Have you always wanted to capture amazing action shots, from photos to videos?
If you're a cinematographer obsessed with the idea of shooting stunning footage of action, or you're a sports enthusiast looking to record yourself doing your thing, you need a camera that is capable of shooting footage at a high frame rate.
I am Ali G, a professional photographer based in Hong Kong. Over the years, I have captured many athletes and sports events, including the Hong Kong Rugby 7's. An action camera is something I use all the time as a side camera for capturing everything that happens on the day.
I believe the GoPro Hero 8 Black to be the best camera for sports due to the incredible image stabilization, excellent weatherproof ability, and capability to record 4K videos at a 60 fps frame rate. This is a camera you can comfortably use in all conditions.
This is also a camera recommended by my friend, Lorraine (a dual certified ski and snowboard instructor with 10 years of experience) and Tse Bun (a retired ex-professional badminton player who used to be ranked in the Top 30 in the world for men's singles, and a famous badminton instructor in Hong Kong).
Although the GoPro Hero 8 Black is a great action camera for sports, there are plenty of other great cameras out there as well. I will take a much deeper look at them in the following sections.
Let’s get the action started!
- Best Overall: GoPro Hero 8 Black
- Best Stabilization: DJI Pocket 2
- Best Runner Up: AKASO EK7000
- Best Budget: AKASO EK7000 Pro
4 Best Action Cameras for Sports
I’ve looked at several great action cameras for sports and these are the ones that we feel are the best of the lot:
- Key features: 4K at 60 fps, 1080p live option, Hypersmooth 2.0, waterproof down to 33-feet
- Video resolution: 4K/UHD
- Image Stabilization: performance of Hypersmooth 2.0 is buttery smooth
- Best for: Overall
The GoPro Hero 8 Black is the best action camera for sports that you can buy in 2021. Bigger is not always better and this is the reason why I feel that the GoPro Hero 9 Black isn’t the one that takes the crown.
Yes, there are some incremental advantages with the Hero 9, and one of them, the Horizon Lock feature, is particularly cool. But the Hero 8 hits the nail on the head when it comes to matching performance with price.
And when we talk of performance, the first thing that I want to showcase is GoPro’s Hypersmooth 2.0 image stabilization system.
As I have mentioned below in the buying guide, I am not a huge fan of electronic image stabilization, but at the same time, I must say that GoPro’s Hypersmooth 2.0 is probably the best I have seen in terms of image stabilization in an action camera.
The second interesting feature of the camera is the 4K shooting capabilities with a stunning 60 fps frame rate. As explained below, the image processor determines the speed and resolution offered by a camera. Better image processors cost a lot of money and this is why you don’t see many 4K cameras at high frame rates like 60 fps.
Furthermore, GoPro is known for being one of the pioneers of the action camera industry and one of the best features of their action cams is the built-in weatherproofing. Where most other action cams need special housing to ensure weatherproofing, GoPro cameras by default come with this feature and they don’t need any special housing for that purpose.
Like in the case of the GoPro Hero 8 Black, it is waterproof up to a depth of 33-feet. Therefore, it’s pretty much a camera that you can grab and run with, no matter where the action takes you!
The GoPro Hero 8 Black is a very premium product, and it is feature-loaded, making it the best in the class for action photography. There is truly very little not to like about this camera.
If you ask me to point my finger at any one thing, I would say that the skin tones as recorded on the GoPro Hero 8 Black are a little warmer than normal.
If you compare the skin tones recorded by the GoPro Hero 7 with those of the GoPro Hero 8 Black, you will notice that the Hero 7 is a lot more natural-looking compared to that of the Hero 8 Black. However, we all know that warmer skin tones are more flattering for people, so again, not a big deal.
- Key features: built-in gimbal, 4K/60fps video shooting, matrix stereo mic
- Video resolution: 4K
- Audio: 4 microphones with directional audio pick-up and soundtracking
- Best for: Stabilization
The most distinguishing feature of the DJI Pocket 2 is the built-in 3-axis motorized gimbal stabilization that powers the camera. I have often mentioned that I am not a big fan of electronic image stabilization, a fact that drives my passion for hand-held gimbal stabilizers.
