Until recently, if you wanted an action camera, you had to get a GoPro. The corporation absolutely controlled the market because to superior technology and marketing. Hundreds of other firms, on the other hand, have recently begun to produce cameras that compete significantly on price and features.
In 2021, many action camera consumers, particularly those on a budget, may find that one of these GoPro alternatives is a better option than the brand name version. Choosing the proper model, on the other hand, isn’t easy, which is why we’ve put together this shopping guide.
There’s typically a significant gap between cameras that are priced similarly, with a lot of rubbish at the cheap end and high cost not usually indicating quality. We’ve got you covered whether you’re looking for a cheap but good GoPro counterfeit, a high-quality version for recording 4k video, a specialist action camera for diving, or just the best-value action camera on the market in 2021.
1. Best on a Tight Budget: Dragon Touch Vision 3
It’s hard to think you can buy anything great for less than a third of the price of even the cheapest GoPro Hero model, which starts at roughly $200. While there is a lot of garbage in the sub-$100 action camera market, you can occasionally discover a diamond in the rough if you look hard enough. The Dragon Touch Vision 3 is the most gleaming of those diamonds right now. Given its specifications and what’s included in the package, this small camera is a steal.
With the accompanying case, you get HD video at 60fps or 4k filming at 30fps, 16MP stills, and waterproofing to a decent 30m/98ft. Wi-Fi is built-in, allowing you to transfer film and control most settings from your phone. The Vision 3 comes with two batteries that may last up to 90 minutes each and a variety of mounts for attaching it to helmets, skateboards, handlebars, and other surfaces.
When buying most other action cameras, you’d have to pay extra for all of these extras, making Dragon Touch’s offer even greater value. Of course, some compromises had to be made in order to keep the camera’s low price. Color saturation and visual detail aren’t particularly stunning, especially in low light, and filming in HD rather than 4k produces considerably smoother footage.
The 170-degree lens offers a wide viewing angle, but at the expense of barrel distortion (i.e. curvature) towards the edges. The mono sound recording isn’t great and can be a little muffled at times, which is a common issue with less expensive devices.
However, because the focus of these cameras is usually on the images, this is less of an issue than you might think.
Overall, with proper lighting and a steady hand, this camera can produce extremely useful film on land and underwater. The Dragon Touch Vision 3 is a great place to start if you want to try your hand at action photography and video but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
- Very low price
- Wide range of bundled accessories
- Good waterproofing with included case
- Video quality could be better, especially in 4k
- Sound recording can be muffled
2. Best Value for Money: Akaso V50 Pro
While you can obtain a perfectly adequate camera for under $50, such as the Dragon Touch type mentioned above, investing a little more gives you something far better. The Akaso V50 Pro is our best value selection, with 4K/30 fps video, 20MP stills, and a range of hardware and software capabilities that set it apart from the rest of the budget camera pack.
There’s a diving mode that compensates for the loss of red light while underwater, and the built-in image stabilisation reduces judder caused by vibrations and unsteady hands. The camera’s battery life is about 90 minutes, which is usual for this sort of camera. From narrow to super-wide, you can easily switch between four different viewing angles.
This is something we’d want to see in low-cost cameras more frequently. The barrel distortion that is common in action camera videos can be avoided by choosing a tighter field of vision. There’s also a Distortion Calibration option to aid with this problem. The video quality is normally decent, yet if you’re not shooting in bright light, colours may appear unnatural or washed out.
However, if you want 4K/60fps, you’ll need to get the “SE” model, which is explained further down. Surprisingly, the V50 includes an external clip-on microphone that connects to the camera’s USB connection on the side. It’s a welcome addition, especially since the built-in microphone isn’t great. Plan to spend a few more dollars on the mic if you want to capture usable sound to go with your video, especially voices.
Akaso throws in a slew of extras to sweeten the sale even more. There’s also a spare battery and charger, a wrist-mounted remote control, a variety of mounts, and a waterproof case with a depth rating of 30m/98ft. There’s also Android and iOS app support, which allows you to change settings and transfer files by connecting to your phone through Wi-Fi.
- Great value for money
- Wide range of bundled accessories
- Good waterproofing with the included case
- Extra features versus similarly-priced competitors
- Colour accuracy not the best, especially in lower light
- Sound recording not great with internal mic
3. Best for Shooting 4K Video: AKASO V50 Elite
The AKASO V50 Pro is impressive in many ways, but there is one area where it falls short: 4K video. If you want superior 4k footage without spending a fortune, the V50 Pro Elite is the way to go. While most of the specifications are the same as the V50 Pro, the Special Edition has one major advantage: it can record 4K video at 60 frames per second.
When shooting at 4k/30fps and lower, there’s electronic image stabilisation, and the 20MP sensor performs a better-than-average job with stills. Both video and still photographs have good colour and detail, while recording video at 4K/60fps requires a high-speed microSD card for the best results. If the card can’t handle it, the camera won’t let you start recording at that setting.
The camera is surprisingly well-made, and it comes with a brilliant 2′′ touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a plethora of mounts and accessories. You can operate up to 8x zoom from the camera, and you can even start video or take a shot using basic voice commands. So, what’s not to enjoy about that? Really, not much.
Unlike GoPro cameras, the camera isn’t waterproof out of the box, however it does come with a waterproof housing rated to 40m/130ft. While you’ll receive a few good features like diving mode and wind noise reduction, you won’t get most of the sophisticated hardware additions that GoPro adds, such as GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope.
