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Action Cameras Face Off in a Battle Royale: GoPro, Sony, Contour, and Drift

12.8.12 @ 3:28PM Tags : , , , , ,

GoPro might be the leader in action cameras, but there are plenty of other companies trying to get in on the action with competing products. Sony and JVC have both recently introduced cameras with a similar form factor, and of course, there are a few other players like Contour that have a number of models. Gizmodo recently got a few of the major brands together all on one rig, and put them to the test. Check out the comparison video below.

These were the four cameras tested (with a selection of the possible frame rates):


  • Drift HD Ghost ($400): 1080p to 30 fps, 720p to 120 fps
  • Sony Action Cam ($270): 1080p up to 30 fps, 720p up to 120fps
  • Contour+2 ($354): 1080p up to 30 fps, 960p up to 60fps; 480p up to 120fps
  • GoPro HERO3 Black ($400): 4K up to 15fps, 2.7K up to 30fps, 720p up to 120fps

Here’s a little bit from their conclusion, with the HERO3 topping out at number 1 of the 4 cameras tested:

It’s always a relief when there’s a clear winner, and this is it. Image quality is simply in its own league. It’s just way, way sharper. Color reproduction is very good, and it handles motion well. Not only can it shoot 720p at 120fps like the Sony, but it’s the only one that has the horsepower to shoot 1080p at 60fps, for full-frame slow motion. It can also shoot 1080p at a cinematic 24fps. It was the best in low light, and images had very little noise. Pros will appreciate the option to record raw video at a high bitrate, which allows serious post-production tweaking. Audio quality is very good.

Image wise the HERO3 definitely comes out on top for me. While it was a bit darker than the others, the colors and dynamic range resemble a much higher quality camera than the others do. What was a little surprising to me was how wide and distorted the Sony Action Cam was compared to the others. The edges were noticeably blurry in a few shots. Certainly that lens is wider than the rest, but with how wide the lenses on the other cameras already are, I don’t necessarily see it as an advantage.

In lowlight, the GoPro had an edge over the rest, as the image looked the least noisy and the sharpest to my eyes. This is a major benefit, especially if you aren’t always shooting in perfect daylight conditions — it definitely makes the camera more versatile, and keeps you from having to spend too much time in post cleaning up the image.

What do you guys think? Which camera looked best to you?

Be sure to head on over to Gizmodo for the full write-up.

Link: The Best Action Camera — Gizmodo

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  • I’m not surprised at all that the Hero 3 looked the best. It’s even better in ProTune mode, it just requires post, similar to shooting flat on a DSLR. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEuo0cVKcsE&list=UUU1nRVJ6BfEeKLycIrBTaUA&index=2 my ProTune comparison, notice the shadows and highlights difference.

  • Robert Anthony on 12.8.12 @ 4:55PM

    If you turn on Image Stabilization on the Sony it narrows the field of view from 170 degrees down to 120 degrees. It would be interesting to see Sony stabilized footage VS the GoPro on a bike ride etc …

  • animal_264 on 12.8.12 @ 5:43PM

    I’d buy the Hero 3 in a nanosecond if I had a serious need for action. It seems to be the camera to have.

    I’ve owned an earlier Contour for almost two years, and it’s OK. The form is stealth, and I’m more into stealth than action, but I still don’t use it much. Action footage generally gives me a headache.

  • The other thing with the GoPros is that they LOVE light… if they were shooting in bright sun, or snow or water etc then the GoPro would look even better.

  • There is one another not bad option – MUVI HD

  • I’m surprised by the results. GoPro looks good in this test, but last weeks I’ve mainly seen tests where the Sony really crushed the GoPro in resolution of detail. Not sure which youtube movie it was, but one where they filmed a forest scene with leaves on the ground. No comparison there; GoPro 3 looked SD next to the sony.

    Makes me wonder about all the factors coming into play in these tests…

    • Ya I have seen similar. Remember that there were early firmware sony action cams floating around. Newer firmware seems to be great.

    • The only Hero 3/Sony comparison videos I have seen on YouTube compare the Silver edition. The Black is a different sensor, Silver is a Hero 2 in a new body with WiFi.

  • john jeffreys on 12.9.12 @ 2:55AM

    Isn’t it better to just use a cheap DSLR (a t2i, etc) instead of these tiny sensor action cams, for crash shots and POV and stuff where a light, expendable camera is needed?

    • Yes the T2i is great for action too but you have to realize how much bigger and heavier it is even with just a nifty 50. I have tried it all and would love to have the look of the Canon dslr mounted for action. But for most stuff it is not going to work and it’s not burly enough. If I dropped the GoPro all I need to replace is the lens cover and it’s like new again. If I dropped the Canon it would explode!

    • If the dslr is light enough it might be an option to consider, but the GoPros are not only extremely light and extremely small, they are also waterproof and can take a lot more beating.

      Then look at some of the GoPro surfing videos – they can have one gopro on a helmet as well as one or two on the board. I’d like to see you do that with two or three dslrs. I’m guessing even if you got the money for two or three dslrs equipped with waterproof housing, the surfer won’t be able to surf anymore with all that weight on his board and helmet…

      Also the action are still a lot cheaper than a dslr with a decent wide-angle lens (plus water-proof housing etc), so it is a lot easier to use like five or six or even fifty of these at once.

  • The Hero3 Blacks are finally shipping I just got my tracking #. I plan to use it mostly for POV shots and got the free head strap offer for Cybermonday. I wonder what the recording times are going to be I only got 32gb microSDHC’s and the included battery so far. Pro Tune “Cam Raw” 2.7K is probably what we’ll want to use so our results may be better yet than gizmodo. Will update…

  • I think, overall, you’re probably right about the GoPro. In the initial tests, I was impressed by the lush color that the Action Cam provided, but even with a basic glance, I could tell there was noise in the shot. I was interested in that model simply because of its price, but this might be a case where you get what you pay for.

