October 29, 2020
Best action cam for 2020: GoPro, Insta360, DJI and more compared

Best action cam for 2020: GoPro, Insta360, DJI and more compared


GoPro continues to lead the way in the action cam market because it’s grown into a complete solution — from cameras to accessories to its service that includes device replacement, a streaming platform, cloud storage and more. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a good waterproof, rugged, high-resolution mountable camera to take on your adventures, there are other great options out there. 

And sure, those options could include your waterproof and crack-resistant phone, but keep in mind that the best action camera is designed for this kind of shooting. Plus, just because your phone is tougher, it doesn’t mean you should risk losing or damaging it to shoot video since it’s the thing that keeps you connected to work, family and friends. It’s also way easier to mount one of these to your body, car, bike or anything else than your phone.

With that in mind, here are the best action cameras that we’ve tested. All of these devices have a wide range of use and can shoot video, snap photos and capture audio. See which one is the best action camera to fit your needs for battery life, video quality and durability. If you’ve had good results from a camera not mentioned here, please share it in the comments.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

This is the best single-lens action camera you can get from GoPro at the moment in features and performance. Compared with the Hero 8 Black, there are new tools for photos and videos like being able to schedule recordings or set them for a specific duration — from 15 seconds to 3 hours– and it now records at 5K at 30 frames per second. That might sound like overkill, but you can pull high-quality stills from the video, making 5K video good for when you can’t choose between getting a movie or stills. 

However, the biggest changes are in the design of the camera. The Hero 9 Black is larger to accommodate a bigger, more powerful battery. The lens cover is also now removable so it can be replaced easily if it gets scratched. It also allows you to add lenses including the new Max Mod Lens that gives you an ultrawide view with amazing stabilization. The camera is $449, but if you sign up for GoPro’s service, the camera price drops to $349 and that includes the service costs. 

Read about the GoPro Hero 9 Black.

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While GoPro has long called itself the most versatile camera, the Insta360 One R takes versatility to another level. The One R’s modular design lets you swap out camera modules for different features and shooting options. At the moment, the module options include a 4K wide-angle camera for that traditional action-cam experience; a dual-lens 360-degree camera; and a Leica-engineered camera with a 1-inch sensor for the best image quality possible even in low-light conditions. 

Each camera has its own unique capabilities letting you really push your creativity. However, should you get stuck, the company’s mobile app and the Insta360 community are a constant source of inspiration. Speaking of the mobile app, it has superintelligent editing features that make it easy to create sharable clips. And all your footage will look incredibly smooth when you use its FlowState image stabilization. 

But one of the best parts of the Insta360 One R is that the company never stops improving it and adding features. For example, it just updated the device so it can be used as a webcam, and you can now livestream with the 360 camera. There is no shortage of accessories for it, either, including a dive housing and a selfie stick that disappears from view when you use it with the 360 camera. 

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Though the Hero 9 Black and 8 Black cameras have more features and better stabilization, the $250 Hero 7 Black still delivers a lot. It’s a 2018 model and has almost all the same features as the Hero 8 including high-quality HyperSmooth image stabilization, the killer feature for this model. 

The Hero 7 also has a better user interface than past models, more shooting options to give you more control such as 1080p at 240 frames per second, TimeWarp motion time-lapses, vertical video and 720p livestreaming straight from the camera. 

Read our GoPro Hero7 Black preview.


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For a company known for its camera drones, DJI got a lot right with its first action cam. One of its stand-out features is its front color screen. It might be small, but it’s enough to make sure you’re centered in the shot when the camera lens is facing you on a selfie stick. Another great feature of the camera is that it responds to voice commands — the view can be switched with a voice control. It’s also waterproof and rugged with removable lens covers, it has great electronic image stabilization, shoots HDR video and has customizable presets so you get to control the shooting modes you want without diving into menus. This is an excellent device for people who are looking for better control when shooting photos and videos.

Read our DJI Osmo Action preview.

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Good 4K video for less than $150 and it has a front display. The Brave LE is quite the deal. The body is water-resistant but, along with a variety of mounts, two batteries, a charger and a wrist remote, Akaso includes a dive housing good to 40 meters (131 feet). A touchscreen on the back lets you tap your way through its simple interface to change modes and camera settings. A long press on the Mode button on top lets you switch to the front display so you can see yourself while you shoot. 

You get several shooting options including video and photo time-lapse modes, slow motion and loop recording. It has Diving and Driving modes: the former to compensate for the lack of red light in underwater scenes, the latter will turn on and off with your car when you have the camera connected to your car for power. 

As for picture quality, you’ll want to keep it set to 4K30 with the image stabilization and quality set to high for the best results, though. Also, while it offers a solid mix of resolutions and frame rates, not all of them have image stabilization including 1080p120 for slow motion.  

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Like the Brave LE, this Akaso is all about value. The V50 Elite captures fine-looking 4K video at 30fps with better electronic image stabilization during video recording than you might expect at this price. You get many of the same shooting modes you’d find on a GoPro device, such as time-lapse photos and videos and slow-motion footage at 1080p at 240fps. While the EIS is good, it’s not available at faster frame rates including its top setting of 4K60. 

There are plenty of extras like voice controls and a Drive mode so you can use it as a dashcam when plugged into your car. It’s not waterproof on its own, but a dive housing is included as well as several mounts, two batteries (with a battery life of 90 minutes) and a charger that simultaneously powers up both packs. It also has built-in Wi-Fi so you can connect to a smartphone and use an app to control the camera and transfer your shots for sharing.

Read more about all types of cameras



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