In all honesty, the vast majority of action camera consumers do not require the information provided by those sensors. Overall, this is a good GoPro rival for a lot less money, and it’s worth checking out if you plan to capture 4k footage on a regular basis.
- Impressive specs for the money
- Good video quality, even in 4k
- Voice control
- 8x zoom
- Audio quality could be better
- No water or dust-proofing without the case
- No image stabilization at 4k/60fps
4. Best for Divers on a Budget: AKASO Brave 4
Action cameras are perfect for scuba diving, and it’s how I’ve used mine for the past few years. It’s difficult to justify the cost of a GoPro simply for that purpose unless you’re constantly underwater. Fortunately, there’s no need to spend so much money when there are good alternatives that will meet the demands of most recreational divers for a lot less money.
The AKASO Brave 4+ is a good example of this, as it’s a low-cost camera with a lot of diver-friendly capabilities. With many of the same features as our top value option, the AKASO V50 Pro (above), it’s effectively a slimmed-down version of our top value pick. Basic image stabilisation and adjustment of the viewing angle from narrow to super-wide are both present.
The wrist-mounted remote is still included, as is a large selection of mounts and accessories. Unfortunately, the remote isn’t waterproof, so you’ll have to use the camera’s buttons to alter settings underwater. The battery life is about 90 minutes, which is plenty to get you through even the longest dive.
You can always charge one battery from a power bank back on the boat while using the other inside the camera because a second battery and an external charger are included in the box. However, the 4k video isn’t terrific (the footage is much better in HD), and the image stabilisation on some of AKASO’s other models is better.
If those are important to you, either of the V50 Pro variants we mentioned above is worth the money. Otherwise, save your money. The Brave 4 is certainly one of the best inexpensive GoPro alternatives for divers, with a price tag of under $100.
The dive housing for the Insta360 ONE R (below) is rated to 60m / 195 ft for those who require even more waterproofing. You’ll pay considerably more for it, but since that depth is well beyond recreational SCUBA limits, you can be certain the camera can handle even your deepest dives with ease.
- Low price
- Wide range of bundled accessories, including spare battery and charger
- Good waterproofing with the included case
- Video much better in HD than 4k
- Sound recording adequate at best
5. Best for Flexibility: Insta360 ONE R
Insta360 has been one of the most inventive camera businesses in recent years, and its ONE R action model is a perfect example of that. Insta360 followed the modular path in order to provide more capabilities and flexibility without increasing the size of the product, and the results were spectacular. The “Twin” edition of the ONE R offers the best value, as it comes with both a 5.7K 360-degree lens and a 4K wide-angle lens that you can choose between depending on what you’re shooting.
No issue if you prefer a camera with a high-end 1-inch, 5.3K sensor: there’s a module for that as well, or you can buy one straight now. Want a bigger battery, more lens protection, or a dive case that goes beyond the usual 16-foot water resistance to a whopping 195 feet? No issue; if you require them, they are all accessible as supplementary accessories.
Night Shot for low-light circumstances, Starlapse for amazing time lapses of the night sky, hyperlapses, HDR photo and video, and many other modes are included in the camera software. Although there are a few bugs here and there, it generally works nicely. Of course, none of this flexibility means much if the stills and video aren’t up to par, which is happily not the case here.
While the GoPro Hero 9 Black is objectively superior in both areas, the difference isn’t significant enough for casual users to notice. What they will notice is the price: the Twin edition of the ONE R is less expensive than the 360 version of the GoPro by itself. Image stabilisation on the ONE R is generally good, and you might be able to get away without using a gimbal unless you’re throwing the camera around a lot.
The two built-in microphones produce excellent audio, but there’s a 3.5mm connector if you wish to use a professional external microphone instead. The PC and mobile companion app is packed with extra features, stable, and dependable. That’s fortunate, because you’ll need it every time you want to edit or pull footage from the camera: you can’t just copy the files over.
Overall this is an ambitious experiment from Insta360, an experiment that has largely paid off. If you’re after a flexible action camera that combines the best bits of multiple other devices while costing noticeably less, the ONE R should be very high on your list.
- Unique modular design
- Quality video and still images
- Impressive audio capture
- Well-priced for what it offers
- Quality not quite as good as the GoPro equivalents
- Occasional software bugs
6. Best for Kids: VTech Kidizoom Action Cam 180
Do you have small children that want to document their own adventures?
You’re not willing to spend a lot of money to have them do it? Take a look at VTech’s Kidizoom 180. The camera’s vibrant design and simple controls are appropriate for children, and the ruggedized shell protects it from damage and water up to 6 feet deep.
Because the lens rotates 180 degrees, it may be used for selfies as well as more traditional video. The package comes with a pair of mounts. One mounts the camera to flat surfaces like skateboards and helmets, while the other attaches it to bike handlebars. A modest amount of storage is built-in, but you’ll probably want to add a microSD card for more storage.
The non-removable battery has a two-hour runtime. It is charged using the provided micro-USB cable, which may also be used to transfer photographs and videos to a computer. The Kidizoom 180 isn’t going to help your youngster create an Oscar-winning masterpiece (the 640×480 sensor is the same resolution as old camera phones from the early 2000s), but it’s a great place to start for a low price.
- Very inexpensive
- Rugged, child-friendly design
- Mounts and waterproof case come as standard
- Video quality very low
- Battery isn’t replaceable