10 Best Budget Action Cams | February 2017

10 Best Budget Action Cams
Best Mid-Range
★★★
Best High-End
★★★★★
Best Inexpensive
★★★
We spent 39 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. You don't have to spend a fortune to capture all your outdoor adventures in high resolution. These budget action cams all come in at under $150 and can record video in outstanding quality in a range of styles. As an added bonus, many have Wi-Fi capabilities that allow you to instantly share your exploits on social media and beyond. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best budget action cam on Amazon.
10
The lightweight and discreet Spy Tec Mobius can record in either 1080p HD resolution at 30fps, or in 720p at 60fps, making for excellent slow-motion results. It is also a popular choice for use as a powerful dashboard camera in your car.
  • minimal fisheye distortion
  • no image stabilization function
  • only 80 minutes of battery life
Brand Spy Tec
Model mobius_wide_angle
Weight 2.1 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0
9
The versatile VTech Kidizoom makes a great first camera for any child. It comes with three mounts, a wrist strap, and a waterproof case, making it ultra durable and perfectly suited to surviving the drops and tumbles of capturing a kid's-eye view.
  • available in yellow or pink
  • includes games and fun photo effects
  • mounting gear is cheaply made
Brand VTech
Model 80-170710
Weight 1.4 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0
8
Trust the Ion Air Pro Lite to record every exciting and share-worthy moment on your journey without breaking the bank. It has a quick release clip that secures it tightly to your helmet or surfboard, plus it can handle being up to 30 feet underwater, no case necessary.
  • wi-fi enabled for real-time uploads
  • includes a handy travel pouch
  • poor audio recording quality
Brand Ion
Model 1011L
Weight 1.5 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0
7
The intuitive Ablegrid AG5000 makes a great and budget-friendly travel companion. It's Wi-Fi enabled, so you can control it using the included app on your Android or iOS phone or tablet, and even watch a live feed if it's within range.
  • wide angle lens with 4x digital zoom
  • works well in low light conditions
  • not particularly durable
Brand ABLEGRID
Model SJ5000
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0
6
Housed in a padded portable case that holds all 17 of its included accessories, the ApeMan FHD provides an unparalleled bang for your buck. It comes with 2 rechargeable batteries for a total of four hours of recording time in full 1080p resolution.
  • ultra-wide-angle 170-degree lens
  • shoots in slow motion at 720p
  • ships with no onboard storage
Brand APEMAN
Model pending
Weight 1.7 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0
5
The feature-packed, ultra cheap 12 megapixel Lightdow LD6000 is fitted with an immersive 170° wide-angle lens, so it'll see just about everything. Plus it's designed to withstand extreme environments and conditions, and is waterproof up to 98 feet.
  • controllable via mobile app
  • comes with a 1-year warranty
  • includes an extra battery and case
Brand Lightdow
Model LD6000
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0
4
The Drift Stealth 2 is capable of recording up to three hours of 1080p video at 30 frames per second, and boasts a rotatable lens design that allows for fine-tuning its visual alignment regardless of how it's mounted to your helmet, bike, or tripod.
  • weatherproof without a case
  • enabled for wi-fi streaming
  • includes 12-month warranty
Brand Drift Innovation
Model Stealth 2
Weight 13.4 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0
3
The Yi Technology 88001 is a small but mighty option that takes breathtaking videos and clear panoramic photos in HD thanks to its 16 megapixel Sony sensor. It has 90 minutes of recording time with its rechargeable and replaceable battery, so you'll never miss a thing.
  • bluetooth and wi-fi functionalities
  • capable of real-time streaming
  • wide range of accessories available
Brand YI
Model YI-88001
Weight 4.8 ounces
Rating 4.8 / 5.0
2
Achieve professional-quality results with the best-selling GoPro Hero. The only budget-friendly option from the leading name in its field, it features high-quality 1080 and 720p video and is able to capture time-lapse and burst photos at up to five frames per second.
  • has a rugged waterproof housing
  • perfect for low-profile mounting
  • lightweight at just under 4 ounces
Brand GoPro
Model CHDHA-301
Weight 15.2 ounces
Rating 4.8 / 5.0
1
A rare 4K option at this price point, the iSaw Edge packs an impressive host of features. It can shoot in full HD at 60 frames per second for unmatched slow motion results, can plunge to depths of 40 meters underwater, and can be controlled remotely via Wi-Fi.
  • darklapse mode for night skies
  • includes four mounts
  • supports memory cards up to 64 gb
Brand ISAW
Model EDGE
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

Buyer's Guide

Savings In The Extreme

Being adventurous has its own pretty steep price tag on it. The average ski trip can cost an individual a few hundred dollars a day at the low end, and that's if you're renting gear. The average skydiving excursion runs about $250 per jump, and can get into the thousands if you want to get licensed.

