Video / Hands-on Review

Holiday 2012: Action Cameras

Each year, action-camera technology continues to improve and action-camera popularity continues to grow. Most major camcorder manufacturers now have at least one action camera, and there are a handful of other companies that specialize exclusively in action cameras and accessories for those cameras. Companies like GoPro, Drift and Contour have had the most success because they dedicate the bulk of their research to developing exactly the sort of performance the customer wants. Initially, the major manufacturers were a step behind, but in the last year, companies like Sony and JVC have released high quality action cameras that can stand up to the best and toughest. This holiday roundup will examine a handful of new action sports cameras, as well as a few of the older industry standards that are still around and still widely popular.

Sony Action Cams

This year Sony finally made the leap and released a pair of compact, rugged Full HD action camcorders for point-of-view (POV) action sports recording. Sony’s HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15 are basically identical, with one notable exception. The HDR-AS15 provides Wi-Fi capability. This means that Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones and tablets that are equipped with Sony’s free PlayMemories Mobile app can pull optimized movies and photos from the HDR-AS15 without a cable. Then, once video is copied onto your mobile device, you can email movies to friends and family or upload your footage to social media sites.

The HDR-AS10 and the HDR-AS15 are ideal for skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing, motocross, skydiving, mountain biking and most other outdoor adventure sports. These lightweight and rugged wearable action camcorders weigh only 3.2 oz (90 g) and they support up to Full HD 1920 x 1080p video recording at 30 frames per second. They also support other shooting modes, including a 2x and a 4x Slow Motion Video Mode. The 4x Slow Motion Mode records 1280 x 720p HD resolution video at an amazing 120 fps, while the 2x Slow Motion Mode does 1280 x 720p at 60 fps. Having 120 fps to break down video frame by frame makes the 4x Slow Motion Mode a valuable tool for both movie making and review of your tricks, line, form and technique.

Sony includes a waterproof housing with the HDR-AS10 and the HDR-AS15. The housing has a universal tripod mount and is waterproof to a depth of 197’ (60 m). It is also dirt and dust resistant, which makes the camera nearly impervious to mud, snow, rain, sand and grime. Both cameras also come with two adhesive mounts that attach securely to most flat and curved surfaces. With the waterproof housing, included mounts, different shooting modes and availability of several optional mounts, these action cameras will excel in virtually any environment when shooting any type of action sport. There’s even a Grip-Style LCD Unit that provides a 2.7” LCD screen integrated into a durable case.

The HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15 are both equipped with a 170 degree, wide angle Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens and back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensors, which support superb low-light performance. In order to shoot POV action for extreme sports, Sony outfitted both models with their SteadyShot Image Stabilization with Active Mode, which uses an innovative 3-way shake-canceling function to minimize the effects of camera shake.

Other convenient features shared by the HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15 include “Press-n-Go” recording, HDMI connectivity and a built-in stereo microphone for capturing high-quality audio. The “Press-n-Go” recording function allows you to press a large start/stop button just once to begin recording, and the HDMI output lets you play back your footage on a large HDTV screen in 1080p Full HD resolution. The two cameras are also outfitted with a Memory Stick Micro and microSD/SDHC memory card slot for recording directly onto a memory card, which you can remove and insert into your computer for editing and sharing movies on the Internet.

GoPro HERO3 and Accessories

GoPro is among the most popular makers of action sports cameras today, and the new GoPro HERO3 is available in two models: the flagship HERO3: Black Edition and the midrange HERO3: Silver Edition. The GoPro HERO3: Black Edition features a 12MP image sensor, a 6 element wide angle aspherical lens and Wi-Fi. Best of all, the camera can capture 4K resolution video at up to 15 fps, 2.7K at 30 fps, and 1440p at 48 fps. It can also record 1080p, 960p, 720p and 480p resolution video. High speed frame rates top out at 240 fps with 848 x 480 resolution. Among other accessories, the HERO3: Black Edition comes with a waterproof housing that can protect it to a depth of 197’ (60 m), a Wi-Fi Remote and two adhesive mounts.

