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Best action cameras of 2019: How GoPro, DJI and Yi compare

These tiny rugged cameras are made for shooting and sharing your adventures -- even if they only happen in your backyard.

This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season's best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

When it comes to action cameras that live up to marketing hype, GoPro is the biggest name that comes to mind -- but they're priced at a premium. Fortunately, companies like DJI and Yi offer other options to explore at lower prices than the Hero 8 Black, GoPro's top-of-the-line model.

And sure, those options could include your waterproof and crack-resistant smartphone, but keep in mind that the best action camera is designed for this kind of shooting. Plus, just because your phone is tougher, it doesn't mean you should risk losing or damaging the thing that keeps you connected to work, family and friends. It's also way easier to mount one of these to your body, car, bike or anything else than your phone. 

Read more: Best camera gear and cameras to gift for the holidays 2019

With that in mind here are our top picks for best action camera that we've tested. See which one is the best action camera to fit your needs for battery life, video quality and durability. If you've had good results from a camera not mentioned here, please share it in the comments.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though the Hero 8 Black has all the latest and greatest features, in the end it's not a huge leap forward from what you'll get with the less expensive Hero 7 Black. It's last year's model and has almost all the same features -- including HyperSmooth image stabilization, the killer feature for this model. There are a handful of other differences like a better user interface, more shooting options such as 1080p at 240 frames per second, vertical video and livestreaming straight from the camera. That said, the differences between the Hero 7 Black and discontinued Hero 6 Black aren't that great either, so you might want to keep an eye out for deals on that as the holidays approach. Read our GoPro Hero7 Black preview.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

This is the best single-lens action cam you can get from GoPro at the moment in features and performance. Compared with the Hero 7 Black, there are a lot of feature tweaks and updates that make it just generally easier to use and a better camera, regardless of what you're shooting. But for those who use a GoPro regularly, things like the redesigned waterproof body that allows you to attach the camera directly to GoPro mounts, a customizable interface with shooting presets and improved image stabilization all add up to a worthwhile update. The lens is now made with Gorilla Glass that's twice as impact-resistant as the glass on past Hero models. Read about the GoPro Hero 8 Black.

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For a company known for its camera drones, DJI got a lot right with its first action cam. One of its stand-out features is its front color screen. It might be small, but it's enough to make sure you're centered in the shot when the camera lens is facing you. The view can be switched with a voice control. It's also waterproof and rugged with removable lens covers, it has great electronic image stabilization, shoots HDR video and has customizable presets so you can get to the shooting modes you want without diving into menus. Read our DJI Osmo Action preview.

Nearly as good as the GoPro Hero 7 Black in features and video quality, but it's just $220 with a waterproof dive housing included. Its electronic image stabilization isn't quite as good as GoPro's HyperSmooth, but it's definitely better than nothing. You also get shooting options like 4K video at 60 fps (with image stabilization at 30 fps), slow-motion video at 1080p at 120 fps or 720p at 240 fps, time-lapse photos and videos, live streaming and raw photo capture. You don't get anything more than the camera, a battery, the housing and charging and external mic cables, but if your main concern is getting good photos and video for less than a GoPro, this is a safe bet. Read more about the Yi 4K Plus.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

This is a solid pick for those who just want an inexpensive action cam for casual or occasional use. You do get a lot for your $140, both in camera and accessories. The V50 Elite captures fine-looking 4K video at 30 fps with better electronic image stabilization during recording than you might expect at this price. 

You get many of the same shooting modes you'd find on a GoPro device, such as time-lapse photos and videos and slow motion footage at 1080p at 240 fps, and there's even a Drive mode so you can use it as a dash cam when plugged into your car, automatically turning on when you start your car and off when you stop it. It's not waterproof on its own, but a dive housing is included as well as several mounts, two batteries and a charger that simultaneously powers up both packs. It also has built-in Wi-Fi so you can connect to a smartphone and use an app to control the camera and transfer your shots for sharing.

Originally published earlier this month.