The Best Action Camera

If you’re the sort of person who wants to strap a camera to your head and then go jump off a mountain, the $400 GoPro Hero4 Silver is the camera you want. It takes everything that we loved about the GoPro Hero3+ Black from last year—the excellent image and video quality, superb durability, great audio, and a huge ecosystem of mounts and accessories—and overhauls the control system with a new touchscreen, which makes it far easier to use. For strapping to your drone, deep sea diving, kayaking, or bungee jumping, the Hero4 Silver is the camera to beat.

Last Updated: February 9, 2015
One of the first looks at the X1000V, Sony's forthcoming 4K action camera, is posted over at Gizmodo. We added a link below, and will update this guide further once we've had a chance to compare it to our current step-up choice, GoPro's 4K Hero4 Black.
Expand Most Recent Updates
January 7, 2015: New features are coming to the GoPro Hero4 family, courtesy of a firmware update set to roll out in February. Both the Silver and Black models will gain a mode that will automatically compile time-lapse videos (as opposed to earlier versions which required you to take the images from a time lapse, and put them into a video yourself), a slower burst mode for 5fps for six seconds, and auto-rotation for when the camera is upside down. The Silver model will be able to tag moments while recording video, and then those will be flagged during editing so you can refer back to them easily; and the Hero4 Black will be able to do 240fps at 720p, and 60fps at 2.7k.
January 6, 2015: At CES 2015, Sony announced two new action cameras, both of which we’re extremely eager to test out given how much we like the AS100v. See What to Look Forward to for more details.
December 16, 2014: GoPro's new Hero4 Silver takes everything we like about the Hero 3+ Black, and improves it with a better interface for the same price, making it a clear new pick for the best action camera for most people (without needing to spend an extra $100 on the more powerful Hero4 Black). While the Silver is the obvious choice for now, we're expecting to see a whole new crop of exciting action cameras in the New Year, which we eagerly look forward to testing against GoPro's best and brightest.
September 29, 2014: GoPro just announced several new action cameras, including the flagship Hero4 Black, and Hero4 Silver. The Black can do 4K video at 30 fps and 1080p video at 120 fps, which will make your shots look great on a 4K monitor or TV. Brent Rose said in his initial review at Gizmodo that “so far, image quality looks phenomenal across all of the available frame-rates.” The Black also has a better-designed user interface and adds Bluetooth for connectivity, but doesn’t appear to improve battery life over last year’s model. The Silver is essentially our current pick, the 3+, but with a touchscreen. It’ll be $500 for the Hero4 Black, (it’s $80 extra for the remote), while the Silver is $400, and also does not include the remote. They'll be available Oct. 5. Both of these on paper are better than our current pick, but we’re going to take some time with them and see which is the best action camera for most people.
September 25, 2014: Dismissed both the Polaroid Cube and Contour Roam3 and moved them to the Competition section.
September 15, 2014: There's going to be a new Sony Action Cam Mini, model HDR-AZ1, and it sounds pretty awesome. It’s basically got everything the AS100V has, but it’s 30% smaller. And Ricoh (which was once Pentax) is getting into the action cam game, too, with the newWG-M1. For details on both, head down to the What to Look Forward to section.
August 20, 2014: The PixPro SP1 is a new, entry-level action camera from Kodak that looks somewhat intriguing. A $200 sticker price gets you 1080p 30 fps video in a (bright yellow) package that's waterproof to 32 feet without an additional case. It also has a screen built in for framing your shots and reviewing your footage. It even has built-in Wi-Fi, which we didn't expect at this price point. Now, it should be pointed out that Kodak isn't really Kodak anymore. This is a camera from another company that has licensed the Kodak name. We don't have high hopes for image quality, but still, for 200 bucks this camera has enough going for it that we're definitely planning on checking it out.
August 18, 2014: Polaroid has an interesting entrant into this space with the Polaroid Cube. On the plus side, it's tiny (smaller than a GoPro), it has magnets in it for quick mounting, and it's super cheap at only $100. Yes, that's 1/4 the price of the Hero 3+ Black. That said, we don't really see this rivaling the GoPro. It's more of a life-logging camera than an action camera (it doesn’t look like it’d hold up to much abuse), and while we only see brief glimpses of the camera quality from Polaroid's trailer, it doesn't look very good. It's currently on pre-order exclusively from Photojojo, and it should ship in mid-October.
August 1, 2014: Added a dismissal of the Sony AS20, which will be $200 and is basically the same camera as the AS30V, except Sony has removed GPS functionality -- very likely to better distinguish the high-end AS100V and the budget end of their lineup. We didn't recommend the AS30V, so there's no chance we'll recommend the AS20, especially now that it's further hobbled by a lack of GPS.

Also Great
The Black edition is pricier, but you’ll get 4k footage (3840x2160) at up to 30 fps, and 120 fps video at 1920x1080.
If you really need the extra resolution of a 4K sensor, you can get the top-of-the-line GoPro Hero4 Black edition. But it costs $100 more and doesn’t come with a touchscreen. That means it won’t be as easy to control as the Silver, so we think more most people will value the touchscreen over the 4K resolution.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.
It's still behind GoPro on image quality, but Sony has definitely surpassed our pick when it comes to the audio. So if you don't need a remote and want to save some cash, this is a good choice.
If you want to save $100, we also like the Sony HDR-AS100V. It has image quality that closely rivals GoPro’s, noticeably better audio quality, and a longer battery life. That said, it has some significant faults, such as a surf mount that will not stay on your board and a case that’s only waterproof to a paltry 16 feet compared to the GoPro’s 131 feet. But still, at $250 it’s a great runner-up pick if the Hero4 Silver becomes hard to find and you need something right now (and you don’t care too much about waterproofing).

Let’s be honest

Most professional extreme athletes use the GoPro over other action cameras. If it’s good enough for their antics, velocity, crashes, G-forces and landings, it should be good enough to withstand what you do with it. The fact that Felix Baumgartner’s dive from the edge of space was captured using GoPros speaks to just how tough and good these things are. The footage from these cameras is amazingly high quality considering the size of the camera (TV shows like the Mythbusters employ them often for their broadcast footage) and the accessories available make them unparalleled in terms of being able to mount them any which way you want. All the proof you need can be found with a quick visit to YouTube or Vimeo.

