Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
October 23, 2013

Check out the Action Camera Comparison video at the end of the article!

You can literally spend days perusing YouTube watching Mustang (and Ford-powered) action videos. From sideways drift machines to wheels up drag racing and hot laps at Laguna Seca, there's new video content being uploaded daily and it's easy to do with digital action cameras.

Video recording has come a long way with regard to equipment, as well as the types of video being made. No longer do you have to solely rely on those old Polaroid prints for posterity. Video is a rapidly growing medium that offers a different experience. Video walk-arounds offer prospective vehicle buyers a more intimate look, and they get to hear the sound of the vehicle they are buying as well. This is ever more beneficial with today's online car marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist.

In-car video can record track event experiences, and can be used to educate the driver or other drivers on various track topics. You can even mount the cameras under the cars to watch suspensions articulate or to watch how a tire grabs the track at launch. There's also the endless entertainment on sites like YouTube where people create their own movies—the ways in which we use video continue to grow every day.

It wasn't so easy when we first started taking all this great video, and there are millions of personal and quite bulky VHS-based video cameras on closet shelves as evidence of where we started. As technology has improved, we have seen the cameras get smaller and lighter to the point where racers started rollbar-mounting their palm-sized video cameras that used VHS-C, Mini-DV, or 8mm video tape cartridges. However, while the technology improved, it still meant dismounting the camera and connecting it to a TV to watch or using expensive equipment to transfer it to a computer.

As the computer age spread to consumer electronics, we started to see small personal video cameras that didn't use any tape or moving parts. Instead, they recorded video on internal memory. These handy little gems meant that recording video just about anywhere was as simple as aiming and pressing a button. Connecting them directly to your computer via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) cable allowed quick and easy video transfer, and the online/Internet video boom happened just like that.

While we can't say for sure when the wearable/mountable action cam market started, most car enthusiasts will agree that their first notice of such "action cams" was in 2008 with the release of the GoPro Digital Hero camera. It allowed users to mount the camera just about anywhere with its adhesive-backed mounting brackets or optional suction-cup mount. Today, the GoPro is not only better in every way, but there are several other competitors vying for your action cam dollars. These cameras all take great video (and still photos as well!), but each has its own set of mounting system options, feature sets, and functionality traits.

We rounded up the latest cameras in this segment to show you what's out there and how they work. We not only photographed each unit in our photo studio, but we also "test drove" each one (you can find the testdrive videos, along with expanded text and photos, on our website as part of the digital version of this story). You can find these cameras for sale directly through the various manufacturers' websites and at major electronics and sporting goods retailers.

ContourROAM2

One of the first things that might jump out at you with the ContourROAM2 (www.contour.com) is its price point. It may be the lowest priced cam in our roundup, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's of lesser quality than others we tested. The ContourROAM2 is a solid unit, utilizing an aluminum housing and quality optics. A traditional "lipstick" cam shape and size, the ContourROAM2 can be easily mounted to a vehicle with the included adhesive mounts or an optional suction-cup mount, and it also features a standard ¼-20 tripod mount socket for stationary video use or tripod-based universal mounts. The ContourROAM2 is also the only camera in our test group that is available in colors (red, blue, green, and black). Its 270-degree field of view ensures you catch all the action, but like most wide viewing angles, it can show slight distortion at the edges or with close-up action.

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We really liked the easy single record button on the ContourROAM2; just slide it forward and you're recording. This makes it easy to use when wearing driving gloves during track events. The built-in laser alignment feature, combined with the 270-degree rotating lens means you'll get the perfect picture/video no matter the angle the cam is mounted. Two LEDs on the camera body inform the user of battery life and memory card status, however, to change video or photo settings, you must connect the ContourROAM2 to your computer and use the included Contour Storyteller program (a free software program for importing your videos). The ContourROAM2 only has a USB connection, and does not offer live streaming. Finally, while Contour sent us its ROAM2 model, it also offers the Contour+2, which features GPS capabilities to overlay track information, and a Wi-Fi–enabled mobile app for smart phones to allow changing settings and viewing the camera's image preview on the fly. The Contour+2 also offers live streaming via an HDMI-out port and a user-replaceable battery. The Contour+2 retails for $399.99, which is more in line with some of the cams with advanced features we tested here.

