Buying gear for the outdoor junkie can be hard work. Each sport has its own set of needs, top gear picks and accessories, and unless you know the sport intimately and know exactly what your giftee has in his closet, the shopping season can be grueling.
One gift that should appeal to just about every sports fiend out there is the action cam. What better way to spend the off-season than reliving your greatest moments from the past? Great for surfing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, paddling and other sports, action cams are an easy, universal choice. And with features like 1080p recording and GPS tracking, the latest cams pull out all the stops toward making footage that's as serious as the adventure. The following cams have all launched within the past few months, so chances are good your favorite adventurist doesn't have one yet.
Oregon Scientific's latest cam, the ATC9K, brings 1080p recording to its line of rugged, waterproof sports cams. HD-wise, you can record in 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. The cam also includes a G-sensor for measuring and displaying your air time, and an optional GPS add-on that will let you track vertical, distance and speed for the day. When it's time to cut and watch, you can watch your video and your Google Maps track simultaneously. OS' standard 1.5-inch LCD screen is there, letting you view your footage seconds after you stop recording. The ATC9 retails for $299.99 and the GPS module can be added for $70.
If you don't need 1080p and are looking for something cheaper, the ATC5K, OS' former flagship, can now be found for $149.99. The ATC5K features a similarly sturdy build as the 9K with the same 1.5-inch LCD screen for in-the-field viewing. It's waterproof to 10 feet and films 640 x 480 VGA footage at 30 fps.
If you were in the action cam market last year, you might remember a player known as VholdR. Simplifying things for writers and consumers alike, that corporate jumble of capital and lowercase consonants has been streamlined down to the more simple "Contour" this year. The cams remain the same, however, save for the addition of the new ContourGPS.
Like Oregon Scientific's GPS module, Contour's offering tracks your speed, vert, distance and location. But this one's built directly into the ContourHD cam, requiring no extra expense. The Contour records 1080p at 30 fps, 960p at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. And Contour calls it the "world's smallest and lightest GPS video camera." With its streamlined, tubular design and 5.2-ounce weight, we'd be hard-pressed to debate that description. Video and GPS track editing comes via Contour's Storyteller software and an internal, omnidirectional microphone brings audio to the final product. Retail is $349.99.
GoPro didn't introduce a GPS cam or peripheral this year, but what it did introduce was a capable camera with a compromise of cost and resolution. The HD Hero 960 cuts 1080p footage out of the mix, but gives you recording up to 960p at 30 fps. And that loss of hardware lets you skimp a little on the cost of the cam--more than a $100 worth of skimp. You can get the HD Helmet Hero for a competitive $299.99 (full 1080p) or spend $179.99 on the HD Hero 960 and still enjoy quality footage. And since you're giving this as a gift, wouldn't you rather have an extra 120 bills in your parka pocket? GoPro's bomber cams with polycarbonate housing are good down to 180 feet underwater.
If you value your wallet more than the megapixels of your video, you can get the standard def (512x384) Wide Hero for under 100 bucks.
Near as we can tell, this newcomer to the action cam field got the ball rolling in terms of GPS cams. A little less proven and vetted than its competitors, the GoBandit advertises itself as the "world's first GPS HD Action Camera." Like the aforementioned GPS models, you'll be able to keep tabs on your location, speed, elevation and distance traveled. The built-in LCD screen lets you view this information while still in the sticks. When you use the company's software to cut your video, you can overlay the GPS info on your video to add a new dimension to the show.
Unfortunately the newcomer's limitation to 720p at 30 fps and price tag of $349.99 (same as the ContourGPS with 1080p) mean that you might want to wait until next year to shop GoBandit.
For the minimalist on your shopping list, consider a camera from Epic. Epic brags about having the world's lightest, smallest cameras, a factor that's important to someone that cuts off the handle of his spork to save .37 ounce. The base model Epic Action Cam weighs less than three ounces, measures just 3 inches long, shoots 640 x 480 footage at 30 fps and costs just $129.99. Control the featherlight cam with a simple, two-button operation.
If you're looking for something a little further upmarket, check out the V.I.O action cam that I wrote up here.