Action camcorder group test

Looking for a camcorder that you can take mountain biking, surfing or even diving? Then check out these five fantastic Full HD action cams.

 
 
 
  • Action Camcorder Group Test 2014
    Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST

    Surfing, mountain biking and skiing are all individual pursuits, but as any visitor to YouTube will know, action cams are allowing all of us to get stuck into the waves, rocks and slopes with no danger to our own safety.

    Action cams are video cameras designed to be used outdoors in rugged environments. They are tougher than regular devices and can be used with a range of mounts that allow you to strap them to a helmet, a surfboard or even across your chest so that you can film the action.

    Action cams are also designed to get wet. The degree to which they are waterproofed does vary quite a bit between cameras, with some requiring you to place them inside a dive case before you can use them underwater.

    We braved the beaches of Cornwall to put five action cameras to the test.

    All of the action camcorders we’ve reviewed here are able to shoot at 1080p Full HD and can also be used to capture still images.

    Only two of the cameras come with a display that's capable of presenting a live feed of what the lens is looking at. The others require you to control the camera using free smartphone or tablet apps, which might not always be practical for the more waterborne pursuits.

     
     
     

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  • Contour+2 action camcorder
    Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST
    BT rating
     

    Price: £270

    Website: Contour

    The Contour+2 is Contour’s top-of-the-line action cam. The Contour+2 camera isn’t waterproof on its own and requires the use of a dive case that comes supplied in the box. Once inside, it can be used to a depth of 60m, which makes it ideal for surfers and divers.

    With its brushed metal finish the Contour+2 feels solid and well made. Operation is simple enough, thanks to a slider switch on the top that’s used to start and stop recording, plus a Status button on the back that’s used to power it on and off and to check things like battery life and card memory space.

    Video capture options include a top setting of 1080p Full HD at 30fps, backed up by 1280x960 Tall HD at 30fps, and 720p HD at 60fps. There’s also a slow-motion mode that records at up to 120fps albeit at the decidedly non-HD resolution of 854x480 pixels. You can assign different video quality settings to the ‘1’ and ‘2’ positions underneath the battery cover.

    Still image capture is limited to a rather measly five megapixels, which means the Contour+2 lags some way behind the Garmin VIRB and the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition – both of which offer 12-megapixel cameras.

    Given that there’s no LCD display, you do need to download the free Contour Connect app to a compatible smartphone and pair the two devices using Bluetooth. This will give you a live feed of what the camera sees and will also allow you to change recording settings.

    The lens can be rotated to compensate for wonky horizons, while a built-in laser projects a red beam that can be used to centre the camera on a chosen subject.

    One neat feature of the Contour+2 is that it comes with built-in GPS, which enables you not only to pinpoint your location but also your altitude, speed and distance.

    Image quality is generally very good, although perhaps not quite as good as its GoPro rival. Colours are reproduced well and white balance is generally accurate, however the camera does sometimes struggle with highlights, especially in quick-changing light. Contrast is a little on the heavy side too.

    Overall, the Contour+2 is a great camera – easy-to-use and capable of delivering great results.

     
     
     

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  • Garmin VIRB Elite camcorder
    Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST
    BT rating
     

    Price: £335

    Website: Garmin

    Garmin is probably best known for its in-car navigation systems, but the company also makes a range of outdoor activities equipment, including a couple of action camcorders: the top-spec VIRB Elite on test here and the cheaper VIRB (£270).

    The main benefits the Elite model enjoys over the base model is that it comes with built-in GPS, accelerometer and altimeter functions. In addition, it also offers wi-fi connectivity. The lens can be set to wide, medium and narrow fields of view.

    In keeping with its distinctive styling the Garmin VIRB feels very well built. The camera is waterproofed to an IPX7 rating, which basically means a depth of one metre. Garmin does offer an optional dive case for £35, which increases the camera’s usable depth to 50m.

    One notable advantage the VIRB Elite enjoys over many other action cameras is its LCD display, which can be used to show a live feed or to navigate the settings menu. The display is ambient-lit too, which saves on battery power and makes it easier to see in brighter conditions, including direct sunlight. You can also use the screen as a digital compass or to check your GPS bearings.

    A basic mount which attaches to either flat or curved surfaces, however Garmin does make a good range of optional accessories including handlebar mounts and chest harnesses.

    The top movie recording setting is 1080p Full HD at 30fps, with 960p ‘Tall HD’ recording at 60/30fps and 720p HD capture at 60/30fps also available. Slow-motion capture is also available at 120fps, albeit at non-HD resolution.

    Still images are captured with the VIRB Elite’s 16-megapixel CMOS sensor. Resolution can be lowered to 12 or 8 megapixels, while the maximum continuous shooting speed is 6fps.

    When it comes to picture quality, the VIRB is pretty good, however frame rates aren’t the highest, which means there are better cameras for capturing fast-moving action. Colours are realistic though, and overall image quality is unlikely to disappoint.

    The Garmin VIRB is an easy-to-use action cam that’s especially well suited to anyone who values the ability to capture GPS data alongside their footage.

     
     
     

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  • Panasonic HX-A500H
    Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST
    BT rating
     

    Price: £380

    Website: Panasonic

    The HX-A500 is a new action cam that improves on Panasonic’s older HX-A100 model (£300). The HX-A500 is one of two models in this test to offer 4K movie capture – the other being the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition.

    The main improvement the HX-A500’s 4K recording offers over its GoPro rival is a higher frame rate of 25fps (compared to 12.5fps). The practical benefit of this superior frame rate is that fast-moving action will look smoother when played back in real time. You will need a 4K-compliant UHDTV to fully appreciate the extra detail 4K offers over 1080p footage though.