With all that money bleeding out from every orifice, the odds of you having another $1,000 to spend on an action cam outfit are pretty slim. At the very least, you'd probably like to divert some of those funds toward a new surf board or one of those suits that lets you soar through the air like a flying squirrel.

That's where a good budget action cam can make all the difference. For the most part, these cameras have all the same basic performance specs as their more expensive cousins. They still boast available waterproof housings, wide angles of view, high definition video, etc. They just have a few minor corners cut where manufacturers don't think you need them.

For example, the most expensive cams on the market shoot in 4K, but outdoorsy extremists aren't likely to be the type to spend hours carefully editing and cropping in from a higher resolution to get the perfect frame before posting a video. It's also worth noting that 4K displays haven't quite taken over the market yet, meaning that all that extra resolution is barely useful.

Ultimately, the majority of the sacrifices made in the name of action cam savings is made in the form of features you could likely live without, and that, if you miss, you can always upgrade to later.

The Activity In Question

Your choice in an action cam, regardless of its cost, will first depend on the activity for which you want to use it. The best camera for a surfer might not be the best camera for a skier, and the difference starts with the shape.

The original action cams, the ones everybody thinks of when they picture a small fish-eye camera built for capturing extreme activities, were rectangular in shape, built like little boxes you could stick almost anywhere.

Since the inception of those devices, the amount of available mounting hardware has made it so that they can be affixed to almost anything in myriad configurations. Just because they can find a way to make it seem ergonomic, however, doesn't necessarily mean that it's truly meant to fit where it goes.

There are other action cams on the market whose shapes are more tubular, situating the lens at the end of a body more cylindrical than anything else. These tend to fit on helmets, arms (as in limbs), and arms (as in guns) much more efficiently than the box design. The result is a camera that captures a point of view closer to that of the person or the implement in use.

Which isn't to say that the available mounting hardware shouldn't be a big part of your decision-making, as well. If you invest in an action cam system for sky diving only to find out that there isn't a compatible mount that can handle that kind of force working against it, you're going to have a very nice paper weight that can film you as you work your day job. Not quite as exciting.

It Started With A Surfer...Sort Of

It's true that Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro, is a surfer. It's also true that he got the idea for the tiny, efficient cameras while on a surfing trip to Australia. It's even undeniable that he raised a portion of the funds that started his company by doing one of the most beach bummy things a person can imagine: selling jewelry made of beads and shells out of the back of his VW van.

What most people don't talk about when they discuss the history of the action cam is that GoPro wasn't Woodman's first attempt at starting a business, as he had a pair of startups that never got their legs under them fail before his camera company took off. He was always more of a businessman than anything else.

This isn't to paint Woodman as some kind of capitalist monster pretending to be something he isn't. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's rather to illustrate that this entire category of camera was built from a perspective that valued value, that wanted to empower the average consumer to own the best gear possible for the lowest price possible. One of Woodman's failed startups, EmpowerAll.com, was intended to sell electronic items to people with less money to burn by offering those devices at no more than a $2 markup.

The action cam, then, has always been about budget, and in the wake of GoPro's success, dozens of companies have come out of the ether to create competitive versions of the camera for a lower cost. In some cases, those cameras have failed miserably, but where companies have succeeded, consumers have saved. As that competition grinds on between manufacturers, GoPro has had to keep up, pushing the development of its cameras further along, and providing new blueprints for the companies coming up behind it.



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Last updated on February 21, 2017 by Ezra Glenn

Ezra is a writer, photographer, creative producer, designer, and record label-operator from New York City. He's traveled around the world and ended up back where he started, though he's constantly threatening to leave again.


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