There is a more recent article over here on the best action cams for MTB right now.
Interested in buying a helmet camera to capture your mountain bike adventures? Here are a few tips to look out for that may help you choose the right one.
Action cameras in general are a fast-moving market with camera technology, image fidelity and stabilization rapidly improving year by year. New, disruptive brands like Insta and DJI are shaking up established manufacturers like GoPro constantly. Some, like Sony, have pretty much left the market. The name GoPro is synonymous with action cams and has been the clear leader in helmet-mounted action cameras for mountain biking and cycling in general. Their dominant presence in extreme sports and casual filming has since faded.
There’s tough competition from manufacturers like DJI, who specializes in powerful small form factor cameras and are arguably the world’s leading consumer drone manufacturer. DJI, Insta360, and GoPro can be regarded as the current top brands in action cameras.
Now that we summarized the current market of rugged, waterproof, mounted 4K cameras, let’s get into how to actually choose the best camera you can currently get for biking!
Most important criteria of an action cam for mountain biking:
Above and beyond a stable image is the most important feature of any camera strapped to your helmet, chest or bike. I used to own the first generations of GoPros, but any mount besides the helmet mount was completely unusable because of the shaky footage.
Even if the head is the most stable part of your body on a mountain bike, it still vibrates and shakes quite a bit on the trail. Your eyes can adjust to this and now can action cams with advanced image stabilization. Here’s a clip of me riding with a chest mount.
Sure, pixel amounts are an easy metric to measure and promote. But there is something to it, especially in sports where attention to detail matters. Higher image resolution allows to make out details in the trail. Mountain biking is different from motorcycle riding, where asphalt moves past at a fast pace, but is also flat through and through. Obstacles and trail surface is what make mountain biking (riding and watching) so exciting.
Field of view
A wider FOV can help with a couple of effects: a sense of speed and capturing reference points the viewer can identify with. Since on a bike both hands are occupied, the camera needs to be able to see a lot without moving the camera angle.
FOV above 120 degrees can enable to see the ground, ahead on the trail and the bike as a reference for the viewer within the same shot. A view from on top of the helmet sometimes only has a view of the trail ahead and much of the feeling gets lost for the audience since there are no reference points. No arms, no bike frame, no handlebars.
Good accessories are the bread and butter. As I said, both hands are kind of prevented from holding a camera when bike riding. It has to be mounted, no hand-holding is possible. Most manufacturers got this nailed these days. Many even use the same system for easy plug-and-play pioneered by GoPro. Cameras that can’t use this are at a disadvantage. Incidentally, all on this list can make use of the same, established GoPro mount – the two little feet with a hole through them.
Size and weight are best when they’re not noticed. An action cam in fast-twitch sports like mountain biking should not bother you while riding. I had one of the first GoPros mounted on my helmet back in the day. The weight could easily be felt just by putting the helmet on. Especially on the side of the helmet, pulling it to one side.
Bonus points for a low profile that can mount below a helmet visor for one of the most immersive views possible – right above the eyes of the actual rider.
This is a quality of life aspect. When out on the trails all day or turning party laps in the bike park, dead batteries are a show-stopper. Especially when you don’t come by your car regularly like on a big ride out. Most cameras offer changeable battery packs or external battery packs for that reason. Those easily slip into your pocket, backpack or hip-pack.
Framerate (frames per second )
Like resolution, maximum frame rates have gone up year by year. Unlike video resolution, frame rates are not that important overall. Often higher fps are used for fast-moving action footage. Extremely high fps above 60 frames allow for slowing footage down for a slow-motion effect. At regular watch speeds, there is no tangible difference between 60 and 480 fps. Your SD card may disagree as it fills up 4x as quickly.
30 and 25 frames per second allow for natural motion blur, that not only looks very cinematic and professional but as a bonus also makes the footage look faster than with a higher framerate.
So I check for cameras that allow those settings above slow motion features. Everything under 60 fps on a mountain bike trail was pretty much unusable a couple of years ago, but the advances in image stabilization made it possible. Remember those clunky wearable gimbals? All that magic now happens thru software.
There are a couple more features I personally like to have like manual camera settings for cinematic footage. I just like to nerd out and play around with that stuff to get the best footage I can. But those were the most important general ones. Keeping these most important features in mind will help you in your final decision.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the best action cameras for mountain biking currently available. I’ve picked the best one in multiple categories to help you out depending on what’s most important to you.
Please note, that I use affiliate links to the amazon product pages for your convenience.
But definitely compare prices and shipping costs for your location.
Every product is available from the manufacturer’s website as well.
DJI Action 2 – Best Overall Action Cam For MTB
Since its release, the DJI Action 2 has been turning heads, and not only because of its modular magnetic design and touch display. That little guy packs a punch. It’s incredible what DJI has managed to fit into this tiny form factor of a 39 × 39 × 22 mm cube. At an extremely light weight of only 56 grams, it’s virtually undetectable while wearing anywhere on your body or bike.
The sensor can capture the standard framerates for videos with a lot of movement of 60 frames per second. But also more cinematic FPS at 30 and 24 for natural motion blur. For slow-motion shots, it can capture up to 120 fps at a resolution of 4K and 240 fps at Full HD (1080p).
Everything under 60 fps on a mountain bike trail was pretty much unusable a couple of years ago, but the advances in image stabilization made it possible. Remember those clunky wearable gimbals? No need for any of that anymore with DJI’s Rocksteady stabilization, among the best on the market.
The DJI Action 2 has one of the biggest fields of view at 155° with also a more narrow mode and an even wider mode for a warp effect.
One drawback is the limited internal memory of 22 gigabytes, which can be expanded by an SD card, but only in combination with the dual-screen or battery combo. So two cubes are attached together like in the image. Data from the internal storage can easily be moved to the SD card when the battery or screen module is attached.
