Drift Innovations HD Ghost Camera Review

by Brian Mullin on February 15, 2013

The
Drift Innovations HD Ghost is a rugged outdoor sports video camera,
that is easy to use, has a long battery life, and includes a 11
megapixel sensor, built-in Wi-Fi, and two-way remote with indicator
lights, and a unique video tag/loop recording function. It has an
excellent usage and form factor, combining loud indicator beeps for mode
changes, the remote, an intuitive menu system, a fully rotatable lens
and a useful LCD screen. Interfacing to the camera can be done through
the LCD’s menu system or an app on a mobile device which communicates
via Wi-Fi. It records in a vast array of high-definition video
resolutions, frame rates, and viewing angles, making for an incredibly
versatile camera, and has proven itself to take videos and photos with
great clarity and realistic colors.

Drift Innovations HD Ghost
The HD Ghost is a POV (point of view) high-definition sports camera,
which uses an 11MP CMOS sensor that can record video footage in 1080p,
960p, 720p and SD formats, and photos in several modes, including still,
timelapse and photoburst. It uses a seven element lens design, with
a 170º viewing angle and a 10x digital zoom. It records data onto a
microSD card up to 32GB in size, and is powered with an internal
rechargeable Li-Ion battery (swappable) that gives around three hours of
recording time. The camera has a built-in Wi-Fi to wirelessly converse
with iOS and Android based mobile devices, and using the Drift App you
can align the camera viewpoint, change settings, and view and delete and
download recorded footage. It has ports for a mini USB for computer
connection and recharging, a mini HDMI for live streaming to a TV or
other source, and an external microphone for higher-quality audio
recording. The oblong camera is comprised of plastic and fiberglass
materials, and has a 2-inch LCD viewing screen which utilizes tough
Gorilla Glass for protection, and has four rubberized operational
buttons, a fully rotatable lens, and is impact and shock resistance, and
waterproof to 3 meters. It can be operated by its buttons, the two-way
RF remote or the mobile App. The camera attaches to an assortment of
mounts, including a goggle, flat and curved surface, and optional
handlebar, using their proprietary universal clip system, which attaches
to the camera via a quarter inch universal camera adapter. The
letterbox shaped camera measures 4.1″ x 2″ x 1.3″, weighs 5.9 ounces
(167g) and the kit retails for $399.

The
kit comes in a nice closeable plastic carrying case, and includes the
HD Ghost camera with its universal clip, a waterproof and easy-access
rear hatch, a two way remote with a wrist strap, flat surface and curved
surface and goggle mounts, an instruction guide, a USB cable, a
rechargeable 3.7V 1700mAh Li-Ion battery and 3.5mm microphone cable.

Video Resolutions
The HD Ghost can shoot in High Definition, in three video resolutions
and multiple frame rates, which are all recorded at 11MP. It can shoot
in widescreen 1080p at 30 or 25 fps (frames per second), full frame 960p
at 50, 48, 30 or 25 fps, widescreen 720p at 60,50, 30 or 25 fps, and SD
at 120, 100, 60, 50, 30 or 25 fps. The faster frame rates of the 960p,
720p and SD modes allow for slow motion playback, which is pretty
interesting to watch, and in addition; it gives normal viewing a
smoother and more fluid stream. Engaging the Tag/Loop feature in video
mode captures a rolling window of video into memory, but only saves it
to the card when tagged. Each of the video resolutions is captured at
different bit rates, which entails varying recording times and storage
requirements, meaning greater resources are needed for the higher usage
formats. The resolution settings are done within the camera’s menu
system, which is managed by its four buttons or a mobile device. In
fact, any of the programmable features and settings can be done through
the menus, allowing for the field changes as required. The camera
records in different viewing angles or FOV (field of view), including an
ultra wide 170º, a wide 127º, and a narrow 90º FOV, and each of them is
unique to specific video resolutions. The 1080p has three FOVs, 170º,
127º and 90º, while the 960p , 720p and SD only use 170º. It uses the
H.264 video codec, AAC audio compression, and a .mp4 or .mov file type
(selectable).

Photos
The HD Ghost can shoot 11, 8 and 5 megapixel still photos in either
manual or automatic mode. In the manual mode, it can shoot a single
photo, while in the automatic mode, it can do photoburst or timelapse.
In photoburst, it can do a burst duration of 1, 2 or 3 seconds, with 5
or 10 shots per second during each burst. In timelapse, it takes a photo
every X number of seconds, where X is .5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 30 or
60-second intervals.