Specs
Available resolutions 720p, 960p, 1080p
File format .MP4
Sensor type CMOS
Field of view 170-degrees (with 270-degrees of rotation)
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 5-megapixel
LCD screen No
Waterproof Yes, to 3 feet with no extra case required (optional case can go to 197 feet)
Microphone Built-in
Memory type MicroSD card (32GB max)
Wi-Fi capability No
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (built-in)
Retail Price $199.99

Drift Innovation Drift HD Ghost

Right off the bat, you'll notice that Drift Innovation's [www.driftinnovation.com; (877) 876-6327] Drift HD Ghost has a unique appearance compared to the others here. The Drift HD Ghost shoots in full 1080p, like all of the cams reviewed here, and has easy-to-use buttons right on the top of the camera to change settings and review pictures or videos, and all of this is made easy with the built-in 2.0-inch display and built-in speaker. Lining up your shots is dead simple with the built-in display as well. You know exactly what you're framing for your shoot. The built-in interface takes just minutes to get used to with simple icons for camera, video, replay, and setup menus. The lone, multi-colored LED on the top of the cam indicates what mode you are in and if you are recording. The included Wi-Fi–enabled wearable remote features the same LED colors so you know at a quick glance what mode you are in when using the remote's functions. What's more, the remote allows simultaneous photo taking during video recording with the tap of the photo button on the remote.

Another great feature of the Drift HD Ghost you won't find on most of the cameras reviewed here is a mic sensitivity setting. We tested all cams with their default settings right out of their packaging, but found the Drift HD Ghost had way too much audio noise. A quick change of the mic setting and our audio came in nice and clear! The Drift HD Ghost offers a unique "tagging" feature as well. When in video tag/loop mode the video recording continuously loops and only saves the video when you "tag" it. This is a great feature if you're shooting raw video and something happens spontaneously, such as an off-track incident. The Drift HD Ghost cam can also be linked to Drift Innovation's Drift App for remote access via smart phone, and allowing you to transfer your video clip or photos directly to your smart phone for immediate sharing on your favorite social media sites. Drift Innovation offers two more action cams that fall under the Drift HD Ghost with a few less features and lower price points as well.

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Specs
Available resolutions WVGA, 720p, 960p, 1080p
File format .MP4/.MOV
Sensor type CMOS
Field of view 170-degrees (120- and 90-degree available in 1080p mode), 300-degrees of lens rotation
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 5-, 8-, 11-megapixel
LCD screen Standard, 2.0-inch TFT Gorilla Glass
Waterproof Yes, to 9 feet with no extra case required (optional case can go to 197 feet)
Microphone Built-in, external mic capable
Memory type MicroSD card (32GB max)
Wi-Fi capability Yes, wearable remote included
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (user replaceable)
Retail Price $399

GoPro HERO3 Black Edition

GoPro [www.gopro.com; (888) 600 4659]has been in the action cam game for a long time, but as the action cam segment grows, GoPro keeps making its hardware the best it can be. The company's latest generation of HERO cams is no different. Sporting a smaller profile and less weight, the HERO3 cam series also features faster performance, better audio, and an improved lens offering more sharpness, less distortion, and more field of view options than ever before. The new HERO3 also features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing control of up to 50 Wi-Fi-enabled GoPro cameras from a staggering 600 feet away. The built-in Wi-Fi allows your iOS, Android, and Windows smart phones and tablets to control the HERO3 cam's settings and to enable live preview.

GoPro offers the HERO3 in three flavors: White, Silver, and Black. The White edition is the base camera, while the Silver and Black each offer more features and functionality as you move up the list. All three cameras feature built-in Wi-Fi (previous GoPro cams required an add-on BackPac), and can be controlled by GoPro's Wi-Fi remote (included with the Black edition) or Wi-Fi app. The Black edition offers high-end cinema-level quality recording and up to 12-megapixel images with a burst rate of 30 frames per second for a total of nine different video resolutions and four photo modes (burst, continuous, time-lapse, and simultaneous photo/video). Besides the simultaneous photo/video mode, you can take a photo during video recording at any time as well by simply hitting the mode button.

