The Best Helmet Cam Review

Which point-of-view camera is best? We took the top six cameras and put them head to head in real life situations to find out. Over the past few years, point-of-view cameras have been added to almost every quiver of sporting equipment—the internet has been flooded with footage from trout fishing to BASE jumping. However, these little cameras don't come without their flaws, and most of us are tired of our friends asking, "hey, is this blinking?" while their devices are strapped to their helmets. By design, these cameras seldom perform at standards that non-POV style cameras provide; take a look at the Digital Cameras review if you need the utmost quality. Thankfully, manufactures have been evolving designs since their inception, leaving us with capable and dependable cameras. Armed with our overkill helmet cam mounting system, we set out to find out for you which camera is best.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Helmet Cams Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
GoPro HERO3+ Black
GoPro HERO3+ Black
Read the Review
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V
Read the Review
GoPro HERO3 White
GoPro HERO3 White
Read the Review
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V
Read the Review
Drift HD Action Cam
Drift HD Action Cam
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price $400$248
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$200
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$200$170
Compare at 1 sellers
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros great image quality, useful features, wide variety of mounting options, improved ease of use, small, lightweightimage stabilization, good image quality, gps, wi-fi, intuitive layout and operation, low-lightmost affordable GoPro, tons of mounting accessories, durability,image stabilization, good image quality, gps, wi-fi, intuitive layout and operation,built-in color LCD screen with preview and playback, rotatable lens, no additional water housing required,
Cons expensive, questionable battery reliability,awkward mounting options, limited mounting accessories, no tilt adjustment in mount, doesn't focus underwaterimage quality is less than other GoPros,no angle adjustment in mount, awkward mounting other than on flat surfaces, limited mounting accessories, mediocre image quality,difficult to mount, larger than average,
Best Uses snowsports, watersports, underwater use, motorsports, any action, any use for a small camerasnow sports, splashy watersports,POV footage capture, underwater recording,snow sports, low light, splashy watersports,Best uses are also a series of points separate by commas, "General outdoor use, hiking, backpacking"
Date Reviewed Oct 08, 2014Oct 01, 2014Jul 27, 2014Oct 01, 2014Oct 01, 2014
Weighted Scores GoPro HERO3+ Black Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V GoPro HERO3 White Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V Drift HD Action Cam
Image Quality - 35%
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7
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5
Low Light Performance And Dynamic Range - 20%
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3
Ease Of Use - 20%
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7
Mounting Options - 10%
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Reliability - 15%
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Product Specs GoPro HERO3+ Black Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V GoPro HERO3 White Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V Drift HD Action Cam
Size (w,h,d) 3.2 x 2 x 3 inches .9 x 1.9 x 3.2 inches 3.2 x 2 x 3 inches 1.0 x 1.9 x 3.2 inches 1.3 x 2.0 x 4.1 inches
Weight 74 grams 92 grams 74 grams 90 grams 143 grams
Highest Video Resolution 4K (3840x2160) 1080p 1080p 1080p 1080p
Max FPS at 1080p 60 fps 60 fps 30 fps 60 fps 30 fps
Maximum Frame Rate (frames per second) 240 fps @848x480 WVGA 240 fps @800x400 60 fps @720p 120fps @720p 60 fps @ 720p
Recording Mode H.264 codec MP4 XAVC S H.264 codec MP4 H.264 codec MP4 H.264 codec .MOV
Photo Resolution 12MP (4000x3000) 13.5MP 5MP (2592x1944) 11.9MP 9MP
Other ProTune picture profile, built in time lapse mode, exposure compensation, spot meter, includes waterproof housing Built-in Image Stabilization, includes waterproof housing, GPS built in time lapse mode, includes waterproof housing Built-in Image Stabilization, includes waterproof housing, GPS Built-in 1.5" Color LCD, Rotatable Lens

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product

Types of Point-of-View Cameras
It seems like almost overnight, our innocent ski resorts, surf breaks, and skate parks became bombarded with little tiny digital cameras. Seemingly the next day, YouTube had changed forever with the inception of the GoPro HERO version in 2006. Since then, our discussions have changed in the eddy or at the bottom of the crag to things like "does this look like it's pointed the right way?" and each brand has taken a bravado slogan to heart such as "No Proof, No Glory" (we're looking at you, Muvi).

