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2013 Actioncam Comparison Guide

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December 9, 2013

Gizmag compares eight of today's best-known actioncams

Gizmag compares eight of today's best-known actioncams

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There was a time when there were only a few actioncams on the market, made by companies like VIO and Oregon Scientific. In the past several years, however, the product category has exploded. GoPro may have led the charge, but it's by no means the only player on the field. In order to help buyers make a little more sense of all the choices, here's a side-by-side comparison of eight of today's more prominent actioncams.

For this comparison, we chose fairly widely-distributed cameras, that readers should stand a better chance of being able to see up close and personal in a store near them. To keep things consistent, we also went with the top-of-the-line model from each manufacturer – these include the Sony Action Cam (HDR-AS30V version), Drift Ghost-S, JVC ADIXXION, Toshiba Camileo X-Sports, Contour +2, GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition, Garmin Virb Elite, and Polaroid XS100.

Some readers might be surprised to see Contour's +2 on the list, as the company went into a sort of limbo recently, and its cameras could no longer be purchased via its website. We've included the +2, however, due to the fact that it can still be purchased via Contour's distributors, plus the company has informed us that its online store should be back up and running as early as next month.

So, without any more ado, let's start out by looking at ...

Maximum video resolution

Actioncam maximum video resolution comparison

Lens quality and sensor size/style make a huge difference in image quality, but pixel count and frame rate do also matter, and they're an easier-to-quantify means of comparing the cameras.

All of the models offer 1080p/30fps resolution – that's 1,920 x 1,080 pixels per frame, shown at 30 frames per second – which at present is the standard for regular-motion consumer HD. Half of them also allow you to shoot at 1080p/60fps, allowing for more fluid-looking motion when played back at regular speed, or for decent-looking semi-slow motion when slowed down in editing. If you want really slow motion that doesn't look like stop-motion animation, you'll have to shoot at 120fps. Again, four of the cameras let you do so, albeit at a still reasonably-sharp 720p.

The GoPro is the only camera that exceeds 1080p, allowing users to shoot at 2.7K/30fps or even 4K/15fps. While the 2.7K is a nice touch, the slow frame rate at 4K means that footage will have a decidedly jerky look when shown at regular speed – that setting is probably really only useful for shooting time lapse footage.

Maximum still resolution

Actioncam still image resolution comparison

Once again, lenses and sensor types count for a lot, but numbers are easier to understand in a side-by-side comparison. Given that disclaimer, the Garmin and the Polaroid both come in at the top, with 16 MP each. Most of the others offer 12, which is essentially just as good when taking the other variables into account. The JVC and the Contour sit at the bottom, at 5 MP.

Of course, one question to ask at this point is, "Will I ever even use the camera to shoot stills?"

Dedicated remote control unit

Actioncam remote control functionality comparison

There are inevitably going to be times where you've mounted the camera in a rather difficult-to-reach place, at which point a remote control that allows you to start and stop recording is going to come in handy. While some of the cameras offer such a remote as an optional extra, the GoPro, Drift and Toshiba include one in the basic package.

LCD viewfinder

Actioncam LCD viewfinder comparison

You might think that a viewfinder/playback screen would be pretty much standard issue on any video camera, but that isn't necessarily the case when small size, light weight and ruggedness are major considerations. Only four of the cameras come with a screen included, although that isn't such a big deal if you can use your smartphone or tablet as the camera's wirelessly-connected screen. Speaking of which ...

Wireless connectivity

Actioncam wireless connectivity comparison

Six of the models let you communicate via Wi-Fi, while the Contour utilizes shorter-range Bluetooth. The Polaroid is the only one that offers nothing.

Waterproofing

Actioncam waterproofing comparison

If you want to take your camera scuba diving, this is what it all comes down to. The Toshiba and the Contour come out on top – or on the bottom, if you will – both being depth-rated to 60 m (197 ft). The GoPro also does well, at 40 m (131 ft). At the other end of the scale, the Drift and the Garmin are more just splash- and dunk-proof.

Weight

Actioncam weight comparison

None of the cameras are particularly heavy, although the 177-gram (6.3 oz) Garmin is the heftiest of the bunch. The Sony and Toshiba appear to be almost tied for lightest, although in both cases, it's not clear if the makers' figures are for the camera and underwater housing, or just the camera.

Battery life

Actioncam battery life comparison

What you see above is what you get, if the supplied specs are to be trusted. The Drift comes out best at 3.5 hours, with the JVC bringing up the rear.

