POV Action Cam Shootout – Which Camera Is The Best?


POV Shootout Follow-Up: Video Quality, Sound & Mounts

You guys asked a ton of great questions and made lots of great comments here on the article comments, on our forums and on Facebook. It because clear that there were some areas I glossed over or didn’t pay enough attention to. So I’m adding a little bit on here at the end to give some more details on the video quality, sound and mounting options.

Contour Helmet Vent Mount Harness

First of all, let me share my final image quality ranking with you. It played a major role in my Top Picks for video quality, best value and overall best. But I figure you’ll probably appreciate seeing how I ranked the cameras. So here’s the list, ranked in order of video quality:

  1. 1) GoPro Hero3 Black
  2. 2) Sony Action Cam
  3. 3) Contour+ 2
  4. 4) Drift HD Ghost
  5. 5) Replay XD1080
  6. 6) Time lapse mode

I had lot of questions about audio quality of the cameras I tested. In order to get the project done I just left the audio out of the equation. Plus, in most serious POV videos, the ambient sound gets replaced with a soundtrack. But for those of you who are interested in the cameras’ built-in sound quality, I just spent a bit of time checking out the full HD videos and evaluating the audio quality. The biggest issues with sound are wind noise and muffled sound, and all of the cameras have some wind noise when you get moving. Not being that experienced with POV shooting, I don’t really know what the solution is for wind noise. However, if you’re using these cameras for stuff other than action video, all of the cameras we tested, except for the JVC, offer inputs for an external microphone so you can get better sound than the built-in mic provides. But for out-of-the-box sound, here’s my POV shootout audio ranking:

  1. 1) Drift HD Ghost
  2. 2) Sony Action Cam
  3. 3) JVC Adixxion
  4. 4) GoPro Hero3 Black
  5. 5) Replay XD1080
  6. 6) Contour+ 2

The GoPro Chesty Mount

Mounting options are a big consideration with POV cameras. If there’s no stable way to mount a given camera, it’s not really a very good POV camera. And for mountain biking, one of the critical mounts is the helmet vent harness, which straps the camera to the top of your helmet. GoPro and Contour offer the most options, including helmet vent mounts. No doubt, that’s part of the reason they’re so popular. GoPro is also the only manufacturer that offers a chest mount. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but personally, I think the chest is one of the best places to mount a camera for ski and mountain bike videos – the two things I my POV camera for. So I think GoPro’s Chesty mount is one more thing that gives them an edge in the market. For the cameras that don’t offer a helmet vent harness mount, like the Sony Action Cam, adhesive mounts actually work really well – as long as there’s a spot on your helmet with enough surface area. If you’ve got a full-face or dirt jump helmet, that’s not a problem, but for standard, vented bike helmets, lack of a helmet vent harness could be a deal-killer. The bottom line is, POV camera makers who want to be real players need to have good mounts for all activities. Right now, GoPro and Contour are the best in the test with Drift and Replay following just behind. JVC and Sony are at the bottom of the cameras I tested – for now.

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.

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  • bryan says:

    Thanks for this shootout, it’s about time someone tackled this. I would have liked to see video samples with the stabilization turned on, I had difficulty distinguishing details from one camera to the other with the images bouncing around. Correct me if I’m wrong but I can’t think of a situation where you would turn it off anyway, so would it be a moot point? I really want to like the jvc the best mostly for its ease of use and for its narrower lens (I hate the exaggerated fisheye view of most of them), but I will wait for a more detailed review before I consider buying one.

  • Patia says:

    Great work, John! Really interesting.

  • Stephen McCabe says:

    Great shoot out John I was quite interested to see your findings and also glad that you picked the GoPro 3 as I just got mine last week as well as a steadycam smoothie and have been having quite a good time discovering the fine differences from Still to video (I Like still better) and was pleasantly surprised with the Quality of the video as well as the stills .I have the Galaxy S3 with the GoPro App works great as you now have a screen for deference to set up your shot quite cool I thought. I have heard rumors that the new GoPro 4 will have interchangeable lens.Thanks again for your great reviews

  • criscobike says:

    From what I hear about the GoPro, you are only held back by the speed of your computer.