Despite whether or not you think if there's no video proof (from two angles), then it didn't happen, POV cameras are pretty…sweet. Even if we aren't the boastful kind, it is nice to look back on some memorable ski lines, big waterfalls, or other times in the woods; or maybe you just want to get some new angles for your filmmaking that previously were impossible.

Point of view cameras have gone so far as to actually change our sports. Many of our friends now learn rivers via footage rather than by extensive scouting, and we get a chance to watch our action sport athletes from their point of view, letting us in on sometimes incredibly important technique we lack.

Luckily, POV cameras are pretty straightforward in terms of evaluation. In comparison to other outdoor equipment, all helmet cameras currently have a pretty similar goal—provide excellent footage within a durable and compact package. Though you may limit your search to specific things such as "I need an LCD screen" or "it has to fit on my helicopter", overall, these cameras all fall into the same category.

Criteria for Evaluation
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Clay Lucas (far left) uses the ever-popular "GoPro on a paddle" technique to film the author on Oceana, Tallulah Gorge, GA.
Credit: Tommy Penick

Image Quality

Image quality seems totally obvious to most people. Who cares about the other things if the image looks junky? In a race to pack the most sophisticated electronics into the smallest package, the spread is large for image quality. We tested the most popular six cameras available, and had a huge range of scores for image quality.

With not only the best-in-class for resolution and frame rate options, the GoPro Hero + Black displayed outstanding detail, edge smoothness, and clean motion. Additionally, the underwater performance of the flat lens port allows the camera to correctly focus; a large improvement over previous renditions of the GoPro housing. Surprisingly, we expected the video quality of the Go Pro Hero White to be very similar, with the exception of high frame rates and large resolutions (such as 720p@120 and .7k@30). However, the basic filming modes such as 1080p@30 were much better on the GoPro + Black, despite having a similar construction and sensor. On top of creating a good image out of camera, some good post-production tinkering can really make the footage shine.

Though we focused mainly on video, the still images produced by the GoPro + Black were really quite stunning; almost mind-boggling. With good light and a clean front element, the camera can really create a great image.

Click to enlarge
Still image of Ty Caldwell, Tommy Penick, and Dylan McKinney party surfing Habitat 67 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on the GoPro Hero 3+ Black, set in interval photo/timelapse mode, which works well for a "spray and pray" technique. Perfect for situations like this.
Credit: Ty Caldwell

Many backlit situations prove to be difficult for these cameras, and these flaws quickly help us pick out what is wrong with the camera. Even the runner-up in image quality, the GoPro White, suffered from an unavoidable and unrecoverable failure when kayaking in a backlit situation; the image sensor appears to have become overloaded, creating an entire string of pixels turned to purple. Check out the still below.

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Screenshot from a 720@60p clip on the Farmlands Section of the White Salmon, WA. Inspect the vertical purple line bisecting the frame near the paddle from sensor overload due to the background.
Credit: Tommy Penick

The included water housing with each camera can create issues with image quality, mainly with back-lit situations. Some housings create ugly flares, but realistically, none of the plastic housings are going to produce an aesthetically pleasing flare like a cinema lens does. Additionally, not all water housings are created equal for underwater shooting.

One of the major design flaws in the previous GoPros is the spherical front element. This allows the housing to shed water and snow better, but makes underwater shooting difficult. Therefore, we really liked the housing design of the Sony Action Cams for snow use, but the GoPro design for diving. Above water, without splashing snow or water, the housings perform similarly.