Price

Actioncam price comparison

Admittedly, for many people this will be the bottom line.

The Polaroid is the cheapest at US$200, although it lacks wireless capability and a viewfinder – this means that you won't know exactly how your shot was lined up until you view it on your computer after the fact. The Drift is the priciest of the bunch, although it offers just about everything you could want except heavy-duty waterproofing.

Should you be stuck on the GoPro name, it's worth noting that the $300 HERO3+ Silver Edition offers most of the same features as the Black, with the exception of the ultra-high resolution.

Some final tidbits

We're not going to try running down the extra features of all of the cameras, such as GPS and altimeter functions, but here are a few that are particularly interesting.

The GoPro, Drift and Toshiba all offer their own take on video looping, a feature in which the camera records short stretches of video back-to-back, each one overwriting the one that came before it. If something exciting happens, however, the user can instruct the camera to save that particular bit of footage. This lets you avoid missing anything, while also not having to wade through mountains of raw footage afterwards.

The Garmin unit offers something sort of along the same lines, in the form of its ski mode. Using this feature, the camera automatically records whenever the user is heading down the slopes, but stops as they're going back uphill.

Additionally, the Drift and the Contour have rotating lenses. This means that you can mount the camera in whatever orientation is convenient, then twist the lens in order to level out the shot. The Polaroid, on the other hand, has an imaging sensor that automatically swivels around to keep the shot level and right-side-up.

If you'd like to know more about any of the actioncams featured in this guide, you can check out the articles listed below.

Contour +2

Drift Innovation Ghost-S

Garmin Virb Elite

GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition and HERO3+ Silver Edition

JVC ADDIXXION

Polaroid XS100

Sony Action Cam

Toshiba Camileo X-Sports

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About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
16 Comments

Would have been nice to see two other things in here: Field of view, which varies a lot, and sometimes with resolution - below about 120° is a bit useless. Also Monoprice's MHD (like a Contour) and MHD Sport (like a GoPro) action cams which give many of these a run for their money, but at only $80 and $180.

Synchro
10th December, 2013 @ 01:18 am PST

I don't think this review is accurate. In fact its not a review its just a bunch of specs about the different action cams you can buy. I personally own 2 Drift Cams and herewith a proper review with a hands on experience.

The Drift Ghost is to say the least frustrating to use.

If you don't have some sort of computer literacy you are basically screwed.

Firmware this and plug that then switch that on and copy paste this and save in there and then switch off and if it still does not work try step 2 again.

My cam switches itself off and it shows over heating in the middle of winter.

The battery dies after 30 seconds of recording and must be recharged for 4 hours to get a full charge.

I also have the go pro and for sure that would be my choice. No problems with this and that and the next thing.

12 000 rand more or less later and I am yet to capture some footage that actually works.

I am 46 years old and should not be screaming at my desk with the Ghost Drift.

I hate the cam.

Armando

Armando1967Loureiro
10th December, 2013 @ 02:56 am PST

This is a very odd article.... it appears no testing was done, just a summary of manufactures list specs. For example, the section on weight was worthless, I could flip a coin and get as useful a weight comparison. There was no actual testing of the lens, that's pretty important. Battery life? That's important, to bad this just list worthless times. My GoPro battery life varies wildly, depending on the features enabled. The worst part of this article was that the author doesn't even note that the contour company shut down... http://contour.com/ Come on, I had to check the date of the story, this is pretty much worthless. As Synchro pointed out, MonoPrice does have a low cost action cam, that would be nice to see tested against actioncams from companies still in business. Oh, and note which use a GPS to tag the photos/videos. That is one thing GoPro really needs to add. I own three GoPro's and an older Contour.

[The article does in fact address Contour's suspension of operations - Ed.]

Rebel
10th December, 2013 @ 08:44 am PST

I have a camera not reviewed, the ActionPro 1080P HD.

