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Judging by the number of new and improved helmet cameras that hit the market each year, manufacturers are still trying to find the sweet spot where quality, dependability, usability, and affordability intersect. Over the past three years helmet cameras have moved from disappointing to good-enough to… well, almost exciting. The Drift HD is part of a new crop of helmet cams that just might get you excited about shooting video on the trail again.

The Drift HD from Drift Innovation is the latest and greatest in the line-up which includes the HD170 Action Cam and the X170 Action Cam. Compared to the HD170, the Drift HD beefs up the still camera resolution to 9 megapixels while reducing the length of the camera by 25%. The HD also utilizes the 170-degree wide-angle lens in all shooting modes, unlike the HD170 which limited the lens angle in full HD mode (1080p).

Ok, so after that last paragraph I’ve nearly lost about 70% of you who are considering buying a helmet camera. There’s a lot to keep track of here and the camera companies aren’t doing us any favors by trying to pack in dozens of features many of us will never use. The whole spec-war reminds me of buying a digital camera back in the early 2000s when it was all about megapixels and memory size. What about the majority of us who just want to get out, ride, and make a few short videos on the trail? Read on.

Quality

You’re not going to get cinema-quality footage out of the Drift HD or any other helmet camera out there for that matter. The Drift HD does include features like auto white balance and exposure settings to help you improve video quality but it can be hit or miss. Using the camera in “night mode” my footage actually came out pretty true to life, better than I could have done with a digital still camera (see embedded video below). But on a bright, beautiful fall ride punctuated with blazing red, yellow, and orange canopy, the footage ended up looking washed out and bland.

Dependability

One of my biggest gripes about helmet cameras is how difficult it can be to get a steady shot out of a fast ride. No matter where you mount the camera it seems like the video almost always comes out shaky but the Drift HD makes it possible to lose the shakes.

First, the Drift HD mounting system is solid and locks into place using a wide, rectangular clip into the included helmet, bar, and sticky mounts. On a hardtail mountain bike, mounting a helmet camera to the bars (or any other part of the bike for that matter) is usually a waste of time but I actually got some good footage using this camera. Unlike other systems on the market, the Drift HD includes a vented helmet mount and bar mount right in the box so you can figure out what works best for you. Even better: you can use the quick-lock mounting system to swap between helmet, bars, and other mounting positions with ease.

Using the built-in LCD screen you can watch your recorded footage on the trail to help you quickly dial in the most stable mounting points and interesting camera angles. The best mountain bike videos are made by sessioning features until the rider nails it and the Drift HD allows you to keep rolling and adjusting until you get the right shot. It’s always disappointing to get home and realize your camera was pointed at the ground the whole time because you couldn’t preview the footage!

The rubberized camera body is water resistant and does a good job absorbing the occasional glancing tree branch. After one misty night ride I took my helmet off and realized the Drift HD was dripping wet, as if it had been dunked in a stream. Still, the video footage came out great and I didn’t have any problems with the camera afterward.

Usability

Drift packed a ton of features into the HD – still camera mode, external mic input, half a dozen video shooting modes, and even a rotating camera lens (helpful depending on how the camera is mounted). Still, this is a very usable camera for those who just want to ride and film their adventures. Drift includes a wireless remote control but I found even mounted on my helmet I could start and stop the camera pretty reliably with gloves on.

Four mounts and a remote control are included with the Drift HD.

For those who like to geek out with settings, the on-screen menus are pretty easy to navigate using the four top side buttons. The battery is rechargeable and the camera includes a removable microSD card. There’s even an HDMI output in case you want to air your unedited footage on an HDTV.

Sample Footage

The video below is a short sample of night riding footage shot with the Drift HD (click here to watch on YouTube).

Also check out this video from the Baker’s Dozen race (bar, helmet mount) and this one from Bent Creek (helmet mount, downhill).

Overall I’m pretty impressed with the Drift HD and have enjoyed using it on the trail. This camera is as close to plug and play as I’ve seen in a helmet camera and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get decent footage. The Drift HD is available in stores now for $369 MSRP.

