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Relive your most epic thrills and spills with the 8 best action cams

Three years ago, action cameras were the hottest gear. Small enough to fit into any pocket and easy to use, these little camcorders also could capture high-definition video. The ability to mount the camcorders on a variety of surfaces or accessories only bolstered their original appeal, along with their rugged build components. Led by GoPro — the company that essentially created the action cam industry — its Hero cameras were in-demand by everyone, from teens to professional filmmakers.

Related: Black, Silver, or Session? Which GoPro is right for you?

Now, fast-forward to the present. While GoPro is still the undisputed champ, there are a lot more players — from no-name budget manufacturers that want a slice of the pie, to major camera makers like Sony, which sells cameras that rival GoPro in terms of image quality. In fact, action cams are now so ubiquitous that even GoPro is starting to see its sales decline.

GoPro still makes one of the better action cams, though it’s now joined by a few capable friends. Each is fun to use and adept at shooting quality movies you can share on YouTube, whether you want to capture wide-angle shots of your local half-pipe, the big waves down the road, or aerial footage from your drone or dog’s point of view. Below are a few of our current favorites.

GoPro Hero4 Silver ($349)

If you are looking for an all-around action cam that’s simple to operate yet offers advanced features when you need it, the Hero4 Silver is our favorite. Unlike other Hero cameras, the Silver has a touchscreen LCD that not only showcases a live-view image, but allows you to review content and adjust settings much quicker than if you were navigating through the menu chain on the front monochrome display. The Silver also has numerous high-definition resolution settings, from Full HD 1080 at 30 and 60 frames per second (fps) to 2K (it does shoot 4K, but at a fairly unusable 15 fps). There is a dedicated mode for shooting nighttime time-lapse photography, along with an advanced ProTune mode that lets you adjust settings such as white balance and ISO.

The camera is rugged as long as you use the included underwater housing. Plus, with GoPro’s new developer program, third-party companies are incorporating Hero cameras into their applications for new uses. Read our full review here.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Sony X1000V ($398+)

Sony’s X1000V is capable of shooting 4K, but Full HD videos also look great, thanks to its high-bit-rate recording. The camera is easy to use, but some may find it too limiting, as it lacks the advanced modes of GoPro’s Hero4 Silver and Black models. But if you want a no-fuss action cam that shoots high-quality videos, the X1000V steps up to the plate. It also features electronic image stabilization (SteadyShot) to compensate for vibrations, which is something most action cams lack. It’s a bit expensive, though, and larger than the rest of Sony’s Action Cam lineup. Read our full review here.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

GoPro Hero4 Black ($449+)

The Hero4 Black offers most of the features found in the Hero4 Silver, but this is the filmmaker’s GoPro. It can shoot up to 4K at 30 fps, and even if you don’t have a use for 4K video now, you are future-proofing your content and can always downscale the resolution for nice-looking Full HD videos. There’s no rear LCD like the Silver, but you can attach an optional one. Read our full review here.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Sony AS50R ($348)

Sony’s Action Cams produce great photo and video quality, thanks to the company’s expertise in making quality sensors. In fact, there’s a good chance most action cams use Sony sensors, including the others mentioned here. The AS50R sports an improved LCD user interface and Wi-Fi connectivity, and shoots smooth videos up to Full HD 1080 at 60p, with support for high-bit-rate recording. It doesn’t shoot 4K video, but it does have a 4K time-lapse mode. When purchased with the wrist-worn LCD, called the Live View Remote, you can also get a preview of what you’re recording. In previous version, the LCD was difficult to connect to, but we found it to be much improved this time around, and it can be detached and mounted onto other surfaces, like a bike handlebar. The A250R even has Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization system, which makes it ideal for use in drones and other rigs.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

TomTom Bandit ($397)

TomTom is a familiar name in automotive accessories, but cameras? Indeed, and it makes a unique one, too. The cylindrical-shaped, waterproof Bandit has a removable unit containing the battery, SD card slot, and USB plug for recharging the battery or transferring content to your computer. The Bandit can shoot up to 2K resolution at 30p or Full HD 1080 at 60p (it can shoot 4K, but only at 15 fps). It also has a built-in media server, and what it means is that it can process footage in-camera – without needing to download to a computer first. It also has GPS and motion sensors that automatically find and tag “moments” based on speed, altitude, G-force, acceleration, and heart rate.

Like the Sony Action Cams, the shape does make it difficult to mount in certain situations, and although TomTom makes few accessories for the Bandit, an included adapter lets you use many of the GoPro mounts available – a plus. The color LCD lets you adjust the camera’s settings, but you can’t play back any content.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Ricoh WG-M2 ($297)

Unlike most action cams, the M2 has a small color LCD that lets you review your photos and videos. You can also use it to adjust settings. The design of the M2 is a departure from the typical action cam form-factor, but it’s still easy to hold in your hand. The body is rugged without the need for a special housing, too, although you’ll need to swap the lens cover when filming underwater. Compared to its M1 predecessor, the M2’s image resolution dropped from 14 megapixels to a paltry 8, but it can shoot in 4K at 30 fps, and the lens has a wider field of view. Like all products mentioned here, the M2 also features built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to pair the device with your smartphone. We found the app to be lacking, however, because it doesn’t seem to let you adjust all the settings remotely. Still, at $300, it’s a capable camera with a good number of features.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Virb XE ($344)

The Virb XE has a tank-like design, which is appropriate since it’s waterproof. It’s also compatible with GoPro mounts, giving you more options when it comes to accessories. It’s limited to Full HD 1080 at 60 fps, and while the resulting video quality isn’t as crisp as the Hero4 models mentioned above, it’s still stunning to watch, whether it’s on your TV or desktop. If you’re a metrics junkie, this action cam was made for you. The Virb XE supports Garmin’s ANT+ sensors, meaning it can tap into Garmin’s wealth of health and fitness products. Imagine watching a video of your latest run on the slopes, with information about how fast your heart is pumping and the speed you’re traveling at. The Virb XE works great as a standard action cam, but it takes it to another level when you add metrics to the videos. Read our full review here.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4 ($329)

Yes, we admit this is a bit of a stretch. The TG-4 is technically a rugged point-and-shoot camera, and while it’s compact enough for a pocket cam, it’s bigger than your typical action cam. That said, the TG-4 has some notable action cam attributes. Its body is built to withstand the elements without protective housing. That means you can drop it, take it into the water, get sand on it, or freeze it without worry. It’ll take the abuse, which is why it’s a good action cam option for those who want to shoot their sporting activities. It also has a larger sensor and a wide-angle lens with true optical zoom, and it shoots video in Full HD.

An optional accessory, called the Sport Holder, also allows you to attach the camera to your belt or backpack strap, making it handy when used as an action camcorder. It may be large, but it’s more versatile.

Buy it now from:

Amazon