The Ultimate Action Cam Shootout

Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio/video pro. His work includes being a managing producer for Sundance Media Group, author of several books and training videos, multiple award winning filmmaker (Grammy, Emmy, DuPont, Peabody, amongst others), Creative Cow forum host, VASST trainer, and consultant/trainer for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters.

To put it simply, Douglas knows his stuff, so when he did his Ultimate POV Shootout, we sat up to listen.

Taking eleven of the most popular ‘name brand’ action cameras, Douglas tested them in several locations across the world. He also created a specialised helmet rig (dubbed the Frankenlens) and an underwater rig, so that all the cams could be tested in the same time & place. A panel of four people served as judges to review the footage and choose which of the eleven shot the best images. The cameras were also tested for useability, battery life, wireless functionality/reliability and audio features/quality.

Testing took place at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios Jamaica (snorkeling, bobsled, and zipline testing), Lake Elsinore, California (skydive tests), Virgin River Gorge (road/motorcycle testing) and Toronto, Ontario (slow motion).

The Frankenlens – copyright Creative Cow

The Frankenlens – copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle

All of the cams were charged and used straight from the box, without the tweaks and settings that most have.

Here’s the list of competitors (all prices in USD):

  • GoPro 3+ ($399.00)
  • GoPro 3 Black (349.00)
  • Sony AS100 ($399.00)
  • Sony AS30 ($299.00)
  • JVC Adixxion ($299.00)
  • Midland XTC400 ($249.00)
  • Polaroid XS100 (169.00)
  • ReplayXD Mini ($179.00)
  • Liquid Ego ($179.00)
  • Drift Innovation Ghost S ($399.00)
  • Garmin VIRB

“‘I’ve gathered what I believe to be the most viable options for most “extreme” sport enthusiasts for shooting broadcast-quality video. During this review, each camera is set to 1920×1080, 30fps (except where otherwise noted).”

The  scoring sheet was used as a reference guide and to help the judges remain as objective as possible.

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copyright of Douglas Spotted Eagle

 

Douglas noted that the scoring weight may at times seem unbalanced, with the card containing two scores, one for image quality and the other for overall useability.

He gave examples to explain how the scores were calculated: “the battery life test, the Liquid Ego went for nearly 5 hours of record time, blowing through a few cards, while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3Black barely reached 50 minutes of record time. The Liquid Ego nets a score of 5 while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3+Black earn a score of 2. The Sony AS series weighed in at just over 2.75 hours earning a score of 4.”

 

 

IMAGE QUALITY

The cameras were compared for dynamic range (darkest to the brightest representation of image content), saturation, color accuracy, codec compression/banding/pixelation, motion management, and frame to frame blurring.

 

copyright Creative Cow

copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle

We recommend watching the below video in 4K.

It’s pretty easy to see who the clear winner of this category is.

WINNER: Sony AS100V

 

“All panelists unanimously chose this action camera over all others in all resolutions and framerates. The GoPro 3+ came in second. The Sony AS30 takes third prize, and an honorable mention goes to the Drift Ghost S.

In well-lit situations, the Midland and Garmin VIRB cameras really surprised me too, but at 35Mbps (this camera also does 50Mbps in XAVC-S mode, not used in this shootout), the Sony AS100 sweeps the image quality score.”

 

BATTERY LIFE:

WINNER: Liquid Ego

 

“This was a stunner. I left all the cameras running/recording and went to dinner. In actual use, battery life would be lessened by movement, but the bigger point for these tests was how long the cameras could record. In most cases, the camera battery died prior to the card being filled (I used 16 GB cards for this test). The camera kept running and running, filling a 16 and then 8 GB card before finally dying at just under 5 hours in 1080 mode. WiFi was disabled (all WiFi was disabled for most tests). This is one of the least expensive cameras in the shootout; it has some shortcomings, yet one major bonus is that this camera, removed from its own mounting clip, can be fitted to GoPro mounting systems. Brilliant move on the part of Liquid!

What I didn’t like about this camera are the number of button presses to record in 720-30p or 60p without wireless enabled. However, shooting in 1080 mode is as simple as turning it on and hitting record.

When in the waterproof case, it’s impossible to see the LCD display. For budget users, this is an easy camera to like.”

 

UNDERWATER USE

WINNER (3-way tie): GoPRo3+, Sony AS100, Drift Ghost S.

 

copyright Creative Cow

copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle

 

“What made the difference in this category is “how deep can they go and how easy are they to operate under water?” I did not take the action cameras to their rated depths and I am relying on the manufacturers for accurate information on how deep these POV cameras can go. With that said, the Replay XD Mini, Garmin VIRB, Ghost S, Polaroid XS, do not require waterhousings.

After spending 3 hours in the water with the action cameras, water was no issue for any of the cameras. GoPro and Sony both include the waterproof housing in the purchase price. Garmin, Midland, Liquid, and even ReplayXD (for depths greater than 12′) all require the purchase of a waterproof housing for wet use.

For underwater image quality, Sony AS100 and Drift GhostS provide the most accurate image, yet the GoPro has a slightly smoother color saturation that is pleasing to the eye.