The HERO3: Silver Edition is also Wi-Fi enabled and features an 11MP image sensor and a wide angle aspherical lens. The HERO3: Silver Edition captures up to Full HD 1920 x 1080p video at 30 fps, but it also supports several other recording resolutions and frame rates. It’s capable of capturing up to 11MP still images as well. Like the Black Edition, the HERO3: Silver Edition also features video looping, Protune capabilities, manual white balance, burst shooting at 10 fps and time-lapse recording. The built-in Wi-Fi enables remote control via the Wi-Fi Remote (sold separately). It also supports live video preview and remote control from your smart phone or tablet with the free GoPro app.

The ports and interfaces are the same on both cameras and—with the exception of the Wi-Fi Remote—both models include the same accessories and are compatible with all current GoPro mounts and accessories. Plus, the GoPro Tripod Mount supports connectivity with various tripods including the Quick Pod Pro-Boom Style Tripod and the XShot 2.0 telescoping camera extender, both of which facilitate greater versatility for overhead action shooting. The HERO3: Black Edition is also available in a surf kit, which includes two surfboard mounts.

Both the HERO3: Silver and Black Edition action cameras are compatible with a variety of new accessories, including the LCD Touch BacPac and the Battery BacPac. The LCD Touch BacPac is a removable LCD touch screen that mounts to the rear of your GoPro HERO3 camera, as well as older GoPro models (there is limited compatibility with original HD HERO and HD HERO2). The touch-screen LCD affords preview and instant playback of photos or video. It also affords a visual reference for framing and adjusting camera settings. The LCD Touch BacPac is equipped with an integrated speaker, volume control button and a 3.5mm headphone jack for more accurate audio monitoring.

The new Battery BacPac is compatible with all GoPro cameras as well. It attaches to the back of your camera and it doubles the camera’s normal battery life. It’s the ideal accessory if you shoot video over long durations, such as time-lapse recording. The GoPro Frame Mount is another new accessory. It is a low-profile frame that features specific engineering to ensure your audio still sounds great—even at high speeds. The Frame Mount is compatible with the HERO3, as well as the LCD Touch BacPac and the Battery BacPac.

GoPro HD HERO2 and Accessories

If you’re looking to save a little money, then the GoPro HD HERO2 is worth considering. It supports Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps, 960p video at 30 or 48 fps, 720p video at 30 or 60 fps and WVGA video (848 x 480) at 60 or 120 fps. Plus, it also features a mini-HDMI output port and a 3.5mm stereo microphone input for use with external audio devices like the Pearstone OLM-10 Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone.

The HD HERO2 has an f/2.8 fixed-focus lens and an 11-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor. It’s equipped with a burst mode, and the camera is also compatible with GoPro’s original Wi-Fi BacPac and Wi-Fi Remote, which permit Wi-Fi video preview and playback on mobile devices, long-range remote control of multiple cameras and live streaming to the Web. There are different configurations available for the HD HERO2 as well. It’s available in an HD HERO2 Motorsports Edition, which is ideal for shooting HD video on the road, trail or track. The HD HERO2 Outdoor Edition caters to just about any kind of outdoor activity, such as mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding and more. The HD HERO2 Surf Edition is intended for water sports including surfing, kayaking and wakeboarding. It comes with assorted mounting hardware including two surf mounts, an FCS plug mount and a Floaty Backdoor that keeps the camera afloat in case it accidentally detaches from your board.

Another unique accessory is the 3D HERO System Waterproof Housing & 3D Synchronization System for dual HD HERO2 cameras. This unique waterproof case houses two HD HERO2 cameras—one upside down to keep the two lenses close to each other—allowing you to capture 2D and 3D video. You need to have two HD HERO2 cameras for capturing 3D video from inside the case. A synchronization cable keeps both cameras’ shutters “yoked,” allowing you to press one of the shutter releases to start recording dual-synched streams (either stream can be viewed on a traditional 2D display). Next, GoPro’s CineForm Studio software imports the 2D videos and photos and converts them into 3D files. You can create simple 3D output for viewing on 2D displays with the included anaglyph glasses or cutting-edge 3D video that must be viewed on either active-shutter 3D TVs or passive, polarized TVs.