What is an action camera?

Action cameras are tiny video cameras built to capture outdoor activities from unique angles using a variety of mounts and housings.

Action cameras are tiny video cameras built to capture outdoor activities from unique angles using a variety of mounts and housings. They’re typically small, light, waterproof, and shockproof, so they can handle whatever activity you throw at them. A good action camera should be capable of recording at high frame rates at a variety of resolutions; it should produce sharp images and accurate colors; and it should have myriad mounting options that are as tough as (or, preferably, tougher than) the camera itself.

A camera like this, which we recommend as a stellar all-around waterproof camera, may seem like a competitor to an action camera like the GoPro, but there are a few key differences to consider. An action camera is usually smaller, lighter, and focused on video rather than stills. Most importantly, action cameras are made to be equally mountable on a surfboard, rollbar, or your own forehead; that ability to keep your hands free is the main appeal of an action camera.

Who should buy one?

Action cameras are, as the name suggests, designed for people who live active lifestyles and want to capture their experiences, whether they be underwater, on top of a mountain, or in a cave somewhere. If any of this sounds like your ideal weekend, an action camera is exactly what you’ll need to make a digital copy of your memories. But while that’s the main demographic, we’ve seen a lot of pretty amazing video as a result of people strapping these tiny cameras to their babies, dogs, airplanes, racecars, motorcycles, or even eagles.

Also, like we brought up earlier, action cameras are meant for extreme sports and video recording, so if you’re mainly concerned about taking impressive shallow underwater stills you’d be better served with a waterproof camera like this one. Basically, if video isn’t a priority and whatever activity you’re looking to record allows you to use your hands, then the Hero4 Silver won’t be for you.

Other sport cameras from other makers are usually a combination of lesser performance, size, mounting options, or all three.

Should I upgrade?

The most obvious change to the GoPro Hero4 Silver from previous generations is the introduction of a touchscreen that you can use to navigate menus and control settings. Other GoPro models have been criticized for having an obtuse menu system that requires you to cycle all the way around through listing again if you accidentally miss what you’re looking for. This was slightly improved by remote control via smartphone, but it was laggy at times. The touchscreen makes for a far more intuitive and user-friendly experience, and it might just be enough of a reason to upgrade, especially if you have an older model.

Reports put the video quality of the new Silver edition on par with the 3+ Black, and notably above other models—so if you have any camera that’s not the GoPro Hero3+ Black, you’ll see a very noticeable improvement in video quality.

How we picked and tested

Since we picked the GoPro Hero3+ Black edition as our favorite action camera in late 2013, nothing that came after seriously challenged its position as the overall best pick for most people—until GoPro announced the Hero4 in late 2014. The Hero4 series presented a clear enough change over its predecessors that we were able to weigh the differences between the generations without getting deep into action-packed testing. But we’re expecting a new crop of action cameras to debut at CES in early 2015, and once we have those on hand, we’ll dive back into our intense testing regime to really pick apart what makes for the best action camera possible.

For previous iterations of this article, writer and tester Brent Rose built a rig that could accommodate all of the cameras at once, thus ensuring they would all be pointed in the right direction and shooting the same thing at (approximately) the same angle. He strapped this rig to the nose of a 9-foot longboard and paddled out and then to a bike helmet for trail rides. We also tested it in low-light and night situations. Again, image quality was at the forefront of what we looked for, followed closely by audio quality, ease of use, features, and ruggedness (not necessarily in that order). We then evaluated the video on a professionally calibrated monitor as well as several others and analyzed audio through several sets of speakers and headphones ranging from high-end to low-end.

Our pick

The GoPro Hero4 Silver takes everything we loved about the GoPro Hero3+ Black, and makes it easier to use, thanks to a touchscreen and overhauled menu system. Throw in more low-light shooting options and the same price tag, and you have a clear pick for best action camera.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver Edition takes everything that we liked about the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, and improves it with the introduction of a touchscreen that makes it noticeably easier to use. With the same high-quality video, absurdly wide array of mounts, and extreme toughness, it matches the 3+ Black on every front, but throws in a the super useful touchscreen for the same price as the 3+ Black goes for without. So for our $400, the Hero4 Silver makes the most sense.

Since this is a video camera, first and foremost it needs to record bright, sharp, and vivid footage. What’s the point in strapping a camera to your helmet for a snowboarding run if everything comes out looking like a white smear when you’re done? The Hero4 Silver continues on a tradition of amazing video capture. PCMag called this version of the GoPro “a huge improvement over the Hero3+ Silver Edition,” saying it possibly has the same sensor as the Hero3+ Black Edition, which we tested extensively and loved, saying, “Image quality is simply in its own league. It’s just way, way sharper.” It was hands-down better than any of the competition.

Re/code called footage from the Silver “sharp and clear, with bright colors,” and Digital Trends said it had “some of the best video quality we’ve seen from an action cam or any portable device. Colors look rich, with a good range.”

In addition to excellent image quality, the Hero4’s flexibility when it comes to shooting modes helps ensure you get great footage. You can shoot at resolutions up to 4K (albeit only at 15 frames per second). More helpfully, you can shoot 2.7K video at 30 frames per second, which gives you a huge image that you can crop or compress down to 1080p in post processing with no loss in quality—it’s dreamy for image stabilization software. You can also shoot in 1080p at speeds up to 60 fps for slow motion (and if you really want to crank it, up to 240 fps WVGA resolution).