However, the DJI Pocket 2's built-in hand-held 3-axis gimbal stabilizer offers beautiful smooth video footage. Furthermore, the overall weight of the system is only 116 grams (4.1 Oz), and a full charge of the battery gives you about 140 minutes of working time.
The second interesting feature of this set-up is the wide-angle 20mm lens with an aperture of f/1.8. Wide-angle lenses, as the name suggests, can capture a wider field of view. This is necessary for capturing sports and fast action, especially if you want to bring the viewer into the action!
The f/1.8 aperture ensures that the lens can capture a lot of light, something all content creators love!
The third feature of this camera is the size of the sensor inside. Most of the action cameras that you see in the market have a 1/2.3" sensor inside them. The DJI Pocket 2 comes with a 1/1.7" sensor.
This is a slightly larger sensor, which provides some advantage in terms of light-gathering abilities as well as a larger field of view captured. There's also a high resolution mode which can capture a whopping 64 megapixel image set.
The bulk of the whole system is much larger than your average GoPro or any other action camera.
And the whole process is a bit more cumbersome than using your average action camera with a harness.
- Key features: 4K 30 fps, waterproof up to 98-feet, 170-degree wide-angle lens
- Video resolution: 4K/UHD
- Waterproof: Waterproof up to a depth of 98-feet with the special housing
- Best for: Runner Up
One of the main selling points of the AKASO EK7000 is that it is capable of shooting 4K/UHD videos at a maximum frame rate of 30 fps. What that means is that you can shoot at a high resolution with a reasonably large number of frames to produce beautiful, detailed clips.
The advantage of shooting with a 30-fps frame rate is that you have a bit more frames than the cinematic 24 fps. Therefore, you can use that to slow down the footage to produce interesting B-rolls.
Even though 30 fps gives you 6 more frames per second, it may not sound like too much, but it is still a nice bonus feature.
The AKASO EK7000 comes with a solid waterproof housing that allows the camera to be taken down to depths of around 98-feet underwater. This gives you the freedom to take this camera practically anywhere you want to go and get those challenging shots!
The third thing I like about the camera is the long battery life. The AKASO EK7000 is powered by a 1050mAh rechargeable battery. The pack comes with two batteries.
Each battery provides enough juice to record about 90 mins of video. So, you have about 3 hours of recording possible with two of these batteries when fully charged. That gives you a lot of footage to play around with, and who doesn’t like that?
There is not too much not to like about this camera. For a price tag of less than 80 dollars, this is a great camera to buy on a budget. A lot of content creators I know use this as their second camera with the primary one shooting the main angle.
- Key features: 4K 25 fps, touchscreen, waterproof up to 40-feet, remote control
- Video resolution: 4K/UHD
- Waterproof: Waterproof up to a depth of 131-feet with the special housing
- Best for: Budget
For just a few more dollars you can get the improved version of the AKASO EK7000 and it is the AKASO EK7000 Pro. Let’s look at the features of this camera. First up is the video resolution and in that segment, there is a slight change. The AKASO EK7000 Pro shoots at 4K/UHD at 25 fps.
The next thing that I like about the Pro model is that it has a 2-inch IPS screen at the back. Now, compare this to the standard display screen at the back of a DSLR (which is about 3-inches) and you will realize that you have a pretty decent display that is both bright and sharp. Important to mention this screen is a touchscreen.
You can check the footage recorded right on this rear screen and it also gives you the advantage of reshooting in case anything is missing. Without the screen, you would have needed an external monitor or a laptop on the field to check the footage.
The last interesting feature of this camera I want to mention is Electronic Image Stabilization. Image stabilization steadies the image inside the camera so that the video (or the still) appears without any jitter and blur.
But unlike in traditional optical image stabilization, here the footage is stabilized by cropping the edges. While this does cut down the overall resolution of the footage, it has the effect of producing a jitter-free video that most users like.
One of the things that I am unhappy about this camera is the absence of a pure 24fps frame rate. The older model (discussed above) shoots at 30 fps. Therefore, this is kind of baffling to understand why there is a downgrade in this area in terms of fps.
With the 4K resolution, you can capture a lot of detail in your footage, which is always great for us content creators and visual storytellers.