Camera Features
On the top of the camera is the 2-inch LCD viewing screen, and on the
bottom is the waterproof speaker. On the upper side are four rubberized
buttons that perform various functions, such as menu engagement and
on/off, along with the LED indicator. The four buttons, are comprised of
an Action button (menu select, on/off and stop/start recording), a Left
button (zoom out, menu left, menu up), and a Right button (zoom in,
menu right, menu down) and a Menu button (enter menu, menu back). The
speaker gives an indication of the camera turning on and off, and
stopping and starting of recording, and other mode features, in addition
to a subdued playback of previously recorded footage. There is a small
LED next to the Action button that indicates the status mode: green when
the camera is on video mode or done charging, blinking green during tag
mode, blinking red when charging and recording, yellow in photo mode,
purple in timelapse mode and cyan in photoburst mode. On the front of
the camera is the 170º FOV lens, which is software configurable to 127º
and 90º FOV for 1080p, and it can be rotated a full 300 degrees.

On
the rear of the camera is a hatched door that houses the interface and
device ports. It comes with two hatch covers, a waterproof and
connection friendly version. In the inside of the door are the slots for
the rechargeable battery and the microSD card, the port for the mini
USB to the computer connector (or power charger), the HDMI connector,
which can be used to hook up to a TV monitor, and a microphone input.
The main built-in waterproof microphone resides on the lower side of the
camera, opposite the LED indicator.

The
wrist mounted two-way remote control unit, which has a 10 meter range,
uses a Velcro closure strap, and has a large Start/Tag (i.e. Action) and
Stop recording button, dual indicator lights and communicates
wirelessly via RF (2.4 GHz UHF radio frequency). It uses an internal
3.7V 350mAH rechargeable Li-Ion battery for power, which gives 12 hours
of use. The indicator lights emulate the cameras LED, so it blinks green
in video mode, yellow in photo mode, purple in timelapse mode, cyan in
photoburst mode and blue when communicating with the camera. The remote
is not waterproof, just water resistant, though it worked fine in
inclement outdoor weather.

The
bottom of the camera has a 1/4″ universal camera adapter, which can
accept any normal camera mount, but is meant for their proprietary
universal clip. The clip and the camera have a male and female notch
system so the clip can be adjusted in 10 degree increments in relation
to the camera.

Memory and Battery
The
rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery fits very snugly into the back of the
camera, and there is a latch to hold it securely in the position. The
3.7 volt and 1700 milliampere-hour battery, gives anywhere from 2.5-3
hour of usage, and its limit varied on the video resolution used, and
the number times it’s cycled on/off and stop/start recording, and in
addition, the ambient air temperature. The camera can use a maximum 32
GB microSD card, although a 16 GB card seems ideal for most mountain
biking rides, giving around three hours of recorded footage, which
blends well with the battery usage limit.

Audio
The built-in microphone features advanced DSP (digital signal
processing) functions and wind noise reduction, for better and clearer
audio. Within the system-wide menu, there are settings for multiple
sensitivity parameters, and for advanced usage, you can connect an
external microphone using the 3.5mm microphone port located in the rear
of the camera.

Camera Usage
To turn the
camera on, just press and hold the Action button on the side of the
camera, and the LCD screen comes on and the LED light turns either
green, yellow, purple or cyan (mode dependent). The LCD screen will
eventually go into the Live Preview Mode, displaying a live image of
whatever the camera is pointing towards, and icons on the outer edge of
the image, which indicate the recording mode (video, photo, timelapse,
photoburst), current memory and battery levels, and various other
information that is relevant to the chosen mode.

To
level the camera, just point the camera at a stationary object that has
a good horizontal or vertical orientation, like a tree, log or your
finger held in front of the camera, and then watching the LCD screen,
rotate the lens until the object matches up with the proper horizon. It
can be tough to get things exactly right, due to the small screen and
170º lens causing skewing at its outer circumference. To turn the camera
off, press and hold the Action button for 3 seconds, and then it will
shut down. The camera also has a zoom capability, which can be engaged
by pressing and holding the Right button, with an indicator bar on the
screen, and it can be reversed with the Left.

If using the two-way
remote control, just press and hold the Action button to sync it up with
the camera, and it will blink in the appropriate mode color (green,
yellow, purple, cyan) when ready.  To begin the video recording, just
push the Action button on the camera or the Action button on the remote,
and it beeps once, and the indicator LED turns from green (or the
proper mode color) to blinking red. To stop recording, push the Action
button again or the Stop button on the remote, and the camera
acknowledges that with another beep. When taking photos, pressing the
Action button takes a picture, and the camera beeps and the indicator
turns red, and once the LED returns to its mode color another picture
can be taken.