  • I wish such a comparo was around when I got the Drift Stealth a couple of years ago. I now have a Drift HD as well. They seemed about the best for night videos at the time.

    John, would a night ride comparo be possible?

    With the Drift HD on low light and + 2 exposure, am I getting the best video to test lights with? If not, how much more is available from the best of the lot under low light conditions?

    BTW replaceable lenses are a nice feature. The old Stealth lose its lens cover due to an impact. Still going, but less water resistant.


  • Oscar Munoz says:

    I have used all these cameras and what I can say is:
    1. Hero3 = Amazing IQ but buggy as hell and horrible battery life (lock ups read Amazon reviews) Has a sweet remote!
    2. Contour+2 = Great IQ and very easy to use. Looks cool when helmet mounted and looks great on a rifle (Military folks love these cameras) Also has GPS data that lets you imbed speed and location into videos. No Remote (only app)
    3. Sony Action Cam = Good/OK IQ but colors are way off, higher FPS modes don’t record audio and are already slo-mo. No remote (only app)
    4. ReplayXD = So-So/OK IQ – Small and has cool accessories
    5. JVC – Looks and sounds bad – Nice LCD
    6. Drift – OK IQ – Awesome remote. Too Bulky

    • bn880 says:

      Thanks a lot man (Oscar Munoz)! If it wasn’t for your comment I would have bought the GoPro risking those failures that many people are having it. So I did get the Sony over Contour; much better overall image quality and audio quality. (is the main thing about a camera IMO). Also a bit smaller than Contour. Mounting options of the Sony however suck (rigid glue on mounts or some headband mounts with the OUTDOOR kit, which don’t fit bike helmets). All but one mount require that the camera is in the waterproof case, which adds to weight, size and makes it impossible to access many features.

      But anyway, Thanks again for the warning. Amazon reviews are pretty clear about it.

  • skiahh says:

    I’d have to disagree with a couple of your conclusions/opinions. First, I don’t think the chest mount video is the best for mountain biking – the FOV makes people’s arms look like ET’s, which is kind of weird and distracting to me. And so many of the chest mount videos seem to be angled down so all you see is bike and trail going under the bike, not what’s coming. And second, I wonder about your easiest to use choice. The Contour has a single slide switch to turn it on and off. It doesn’t get more simple than that.

    I think you should have put in a category for variety of, and ease of mounts. It would be between the GoPro and the Contour and, at least in my opinion, the Contour’s form factor wins easily here. The GoPro is big (relatively speaking) and boxy where the Contour can be tucked into a lot of places without much fear of snagging something. And for me, it’s a major factor. With my ContourROAM tucked up against my headset, it gets a great perspective and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb… or a target for a tree branch.

    No disagreement, though, on the best overall being the GoPro; the video it produces is pretty amazing. And I’m a Contour guy!

  • magnetjim says:

    the sony blows the gopro out da water. pause at 1:51 sony and 1:56 gopro and just look at how much more detail the sony gives! sony won this one hands down! sounds like gopro gives more money to mtbr

  • Freeride says:

    I thought the Contour looked the best, blacks were much sharper and the distance was about right for POV. The Go pro was too far out and the Sony was way too fish eyed. The trees were like bows. I would agree with the comment about ease of use on the Contour. So easy-The go pro is a camera that acts like a POV as the contour and Sony are POV cameras. The new Black Ops game has the Solider’s wearing the Contour.

  • Chris says:

    I have used both the Gopro and Contour. I now prefer the Contour. It is much simpler to use. The battery lasts a long time. The Gopro hero 2 battery was ok but epic rides required bacpacs etc. The new Contour mounts are nice especially the flex staps. The new Hero 3 has all kinds of problems. The CEO had to put out a message apologizing for it. Stay away from VIO, the hd version is crap. It was the worst purchase I have made. No experience with Drift but the Ghost looks interesting.