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Specs
Available resolutions WVGA, 720p, 960p, 1080p, 1440p, 2.7K, 2.7K Cinema, 4K, 4K Cinema
File format .MP4
Sensor type HD CMOS
Field of view 170-degrees (127- and 90-degree also in 1080p, 720p mode, 127-degree in WVGA)
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 5-, 7-, 12-megapixel
LCD screen Optional with LCD Touch BackPac
Waterproof Yes, to 197 feet when using included case
Microphone Built in, external mic capable via USB adapter
Memory type MicroSD card (64GB max)
Wi-Fi capability Yes, remote included
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (user replaceable)
Retail Price $399.99

iON Air Pro Speed

The iON Air Pro [www.ioncamera.com; (855) 411-4466] cam is available in several themed models depending upon your area of interest. For motorsports and general automotive video capture, iON recommends its Air Pro Speed version, which is what it sent us to evaluate. The iON Air Pro, no matter the sub-model, features a compact "lipstick" cam design with an easy-to-use, single-slide switch for fast, on-the-go recording. Mount the iON Air Pro to your ride, slide the switch and you're recording. That's it. On the camera you'll find an HD/FullHD slide switch to change resolutions along with a MicroSD card slot, HDMI out, and a USB port for the included charging/transfer cable. Additional settings are accessed through the iON software that is embedded in the cam. Simply connect the cam to your PC via the included USB cable and launch the software. This is how firmware updates and other features are accessed as well.

iON's claim to fame is its instant ability to upload to social media channels when coupled with the optional Wi-Fi Podz attachment (optional for Air Pro, Air Pro Plus, and Air Pro Speed models, and included in the iON Air Pro Wi-Fi model). iON actually does this by recording dual file sizes simultaneously—a standard HD file for video production/viewing on a TV, and so on, and a smaller file just for social media sharing and video website publishing. There's no need to edit or resize the video, simply transfer the small file to your iOS or Android device via the Wi-Fi signal and then post it for all to see! iON's Air Pro Wi-Fi setup will also allow streaming of video wirelessly. Simply connect to the camera's Wi-Fi signal, and launch the wireless app to change settings, download/transfer files, or view the camera's signal. The camera does not need to be recording to stream either, so you can use the iON as sort of a "webcam" with your laptop even.

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Specs
Available resolutions 720p, 960p, 1080p
File format .MP4
Sensor type HD CMOS
Field of view 127-degree in 1080p, 170-degree in 960p, 150-degree in 720p
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 5-megapixel
LCD screen No
Waterproof Yes, to 30 feet with no extra case required
Microphone Built-in
Memory type MicroSD card (32GB max)
Wi-Fi capability Yes, with optional Wi-Fi PODZ
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (built-in)
Retail Price $299.99

Replay XD1080

Like several of the cams reviewed in our story, the Replay [www.replayxd.com; (805) 480-9800] XD1080 is a small cylindrical "lipstick"-style HD cam. Lightweight, with an anodized aluminum housing, the XD1080 uses two top-mounted buttons for simple control of on/off and record functions, both with vibratory feedback and colored LEDs to let you know what mode you're in. One-touch recording is also available for quick, on the fly recording. The XD1080's included HeimLock swivel mount makes positioning the cam easy, as the rotating socket allows a full 360-degree rotation of the camera body along with eight degrees of tilt. When combined with the built-in 360-degree ability of the lens to rotate within the mount, there's literally no camera angle you can't achieve for your epic video masterpiece.

Replay's ability to work in a motorsports environment is evident when you look at the cam's feature set as well as the available optional gear Replay offers. The XD1080 can stream live 1080p HD to an external source and has the ability to record audio from external sources as well, such as in-car radio or via a Lav mic, and more. The XD1080's various video and image settings are easily accessed on camera via two buttons that are exposed once the rear cap is unscrewed. Best of all, a series of multi-color LEDs easily depict what mode you are in (and the mode will not change or reset when you turn the cam off and on). If you need a reminder as to what color LED means what, simply look inside the removed cap for a full guide to the cam's video modes, frame rates, and mic settings!

