Things got a little tighter in the already-crowded actioncam market this week, as Conrad Electronic announced its Socam UltiMate Action Camera. Among its features are a rotating lens, a streamlined form factor, and an included splash-proof case. I was provided with a pre-release review unit, which I've been trying out over the past couple of weeks. Read on, to find out how I liked it.
It shoots at a maximum resolution of 1080p/30fps, and offers a choice of other modes including WVGA 120fps (slow motion), time lapse, photo burst at 16MP/10fps, and video looping. In that last mode, it continuously "rewrites" a loop of video, but will save the previous few minutes of footage when instructed to do so – it's a feature shared by various other actioncams, and is a way of ensuring that you never miss a shot, yet without ending up with too much unwanted raw footage.
The camera is also Wi-Fi-enabled, allowing it to be controlled via an app on the user's mobile device. That app also lets them preview and play back footage, along with sharing their videos and stills via social media.
One feature that I particularly liked is its 330-degree rotating lens – much like those on the cameras made by Drift Innovation. This allows the camera to be mounted in whatever orientation is most practical (such as on its side, or at an angle), with its shot subsequently being straightened out simply by twisting the lens.
I also liked the fact that its low-profile design allows it to sit quite flush against whatever it's mounted on. The GoPro Hero, by contrast, tends to jut out from things, like the un-aerodynamic box that it is.
The Socam can be operated using either its own physical buttons, or the app. Using the buttons is fairly simple – one main button powers the thing up and lets you switch between modes, while pressing one of the three mode buttons (when they're selected) starts the recording or snaps the shot.
The app is also quite easy to use, although the display of the camera's output freezes up as soon as you start recording. According to Conrad, this is "because the camera is focusing on recording the high-quality video." Whatever the reason, it means that you can't monitor the shot as it's being recorded – something that various other actioncams' apps or LCD screens do allow you to do.
As far as I can tell, the Socam's picture is just as sharp and clear as that of any other camera. Perhaps an in-depth technical analysis using something like a vectorscope might indicate otherwise, but if you're just looking for something to record your adventures for subsequent viewing and posting, I'd say it's as good as a GoPro set to 1080p/30fps.
Audio, however, is another story. Although the camera records ambient sound just fine, it also throws in a slight buzzing/whirring noise of its own. It won't be noticed if there are louder noises drowning it out, but it can be heard when playing back quiet footage.
The Socam comes with an adjustable-angle arm (see the photo above), that slides into one of two included adhesive-backed mounts that can be stuck onto helmets, cars, watermelons, or whatever else you want.
It's a decent-enough arrangement, although it does involve having to pull the camera out of the mount every time you want to loosen the arm to adjust its angle. This means that if you were putting the camera on a helmet, for instance, you couldn't just mount it, tilt it to the angle you wanted, then tighten it down while still in place on the helmet.
If the Socam UltiMate were less expensive, I could perhaps recommend it as an economical alternative to more established models. With a suggested retail price of US$269, however, that isn't the case. For $69 less, you can get a GoPro Hero3 White Edition that offers most of the same features, minus the rotating lens but including a submersible housing. That camera also records cleaner audio, its angle can be adjusted while it's mounted, and its app lets you see a moving picture as the camera is recording.
If you really do like the rotating lens, though, the Socam is $130 less than either of the Drift cameras. It should be hitting store shelves in April, to be followed by a variety of accessories including a detachable LCD screen, a watertight housing, more mounts, and a battery extension pack.
You can see some footage that I shot with the camera (including a POV quadcopter crash) in the video below.
Product page: Socam UltiMate
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