Matt Robinson profile picture Matt Robinson 6 years ago
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Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera?

There are loads of GoPro alternatives out there, but are they worth it when it comes to filming cars? We put several at different price points to the test to find out

Remind me later
Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

In the same way that the vacuum cleaner has become the ‘hoover’, any cheap crappy pen automatically called a ‘Biro’ and all nitrous systems suddenly dubbed as ‘NOS’, ‘GoPro’ has become the go to word when describing action cameras. That’s just how ubiquitous these little boxes have become: they are the go-to action camera, and anything else is just a pale imitation.

But is that actually the case? In the world of filming cars - from what we’ve seen, at least - pretty much everyone uses a GoPro or has used one at some point, but in a lot of ways they aren’t ideal. The lenses don’t rotate, so they’re not the most flexible. They’re not that cheap either, and only the more expensive ones have live view screens, so unless you sync up to your phone, positioning the camera is all about guesswork.

There are smaller, lighter, more practical and cheaper cameras out there, but when it comes to filming cars, are any of these good enough to out GoPro GoPro? We put a load of cameras of different prices to the test against one of the GoPro Hero 4 Black Editions we use in our own videos, and sought the opinion of Ethan Smale, the man behind our 1.2 million subscriber YouTube channel.

How we tested them

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

These cameras have been living with us for the last six months. In that time, they’ve been around the world on car launches and events like Gumball 3000, clung to the outside of cars as they belt around famous race tracks, and recorded too many fluffed lines and retakes as can be counted. This gave us a real feel for the usability, the image quality and the durability of the cameras.

JooVuu X

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

This one’s something of an oddity, as it’s billed as both an action camera and a dashcam. It’s been developed by a British company, who can supply you with both a battery and a super capacitor. Want to use it as an action camera? Sling in the battery. Dash cam? Stick in the super capacitor and plug it straight into your car.

It’s the smallest, lightest and the least expensive camera here, costing £99.99. But it does look and feel quite cheap, and it doesn’t have a screen, meaning you rely on flashing coloured LEDs to know what the camera’s up to, unless you sync it to your phone and use the app.

The 1080p quality isn’t the best either, and while it will go up to 2.5 resolution, it can only do this in a widescreen 16:9 format. Due to its small size it’d make a great dashcam which you could occasionally convert into a passable action camera, but if the latter is to be its primary role, this one isn’t for you.

Ethan says:

“The colour is a bit too vibrant and harsh. A lot of contrast in the image, and the image quality isn’t that great considering it’s 1080p - it’s sub-par.”

CT score: 2.5/5

Olfi

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

The first time I saw this camera - from Welsh company Olfi - I felt a twinge of disappointment. Why? Because it looks just like a GoPro, which means as much as I try to avoid it, I think of it as one of those crappy knock-off £30 GoPros off eBay. However, use this for a while and you find it’s a lot more than that.

The menu system is simple and easy to navigate, and is it so bad being consigned to the GoPro design? After all, that means it’s compatible with all GoPro accessories, of which there are plenty of cheap, third party versions - not something you’ll get with the other cameras here.

What’s more, for only £150 it offers 4K resolution, which is staggering value for money. And as you’ll find out, our resident video man was impressed with the quality.

Ethan says:

“A nice clean image on this one, it’ll be easy to colour in post. But the fish-eye is more pronounced than on a GoPro, which could be problematic depending on what you’re filming.”

CT score: 4.5/5

Drift Ghost S

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

The Ghost S has the distinction of being the only camera here with a live view screen. You get a handy moveable lens, but this is not a small camera - in fact it’s the largest camera here, and the build quality isn’t great. What’s particularly odd is the audio quality of the in-built microphone is actually worse than the other Drift camera here we’ll talk about later - the Stealth - and the picture is no better, as our man explains:

Ethan says:

“Is that 1080p?? That’s really not good quality, it’s almost pixelated, and the colour’s way off. The audio’s poor, too. It’s good stability-wise though.”

CT score: 3/5

Drift Stealth 2

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

If budget is your main concern, the Stealth 2 - the Ghost’s little brother - is worth a look. It’s still very small and very light, and while it tended to retail at about £120 when we first got our hands on the test sample, many retailers are now flogging them for under £100. For what you’re getting, that’s a bargain: unlike the JooVuu there is actually a screen to display settings, record time plus the corny motivational message ‘get out there!’ every time you switch it off.

The onboard microphone is one of the better ones here, but the video quality - while much better than the JooVuu’s - is acceptable, rather than exceptional.

Ethan says:

“The colouring’s better than the Drift Ghost, but the quality’s still not there. The audio is much better though - one of the best out of all of the cameras.”

