There's no shortage of options when it comes to action cams, but Drift Innovations' Drift HD Ghost manages to differentiate itself with design and features.
Rather than the wide, blocky design of camcorders like the GoPro line, the Drift HD Ghost has a slimmer and longer bullet-shaped body. Though the shape isn't quite as good for chest mounting, it is better for POV mounting on the side of goggles, masks, and helmets. The shape also gives it room for a built-in Gorilla Glass-protected 2-inch LCD for framing and playback and a battery big enough to supply up to 3 hours of recording time. Plus, it's removable so you can put a new one in if you need to keep shooting.
There's built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to iOS devices (and eventually Android, too), which can be used to frame shots, change settings, start and stop recordings, shoot photos, and play back video. You can also transfer movies to your smartphone for viewing, editing, and uploading.
That's really just the start of what this thing offers, which is good because it's not cheap at $399. And you really are paying for features here since its video is just above average for a higher-end action cam.
In the box
Even the most basic action camera comes with a couple of mounts to get you started; Drift goes beyond that, so you don't immediately feel like you need to go out and spend more money.
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 (should you have the need and finances).
Two things you won't find are a protective housing and a memory card. The HD Ghost takes microSDHC cards of up to 32GB, but one isn't included. This isn't uncommon with action cams (or other cameras for that matter), but it means you'll have to get one before you can start shooting.
The lack of a housing is because the camera is pretty tough on its own. The battery, card, and ports are all under a removable hatch on the back with a waterproof seal, helping make the whole device waterproof down to 9 feet. The lens is replaceable in case it gets damaged, and with the screen protected with Gorilla Glass, the camera can take a good deal of abuse. The polycarbonite housings used with GoPro and other cameras, especially the waterproof ones, will be able to stand up to more, but minor drops shouldn't be an issue for the HD Ghost.
Design and features
For ease of use, having an LCD built in makes a big difference, not only when setting up your shots, but for changing settings, and quickly playing back clips or photos to see if you got the shot you wanted. On the opposite side of the body, there's a standard quarter-inch threaded mount, giving you more mounting options than just the quick-connect mount that comes with the camera.
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 lens covers a field of view of 170 degrees, giving you a wide, distorted view. You have to be careful just how far back you mount the camera or you may cut off one side of your video with whatever it's attached to. (You can change the angle of view, but it appears to do this digitally, which degraded video quality some.)
If your picture isn't quite straight enough when mounted or you had to turn the camera to a horizontal position, the lens rotates up to 300 degrees, so you can level things out. Depending on how it's mounted, it can be difficult to test what your picture will look like using the LCD, which is where the Wi-Fi comes in handy.
The Wi-Fi is only meant for connecting directly to a smartphone. At the time of this review just an iOS app was publicly available; an Android version was in beta, and there are no plans for a Windows Phone version.
The app gives you a live preview of what the camera sees, as well as full control over settings and the power to start and stop recordings or take pictures. While settings can also be changed with the large buttons on top of the camera, if you're making a lot of changes, the menu system is tedious to navigate; using the app is a much better experience. Still, it's nice to have both options.
Again, the battery, memory card slot, and ports are all at the back of the camera. There's a Mini-USB port for transfers and charging, it has a Micro-HDMI out, and there's a 3.5mm jack for connecting an external mic. The camera comes with two hatches to cover all of this up, one that's waterproof and one that's more splash-resistant with covered openings for the USB and mic jack.
Recording resolutions are plentiful on the HD Ghost. It can be set to record in MP4 and MOV formats in 1080p at 25 or 30 frames per second; 960p (4:3 aspect ratio) at 25, 30, or 50fps; 720p at 25, 30, 50, or 60fps; and WVGA at 25, 30, 50, 60, 100, or 120fps. Set to any of these resolutions at 25 or 30fps, the camcorder can simultaneously capture movies and photos.
You can set the camera to record everything until you run out of space or use a Flashback Video Tag/Loop mode that shoots video in a continuous loop letting you save only events you tag, up to 5 minutes after they happen, creating instant clips for sharing.
The HD Ghost can also be used for burst-shooting 5-, 8-, or 11-megapixel photos at up to 10fps as well as time-lapse photos, snapping off shots at 0.5-, 1-, 2-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 30-, or 60-second intervals.
Editors' note: We are currently in the process of testing and reviewing as many of the latest action cameras we can get our hands on. Because of this, the video quality analysis that follows is largely based on our experience with minicamcorders that use similar components to action cameras.
For the HD Ghost's $399 price, it's not unreasonable to expect great video quality. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of what you're paying for here is features. In general, its movies are very good and most users will be pleased with the results. Its 1080p shows nice detail without looking overprocessed. However, if you've got a scene with a lot of movement or a complex subject, you will see more artifacts and a loss of detail. These things are common to the category, though. (Basically, if you like what you see in the clips above, you should be happy with what this camera can do.)
Color, while maybe not as punchy as some competitors, are very good as is its white balance. Sudden exposure changes are handled well, too, but highlights blow out pretty easily.
There were also aliasing artifacts and there's a fair amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high-contrast areas. And if you're shooting in low light, you'll notice an increase in noise/artifacts. That's not unusual, though, and well-lit indoor video was still watchable.
Dropping the resolution definitely costs you some detail, but the 720p/60 video is still very good. In the end, the results are above average, especially considering the flexibility of the camera and all it can do.
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 there are three levels of sensitivity adjustment. And you can always plug in a better external mic, which you can't do with other cameras.
Like many camcorders, the HD Ghost takes better video than photos. Just because a photo is 11 megapixels doesn't mean you're going to get a lot of fine detail. They're good for sharing online or small prints, but don't expect to do a lot of enlarging and heavy cropping.
If you're looking for an action cam that you can take out of the box, pop a memory card into, and start shooting with, the Drift HD Ghost is certainly worth considering. Its video quality is very good, but it's the whole package that makes the HD Ghost a standout.