Published on March 22nd, 2011 | by Greg0
Light, Splashproof, 1080p Video: Drift HD170 Stealth
Action cameras are a pretty competitive market. We’ve tested out a variety, including models from GoPro, VholdR Contour, and Oregon Scientific. The latest contender is the Drift HD170 Stealth, which offers a pretty tempting feature set in a small, durable package. We’ve actually damaged a couple of other cameras over time- rock climbing especially takes its toll- and we’ve lost at least one to some rapid waters while kayaking. But we’d put the HD170 Stealth up against anything else, as the original was the world’s first sports action camera with full HD capability, playback screen, and remote. Of course, the last two features might very well be optional for many users, as it isn’t too hard to press a button on the camera in most cases and often a screen is unnecessary, if convenient.
What isn’t optional is video quality, and here the Drift model’s H.264 format and CMOS sensor shines. In a variety of conditions- snow, fairly dark outdoors, even water splashing- it performed well. Audio, as with most action cameras, is an afterthought here (though an audio input is included). With the non-Stealth version, video is strictly 30fps, and though you can lower the resolution, you cannot up the framerate to 60 per second as you can with some of the competition. The upgraded (and sleek black) edition changes this limitation and now can shoot in 60 fps at 720p. SD cards are easy to find, and this one can manage up to 32GB models. Digital zoom, night mode were only OK, as are the still 5 megapixel photos, but we liked that they were available. The lens is fairly wide-angle, 170 degrees, offering a great field of view that is perfect for extreme sports (skateboarding videos can feel a little cramped, for instance, and this gives them some extra room if distorting them like a fisheye lens somewhat).
As with most systems, there are plenty of mounting options available and handily included, like a handlebar grip, goggle mount, head strap, helmet attachment, and the assorted “universal” clip/velcro strap. Most anything but underwater activities should be covered, as the unit is splashproof, dustproof, weather resistant but not designed for use under water. We had it out in the rain and dropped it a couple of times with nothing more than a scuff to show, and the buttons are impressively durable, as is the lens itself. There’s also a standard threaded tripod mount!
The remote uses RF, so does not require line of sight and works to about 15 feet, and is more like a car remote/key fob than any other comparison- it has only a couple of buttons and is quite small. You can attach it to your wrist via a velcro strap, which works nicely. The screen is surprisingly good- colors are crisp and it’s surprisingly bright- but navigating wasn’t quite as simple as some systems. Computer transfer is handled via USB, or you can playback directly to your TV via an annoying component cable (no HDMI, sadly). Batteries are always key on a camera, since you don’t want your big ride down the slopes at the end of the day to get missed, and the Drift HD170 Stealth scores in the middle of the pack. The lithium rechargeable battery lasts over three hours in recording, pretty good if not quite as much as we would liked to see. Recharging is easy, but takes about the same time to charge as discharge it seemed. The unit itself is impressively light, but is pretty big- one of the largest bodies on an action camera that we’ve seen in fact.
Overall, the video quality is superb, and the system so easy and durable that we kept using it. The Stealth is fun, simple, and takes great action shots- what more can you ask? Widely available for around $350, if that seems a bit out of your budget, the model a step down is quite a bit less expensive and the only major downside is the lack of 60fps shooting.