High end action camera like GoPro Hero 5 Black is not for everyone. The plethora of sophisticated features along with the number of customization options it comes with can very well overwhelm those who are new to action cam. Sure, the waterproof construction and the 2-inch touchscreen are nice improvements from the previous generation of GoPro. However, quite a few of what it has to offer are not necessarily needed to get a good experience. These are like voice command support, GPS, and other on-board sensors. Besides, $400+ seems like a lot of money for such a tiny camera.
If you have never used an action camera before, or if you’re a casual hobbyist who occasionally find yourself outdoor, skiing, fishing, bicycling, camping, or other light activities, it’s best to opt for the more affordable model first. Thanks to the advancement in technology, now you can get fairly impressive videos with a budget action camera. The design and build quality may feel cheap, but they can shoot footage in full HD resolution with acceptable frame rate. Controls and operation are very intuitive as well because most of these low-profile cameras don’t have too many setting options to play with.
Below are top 10 high quality cheap action cameras under $100 that can get you started.
Best Budget Action Cameras under $100
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera should be your number 1 choice if you’re looking for an inexpensive action camera that excels in capturing still images. This little guy is equipped with Sony 16MP sensor. Now you might be a little skeptical about this as there are many typical cheap cameras claiming to take still photos up to 12MP, but turns out to be faulty (most only take 4MP still photos, then upscale it to 12MP). However, that’s not the case with Xiaomi Yi Action Camera. It takes true 16MP still images with wide angle field of view of 155-degree.
There are four options to take photos with Xiaomi Yi Action Camera: normal, time-lapse, self-timer, and burst mode. Meanwhile, the highest video resolution it supports is 1296p at 30fps. If you want smoother footage, it’s best to use the full HD 1080p resolution because it allows you to record at higher frame rate of 60fps. Digital image stabilization and noise reduction seem to work fine, unlike other budget cameras that don’t even have such features by default. The biggest shortcoming of Xiaomi Yi Action Camera is probably the absence of any display. You will have to pair it with your smartphone all the time to check the video or photo you take.
APEMAN 4K Action Camera
Thrilled is what you’re going to feel the first time you use APEMAN 4K Action Camera. That is if you’re in need of an affordable action cam that performs better than any point-and-shoot compact camera. Although its 4k video is so-so at its best, recording in full HD resolution gives you footage comparable to GoPro Hero Session that costs nearly twice as much as this camera’s price. For your information, GoPro Hero Session doesn’t have any LCD display. Also, the box doesn’t include any accessories, except the waterproof case. I’m not saying that GoPro is bad, but if you’re looking for a well-performing action camera that’s cheap and offers a bunch of stuff that GoPro doesn’t, this camera is for you.
APEMAN 4K Action Camera has a maximum field of view of 170-degree, but it allows you to set it at lower angles of 140, 110, 70-degree respectively. Setting the camera on its widest angle lets you capture many objects in one shot. However, you might notice a substantial fisheye effect (the one that makes your footage curve). This is normal in many wide lens cameras, though. You can turn on the WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) functionality to get better image quality. You’ll get sharper, brighter, but more flat color palette, but keep in mind that doing this will drain the battery faster. There’s also loop recording mode which essentially allows the camera to be a dash cam. All in all, this camera is a complete package for beginners.
The SJ4000 is not the highest end action camera manufactured by SJCAM, but it’s the best one that you can get under $100. For starter, the full HD video it’s capable of recording is very crisp with the image color looking sharp and natural. The company claims it comes with proprietary electronic image stabilization, but it doesn’t seem to function properly. You’re going to have to edit it using third-party desktop video app to reduce the shaky motion on your footage. Audio quality is top notch. It’s clear and you will hardly notice any noise captured by the camera mic.
SJCAM SJ4000 action camera is bundled with the rugged waterproof housing. It’s always a pleasure to find that such an external case lives up to its promise. With the case on, you can take the camera down up to 30m underwater safely. For ground activity, the case will keep dirt and dust off of the camera. Better yet, it doesn’t seem to disrupt the responsiveness of the control buttons. You can still navigate the menus easily. There’s an LCD screen that you can use to quickly check your footage. It’s not HD, but still better than nothing, right? The only thing you might not be too happy about it is its 12MP sensor can only take mediocre photos. So, if photography is important to you, this might not be your best option.