As with the Hero 3+, the Hero4 has a mode called SuperView, which sounds like a gimmick but is actually awesome in practice. Normally, when you’re shooting in a widescreen format (such as 1080p), the camera crops out details on the top and bottom of the frame.  This is because the Hero (and all other action cameras) actually have a 4:3 sensor whereas 1080p is 16:9. With SuperView, however, the camera utilizes the entirety of the 4:3 sensor when capturing video and then fits that entire, squarer image into a 16:9 frame by squishing in the top and bottom while while applying some algorithms to keep the picture from looking totally warped. The resulting footage retains the entire image that was captured in 4:3, making for a more immersive shot since it contains more of your surroundings. It’s a trick that GoPro’s professional editors have been doing in post-production for years, but SuperView automates it and does it within the camera so everyone can take advantage. This works in both 1080p and 720p resolutions.

The introduction of the touchscreen radically improved the GoPro Hero4 Silver’s controls. People have been complaining about the GoPro’s interface for a long time, forcing people to use the small LCD screen on the camera’s front. By turning to a touchscreen, you’re no longer stuck going through menu items one at a time or battling the slightly sluggish responsiveness of the smartphone app. If you’re worried about the touchscreen sucking up battery life, there’s also a small button next to it that’ll turn it off, so you don’t have to wait for it to time out.

Beyond just the touchscreen, GoPro has also overhauled how the interface works to some degree on all of the current models. What used to be the Wi-Fi button will now bring up a contextual menu with the settings most relevant to your current mode. And if you’re recording footage, you can press it to tag that section of footage to go back and check out later.

GoPro also has the best and most diverse selection of mounting options to make sure you’re covered from every angle. To give a few examples, GoPro has mounts for handlebars, roll bars, surfboards, helmets, and tripods. There’s also a suction cup for dashboards, a chest harness, and a head strap. There’s an alligator clamp-like grip with an articulated arm and even a QuickClip that allows you to fasten the GoPro to a backwards baseball cap. It’s truly difficult to imagine a situation GoPro hasn’t covered. Here’s a decent Reddit post outlining some possible uses for each mount.

Not only are there a lot of mounts, GoPro’s mounts are notoriously tough. They’ve even been known to withstand high-speed car crashes and virtually all the pro athletes seem to use them. They’re also used, with stock board mounts, at the Titans of Mavericks big wave surf contest where wave upon gigantic wave crashes on them with no problems.

With the 4, GoPro also instituted some nice new features for the photography side of things, because people do use these for more than just video. Now you can take more control of shooting in low light with Night Photo and Night Lapse modes, which allow you to do longer exposures than you could before.

Even with the inclusion of the new touchscreen, the GoPro Hero4 Silver edition is exactly the same size and shape as its predecessors, so any housings or accessories you have around can still work—though you probably won’t be able to use the touchscreen. Unfortunately, the battery has changed, so you’re going to need a new couple of extras at least.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Probably the biggest and most widespread complaint leveled at the GoPros is their battery life. Both the Hero4 Silver and Black are rated at two hours or fewer, regardless of what sort of options you have set up. With the Hero4 Silver, shooting 1080p at 30 fps with Wi-Fi on will get you around 1:40 of battery life. Compare this to Sony, who can squeeze almost 2 hours 30 minutes, and the Drift, which can muster a very impressive 3:15! This is one place where GoPro really needs to step up their game.

While the exterior of the fourth-generation GoPro is similar enough to old models that you can reuse most accessories, the new battery is a slightly different shape, so if you want to take more than one battery with you to recharge on the go, you’re going to need to stock up now.

The one downside to the touchscreen is that you need to be able to touch it to do anything with the thing. So if you’re planning on putting the full 131-foot waterproof housing on the GoPro, it’ll block access to the screen and you’ll be left setting things up the old-fashioned way. Not the biggest deal in the world, but a definite annoyance.

If you want the GoPro remote control, that’s an extra $80 on top of everything else. GoPros already run at a premium, and this pushes the price up even further.

Also, be sure to stick to the SD cards GoPro recommends, which may help avoid overheating or freezing issues. GoPro recommends you use a Class 10 microSD card up to 64 GB:

“Not all Class 10 microSD cards have the same data write speeds. Due to the higher bit rate capabilities and to support new features of HERO4 camera, we have provided a list of recommended cards that provide the best experience:

  • SanDisk Extreme 32GB microSDHC (SDSDQXL-032G)
  • SanDisk Extreme 64GB microSDXC (SDSDQXL-064G)
  • Lexar 32GB SDHC 633x (LSDMI32GBBNL633R)
  • Lexar 64GB SDXC 633x (LSDMI64GBBNL633R)”

Who else likes it?

Engadget nailed it when they said “silver is the new black,” and we agree that the Silver is a far more compelling choice for most people over the notably more expensive Black version. As they put it, “The Silver’s touchscreen, on the other hand, is always there, easy to use and doesn’t suffer any lag (app users will know exactly what I’m on about). Not only did this camera suddenly get easier to use, but my video and photos are better because I can see what the camera is seeing so easily.”

Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal said of the image quality, “The image quality isn’t as professional as a digital SLR camera but it is impressive for such a portable package. In my tests on a swaying boat at night, the Hero4 Silver’s wide-angle lens picked up clouds above a cityscape more dramatically than the iPhone 6 but wasn’t as good at capturing neon signs. I also made a cool time-lapse video of a sunset by making the GoPro take a 12-megapixel photo twice a minute over a few hours; both Hero4 models can take up to 30 of those a second.” He also praised the touchscreen but critiqued the battery life on all models.

After Gizmodo’s hands-on, they said, “For the vast majority of people who want high-end action cam footage, the Hero4 Silver is probably the way to go. It is, essentially, the Hero 3+ Black edition from last year, which has stood as the best action camera since its release. It’ll shoot 2.7K at 30 fps, 1080p @ 60, and 720p at 120. It also adds Bluetooth to the Wi-Fi, has the improved audio system, Night Photo/Night Lapse, and the much better user interface.”

Over at Re/code, they were big fans of the touchscreen, saying, “Having the touchscreen made it so much easier to navigate through all the camera’s different menus and settings. No longer do you have to figure out which buttons do what and repeatedly press them to cycle through the many menu options,” and concluded at that price that it’s “best suited for outdoor enthusiasts and other hobbyists who will get the most out of the camera.”

