A mountable video/stills camera capable of HD movies, the Swann Freestyle HD is aimed at extreme sports enthusiasts.
A mountable video/stills camera capable of HD movies, the Swann Freestyle HD is aimed at extreme sports enthusiasts. With a host of brackets, mount adaptors and sticky pads it seems the intention is to use the camera with a variety of helmets, boards and other modes of transport.
The camera itself is extremely simple – there’s a switch for power and one for activating sound, a record button and a stills button. Both the connections and memory card slot are underneath flaps, with the battery taking up a large percentage of the body.
Where the Swann Freestyle HD excels is in how it is controlled outside of the onboard controls. This includes an LCD screen, which is something of a unique addition for this type of camera. Although the size is only 1.5in, the LCD at least gives an opportunity to view footage back when needed.
Unfortunately the casing doesn’t allow for the screen to be attached during use, so there’s no way of previewing the video live. This isn’t a huge issue because the screen isn’t of a particularly high resolution. A d-pad is included next to the screen in order to alter the settings.
The other useful addition is a remote, which can be clipped onto clothing, allowing for the camera to be activated. The unit must be powered on first, and then placed within the casing, but this is still a hugely helpful extra for long journeys.
With a fisheye lens that has a viewing angle between 170° and 135° (dependent on the resolution used) it doesn’t matter a huge amount where the Freestyle HD is placed, as long as it’s flat. The included brackets are all adhesive, which is fine if you own the board or bicycle you’re attaching the camera to, but a few extra strap-based offerings would have been useful.
To ensure the lens is straight, a laser pointer is present on the camera. By activating it within the menu the level of the camera can be confirmed on a close surface for a few seconds. The laser is a handy, innovative extra that goes some distance to circumventing the LCD issue.
The image quality, via the 8MP sensor, is surprisingly decent in reasonable light. Taking into account the size of the camera, as well as the intention, the end results aren’t half bad. Highlights are heavily favoured leaving shadowed areas without a massive amount of detail, but thankfully the exposure isn’t constantly trying to adjust to the conditions.
Similarly the fixed focal length lens doesn’t constantly hunt for a subject, giving a relatively decent level of sharpness for anything within range. Fixing the camera securely is an absolute must, though, because the lens doesn’t possess any form of stabilisation so the end results can be quite nauseating otherwise.
In low light the quality degrades by a fair amount, with image noise being apparent and a lack of detail all round. As a result it’s not advisable to use the Freestyle HD at night. The size of videos produced at top quality (about 2GB for 20 mins) means that a large microSD card must be purchased to ensure you get a reasonable amount of recording time. MicroSD is available with capacities up to 32GB and carry similar prices to normal-sized SD cards.
Overall the Freestyle HD is innovative in places, and offers more than the similar HD Hero, but is extremely niche in its potential usages. If you're an extreme sports enthusiast it will appeal, but be prepared to shoot a few unusable movies before a decent one is captured.