Low Light Performance and Dynamic Range
Low-light performance is becoming a more important aspect for people as we move away from caring only about numbers, but the same aspects that make a camera good in low light often help it out in dynamic range.

Simply put, dynamic range is the camera's ability to display detail in bright areas and dark areas at the same time. Think back to a photo with dark faces and a bright background where there is no detail in the people's faces, nor the sky behind them. Or a great example we used frequently—whitewater illuminated by the sun, and dark green pools of moving flat water that are in the shade. Cameras cannot display nearly as much dynamic range as our eyes can (not yet), so it's easy for us to wonder why our photos look drastically different than what we see.

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Take a look at the bright patch at the end of the river canyon. This is way brighter than the shaded, dark water in the foreground, but the GoPro Hero 3+ Black does a pretty good job holding detail in both.

Point of view cameras in their very nature are more or less for "spraying and praying". The user more or less lines it up in the obvious direction of action, lets it roll until it's convenient to stop, and then has to hack away in the editing room to pull out the relevant or interesting parts. This takes away the control from the filmmaker—exposure is out the window, and regardless, none of these cameras allow for manual exposure.

This gives us problems. Lots of bright, over exposed problems. But a camera with great dynamic range helps mitigate these issues by holding detail in the highlights.

Low light performance is easier. Does the image look "grainy" when the sun starts to go down? How about on a grey day at the mountain? This "grain" is really digital noise, which is created as the sensor becomes more sensitive through automatic adjustment of the ISO.

The GoPro Hero + Black knocked out the competition in both low light and dynamic range. This is a huge reason the image looks good from this camera. Some critics might say that the image looks a bit "flat", but in reality, this is a good thing! That means there's information there. Cameras that add tons of contrast in the processing (such as the Drift HD) do not have the latitude to be adjusted in post production, and with contrasty scenes, you're starting off with already unusable footage. Additionally, the GoPro Hero + Black has a setting to limit the camera from raising the ISO higher than you'd allow; this helps put a bit of control into your hands.

Ease of Use
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An iPhone screenshot of the Sony app, which allows you to preview the camera's angle. Sony and GoPro both have apps that connect via wi-fi to your phone.
Credit: Tommy Penick

With limited screen real-estate and few buttons, helmet cameras can be miserably frustrating. Push for this, hold for this, tap twice for this—we shouldn't need to carry a manual around just to figure out how to push record. Thankfully, LCD screens have become more sophisticated, and manufacturers are slowly figuring out how to make their cameras more intuitive.

Incorrect aiming has caused more deaths of good footage than probably anything else in the outdoor world. Without preview LCD's, tons of first descent videos have been totally botched by cameras aiming directly at the athlete's feet, or straight into the air. Most companies have created smart-phone applications that can link via Wi-Fi, allowing the user to have a preview of the footage. This is a great addition, but we all know that most of our phones shouldn't be enduring the heinousness that we go through on our adventures.

Both the Drift HD camera and the Veho Muvi took it to the next step, however, and installed an incredibly useable color LCD screen directly on the side of the camera that allows the user to check the framing, and even play back clips. But this addition does not come without its drawbacks. For the Muvi, however, the screen isn't usable while in the housing since a cumbersome mounting plate blocks your view of the screen. The Drift, while not too much larger than the Sony Action cam, does not come with a water housing included unlike the rest of the tested cameras, and with the inclusion of a water housing, the camera would be too large for practical use.

But past alignment, features such as menu control, button size and usability, and indicators to whether you're actually recording were very important to us.

The Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V/W and the Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V (based off the same body design) both impressed us with the overall usability, but still couldn't knock of the reigning champion GoPro models. While the screen does not give a preview like in the Drift, the rest of the design is very usable. Though the menus are abbreviated and somewhat difficult to decipher at first, the large and easy to use buttons were a huge plus. One caveat that took us a bit of time to realize: the camera will be recording when you turn it on, which actually is a useful feature after some practice. Additionally, both Action Cam's include built-in stabilization, which really helps cut down on some kinds of movement; just don't expect it to make your techy mountain bike ride look like it was on concrete. Additionally, this stabilization reduces your angle of view, making it inconvenient, but not impossible to replicate in post production.