For reasons I could not figure out, the Sony AS30 fogged in the lens. This didn’t happen with the AS100 and more curious, it didn’t happen with the hand-held AS15 I was using to document the event. The fogging didn’t affect the image much, but it was there. What I liked most about the AS100 is that the LCD panel is large and it was easy to see what was going on with the camera while under water.”

copyright Creative Cow

copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle

 

 

MOUNTS

WINNER (SUPRISINGLY): REPLAYXD Mini

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“Although the (seemingly obvious) winner for mounts would be GoPro, it actually isn’t.

On sheer numbers of achievable angles and mounting systems, REPLAYXD Mini takes the prize with GoPro following a close second. There is a reason there are so many mounting kit options for some of the cameras out there; their factory mounts are terrible.

Many of the parts and pieces available for various POV cameras are designed to compensate for the initial weaknesses of the mounting system. Mounting systems matter far more than most users of action cams realize. If the mount is not 100% solid then the image will be unstable and aside from needing stabilization in post (which affects image quality), the image will likely incur ‘jello-cam’ also known as “rolling shutter,” which cannot be repaired.”

 

LOW LIGHT

WINNER (A Tie): GoPro3+ and Sony AS100V

The table cloth in this image is purple, not black. The GoPro3+ (lower left) is smoother in its dynamic range but less accurate than the Sony AS100V (upper left). The GoPro 3+ at 16Mbps is quite noisy, while the Sony AS30 is clean, but also displaying a blueish cast (copyright Creative Cow)

The table cloth in this image is purple, not black. The GoPro3+ (lower left) is smoother in its dynamic range but less accurate than the Sony AS100V (upper left). The GoPro 3+ at 16Mbps is quite noisy, while the Sony AS30 is clean, but also displaying a blueish cast (copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle)

 

“This is a challenging category for most of these cameras. All of them have very small imagers and lenses that shoot at a very high resolution. Packing so many pixels onto very small surfaces means very little light can get into the individual pixel sensors and therefore, noise is usually part and parcel of for each of these POV cameras.

GoPro offers the smoother color representation with slightly more noise. Sony is brighter with less noise, but a blue cast is apparent in both Sony cameras.”

 

SLOW-MOTION & OVERCRANK

WINNER: Sony AS100

“It’s no surprise that the newer Sony AS100< wins in this category. Only Sony and GoPro offer high framerates of 120 or 240 frames per second, so only the Sony AS100 and the GoPro 3+ were tested for these features. Most every action sport benefits from slow motion, so with the ability of the Sony AS100 to sync up to five cameras with one button push, it makes for a wonderful mix of slow motion and normal motion possibilities.”

 

copyright Creative Cow

copyright Douglas Spotted Eagle

OVERALL WINNER: Sony AS100

Sony AS100

Sony AS100

 

“All in all, each of the action camera/POV camera products tested in this shootout did very well and far exceeded the quality of cameras of only one generation past. This shootout truly came down to a select few cameras, and any one of the top five are excellent choices depending on requirements for form factor, image quality, post-production requirements, and high framerates.”

Final Scores:

  1. Sony AS100 — 74 points
  2. GoPro 3+ — 60 points
  3. ReplayXD Mini 1080 — 58 points
  4. Sony AS30 — 53 points
  5. Garmin VIRB — 52.5 points
  6. GoPro 3 (Black) — 51 points
  7. Drift Ghost S — 49 points
  8. JVC Adixxion — 45 points
  9. Midland XTC400 — 41 points
  10. Liquid Ego — 34 points
  11. Polaroid — 34 points

“Not unexpectedly, the scoring fell very close to the price points of the cameras. Only the ReplayXD Mini was the surprise. Ultimately, it came down to a few things, all of them feature-related as opposed to picture quality related.

It’s impossible to suggest that any one camera is significantly better than the others for overall use. My personal preferences come down to the Sony AS100V, it’s been called the “GoPro-killer” by many reviewers, but there is a reason everyone compares themselves to GoPro cameras; GoPro is a damn fine product.

The Garmin VIRB took me by surprise…[it] is an exciting newcomer to the mix of cameras. Midland’s new XTC 400 really threw me for a loop, as the camera feels/looks cheap…the picture quality, price point, and ease of use make the Midland a wonderful choice for the budget-conscious sport shooter.

Finally, Liquid’s EGO really is a delight. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to use when in the water housing, and it has a mount identical to GoPro, but it looks like a Minion [from Despicable Me]. How can one just simply not LOVE a Minion? The record time makes this an all-day camera and given that it shares mount points with GoPro, a whole world of mounts are available for this fun little camera at the lowest price point in the mix (it barely made the review criteria).”

Douglas did many more tests on the cameras before coming to this result, you can read his full review here.

 

 

1 Comment

  • Reply June 5, 2014

    Cris Cazor B

    I have always said that the ReplayXD camera has the best form factor, it is so easy to get the perfect position without fiddling around magic arms.
    Still waiting for the 4K version and at least 120fps at 1080/2K, though

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