CT score: 3.5/5

TomTom Bandit

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

The company famous for producing jolly good sat navs is branching out, and one of its new products is the Bandit action camera. And as far as practicality goes, it’s got the competition over a barrel. This bullet-style camera sits on a cradle which allows for almost 360 degrees of rotation, and clips into a variety of different TomTom-supplied mounts, from tripod threads to those sticky 3M things which are an utter bastard to remove.

But where the design really gets interesting is the ‘Batt Stick’. Twist the rear of the camera, and a load of the camera’s innards slide out in one neat package that contains the SD card, the battery and a USB plug. No need for faffing around with cables or card readers here: just bung the ‘Batt Stick’ in your USB port, and you’re away.

You get some pretty cool GPS features as well, which you can tap into using the companion phone app (although irritatingly these don’t work on Android phones). When you pull considerable Gs, reach a high altitude or a high speed, it adds these as a ‘highlight’ (something you can also do manually by tapping the record button again) and it gives you the option of overlaying information on your video. Good for bragging rights after a track day, but we’d advise caution if this is a big selling point for you - on the occasions we tested this feature out, the overlaid information didn’t quite seem in sync with the video.

4K quality is available, but with a caveat: in that mode - weirdly segregated along with the 2.7K setting to a separate ‘cinematic’ mode that’s easy to miss at first - you’re limited to 15FPS. This isn’t at all ideal for an action camera, and all the test footage we tried with it came out horribly stuttery, so you’re best off sticking to 2.7K at 30FPS.

Ethan says:

“The colour is peculiar, and the image quite dark. When the camera moves around, there’s a lot of warp going on. The quality is good though, and the picture sharp.”

CT score: 4/5

GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition

Is It Actually Worth Buying A Non-GoPro Action Camera? - Blog

Yes, this GoPro doesn’t have cool packaging or snazzy GPS features like the TomTom, nor does it have the 360 degree lens and live view screen of the Drift Ghost. But as far as image quality goes? It’s way, way better than all the others here.

Whether you’re set to 1080p or 4K, you get a crisp, clean image without the odd colour issues many of the cameras have here. It copes much better with movement too. And while this may be the Hero 4 Back Edition we’re talking about here, which retails for around £360, the Silver Edition - more around the price of the Drift Ghost and TomTom Bandit - gives similarly impressive results.

The only drawback - other than price and the lack of practical features found on the TomTom and Drift Ghost - is you only get the waterproof case as standard. You won’t get particularly good audio with the in-built microphone covered in a slab of plastic, and also, you’ll need to buy an accessory to make it tripod mountable.

Ethan says:

“It has by far the best image. It’s so sharp, and makes the others look fuzzy, almost like they haven’t loaded properly! Plus, the audio is great when it’s in the skeleton case.”

CT score: 5/5

Our test footage

Towards the end of the test period, we strapped the cameras to a Porsche 911 and a Renaultsport Megane Cup-S to record test footage for your viewing pleasure.

Rather than having all cameras stuck to one setting (1080p would be tempting), we decided instead to set each camera to whichever resolution it looks best at. This meant full quality for the Drift pair at 1080p, full quality for the Olfi and GoPro at 4K, while the JooVuu and TomTom were turned down from their top settings to 1080p and 2.7K respectively. We turned down the JooVuu because it’ll only do 2.7K in a 16:9 aspect ratio, and we didn’t bother with the 4K footage on the TomTom as that setting lumbers you with 15FPS, giving horrid, jerky footage.

The end result can be seen above in up to 1080p resolution, but don’t think that neutralises the 4K advantage of the Olfi and GoPro and the 2.7K advantage of the TomTom - 2.7 and 4K footage downscaled to 1080p will always look better than 1080p-shot footage.

All the footage you see is raw - we haven’t changed any colour settings, nor have we fiddled with the audio - save for lowering the volume of the windy exterior roof-mounted shots for the sake of your sanity.

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Our GoPro Hero 4 clings on to a BMW M3 during filming last year

Ethan’s conclusion:

There’s a reason why GoPro has such ubiquity - because the company makes the best action cameras. I like the Batt Stick on the TomTom. It’s a brilliant quality product and the image looks great when it’s set to 2.7k, but it doesn’t cope well under fast movement.

From what I’ve seen the Olfi produces the next best image to the GoPro, and considering it’s less than half the price, it’s worth a look. If money’s any issue the Drift Stealth is tempting, but for me the whole moveable lens thing is a gimmick, so my budget pick is the Olfi. Otherwise, it’s GoPro all the way.

My conclusion

Before we go any further, honourable mention does have to go to the TomTom. It’s stuffed full of cool features like the batt stick, the rotating cradle mounting system and all the GPS information. It’s a brilliant re-think of action camera design, but if quality is your main concern, look straight past it and go GoPro.

Yes, there are cheaper cameras and cameras with more flexibility, but as we’ve found from our testing, the image quality of the GoPro is leaps and bounds ahead. And if you are on a tight budget, get an Olfi.