Reliability
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The important part of this photo is the tether--a very important aspect to not losing your investment. Some quick p-cord, a slip knot around the base of the GoPro, and a girth-hitch to a helmet strap can save you a lot of heart-ache.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Countless times we've had friends ski a line, run a rapid, or ride a trail only to say "my [lovely] helmet cam shut off!" There's always a chance they didn't turn it on for fear of embarrassment due to the quality of their descent, but usually the cameras were at fault. Helmet cameras have been riddled with technical issues since their inception, and despite the constant evolvement of features, we still had a number of issues ranging from battery consistency to shutting off on impact.

Judging reliability of electronics is difficult at best—some folks have told us their POV cameras have never messed up; other owners of the same models, we've had to stop them from throwing it off an Alaskan peak. Certain models are finicky, firmware changes always claim to fix everything, and two identical cameras sitting next to each other seem to have different bugs. To the defense of the camera manufactures, that's a whole lot of electronics to squeeze in a little box. Remember when we were duct-taping full sized tape recording camcorders to our heads not that long ago?

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The multi-mount utilizing an existing hole in a car hood. From left to right, Drift HD, Sony Action Cam AS30, GoPro Hero 3+ Black, GoPro Hero 3 White, Sony Action Cam AS100V, Veho Muvi.
Credit: Tommy Penick

For reliability, we considered a few main attributes: did the cameras ever quit recording? Did the cameras turn off sporadically? What about file corruption or strange artifacts?

We found the Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V was the most reliable. It is also notable that this is a significant improvement over the Action Cam HDR-30V, which we had issues with shutting off or occasionally losing battery power. The Action Cam's design help let you know you are recording, incorporating two red recording lights, though not unlike the two GoPros tested.

Mounting Options and Accessories
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Multi-mount (of death) on mountain bike handlebars using a Mnafrotto super clamp. From right to left, Drift HD, Sony Action Cam AS30, GoPro Hero 3+ Black, GoPro Hero 3 White, Sony Action Cam AS100V, Veho Muvi.
Credit: Tommy Penick

For wearable, mountable cameras, your options of how and where you can mount them drastically affects your creativity, as well as the end result from your camera. Cameras such as the Muvi came with numerous mounts, but was less effective due to its large size. Other cameras such as the GoPro Hero + Black came with very few mounts, but GoPro offers the widest selections of mounts, and the camera's size and shape lends itself to countless mounting options. The Helmet Front Mount the Vented Helmet Strap Mount and the Jaws Flex Clamp are a few of the many mounting options they offer.

The GoPro Hero + Black and the GoPro Hero White were the easiest cameras to mount by far, partially due to the impressive spread of available mounting accessories, but almost more so due to the inclusion of a simple tilting feature which is included in the basic housing. We initially took this feature for granted, but once we started diving into the testing of the other cameras, we realized that they were severely limited in their use solely because of this. For example, you may want a different tilt while riding a snowmobile, and then a different tilt for the ski descent to make sure you include important references (such as ski tips or handlebars). With the other camera mounts, you were fixed permanently with your adhesive mount, with exception of the Drift HD which has a tilt/pan adjustment built into the camera, but only when mounted on the side of a helmet.

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We would highly suggest not doing this. From right to left, Drift HD, Sony Action Cam AS30, GoPro Hero 3+ Black, GoPro Hero 3 White, Sony Action Cam AS100V, Veho Muvi.
Credit: Tommy Penick

GoPro's original dominance of the market also has created an entire industry behind manufacturing POV mounts; most of which are solely made for the GoPro. The availability of creative mounts, such as pole mounts for kayaks, intricate cages for the "Matrix" effect, and even external bodies that allow for cinema lenses, strengthens the usefulness of GoPro cameras.
In addition to copious mounts, many remote control helicopters (let's avoid the term "drones") accept GoPro bodies natively, which can really open up creative doors if you're willing to learn a new skill and accept some responsibility of a flying object.

