Looking for the best cheap action camera you can buy right now? We’ve tested all the best budget action cams around, including older GoPros, to bring you this exhaustive guide to the finest affordable adventure sidekicks around.
Action cameras have changed in the last couple of years. ‘Get a GoPro’ is no longer the default advice, now that cameras like the Insta360 One R and DJI Osmo Action exist. But what if you only have the budget for a cheap action camera or simply don’t want to splash out on a flagship like the Hero 9 Black? Well, there are now some very decent options around that offer good value.
Finding the best cheap action camera for you can be tricky. Many reviews on the likes of Amazon and YouTube look suspiciously like paid promotion, and cheaper cams all seem the same or are made by names most of us wouldn’t recognize. Your first assumption may well be: they must all be terrible right? As our tests shown, that’s fortunately not the case.
We gathered a collection of the best budget action cameras we could find to see how they really fare. We’ve tested their image quality during the day and at night, pushed their image stabilization to the limit, mocked up some vlogs to see what their microphones sound like, and played around to see if each would work as a Zoom-friendly webcam.
Our conclusions? A couple of these budget action cameras offer genuinely gorgeous 4K image quality during the day. And all apart from the GoPro Hero 7 White include a fat stack of accessories, like waterproof casings, wrist-worn remote controls, mounts suitable for bikes, helmets and others. We wouldn’t trust these accessories to stand up to much abuse, but the GoPro equivalents would cost more than these entire bundles in some cases.
Our overall pick for the best budget action camera right now is the Apeman A100. It produces extremely sharp 4K video, even impressing in low light, and also handily doubles as a webcam. if you’re prepared to spend a little more, then the GoPro Hero 7 White – which is officially discontinued, but still widely available – is also a great option, thanks to its excellent stabilization and image quality.
There are still benefits to buying a pricier GoPro or an alternative like the DJI Osmo Action – for example, all of these cameras have Wi-Fi, but the apps they connect to are largely poor. But if you’re happy to put up with some minor inconveniences like that, then it’s time to find the best cheap action camera for you…
The best cheap action cameras in 2020:
The Apeman A100 does not instantly impress on first glance or touch. It’s a light brick of plastic without particularly smoothed-out corners or a GoPro-style soft touch finish. But it is the best sub-$100 action camera you can buy.
This Apeman A100 came out joint-top in several of our image quality tests. It produces the sharpest-looking 4K footage, alongside the Kaiser Baas V50 (see below). At its best, the A100 renders video with detail not that far off a GoPro Hero 8 Black, albeit without that charming GoPro color profile.
The camera holds up better than almost all its rivals at night. It was one of only two cheap GoPro rivals able to have a reasonable stab at shooting a road lit only by street light. No action camera will perform well here, but the Apeman holds up better than any other cheap action cam we’ve seen.
The Apeman A100 is all about detail. In indoor lighting, the camera will produce a noisier image than some rivals. But after reviewing dozens of clips we prefer it to an overly softened look. Panned motion is smoother than the other non-GoPros, and this is the only cheap action cam tested with any mode beyond 4K/30p. It can shoot at up to 4K/50p. Not at all bad for the price.
Its photos are solid too, particularly if you take the time to edit the color balance a little in Photoshop. The Apeman A100’s image stabilization is not nearly as good as the GoPro’s HyperSmooth, leaving some footfall judder, but does the job well enough for walking-pace movement.
The Apeman A100 can be used as a webcam with Macs and PCs too, but the so-so lighting in most of our home offices does make the high detail, higher noise approach more obvious.
We are also fans of the Apeman A100’s buttons. They have a softer ‘click’ than the other basic-looking models, which feels less cheap. It also has a cover for its ports, a rarity at this price. It isn’t rubber sealed though – you need to use the included case if you want water resistance, but it gives you a tiny bit more confidence when shooting case-free and it starts to rain.
We’d advise using the (included) non-water-resistant mount casing unless you’re going to get really wet, as the waterproof one significantly diminishes image quality.
Bad bits? The Apeman A100 doesn’t have a tripod thread on its body, so you’ll need to bulk it up with accessory for any form of mounting. And, the real disappointment, audio quality is poor. Recorded voices sound gated, the output level is low and far from clean – so you should plan to record audio with another source. It’s a heartbreaker, as we otherwise love this little thing.
The Hero 7 White has been discontinued by GoPro, but you can still buy it. So should you? It’s still a good option if you can find it, although cameras like the Kaiser Baas X450 can actually record more detailed footage in plenty of scenarios.
Still, there are several good reasons to choose the Hero 7 White. First up, build quality. Hero 7 White has 10m water resistance without a case. For most situations, that means no case will ever be needed. Buy one for snorkeling, or any other true underwater pursuits, but otherwise you’re golden. Bear in mind this isn’t included, unlike the other cameras in this test.
It also feels much nicer than anything else in this list, bar the Akaso Brave 7 LE, which is also fairly well-made. GoPro’s curves and soft touch finish make the Hero 7 White seem much like one of its Black-series cameras.