  • Michael Høgsbro says:

    Hi John! What a great test “all in one – POV camera shootout test” Very informative, and very helpful. Thanks for sharing and making the effort of doing it! For us evaluate and to choose our favorit, after what ever reason …I pick GoPro 3 😉 M64 DK/Europa

  • Wolfski says:

    I have a indirect question to the POV Shootout on film editing software. I plan on purchasing a GoPro Hero3, but want to find, in advance, a beginner film editing software for this camera. Here’s some criteria of editing software I would like to create on: cutting and pasting segments to different areas, speeding up or down FPS, adding in music and at different volumes. This seems like common editing of video I often see online. Could you name your top two or three, under $100, a beginner could learn to do the above types of editing. Thanks for your time and devotion to MTBR, John W.

  • Oskar says:

    How much does the helmet weigh with all the camers on it ? 😀

    • John Shafer says:

      Oskar – the helmet with cameras weighs 6.2 pounds / 2.8 kg

      Wolfski – I have been doing video for a few years now with Adobe Premiere Elements. It’s a fairly robust consumer video editing package at a pretty reasonable price. I’m about ready to upgrade to Premier Pro, but Premiere Elements will do everything you’re asking for. I made this video with it, for example.

  • joel says:

    The main reason I went with the Black Edition was the 1080p/60fps. None of the other cameras offered this and feel it needs to be mentioned. I had an HD contour that already did the 1080/30 and 720/60. If I was going to pay the money for an upgrade, I wanted a “tangible” upgrade. Contrast/color improvements vary by viewing screen. GPS wasn’t a deal breaker.

    The one thing I do miss from my contour is the switch. I think the single switch for on/off & record is brilliant. In around 30*F temps I only get about 2 hours of battery life with sporadic recording. I feel like I got around 3-4 hours on the contour. Still, an extra battery is $20 and the benefits of the 1080/60 are worth it imho.

  • Chuck says:

    This was a great review, and the best I have seen. But I have found that the editing can become an issue. Do the camera’s all use the same kind of files to record? I have a Contour HD and the mov files turned out to be hard to work with if you didn’t have an Apple. You may want your purchase to be influenced by the camera that uses files that are easier to edit. Will the Adobe Premier Elements handle the mov files?

  • Willie says:

    Maybe it’s my screen, but I liked the Drift HD Ghost’s color and image the best.

  • Mr. K says:

    I have a Kali mtb helmet with the camera mount on top. The camera (attachment) snaps into place. I have tried it with a GoPro. Anybody know if any of the other helmets have this feature or accessory?
    Thanks….Mr. K

  • Tony says:

    Too bad you didn’t demo the VIO POV HD – it beats them all. The Sony did a good job though.

    The battery life is the problem with these small units. VIO POV still wins.

  • Tony Wilhelms says:

    :38 There was actually test done by Skiing magazine months ago testing camera back to back.
    Check it out for some more info.

  • Mike says:

    Nice comparison! I have an ION, it would be interesting if you could add that to the mix if there is more testing in the future.

  • bn880 says:

    Would be nice if you could put up the RAW video files up as a torrent that we could download. Youtube is not a great reference for image quality.

  • Ric Wake says:

    Good review, but essentially just a copyjob/plagiarisation of someone else’ work a couple months before yours, right down to the helmet modification. That part…not cool.

    It’s also clear that you favored the GoPro right from the start.

  • bn880 says:

    The Sony HDR-AS15 Action Cam has Digital Image Stabilization, not Optical.

  • Siclmn says:

    The jerkiness of the videos are what turns me off to ever wanting to buy one of these cameras. How long can you watch these videos? I would rather look at a clean picture then watch these unstable movies.
    All I want is a bike mounted camera that I can stop and go snap and then start again.

  • hoosker says:

    Thanks for taking the time. Just thought I would chime in to say that I thought the Drift had the best picture as well.
    Haven’t bought an action cam yet, but after reading and viewing a weekend of reviews I might go with the Drift HD Ghost…If for nothing else, because of the problems the GoPro 3 buyers are having with firmware and battery life. One more thing, unless I missed the more complete review section of your site, I would consider putting together a complete review of all cams, including accessories, wifi usability, apps, costs…etc
    Once again, thanks for taking the time.

  • Craig says:

    Check out the VuVantage POV camera set up backpack/hydration type setup that adds no weight to the helmet and actually tracks your forward progress. I believe they have videos on on their webpage.