Digital Trends awarded the GoPro Hero4 Silver Editor’s Choice, saying, “Overall, it’s fun and easy to use, yet it can be as sophisticated as you need it to be. Add great image and video quality to the mix, and it’s easy to see why GoPros are so popular, and gets our Editors’ Choice approval.”

PCMag likewise gave the camera their Editor’s Choice award, concluding, “Underneath the surface, the GoPro’s Hero4 Silver is basically the Hero3+ Black Edition—and that’s a good thing. Its top-notch performance and new touch-screen display justify this action cam’s $400 price tag.”

CNET called it “the best GoPro for the money”, also adding, “If you want the GoPro with the best of the best video quality, you’ll still want to go with the Hero4 Black. Thanks to an expansive feature set that now includes a built-in touchscreen, the Hero4 Silver is likely the better choice for most people.”

DC Rainmaker ran an incredibly in-depth look at all three of the current generation GoPro models for 2014, and while he did say that “GoPro has continued to raise the bar on action cameras from a specification standpoint – in particular, within the resolution and video/photo quality department,” he was also critical of the pricing of the Silver model, especially with increasingly stiff competition from other manufacturers. Frankly, we kind of agree with him—with a new crop of cameras on the not-too-distant horizon, we don’t know if the GoPro will maintain the top spot indefinitely.

Last year’s model

Last year’s pick, the GoPro Hero3+ Black, has the same MSRP as our current pick, though you can sometimes find it for less—right now it’s sitting at around $375. When it comes down to it, the touchscreen on the Hero4 Silver is definitely worth the price difference. Get the new one.

A step up

Also Great
The Black edition is pricier, but you’ll get 4k footage (3840x2160) at up to 30 fps, and 120 fps video at 1920x1080.
The $500 GoPro Hero4 Black is the current flagship in GoPro’s lineup, and a full $100 more than the Silver version and last year’s Black edition. So what do you get for all that extra cash? The ability to shoot bigger and faster—but without the touchscreen that we love on the GoPro Silver. The big selling points on the Black are 4k footage (3840×2160) at up to 30 fps and 120 fps video at 1920×1080.

The 4k footage allows you more latitude with cropping and digital stabilization, the ability to pull large individual frames out as images, and the promise of looking really nice on the future crop of 4k compatible TVs and monitors.

DC Rainmaker dissected the new video functionality, and was overall impressed not just with 4K and the high speed frame rate, but also the low light performance.

Re/code said, “The GoPro Hero4 Black is the most powerful GoPro available. However, I really think it’s for hardcore GoPro users, or professional videographers who are looking for these kinds of specs.”

Unless you really need the extra resolution of the 4K sensor, we think the touchscreen of the Silver edition is a better bet. Our guess would be that trying to combine both the new sensor and a touchscreen in a single camera would have changed the overall size and shape of the GoPro, and would have made it incompatible with previous accessories. So now you get to pick one or the other.

A step down

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.
It's still behind GoPro on image quality, but Sony has definitely surpassed our pick when it comes to the audio. So if you don't need a remote and want to save some cash, this is a good choice.
 Sony’s HDR-AS100V has gotten really close to GoPro this year in terms of video performance. Images are generally very sharp (sometimes slightly more, and sometimes slightly less than the GoPro), and colors are extremely vivid. It shoots in resolutions and speeds up to 1080p 60 fps and 720p 120 fps, but it can’t do higher resolutions (such as 2.7K or 1440p) like the Hero4, nor does it have Super Mode. It does have the capability of shooting at a 50Mbps bitrate, however in Brent’s testing at Gizmodo, he did not see a significant improvement in image quality, compared to the standard mode. You also need a higher-end, tougher-to-find SDXC micro SD card in order for that mode to work, and it chews through the battery awfully fast.

What the AS100V really has going for it is audio quality. Its mic simply stomps the rest of the field, even the very good GoPro models. It’s louder and clearer, and produces an audio track that makes your video much more immersive. Battery life is better than the GoPro’s, too, topping out at a very impressive 2 hours and 40 minutes at 1080p 30 fps (versus the Hero’s 2 hours and 9 minutes).

Also, and not insignificantly, it’s roughly 150 bucks cheaper. The AS100V has a street price of around $250. However, if you want a kit that includes the wrist-mounted, screen-equipped Live View Remote control the price comes up to $350.

That said, there are some significant problems. For starters, Sony’s aquatic housing is only waterproof to 16 feet, which is, frankly, terrible, especially compared to the Hero4’s 131 feet. Not only that, water droplets stick to the waterproof housing’s lens cover like glue, which can obstruct your shot. Worse, the surf mount is unusable. The slightest amount of pressure (pushing through a wave) will pop it off your board. Other mounts (such as the head strap) are problematic as well. They just aren’t very trustworthy compared to GoPro’s. The recording lights and sounds on the Sony aren’t nearly prominent enough to let you know when the camera is recording or not, especially in bright and/or loud environments. The record button is also rather tough to push, especially when in the “waterproof” housing. There’s also significant lens distortion (fisheye effect) that is very noticeable when the camera pans or tilts. We also had a ton of card errors during our testing in June, which rendered the camera incapable of shooting at very inopportune times.

Those problems aside, we still think this is a very good camera. The footage looks great most of the time and it sounds even better. For $140 less than the Hero4 Silver (unless you go for the bundle with the Live View Remote), it’s a good deal, provided you really care to use your camera in the water. You might also consider the JVC Adixxion-2, which we talk about more in the Competition section below and is currently selling for just $250. Its image quality is just behind the Sony’s, and in many ways it’s easier to use.

Care and maintenance

There really isn’t a whole lot you have to do to take care of your GoPro. If you have a case for it, that’s great, but honestly we’ve never used one. We typically keep the camera in its waterproof housing, then stuff it into a sock (to prevent the housing from getting scratched) before dropping it in a backpack and running out the door. If we go surfing with it or get it exposed to saltwater, we simply rinse it off under a tap once home.