The second GoPro benefit is the biggie: stabilization. This camera has better electronic stabilization than anything else in this guide. It’s down to two factors. The Hero 7 White likely has a lens with a wider native field of view than any of the GoPro ‘clones’, meaning it has more image border to crop into. Also, GoPro put lots of investment into making its stabilization sing.
The Hero 7 White also has the best audio among cheap action cams. It uses two microphones (compared to the usual one) and their raw audio capture quality is far better than image quality favorites like the Apeman A100 and Kaiser Baas X450.
Of course, the Hero 7 White is pricier than those two rivals and is relatively limited, too. It can only shoot widescreen at up to 1080p. There’s a 1440p mode, but this is effectively the 4:3 version of Full HD, not ‘true’ 1440p. You have no choice of field of view either, just the standard Wide view.
Other minor complaints are slightly sluggish operation (GoPro likes its phone-like animations) and the lack of a removable battery. Many of its rivals in this guide come with a spare in the box for longer shoots. Unlike the Hero 7 Black and Hero 9 Black, the glass lens covering is not removable/replaceable. But aside from these quibbles, the Hero 7 White is one of the best cheap action cameras you can buy.
If ready-to-roll 4K footage is the main thing you’re after, then the Kaiser Baas X450 is a great option. It shoots lovely 4K footage, with its 14MP sensor even capturing slightly more detail than a GoPro Hero 9 Black at its ‘wide’ setting, in certain lighting conditions (based on a frame analysis at sunset).
Of course, this isn’t an entirely fair comparison as GoPro Black cameras have much wider-angle lenses than the Kaiser Baas X450, but we remain impressed. Detail is similar to the Apeman A100, but the Kaiser Baas has superior color processing, generally rendering warmer, more charming clips. Noise handling in low light is slightly better too, as you’d hope given its higher price tag.
The X450 also has the best non-GoPro stabilization in this guide too. To get this effect, an action camera has to make good use of a gyroscope, which can tell when natural handshake causes a little tilt motion. It can’t offer anything close to the gimbal-like stabilization of an Insta360 or GoPro, but for a cheap action camera we’re impressed.
There’s no water resistance unless you use the diving case, and the ports are exposed just like those of a really budget action cam. The Kaiser Baas X450 also doesn’t have a mic input, or a tripod thread on the cam itself. You do, however, get the necessary accessories in the box.
Kaiser Baas is less generous than most of the other companies in this guide. You don’t get two batteries, for example, just the one. And its capacity is a miserly 1,050mAh. The other $80-plus cameras here use 1,350mAh batteries. The camera’s audio is also fairly poor, with much lower output than the Akaso Brave 7 LE and the same absent treble and gated style we heard from the Apeman A100.
The Kaiser Baas X450 can’t be used as a webcam either, which is a shame as it would do the job very well (as long as you used a different mic). There are dozens ways to make the X450 better, but this is one of the best cheap action cameras for outright image quality and stabilization.
The Akaso EK7000 looks an awful lot like the Dragon Touch Vision 4 Lite (see below). It has the same diamond pattern sides, an all-button interface, and those buttons sit in exactly the same spots. It has also fewer features – no stabilization and a slightly worse screen – but we liked it more and it’s a decent buy if your budget is very tight.
There are two main reasons for this. The Akaso EK7000’s interface isn’t a headache to use. While there’s a carousel of menu items to flick through any time you want to change a setting, it makes better use of its four buttons to cut this button-mashing down.
Its 1080p footage also looks surprisingly good. This is key because, just like the Dragon Touch Vision 4 Lite, the 4K mode’s motion is super-jerky. Akaso says the EK7000 records 4K at 25fps, but judging by what we see it may be dropping frames or doubling up on them in the final file.
Scooch down to 2.7k at 30fps or 60fps at 1080p and things improve. The tone of the image is better and you really don’t lose all that much detail even at 1080p. Many cameras’ footage looks completely different as you cycle between resolutions, but here there’s just a slight detail hit. Stick to 2.7k or 1080p/60 for the best results.
For this price, we’d be pretty happy with the 1080/60p video the Akaso EK7000 spits out. Do we miss electronic image stabilization? Absolutely. A 60fps mode can make motion more fluid, but it won’t get rid of bumps. Still, stick your clips in a piece of video editing software like iMovie and it’ll do the job better than most of these cheap action cameras’ in-body processing.
What are the downsides? There’s no option to change the field of view, so you’re stuck with the native ‘wide’. We’d argue it’s best to stick to a wide setting anyway as cheap action cam hardware does not weather digital field of view cropping well, but the option would be nice. The Akaso EK7000’s audio is also poor – it’s muffled and quiet, which means it isn’t really a vlogging option. But at this price, it’s one of the best truly budget action cameras around.
Akaso has changed the cheap action camera game with the Brave 7 LE. This is a cheap action camera with most of the features of a top-end model.
