One of the best things about being a gadget reviewer is having the opportunity to try products that fall outside my traditional areas of interest. Drift Innovation's Drift HD Action Sports Camera – a camcorder designed to be mounted on the helmets of adventure seekers hoping to capture the thrill of their escapades from a first-person perspective – is a great example.
Once I had it in my hands I realized exactly why I haven't looked at a helmet camera before. I don't ride motocross bikes, climb mountains, grind rails, or engage in any other extreme activity. How was I going to properly evaluate it?
Then I remembered the most daring member of my little tribe: My six-year-old daughter. I attached the Drift HD to her scooter helmet prior to a zoom through winding park paths, affixed it to her bike helmet before she headed out for an urban ride in the rain, and clipped it to a tight-fitting cap that she wore while climbing around a playground. The results were just what I needed.
But before we get to that, here's a quick overview of the Drift HD's design and features.
Its rugged, water-resistant 120-gram body sports a durable, matte-black, rubberized shell that proved quite capable of weathering minor bumps and drops. It has a handful of waterproof membrane buttons, including a menu key, two arrow keys for navigation, and a play/record button. A tough, screw-on panel protects battery, micro SD, micro HDMI, mic, and USB ports in the back.
The tiny, cheap-looking LCD that sits beside the controls isn't terribly impressive. However, since the camera is normally strapped to a helmet, most users will only look at the screen to verify that it's powered on, properly aligned, and to switch between video, photo, and burst photo modes, toggle night sensitivity, or select recording resolution.
Its rounded lens, meanwhile, creates a pleasant fish-eye effect, and can be rotated 300 degrees to ensure level shots, regardless of the mount angle. It can also be popped off and replaced should you happen to scratch the glass.
Inside the box is an abundance of mounting systems, including curved and flat adhesive mounts and a wider mount designed to be laced into goggle straps. A universal clip that screws into a metal hole threaded with tripod-standard grooves provides a reliable latching point.
Drift also included a remote control with an eyelet for a strap – handy should you want to switch the camera on or off without removing it from your noodle – as well as a thick Velcro strip to let one wear the remote like a watch. There's a USB cable, but, to the manufacturer's shame, no micro HDMI cord for plugging the camera into your television.
It's a simple but effective system that's versatile, easy to set up and use, and light on the head – and that's coming from my kid, who complains if she thinks her hair baubles are too heavy.
But is the video any good?
It seems to me that, in the case of a helmet cam, among of the most important elements to consider is image stability, and I was properly impressed in this regard. The recordings had a noticeably jumpy, documentary quality, which is to be expected from a camera attached to your head, but it feels exciting as opposed to nausea-inducing. I attributed this to the subtle fish-eye perspective mentioned earlier, which somehow makes abrupt changes in perspective seem less jarring.
Unfortunately, it's downhill from here.
I've seen better resolution from phone cameras. Whether you film in standard-definition 720p or in full 1080p; all formats come out noisy and lacking crispness, even when the camera is motionless and recording under the afternoon sun.
What's more, most images appear heavily saturated. I appreciated the vivid hues in action shots – hyper blue skies and lush green grass seem somehow appropriate to extreme activity – but the overly red-toned skin of the people who wandered into the frame was off-putting.
The onboard microphone, meanwhile, is pretty much a write-off. Even with sensitivity ratcheted up to maximum I had a hard time hearing any sounds that didn't originate from within reaching distance of the camera. I imagine that some extreme sports shooters will likely set the video they shoot to music, making poor sound a non-issue, but everyone else would do well to plan on jacking in an external mic.
The Drift HD Action Sports Camera may be a durable and versatile device, but if I were to risk life and limb to capture thrilling, first-person perspectives I'd demand better quality footage.
Canadians can find the Drift HD Action Sports Camera for $369.99 at www.launchhelmetcams.ca.