Menu System
The menu system for
the camera is highly intuitive, and uses both icons and tabular menus
for configuring the camera modes and settings. Press the Menu button to
get to the Main Menu screen, and you’ll see four icons, Menu Selection,
Playback, Mode Settings and Camera Settings. The icons are browsed using
the Left and Right buttons, and once highlighted, using the Action
button brings you to the chosen sub menu. Pressing the Menu button
again, returns it up one level in the menu tree or back to the Live
Preview screen.

The
Mode Selection Menu displays four icons, video, photo, timelapse, or
photoburst, and choosing one of those sets up the recording mode for the
camera. The Mode Settings Menu also displays the four icons, video,
photo, timelapse, or photoburst, and choosing one of those drops it down
into a tabular based setting’s menu for the respective mode. From the
Main Menu, you can also go to the camera settings, which gives the
tabular system-wide settings menu.

In
each of the mode setting’s menus (video, photo, timelapse, or
photoburst), you can set resolution, frame rate (video only), field of
view, exposure, and other mode specific parameters. The system-wide
settings menu is very deep, with four pages of settings, and includes
parameters such as Wi-Fi, remote control and pairing, and LCD setup.

From
the Main Menu, you can go to the Playback Menu, which like the others,
displays the four mode icons, video, photo, timelapse, and photoburst.
If there is a number next to the icon, that is the number of recorded
files that reside on the microSD card for those formats. Choosing any of
the modes brings up a picture of the initial video, photo, timelapse,
or photoburst, the current file being viewed vs. the total number of
files, and the video length (in video view mode). You can browse through
the recorded files using the Left and Right buttons, and then press the
Action button, and you’ll get three choices, view, delete and delete
all. In the video view mode, you can use the Right button for fast
forward, the Left for rewind and the Action for play, while in timelapse
and photoburst, the Action button begins the sequences.

It can be
hooked up to a TV monitor via the HDMI cable for a big-screen
experience, and is controlled using the same button sequences.

Interfacing and Charging with the Computer
To download or view the videos or photos you recorded, connect the mini
USB to the rear port on the camera’s back, and then the other end of
the connector to a computer USB port. The unit will appear as a
Removable Disk, and just navigate down to the appropriate directory
(example: F:Removable DiskDCIM100DRIFT) and either download or view
the video straight from the camera. For faster downloads, use a
standalone card reader, and bypass the camera as the downloading
interface.
To charge the camera, plug in the USB cable
into the computer, an appropriate wall or vehicle charger and then the
cameras USB port, and the LED will blink red for several hours depending
on how much video was recorded, and will turn green when completed.

Smartphone Interface
The camera has built-in Wi-Fi to wirelessly converse with an iOS and
Android based mobile devices, and through their Drift App, you can align
the camera, change settings and modes, and download and view and delete
recorded footage. To make use of the mobile app, you’ll need to install
the Drift App on the iOS or Android (App still forthcoming) smartphone
or mobile device, and then pair the camera and device via the Wi-Fi
connection.

To check the horizontal alignment for proper video
recording orientation, bring up the App on your smartphone or mobile
device. Using the viewfinder on the mobile device, just point the camera
at a stationary object that has a good horizontal or vertical
orientation, like a tree, log or your finger held in front of the
camera, and then watching the screen, and rotate the lens until the
object matches up with the proper horizon. The Wi-Fi for viewfinder
might lag, but it works fine for the aligning purpose. It has icons that
emulate the buttons on the camera, so you can navigate through the same
sort of menu system, and choose camera modes, mode settings,
system-wide settings and do gallery functions, such as downloading,
viewing and deleting of recorded footage. Downloaded content can then be
shared through various social network platforms.

Tag/Loop
One of the most interesting features on the HD Ghost is the Tag/Loop
functionality. When the Tag option is engaged in video mode, it flashes a
continuous loop of footage into memory using a predefined time window
(10, 30 seconds, 1, 2 or 5 minutes), and when the Tag button is
initiated, it saves that time window backwards, and will record the next
window forwards and an additional window after that. For example, if 10
seconds is chosen for the tagging interval, then it’s continually
flashing 10 seconds of video to memory (not permanently saving it), and
when the Tag button is pressed, it saves the previous 10 seconds, the
next 10 seconds, and 10 seconds after that to the card, for a full
30-second video. It requires 4GB of free space on the card memory for
the tagging to function properly.

