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BoatingLAB Test: POV Action Cams

Four great POV action cameras for boaters.

October 15, 2014
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Sony
HDR-AS100V $299 Sony was the first to incorporate, as a standard, Wi-Fi control and sharing apps in its POV cam, and it held pace with Garmin’s Virb Elite when it added GPS to this weatherproof cam. The Wi-Fi app offers easy hookups to smartphones or tablets and clear control of shooting and sharing modes even in the field. An optional live-view remote control is available. An external microphone port improves sound capture when waterproof action isn’t required. In the Box: Camera, battery, 1/4-inch by 20 threads per inch tripod mount socket and dive case with 1/4 x 20 mount, and flat and curved adhesive mounts. Unique to Model: Stereo sound recording, a Carl Zeiss Tessar premium lens coupled with a 13.5 megapixel Exmore CMOS chip, and the patented, proven SteadyShot stabilization give crisp sound and exemplary image clarity. Overlay the internally generated GPS data on action video to spice up presentations. Automatic Exposure: 3/3
Image Stability: 3/3
Sound Quality: 3/3
Resolution: 3/3
Close Focus: 3/3
Battery Life: 2/3
Weight: 3/3 (3.15 oz.)
Total: 20/21
Specifications
Viewfinder: No
Aperture: F2.8
Exposure Control: Auto, spot meter and scene select
White Balance: Auto
Lens Stabilization: SteadyShot
Max JPEG File: 13.5 mp
Max Video Resolution: 2K or 1,080p @ 30-60 fps
Fastest Frame Rate/Resolution: 120 fps/240p
Time Lapse: 1/5, 1/10, 1/30, 1/60 fps
Burst Max Frames per Second: 10
Waterproof: Splashproof
Dive Case Included?/Depth: Yes/197 feet
GoPro
Hero3+ Black Edition $399 The Xerox of POV cams, GoPro created the craze of video selfies. The Hero3+ Black Edition is its latest, smallest and lightest cam, proven by thousands of hours of online video to be perfectly adept at doing what the name implies — making a hero out of its owner. Its highest-resolution 4K shooting mode renders sparkling video quality (reproducible on only the highest-quality big-screen TVs). GoPro Studio is one of the sweetest, low-impact (on your processor) video editing suites and offers soundtracks and assistance in timing edits to music. Through it, firmware updates are seamless and the smartphone app gives confident camera control and image framing. In the Box: Camera, dive case, Wi-Fi remote control, all needed charging and download cords, and mounting options for helmets, dashboards, surfboards. Unique to Model: This is the highest-resolution 4K shooting mode and smallest, lightest personal cam on the market. Oddly, it’s the only cam that doesn’t offer any form of image stabilization. GoPro’s Protune gives experienced photographers the most image exposure control. Automatic Exposure: 2.5/3
Image Stability: 3/3
Sound Quality: 2/3
Resolution: 2/3
Close Focus: 3/3
Battery Life: 2/3
Weight: 3/3 (2.6 oz.)
Total: 17.5/21
Specifications
Viewfinder: Optional piggyback
Aperture: F2.8
Exposure Control: Auto, manual
White Balance: Auto, manual
Lens Stabilization: None
Max JPEG File: 12 mp
Max Video Resolution: 4K or 2,160p @ 30 fps (30-60 fps @ 1,080p)
Fastest Frame Rate/Resolution: 240 fps/standard res
Time Lapse: 0.5 to 60 fps
Burst Max Frames per Second: 30
Waterproof: No
Dive Case Included?/Depth: Yes/197 feet
JVC
Adixxion $299 JVC is a veteran in video but new to POV cams. It applied its video knowledge well in this device, making the camera IP-8 water-resistant for weather and shallow water, with shock and dust resistance. An LED viewfinder aids in framing the shot, but the ultimate device is the Wi-Fi smartphone or tablet app. Auto shut-off turns off the LED screen while recording to save battery life. Special video effects include sepia, vivid, and black-and-white recording modes. It comes light on accessories, but because of the flexibility offered by dual 1/4-inch by 20 threads per inch mount plates, we think that is forgivable. In the Box: Camera, mini USB cable and wide adhesive 1/4 x 20 thread ball mount. Unique to Model: Tripod mounts (1/4-inch by 20 threads per inch) on the bottom and side give the ultimate in mounting options, including side-mount suction mounts and side headband mounts. It is the only cam to use the easier-to-handle full-size SD card. Infinite zoom control, not just pre­arranged settings. Automatic Exposure: 2/3
Image Stability: 3/3
Sound Quality: 3/3
Resolution: 2/3
Close Focus: 3/3
Battery Life: 2/3
Weight: 2/3 (4.76 oz.)
Total: 17/21
Specifications
Viewfinder: Color LED
Aperture: F2.4
Exposure Control: Auto
White Balance: Auto, manual
Lens Stabilization: Digital gyro sensor
Max JPEG File: 16 mp
Max Video Resolution: 1,080p @ 30-60 fps
Fastest Frame Rate/Resolution: 120 fps/780p
Time Lapse: 1/0.2, 1/1, 1/4, 1/10, 1/30, 1/60 fps
Burst Max Frames per Second: 15
Waterproof: IP-8
Dive Case Included?/Depth: Optional/131 feet
Garmin
Virb Elite $399 Garmin’s entrance into POVs is insightful and practical. With aviation a big part of its business, it was a no-brainer that it was the first to incorporate GPS, accelerometer, horizon and position sensor data into its offerings that can overlay speed course and attitude data over the 1080p video. Operation is simple, with a mechanical slide switch that flicks the camera from off to recording and off again. Additionally, menus are easy to navigate — a hallmark of all Garmin products. Framing the shot is easy with a 1.4-inch-diagonal front-lit “Chroma” display that is so easy to see in sunlight. It can be operated with an optional remote. In the Box: Camera, battery, mounting cradle, three elbows, two adhesive mounts and a mini USB cord for downloads and updates Unique to Model: It’s IP-7 water-resistant out of the box. In addition to its Wi-Fi communications and app for easy preview and operation, it is Bluetooth-ready for using external heart monitors and temperature sensors. Garmin’s unique software allows shooting of 16 mp JPEGs, even while shooting video. If the lens is damaged, it is easily and inexpensively replaced. Automatic Exposure: 2/3
Image Stability: 3/3
Sound Quality: 3/3
Resolution: 3/3
Close Focus: 3/3
Battery Life: 3/3
Weight: 2/3 (6.3 oz.)
Total: 19/21
Specifications
Viewfinder: Chroma LCD
Aperture: F2.8
Exposure Control: Auto
White Balance: Auto
Lens Stabilization: Digital
Max JPEG File: 16 mp
Max Video Resolution: 1,080p @ 30 fps
Fastest Frame Rate/Resolution: 120 fps/480p
Time Lapse: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 fps
Burst Max Frames per Second: 10
Waterproof: IP-7
Dive Case Included?/Depth: Optional/131 feet
Sony HDR-AS100V
GoPro Hero3+
JVC Adixxion
Garmin Virb Elite