Contour+ 2 and ContourROAM2

Another popular action camera manufacturer, Contour has recently introduced their second generation Contour+2 and ContourROAM2 in black, blue or red. The Contour+2 is a compact and rugged action camera with an impact-resistant aluminum shell. The camera also includes a waterproof housing that supports recording to a depth of 197’ (60 m). The Contour+2 has an ultra-lightweight body (1.18 lb), and its array of available mounts makes it a great choice for skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, skydiving, motocross, kayaking, surfing, mountain biking and more. It can capture 1080p, 720p and 480p video, as well as 5MP still images. For enhanced shot performance, the camera supports adjustable white balance, contrast, sharpness, exposure and metering. Plus, you can download Contour's available app and turn your smart phone or other mobile device into a remote control for the camera. The app also lets you use your mobile device to preview your shots.

Contour designed the camera with a wide-angle, 170° lens that, when twisted, rotates the image orientation 270° so that you can mount the camera at any angle. The camera has a standard tripod thread and an interface for the TRail mount system, which works with all of Contour's optional accessory mounts. There's also a high-precision laser level built right into the camera, which allows you to adjust the orientation of the lens and level out the horizon before you start recording. The Contour+2 is Wi-Fi ready as well. You can use its HDMI output and the Cerevo LiveShell (sold separately) to stream live video straight to your favorite social networking site. The camera is also equipped with a GPS receiver, which captures speed, location, elevation and distance. This lets you infuse a geographical narrative into your movies and photos. Other features include an external microphone jack, mini-USB port and 120 fps high-speed video capture for super slow motion.

The ContourROAM2 is another new, more affordable action camera from Contour. The ContourROAM2 supports Full HD 1080p, HD 960p and 720p video capture, as well as 5-megapixel still images. The camera is also designed with a wide-angle, 170-degree lens that rotates 270° in the body for mounting the camera at any angle. And like the Contour+2, the ContourROAM2 features a high-precision laser level. Other features include a lockable Instant On-Record switch and a durable aluminum shell that’s impact resistant and waterproof to a depth of 3.3’ (1 m). The ContourROAM2 has an ultra-lightweight 5.1-oz body and its array of optional mounts makes it perfect for a variety of action sports.

The original ContourROAM is also available, at a significant savings. It supports Full HD 1080p video and high-resolution still images. The original ContourROAM has a wide-angle 170-degree rotating lens with laser-aided leveling. It also features one-click recording and uploading, as well as a waterproof aluminum shell that can descend to a depth of 3.3’ (1 m).


JVC is also getting in on the action—no pun intended—with the GC-XA1 ADIXXION action camera and a series of optional mounts that support hands-free recording for several different sports including biking, skiing, skateboarding, snowmobiling, car racing, motocross and more. JVC has coined the term “Quad Proof” to describe the ADIXXION. That’s because this camera is waterproof down to 16.4’, shockproof from falls of up to 6.5’, dust proof and freeze proof down to 14° F. The ADIXXION is one of the most durable cameras available in the action-sports category and it does all this without any extra housings or bulky cases.

The GC-XA1 ADIXXION features a 5-megapixel CMOS sensor and a wide-angle 170° fixed lens. It supports Full HD 1920 x 1080p video at 30 fps and HD 1280 x 720p video at 60fps. Plus, the ADIXXION has an integrated 1.5” color LCD screen. JVC equipped the ADIXXION with built-in Wi-Fi for smart phone linking, live streaming and remote control of the camera. It also features a 5x digital zoom, a Digital Image Stabilizer (DIS) for reducing the effects of camera shake, and an HDMI output for playing back footage on your HDTV in Full HD.

