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Thursday, September 9,2010

Point of View

Action sports video cameras let the world see the action through your eyes

By Tom Winter
For the past several months I’ve been experimenting with POV (point of view) video cameras.


These devices are becoming increasingly popular and more affordable, as athletes of all kinds are realizing that strapping a camera to one’s helmet or body captures great video that’s easy to share via the Web.

While many of these devices shoot pretty good video, they tend to be designed as a second camera. In other words, while they can work as a hand held video camera to shoot action, stills or other media, they’re mostly designed to shoot POV, and perform best in that arena. That being said, it’s a lot easier to use a POV video camera as a handheld to shoot your friends than it is to use a hand-held video camera to shoot POV.

So, if you are considering a video camera or digital camera to shoot stills and video, and don’t have a lot of spare cash to spend, these POV devices offer the versatility to do it all, something to consider when you take into account just how cool the results can be when you shoot POV video.

We tested two of these cameras on a recent trip to Chile, the venerable Go Pro and the just released Drift Innovation HD170. Go Pro has been a leader in this category, with a product that has so many accessories that you’ll lose track of all the attachments. The Drift Innovation HD170 ups the ante with a slick, waterproof design and plenty of options to attach the camera to head or gear, although not as many as the Go Pro. Both offer the one advantage that traditional video and digital cameras lack: point of view capabilities that capture the action as seen by the person doing it.

Go Pro HD Hero

Go Pro broke into the POV market with its standard-definition POV video camera a few years ago, and currently priced at $99, it’s an affordable POV option that can shoot approximately 56 minutes of video as well as 5-megapixel photos. But with high-definition video becoming the industry standard, it’s been superseded by Go Pro’s HD Hero camera, which shoots professional 1080pixel high-definition video at either 30 or 60 frames per second. With the ability to record approximately 2.5 hours of video on a single charge, the camera has a capacity of nine hours of video on a 32-gig SD card. It’s also shockproof and waterproof to 100 feet deep. The video format is H.264 compression, saved as Windows- and Mac-compatible MPEG4 (.mp4) files. The HD camera is compatible with Windows Vista and Windows 7 or Mac OSX 10.4.11 and later. The HD also comes with a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, a big change from the company’s standard offering, which takes 3 AAA lithium batteries.

DETAILS Go Pro HD Hero, $260, goprocamera.com Drift Innovation HD 170, $329, driftinnovation.com

Obviously, all of these add up to a big upgrade from Go Pro’s standard camera, and at $260, you pay for the HD Hero’s capabilities. But, as we’ve implied, what sets the Go Pro apart is the vast array of accessories that you can use the camera with. Our favorite for skiing is the chest mount, but if you’re a cyclist, it’s easy enough to use the camera on your handlebars or helmet. You can also mount the camera to a surfboard or kayak. In other words, this puppy is versatile, and that’s why plenty of action sports junkies like the product.

Still, there are some failings. Both the HD Go Pro and the standard-issue cameras lack a playback option, which means that you can’t delete unwanted videos or even see if the content you’re shooting is good. This makes it hard to make adjustments on the fly. Go Pro says that they’re producing a camera back for the HD version which will allow on-camera playback, but you’ll have to pay extra for this accessory (we bet it won’t be cheap) and there’s no word on when or if it will actually be released.

Furthermore, while the HD camera has a 2.8 aperture, which is pretty good for low-light situations, it is not enough for really funky light conditions. It can also be hard to tell when the camera is on and when you’re shooting, and it’s definitely not an intuitive system. You’ll need to read the directions and play with the camera before getting out into the field to fully understand the settings. Still, we like the fact that this camera can take a beating, and the time-lapse function, which allows for photos every two, five, 10, 30 or 60 seconds, is really cool. Throw in Go Pro’s complete line of accessories and you have a POV winner.

Drift Innovation HD170

The first thing we liked about the Drift Innovation was the feel of the camera. Waterproof, with a nice “grippy” touch to the housing, it just felt good. This camera has plenty of features. It’s the first POV action sports camera which films in full HD and has a playback screen and remote control. It’s also fairly easy to figure out — in fact in our “idiot test,” which involves turning on the camera and trying to use it without succumbing to reading the directions, it did fairly well, being much more intuitive than the Go Pro. This ease of use is one of the strengths of this offering, as is the fact that it has a playback screen. After all, there’s nothing like being able to review video in the field and make adjustments then instead of coming home to a computer, watching the video you’ve spent hours shooting and realizing that if you’d just done something different it would have been perfect.

Technically, the HD170 stacks up to the Go Pro, shooting in high-definition video at 1080p at 30 frames per second and in .MOV files. The camera comes with built-in memory of 32MB and can support memory cards of up to 32GB. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery can be powered back up by connecting the camera to your computer, like an iPod (a nice feature), and the HD170 is compatible with Windows XP and Vista as well as with Mac OS 10.2. The list price for the camera is higher than the HD Hero, clocking in at $329.

We couldn’t complain about the functionality or the quality of the Drift HD170. In fact, the videos produced by the camera are excellent, and the lowlight/night setting even allows for shooting in some very difficult conditions. However, the rotating lens feature of the camera — you can spin the lens 360 degrees for shooting in any angle — did take some getting used to. In fact, while adding functionality for some users, it was annoying for others. Purchasers of this camera will probably just figure out how to set the lens angle and leave it for their chosen activity when shooting POV with the HD170. There’s also the drawback inherent with the camera’s shape. This isn’t the kind of camera that will work on a chest mount, but it will do just fine on a helmet or bike. And, with a remote control feature, it’s possible to put this camera on your helmet and leave it there, something you can’t do with the Go Pro.

So, which one should you buy? That will depend upon your budget and how many sports you indulge in. With a wide variety of attachments, Go Pro will have an answer for almost any activity, regardless of the season. But if you’re just focusing on capturing video from a single sport, and want a high-end POV that includes features like in-camera playback, then there’s really only one option between the two, and that’s the HD170.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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