There are a lot of helmet cameras on the market today and it’s amazing to consider how far things have come in just the last couple years. A little over a year ago I tested the Drift HD and really enjoyed it so I was stoked to get my hands on the latest from Drift, the HD Ghost. There’s a lot to cover so I’ll run down the specs, talk about the form factor, then touch on my experiences out on the trail.
Since there are so many wearable action cameras on the market today it’s tempting to compare specs to see which camera comes out on top. Like most of the newest cameras, the Ghost shoots 1080p HD at up to 30 frames per second (fps). This is actually the same as the original Drift HD and is more than enough for most of us planning to upload our videos to YouTube. Unlike the HD, the Ghost adds support for high speed video up to 120 fps, albeit at a much lower resolution. Photo mode allows you to take photos at up to 11Mp resolution.
Video settings screen in Drift iPhone app. (More on that later.)
Helmet cameras typically make use of wide angle lenses and the Ghost is no exception with a 170° “fisheye” lens attached. The angle on this lens is so extreme it was startling the first time I fired up the camera; I could see myself at the top of the shot despite pointing the camera directly in front of me! To me the whole wide-angle craze is sorta like the trend toward wider bars in mountain biking–eventually you get to a point of having too much of a good thing. It’s a delicate balance to be sure and if the lens angle is too narrow you wind up with tunnel vision out on the trail.
Fortunately the Ghost offers the ability to change the field fo view from 170° down to 127° or 90°. As a point of comparision, the series of photos below shows each field of view, starting with the widest, 170° (note how the trees appear to curve at the edges, especially in the first shot).
The Ghost accepts SD memory cards up to 32Gb and features a pretty burly battery that promises 3 hours of recording per charge, longer than most action cameras on the market. There are 5 exposure settings, though sadly no “night mode” like the original Drift HD. Built-in WiFi and a bevy of additional settings and modes (like photo burst and video loop/tag) round out the main feature list.
If Contour and GoPro had a love child, I imagine it might look like the HD Ghost–a boxy bullet cam if you will. The Ghost can be mounted in an almost endless variety of positions thanks to the rotating lens and quick release clip. An LCD screen on the top allows you to access the deep menus and even supports video playback right on the camera (there’s a built-in speaker).The entire camera housing is self-contained and is waterproof.
Accessing the USB and HDMI ports for transferring videos and charging requires removing the rear access panel which is a little tedious. It would be nice to see a WiFi file transfer option, though sadly you’d still need to plug the Ghost in to keep it charged up.
The entire package, including the quick-release mount weighs in at 176 grams, about 11 grams lighter than the GoPro Hero II. To me that’s still a noticeable amount of weight to carry around on a helmet, even more so because it’s nearly impossible to mount ANYTHING to a vented helmet in a stable manner. Seriously helmet manufacturers, did it ever occur to anyone that mountain bikers might want to stick cameras or lights on their helmets? Just give us ONE strategically placed flat spot with holes on either side for velcro straps and we can stop wasting time rigging and re-rigging accessories. Ok, I feel better having said that.
Out of the box Drift also includes a handy wrist remote that not only allows you to start/stop recording but it also features a color-changing LED that actually lets you know what the camera is doing. No more asking your buddies, “Is the red light on?” because you can’t see the camera on your head–the remote lets you know what’s up.
Whenever you turn off the Drift HD Ghost there’s a sign off screen that says, “Get out there.” I think it’s a cool touch and a nice segue to the final part of this review.
On the trail
The built-in LCD screen and remote are great for getting shots set up on the trail but what I really enjoyed was pairing the Ghost with the free Drift iPhone app via WiFi. Setting up the connection between the camera and the phone takes a minute but it sure beats navigating the camera’s menus using the buttons, especially when the camera is perched on a helmet. The connection was surprisingly fast and reproduced mostly real-time video on my phone’s screen. Based on my tests the range is about 100 feet so you won’t be broadcasting live to the internet yet… but I suppose someday.
Beyond using the Drift app as a viewfinder, you can start/stop the camera, snap pics, and change any of the modes or settings. This is the future for helmet cameras and I must say it’s pretty amazing.
Another great feature to use on the trail is something Drift calls Flashback. This mode sets the camera to continuously record, keeping only the last 5 minutes of footage it records. For mountain biking they could’ve called this “hilarious crash” or “sick move” mode since it basically allows you to tag and save your footage after something amazing happens. Commuters will also find this useful to document any altercations with drivers out on the road after the fact.
As far as video and photo quality out on the trail, the Ghost is as good as anything else out there. Colors are good but tend to get washed out in certain light conditions so it’s important to play with the exposure settings each time you ride (fortunately this is easy using the viewfinder or your phone).
My biggest gripe–and the reason I don’t personally ride with a helmet camera more often–is my footage tends to turn out shaky no matter what I try. To be clear, this isn’t Drift’s fault–the included mounts and clip system are very solid. But compared to other action sports like surfing, skiing, and skateboarding, mountain biking is full of bumps and jolts and it’s a shame there isn’t a way to take this into account, either with automatic image stabilization or fancier bike/helmet mounts. Fortunately Drift does include several mounts in the box so you can get creative and find the best mounting solution for your rig.
At $399 MSRP, the Drift HD Ghost is positioned as a premium product in the action camera market and justifiably so. With a built-in LCD viewfinder, WiFi connectivity, and superb battery life, the Ghost is a fully featured camera any mountain biker should be proud to own.