One of the newest entrants into the action camera arena, Drift Innovation's HD Ghost camera brings a number of clever additions, including a large color LCD, easy-to-use remote, and excellent battery life. Can this $399 upstart usurp the likes of GoPro?
At 4.1 x 2 x 1.3 inches and 5.9 ounces, the Drift Innovation HD Ghost is roughly the same size and weight as the Contour+2 camera. Like that device, we also like that we could rotate the Ghost's lens 300 degrees, so we didn't have to be too particular about where we mounted it on our helmet. Instead of bare metal, the Drift camera has a rubberized coating, which makes it comfortable to hold.
On one side of the Ghost is a small color Gorilla Glass LCD that shows what the camera is recording, and lets you access the settings using the four rubber buttons along the top edge. The front-most button turns the camera on or off, and also stops and starts recordings.
A back panel on the camera unscrews to reveal its battery, mini USB, mini HDMI, and microSD card slots. Out of the box, the HD Ghost will work in up to 3 meters of water; an optional $39 case lets you bring the camera down as much as 60 meters.
We like the large wrist remote, which let us start and stop recording without having to reach up and fumble around on the camera itself.
By comparison, the GoPro Hero3 with its waterproof case--good for up to 197 feet--measures 2.8 x 2.6 x 1.4 inches and weighs 6.2 ounces. You can't yet take the HD Ghost to those depths--the company has yet to release a waterproof case, although the camera on its own can go as deep as 10 feet.
As with the GoPro Hero3, the Drift camera connects to your iPhone via Wi-Fi, which means you can't use that connection for anything else when hooked up to the camera. Of course, it's rare that you'll find a hotspot in the great outdoors, and Wi-Fi allows for better streaming between the camera and your phone.
The Drift's iOS app shows in the upper right corner the Wi-Fi connection, whether there's an SD Card, and the battery life. The lower right portion of the screen shows the resolution, fps, field of view, and exposure. On the left side are controls to start and stop recording, Settings, switching from video to stills. You can also use the app to view recorded video and photo on the camera, too.
One advantage Drift's iOS app has over ones from Contour and GoPro is that you can download video from the camera to your iPhone, and then upload it directly to Facebook or YouTube.
In addition to viewing what it's recording, the Drift's LCD can also be used to adjust camera settings on the fly, from the resolution of video and stills to the field of view. We like that you can choose to record either a wide-angle 170 degrees, 127 degrees, or 90 degrees.
We also like that the Drift camera can take up to five 11-megapixel still shots in a second; by comparison, the Contour+2 can only take one photo per second, at a max of 5-MP. The GoPro Hero3 can shoot 10 fps.
Other cool features include Video Tag/Loop, which records video in a 5-minute loop, and lets you save that footage if you happen to capture something really cool.
Video quality from the Ghost HD's camera was good, but not the best. The reds and blues of skiers' jackets on an overcast day were a bit muddy, and it was harder to see the variations in the snow than on competing action cams. Overall, we preferred the Contour+2 and the GoPro Hero3, both of whose video showed brighter colors and greater contrast.
Drift estimates that the Ghost HD will last up to 3 hours on a charge. In our tests (VWGA at 30 fps), the device lasted 3.5 hours, the best among action cameras we've tested. The Sony camera, by comparison, lasted 3 hours, the Contour+2 lasted 2 hours, and the GoPro Hero3 lasted just 1.5 hours.
While we generally prefer the video quality from the Contour+2 and GoPro Hero3 cameras, the Drift Innovation HD Ghost has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is nearly double the battery life. When you're far from an outlet -- which is often the case when using an action cam -- the last thing you want to worry about is running out of juice. More than that, though, its multitude of shooting modes and comprehensive iOS app make for a potent combination for capturing outdoor exploits.