Thanks to the surplus of affordable wearable video camera hardware, action sports enthusiasts no longer need a sponsorship or film crew to capture their biggest, most exciting trips and moves. Now all it takes is a couple hundred bucks. GoPro and Contour have been one-upping each other for years, and the big guns at Sony, JVC and Panasonic recently decided to join them. While walking the action cam section of the ISPO Munich sports show, we came across some additional competitors – with some very innovative hardware – from around the world.
Pro Choppers and 3D from AEE
F50 unmanned aircraft
China's AEE Technology, Inc. was one of the manufacturers that really captured our attention, thanks in large part to its F50 unmanned quadcopter system. A rep told us that the system would retail for about $35,000 in the U.S., so it is aimed entirely at professional applications like filmmaking, police work and civic engineering. In terms of sports, it might appeal to a professional production company or television station but is certainly too much hardware for the average weekend warrior – unless that weekend warrior is a perennial member of Forbes' billionaires list.
The F50 is a three-part system that includes a ground control station, a remote control, and the chopper with integrated high-resolution camera and onboard memory. The chopper is guided by GPS and has a range of 1.2 miles (1.9 km). The remote control has an integrated LCD screen that lets the filmmaker view flight status information, photos and video. Manual control is not required, however, as the heli can be programmed to take off, fly and land on its own. It includes anti-collision functions to prevent that $35,000 from transforming into fiery, charred rock. The aircraft can hover in one place for an extended time, stop for reconnaissance and send real-time images via radio.
The version showed at ISPO appears updated over the F50 model that AEE brought to the 2011 Unmanned Systems North America expo in Washington.
SD30 3D Magicam
Outside of a fairly makeshift system from GoPro, major action cam manufacturers have stayed out of the 3D game, probably waiting to see if the technology will take off enough to make investing in it worthwhile.
AEE didn't wait, building the SD30 3D Magical Camcorder. This full HD 3D action cam uses dual 120-degree wide-angle lenses to capture the 3D effect. Flip the camera over to the other side, and there's a 2.4-inch (6-cm) LCD screen that provides a real-time look at what you're filming. Other features include image stabilization, a waterproof case (60 m/197 feet), auto-recording when accelerating, built-in microphone, and 10 x digital zoom.
The SD30 3D launched recently in some international markets for the equivalent of around US$500.
Maptaq looks to beat GoPro at its own gameU.K.-based Maptaq has a full line of hardware – from square GoPro-style cams, to Contour-like barrels, to cameras integrated into other gear, to iPhone cases. The rep we spoke to mentioned an ambitious plan of going right after the king of the market and "beating GoPro at its own game." We're not sure it'll be successful, but it has some interesting ideas.
Black Edition in its sightsMaptaq's upcoming flagship will be positioned as a Hero3 Black Edition competitor. The model, which does not yet have a name, will use a new chipset for high resolutions and new features. It should match the Black Edition's 4K resolution capabilities, and the company mentioned making it more feature-intensive, including using an app interface designed for "more extensive and intuitive" editing, sharing and storing in the cloud. It will be priced in the same $400 ballpark as the Hero3, with a planned third-quarter release.
Remote control watch
Maptaq is also working on the WiFi Watch remote and viewfinder. The wristop unit will pair with select video cameras via Wi-Fi and provide a more accessible means of camera control. With a 2-inch (5-cm) screen, the device will also provide view-finding and playback capabilities from the comfort of the wrist. The company is finalizing details, including whether the watch will be sold separately or packaged with a camera.
Skateboard-chasing RC car
One innovative piece of filming kit that Maptaq already offers, the QCAR SpyCam is a remote control car built around an action camera. Maptaq has nicknamed it the "skateboard chaser," since many buyers use it for following moving skateboard action. The car relies on a Wi-Fi-connected iOS or Android device for remote control and drives for 10 to 15 minutes on a charge. It retails for £140 (approx. US$212).