Editor's Choice Award: GoPro Hero + Black
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Go Pro Hero 3 Black Edition
The reigning king of helmet cameras didn't fail to impress us; the GoPro Hero + Black offers outstanding image quality, with a wide variety of mounting options and accessories that allow for limitless creativity. The killer still images are a great bonus, and other than the GoPro Hero White, no other camera can really shoot all that well underwater; meanwhile, the GoPro produces a crisp and clean image.

Our testers are working hard to see what the new Hero 4 Silver and Hero 4 Black has to offer. The Hero 4 Silver retails for $400 and has 1080p60 and 720p120 video, as well as 12MP photos with up to 30 frames per second; you can make changes to the intervals, ranging from your choice of 0.5 to 60 seconds. The Silver offers built in WiFi, which ultimately allows you to turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote, as well as a touch screen display and a new HiLight Tag, which lets you bookmark your most important experiences. The Silver is waterproof up to 131 feet and allows for more options while taking photos or time lapses at night. The Silver 4 has new GoPro technology; with Superview, you can capture more of yourself and your surroundings. The Silver has many of the same offerings as the Hero 4 Black, but with lower video quality.

The Hero 4 Black retails for $500; the Hero 4 Black is said to be the most advanced Go Pro to date, offering two times the performance of previous models. The Hero 4 Black offers four times the resolution of 1080p, with 2.7K video at 50fps, and 1080p120 video, as well as 12MP photos with up to 30 frames per second. You can expect to pay more money for the same options that the Silver has, paired with improved sound and image quality and a 2x more powerful processor.


Best Buy Award: GoPro Hero White
Click to enlarge
GoPro HERO 3 White Point-of-View Camera
While we were really surprised in the drop in image quality between the GoPro Black + and the GoPro Hero White, the overall design and layout of the GoPro still makes this camera a great option for users looking to save a few bucks. The camera still allows for tons of mounting options, has great usability, and the image quality still ranks solidly amongst the rest of the pack.


Top Pick Award for Snow Applications: Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V
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Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100V Point-of-View Camera
While the Sony Action Cam AS100V didn't blow away any categories, it was never far off from the leader. Paired with a spherical element that helps shed snow, the AS100 can take a face shot of powder, and not stick like the GoPro designs tend to do. Though the lack of tilt in the mount does limit a top-of-helmet mount, the AS100 is shaped well for a side mount, which creates a great point of view for snow sports. Additionally, the AS100V does a pretty good job creating a nice image in flat light, an unfortunately ever-present element of skiing powder for most of the world.

Other Versions
Our testers are hard at work seeing what the new Hero Silver and Hero 4 Black can bring to the table. The Hero 4 Silver retails for $400 and offers 1080p60 and 720p120 video, as well as 12MP photos with up to 30 frames per second (with the time intervals ranging from your choice of 0.5 to 60 seconds). The Silver has built in Wifi (which allows you to turn your phone or tablet into a remote) and touch screen display and a new HiLight Tag, which lets you bookmark important moments. The Silver is waterproof up to 131 feet and now offers more options for taking photos or time lapses at night. The Silver 4 has new GoPro technology; GoPro says that with Superview, you are able to capture more of yourself and your surroundings. The Silver is essentially the same at the Hero 4 Black, but with lower video quality.

The Hero 4 Black retails for $500 and is the most advanced Go Pro to date, offering 2x the performance of previous models. The Hero 4 Black offers 4x the resolution of 1080p, 2.7K video at 50fps, and 1080p120 video, as well as 12MP photos with up to 30 frames per second. Expect to fork over more money for the same additions that the Silver has, along with improved sound and image quality and a 2x more powerful processor.

Tommy Penick
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