Impressions
I really liked the Drift Innovations HD Ghost camera, as it was robust,
rugged, weatherproof or waterproof (depending on rear hatch), had a
functional LCD screen and remote, stable mounts, and was easy to use.
The squat size and low profile, 300 degrees rotatable lens, and
alterable pitch mount, meant that it could be attached in a plethora of
locations. What stands out to me when using this camera is its excellent
usage and form factor, and great battery life.

The menu system
was very intuitive to use, and it was simple to change settings as
desired, and review or delete photos and video footage. Everything was
accessed through the four camera buttons and initial icon’s screens.
Further choices led to the tabular setting’s menus, where the
system-wide, video, photo, timelapse, and photoburst parameters could be
configured. The ability to alter the exposure settings from the menu
was really a handy feature, and it came in useful for adjusting things
for local conditions (weather, location, time of the day), and the
results could be viewed, and then changed, making for an instant A/B
comparison.

The smartphone interface was handy for configuration
changes, and viewing and deleting footage, but unfortunately in video
mode it would only allow the lowest frame rate of 30fps. I didn’t find
the smartphone the most useful for starting and stopping recording,
since it required that the camera was easily accessible, and in
addition, the Wi-Fi used up battery resources of the camera and phone.
The
LCD was small, being only 2 inches, but it was useful and bright enough
for what was needed to be accomplished in the field. I did find that it
was sometimes hard to read the small fonts and icons on the setting’s
menu, and I had to carry my reading glasses to decipher what I was
changing, but I can chock that up to my eyesight at 50+ years old. Once
the camera was positioned on its mount, leveling the camera was greatly
benefited by the LCD screen for initial orientation check (using a tree,
log or your finger), and then post checking using the recorded footage
to verify the results. I found that the smartphone interface was
incredibly useful for performing the alignment activity, and then I
would turn off the Wi-Fi and go back to normal usage.

The camera
beeps to inform you of stopping and starting recording and mode changes,
and they’re exceptionally loud, which I found an excellent
reinforcement for the camera status. The superb remote was really nice
to use, especially when using a helmet mount, since it was hard to
locate the Action button when reaching up onto the camera. The remote
allowed quick video sequences to be performed, even on moderately
difficult terrain, and it was easy to stab at its large buttons, even
with gloves and fat fingering them. The addition of indicator lights on
the remote really added to its usefulness, since I could take a quick
glance and see what mode the camera was in, and whether it was
recording, making for a great visual status. The remote isn’t
waterproof, only water resistant, but it worked fine in the many rain
storms that I encountered.

The video footage was great, with
realist colors (though on the dry side), good contrast, and sharp
images. I preferred the 720p and 960p modes, since 1080p gave rise to
jello-vision in mountain biking conditions. The Tag/Loop feature was
pretty cool, and was especially nice on long rides where you might have
just done an interesting section of trail and wanted to capture it, and
it gave you the ability to record a time slice in the past and into the
future. The camera did decently in full and low-light conditions, but
had some difficulty in mixed light, with some occasional washouts when a
blast of bright light was in its field of view.

Their
mount system worked really well, and was the most stable of the sports
cameras on the market. It was easy to slide their universal clip into
its mate, but the lack of good vented helmet strap is a real bummer, as
the best method is using the stick-on surface mounts, so you ended up
with a semi-permanent attachment. I created my own customized vented
mount by using another company’s strap, and I dremeled down the old
connection system flat, so that I could attach a their flat surface
mount. The ratcheted clip can be adjusted in 10 degree increments in
relation to the camera, which was useful for pitch setup when the camera
was mounted on the side of a helmet. The 1/4 universal camera adapter
on the bottom of the camera, was a nice feature, though I didn’t use it
much, it allows a connection to a tripod, or on some of the RAM mounts.

You
had to be somewhat careful of the camera’s bulbous lens, which sort of
sticks out, and though I worried about it getting scratched, that never
happened. The body has been pretty tough, and hasn’t gotten scratched or
nicked up, and the LCD uses the exceptional tough Gorilla Glass, so
nothing has happened with it, even after lots of abuse.



How
does it compare against the competition? The HERO3 still has the best
video clarity, though it has overly warm colors, followed by the HD
Ghost and then the Contour+2 and Replay XD. The HD Ghost has the best
usage factor, followed closely by the Contour+2, then the Replay XD,
with the HERO3 way behind in this category.