G-Form flips iPhone filming on its side
We've seen a lot of cases that turn various smartphones into veritable action cams. Because a phone's lens tends to be on the back, almost all of those cases entail mounting the smartphone broad side forward during filming – not the most aerodynamic way to go about things.
G-Form, maker of instant-harden protective material, has introduced what it calls a smartphone action cam case without compromise. The G90 uses a multiple patent-pending right-angle/wide-angle lens that allows you to film with the thin profile facing forward. This transforms your smartphone from a broad, cumbersome camera just asking to get snagged on a rope or branch to a thin, streamlined camera that fits neatly on the side of a helmet, underneath a skateboard, etc. The G90 also includes impact and water protection.
The G90 will be available for smartphones like the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4 and others beginning in June.
Rollei shoots you with a bullet
Not every camera in Hamburg-based Rollei's Bullet line looks much like a bullet. In fact, many of the cameras look much more like ... cameras. But the Bullet HD Pro, a higher performance update of the Bullet HD, definitely looks the part, and not just because it's a cylinder, but because it's a cylinder shaped like a bullet. And why not? A bullet was designed to cut through the air, and half of the action cameras out there use tubular chassis, so Rollei just adds a tad of aerodynamics while crafting a distinct look.
That narrow head doesn't impede upon the Bullet HD Pro's filming capabilities. The camera uses a 170-degree lens to capture 1080p (30 fps) and 720p (60 fps) footage. It also takes 20-megapixel stills (the GoPro Black flagship takes 12-megapixel stills for reference) and has a three-second capture mode for snapping shots automatically. It is waterproof to 33 feet (10 m) without any casing beyond its aluminum housing.
The HD Pro launched last year and is available in Europe in outdoor, motorbike and ski editions.
Like Maptaq, Rollei also has a watch remote control, the Bullet-Watch, in development. It says that it will be available next month.
Muvi goes 360 degrees
Muvi, a line from U.K. manufacturer Veho that once claimed the world's smallest camcorder title, has a new accessory that will make getting that sweeping photographic effect easier than ever. The X-lapse sets up on its pull-out legs, holds your camera, smartphone or video cam, and rotates it up to 360 degrees. The user can adjust the rotation, set up the camera, and let the X-lapse rotate it steadily for 90-, 180-, 270- or 360-degree time-lapse or panoramic effects. An old-school mechanical design, there are no batteries or annoying adapters to worry about. The tiny accessory will fit easily into a backpack. The X-lapse is available for $49.95.
In terms of actual filming hardware, Muvi has moved on from its tiny, limited resolution roots and now offers a camera with full HD capability. Its HD cam has 1080p/30fps and 720p/60 filming, a 1.5-inch LCD screen and 8-MP still photo capability. When packaged in the HD NPNG (No Proof, No Glory) Bundle, it comes with a 2.4 GHz remote control, 8 GB microSD card and waterproof case good to 197 feet (60 m). That bundle retails for US$260.
iON expands its social cam line
Air Pro update
Last year, iON launched the Air Pro, the wearable action cam designed to shoot video and share it instantly via social networks (with the help of a smartphone and iON Wi-Fi POD). The all-new Air Pro 2 upgrades the camera's hardware, delivering 14-megapixel still photos, a 180-degree wide-angle lens and microphone jack for the option of better quality audio recordings. It will go on sale in March for US$250, or $300 when packaged with the Wi-Fi PODZ.
The Adventure goes farther
Also new to the iON line, the Adventure cam adds a GPS receiver for recording location, speed and vertical data. GPS tracking is an action cam trend that seems to have come and gone a couple years ago, so this isn't all that impressive on its own. More interesting is the loop feature that allows for continuous recording between two memory cards, helping those with lengthier filming objectives keep rolling. A new side lens design ensures better chest mounting. Like the Air Pro, it also works with the Wi-Fi PODZ accessory. The Adventure will hit the market next month for $350.