Wanting something to strap to your noggin to capture you cycling to the extreme, to send up surveying on your new drone, or to just waddle around experiencing what your toddler sees when they fall over a lot? Action cams are the perfect way to capture these moments where other cameras can't, or won't, go.
But this most booming of markets is a minefield at Christmas, which cheap knock-offs trying to get some of that chump change. So if you want a tough, waterproof, multi-mountable and, most importantly, small action-cam option for underneath someone's tree, we recommend you stick with quality brands. Here are our best five of the year, all on sale now – in descending order…
5.) Drift Stealth 2
Drift cameras have traditionally offered great visuals, a screen to make lining up shots and checking setup easier in the field and a form factor that's about equivalent to a house brick. The £199 Stealth 2 aims to change that by being, well, reasonably sized.
It can't quite manage GoPro's market-leading 4K footage, but the Stealth 2's 1080p at 30 frames per second is fine for most uses – if the image quality matches up. Which it does, in very crisp detail, too, when in daylight.
What about at night, though? Well, that's not so good. Settings can be deployed to overcome this to a certain extent, but even then low-light performance simply isn't up to the best in the market. Sound is also an issue, as it can be with most action cameras that opt to ditch an external case.
4.) Sony HDR-AS100V
If you want small and light, there's only two real options. The Veho Muvi Micro at 65 quid may only do VGA, but the quality is good from an absolutely tiny camera. However, at the more serious end, the £199 Sony AS100V is very small for its specs (Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC), shoots 1080p at 30 frames per second with generally good all-round video performance, and also has excellent sound.
It's splashproof without a case and waterproof to five metres, too. The catches? Its mountings aren't much cop and overall it feels flimsier and fiddlier than its main rivals. That said, with the smaller AZ1VR incoming, prices are falling.
3.) GoPro Hero
A GoPro for under £100? Yup. And while the bottom-of-the-range, rough-and-ready Hero doesn't do any of the super-flash things its pricier siblings manage, it is still an amazing action cam for the price. For budget buyers, the Hero is it.
With Full HD 1080p at 30 frames per second, this is a really impressive little thing indeed. While the Hero may not have the range of light-condition performance of its pricier stablemates, it's no slouch in most conditions, from bright daylight to rain and night rides. Of course, it fits just fine with GoPro's increasingly gargantuan range of mountings and accessories, too.
2.) Garmin Virb Elite
When the Virb range came on to the market, it stood out by trying to do something genuinely different to the leagues of GoPro clones. As well as capturing Full HD 1080p footage at yadda yadda yadda, the Virb Elite also hauls in GPS and can connect to ANT+ pedal cadence and temperature sensors, too.
For cyclists, skiers and kitted-out, ruffty-tuffty types, this does add something GoPro genuinely can't do: allowing the action cam to hook into, and be controlled by, other Garmin outdoorsy kit.
Video performance is largely great by day, OK by night. Sound is less good, with the lack of case meaning more noise from wind and high-speed movement. The Virb is splashproof without the case, though.
But here's where it really gets good: when the Virb first came out, it was priced to match its rivals, but no more. Now, the original Virb is going for around £150, while the Elite is not much more at £179. That's a bit of a bargain.
1.) GoPro Hero4 Black
Well, it had to be really, didn't it? GoPro dominates the action-cam market for a good reason. Not only does its kit work – reliably, in all conditions, with great video and sound output, with the widest range of mountings, and a legendary toughness – but it consistently outclasses the opposition on features, too.
So, if you want 4K video at 30 frames per second, it's a choice of this latest GoPro or the Panasonic HX-A100, which chooses to use a tiny lens on a leash. A leash?! The first time I take a tumble down a rock garden, that's history, guys. The GoPro it is then.
But unless you've got a fancy-dan 4K TV, what's the actual point of 4K on an action-cam, though? Well, you can crop down to 1080p at a smaller frame – removing the fish-eye effect from the edges of the screen and removing camera shake while you go, too. The high-end image processor needed for 4K also means you can shoot in 1080p at up to 120 frames per second for slow-mo, or in 12-megapixel photo bursts at 30 frames a second.
In other words, even if you don't use the 4K power of the Hero4 to its full, what you get here is absolutely the best action cam on the market at Full HD for capturing video and audio in the widest variety of settings, for the widest variety of uses.
To be completely honest, no other action cam really comes even vaguely close to this in terms of quality and potential use. It's just a shame that at £279 it's such a pricey beast.