2015 POV Camera Shootout: Best in test winners revealed

Find out about testing protocol and which cameras were tops in the test

Cameras

2015 POV Camera Shootout

POV Camera Shootout Test Rig

Editor’s Note:This article is the final installment of the 2015 Mtbr/RoadBikeReview POV Camera Shootout. We’ve also published individual reviews of the Drift Ghost-S, Garmin Virb Elite, GoPro HERO4 Silver, iON Air Pro 3 Wi-Fi, Shimano Sport Camera and Sony Action Cam Mini. Read all POV Camera Shootout articles HERE and you can download full resolution video files from all the tests HERE.

Introduction

We did the first Mtbr/RoadBikeReview POV shootout in the spring of 2013 and it was a huge success. It was one of the first proper POV camera tests anywhere on the Internet where all the cameras were mounted together and recorded the exact same thing. Since then, a whole new generation of POV cameras has been introduced with improved features and performance. All the cameras in this year’s shootout record at 1920 x 1080 full-HD and 4 of them are able to record full-HD at 60 FPS for even better quality. All the test cameras also have built-in Wi-Fi with mobile apps, so you can start and stop recording, change settings, and see a live view display on your smartphone.

There are four parts to our 2015 POV camera shootout: the bike shop intro, the trail test, the tunnel test and a high-speed slow-motion demo. Each test was used to compare and evaluate different qualities of the cameras’ video performance. Along the way, we also got a good feel for how to use each camera. After all the testing was done, we put together the final video (below) and analyzed and compared all the footage to determine which cameras were the best. To learn more about the video and see our 2015 POV camera picks, keep reading. To download full resolution video files from all the tests, go HERE.

Bit Rate and Video Quality

Before we get into the POV video analysis, let’s talk a little about bit-rate and video quality. In the past, when you’d look at POV camera footage, the first reaction was, I must have done something wrong. No matter what the camera or settings, the video always looked super mushy — especially if there was a lot of motion. As a DSLR video shooter, that’s not at all what I’m used to.

Most POV cameras record at a relatively low bit rate and use a lot of compression. The result is blurry action video that lacks detail. The faster you get moving, the softer the video gets. However, GoPro’s Protune and Sony’s XAVC S format (Pro mode) record about twice the amount of data as the other cameras in this test (45 Mbps and 50 Mbps, respectively). The result is footage with much smoother tonal blends, finer detail, and better color rendition. It’s proper looking video.

In our last POV camera shootout all camera settings were kept as close to the same as possible, ignoring GoPro’s Protune mode. So even though the GoPro came out on top in that shootout, our test didn’t show its full potential. For the 2015 shootout, we tested the GoPro and Sony at their true maximum quality, using GoPro’s Protune and Sony’s XAVC S Pro mode. If you really look at the GoPro and Sony footage in this test, you’ll see they look a lot better than the other videos, especially in the fast bits of the trail video.

Over the Edge bike shop manager Clayton Coleman in a frame grab from the final 2015 POV camera shootout video.

Over the Edge bike shop manager Clayton Coleman in a frame grab from the final 2015 POV camera shootout video.

Bike Shop Test

The bike shop video was filmed in 1920 x 1080 full-HD at the fastest frame rate and highest quality offered by each camera. Although this shootout is mainly to show the video quality on the bike, most of users also end up using POV cameras to film off the bike as well. This part of the video, filmed at Over the Edge in Hurricane, Utah, is perfect for evaluating video quality indoors, with non-organic, manmade details and people. Since the light was pretty low inside the shop, it’s also a good place to evaluate low light performance.

One of the first things you’ll notice in the bike shop footage is the lens distortion. Every camera but the Ion makes the walls and ceiling look curved. The Shimano’s 180° lens has the most distortion, although it does show more of the space than the others. Ultimately, we thought the GoPro HERO4 Silver’s high bit-rate Protune footage looked best in the bike shop. Although the exposure was a tad dark, details in the HERO4 Silver’s footage were better than the other cameras, and the sound was very good. The Sony Action Cam Mini, which also features higher bit-rate footage, came in second. The Garmin was the worst performer in the bike shop, with very soft, blurry video quality.

A split image made from two frame grabs taken from the same point in our POV shootout trail video. Notice how refined the detail is in the GoPro Protune footage (right).

A split image made from two frame grabs taken from the same point in our POV shootout trail video. Notice how refined the detail is in the GoPro Protune footage.