The ADIXXION supports SDHC and SDXC memory cards, with a maximum recording time of 47 hours and 20 minutes when using a 64GB SDXC card. The camera includes a Goggle Mount, a Flexible Mount, two lens protectors that keep your lens scratch and smudge free and an LCD protection film to keep the LCD screen scratch and smudge free. Several additional mounts are also separately available. At only 4.4 oz (126 g), the ADIXXION action camera is so light that you’ll barely notice it when it’s mounted on your helmet or bicycle handlebars.

Drift HD Ghost and HD Action Camera

Drift is another manufacturer of action cameras and their accessories. They’ve made a name for themselves with the Drift HD Action Camera, which supports Full HD 1080p video and 9MP still-image capture. It also features a user-friendly 1.5” LCD screen, a wide angle 170-degree fully-rotatable lens, a Night Mode for low-light shooting, a micro HDMI output and a microSD memory card slot. The camera includes a remote control, too.

All of these features are competitive with the rest of the HD action camera market, but that didn’t stop Drift from releasing the updated Drift HD Ghost action camera. The Drift HD Ghost features Full HD 1080p video and up to 11MP still image capture. It also supports simultaneous still image capture while shooting video. The Drift HD Ghost’s wearable remote control can be mounted to your wrist. It features two LED indicators that clearly communicate to which mode (video, photo, time-lapse or photo-burst) the camera is set. The remote has a range of up to 30’, and controls power ON/OFF, record START/STOP, function modes and more.

One uniquely convenient feature, the Drift HD Ghost’s “Tag/Loop” function is a potential game changer. This feature temporarily stores up to 5 minutes of footage, which can be permanently recorded after the fact if the user decides to “tag” the footage. The HD Ghost also has one of the largest integrated LCD screens compared to other action cameras. The 2” Gorilla Glass LCD screen affords easy playback and menu navigation. Plus, it will remain scratch-free thanks to the durable Gorilla Glass screen cover.

The Drift HD Ghost is also equipped with Wi-Fi for communicating with smart phones via the Drift Mobile App, which will be available for both iOS and Android mobile devices. You can use the Wi-Fi connectivity to preview and line up shots remotely, snap photos and play back footage directly through your mobile device. You can also transfer the footage to your smart phone or tablet for immediate uploading to the Web.

Another highlight of the Drift HD Ghost is the PowerStation battery, which supports three hours of recording time per charge. The battery is also located in the center of the camera, which enhances battery life and helps to reduce camera shake. The camera is equipped with Drift Pure Audio Technology as well. The built-in microphone features digital and mechanical modulation technology for improved digital signal processing and wind-noise reduction. There is also a 3.5mm audio input for connecting an external microphone. Other features include a seven-element lens and waterproof design that can go down to a depth of 9.84’. There will also be a waterproof housing available soon.

Liquid Image Summit and Impact Series Full HD 1080p Goggles

Liquid Image has incorporated an action camera directly into a pair goggles for either winter sports or off-road adventures. Their Summit Series Snow Goggle with Full HD Camera combines a pair of winter sports goggles and a Full HD 1080p video camera. These goggles are perfect for snowboarders, skiers and snowmobilers looking to capture that first-person perspective of rushing down the mountain or spinning and flipping through the air.

The integrated camera captures Full HD video at 30 fps and 720p HD video at 60 fps for high-speed action. The camera is centrally located on the goggle frame and features a 136° wide-angle lens and a 5MP, 1/3.2” CMOS image sensor. A microSD/SDHC slot supports up to a 32GB memory card. For still images, the camera can capture up to 12MP interpolated digital pictures with 4000 x 3000 pixel resolution. The rechargeable battery lasts up to 1.5 hours, and the USB 2.0 port allows users to transfer footage to their computer. The goggles come with two anti-fog treated Lexan lenses, a 4GB microSDHC card, USB cable, rechargeable lithium battery and a microfiber pouch.