The one thing you do have to be careful of is that the rubber gasket on the waterproof housing stays clean. Just a couple grains of sand is enough to keep it from being a perfect seal, and that’s when leakage can happen. This isn’t usually a problem as long as you’re just a little bit careful.

We typically try to recharge the camera as soon as we get home from using it, that way it’s always ready to grab and run out the door. Also, extra batteries are only $20. Doubling your shooting time for twenty bucks is a no-brainer, in my book. A lot of guys we know travel with four or five batteries for longer expeditions. We typically just charge one in the camera and then swap it out, but GoPro also makes a Dual Battery Charger which charges two at once, outside of the camera. If you’re doing some hardcore shooting, that will be $30 well spent.

What to look forward to

New features are coming to the GoPro Hero4 family, courtesy of a firmware update set to roll out in February. Both models will gain a mode that will automatically compile time-lapse videos (as opposed to earlier versions which required you to take the images from a time lapse, and put them into a video yourself), a slower burst mode for 5fps for six seconds, and auto-rotation for when the camera is upside down. The Silver model will be able to tag moments while recording video, and then those will be flagged during editing so you can refer back to them easily; and the Hero4 Black will be able to do 240fps at 720p, and 60fps at 2.7k.

At CES 2015, Sony announced two new action cameras, both of which we’re extremely eager to test out given how much we like the AS100v. The two new models will be the $500 X1000v and $300 AS200v (add an extra $100 to either if you want a remote). The higher end X1000v will feature 4K video, as well as the ability to push up to 120fps at 1080p and 240fps at 800×480. Both feature 170-degree wide-angle lenses, 50Mbps video bitrates, direct pixel readouts for high-end video recording, and a new stabilization system, specially crafted for the high frequency vibrations of mounting on a drone. Responding to complaints about accessories, Sony has also shrunk and overhauled its board mount, produced two new underwater housings, and improved on its live view remote control. Sony’s been doing a good job of action cameras lately, so we’ve got some high hopes for how these will perform.

In Brent’s first look at the X1000v over at Gizmodo, he had high praise for the images he was able to capture: “There is just this tremendous amount of detail that comes through, and the images are sharp and clean.” He did say that lens distortion is still a problem, and noted that the menu is still much harder to navigate than GoPro’s. We’ll include a full review once we’ve had more time to test it.

The competition

Pretty much any company with access to a lens, a sensor, and a waterproof housing is making action cameras these days. Thanks to the immense popularity of the GoPro (not to mention its incredibly successful IPO), everyone wants in on the camera game. But with so many different options, it can be extremely difficult to weed through them all.

Frankly, the current crop of GoPros is just way ahead of its current competitors. Before addressing them in turn, it’s worth noting off the bat that even if they ended up with better image quality (which none of them do), the GoPro ecosystem of mounts and accessories would still put it on top.

The JVC Adixxion GC-XA2 is a terrific little camera. Not only can it shoot at 1080p/60 fps and 720p/120 fps like the GoPro, but it’s waterproof to 16.4 feet without a case. It has a 1.5-inch color screen for framing and reviewing your shots, built-in Wi-Fi, and a full-sized SD card slot, which is arguably more convenient. In most tests, image quality was just behind the GoPro in terms of sharpness. It also earns extra points for being extremely easy to use (much more so than the GoPro, in fact). It’s also got a versatile array of mounting options–more so because of the not one but two tripod mounts, one on the side and one of the bottom. As I noted in the Gizmodo battle, though, “The Adixxion struggles with dynamic range, and has a tendency to blow out, losing detail in the highlights. It seems to try to lower the contrast to compensate, but that just makes things look washed-out.” Don’t take that to mean that it looks bad. Far from it. It just doesn’t look as good as the GoPro. For $250 bucks, though, you could do a lot worse.

The AS20, announced by Sony in August, has a street price of around $130 and is basically the same camera as the AS30V, except Sony has removed GPS functionality—very likely to better distinguish the high-end AS100V and the budget end of their lineup. However, we didn’t recommend the AS30V, so we don’t recommend the AS20, especially now that it’s further hobbled by a lack of GPS. If you can’t afford the GoPro, spend $250 and get the JVC Adixxion 2.

The Garmin VIRB Elite goes $370, and considering it’s made by a company without a photographic pedigree, the VIRB has surprisingly excellent image quality. In fact, it was the second-sharpest of the bunch we tested, just behind the GoPro. It also has a built-in screen for checking footage, GPS, and Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, it tops out at 1080p/30 fps, and the colors tend to skew very warm. It’s a promising first entry, though, and we’re curious to see what the next one brings.

The Drift Ghost-S is a definite improvement over last year’s edition, but it’s still behind the curve in image quality and way behind in audio. It does have the 1080/60 and 720/120 frame rates, its battery absolutely stomps everybody else’s (3 hours 15 minutes), and it’s got a nice screen for framing/viewing. For $375, though, you should only consider it if battery life is the absolute most important feature, because that sucker is big and bulky, too. No fun to wear on your head.

Ion’s new Air Pro 3 was one we were very much looking forward to testing. Why? Because that sleek, bullet-shaped camera is waterproof to 50 feet without a case! Or it’s supposed to be. In our testing (surfing in very small waves) a little water got in, which doesn’t bode well. Even aside from that, image quality just wasn’t quite up to snuff. Also, it’s pretty annoying that you have to use the app or your computer to change settings. We’re hoping they’ll give it another shot next year. For $350 it’s a definite pass for now.

The Polaroid Cube is a much cuter, simpler, and more affordable take on the action camera. But while it’s adorable and fun to play with, the video quality, build, and features are completely lacking compared to the GoPro, to the point where it’s a totally different beast. It uses a single button to control all of its settings, has a narrower field of view, doesn’t come with mounts out of the box, and while it has a nifty magnet system to click onto any magnetic surface, it’s not powerful enough to handle a trip downhill mountain biking or anything like that.

