Drift Innovation has been making action cameras for some time now. Today sees its latest offering -- the Ghost S -- hit stores globally. What's new this time? Well there's the usual assortment of video improvements: 1080p at 60fps, new "scene" modes and better low-light recording. There's also a dramatically improved battery, that now offers 3.5 hours of recording at standard 1080p/30fps. Impressive. But, perhaps more significant that that, Drift is stepping forward as a brand. It's no secret this market is dominated by one major player, a situation only accentuated by the recent demise of its next best known competitor. But, while all this was going on, Drift has kept its head down and concentrated hard on continually revising its products. As the marketing parlance goes, the Drift Ghost S is its best camera yet, but also a metaphorical stone from David's sling. Are we about to see the action camera market get the all important "other option" it desperately needs? We spent some time with the Ghost S -- one of the most promising candidates yet -- to find out.
To look at, the Drift design language sits somewhere between the tubular/shotgun stylings of Contour, iON et al, and the square block of a GoPro. The design might give you the impression it leans more towards being a classic "helmet" cam, but a 300-degree rotating lens means it's still suited to a variety of situations and mount positions. It sports a regular tripod thread too, so you can use a bevy of existing equipment, including some that you might already own. As with previous Drift cameras, the Ghost S has a 2-inch LCD display on one of its sides for reviewing/previewing footage, and despite a small speaker on the opposing side, the whole unit is waterproof to nine feet, without the need for an external case. Shooting on dry land? You can pop the rear panel off and access the removable 1,700mAh battery, HDMI output, memory card slot and 3.5mm mic input. If you use these ports often, there's an included extra rear cover that has tethered rubber plugs that provide access to these ports, so you won't need to remove it each time.
This is perhaps one of Drift's strongest selling points, it has almost all the must-have features you could want from an action cam built right in. On top of the above, there's WiFi connectivity, an included two-way remote (with a handy color LED to let you know what mode you're in), mobile apps for easy control and all the shooting options a wannabe daredevil could wish for (time lapse, photo burst, video and still). As for the build quality, the soft-touch finish feels good, while the rest of the camera feels reassuringly durable and solid.
Of course, none of this matters much if the camera quality isn't up to scratch, and thankfully that doesn't look like something Drift, or more importantly, prospective buyers will need to worry about. The Ghost S uses a Sony-made sensor, and in our quick sample footage, it delivered decent, sharp imaging without too much distortion -- as is sometimes a problem with wide-angled cameras (from 90 - 160 degrees in this case). We only got to test it in on a grey London afternoon, but if anything, this gave us a great insight into its low-light performance.
The sample footage below reveals an authentic reproduction of the conditions of the day, without any notable noise, or apparent deterioration in quality. This also likely means that your Malibu surf videos, or New Zealand hiking vlogs stand to look as good as you remembered, if you were to entrust them to the Ghost S. If there was any niggle we had in our hands-on time, it would be the lock mechanism on the back of the camera. Essentially, there's dial that you twist to fasten/undo the back panel. Operating this with cold or gloved fingers could soon become a challenge. It turns out, though, that Drift already thought of this, and one of the included mounts is designed so that one end serves as a sort of "key" tool that you can use to solve exactly this problem.
So, we've only had the camera for a few hours, but already we like what we see. It's clear that the Ghost S isn't short on features. In fact, much of the action camera buying crowd likely won't need anything else at all. Of course, if you have slightly more specific requirements, then you'll need to check out if Drift has the right accessory, of if there are third-party options. The inclusion of a screen and the truly solid battery-life are likely what will solve the majority of headaches that haunt the helmet cam wearer, everything else is just a bonus. Which brings us onto that price. At $400, it's right up there with the obvious competition. So you'll still want to see exactly which option fits your specific requirements. But, one thing's for sure: the Drift Ghost S isn't just another me-too camera. It's clearly the result of continuous revisions and development, and this is what the action sports camera world needs right now. A little healthy competition.