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# Comments

  • mtbgreg1

    I love the preview screen… that must be handy! One of the things I wish my GoPro had (of course, you can buy an aftermarket backpack preview screen, it just costs even more $$$)

    Great review!

  • AK_Dan

    Im almost sold- you hit that one right with ‘just good enough’. too many cams out there just barely work and that seems to have become the new status quo. Love the mounting options but have to say I like the chest mount view from the Go-Pro’s and wish that was an option with other cams.
    Im curious about the battery life? Without being able to take an extra this becomes very important.

    Still hoping for a cam that saves files in a windows compatible format.

  • trek7k

    I never ran into any limits re: battery life. You’d think with the LCD screen the battery would run out quickly but I would say there were days when I’d film for at least an hour (not all at once) and the camera was still going strong. Even after letting it sit for a week or two I turn it on and it works.

    I like the chest mount too – mostly because it seems to be the most stable place (read: not shaky) to mount a camera for mountain biking. Still, I was really pleased with the stability of my footage from the Drift HD. The Go Pro’s shape lends itself nicely to being chest mounted – but for everything else it’s pretty much a wind sail.

  • DriftInnovation

    Hey Trek7k,

    What a great article, thanks for such a thorough review of the HD. Particularly thought the Night Biking was a great video, we haven’t really had anyone do a review test on its night time capabilities so it’s great to see you sharing this info with everyone. If you have any more videos or ideas please do hit me up with an email – olivia@driftinnovation.com, we’re always interested in feedback on our products.

    If it’s OK with you I’d like to link this to our website (www.driftinnovation.com) under the reviews section.

    Olivia
    Drift Innovation

  • joetutt

    Earlier this year I invested in a Drift HD170 Stealth. I’m pleased with almost everything. Great video quality, great pics, easy to use, battery life is good, etc. The remote does work good, but as trek7k said, pressing the button on the camera while mounted is pretty easy to do. Where is does come in handy is if you’re setting the camera down or in a tree to get a shot and you’d like to start it from a distance. I must say I was a bit disappointed with the mounting options. The handlebar mount doesn’t fit anywhere on my bike but the very smallest part of the bar, right next to my grip. It doesn’t fit on any other tube of my bike, it doesn’t even fit on my seat post (31.9mm)! I know the shape isn’t very conducive to chest mount, but it would be really nice to have. Come on Olivia, there’s gotta be a way to do chest mount 🙂 Overall I’m very pleased!

  • trek7k

    Great points joetutt! You’re right about the handlebar mount – it doesn’t have a huge diameter. I barely managed to get it on my seatpost and my bars.

  • rcraft6826

    Definitely looks like a new viable option on the market. Id like to see how stable the picture looks on rocky terrain as opposed to the 1080 go pro

  • SwissMountainGorilla

    rcraft – I think the stability will be the same as neither camera has any built in stabilization.

    I have been using the GoPro Hero for 2 years and the Hero 2 for a couple of weeks. Honestly the daytime image quality of the Drift HD does not look on par with its competition. GoPro has exceptional image quality for daytime filming and I think the newer Hero 2 does a even better job with changing light conditions such as MTBing in a forest.

    I do like how the Drift seems to do a decent job at night, a area where the GoPro is all but useless. I don’t know how bright the lights are in that video but the color looks decent and its fairly sharp. The GoPro quickly losses focus and saturation at night and gets pretty noisy.

    But daytime, from the youtube clips that have been put up, the Drift HD doesn’t appear to hold its own.

    P.S. I see the removable screen on the GoPro as a benefit as it greatly reduces the size and weight of the camera making it easier to mount. Who uses the screen beyond lining up the shot and reviewing the clip anyways?

  • element22

    I like that comment as well as “good enough” …GoPro contacted me a while back and I am waiting on the new Hero2…Lets see if it has improved to better than good enough.

  • stevoe

    I spent the money for the drift hd 170. It works great, great pictures (fisheye), little bit hard on learning the features, battery lasts (but keep extra charged), good moviecam, haven’t tried the remote. Handlebar mount not so good for rough riding, comes loose, Its not a good angle. the LCD display is small, but adequate for its compact size. Overall good, needs a lens cap for when not in use because the lens sticks out.

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