Best GoPro 2020: Action Cameras and Alternatives
With so many action cameras at wildly different prices, it can be confusing to decide which one to buy. Should you go for a cheaper alternative that looks like a GoPro? Or is it better to pay more and get the real deal?
As we explain below, there are some alternative brands that are good value, but on the whole, you do get what you pay for with action cams. The latest from GoPro comes in the form of the Hero 8 Black, but older models are still widely available to buy on sites such as Amazon and are generally cheaper.
Here you’ll find our recommendations for the models that are worth buying and the differences between them.
1. GoPro Hero 8 Black
The latest of the lineup, the Hero 8 Black is lighter, smoother and more versatile than its predecessor, and is probably the best action cam on the market right now.
GoPro’s reworked the design, shaving a few grams off the weight but in addition, it’s also removed the need for a mounting bracket. Just as the Hero 5 Series shed a separate waterproof housing, new folding mount points come built right into the base of the Hero 8 Black, making it quicker and easier than ever to attach and start shooting.
HyperSmooth was the Hero 7 Black’s big talking point, the Hero 8 Black boasts HyperSmooth 2.0 – improved stabilisation that needs to be seen to be believed and better yet, it works across all resolutions and frame rates. If you need even more stability, there’s also a ‘Boost’ setting that’ll work at up to 4K/30fps.
While accessories have always been a key part of the GoPro ecosystem, the Hero 8 Black introduces Mods. Right now, you can choose from the Media Mod (a £79/$79 microphone and connectivity attachment), the Display Mod (a £79/$79 front-facing display) and the Light Mod (£49/$49 LED light), all of which work well both to enhance action footage or to help turn your Hero 8 Black into a more powerful vlogging camera.
Read our GoPro Hero 8 Black review
2. GoPro Max
The GoPro Max lives a double life, combining some of the best features of the company’s Hero action cam family with the power and creative versatility of a 360 camera.
The Max offers the widest angle and most stable shot of any GoPro to date (technology dubbed Max SuperView and Max HyperSmooth, respectively). It also completely rethinks how to shoot and edit 360-degree video compared to the troubled GoPro Fusion – the company’s first 360 camera from 2017.
Pair with the GoPro app, the Max captures footage in such a way that you can edit, frame, reframe and export, all from your phone with an astounding level of ease.
Other smart inclusions include six microphones for ‘ambisonic’ audio capture, as well as smart wind noise reduction, along with the addition of new integrated mounting points that let you attach the Max to existing GoPro mounts directly.
Read our GoPro Max review
3. GoPro Hero 7 Black
This is a great GoPro at a more affordable price point than previous generations, and despite the Hero 8 now being available to buy, you can still pick up the Hero 7 from a variety of retailers.
It has, like the Hero 6, a 12Mp lens with video capture up to 4K at 60fps. The newest feature is HyperSmooth, GoPro’s built-in function that stabilises video footage in most resolution settings, but not at 1080p or 2.7k at 120fps.
But shooting at 60fps is fine, and the results are noticeably great. It’s also the first GoPro ever you can live stream from by tethering to your phone, although this is limited to 720p.
Read our GoPro Hero 7 Black review.
4. DJI Osmo Action
Considering how good the Osmo Action is, we’re a bit confused as to why DJI hasn’t been challenging GoPro in the action camera market for years.
This is a high-end Hero 7 Black rival and comes in at a lower price. However, it doesn’t scrimp on design, specs or features. In fact, the Osmo Action is better than the Hero 7 in various ways.
It’s waterproof to 11m, can record HDR video and has an innovative dual-screen design. We’re not just talking about a basic monochrome LCD display at the front, as on most GoPros. Instead, you can actually switch to a live view on this display, like using your phone for a selfie.
This makes life easier in a number of situations, as does DJI’s stabilisation system, called ‘RockSteady’.
There’s a lot to like here and very little to fault, all at a cheaper price than the Hero 8 Black. And, what’s more, it’s compatible with select GoPro mounts too.
Read our full DJI Osmo Action review
5. GoPro Hero 6 Black
Although it looks exactly like the Hero 5, the Hero 6 is very different inside. Essentially, GoPro used a custom-designed processor (called the GP1) rather than using an off-the-shelf Ambarella, as most action cams do. What this means is that the Hero 6 has a raft of improvements beyond the highlight 4K video @ 60fps and 1080p HD @ 240fps.
For example, there’s much better low-light quality and also better dynamic range compared to its predecessor. Plus, there’s three-axis stabilisation, even when shooting in 4K (although not at 60fps).
For photos, there’s a proper HDR mode which combines three shots and there’s 5GHz Wi-Fi which halves the transfer time sending videos to your phone for editing and sharing with GoPro’s app.
