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an action cam mounted on a bike for a story about the best action cams for $300 or less

Best Action Cams for $300 or Less

How to get the video quality of the latest GoPros without the high price

Like Q-tips and Kleenex, GoPro has defined its product category to the point where shoppers routinely forget to consider alternatives. But when you do a little research, you find a wide assortment of great action cams from other brands, many of which have cutting-edge features—just like GoPros.

They're also easy to use—just like GoPros.

And just like the GoPro Hero5, $400, and the GoPro Hero4 Silver Standard Edition, $330, action cameras from Kodak, Ricoh, Sony, and even Activeon have been known to deliver quality video and photos.

That doesn't mean GoPro cameras are overrated. In fact, at the bottom of this list of the best action cams sits the GoPro Hero5 Session, $300, which not only responds to voice commands but also offers extra frame-rate options for shooting 4K video. Not bad for a device that's not much bigger than an ice cube!

Still, with a little work you can find even better deals. So if you're willing to venture into the great outdoors without a GoPro label (and GoPro accessories), here are a few bargains worth considering.

1
Activeon CX Gold

Activeon CX Gold

Unlike many action cams, this Activeon, $130, comes with a removable battery, which allows you to swap in a fully charged backup in a pinch. The 80 minutes of battery life is a bit shorter than you find in many models, but the camera's image stabilizer delivers good video and photos. The protective housing is water-resistant to a depth of 197 feet, according to the manufacturer. And better yet, the model has an LCD touchscreen on the back.

    2
    Kodak PixPro SP1

    Kodak PixPro SP1

    Despite its diminutive size, this Kodak PixPro action cam, $190, is rugged enough to withstand a 7-foot drop and water-resistant to a depth of 33 feet. The 2-plus hours of battery life per charge put it among the best in its class. The camera comes with a 1.5-inch LCD and an image stabilizer to counteract shaky hands, not to mention shaking handlebars. According to our testers, it delivers good photos and video. And here's one nice extra: the ability to capture photos at 10 frames per second in burst mode.

      3
      Sony HDR-AS50

      Sony HDR-AS50

      Like most Sony models, the Sony HDR-AS50 has a very good image stabilizer. Priced at $190, it also provides a simple, intuitive interface, so you can get the camera up and running in a jiffy. The video quality is good, as is the audio quality. The battery life stretches to 100 minutes. And like the Activeon CX Gold, the protective housing will keep this model dry up to a depth of 197 feet, according to the manufacturer.
       

        4
        Kodak PixPro SP360

        Kodak PixPro SP360

        In this case, the video quality is only fair, but the Kodak PixPro SP360, $280, is among the first to offer 360-degree panoramic video. It also captures good-quality still photos, which it can fire off at 10 frames per second. The battery life stretches to 160 minutes. 
         

          5
          Ricoh WG-M2

          Ricoh WG-M2

          It's hard not to admire the rugged sci-fi look of the Ricoh WG-M2, $300. You can almost imagine it making an appearance in the coming Star Wars movie "The Last Jedi." The camera delivers good video, including 4K; a super-wide angle of view (to get all the action); an excellent image stabilizer; and 140 minutes of battery life. And Ricoh claims the housing is water-resistant to a depth of 66 feet and capable of surviving a drop from 7 feet.
           

            6
            Sony HDR-AS100V

            Sony HDR-AS100V

            Action cams aren't known to produce stunning image quality. But according to our testers, the Sony HDR-AS100V, $300, is one of the few to capture very good video. Its hard-working image-stabilization system deserves much of the credit for that. The camera delivers good photos and audio, plus 130 minutes of battery life. The splashproof body can handle a light rain. And when you place it in the protective housing, the model is water-resistant to a depth of 16 feet.

              7
              GoPro Hero5 Session

              GoPro Hero5 Session

              Like the previous GoPro Session model, the GoPro Hero5 is lightweight and compact, and it delivers good video. But tucked inside are some significant changes, starting with voice-command capability: You simply tell it to start recording and it does. It also captures 4K video, though it's worth noting that the image stabilizer is nonfunctional when you're shooting 4K, high-definition video at 60p, and still photos. The battery life is 116 minutes. The camera survived for 30 minutes in our dunk tank at a pressure approximating a depth of 33 feet.

               

               

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                Terry Sullivan

                I've been writing about tech since the 1990s and joined Consumer Reports in 2007. I cover audio-related devices, like headphones, and digital-imaging products, like cameras and printers. When not making fine art with a camera or oil paint, I also jam with my band, The Not-For-Prophets. I live on Long Island with my wife and kids.