Swann's Freestyle HD camera is a mountable video/stills camera for use in extreme sports.
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 adapters and sticky pads it seems the intention is to use the camera with a variety of helmets, boards and modes of transport.
The camera itself is extremely simple; 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’s 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 1.5inch it 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 as the screen isn’t particularly resolute or detailed. A D-Pad is included next to the screen in order to alter settings.
The other helpful 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 between 170 and 135 degree viewing angle (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 more strap-based offerings would have been useful.
To insure 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, as the lens doesn’t possess any form of stabilization so the end result can be quite nauseating otherwise.
In low light the quality degrades a fair amount, with noise apparent constantly 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 a large card must be purchased for a reasonable amount of recording time. Being that the format is microSD up to 32GB is available, and the prices are virtually identical, there’s no real loss compared to the full sized SD although an adapter is needed to use the majority of traditional card readers.
In all the Freestyle HD is innovative in places, and offers more than the similar HD Hero, but is extremely niche is the 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.