    It seemed to be to be a toss-up in terms of image processing in action between the Drift and Action Cam, though I’m much more interested in the Drift’s narrower field.

    Interesting, too, is that none of the other cameras did well at night compared with the Hero.

  • I mean this comparison:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlUUq7ARJRU

    Check around 5:40 for nightshot comparison
    Check 10:30 for de detail comparison in the trees and leaves

    Might be manipulated footage of course, but Hero Black 3 looks miles away in terms of detail, as if its 3 generations behind. What do you guys think? Is this footage manipulated to make the Hero Black look bad, or is there really so much detail difference?

    • BlueBomberTurbo on 12.13.12 @ 3:51PM

      They don’t have Protune turned on. It’s literally like being able to see in the dark with it. It makes night shots brighter than you can see. Of course, it does increase noise, but that’s easily done away with using Neat Video.

      Also, the GP video looks compressed to hell in the detail shot. Not sure what they did there. Again, with Protune, you’ll see almost no artifacting at all, unless you start pushing the footage too far in post. Even standard mode shouldn’t get that compressed. Shoot in 2.7K and resize to 1080p, and you can resolve an insane amount of detail considering the sensor size. 2.7K 24 and 1080p 60 Wide are really the sweet spots on the GP3 Black. 1080 Medium and Narrow introduce more noise in lower lighting. 720p is kind of soft and has aliasing issues for some reason. 4K can bring back the compression artifacts if there’s a lot of noise or motion (not to mention the 12fps limit). They all record at around 45mbps, so the lower frame rates or resolutions will have the least artifacts.

    • He also shot the Sony @ 30fps and the Hero @ 60fps. Not a fair comparison since the shutter speed is going to be faster on the Hero. This guy is definitely a Sony homer and that’s fine but IMO they are pretty close in his test. Turn on Protune and use a slower frame rate at night it won’t even be close. The first day I had my Hero I shot this, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=4749373612174&set=vb.1230108037&type=3&theater . Protune footage is similar to shooting Cinestyle in that it needs color correction of some kind. I used the color board in FCPX, no neat video. Out of the camera the files may appear noisy but once you apply a “curve” that goes away.

      • funkydmunky on 12.14.12 @ 1:07AM

        Looks fairly decent, especially with the day to night switch, but watching the lines on the road it is a visual mess. Why does it look so bad on high contrast areas? It looks like some sort of EE edge enhancement BS. Not attractive at all IMHO.

  • Daniel Mimura on 12.14.12 @ 12:53AM

    I haven’t watched the video yet, but I can already tell you it’s missing what’s IMO the most important factor in an action cam…jello.

    You can’t have a solid jello test with all four cameras mounted together b/c the fact that it is mounted to something with that much weight won’t give you the jello you get when you mount one to your snowboard, mountain bike, motorcycle, helmet…etc…

    I hardly use my hero 1 cuz I can’t stand the jello. I’d rather shoot with a pawn shop one chip DV handicam, no joke. Crappy, yes, but jello (in an action cam) is worse.

    • Daniel Mimura on 12.14.12 @ 3:48PM

      The jello wasn’t too bad on the bicycle trail test. They’ve all come along way since the hero one.

  • I bought the Contour Roam as a low cost first entry camera and its working great for me. Simple and easy to use for my Cruiser rides and other mundane stuff. Thanks for the article and comparisons.

  • Have seen two test comparing the GoPro and Sony Action Cam. In my opinion the Sony was the best in sound, detail ,color, and lighting. Guess its a personal choice.

    • I’m with you. Sony had better low light performance and better colors (there’s some blue in that sky!)

  • I think everyone is different. I like the Contour better than the GoPro. If the shot is dark, how can you see images cleary or try and make out what it is. So a little brighter is best. So now I bought a Roam 2.

    GoPro, sometimes they are not make out as good as what every one says.

  • I was about to purchase a Go Pro Hero, but after looking at the Amazon reviews, I am really really worried about this Firmware issue. And the other issues with this camera. I want a camera that works out of the box and has no problems, as if my husband starts his annual rafting trip thru the Grand Canyon, and if the camera fails, as so many do according to the reviews, it will be totally worthless.

  • Have used the original Go Pro and now have two Hero 3′s I have used for work for some time. Battery issues, cameras freezing for no reason, wi fi turning on for no reason and flattening the battery, one of the two not being detected by a computer, and the last straw. Did a recent update and the video audio is almost unable to be heard. Go Pro reckons it’s better as the background noise has been reduced. Yeah right. Expensive crap and they are bringing more models out it seems at the expense of fixing the issues with what is already here. It’s hit and miss as to if you get one that works 100 percent or not!

  • Many post forums out there on action cameras…all of them
    Hate to burst your bubble folks but seems that over 90 per cent of the posts
    favor the sony…hands down……
    only complaint was the screen,,,
    go pro over rated…..over priced….my opinion.

  • IMO, sony dominates when it comes to vibrance and clarity. audio is clearer too. I guess it is because they pioneered the technology when it comes to cameras, display and etc. they just made a production for action cam so i guess there will be alot more improvement. it is also cheap so i will buy this one.

  • check this out–available in july. looks great, at least for me. i just returned my go pro hero3. junk. until it comes out I’m going to try some other stuff but i like simple, straightforward and the versatility of this thing looks awesome.

    http://www.dpreview.com/news/2014/03/25/gopro-rival-panasonic-launches-wearable-hx-a500-4k-action-camera

    then there’s this to go with it
    http://www.prodrenalin.com

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