FITFORT 4K Action Camera
You may never hear about Fitfort before, but apparently this company also manufactures action camera; and a good one at that. FITFORT 4K Action Camera enters the already crowded sports camera market with two major drawing points: terrific performance at a discounted price of less than 80 bucks. If that’s not good enough for you, the company also includes a starter kit (over 7 different mounts, 2 batteries, waterproof case, remote control, and other necessities) packed in a nice carrying case for no extra cost. Mind you, all those accessories can easily cost you more than $30 if you buy them separately.
Anyway, FITFORT 4K Action Camera is not just about free goodies. This tiny camera also delivers performance that might make you turn your head from leading players like GoPro and Sony. In full HD 1080p resolution, the camera can record absolutely stunning videos. The clarity of the image is unprecedented. Everything looks crisp and vivid. You might even argue that the quality manages to best the GoPro Hero Plus (a mid-range camera by GoPro that still costs over $200). Still, it’s not without some flaws. My biggest complaint is the on-board controls are not very intuitive. You might find it easier to navigate the menus and settings from the smartphone app. Aside from that, this camera is a solid affordable alternative for GoPro.
If you’re looking for a budget camera that’s not completely a waste of time and money, take a look at AKASO EK7000. The 4K videos it’s claimed to be capable of shooting are not really in 4K. Rather, it’s interpolated, meaning that it only records in 2.7K resolution which will then boosted by the chipset to 4K by creating fake pixel. That aside, you can still record your precious moments outdoor in its full HD 1080 resolution with frame rate of 60fps. Image quality is pleasantly good. Colors seem natural and sharp, but small details tend to blur.
AKASO EK7000 comes in the conventional boxy design as many GoPro cameras do. As expected from inexpensive action cameras, the body feels entirely plastic. It’s also a little on the large side, thanks to the LCD display on its back panel. It’s not a touchscreen but will still help you a lot when you try to navigate through the menu settings. You can also get a live view and playback your videos on that 2-inch screen. There’s a remote control accompanying it. Although it looks very basic and cheap, it allows you to activate the recording and image capture function hands free. For its price, AKASO EK7000 is not a bad camera at all.
Iconntechs IT Action Camera
The company that manufactures this little guy dubs it as 4K action camera, but you might not want to rely on it. For video recording, Iconntechs IT Action Camera has highest resolution of 4K (ultra HD), but it’s done so at rather low frame rate of 24fps. It won’t be jumpy but you might find your footage a little too soft as if it had an exaggerated cinematic effect. What I recommend is using its full HD resolution, instead. At 60fps, the video runs very smoothly. The image quality is beyond expectation as well, considering it’s a budget action camera. Still photo is taken up to 20MP, but it’s the result of up-scaling; not real 20MP. It’s good enough for casual selfies, but won’t do for professional photography.
A built-in gyroscope can be turned on to help stabilize your footage, but expect the battery to run out more quickly. Speaking of which, the 1,000+mAh battery is claimed to last an hour. Out of that span, you may only get about 40 minutes of it because the camera will shut down on itself if the battery gets hot. It’s rather annoying because you will have to wait until it cools off. There’s no point turning it back on when it’s still hot as it will shut off again shortly, even if there’s still some juice left on the battery. If you can afford a spare battery, this camera is a great option!
Campark Extreme I / ATC74
Codenamed ATC74, Campark Extreme I is a perfect solution for those who are looking to get an instant replay of their last outing without paying much. The video quality it’s capable of producing easily transcends the cost you have to pay for the camera. On full HD resolution, it can capture up to 60 frames in one second, giving you clean and unruffled footage. Image looks crisp although some small details may occasionally be left out. Even so, as expected from a cheap action camera, the 4K recording mode doesn’t give you true 4K videos. The image around the edge will look more like paints smudged together. I’d recommend using the full HD resolution to get the best result.
Higher frame rates are available for lower resolution mode. The 720p, particularly, lets you record at 90fps tops. It’s not exceptionally smooth, but for fun slow motion editing, it will do alright. The major drawing point of Campark ATC74, however, is the abundance of accessories included in the box. From a bunch of different mounts, waterproofing case, to spare battery and a free hard-shell carrying case. Considering you can get it for even less than 50 bucks, it’s a no brainer that this deal is a steal.
ODRVM Action Camera
If you value functionality and performance more than brand’s name, you’re going to love ODRVM Action Camera. While it comes from an unknown company (most likely China-based), its performance is on par with the basic model of GoPro camera. There’s no 4K recording mode, but its full HD video quality can easily please casual videographers. As a matter of fact, it’s better than some 4K videos recorded by typical budget cameras. Motion detection can be turned on if you’re shooting a moving object. That way, the camera can better focus its sensor, giving you better footage. Just a note to get you started, it requires a class 10+ microSD card and it must be formatted within the camera.