After briefly shutting its doors, Contour got back into the action camera game with the Contour Roam3, which features improved waterproofing without housing down to 30 feet. When Brent Rose reviewed it at Gizmodo, he said that while it had a sharp lens, the video quality wasn’t up to the high level we’re used to with the GoPro, especially in low light. It also lacks Wi-Fi, which makes it hard to change settings on the fly, and it’s noticeably larger and heavier than the GoPro. While the $200 price is something of a draw, we’d still opt for the Sony HDR-AS100V if you want to spend a bit less than the Hero4 Silver.

Monoprice has their MHD 2.0 for $90, but it’s something of a mystery. While affordable, there are no reviews of it (even by Monoprice’s own users), its predecessor was considered decent but not great, and it has extremely limited video modes, and only mono audio. Even for an affordable model, it’s underpowered. There’s a more GoPro-like MHD Sport with Wi-Fi for around $170, but it has very basic features, video quality’s not that great.

The Replay XD Prime X hasn’t been widely reviewed, but the user reviews we’ve seen of it have been remarkably mediocre. Gizmodo makes an argument for it being a good choice for its very tiny size (4 inches), waterproofing, and 3.5-hour battery. The Kodak PixPro SP1 is meant to have pretty good video for its price, but is apparently has some frame rate limits and is on the heavy side—and weirdly isn’t very widely available.

The Ricoh WG-M1 appears to have underwhelming video quality, is limited to just 30 fps, and doesn’t have the same level of waterproofing as either the GoPro or our step-down pick of the Sony AS100v.

The $230 Sony AZ1 is smaller and slightly cheaper than the Sony AS100v, but the extra $20 to get the bigger model gets you more video frame rates, video and audio jacks, a built in LCD for changing settings, and with a weight difference that’s less than one ounce.

Wrapping it up

The $400 GoPro Hero4 Silver is the best action camera for most people. Building on the widely praised legacy of the GoPro line, the newest mid-range offering adds the key features of a touchscreen, making the Silver easier to use than its predecessors and the more expensive GoPro Hero4 Black. Combine that with excellent video quality, and the widest array of accessories and mounts that you can find, and it’s the best option for most people.

If you’re absolutely must have 4K video or high-resolution slow motion, the Hero4 Black edition will set you back an extra $100. For most people, the extra utility of the touchscreen makes the Silver a better option, but if video quality and size are the most important features for you and you have the workflow to deal with them, then the Black makes some sense.

On the other hand, if that all sounds like a ton of money for something that you’re going to beat the hell out of, the Sony AS100V brings excellent video and audio quality and a long battery life for just $250. It can’t record as high resolution footage, isn’t as waterproof, and doesn’t have a touchscreen or the extensive accessory ecosystem of the GoPro. But it’s still a lot of camera for $150 less.

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  1. Geoffrey A. Fowler, Can GoPro Hero4 Make You a Vacation Hero?, The Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2014
  2. Lauren Goode, The New GoPro Cameras: Everything You Need to Know, Re/Code, October 30, 2014
  3. Les Shu, GOPRO HERO4 SILVER REVIEW, Digital Trends, November 1, 2014
  4. Antonio Villas-Boas, GoPro Hero4 Silver, PC Mag, October 15, 2014
  5. Joshua Goldman, Hero4 Silver is the best GoPro for the money, CNET, October 24, 2014

Originally published: December 17, 2014

  • josh states there are some image problems. Worth waiting a few weeks until the October produced go pros are being sold. There’s also a 60 page closed thread on the same issue on the go pro user forums.

  • Mike Senese

    Surprised no mention of the 240fps capabilities at 640×480. That’s some serious slow-mo.

    • HammeredToast

      In a resolution unfit for almost anything.

  • GoPro Doesn’t Deliver!

    After having owned the previous version of the GoPro Hero, I would suggest looking elsewhere if you think they’ll sort out their issues. In 2010, I phoned GoPro direct to see when the data-back would be available (since they promised one); it NEVER eventuated in three years. My purchase was made assuming they would finish the production of it, since it was in the testing phase!!

    After saying that, the camera itself is actually very good, but when buying, WYSIWYG, you’ll most likely never see any updates, accessories or fixes.

  • Bryan Tarlowski

    Can anyone comment on how good this is in low light conditions vs other ones? I really want to get one of these for the gym to watch my lifts, benefit of go pro is the mounts and tripods I can use which will allow me to mount it pretty much anywhere. But my gym is really dark, not like a bright bright LA Fitness or Lifestyles gym.

    • fry

      sonys actioncam has low light capability and image stabilisation.
      so far i havent seen a side-by-side recording (at same time, not combining vid afterwards) where any gopro produced more detail/better and correct colors compared to the sony.
      all mounts you can get for any hero, the sony has too, the hero has no dog mount tho.
      wrist-watch style lcd provides real-time-vid over wifi, incl rec/stop feature.
      cam runs for around 120min with wifi on, and the 197ft housing can be used on all action cams.

      So, why again the gopro?!

      • Michael Zhao

        Hi, could you please stop trolling our comments section? Here is a video that directly compares the GoPro Hero 3 to the action cam which shows that the GoPro is better. Note the increased dynamic range and detail:

        And here is one that shows that the 3+ is better than the 3:

        The 3 is better than the Sony and the 3+ is better than the 3. Ergo, the 3+ is better than the Sony.

        For what it’s worth, no professional reviewer has anything good to say about the Action Cam’s digital image stabilization, but I’m glad that you found a camera that you like.

        • Norm .

          Haven’t searched the web much I see. Here’s a quote for you…”The electronic stabilization system is standard Sony sweet smoothness, and no one can really compare with what Sony has given users of stabilization modes.”

          and your source:

          • Michael Zhao

            I’m glad you like this thing but the consensus is that it produces sub-par image quality and that the electronic (digital, i.e. not real) stabilization doesn’t work enough to make it worth mentioning.

            Gizmodo is the only site that reviews these things doing actual action sports. Here’s what they say: “We were psyched about image stabilization on an action cam. But: It’s not optical image stabilization, which would be awesome. It’s digital image stabilization, which sucks. It does make the shot smoother, but you can’t use image stabilization when it’s at 170-degrees, because it has to crop your shot in order to work. This spreads pixels thinner, resulting in a degraded image.”