The touchscreen is faster and more responsive and voice control is improved: you can now turn on the Hero 6 just by talking to it.
Ultimately, it’s not cheap but the Hero 6 Black is still a great action camera. Its main problem is that the newer, better Hero 7 and Hero 8 Black now exist. It’s also no longer on sale direct from GoPro, so you’ll have to go hunting further afield to find one. This does mean it’s become more affordable though.
Read our Hero 6 review.
6. GoPro Hero 5 Black
The Hero 5 Black, which launched in 2016, was a major update to the Hero 4, although not in image quality: it tops out at 4K at 30fps.
The difference is that it can record at higher frame rates at lower resolutions and has video stabilisation which makes video significantly less jerky. But as it’s done electronically, it only works at up to 2.7K and even then reduces the field of view by 10%. Not nearly as good as the HyperSmooth 2.0 stabilisation on the Hero 8 Black.
Two other highlights are built-in GPS and the ability to control recording (and other things) using your voice, a bit like the Amazon Alexa or Siri. It’s a good chunk cheaper nowadays than a Hero 6, 7 and 8, but it’s well worth considering.
Read our full Hero 5 Black review.
7. GoPro Hero 7 White
This is the simplest but most affordable GoPro out there. It’s cheaper because it doesn’t shoot in 4K: it’s limited to 1080p or a strange, squashed version of 1440p.
There are some other cut-down specs – it has a 10MP sensor instead of 12, has just 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, no ProTune mode and no support for external microphones.
You might think these are fine compromises but it’s quite a lot of money to spend on an action camera when you can get 4K for less.
However, being a GoPro, the Hero 7 White is reliable and won’t let you down. It’s also waterproof without a case, which will make it far more appealing to some people than one of the cheap clones, partly because that means you get better sound. It even has three microphones and automatically switches if one is picking up lots of wind noise.
Handily, it works with GoPro’s app, which does a fine job of editing your clips, and you can remotely control it from your phone too.
8. Yi 4K+ Action Camera
The Yi 4K+ is a genuinely good GoPro alternative with a nice design and plenty of features.
It’s not cheaper than some of the GoPro offerings but it can shoot in 4K at up to 60fps and has a good 2.2in touchscreen.
Unlike the previous version, which was limited to 30fps, this one has a tripod mount that makes it a lot more convenient to attach to things. However, it isn’t rugged or waterproof like the current GoPro range or the DJI Osmo Action.
Read our Yi 4K Action Camera review.
9. Akaso Brave 7 LE
Capping out at [email protected] and 20mp stills, the Akaso Brave 7 LE isn’t quite as capable as the Yi 4K+, but it’s also much cheaper than many GoPro alternatives.
It does have a lot going for it, with dual screens, a minimalist design and a raft of accessories that come in the box (including mounts and a remote). The quality of footage shot in the daytime is detailed enough for everyday use, although with basic software-powered image stabilisation it can’t quite compete with official GoPro cameras.
The accompanying app is another pain point for the Brave 7 LE, but that’s an issue common among cheaper action cameras right now.
Read our full Akaso Brave 7 LE review
10. SJCAM SJ7 Star
The SJ7 shoots good 4K video. It isn’t as refined as a GoPro (neither is the companion app) but you can forgive these when you realise it costs well under £200 – less than £150 if you buy from GearBest – and the quality is certainly good for that price. There’s no decent stabilisation, but to get that you’ll have to pay considerably more money.
Plus, you get a heap of mounts in the box which makes it even better value. It has a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi too.
Read our full SJCAM SJ7 Star review
Are GoPro clones any good?
The real-deal GoPro cameras may be pricey, but they’re generally worth the money.
As well as being reliable and rugged with good-quality mounts, they also have loud beeps which tell you when they start and stop recording and turn on and off. Don’t underestimate the importance of this, since once the camera is mounted, it’s often in a place where you can’t easily see it. Plus, recent models have voice control so you don’t have to be able to reach the camera or touch it.
We’ve yet to see a clone with the same features, which means you’ve often no idea if you successfully started recording when the camera is mounted on your bike helmet: you have to start recording, then put on the helmet to be sure.
Some allow remote control but apps tend to be flakey and not nearly as slick and reliable as GoPro’s, while battery life can be worse.
However, these drawbacks aren’t always deal-breakers and are worth trading off for the amazingly low prices. One of the better clone manufacturers is SJCAM, but you have to be careful not to buy a fake as there are also SJCAM clones!
The other clone to check out, as we’ve detailed above, is the DJI Osmo Action which is an amazing Hero 7 Black rival at a lower price.
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