The other is the battery life. Without the battery or screen module, it’s recording for less than 60 minutes in 2K or above. However, I love the charging feature that lets you charge up the camera using the battery or screen module. Those are also what are going to be used first for power so the camera module is always juiced up.
Regularly linking up the modules for data and power transfer is keeping my DJI Action 2 running throughout the day.
- Price: $ 399 or € 399 MSRP (Check current price on amazon)
- Size: 39 × 39 × 22 mm
- Weight: 56g
GoPro Hero 10 – Action Cam With Most Features & Accessories
GoPro is the household name and a brand that is known for high-end action cameras. They have been innovators of many technologies now seen in other cams. GoPros have tons of features, and many like their image stabilization have gotten so much better with recent versions of the camera.
The Hero 10 is compatible with over 30 first-party and many more third-party accessories, like mounting options, external microphones, gimbals, ultrawide lenses, external lighting, and on and on.
None of them are in the regular box. Those have to be bought separately and can be used with other action cams because of the same mounting screws. Mounting options are not a unique selling point of GoPros anymore, but accessories are.
A major edge over the competition is GoPro’s new subscription service. It may have increased the costs of cameras without a subscription, making it somewhat mandatory for a new purchase. But it also enables unique features like automatic uploads to the cloud. Easy wireless offloads to the Quik app, now up to 30% faster.
Shot framing and playback are possible via the front LCD, and settings via the rear touch screen. But let’s get to the really cutting-edge stuff.
Similar to the DJI Action 2, it has horizon leveling, which fixes the horizon while the camera rotates from 27° to 45°. The LiveBurst feature records 45 frames in 1.5 seconds before and after you press the button. Parallel to the photo version, “Video Hindsight” captures up to 30 seconds before you hit record for the moments that you missed to record.
The 8x super slow motion means up to a massive 480 frames per second at a 2.7K resolution. Or up to 120 at 4K. The maximum video resolution is a massive 5.3K (almost double the pixel amount of 4K for easy crop-in and digital zoom). Live streaming is supported directly from the device in 1080p.
All that cutting-edge tech comes at a price tag tho, which is certainly not reasonable for some of us hobby videographers.
- Price: $ 499.99 or € 529.99 MSRP (Check current price on amazon)
- Size: 71 x 55 x 34 mm
- Weight: 150.3g
Insta360 One R 4K – Best Value Action Cam Under $300
Insta360 was the first movers in this intelligent modular design, now adopted by DJI.
Their ONE R model line introduced a 4K lens, battery cube and Mounting Bracket as the baseline. Their current lineup One RS is available already, although not under $300 MSRP. If in doubt, go with the slightly more expensive, newer RS model. It’s a completely new and improved camera, even though the name is very similar (apart from one letter).
It shoots crisp 4K video at 60 fps and up to a whopping 6K in the widescreen mode for the ultimate footage for post-production tweaking. Another new mode is their active HDR video mode for those incredibly well-contrasted videos with better highlights and shadows.
Accessories are definitely noteworthy since individual modules can be exchanged depending on your needs. Their adaptive design has 3 interchangeable parts: one battery, one processor (base plate), and a host of quick-swapping lenses like a full 360-degree lens. So in the case of a crash damage to the camera (which is not uncommon in MTB) individual parts can be swapped.
Price: $ 299.99 or € 319.99 MSRP (Check current price on amazon)
Size: 70 × 49 × 33 mm
Insta360 One RS Twin Edition – Best 360° Camera For MTB
You might have noticed the stark similarities in name to the former cam. In fact, the 360 capability is a module that can be swapped out for the newer Insta360 One RS, making it actually capable to take 360-degree photos and videos. Perfect for third-person shots of yourself riding!
This 360 version comes in a bundle all in one box called the Twin Edition or 360 Edition (same bundle).
Price: $ 549.99 or € 569.99 MSRP (Check current price on amazon)
Size: 70 × 49 × 43 mm
Insta360 GO 2 – Lightest Weight Action Cam For Biking
There isn’t a smaller camera on the market that can shoot a wide 120° degree field of view with this level of stabilization. The Insta360 GO 2 is half the size of competing action cams, yet it still packs big features into its tiny and extremely light (26.5 grams!) footprint.
It’s a rugged action camera housed in a smart remote control case with a mounting solution for pretty much anything you can think of using the widespread GoPro adapters.
One thing to note is that it mounts vertically on some mounts and sits upright like in the picture. So the slim form factor doesn’t always come as a benefit, especially when mounting it under a helmet visor. You definitely won’t feel the weight tho.
The actual unit doesn’t look like much but its image quality impresses. It can capture images similar to a GoPro Hero 9 Black in 2K resolution.
This isn’t the heaviest hitter or most exciting action cam, but definitely the one that’s most likely on you in your pocket. Compared to the other action cams on this list, you are probably better off with a heavier, more capable, and rugged camera platform in most use cases on a bike.
Price: $ 299.99 or € 319.99 MSRP (Check current price on amazon)
Size: 53 x 24 x 21 mm
Here is a great clip of the kind of footage you can expect to capture with a modern helmet cam (shot on my DJI Action 2):
That’s what modern image stabilization does for mountain biking. This is using the settings I found to work best after weeks of experimenting. You can find these cinematic DJI Action 2 settings here.
Before recently, I hadn’t owned an action cam for a couple of years. What these little things are capable of now, and what fellow riders are able to capture has ignited the artistic drive in me again. And at prices for a high-tech cam beginning at around $300, it’s not out of reach. But the greatest benefit of all is having those amazing days of riding forever caught on camera – that’s priceless!