            Engadget and PC Mag didn’t even bother mentioning it because they evidently didn’t notice it.

            CNET again complains that you have to crop the image to turn it on:

          • tree

            that video just shows have rubbish the go pro colour reproduction is

          • sup

            the video just shows that when using the go pro u need to us colour filters to make it look good were the others you don’t

          • Y MIchael?

            gopro is quite disappointing in my opinion at 4 bills

        • KD

          Go pro is not better than sony.

        • mrankitanks .

          but isnt that a pretty old version of sony? the description says “sony’s entered the market”, which was so long back.

        • Y MIchael?

          I do believe that youre stating your OPINION in quite a bold faced manner. And let fry have his free speech; we(or atleast i)’re in America.
          And i do believe that Sony has more vivid and lowlight capabilites than ANY gopro, in my honest opinion. And if you think the audios better on the gopro, get your ears checked out.
          Sony offers a quality product at a much more affordable price point with comporable results. PERIOD.

    • hapa

      youtube it -_-

  • Boyan

    opro has great features but the battery life is very bad. Hero 3 battery lasts for 5-10 min when using remote control. Image quality is good but the cam becomes useless unless you buy an extra better back and with it an extra case to accommodatre the battery pack. After you do the upgrades you end up with a lot bulkier camera which also weights a lot more and the battery still doesn’t perform well if you use the remote connection.

  • Matt

    Curious to see what your opinion of the Replay XD1080 ( is – I didn’t see it mentioned in your list of the competition.

  • Eric

    Why didn’t you mention the new ION Air Pro 3? From the specs, features, reviews, and video samples that I have seen side by side compared to the GoPro Hero 3, the ION Air Pro 3 produced much better video than the GoPro Hero 3 and fairly equal on feature set and specs. From this 3+ video it looks like the 3+ is now on par with the video quality of the ION Air Pro 3.

    The drab tiny seems to be gone from the Hero 3+ and the colors are more vivid which is exactly why the ION Air Pro 3 beat the Hero 3 in the side by side tests that I saw.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts and tests of the ION Air Pro 3 compared to this new GoPro Hero 3+.

  • victor

    should also consider the Drift HD Ghost camera

  • Camera Guy

    This is My Video With Drift Camera, very low light condition (but the video amazingly still great), video took places in Jakarta, Indonesia

  • Zargon13

    Its great that you (didn’t) include the Sony Action cam models (as someone else mentioned) which has much better video and image stabilisation (do a search…?) . Has its minor issues but these are more related to its tiny size than any video or build quality issues. Very pleased with mine after purchasing based on some real research. I heard that Red Bull owns GoPro ? Do they own you too? Its what you haven’t said in your review that is relevant here……

    • tony kaye

      We’ve since looked at many Sony Action Cam models and while quite a few were dismissed, we did come to the conclusion that the Sony HDRAS100V/W is worthy of a runner up placement. Via our update box:

      In the unlikely event that our main pick is sold out, or if you just want to save $100, we also like the Sony HDR-AS100V. It has image quality that closely rivals the GoPro’s, noticeably better audio quality, and a longer battery life. That said, it has some significant faults, such as a surf mount that will not stay on your board and a case that’s only waterproof to a paltry 16 feet compared to the GoPro’s 131 feet. But still, at $300 it’s a great runner-up pick if the Hero 3+ becomes hard to find and you need something right now (and you don’t care too much about waterproofing).


      We review/test many things and just because we didn’t come to the same conclusion as you doesn’t mean you’re right. It also doesn’t mean we’re 100% right either, but we’ve looked at almost everything out there and spent countless hours seeking out the best action cam for most people. We do our homework and show our work. Our results are always unbiased — and if you want to throw around baseless accusations like the one above, you will not be allowed to take part in our comment section.

  • alyson

    I purchased a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition for my daughter…total DUD right from the start…would not charge…housing became boiling hot to touch…contacted GoPro…a week ago…still waiting…

    • tony kaye

      Did you ever hear back?

  • Eric

    Front what I read coming out of CES, the new Sony HDR-AS100v has the ability to film in 4k at 60fps while the GoPro Hero 3+ Black only does 15fps. Your article mentions that the AS-100V can’t film above 1080p. That simply isn’t true.

    • tony kaye

      Hi Eric! I just spoke to our resident expert regarding this and he said while it shoots at a higher bitrate, it says nothing about 4k. Here is a link you can check out.



  • Ur dad

    Just tell us how much did gopro pay u. Action cam is so much better than this piece of crap

    • Jacqui Cheng

      Hi there. Companies do not pay us to give them reviews (good or otherwise). We narrow down our testing selection based on many hours of independent research and interviews. The conclusions we draw are based on extensive testing, which we spell out pretty extensively in the guide itself.

      • KD

        Not quite enough extensive testing on the sony as-15 it would appear.

  • Ron

    The camera is JUNK. Look at the forum. Unacceptable quality controls, period.

  • Bastien

    Hey. Why don’t you include the Rollei S50 WiFi ? I’ve checked lots of information and it seems to be a very good alternative ! And you get plenty of accessories for free, unlike GoPro policy (add a 1/3 of the camera price if you want accessories).

  • Bastien

    I’ve found a good unboxing of that Rollei S50 WiFi on YouTube:

  • Kd

    I agree with Zargon. The writer has put that much effort into promoting the go pro that it’s very obvious to the neutral reader that this is not a neutral review !! It is quite right that the sony hdr as models are superior on image and video quality, especially in low light conditions, this is down to sonys own sensors. It will be worth your while to find out what camera sensors go pro use !!

    I have the as-15 and it is superb, it is also smaller and less bulky than the go pro.

    • Back Off

      would you say the as-15 competes with the gp 3+ black edition as far as picture quality?

      • hapa

        Yes, it does compete with the GP 3+ as far as picture quality. Youtube as well as raw videos posted on respective websites show you just that.