    The HX-A500 offers a good spread of alternative video capture options with 1080p Full HD at 50fps the next highest setting. Slow-motion video is also well catered for with the addition of 720p HD capture at 100fps. If you want to shoot at 200fps then resolution is reduced to 848x480 pixels, which is still just about OK for uploading to YouTube.

    The HX-A500 is the only two-part camcorder in this test, which means it consists of a separate control unit and camera, which are attached via a 70cm long cable.

    This arrangement has a number of pros and cons. On the plus side, it means that the control unit is big enough to offer a LCD viewfinder that you can use to accurately frame your video and still images with.

    On the downside, some users may find the cable to be a bit impractical. The buttons on the control unit are rather small too, which could make its operation a little tricky if you’re wearing chunky ski gloves.

    The camera is well built, with both the control unit and camera waterproofed to a depth of three metres for up to 30 minutes. The HX-A500 comes supplied with a good range of mounts too, including a wearable armband to store the control unit in.

    There are two lens settings: standard and wide. In stills mode, the AX-H500 offers three resolution settings: 16.3 megapixels, 8.3 megapixels and 5.3 megapixels.

    Overall image quality is some of the very best we’ve seen from an action cam, and is right up there with what GoPro has to offer. Movies captured in HD are crisp and clean, with excellent levels of detail and natural looking colour.

    Overall, the two-part design and small buttons can make it less practical, and means it isn’t quite able to steal the Hero3+’s crown.    

     
     
     

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  •  Polaroid XS100i l
    Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST
    BT rating
     

    Price: £160

    Website: Polaroid

    Despite the Polaroid XS100i being the cheapest action cam in this test, it still serves up a decent number of features. It also comes with a wide selection of mounts included in the box, including handlebar and helmet mounts, thereby saving you any additional expense.

    Movie capture options include a maximum quality setting of 1080p Full HD at 30fps, 960p Tall HD at 30fps and 720p HD at 30fps. Slow-motion capture is taken care of via 720p HD at 60fps. Still camera images can be shot at 16, five or three megapixels with the maximum continuous shooting set at 10fps (for up to 10 frames).

    There is only one lens setting, which approximates to a 170-degree field-of-view. The camera also features a built-in Gyroscope that uses ‘auto-rotate’ lens technology for more level horizons.

    The XS100i is sealed against dust and waterproofed to a depth of 10m without the need for a case. This is pretty impressive given that some of the more expensive cameras in this test require you to use a dive case if you want to take them in the water.

    On the downside the XS100i’s battery is permanently sealed inside the camera, which means you can’t carry a spare and swap them over.

    Also, despite a vibration function to let you know the camera is recording or taking a still image, there's no display, which means you’ll need to pair the XS100i with a compatible smartphone and use the 'XS100i Remote' app in order to view a live feed from the camera or change settings.

    Despite its impressive range of features and accessories, the XS100i doesn’t quite deliver the same high standard of image quality of the more expensive cameras in this test. Overall image quality isn’t by any means bad, but we found that movies tended to look a bit oversaturated, with the standard contrast setting a bit too high for our liking too.

    Overall, the Polaroid XS100i is a great action cam for those on a budget, and is pretty much ready to go straight from the box.

     
     
     

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  • Audley Jarvis
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 18 July 2014, 15:43 BST
    BT rating
     

    Price: £360

    Website: GoPro

    The GoPro range consists of a basic White Edition (£199), an intermediary Silver Edition (£280) and the top-of-the-line Black Edition. All three cameras are wi-fi-enabled and can shoot 1080p Full HD, however the Black Edition offers a greater range of features including the ability to shoot movies at 4K resolution.

    The Hero3+ replaces the Hero3 which came out in 2013 and comes with a number of improvements including a new lens (offering a standard 170-degree field of view which can also be narrowed), a new Low-Light Mode and a new SuperView mode that 'stretches' the edges of 4:3 aspect footage to make it appear more immersive when viewed on a standard 16:9 HDTV.

    In terms of size, the Hero3+ is exactly the same size as the Hero3, which was already one of the smallest cams on the market. The protective casing has been redesigned though and is both smaller and easier to open. Once it’s inside the case camera is waterproof to 40m.

    The camera is controlled via three buttons. These are both well-spaced and well-protected against accidental presses. A small LCD display on the front allows you to navigate through settings menus, but in order to get a live feed you'll need to invest in a Touch BacPro display, which will set you back around £80.

    It comes with a curved and flat adhesive mounts and GoPro sells a series of mounts starting at around £20.

    In addition to 4K capture at 12.5fps the Hero3+ Black Edition can also capture 1080p Full HD at 50fps. Other options include 2.7K at 25fps and 1440p at 48fps. Capture modes suitable for slow-motion playback include 960p Tall HD at 100fps, 720p HD at 100fps, and the non-HD 840x480 pixels at 240fps.

    Continuous shooting extends to 10fps for 30secs, and is complemented by a Burst Photo mode that can shoot up 30 fps.

    Thanks to the Hero3+’s redesigned lens, video footage shows a slight improvement over last year’s Hero3 model. Which is impressive when you consider that its predecessor pretty much led the field in terms of image quality. Expect moving and still images to be sharp, with natural colour and accurate white balance. 

    Check out the video above to see the GoPro in action.

    Overall, while it's not the cheapest action cam on the market (although we’ve seen it on sale for £280) the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition continues to set the standard the others have to follow.

     
     
     

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