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Specs
Available resolutions 720p, 960p, 1080p
File format .MOV
Sensor type CMOS
Field of view 135-degrees (110-degree in 1080p)
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 5-megapixel
LCD screen No
Waterproof Yes, to 9 feet with no extra case required (deep dive case is planned)
Microphone Built-in, external mic capable
Memory type MicroSD card (32GB max)
Wi-Fi capability No
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (built-in)
Retail Price $299.99

Sceptre Car Cam

The Sceptre [www.sceptre.com; (800) 788-2878] Car Cam CCR2000 is a little different from the rest of our reviewed cams in our guide. That's because the CCR2000 is more of a "crash cam" than an "action cam." We're sure you've seen the many dash cam videos on YouTube displaying collisions and near misses; well, that dash cam technology has come to the U.S. via Sceptre for those looking to protect themselves from scams, robbery, and more. Although the CCR2000's primary focus is vehicle crash recording, it is still a full 1080p HD cam that records video and in-car audio. It's perfect for track days, driver training videos, and more, which is why we opted to include it in our guide.

The CCR2000 features a single windshield suction-cup mount with a swivel for easy attachment to the inside of your windshield. We did find that with a little adjustment of the bracket, we could mount it to the door glass for different video angles as well. The CCR2000 has a built-in battery (user replaceable), but the cam is designed to be primarily powered from the car's lighter socket or power port. The battery life is about 50 minutes if you mount the cam too far away to use the charging cord. The CCR2000 automatically starts recording when the vehicle is started, which means you never have to worry about remembering to turn the cam on before you head out on track. The included 8GB SD card is good for 250 minutes of recording at 720p video. The CCR2000 is the only cam in our roundup with a built-in G-sensor. It is used to lock video clips and prevent their deletion in the advent of an accident. However, the sensor is also used to turn the camera on and record video if the car is hit while parked, which might just get you some video of the idiot that backed into you in that grocery store parking lot. Pretty cool idea if you ask us!

Specs
Available resolutions WVGA, 720p, 1080p
File format .MP4
Sensor type CMOS
Field of view 120-degree in 1080p, 140-degree in 720p
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 3-, 5-, 8-megapixel
LCD screen Yes, 2-inch LTPS (Low Temperature PolySilicon)
Waterproof No
Microphone Built-in
Memory type Standard SD card (32GB max)
Wi-Fi capability No
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (user replaceable)
Retail Price $399

Sony Action Cam

Sony [http://store.sony.com; (877) 865-7669] is one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers in the world and one of the first companies to produce a video camera for consumer use in the early 1980s. Over the years, Sony has pioneered a lot of video camera technology, so we're not surprised to see Sony enter the action cam/point-of-view market with its HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15 models. These full HD action cams feature compact and lightweight plastic housings that record HD video with full stereo recording of audio and include a slow motion mode, too. The unit is similar to the Contour in that it isn't quite a lipstick/bullet cam, but isn't a traditional "box" cam either. Control of the camera's settings is via two buttons on the side and the large record button on the end door; however, the side buttons are not accessible once the cam is in its waterproof case, so changing settings on the fly will require Wi-Fi connectivity or removing the cam from the waterproof case.

These cams feature Sony's SteadyShot image stabilization (the only cam in our review to use such technology) and a Carl Zeiss lens, like many of its fullsize video cam and digital camera offerings. The HDR-AS15 model reviewed here features built-in Wi-Fi that utilizes Sony's PlayMemories mobile app (iOS and Android available) to allow remote camera control, playback, and transfer of files to social media outlets. You can even use the Sony Action Cam with Sony's PlayStation 3 and PlayMemories Studio program to download, edit, and share your videos via your PS3! While Sony's attachment offerings lean more toward action sports, they do offer a quality suction-cup mount for motorsports use (used in our testing here) and an optional case door kit that allows better audio recording. You'll find some interesting attachments no other manufacturer offers, like the outer case with color LCD screen which turns the Sony Action Cam into a full-fledged mini-HD video cam, or the dog harness to strap your Sony Action Cam to your dog for those runs in the park!