These include dual displays, one on back and another up front, and weather sealing. Rubber bungs over the two ports provide IPx7 water resistance without a case. It’s all you need unless you want to start snorkeling with your action camera. And a diving-style case with 40m waterproofing is included too.
The Brave 7 LE also feels more high-end than any other camera we’ve seen around this price. A lot of this comes down to weight. At 127g it’s twice as heavy as the action cameras that seem like empty boxes when you pick them up. The plastics used are of higher quality too.
Creating a good first impression is one thing, but Akaso has put more effort into other areas too. The Akaso Brave LE 7’s audio quality is better than any other non-GoPro tested here when used in a quiet environment. The quality of the mic is good. As it uses a single mic it’s highly susceptible to wind noise, but there is a basic wind noise reduction mode that helps a bit. Still, there’s only so much you can do with a single mic array.
Akaso’s user interface is great. It’s touchscreen-led and has the touch of gloss you don’t see in most other GoPro clones. Dare we say it: for the basics it’s faster and more intuitive than GoPro’s own.
The Akaso Brave 7 LE looks, feel and sounds the part. But we weren’t blown away by its video quality. It tops out at 4K resolution, 30 frames per second. Video shot at that setting looks good but doesn’t have quite the same clarity and detail as the Apeman A100. Given the effort clearly put in here, we expected the Brave 7 LE to top the chart, but it didn’t. Something strange also happens when you switch to 60fps modes, available at 2.7k resolutions and below. Footage looks highly aliased, or ‘blocky’, so 2.7k clips don’t look anything like they have that amount of detail.
The Akaso Brave 7 LE also leans heavily on noise reduction as the light level dips, making your footage appear soft regardless of the resolution. Electronic image stabilization is fair, but a little jumpy, as if it only catches up on motion at a delay, rather than aiming to make pans appear smooth.
Still, for the price, the Brave 7 LE is an impressive budget action camera, though a little more work (and a better sensor) is needed to make it a true rival to the DJI Osmo Action or GoPro Hero 9 Black. The camera does also support use as a webcam, but we couldn’t get it to work with our test MacBook or Windows 10 laptops. You may have better luck.
The Campark X30 Xtreme V is a mid-priced budget camera. It costs more than the ultra-cheap models, but dips below the Apeman A100 – and for some people, it may be the sweet spot. For example, the reassuringly solid X30 Xtreme V feels has a built-in tripod thread. You can mount it without any accessories at all, although the exposed ports mean that’s probably a bad idea, unless you’re shooting indoors or on a sunny day.
Its microphone quality is solid too. Voices sound louder and clearer than any of the ultra-cheap cameras, second only to the Akaso Brave 7 LE. The X30 Xtreme V has a touchscreen and a decent interface, which is very similar to that of the Apeman A100 and Kaiser Baas V50 (above).
However, we encountered more basic problems here than with the other cheap action cameras. Try to change the field of view, or switch electronic image stabilization (EIS) on and off, and the Campark often just won’t play ball. Make these tweaks and the preview image, and resulting video, just stay as they were before.
This also doesn’t appear to be a true 4K camera in most modes, as footage recorded using the ‘4K/30p’ and ‘4K/60p’ modes is 3200 x 1800 resolution, not 3840 x 2160. The 4K/60p mode, which would otherwise be standard-setting, also uses a restrictive crop that further reduces captured detail. It looks more like 1080p.
You can get true 3840 x 2160 clips out of the Campark X30 Xtreme V by switching off EIS, and they can look good. But in most occasions we’ll want to use stabilization. That stabilization is just OK, introducing a fair amount of image wobble at the corners of the frame.
Overall, the experience of using the Campark X30 Xtreme V is a little too inconsistent for our liking, even if it can produce solid 4K video at 30 frames per second. Even without these interface issues, we think the superior dynamic range of the Apeman A100 (see above) is worth the bump up in price. The X30 also more-or-less gives up in very low light, and can’t be used as a webcam with Macs or PCs. We tried: you only get the option of a charging connection or mass storage when you plug it in.
If there’s one word to sum up the Akaso V50 X, it’s ‘soft’. Its 4K video is less sharp than the cheaper Akaso EK7000’s, and that’s a camera we recommend using at 2.7k or 1080p because 4K doesn’t bring much benefit. Whether Akaso used the wrong lens, wrong sensor or the wrong processing, something is not quite right in the Akaso V50 X.
It’s a shame because the camera has a responsive, fairly pretty UI with more gloss than another models at the price. Stabilization is also among the best in its class, able to make walking speed motion look very smooth. We did wonder if electronic image stabilization caused image quality degradation, but turning it off had no effect on clarity.
This isn’t the best overall option you can buy at this price, but it’s not without its merits. For example, the Akaso V50 X works perfectly well as a webcam. Just plug it in and select ‘PC Camera’ (it works fine on Macs too).
There’s also a threaded input for a tripod or other mount right on the camera, and it even supports an external microphone over microUSB. The internal one is decent, too, with clarity just a level below the Akaso Brave 7 LE. Some of the Akaso V50 X’s elements are dead on, but the video quality isn’t quite there.