Getting the shot is about more than just collecting likes on social media. It can be a great way to study your form, on board, bike, or ski, and learn where your technique could use some fine-tuning. And as much fun as it is to replay a great day, a great moment, or a beautiful view in your head it’s an even richer experience when you’re able to see that day, moment, or view again. And even social media isn’t all bad when you look at it as a way to share the stoke with others rather than just a quantification and commodification of recreation.
So there’s no shame in wanting to document your adventures, arguably it’s admirable. The question is how? The smartphone in your pocket has more image-capturing power than was available to any human even a few decades ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only tool you’ll want. Upgrading your kit with an action camera unlocks a whole new range of potential shots, angles, and visions that your phone can’t, or at least shouldn’t, attempt.
Of course even once you’ve made that decision you still need to decide which action camera to get. Which is why we’ve assembled this list of some of our favorites to get you started-
Best POV Action Sports Cameras
Okay, let’s get the frontrunner out of the way first. GoPro is what most people think of when they’re looking at an action camera, and for many people “gopro” has become a generic term for any action camera just like any tissue can be a Kleenex. But just because they’re the big dogs doesn’t mean they’re not still working to give you the features and control that made them the big dogs in the first place.
Right off the bat there’s image quality, with a massive 5.3K available at 60FPS, 4K and 120FPS, and even 2.7k at 240FPS. That’s a resolution 150% better than 1080p HD video, for super super slow motion shots. Add in intuitive image stabilization, some of the better Bluetooth control software, and a new taller sensor that allows you to shoot “traditional” widescreen shots and social media-friendly footage at the same time and the bar is set pretty high right off the bat.
But what you’re buying into with GoPro is the aftermarket. As the frontrunner, there’s more people out there using GoPros than anything else. Which means more companies (GoPro or third-party) making accessories to help you catch the action with your action camera. Of course there’s cases and handles and attachments for mics, but GoPro goes even further. Portable cable cams for flying dolly shots without a drone. Frames that let you use your pocket-sized camera as a full-sized cinematic filmer complete with off-camera sound. If you can think of it, someone’s probably already made it for GoPro. And since the exterior dimensions of this current-generation Hero 11 Black is the same as the previous generation Hero 10, that also means that there’s literally years of R&D already invested on this platform.
That’s a hard act to follow if you’re trying to wow with resolution, so the Insta360 X3 Action Camera doesn’t try. It “only” offers 5.7k resolution (“only” 427% better than 1080p) at 30FPS, meaning more pixels than GoPro but at a slower framerate. Though it bears mentioning that the cinematic standard, what you see at the movie theater, remains 24FPS.
So how does Insta360 justify costing nearly as much as a GoPro? Well it does something no GoPro, even the formidable Hero 11 Black, can do- it shoots everything. When in dual-lens mode, the Insta360 X3 action camera films everything; up or down, right or left, forward or back, all at the same time. It can make for a trippy experience, allowing you to relive every angle of an all-time greatest run in the backcountry, or taking in all the sights of an epic bike ride. But it’s actually even more useful than that.
By filming everything, everywhere, all at once, the Insta360 X3 takes an important consideration off your mind- framing. There’s no need to try and position the camera right while you hit a jump, and you’ll never miss “the good bit” because it was off camera. Either you can use the immersive “bubble” viewing to see everything there is to see, or you can use software once you get home to crop your video into a more traditional viewing format while making decisions THEN about what needs to be in frame.
Add in the decent accessory support, including optional kits including purchase options that come bundled with mounts and grips specifically designed for snow, cycling, “Bullet Time”, or even Construction, you’ll be ready to start filming right away.
In a market saturated with options that give you ultra-fine control over the creative process, the DJI Pocket 2 takes a different path. It’s designed for simplicity, trying to replace your old point and shoot camera and make it easy for you to take quality shots, film or still, on the go. With a compact design, it makes it easy to throw this in your pocket and get better-than-smartphone shots without the need to fuss with a “true” action cam and all the accompanying accessories. Just throw the DJI Pocket 2 in your, well, pocket and you’re ready to go.
With a 64MP equivalent sensor, you’re able to shoot still images up to 9216×6912 pixels, meaning you’ll be able to confidently order poster-sized prints of your favorite shots. But it also works as a video camera with full 4K Ultra HD resolution, or you can film up to 2.7K in HDR resolution.
But what really sets the DJI Pocket 2 apart is the built-in gimbal. By isolating the shot from your grip, you’re able to frame quickly and intuitively on the go, making it easy to get the shot in any shooting mode. Plus, that gimbal allows for mechanical image stabilization. Unlike the digital image stabilization used in other cameras, which essentially crops your shot to keep the subject in the center, the DJI Pocket 2 physically moves the camera to keep the subject in shot. The result is a smoother, more stable image, that’s also full-frame and full resolution.
Unlike everything else on this list, the Pivo Pod Action Edition isn’t a camera. Because you don’t need a camera, you’ve already got one. The Pivio Pod Action Edition is an AI-assisted mount for your smartphone. You drop your phone in, start filming, and the Pivo Pod uses its built-in technology to automatically follow your movement ensuring you’re always in frame. Plus, since the footage is already on your phone, it’s absolutely seamless for you to share once you get the shot.
This AI cameraman technology is available as the budget-friendly Pod Lite, the “standard” Pivo Pod, or the professional-grade Pivo Max that also lets you attach a digital SLR camera for the highest-quality images possible. But we went with the Pivo Pod Active edition, as it gives you all of the essentials in one go. There’s the Pivo Pod itself, along with the Smart Mount to attach your smartphone. But there’s also an action mount, allowing you to attach a GoPro for higher-quality footage, as well as a remote control for manual adjustment of things like starting angle and zoom (when shooting with the included app).
But the real prize-winner in the Active Edition is the included tripod. It allows you to set the Pivo Pod up anywhere, anytime. No more annoying your friends asking them to shoot, or your friends annoying you when they fail to see your creative vision.
We started this rundown with the clear leader, and now we’re ending with a sleeper pick. And they’re from the same company. Surprising, but true.
The GoPro Hero11 Black Mini is pretty much exactly what it sounds like- a smaller version of the “full” Hero11 Black. It does sacrifice a few things, namely max video resolution frame rate, and the ability to shoot still images. But in exchange you get a smaller, lighter, and cheaper GoPro with the essential functionality intact, and all through GoPro’s extremely user-friendly software and support.
Of course, there’s one other significant thing you don’t get with the GoPro Hero11 Black Mini- the screen. Unlike the full size, the Mini has no integrated display. At first this may seem like a significant loss, but anyone who’s tried to use the screen on a full size GoPro knows that it’s usually better to use the interface on your Bluetooth-connected smart device anyway. So realistically, you’re not losing much of value in that “compromise”.
Ultimately, picking the right action camera is about identifying what is important to you. It’s hard to beat the GoPro offerings in terms of support and image quality. But the Insta360 X3 is offering something GoPro can’t with their immersive and impressive shooting style. The DJI Pocket 2 offers a less-techy alternative that is still a clear upgrade over your phone, while the Pivo Pod upgrades your phone by turning it into your private robot cameraman while freeing you from selfie-stick tyranny.
Figuring out what you want to shoot, and how, will help you pick between the available options. And it’s always possible that the more you shoot the more you realize that just like having an action camera in addition to your phone could make sense, having more than one action camera may make the most sense for the footage you’re trying to shoot.