Trail Test

The trail footage is the most important part of our test since that’s how most of us actually use our POV cameras. For the trail video, we set all the cameras to their fastest frame rate and best quality at 1920 x 1080 full-HD resolution. In response to the comments on our last POV shootout, we stepped up the trail video this time by following another rider (thanks, Clayton Coleman of Over the Edge, Hurricane!) and using a more entertaining trail. Riding anything really rowdy is out of the question because the test helmet weighs over 7 pounds and is completely unsafe. But this section of Jem Trail in Virgin, Utah, is relatively safe while still delivering some solid cheap thrills since it’s literally right on the edge of a cliff. The background scenery isn’t bad, either.

As mentioned earlier, one of the main problems with POV camera footage is detail loss when you really get moving. This is most obvious in faster bits of the trail video, except for the Sony and GoPro footage, which was recorded at a much higher bit rate than the other cameras are capable of. So of course the Sony and GoPro cameras come out on top. Which one looks better is a matter of personal taste. The GoPro footage has better detail than the Sony. However, the color and contrast in the GoPro footage are very flat and need some editing work to really look good. The Sony looks good right out of the camera, although the detail isn’t quite as good as the GoPro. It’s still far better than the four other cameras in our test, though. Sony’s built-in Steadyshot image stabilization also gives the Action Cam Mini the smoothest trail footage of all the cameras. You do sacrifice some scenery for the stabilization, though; turning on the Steadyshot image stabilization changes the angle-of-view from 170° to 120°. More experienced videographers may decide to leave the in-camera image stabilization turned off and correct camera shake in post, instead. That way you can fine-tune the anti-shake to your own taste, although that requires cropping the original full-HD footage, theoretically compromising quality.

A frame grab showing sun flare from the Shimano Sport Camera's 180° lens.

A frame grab showing sun flare from the Shimano Sport Camera’s 180° lens.

Worst trail video is a tie between the Shimano and Garmin cameras. Part of that is due to both cameras maxing out at 30 FPS in full-HD; the other cameras record full-HD video at 60 FPS. The Garmin also suffers from over-saturated and surreal-looking color. With the Shimano, the problem is the lens. Between the crazy 180° angle-of-view and the plastic lens cover, sun flare is out of control, sometimes completely obscuring the rider in front of us. I believe the Shimano’s extreme wide angle is also a little motion sickness-inducing, something I didn’t experience with any of the other video footage.

A tunnel test frame grab, as our POV cameras respond to the changing light and adjust exposure to show the mountains and sky.

A tunnel test frame grab, as our POV cameras respond to the changing light and adjust exposure to show the mountains and sky.

Tunnel Test

The purpose of the tunnel footage is to test the responsiveness of the cameras’ exposure systems. You know how POV videos are often alternately too bright and too dark when a rider is going in and out of trees? Watch how the video reacts when we go in and out of the tunnel. Coming back out for the second time, you can clearly see the mountains resolve much sooner with the Drift, GoPro and Sony cameras. The outside details, including the sky, form the soonest with the Sony footage, followed by the GoPro, and then the Drift. The Ion fared the worst in this test, with sky detail not appearing until we’re well out of the tunnel and starting back up the hill.

Rowdy the Clown frame grab from the high-speed, slow motion portion of our 2015 POV camera shootout.

Rowdy the Clown frame grab from the high-speed, slow motion portion of our 2015 POV camera shootout.

Slow Motion Test

The high-speed portion of our shootout was filmed at Wasatch Indoor Bike Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, with each camera set to the fastest available frame rate at 720p. That’s 120 FPS for all of the cameras except the Garmin, which maxes out at 60 FPS. For those who don’t know, one of the main reasons to shoot at a frame rate faster than 30 frames per second is so you can slow the footage down and watch it in slow motion. The faster the frame rate, the more you can slow down your footage without losing quality. The video here was imported and edited at 120 FPS then slowed down to 30 FPS in post. Honestly, this is more of a slow motion demo than a real test, since it’s hard to discern any real quality differences in this test. However, if you look carefully, you can see the Garmin slow motion footage looks rougher and isn’t nearly as smooth as the clips from the other cameras. Faster is definitely better if you want good-looking slow-motion video.