  • Russell Jones says:

    It would have been nice if you had edited the video so all the cameras were on split screen. It was hard to compare each piece of video as I had to keep going backwards and forwards to compare each camera. Good review though keep up the good work.
    Could you re-edit the footage so all the camera’s are one one video. That would be a lot more helpful so we could make a comparison.

  • kit says:

    What no Looxcie? The only video cam that does Live video streaming but you cover the Contour (and they are our of business)? http://www.looxcie.com

  • Andy says:

    Great review! Thanks.
    What about Coleman CSXSWP-S 1080p Xtreme?
    Looxcie looks the smallest.. I like that. What is going to happen if you fall with those bulky cameras?

  • Andy says:

    What do you think about those:

  • Andy says:

    I found another one: http://www.liquidimageco.com/ – small and works Okay.

  • Andy says:

    Is it possible to update your comparision table with video sensor size/type?
    One can not shoot 1080p video with 1.3 million pixels sensor (1280 x 1024)…

  • Aaron says:

    So many haters…….
    Thanks very much for an intersting and informative shootout. I am a weekend MTB warrior and weekly commuter so ive been thinking about getting one and you have definately narrowed it down to 3. I like the narrower type and think ill prob go the contour but if that doesnt turn out to be any good, ill save up my coins and try the Sony or GoPro.
    Chill out wankers and just RIDE!
    🙂 Aaron tha MTBer

  • Rocket Man says:

    Awesome Job! John Shafer! 😉

    Sorry For Such A Late Reply! Have Been Overseas For the Past 6-Months!

    As To Aaron’s Reply, CONTOUR POV Is Out Of Business!
    So, There’s Only 2-Great Choices At This Time! SONY & GOPRO!
    There Are Others, But They’re Not As Good As the SONY’S Or GOPRO’S Picture Quality!…
    And FULL Accessories To Back Up the Product For ALL Action Adventures! 🙂

    SONY; HDR-AS15-Replaced the AS10 With WiFi! HDR-AS30V/B Is Replacing AS15 W/GPS FULL Motion Depiction!
    And the NEW HDR-AS100VR/W. Which Obliterates Everything Else On The Market! Including GOPRO!
    Sony Uses Their Proprietary BLUE FILTER/BluRay Technology “White Balance” To Enhance the Action Cam!

    Checkout The Vid On YouTube And Freeze It At 232! Notice the BLUE Hues Coming From the Snow? Then [email protected]@K
    At the Sky! It’s BLUE! The Trees Are A Sharp Brown While the Other POV’s Are Not!!!
    That Is Extremely Important Because The Gray Areas-(DARK SPOTS) Reduce Clarity And Sharpness In Your Video!
    Also, At 242! When John Post ALL the 1080P Links, Click On To ALL Of Them! Starting From Left To Right-1st Row!
    And Left To Right-2nd Row! Closeout Everything Else You Have Open! Then Click On Each Tab And Pull It To Your Left And Release!
    That Makes It Become Its Own Window! Then Go To the Taskbar And Right Click On> Show windows side by side

    Now, You Have 6-Separate Windows Showing Each Video Side by Side! Checkout the SKY On the SONY Action Cam @-328!
    ICE BLUE! Then [email protected]@K At the REST!

    I’m Not A BIG Fan Of Sony Products! But I Am Of This “1”!

  • Leonard says:

    Very informative. I hope you someday do an update. I am looking also at the new Garmin camera as I want geo-referenced video. I think that will be an increasingly important feature in the future for a variety of apps.

  • dannyb says:

    has anyone here tried the new WASPcam action sports camera? Looks a lot like a gopro.

  • websmoker says:

    Good test, however the Ghost HD drift, is not good for use while ski-ing. It shakes the footage tremendlesly. Deshaking is way to much work because they all wants us to use codecs. So far the older tapes are far better to use. I also did not like the update from the Ghost sport with a new lens. They should have give users the option to change the older lens ( HD ghost ). Crap it is, and ruins most of the footage. It is only usable if you are standing still, NOT for sports.

  • Longzy says:

    I will recommend a mini action camera,http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OZCQTKE
    small and works Okay!

  • Allen says:

    I want to buy the action camera

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