Compact action cameras present some of the most practical means of getting high quality images and footage afloat. But which model should you choose?

Action cameras can go where your average camera or smartphone wouldn’t even dream. And thanks to rugged and waterproof designs they can endure the rigours and extremes of any sailing adventure.

Even for more mundane activities action cameras can prove their worth, getting video and still images from unique perspectives thanks to their small size and mounting abilities. A good action camera can prove to be your best companion to take afloat.

GoPro is a name that has grown synonymous with action cameras – so much so the company name almost risks becoming a generic term, with any and all action cameras often being referred to as ‘GoPros’.

action-cam-test-gopro-hero-5-blackGoPro Hero 5 Black

Price: £350

Key features:

  • Up to 4K/30fps
  • Voice controls
  • Electronic image stabilisation
  • Waterproof without a case

We’ve called the Hero 5 Black GoPro’s ‘Greatest Hits’ camera for good reason. It has taken the best component parts of GoPro’s previous models and merged them all together to form the company’s most capable and best-performing action camera.

It has the same 4K top resolution at 30 frames per second as the Hero 4 Black, adds the built-in waterproofing of the Hero Session, and improves upon the integrated touchscreen display of the Hero 4 Silver.

GoPro has added some new features, too, including electronic image stabilisation for less shaky footage, and new voice-control options for when your hands are tied. Top it off with all-important excellent image quality and you have the recipe for one of the best action cameras you can buy.

Rating: 4.5/5

action-cam-test-gopro-hero-6-blackGoPro Hero 6 Black

Price: £499

The new GoPro Hero 6 Black improves on an already fantastic Hero 5 Black camera thanks to a new custom GP1 processor, which is double the performance of its predecessor (Up to 4K/60fps; 1080p/240fps). But it’s around £150 more expensive.

Rating: 4.5/5

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action-cam-test-gopro-hero-5-sessionGoPro Hero 5 Session

Price: £250

Key features:

  • Up to 4K/30fps
  • Waterproof without a case
  • Electronic image stabilisation
  • Voice controls

When the original Hero 4 Session (since renamed the Hero Session) was first launched, it was a tough sell. It launched at the same price as the better-performing Hero 4 Silver and was difficult to recommend.

This time round, GoPro hasn’t introduced a Silver model to go alongside the Hero 5 Black. This means the Hero 5 Session becomes the cheaper alternative and makes much more sense. It has the same 4K resolution at 30fps as the Hero 5 Black, its image quality is almost as good and it has new voice controls.

You have to look at the lower resolutions to see where the Black excels at higher frame rate video. The Session also lacks the GPS of the Hero 5 Black. The cube-shaped design is, importantly, very light. This makes the Hero 5 Session a great choice for mounting in tricky positions. If you’re looking for a secondary camera, it’s a great choice.

Rating: 4/5

action-cam-test-sony-fdr-x3000rSony FDR-X3000R Action Cam

Price: £500

Key features:

  • Up to 4K/30fps
  • Live-view remote control
  • Balanced optical image stabilisation
  • Innovative range of accessories

Sony’s FDR-X3000R Action Cam is one of the priciest action cameras on the market, but if you have deep pockets it’s also one of the best you can buy. What goes some way to justifying its hefty price tag is its optical image stabilisation (OIS) – proper optical image stabilisation here, not digital trickery as is the case with electronic image stabilisation.

This means there’s a floating lens system that counters your hand movement. The big draw is the OIS still works even when you’re shooting at glorious 4K resolution.

You also get a separate live-view remote control that can be worn on the wrist or attached to other accessories such as the Shooting Grip or Finger Grip. The latter is a tiny holster that’s perfect if you’re using the FDR-X3000R as a travel camera.

Both video and still image quality are excellent, with all the resolution and frame rate options you’d expect from a high-end action camera.

Rating: 4/5

action-cam-test-yi-4kYi 4K Action Camera

Price: £500

Key features:

  • Up to 4K/30fps
  • Electronic image stabilisation
  • 19-inch touchscreen display
  • Bluetooth and WiFi

When the Yi 4K Action Camera first came out, it was touted as a much cheaper alternative to the GoPro Hero 4 Black. In many aspects it fulfilled a lot of that potential.

Things have changed a little since the release of the excellent Hero 5 Black, but the Yi 4K Action Cam still makes for an excellent action camera for the money.

Rating: 4/5

action-cam-test-garmin-virb-ultra-30Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

Price: £370

Key features:

  • Up to 4K/30fps
  • Voice controls
  • Electronic image stabilisation
  • GPS telemetry and external sensor support

If you’re looking for an action camera specifically for sports, the VIRB Ultra 30 might be the choice for you. Not only does it have 4K resolution at 30fps, it also has a GPS sensor inside to capture telemetry data.

This means while you’re punching the waves you can capture route, speed and distance data to bring an added layer of information to your videos. The VIRB Ultra 30 also supports external sensors through ANT+ and Bluetooth, including heart rate monitors and bike sensors.

Image quality is also up there with the best. You get plenty of resolution and frame rate options, including 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps – perfect for impressive slow- motion footage. There’s a display on the back for framing your shots and changing settings, otherwise you can pair with the companion apps.

Rating: 4/5