Action cameras should deliver crisp, clear and stable footage that's guaranteed to make viewers ooh, aah and go green with envy. Pick the wrong action camera and they'll go green with nausea instead.
Our tests pitted cheap action cameras against premium ones from the likes of GoPro, Insta360 and DJI to find out how much you really need to spend to get the essential features and specs you need to record the best footage.
Watch our video above to see why good image stabilisation is a must-have for anybody looking to buy an action camera, and how stark the difference in quality is when action cameras either don't have it or do a poor job of it.
If you get dizzy easily, brace yourself!
Action cameras are intended to be mounted onto a person or object for filming high speed, high intensity activities. They're the go-to camera for filming action sports, especially from the point of view of those taking part.
With these sorts of activities come lots of shakes, bumps and wobbles. Action cameras with image stabilisation work to counteract the shakes by capturing a slightly larger image than you'll see on the camera. They use that extra space to buffer the shaky footage and smooth it out, frame by frame.
This results in video that looks as though the camera is gliding elegantly through the air, when it's actually bouncing around with every bump.
With poor or non-existent image stabilisation, you'll likely find recording a ride on your mountain bike will give you unwatchable footage.
Even when the footage is paused, as it is in the image above, the contrast in quality is obvious. The constant bouncing around from the camera on the right also adds plenty of motion blur, so individual leaves and twigs on the ground lack definition and look smudged.
Action cameras we tested that have image stabilisation include The GoPro Hero 10 (£479.99), Hero 9 (£329), and Hero 8 (£279.99), the Insta360 One R 4K Edition (£269), and the DJI Osmo Action (£299). We found two outstanding Best Buys that we described as 'the best action cameras money can buy'.
But having image stabilisation alone isn't everything. Our tests found that even among action cameras with image stabilisation, some are much better at it than others. Some still gave us wobbly, unusable footage that left us feeling a bit dizzy.
We bought and tested eight of the UK's bestselling action cameras and shot a wide variety of footage for our in-house video expert to independently review.
Each camera was tested using similar settings and each bit of footage was shot under the same conditions to ensure fair comparisons. The footage included being mounted to a runner's head during a jog, on top of the helmet of an electric scooter rider, recording underwater, and self-shooting using a selfie stick.
We also judged each action camera on ease of use and durability. Every camera we tested was frozen, submerged underwater and dropped several times on hard concrete to see how well it stood up to extreme conditions.
Overall our tests discovered that, although you don't necessarily need to buy the newest or most expensive action cameras to get what you need, you'll likely need to pay at least a couple of hundred pounds for it to be a worthwhile purchase.
Several of the very cheapest action cameras we tested fell wide of the mark in key areas, and will likely be unable to handle the exact sort of activities that people buy action cameras for.