Action cams, those tiny little video and still cameras that record your point of view (POV) during extreme sports from mounts on a helmet, a head strap or a boat’s helm or tower, are so popular among boaters, skiers and anglers that marine stores and fishing tackle retail vendors carry them on prominent end caps.

Boaters want them to record anything from drag races (with GPS and accelerometer data overlaid on the thrill ride) to water-skiing ventures to capture of the fish of dreams. In truth, cameras are so available today that hardly any noteworthy event goes by undocumented. Here, after extensive on-water use, are our favorite four hero cams, along with what we see as their strongest attributes.

We mounted the four cameras in our test field on the wakeboard tower of our project boat and then analyzed video side by side.

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How We Tested
Automatic Exposure
Automatic exposure was tested because most users will opt for it. We directed the camera at a brightly lit fence to see how much detail could be captured in the images. We also piloted through an alternately shaded and sunlit canal noting how well the camera adapted to changing light and the detail it provided in shady and sunny highlights. High score was 3, the average of two test scores.

Image Stability
We boated across a ripply lake and selected identical video footage to analyze, noting shake, “jello effects” and other anomalies caused by rapid motion and vibration. We did the same with boat on the trailer, being towed down brick streets.

Sound Clarity
Clear, crisp sound is half of a video’s sensory pleasure. We recorded the same sentence simultaneously with each camera. GoPro’s dive case muffled audio, lowering the score.

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Resolution
Using the high-resolution setting, we took a still shot of Boating magazine from 6 feet away and cropped the image to show only the magazine. We then analyzed for pixelation.

Close Focus
For macro imagery, close focus is important. For clarity at distance, a longer focus is beneficial. We noted the closest focus for reference but scored each cam neutrally, noting the cost/benefit of each value.

Battery Life
With the cams set to video at HD1080p/30 fps and Wi-Fi on (because who doesn’t want to see what the cam sees on those remote control apps?), we let them run, noting run time to shutdown based on length of video.

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Weight
We weighed each cam without mounts, but with battery. A lighter cam on the helmet, fishing rod or ski rope is an advantage, but more battery weight meant longer life too.

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