It works great and has all the features of the Hero series, including a underwater waterproof housing, remote and multiple mounts for around $100. I am not sure why it was not reviewed. Seems like some reviews never cover affordable gadgets like this one. Get one and you won't be disappointed.

ssnydes1
10th December, 2013 @ 09:11 am PST

I have a Drift Ghost HD and it is awesome. In the box are several different mounts including flat surface, curved surface, goggle mount, etc. Also, again a GizMag author takes some liberties in saying, "At the other end of the scale, the Drift and the Garmin are more just splash- and dunk-proof." In fact the Drift website says the camera is rated to 9 feet for up to 30 minutes. There is also an underwater housing available for diving/scuba. Field of view is 170 degrees for the Ghost HD and 160 degrees for the Ghost S. I bought a second battery just in case and have never needed it. I get a whole day of snowboarding on a single battery although not continuously recording (chair lift isn't that interesting).

chomper
10th December, 2013 @ 09:30 am PST

The ION Air Pro was my choice, because of how easy it is to hold in my hand and shoot from the water while kite surfing. It looks like the Polaroid, but has WiFi, and is way easier to operate than the GoPro, with a vibration feedback that's better than sound or visual in a loud busy environment.

Field of view is very important. Unfortunately all of these have wide angle, and if you're trying to follow and film someone else, you have to be within a few feet of them. If there were a camera with a narrow FoV like 30 degrees, that would be way more useful to me. But most companies seem focused on the "me filming myself" angle.

Brian Dennis
10th December, 2013 @ 11:44 am PST

Comparison without conclusion... not worth much. We can get all these on the web, how a bout comparing the picture quality between the cameras, or even the slow motion quality. Best value for price? Spec's doesn't mean much if it don't live up to its promises.

Koos Tonteldoos
10th December, 2013 @ 12:42 pm PST

It is as the title says you peanuts, a comparison guide, not full-featured review on each camera.

It helps people like me pick out the best specs and narrow the choices down to a few, rather than wading through pages of online websites to find it for all cameras.

Thanks Gizmag guys, good job.

Luke Howard
10th December, 2013 @ 04:31 pm PST

As the other posters mentioned, not much of a review and some things mentioned are misleading or have bias?.

Example:

LCD View Finder.

This is an optional extra for the Go pro

Water proofing.

You have the Go Pro at 40m, using the waterproof case it comes with.

Then you have the Drift, without a water proof case, it's to 6 m. But if you use the optional extra case, it's then water proof to 60 meters.

Not really a fair comparison at all.

Scott Triffett
10th December, 2013 @ 04:32 pm PST

A comparative review is still a review... but I'd also like to add the Panasonic HX-WA30. (I want one for Xmas)

While it is only Waterproof rated to 15m, as a diving camera, the buttons are usable with GLOVES.

Most action sports that you are going to do are going to involve gloves (if you have any self preservation instinct), and all these systems that have small button, or remotes that you can lose or have to control through a computer or smartphone as Armando says, you are stuffed. The WA30 has both.

Also I can't find any sales info on the Toshiba Camileo X-Sport, on there website or anywhere else. Basically the camera doesn't exit.

Luke McNeilage
10th December, 2013 @ 04:47 pm PST

I'm a big fan of the Drift cameras (eagerly waiting to get their new model) and I think the HD Ghost is the easiest to use. You'd have to be a numbnut to not figure it out. The rotatable lens is one of the biggest selling points to it, which this article doesn't point out.

Andrew Jackson
16th December, 2013 @ 04:40 pm PST

A little note to just about everyone who posted a comment, except Luke Howard, this does not claim to be a review. I think you guys are just looking for a website that tells you which camera to buy. This is an "Actioncam comparison guide". It's supposed to compare specs and that's exactly what it does. Furthermore, this article can't be biased, unless the author just lied about the specs on the devices, which he didn't. Once again everyone who posted, besides Luke Howard, is "f***ing clownshoes".

Thank you Gizmag and Ben Coxworth for creating this comparison guide that allows intelligent human beings to quickly and easily compare actioncams.

James Keith Clarence Carter
26th December, 2013 @ 08:33 pm PST

Drift Ghost-S in $400 USD, not 450....

Vale Ntin
28th December, 2013 @ 02:13 pm PST

Cant believe no one has mentioned the mobius action cam, cheap and very good for the price, gives the gopro a run for it money.

MikeH
4th January, 2014 @ 02:10 am PST

If you want to take the frustration out of the specs, I sometimes use a mount for my high definition compact camera which means I can film using my own camera and also playback the footage on the gondola or at the end of a bike run. Loads easier. It's this one http://www.camerademon.com/

Sioned
4th January, 2014 @ 10:36 am PST

What about low light performance? - for me it's very important, because i play indoor cqb airsoft in a dark place with lot of shadows.

If a camera doesen't capable to work god in low light, it's wasted money for me. - I've used hero 3 black, (unfortunately) stolen. So i'm curious, is there other alternatives available?

Takeshi Kovacs
11th March, 2014 @ 10:59 am PDT
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