Bottom Line
The Drift HD Ghost is an excellent 11MP high definition outdoor sports
camera, that takes 1080p, 960p and 720p resolution videos with a slew of
frame rate options. It has a plethora of useful and functional
features, including a tough Gorilla Glass color LCD screen, built-in
Wi-Fi, a two-way remote with indicator lights, a tough waterproof or
water resistant body, a rotatable lens, and a stable mount system. The
main menu system is intuitive and easy to use, and using the four camera
buttons, any video and photo mode setting can be altered, and footage
viewed or deleted. The nifty Tag/Loop feature captures a rolling window
of video into flash memory, and saves it to permanency when tagged.

One
of the highlights of the camera is the excellent form factor, which
comes from the low profile body, stable mounting system, remote with
large easy to use buttons and functional status indicator lights, loud
indicator beeps for mode changes and the LCD screen. The 2-inch color
LCD screen is used for leveling, camera settings, menu selection and
recorded material viewing. Some of the icons and fonts for the settings
are on the small size, and I found them hard to read for my older eyes.
The mount system is one of the most stable on the market, but the lack
of a vented helmet mount is annoying, since a semi-permanent surface
mount is the only solution for attachment. Due to the camera body shape,
a chest system isn’t feasible, so you can only do handlebar, helmet or
goggle mounting. The built-in Wi-Fi lets the camera wirelessly converse
with mobile devices using the Drift App to align the camera, change
settings and modes, and download and view and delete recorded footage. I
found App extremely useful for alignment and mode configurations, and
would use the remote for normal operations. For some odd reason, the App
doesn’t allow the video frame rate to be above 30fps. In bright and low
light cameras metering worked fine, but in mixed light conditions, full
light bursts could cause occasional washouts in the recorded video
footage.

The camera took great footage with good clarity and
realist colors. The excellent form and usage factor from the superb
large remote with its useful indicator lights, LCD screen, menu system,
stable mounts, loud mode beeps and rotatable lens all worked in
synergistic harmony. Top it all off with the unique Tag/Loop feature, a
long-lived battery life, built-in Wi-Fi and mobile interface, creates a
great camera package.

Strengths

  • Excellent form and usage factor
  • Superb remote control w/ indicator lights
  • Loud mode change beeps
  • LCD screen
  • Stable mount system
  • Menu system
  • Tag/Loop functionality
  • Built in Wi-Fi
  • Mobile App
  • 11MP sensor

Weaknesses

  • Lens may be prone to damage
  • Menu setting’s parameters font and icons are small and hard to read
  • App interface doesn’t allow a higher frame rate (only 30fps)
  • Lack of a vented helmet mount
  • Video clarity great not the best
  • Washouts occasionally in mixed light conditions

MSRP: $399.99

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Technical Specs:

  • 1080p [1920×1080] – 25, 30 fps
  • 960p [1280×960] – 25, 30, 48, 50 fps
  • 720p [1280×720] – 25, 30, 50, 60 fps
  • WVGA [848×480] – 25, 30, 50, 60, 100, 120
  • File format: .Mp4 / .Mov (H.264 codec, selectable)
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Field of view: 170° (1080p, 960p, 720p, WVGA)
  • Field of view: 127°, 90° (1080p)
  • 11, 8, 5 megapixel Still Photos
  • Lens focal range: 0.5m to infinity
  • Lens rotation: 300°
  • Zoom: x10 (digital)
  • Exposure: Auto / Manual
  • LCD Screen: 2.0″ TFT
  • Waterproof: 3m (9.84ft)
  • Microphone: Built-in, noise reducing microphone
  • Built-in memory: 256MB
  • Memory capacity: Micro SD memory cards up to 32GB
  • Inputs: 3.5mm external microphone (extension included)
  • Outputs: HDMI connector type C (cable not included)
  • Connectivity: USB Plug and Play, mini-B USB connector
  • Compatibility: Windows XP and up / Mac OS 10.2 and up
  • Remote range: 10m (32.81ft)
  • Radio frequency: 2.4G
  • Camera dimensions: 105 (L) x 52 (W) x 33 (D) mm
  • Camera Weight: 167g
  • Camera Power: 1700mAH rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included) (DC 3.7V)
  • Remote Control dimensions: 59 (L) x 48 (W) x 12 (D) mm
  • Remote Control Weight: 22g
  • Remote Control Power: 350mAH rechargeable lithium-ion battery (internal) (DC 3.7V)

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