Helmetcams, lipstick cameras, action cameras - whatever you call them, there’s something endlessly fun and fascinating about tiny, rugged video cameras that can be mounted just about anywhere, put through all sorts of abuse, and then proceed to output first-person videos that put your viewers right in the action. We’ve valiantly tried to cover the various makes and models as they’ve come out, and they’ve all had their good points and their compromises. With Drift Innovations’ new HD170, however... well, let’s just say it sounds like one of the best so far.

First, some basics about this camera. It shoots in full 1080p high-def, plus 720p or WVGA HD, should you wish. It can also continuously shoot 5mp stills, comes with an assortment of mounting options and has a remote control, so you can start and stop recording even if the camera is mounted in a hard-to-reach place. Nice features, but ones that are shared with some of its competitors.

One of the things that puts the HD170 in an elite pack, however, is its LCD viewfinder/playback screen. The ability to line up shots precisely, then check on-site that everything worked, are essential to shooting the kind of wild-n-crazy videos for which actioncams are designed. Of the similar cameras we’ve looked at, the otherwise-impressive GoPro HD HERO Wide only has a “peephole”-type viewfinder, while the VholdR ContourHD and Gobandit GPSHD (as far as we can tell) have none. Similar cameras that do have an LCD screen include the Kodak Playsport and the Oregon Scientific ATC5K (big brother of the ATC2K), but they don’t measure up when it comes to...

...the lens. True to its name, the HD170 has a 170-degree wide-angle lens. The only other camera we know of with such a wide lens is the GoPro. While this feature will make your footage look kind of fisheye-ish, it’s entirely appropriate for action videos - the more that your audience can see in both the foreground and background, the more immersive the viewing experience. Just as important, an ultra-wide lens also does a great job at smoothing out the jiggles. Also, like the VholdR, the HD170’s lens rotates. This means you can mount the camera in whatever orientation works best (sideways, for instance), then just swivel the lens around to straighten out the shot.

Other nifty features include an external microphone input, manual iris capability, and a low-light mode. While water-resistant, the camera is not waterproof, unlike the GoPro and the ATC5K - perhaps a DiCAPac case could be pressed into service.

The Drift Innovations HD170 goes on sale starting in early July, for US$329.99.