  • nospam

    Hey Brent, how about comparing the Replay XD vs the GoPro? The Replay XD 1080 (perhaps mini) are the units I’m considering as a bike commuter. The GoPro is just unwieldy, bulky, and very conspicuous.

    • ExcelsiorDDZ

      I agree, the Replay seems to be the forgotten one since GoPro spends 1 million more times money on advertising.

      • Max Rebos

        And that is why the price of the GoPro is so high. We the consumer is paying for the advertising.

  • Gon’Feel

    Make better videos with your GoPro: GPS and Physics back-pack:

  • Gon’Feel

    Gon’Feel is a GPS & physics back-pack for GoPro. Order yours at

  • mesocyclone

    Nice review. One problem I have with this camera is the inability to power it remotely while waterproof. I am a storm chaser and want to put it on the roof of the car, but having to take it out of the case and replace the battery every 2 hours is a non-starter. There is at least one after-market case for this, but it looked dodgy.

    Still, a great product and I’ll just put it behind the windshield for now.

  • John Smith

    Such a good camera, but way too expensive. I just bought a sport camera similar to GoPro, and the image is good, and way cheaper than GoPRO! I bought AT15, y’all can check it out

  • Marc Collin

    what about rollei (german company)?

  • BigJimSlade

    I recently dove +60′ for a shipwreck dive in Cozumel, Mexico with my Sony HDR-AS15 and had no issues. I believe it’s rated at 197′ (60 m), not a paltry 16′.

  • JP

    rethinking your mount — Unfortunately, your mounting bar is not an optimal platform for a (fair) shootout. Assuming that the center of the bar is the attachment point or center of mass when mounted on a flat surface such as a surfboard (and therefore the pivot or rotation point), the cameras on the ends will experience much greater movement than those in the center for any horizontal movement (unavoidable in action sports unless gimbal-mounted).

    The resulting video for the cameras on the end will not only be shakier, but also less sharp. I suggest you try another method or at least move them around during testing.

  • Eduard

    Had You used a Rollei Action Cam?
    I think is the same or better and cheaper than Go Pro and the box brings more accessories than Go Pro.
    It’s a really good item.

    • tony kaye

      We have not. Maybe next round of testing.

  • ranchracer

    Got news for you. All those professional extreme athletes that use GoPro do it because they’re sponsored by GoPro and don’t have to PAY for them!

    I’ve used one for auto racing, and bottom line, they don’t stand up well to repeated abuse, ie. vibration. There are other better, less expensive, sturdier options out there. GoPro won’t be able to rest on their laurels for much longer.

    • tony kaye

      Which ones are better? And just because it doesn’t work for your particular needs doesn’t take away from it being the best for most people that are looking for an action cam.

  • CrazySwedishGuy

    Thanks for the review. Seems very thorough. Could we get an update on the Hero 4? Thanks!

    • tony kaye

      We’ll be updating accordingly!

  • al

    i can’t get over how good this article is

    • tony kaye


  • Henry

    Hey Wirecutter have you guys ever considered reviewing an SJCAM? I’ve heard great things about them from other people but I was wondering what you guys thought!

  • Loftguy

    So how does the Silver 4 compare to the Black 3+ using the optional touch screen back? I’d expect shorter battery life and it is a bit larger but has the back that makes it waterproof while retaining the touch capability.

  • Tom

    so is the jvc adixxion xa2 better than the sony as100v? I’m interested in the zoom capability of the adixxion because I feel like it might be better for fishing videos and topwater strikes. I’m totally tied between the two right now.

    • tbarribeau

      With a new crop of Sony cameras having been announce cat CES 2015, we’re going to take another look at this review in the not too distant future, and might be able to give you a better response then.

      Using zoom on an action camera can be difficult. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about how you shoot fishing videos, but these cameras are designed to be mounted on to something like your body, or maybe your vehicle (heck, your fishing rod?). In a situation like that, you won’t actively be controlling what the camera is looking at, so when you zoom it’ll be easier to miss the action or be uncontrollably wobbly if you’re not careful! But again, that might boil down to how you plan on setting up the shoot.

      Also, keep in mind that the JVC doesn’t have a true zoom, but rather a “digital zoom” which just blows up part of the video file to a larger size to make it look closer.

      The Sony also has true optical image stabilization, and higher resolution

      All told, unless you really need that LCD, I think the Sony seems a better choice—but then Sony also just announced the AS200v, which looks better yet!

  • William

    Since you’re probably going to be controlling your GoPro with your phone, the LCD screen is no reason to buy the Silver over the Black. The app makes it very user friendly, and you aren’t always in the position with a GoPro to be able to touch it anyway. On top of that, if you want usable battery life, you’ll be buying a battery BackPac anyway, and it will cover up the screen.

    I bought my 4 Silver thinking that the LCD would make the GoPro learning curve easier. Well in retrospect, it is already a very user friendly camera. And to date, I’ve never actually used the LCD screen. And even now, it is covered by a BackPac. Even sans BackPac, you can’t use the screen in the most rugged case anyway. I now wish I’d bought the 4 Black. The LCD touch screen on the silver is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

  • breedm

    Amazon’s Deal of the Day is a Polaroid XS100. What do you think? Price point looks killer.

    • tony kaye

      Didn’t get to it in time. Sorry :(

  • Ekim

    What about the jobo 4 action camera?

    • tony kaye

      Didn’t test it. Maybe in the future.

  • Ben

    What about Sony’s Steady Shot feature? No other action cam has that ability. A lot of reviews of action cams praise GoPro, I think mainly because it is the standard in the action cam industry. Because it is standard, there are camera’s that are absolutely worse than it, and others that are actually better. The GoPro is a great camera, don’t get me wrong, but the downfall of most reviews are their bias towards it.

    • tony kaye

      The one Sony Action Cam is our runner-up. We like it, but not as much as the GoPro.

      • Ben

        They’re both great cams. I just found it suspicious how all 8 of y’all’s sources are GoPro articles….

  • Sergio

    What other cameras up to a budget of 1000 would be worth paying the difference? I am lost. I am looking mainly for high quality video in slow motion