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Drift Ghost-S review: Excellent all-in-one action cam

The Drift HD Ghost was a very good POV camera, and the Ghost-S is basically that camera with improved battery life and performance. What's not to like about that?

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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Drift Innovation already had a good thing going with its Drift HD Ghost action cam. So perhaps it's best that its newest camera, the Ghost-S, concentrates on performance enhancements.

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8.2

Drift Ghost-S

The Good

The waterproof <b>Drift Ghost-S</b> gives you a lot of action cam for your $399, with a built-in 2-inch LCD and Wi-Fi; a nice bundle of accessories including a wireless remote; and a long battery life. You also get a broad set of shooting options for normal and high-speed video.

The Bad

The back hatch, covering the battery and microSD card slot among other things, is tough to remove. Also, the menu system, while easy to understand, can be a pain to navigate.

The Bottom Line

Long battery life, solid video quality, and a great all-in-one design make the Drift Ghost-S tough to beat.

The Ghost-S uses the same design as the HD Ghost. The camera measures 1.3 inches wide by 2 inches high by 4.1 inches deep and weighs 5.9 ounces. Strapped to the side of a helmet or pair of goggles, you won't exactly forget it's there, but it's not overly big, either.

The bullet-shaped body is waterproof down to 9 feet (a waterproof housing is available so you can take it down to 196 feet) with a built-in Gorilla Glass-protected 2-inch LCD on the right side (or top depending on how it's mounted) and a flat, wide-angle lens with a 160-degree angle of view that can be rotated up to 300 degrees.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though Drift has a selection of mounts that use a quick-connect clip, the clip attaches to the camera via a standard 1/4-inch tripod mount. That means you have plenty of mounting options outside of what Drift offers, including GoPro mounts.

Unscrew the back hatch (which is easier said than done), and you'll find an external mic jack, a Micro-SDXC card slot supporting cards of capacities up to 64GB, Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports, and a battery big enough to supply up to 3.5 hours of recording time shooting at 1080p at 30 frames per second (fps)-- or even longer if you capture at reduced resolutions.

It's all of these things combined -- the long-life removable battery, rotating lens, tripod mount, built-in LCD, waterproofing -- that make the Ghost-S a top choice in the category.

Drift Ghost-S action cam materializes (pictures)

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However, much of this stuff isn't new with the Ghost-S. Inside, though, is a new Sony 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and a high-performance video processor that allows for, among other things, faster frame rates.

The Ghost-S can record MP4 files at 1080p at settings starting at 25fps, and going as high as 60fps; at 720p the options range from 25fps up to 120fps; and using WVGA your choices start at 25fps and go all the way to 240fps. You also adjust the amount of video compression with a choice of normal or high bit rates, with the latter recording at up to 35Mbps.

Drift has also added new scene modes: Normal, Vivid, or Low Light. Normal gives you more natural colors that are easier to work with if you want to adjust color to your liking when editing. Vivid pumps up colors so they pop, while Low Light seems to increase noise reduction, though not so much that subjects turn to mush.

The camera can burst shoot stills at 10fps at 12-megapixel resolution as well as simultaneously capture 8-megapixel photos while recording video. Unfortunately, they're in a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than 16:9, so you'll have to do some cropping if you want to use them in your HD videos and keep everything wide screen. The Ghost-S can do time-lapse photography as well, with settings for shots at intervals ranging from every 0.5 second all the way up to every 60 seconds.

Navigating the menu system and changing multiple settings on the camera can be a bit of a pain. Still, I'd rather have the Ghost-S menus and controls over the GoPro's or needing to run to a computer to change settings. And, should you put together a group of settings that you use regularly for a particular activity, you can save them to one of three setting profiles.

Screenshot by Joshua Goldman/CNET

Like the HD Ghost, the Ghost-S has built-in Wi-Fi. It can be used to connect to an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet to view and control the camera, change settings, or to play back your recordings on something larger than the camera's screen. In my testing, both apps worked fine on an iPhone 5S and a Galaxy S4.

In addition to using the camera with mobile devices, a new Clone mode lets you use the Wi-Fi to connect and sync as many as five Ghost-S cameras (should you have the need and the finances). One is designated as the master camera, so if you press its record button, the others will start recording, too. The same goes for any setting adjustments: change the resolution on the master camera and they'll all change.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Included in the package, along with goggle and flat- and curved-surface mounts, is a wearable RF remote for starting and stopping recordings and changing shooting modes. Colored LEDs give you visual feedback so you know what you're doing, and the remote can be used to control multiple cameras (again, should your demands and your budget permit).

Video quality is improved from the Drift HD Ghost, especially when it comes to detail. Everything looks more crisp, and I saw fewer artifacts when using the camera's high-bit-rate setting. Using that setting will eat into the battery life and the files use up more storage, but it's worth using if you plan to view the video at large sizes.

That's not to say you won't see any artifacts; quilting can be distracting, such as on the power lines in the clip above, and there's still some blockiness visible when viewed closely on a big screen. And if you're shooting in low light, you'll notice an increase in noise/artifacts, too. Much of this is common to action cams, though. (Note: A firmware update is available that improves extreme low-light video.)

Overall, I'd put the video quality a step below the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, but definitely some of the best video I've seen for the category.

Audio quality is fine, but for action videos you're probably going to want to turn the mic off anyway, or you'll be capturing a lot of wind noise. For still subjects, the built-in mic did a decent job, and it offers three levels of sensitivity adjustment. And you can always directly plug in a better external mic, which you can't do with many other cameras.

Conclusion
I liked the HD Ghost, and the Ghost-S is basically that camera with improved battery life and performance, more shooting options, better Wi-Fi, and nicer-looking video. What's not to like about that?

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8.2

Drift Ghost-S

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8