Continue to page 2 for our best in test winners and full photo gallery »

About the author: John Shafer

John Shafer, a.k.a. Photo-John, is a respected photography expert and adventure photographer. He’s been an Mtbr forum member and contributor since 1999 and you can find his writing and photography across the Web, in mountain bike magazines and on his own Web site, Photo-John.net. John loves big mountains, rocky singletrack, low-visibility powder days, 6-inch trail bikes, coffee and tacos. Look for him pushing his bike uphill, carrying an inappropriate amount of camera gear in an overloaded backpack.


Related Articles


NOTE: There are two ways to comment on our articles: Facebook or Wordpress. Facebook uses your real name and can be posted on your wall while Wordpress uses our login system. Feel free to use either one.

Facebook Comments:



Wordpress Comments:

  • Singletrackmack says:

    I like the multi camera helmet mount contraption, but that trail he took the cameras out to test them didn’t have much for us to see. There was like two colors, brown and brownish-green. He didn’t ride through any trees or by any grassy fields or colorful bushes, there were no rocks on the ground, no moss, no stream crossing so we could see how they handle glare, no blue water… nothing, just brown.

    Would be nice to see how these cameras handle some colors and high speed through some trees. Can’t get a good idea of the definition and detail from that trail. Need more differnces in exposure as well. That tunnel test kind of showed us how they handle light changes, but taking them in and out through some trees on a sunny day would give us much more info on the camera’s abilities to handle light that changes back and forth quickly. Also, what about some chunk so we can see how they handle some bumps?

    Great idea with the helmet and quality cameras, but testing them on that trail is like testing the handling and speed of sports cars on a straight road in a school zone.

  • d says:

    I don’t even have a TV.no need for pov

  • Sean says:

    Living in the Pacific Northwest, which is the best for rapid alternating between sun and shade?
    I have to say, on my computer monitor they all look about the same.

  • dave says:

    this is just a waste of time. DUH. of course GoPro is the best by a wide margin

  • Shred says:

    Contour+2. Where was it in the test? Rotating lense, laser pointer/view finder, GPS, 1 function on/off record button, etc.

  • Patrick says:

    There are many out there.. but I”m surprised the Contour was not a part of the test.

  • Jay Cutler says:

    Great article, very informative, nice work!! So many other small companies trying to get in the market, JVC has been to Interbike and failed, and this last year another company came to I.B. with what they claimed was absolutely better in every way than Go Pro. Won’t mention any names, obviously they weren’t even enough of a contender to be in the shootout. So much for R.O.I. for that show… All in all, it sounds like the Sony is the best bet to elevate the marketplace here, and when they win, we all win!

    • Skroon says:

      Good to see some real competition to the GoPro. I figured Sony was just going to do what they normally do(introduce a subpar product to the segment, and sell units based on their brand reputation alone), but sounds like a real competitor.

      • Photo-John says:

        When it comes to cameras, Sony isn’t messing around. That goes for their POV cameras, their camcorders, their P&S cameras, and their interchangeable lens cameras. They have a great camera team and I’m really happy with how well the Action Cam Mini performed in this test.

  • djcrossmax@live.com says:

    This is not an apples to apples comparison. The Sony used in this test is the mini with lower specs than the HDR-AS100V. In terms of functionality the Sony HDR-AS100V blows the GoPro out of the water.

  • diylighter says:

    Why not include the JVC this year? Is it old tech now compared to the others? In previous tests, it came up close to the GoPro.

    • Photo-John says:

      That’s not really accurate. In the last POV shootout we did, I said the JVC was the easiest camera to use. But the video quality was actually pretty poor compared to the other cameras in the test.

  • Dub says:

    Great article. I have an early IonPro and was rooting for it to win, but after being objective with what I saw in this article, I think my money will be going somewhere else for my next sports camera. I love the quality of the GoPro, and I know it is the one to beat, but I just don’t want the big box on my helmet – the round cylinder is the better design from a purely object based perspective. I do think the competition is producing some great advances and I love it!

  • timcardoza@gmail.com says:

    Should have tested the JVC Addixxion 2. So easy to use and great quality, smokes everything you tested except gopro.

  • bvader says:

    Was the sony in Pro Mode on the trail or not? Seems a bit soft…as noted.

  • nmc says:

    So much effort and you failed on the most important point: has any of these a *frame* buffer, rather than the usual toyish line buffer?

  • Christian says:

    Great little review, I would have liked to have seen how the GoPro Black compared, especially on the dark to light. Did have a laugh too, we started off in 2004 and ended up in 2014, all for 2015 review :D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*