There’s an app that you can download to turn your smartphone into a remote control (works within 10-15 feet). It’s a very basic app that lets you quickly replay what you just recorded; no editing or whatsoever. Anyway, ODRVM Action Camera is sold in bundle with the starter kit. While this includes all the basic mounts and the waterproof case, it misses the memory card, which is rather odd. If you do the math, however, you’re going to quickly find out that it can be easily forgiven. For your information, the starter kit for some expensive action cameras out there commonly costs around $30; more if you add the sturdy waterproof housing. So, for less than $70, this camera is a sweet deal.
EKEN H9R 4K Action Camera
A cheap yet tough and highly capable action camera without all the bells and whistles – that’s a description that best fits EKEN H9R 4K Action Camera. It may not feature some fancy functionality such as voice command support, GPS tracker, or RAW photography, but this camera gets the job done. Attach the waterproof case that comes with it, and you can take it anywhere to capture your best moments outdoor. Recording is available in several modes; 4K – 25fps, 2.7K – 30fps, 1080p – 60fps, and 720p – 120fps. Still images can be captured manually, but you can also use the time-lapse and burst photo function.
Image quality is sufficiently good for enthusiasts and casual hobbyists, except when you take it down underwater or when the day is very bright. You can easily improve it by attaching a polarizing filter (you can either buy it or make it yourself; search in Youtube for tutorial). Anyway, EKEN H9R 4K Action Camera offers tons of accessories, including two batteries, a tripod, five different mounts, selfie stick, and a remote control. The remote control is exceptionally helpful in a situation where your hands are occupied, like kayaking or riding a bicycle. You can control all the camera function with just a few clicks. There’s a sound signal that tells you if the camera is recording or has stopped recording. For its price, this camera is a solid purchase.
For a tiny camera under $100, DBPOWER EX5000 has its flaws. However, so long as you’re not as meticulous as a professional videographer, this camera can easily satisfy you. For starter, you get numerous different mounts included with the camera along with its waterproof housing. They’re not organized in a handy hard-shell carrying case, though. Instead, they’re just put together in a plastic bag. The waterproof housing is a little hard to open, but I guess that’s what it takes to completely seal the camera. Underwater footage looks amazing in full HD resolution. The colors are vibrant and the camera handles different light intensity very well, giving you smooth transition from above to under the water.
DBPOWER EX5000 is equipped with a 2-inch LCD screen. You can directly view what you’re recording through the screen. To preserve the battery, you can set a timer for the screen to sleep automatically when not in use. Browsing through the menus is easy, but I suggest you spend some time reading the manuals. There are a few preset settings that you may need to understand before using them. The microphone picks up sound just fine, but it may not be enough to impress some of you, especially underwater when you cover the camera with its case. You’re supposed to be able to use it as a dash cam too, but given the maximum SD card it supports is 32GB, you might need to set a longer interval to save on the storage.
Things to Note
As good as they could be, all the action cameras listed above are still categorized into inexpensive gadgets. You should understand that you’ll be running into a few shortcomings upon using them. After all, even the best action cameras in the premium segment have their flaws too. Here are several things you have to note before buying a budget action cameras:
- They’re not for professionals. Cheap action cameras can easily entertain casual hobbyists and videography / photography enthusiasts. However, professionals and true adrenaline junkies will find a lot to complain about them. From the amount of noise and distortion on the footage, to the absence of various sensors. So, if you consider yourself a professional, it’s best you opt for professional action cameras too.
- They’re not real 4K videos. Many inexpensive cameras claim to be able to shoot videos in 4K resolution, but this is not true. The 4K resolution they’re talking about is the interpolated 4K – the one created by squeezing some fake pixels into lower resolution videos. Again, this won’t matter if you’re a casual user as you will hardly notice it.
- They’re not true 20MP / 16MP / 12MP still photos. It’s the same case with the 4K videos they claim. The still images that these cheap action cameras can capture are probably 4MP at their best. The chipset will create fake pixels then upscale the images to 20MP / 16MP / 12MP. Sometimes, the difference is so subtle only professionals can tell.
- They’re largely plastic. In no way that we say these budget cameras have poor build quality. It’s just you can’t compare them with those on higher price range.
That’s probably all we have to say before you decide on purchasing one of the inexpensive cameras above. By knowing what you’ll get, you can set your expectations properly, hence saving you from disappointment.