For off-road enthusiasts like dirt bikers, downhill mountain bikers and ATV trail riders, Liquid Image offers the Impact Series Off-Road Goggle with Full HD Camera. The goggle frame is designed differently but the Full HD camera is the same as the one in the Summit Series. The Impact goggle frame features a nose protector and supports tear-away lenses for riding through the mud and dust.

Liquid Image offers a line of interchangeable goggle lenses for both the Impact and Summit Series, which ensures you’ll be able to use them in any lighting conditions. You can choose from clear, rose, yellow, gold or polarized lenses.

Liquid Image XSC Ego Mountable Sports Camera

Liquid Image made a name for themselves with their Summit and Impact Series goggles, but they didn’t rest on that achievement. They went right out and got to work on a mountable HD action camera that’s similar to the popular GoPro and Contour models. What they came up with is the Wi-Fi enabled XSC Ego Mountable Sports Camera. This hands-free action camera is available in blue, white, yellow, black, and red. The camera includes a tripod mount, a multi-directional flat mount, three adhesive pads and a protective face plate. All these accessories ensure that you'll be able to get just the right shot from just the right angle—no matter what your sport of choice. The camera is capable of shooting Full HD 1920 x 1080p video at 30 fps and 1280 x 720p video at 60 fps for high-speed recording. Plus, the Ego can take 12MP interpolated 4000 x 3000 still images as well.

Like the Summit and Impact Series, the XSC Ego features Line of Sight lens technology, which affords a 136-degree wide angle field of view. The camera’s Wi-Fi capabilities allow users to control the camera’s recording functions on an Android or iOS smart phone or tablet. You can also use your smart phone to change the camera settings, or as a display for live view and instant playback of your footage. The camera also supports up to a 32GB microSD/SDHC card. Plus, after you're done shooting, the included USB cable makes it easy to upload your movie clips to the Web. You can also eject the memory card and place it directly into your computer's card reader for fast transferring and uploading to popular social media sites.

Veho and Looxcie

Other models worth considering this holiday season include the Veho VCC-003 Muvi Micro DV Action Camcorder, the Veho VCC-004 Muvi Atom DV Action Camcorder and the Looxcie 2 Wearable Camcorder. The Veho VCC-003 Muvi Micro is a tiny camera that is perfect for extreme sports. It features a 2MP CMOS sensor that supports 640 x 480 standard-definition video and still-image capture. The camera supports microSD memory expansion and voice-activated recording.

The Muvi Micro is compatible with the Veho Muvi Extreme Sports Pack, which features multiple mounts and mounting accessories for hands-free use while participating in your action sport of choice. The more compact Muvi Atom is also compatible with the Muvi Extreme Sports Pack. It also features a 2MP sensor for 640 x 480 SD video and still image capture.

For more mild mannered POV enthusiasts, the Looxcie 2 Wearable Camcorder is a solid choice. The Looxcie 2 is available in either a 5-hour or 10-hour model and can record 480p SD video at 30 fps. The camera doubles as Bluetooth headset and, like other Bluetooth headsets, it features an ear hook that can be worn on either the left or right side. The Looxcie 2 is compatible with both the LooxcieCam app and LooxcieMoments app, so you can shoot hands-free video and instantly share clips with your smart phone via social media sites. You can also use your smart phone as a viewfinder for the camera.

Sony HXR-MC1 HD Point of View Camcorder

Sony also offers the HXR-MC1 HD Point of View Camcorder features a small camera module attached by cable to an LCD panel/recording unit. It is well suited for use as a sports-action camera, but it’s also ideal for macro photography, such as shooting small animals, insects, flowers or any other scene where it’s impractical to get your face up close to the subject. Its form factor makes it easy to attach the camera to helmets, roll bars, handlebars, etc. Another manufacturer, V.I.O. makes the POV.HD Digital Helmet Camera System, which shares a similar form factor to Sony’s HXR-MC1.

With all the popularity surrounding the action-camera genre, there’s a good chance that someone on your holiday list is hoping for one. This roundup merely highlights the big players and a few unique choices, but there are literally dozens of manufactures making action cameras—and B&H has them all.