GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
GoPro shrunk the latest Hero to the size of a dental-floss dispenser and still managed to pack the power of a DSLR into a 2.6-ounce package. The Hero3 was tough enough to handle repeated head-butts into a boulder and came stock with a remote that, in addition to letting me hit record from a lifejacket pocket, is capable of changing modes on an absurd 48 GoPros at once. Other perks include slo-mo and Wi-Fi capability.
SPECIAL FEATURE: It shoots 30 frames of giant 12-megapixel stills per second (think sequence shots in magazines).
VERDICT: With a more intuitive interface, this could be the perfect cam.
Drift HD Ghost
The HD Ghost’s focus on functionality pays off. It incorporates a bombproof two-inch LCD that let me access dozens of options—frame rate, mic sensitivity, self-timer—and review clips right on the chairlift. The 360-degree rotating mount survived a swan dive into a Douglas fir, and the lithium-ion batteries lasted 45 percent longer than the other cams’.
SPECIAL FEATURE: In Flashback mode, footage is stored in short-term memory but only saved—up to five minutes after it was shot—when the menu button is pressed. That way you don’t waste space on the weak stuff.
VERDICT: Intuitive functionality, ample camera chops, super-rugged.
Contour Roam 2
While not as feature rich as either the HD Ghost or the Hero3 (no remote, slo-mo, or fancy high-speed photos), the Roam 2 captures high-quality footage at half the price. The on-off switch slides forward and back, which made it easy to operate even with ski mitts on, and a beam of light pinpointed exactly where I aimed it. One knock: the Roam 2 beeps like a cardiac monitor when low on power or memory, which got annoying. But the camera made up for it in toughness. When I accidently backed my Toyota Camry over it, the Roam 2 lived to beep about it.
SPECIAL FEATURE: The lens and mount both rotate 270 degrees, so with a swivel and a twist I was able to film behind me without shooting upside down.
VERDICT: Simple and solid—great for folks on a budget.