Labeled a "wearable action camera," the Atom HD features a traditional "box cam" styling that fits inside a clear waterproof case

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Specs
Available resolutions VGA, 720p, 1080p
File format .MP4
Sensor type Exmor R CMOS
Field of view 120-degree and 170-degree, user selectable, SteadyShot in 120-degree only
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 2-megapixel
LCD screen Yes, 1.125-inch
Waterproof Yes, to 197 feet when using included case
Microphone Built-in (stereo)
Memory type MicroSD card or Memory Stick Micro (64GB max)
Wi-Fi capability Yes
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (user replaceable)
Retail Price $239.99 for HDR-AS15, $179 for HDR-AS10 (no Wi-Fi)

Swann Atom HD

Swann [www.swann.com; (562) 777 2551]isn't a newcomer to video cameras, though the company has only been in the action cam category for a short time. Swann is better known for its security camera offerings for home and small business protection. Swann's line of action cam offerings continues to grow and its latest is the Atom HD. Labeled a "wearable action camera," the Atom HD features a traditional "box cam" styling that fits inside a clear waterproof case (good to 32 feet). Though the Atom HD includes the standard flat and curved adhesive-backed mounts for car mounting, helmet mounting, and the like, the Atom HD is the only cam in our roundup that features a ¼-20 threaded tripod mount not only in the waterproof case, but in the camera body itself. This allows easy installation via the standard tripod mount suction cup accessory we've used to mount most of the cams in our video testing.

The Atom HD has some interesting features you won't find on other cams in this segment as well. For starters, the Atom HD features a focusable lens. The cam ships with the lens in the standard configuration, but for underwater or macro lens use, the lens can be rotated to refocus the optics. The Atom HD also features a built-in LED light to help with low-light recording and dual MicroSD card slots that allow a total of 64GB of storage for up to nine hours of recording! The built-in 1.5-inch LCD screen allows easy on-camera setting changes and can also be used to set up camera angles and play back footage that you've recorded on the Atom HD.

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Specs
Available resolutions 720p, 1080p
File format .MOV
Sensor type CMOS
Field of view 110-degree in 1080p, 135-degree in 720p
Still photo mode Yes
Photo resolution 3-, 5-, 8-megapixel
LCD screen Yes, 1.5-inch TFT
Waterproof Yes, to 32 feet when using included case
Microphone Built-in
Memory type dual MicroSD cards (32GB max per card)
Wi-Fi capability No
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium-Ion (user replaceable)
Retail Price $249.99

iPhone Answers
As any Apple fan will attest to, the iPhone has a pretty decent lens on it and takes HD video (720p on iPhone 4, 1080p on iPhone 4S and iPhone 5). The problem usually becomes, how do I use my iPhone to take video if I’m the one behind the wheel? There are a plethora of in-car phone mounts that could be used for in-car video with just a little forethought, but if you want to mount your iPhone outside your car, or use it in a less than perfect environment (rain, snow, mud), you need a case and a way to attach it. We found these two great options for the iPhone from Hitcase and Optrix.

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Hitcase Pro
The Hitcase Pro is the premium model from Hitcase (they offer a base model as well). The Hitcase Pro is offered for iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 models and is waterproof to 33 feet and features a wide angle lens built into the case. In the case your iPhone is still completely usable for calls, texting, etc. so there’s no need to remove the phone from its protective case to fire off a text or check your Facebook status. The Railslide mount means you can easily install or remove your iPhone from your helmet, car, or other mounting surface in seconds; just squeeze and pull. The optional mounts and accessories for the Hitcase Pro are vast, including suction cup and roll bar mounts. Hitcase’s own app uses the power of the iPhone’s internal sensors to overlay GPS info and more on your videos too.

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Optrix
Like the Hitcase, the Optrix XD4 and XD5 cases completely protect your iPhone from the elements and are waterproof to 33 feet while still allowing full use of your iPhone (in case you want to play Angry Birds while kayaking!). The Optrix XD4 and XD5 use the power of the iPhone’s 1080p video and the Optrix wide angle lens to offer great video of your on or off track experiences. Optrix offers apps to overlay GPS info, track map, and more. Optrix users have even been known to use GoPro’s app to control external GoPro cameras mounted on their cars with the Optrix used for in-car video, controlling all the cams via the iPhone. You can even use Apple’s FaceTime to steam your in-car video back to your friends track side!


Action Camera Comparison