or control your camera with Bluetooth accessories.
Your videos can range from six seconds to two minutes in length. You’ll be able to record for 40 minutes at a resolution of 5.7K and for 60 minutes at a resolution of 4K, so bringing extra batteries is a good deal.
The YI 360° camera also let’s you capture time lapse videos. It shoots still photos at a resolution of 22 MP in JPEG format, but you can save your photos in PNG format before editing them to avoid the condensation and subsequent loss of image quality that occurs each time JPEG images are saved.
The built-in omnidirectional 360° microphone perfectly complements the videos.
When shooting, you can choose auto focus, night mode, or stage mode for settings with strong contrasts between dark and light areas, such as at a performance where the stage is brightly lit but the seating area for the audience is dark.
While you cannot zoom in and out with the YI 360°, you can adjust the metering, ISO sensitivity, exposure value (EV), and white balance settings to compensate for various photographic situations.
When playing videos back, you can choose stretched view for a view that is stretched vertically, a little planet view that displays the action as if it is playing out on the surface of a planet, round view that displays the video as if it is occurring within a garden globe or crystal ball, panorama mode, or VR mode for viewing with a head-mounted VR display. You will need compatible equipment to replay video shot at 5.7K.
While most action cameras are fairly rugged, the YI 360° is not drop proof, waterproof, or even water resistant. If you want to use it to film near, on, or underwater, you will need a waterproof case. Because of the size of the video files, you will need a class U3 micro SD card. The camera supports SD cards up to 128GB. It also should be used only with a 1400mAh YI 360 VR/4K/4K+ replacement battery.
The camera comes with a tripod, and a standard 1/4” screw, which means that a tripod mount is all you will need to make this camera compatible with all of the GoPro mounting options.
- Has two 220° lenses and two 1/2.3 CMOS image sensors for capturing 360° and virtual reality videos.
- Has built-in omnidirectional 360° microphone.
- Has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
- Supports SD cards up to 128GB.
- Compatible with GoPro mounts with purchase of a tripod mount.
- Shoots still images in JPEG only.
- Is not drop proof, water proof, or even water resistant.
The Akaso V50 Pro Native Action Camera comes with a 20MP CMOS 1/2.3 image sensor, like most of the cameras above. It captures still photos in JPEG format and full HD video at a resolution of 4K with sound and wind noise reduction. The V50 even allows to use an external microphone. You also can choose to shoot at super wide, wide, medium, and narrow angles, but the angles are preset.
The V50 uses a gyroscope to detect and electronically stabilize images along six axes. Correction along six axes is a positive, but, as already discussed, electronic image stabilization is difficult to change if the corrections aren’t accurate.
You can shoot standard videos or choose from slow motion, fast motion, or time lapse modes. With auto low light turned on while you are shooting video, the V50 automatically adjusts its settings as you move from areas of bright sunlight to indoor or shaded settings.
When shooting still photos, you can set the camera to take a long exposure to capture the trails of light from moving traffic at night or the trails if light from stars that are created by the earth’s rotation. You also can add color filters such as sepia, black and white, warm, cool, and vibrant. In addition, the V50 lets you adjust the exposure value (EV), ISO sensitivity, white balance, and meter settings.
Like the SJCAM, the V50 automatically corrects colors when set to diving mode. The waterproof case that comes with the camera allows you to descend to a depth of 30 feet, but the camera does not record sound while underwater.
The V50 comes with built-in Wi-Fi, so you can automatically upload your photos and videos to the internet from wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection. However, the app that allows you to control the camera from your smart phone or tablets is compatible only with Apple devices. The camera does include an RF wristband remote control that you can use if you have Android devices.
Like the SJCAM, the V50 comes with an assortment of mounting accessories. The camera includes two helmet mounts, five tethers, a bicycle stand, adhesive mounts, and more.
The V50 also comes with two batteries. The manufacturer recommends Samsung 64GB 100MB/s (U3) MicroSDXC EVO Select Micro SD cards for this camera.
- Captures full HD video in 4K with sound and wind noise reduction.
- Supports an external microphone.
- Includes an RF remote control.
- Includes helmet mounts, a bike stand, tethers, and adhesive mounts with camera.
- Includes a waterproof case with camera.
- Captures still photos in JPEG only.
- Super wide, wide, medium, and narrow angles are preset.
- Remote control app is only compatible with Apple devices.
- Uses electronic image stabilization.
The Xiaomi Mijia Camera Mini contains an 8 MP 1/2.5 CMOS image sensor that is smaller than the 1/2.3 image sensors of the YI 360° and the Hero5 and Hero7. With its wide angle lens, it can capture a panoramic view of up to 145°. You can choose from nine shooting modes including time lapse, low light, and slow motion.
The Xiaomi Mijia captures full HD video in 4K, and it has two built-in microphones for capturing sound.
For still photos, you can choose between RAW and JPEG.
The Mijia uses an internal gyroscope sensor with its six-axis electronic image stabilization, which means the camera senses and corrects for vertical, horizontal, and front to back motion. However, the corrections are made electronically after the image has been captured. As already mentioned, once changes are made and saved electronically, they are more difficult to correct.
The Mijia’s battery allows you to record video in 4K for up to two hours and in 1080p for up to three hours. The Mijia accepts U3 SD cards with a storage capacity up to 64G.
The Xiaomi Mijia includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so that you can upload videos and photos from wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection, share your videos and images with others, and control your camera with your smartphone, tablet, or Xiaomi’s optional Bluetooth camera remote control.
- Has two microphones for recording sound.
- Captures still images in either JPEG or RAW.
- Captures video in full HD 4K.
- Has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in.
- Uses six-axis gyroscope to fine tune electronic image stabilization.
- Contains an 8 MP 1/2.5 CMOS image sensor that is smaller than the 1/2.3 image sensors of the other cameras.
- Accepts SD storage cards only up to 64GB.
- Uses electronic image stabilization.
What Is the Best Action Camera for the Money
If you’re interested in amazing your family, friends, and YouTube viewers with 360° and virtual reality videos, then the YI 360° is the action camera you should choose.
Our choice among best action cameras under 200, though, is the versatile SJCAM SJ5000X Elite. It captures video in 4K and still photos in either JPEG or RAW file formats. With the purchase of its optional car charger cable, you can turn it into a dash cam that starts when you start your car. The built-in motion detector ensures that you can capture yourself in action without worrying about controlling the camera remotely. In addition, most of the mounts that you might want to come with the camera. You don’t have to spend money on purchasing them separately. All you have to do is mount your camera where you want it and start filming.