Best Action Cameras for Sports - What to Consider?
Here I would like to highlight some of the most important factors when looking to buy your next action camera:
One of the first things that you should consider is the maximum resolution that you need to shoot in. Many users are perfectly fine with shooting in full HD resolution. Others might think 4K/UHD is the ideal standard.
Remember, when the resolution increases, it puts pressure on the image processor inside the camera because it has to process that extra resolution.
Perhaps, you may have noticed that some cameras offer full-HD resolution at very high frame rates like 120 fps, whereas cameras that offer 4K/UHD resolution only offer that at a reduced frame rate of 30 fps or thereabouts.
To get both, high resolution and high frame rates, you have to dish out a lot of money and opt for cameras like the GoPro Hero 8. These cameras have extremely powerful image processors which can handle the fps.
A movie image is composed of hundreds of still images that are played back at incredible speed to mimic the feel of subjects moving in the movie. The faster the images are played back the faster is that movement.
Frame rate denotes the number of still images that are captured by the camera per second. Inside the camera, these individual frames are combined to produce a moving image.
So, you cannot retrieve the individual images per se, except when you play them back as a moving image.
Normally, to mimic everyday life a frame rate of 30 is maintained. 60 fps is great for slowing down the action when the video is played back. That is, you shoot at 60 fps but when the video is played back you can play it back at 30 fps to slow down everything.
That is a great way to add some cinematic magic to your action shots. There are some cameras like the GoPro which can shoot at 240 fps at full HD resolution. Those are great for making ultra-slow-motion captures.
If you are shooting action footage, then you must be out and about and that always exposes the camera to the elements of nature.
Most action cameras come with a weatherproofing housing that is specially designed to prevent water seepage inside the camera. This feature also does the job of preventing dust and dirt from getting inside the camera.
GoPro, on the other hand, is a weather-sealed camera design. It is designed to withstand the pressure of up to several meters of water without the need for special waterproof housing.
The advantage here is that you are always prepared for the inclement weather and challenges faced when shooting in the field.
Nobody likes poor audio, just as no one likes a video that shakes and jitters throughout. That is the formula for disaster in the times of YouTube and social media content. If you need buttery smooth videos straight out of the camera, there are two ways to do it.
First, use a gimbal. However, this adds a piece of gear to your shooting set-up.
The second option is to use an action cam that comes with reliable image stabilization. All the action cameras that I have listed here have some form of image stabilization in them but the one that I liked isn’t even listed here. And that is the GoPro Hero 9 Black.
The reason is the Hero 9 isn’t too much of an improvement over the Hero 8, that is if you eliminate the Horizon lock feature and the 5K shooting resolution. At the moment, 5K is not much of an advantage yet because there are not too many screens that can display 5K.
Increasingly, the world is consuming more and more of their favorite content on smaller screens, so it isn’t an advantage to have 5K.
So for me the Hero 8 Black gives me the best bang for my buck. But if you want to stay ahead of the trend, go for the Hero 9!
Wanting to learn more about great sports and traveling cameras? Here are some detailed guides:
What is the Difference Between an Action Camera and GoPro?
GoPro is one type of action camera, a very widely used camera by content creators. GoPro cameras usually come with a box design, great image stabilization and excellent weatherproof ability.
There are other action cameras great for different purposes, such as Insta360 cameras for 360 degrees video, DJI pocket cameras for excellent stabilization. These cameras are often more preferred by skiers and snowboarders.
Which Camera is Best for Riding?
According to my friend who is a mountain biker, cyclist, ski and snowboarding instructor, the best camera for riding is GoPro Hero 8, DJI Pockets, and Insta360. Some riders who don’t like the box design may prefer the Sony FDRX3000/ W.
I believe the GoPro Hero 8 to be the best action camera for sports on the current market. It comes with many features that make it great to use in all conditions and has no issue capturing stable and high-resolution videos.
If you are interested in learning more about taking impressive sports or action photos, you may want to read my article regarding motion and sports photography tips.
What are you waiting for? Quickly grab your camera and go take some stunning videos!
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A big thanks to Phottix for the professional lighting equipment provided to Ali G Studios.
The cover photo is © Ali Ghorbani and Ali G Studios
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