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