Smaller, smarter and lighter than ever. But can anyone out-actioncam GoPro? In our Drift Stealth 2 review we rattled its bones to find out
GoPro pretty much has a lock down on the actioncam market, but that hasn't stopped the specialist or mainstream manufacturers trying to muscle in - largely unsuccessfully.
The latest contender is actioncam specialist Drift Innovation's Drift Stealth 2. Far smaller, lighter and smarter than the company's previous cams, but notably it opts out of the resolution arms race currently going on - it shoots at 1080p, 30 frames-per-second (fps) max.
Ranged against it is, from mainstream manufacturers, the Panasonic HX-A500E - the first true 4K 30fps actioncam, but with an oddball setup that sees the lens on a leash to the main unit (tucked in your backpack).
From the specialists, the Drift Stealth 2's chief rival is the GoPro Hero 3+ (4K, but only at 15fps) and Hero 4, apparently releasing in October, and likely to deliver 4K at 30fps.
Given that 4K TVs aren't widespread, however, unless you're a pro user looking to cut down 4K footage for extra detail or to remove field-of-view fisheye distortion, then you may not need a 4K actioncam.
In which case, does the Drift Stealth 2's optics, weight and processor outperform others? We took it to the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park mountain bike circuit to rattle its bones and test its (and our) composure.
Drift Stealth 2: Size and build
The Drift Stealth 2 is by far and away the smallest, lightest camera the company has ever produced - around half the weight and half the size of its predecessors. That only puts it into the same rough area as the GoPro HD Hero 3+ - although the Drift Stealth 2 is long, low and sleek, rather than upright and ugly.
It's built to be splashproof without a case, but not waterproof, same as GoPro. Where it physically outdoes its rival is in featuring not just an integrated 1.3-inch LCD screen for checking camera alignment, reviewing clips and easier menu work, but also a 300-degrees rotatable lens - meaning mounting it and getting a good angle is a lot easier.
The Drift Stealth 2 also uses a camera-standard º" screw thread hole for mounting - so it'll mount to just about any camera equipment, and with an aftermarket accessory can play nice with GoPro's wide range of mounts too.
Drift Stealth 2: Features
Beyond mounting options and a screen, the Drift Stealth 2 is a fairly minimal actioncam affair. There is Wi-Fi and control by app or by wrist remote (sold separately, can control multiple Drifts simultaneously).
But there's not the 4K ultra high-def video of key rivals, nor the quirkier features of the Garmin Virb Elite that throws on top not just GPS data but also ANT+ heartrate, cadence etc. data if you're so inclined.
Drift Stealth 2: Durability
Drift clearly has done its work here - mounts are tough and well-designed, as is the main unit itself. The Drift Stealth 2 features a toughened screen, rubberised buttons and a screw-in cover for ports - USB and HDMI.
The only real concern is the rotating lens - leaving it partially rotated (as you're likely to do if top-mounted on a helmet, for instance) leaves lips that could get caught in a tumble. And, long-term, having electronics twisting round (from optic to processor) can't be ideal. Imagine a laptop hinge, but one that's got to be used to being thrown down rocky descents.
Drift Stealth 2: Picture quality
In favourable conditions, the Drift Stealth 2 produces absolutely stunning video. The decision to restrict field-of-view from the usual 170-degrees to a mere 135 pays off - as videos look noticeably less fisheyed around the edges.
On top of that, colours are crisp and details are retained in stills - enough to see individual leaves when riding at speed, enough to see number plates in daylight, no problem.
On the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park mountain bike circuit - which, surprisingly for flat-as-a-pancake London, features rock gardens, stepped drops and gravelly berms, the Drift Stealth 2 performed admirably on picture, capturing detail and movement even in rattle-and-roll conditions.
However, when conditions got more testing, the Drift Stealth 2 wasn't quite up to the job. Low light performance was pretty poor. And although this was somewhat remedied by fiddling with settings, it never matched the performance of the GoPro HD Hero 3+, its key rival for now.
And the GoPro doesn't require much fidding with exposure values every time you want to go out for a nightride.
Another problem was sound - this is a common actioncam issue for those without cases. As your speed or wind increases, the camera succumbs to chatter - here a high-pitched mix between wub-wub noises and whistling.
And enough to drown out us calling out the number plate of a car passing too close on the road, while also ensuring offroad footage would have to feature some obligatory gnarly soundtrack instead of natural sounds (mainly us breathing heavily, freewheel hub clicking and us cursing repeatedly, admittedly).
Drift Stealth 2: Battery
A 1500mAh battery for three hours of shooting at 1080p is fairly standard spec for the market-ñ and the battery certainly kept running throughout the shoot - not just at the Olympic Park mountain bike trails, but on the road and canal to and from the site. Which meant when a bin lorry tried to sideswipe us five minutes from our front door, it got the number plate.
Drift Stealth 2: Verdict
Smaller, lighter, smarter - the Drift Stealth 2 is undoubtedly the best Drift actioncam around. It just isn't as good as its key rivals in any place.
Drift Stealth 2 release date: 2 September 2014
Drift Stealth 2 price: £249