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

Best Action Cams for $300 or Less

These three models can withstand some gnarly drops without breaking the bank

Like Q-tips, Post-its, and Kleenex, GoPro has defined the action camera product category to a point where shoppers routinely forget to consider alternatives.

A favorite among outdoor and extreme sports enthusiasts, GoPros, like all action cams, are miniaturized, rugged camcorders. However, few GoPros excel in our tests. In fact, an assortment of great action cams from other brands perform better and cost less.

It’s Sony, not GoPro, that dominates our ratings, with seven of the top 10 action cam models. And GoPro? Just one. (Even their flagship $400 GoPro Hero6 lacks CR’s recommendation.)

“Sony’s imaging prowess extends beyond its mirrorless cameras,” says Charles Davidman, who leads CR’s camera testing program. “The brand makes so many well-performing action cameras that no matter your budget, you can likely find a Sony that can work for you.”

That doesn’t mean you should dismiss all GoPro cameras, however. The $250 GoPro Hero5 Black, which not only responds to voice commands but also offers extra frame-rate options for shooting 4K video, is one of the best budget action cam models in our ratings.

Whichever brand and model you choose, don’t expect action cams to perform at the same level as a traditional camcorder. “Action cams have limited zoom, can distort images, and create blotchy videos compared with their larger cousins,” Davidman says.

On the upside, action cams are much smaller and can be attached to bicycle handlebars or a kayak deck without becoming a nuisance. And most can even withstand a dip in a lake or a short fall—so it’s easy to see why they’re a great companion for your next hiking expedition. (PSA on that topic: Watch out for ticks.

The sub-$300 action cams from Kodak, Sony, and GoPro listed below are rugged, easy-to-use, connect to a smartphone wirelessly, feature image stabilization, and weigh less than one-half pound. Testers grade the cameras (all of which we buy) on 350 data points over the course of a week. And like every product in Consumer Reports’ ratings, we buy the cameras in retail outlets, just like you.

1
Best Bang for Your Buck
Kodak PixPro SP1

Kodak PixPro SP1

Despite its diminutive size, this $130 Kodak PixPro action cam 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 vibrating handlebars. According to our testers, the camera delivers good photos and video. And there’s a nice extra: the ability to capture photos at 10 frames per second in burst mode.

    2
    Best Travel Companion
    Sony HDR-AS50

    Sony HDR-AS50

    Like most Sony models, the Sony HDR-AS50 has a very good image stabilizer. Priced at $170, this action cam 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. Like the other models on this list, this Sony survived our dunk and drop tests, but the company also sells an additional protective housing that it claims will keep this model dry up to a depth of 197 feet. For a little bit extra, you could opt instead for the Sony HDR-AS50R which includes a wrist-mounted remote and LCD screen.

      3
      Best Still Image Quality
      GoPro HERO5 Black

      GoPro HERO5 Black

      The GoPro Hero5 Black is a lightweight and compact, and it delivers good video. It packs voice-command capabilities, so 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 60 frames per second. The still photos captured on this camera are very good, and the best for an action camera under $300. The battery life is 125 minutes. This $250 model survived our repeated drop tests and survived being dunked in 33 feet of water for 30 minutes.

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        Tercius Bufete

        I'm an avid photographer and tech nerd with a passion for writing about gadgets and consumer technology. Originally from Los Angeles, I'm now an East Coast resident searching for the perfect burrito in Brooklyn. Follow me on Twitter (@tercius).