Judging from marketshare – not to mention mindshare – you would think that the ubiquitous GoPro Hero 3 would be the only option available in the wearable, action camera market. But despite what GoPro’s incessant marketing campaign would lead you to believe, there are actually alternative options on that rival their device, and even surpass it in some respects.
Sony, Garmin, Panasonic, and a host of others all have very capable and affordable cameras that give budding adventure filmmakers the ability to capture video footage while taking part in their favorite activities.
One such alternative camera is the Polaroid XS100, a device that ticks all of the boxes in terms of what you want out of an action camera. For instance it is waterproof down to 10 meters (33 feet), and ruggedized for use in action sports such as mountain biking, trail running and paddling. It shoots video in 720p, 960p and full HD 1080p, while still retaining the ability to take still images with its 16 megapixel sensor.
Best of all, it is extremely easy to use, includes mounts for both your helmet and bicycle handlebars out of the box, and comes with an entry level price tag that is easy to swallow. Amazon is currently selling this camera for just $120, which is something you should keep in mind throughout this review.
Of course, the most important aspect of any camera is its image quality. If it takes lackluster photos or video, it really isn’t going to be all that much useful in the long run, no matter what it costs. I’m happy to say that the XS100 does quite well in this category. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t going to replace a DSLR or even a high end point and shoot in terms of image quality, but over all it does a surprisingly good job at capturing both still images and video clips.
I found the images to be crisp and clean, with a bit of high contrast, but nothing too distracting. On top of that, it also performed fairly well in low light conditions, something that most video cameras struggle with.
Size is another important factor when deciding on a camera you want to use, particularly in the wearable “action” market. The XS100 is lightweight, tipping the scales at just 4.8 oz. (136 g), which helps to make it extremely portable of course. But when compared to the GoPro Hero 3, it is down right bulky. That camera comes in at a svelte 2.6 oz (74 g), and just feels quite a bit more lean in general.
The Polaroid model’s long shape looks and feels very different from the boxy GoPro, and as a result the XS100 seems overly large in comparison. Of course, the GoPro model is almost always used with some kind of protective housing, which adds to its weight and bulk as well. Polaroid’s offering is already ruggedized, without the need for an outer shell.
In terms of ease of use, the XS100 shines in that category. A switch along the top is toggled to start and stop recording video, while another button can be tapped to take still shots. It takes a little practice to get the feel for where these buttons are located, but after using the camera time or two, it starts to become a natural process.
Most other settings are preconfigured using software before you head into the field, which means if you want to change things on the fly, you’ll need to bring a laptop along to adjust. You’re better off deciding what video and photo modes you want to use at the beginning, and just leave them in place.
Other features that come in handy on this camera include a built in accelerometer that automatically adjusts the lens to capture the proper footage, no matter what angle you turn the camera at. The little device even automatically saves two files of each video you shoot, one in full HD and another that is suitable for uploading quickly and easily to YouTube or other social media. Chances are, if you get into filmmaking on any level, you’ll be using a piece of software to edit your clips before uploading, but it is nice to have this option for a quick share when you need it.
Battery life is always a major concern with action cams, as you hate to get caught out in the field with dead batteries. Polaroid rates the XS100’s battery as lasting for 3 hours, and I’d say that is fairly accurate. While testing out the camera, I typically got somewhere between 2-3 hours of life, depending on how much I turned it off and on, and how long I let it run for. Since it can be charged via USB, carrying a small external battery pack can greatly extend that battery life of course, making some battery issues a non-factor really.
Most of the higher end action camera these days now include WiFi functionality for connecting with smartphones, tablets, or even wireless networks. This is an extremely nice feature to have, as it allows you to more easily change settings while in the field, or use your smartphone as a screen for instance.
Sadly, the XS100 does not include any of those features, but considering the price point, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Polaroid’s newer XS100i does have those features however, although the price does jump up to $180 at Amazon, which is still a great deal for the extra features it delivers.
If you’re looking for a good, tough action camera to start your adventure filmmaking career, the Polaroid XS100 is a solid choice. It delivers everything you want in a rugged package that won’t break your bank account. It delivers solid performance in both still and video footage, and it is easy to use as well. Yes, there are more full featured options on the market, but as an entry level camera that is very affordable, it is tough to beat.
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