Look out GoPro: we review the Swann Freestyle HD

Portable action sports cameras have been wildly popular in the last few years, creating a niche of sports videographers given to documenting their snowboarding, skydiving, surfing and BMX bike riding exploits.

GoPro is the current market leader in this category, and we’ve lived with its HD Hero2 for some time, using it as the benchmark against which to measure similar devices. So just how does the new Swann Freestyle HD compare to our reference portable sports action camera?

Features

The Swann Freestyle HD is packaged with pretty much everything you could possibly need for capturing most types of action sports.

Included is an LCD screen attachment for playback of footage, a wireless remote for long distance control, a waterproof casing, and a grab bag of mounting attachments for your sports gear, plus cables to cater for various video-out options.

Price-wise, the Swann Freestyle and the GoPro HD Hero2 are identical, at AU$399. With the Freestyle, though, that buys a lot of extra-value trimmings. The surfeit of accessories provided here contrasts with the GoPro Hero2 pack, which certainly comes with the essentials but not the really useful LCD and wireless remote. Most other accessories are an expensive, extra-cost option, but with the Swann, you’re fully loaded out of the box.

The Swann is very similar in design to the GoPro HD Hero2, so cosmetics won’t be a point of difference you’ll need to base a buying decision on. The Freestyle is a fair bit lighter than the GoPro however, which can be good or bad depending if you like to feel some weight in your camera gear. When it’s strapped to your head for a long period of time, this is certainly a plus though.

Performance

The raison d’etre of any video camera device is to capture good-quality moving images, and the GoPro and Swann are fairly evenly matched here.

On a base level, the colours are rich and have something of a glow to them, which we found appealing, but may not be to everyone’s taste. The Freestyle also achieved a good balance between extreme light and dark areas, with bright skies and shady pathways in the same scene exposed nicely.

The Swann’s weakness is low-light performance, especially when set to 1080p capture. Most sports action you’re likely to want to capture won’t occur in the dark, of course, but there are other activities, such as bumper cars and late night roller coasters, that would benefit from better capability here.

The colours are pretty strong in images shot on the Swann Freestyle.

We would have liked the option of higher frame rate (aka slow motion) capture too. As it is, you’re stuck with 30 frames per second, which means you forfeit the ability to capture bursts of arty slo-mo skateboard, bungee jump or surf riding sequences.

The resolution of still images peaks at 8 megapixels, which is 3 megapixels shy of the GoPro HD Hero2. The Freestyle HD, however, compensates for these shortcomings with some really neat features.

There’s a laser beam, for instance, for helping you see where you’ve aimed the lens. We found this really useful, as the compact lens often made it hard to know exactly where the framing of the shot lay. And there’s just something just plain cool about having a laser warning sticker on your camera. Totally bad-ass.

We took the camera with us on a dodgem car. Suffice to say, it survived, even if our backs didn't.

The included detachable LCD screen is also a huge help for reviewing footage and simply navigating the menus. For those wanting to capture something more than a recreational video it’s a genuine asset, and being included in the box is a real bonus.

Be aware, though, that you can’t navigate a lot of the menu unless the LCD is attached – so make sure your settings are correct before ‘Swann’ diving out of that plane, lest you miss your moment. The camera does, however, have a sound activation function that will awaken the camera and record once noise passes 60 decibels – a handy feature if you’re unable to initiate capture with your hands.

Conclusion

GoPro has a long heritage in portable sports action cameras, and with its higher frame rates and wide range of (extra cost) attachable mounts, just trumps the Swann for versatility.

The Freestyle is, however, incredible value and, with its user-friendly features and laser beam coolness, a tad more enjoyable to use than the Hero.

As a first foray into GoPro’s domain, Swann’s Freestyle HD is a fine effort and outstanding value. It’s a balanced, well-made camera that includes everything you’ll want to keep a visual record of having a great time.

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

Write a comment
  1. Bardo (Chicago)
    May 31, 08:03 Bardo (Chicago)

    I just got in touch with Swann. They have spare batteries for $39 via their US and NZ based Customer Service number. I have this camera and just got back from a 2034 mile motorcycle trip. The videos / stills are great. It outperformed my expectations. Mounts are great, and the linkage is the same as GoPro, so I was able to use the GoPro suction mount. On really bumpy highways at 90MPH or so the camera’s anti-vibration technology had a hard time keeping up and some of the vids are a little “warbally” (not a word but you get what I mean). In all, it’s a great value.

    Reply this comment
  2. Catbird
    June 01, 10:25 Catbird

    I have a GoPro Hero and a Swann Freestyle HD.  I just verified that the batteries are NOT interchangeable — the GoPro battery is physically larger and the battery contacts are different between the two batteries.

    Reply this comment
  3. Andy
    July 27, 21:15 Andy

    At 720 freestyle has 64 fps and 32fps recording and 170deg. At 1080 its 32fps and 135deg wide.

    Reply this comment
  4. Ash
    November 03, 16:12 Ash

    I saw the Swann camera at Costco and at $199 i got very interested, hence finding this review. I think the Go Pro is around $399? Even if it be can be bought for closer to $299 the Swann sounds like a good compromise at the much lower price.

    I mainly want to mount it on my car windscreen so not looking to spend heaps. As might chuck it on my BMX. Slo mo would be nice but 64fps in 720p is fine if Andy is correct. Why not just 60?

    Reply this comment
  5. Ed
    December 15, 01:08 Ed

    Swann changed the battery design but kept the same part number. They are not interchangeable. Customer support is good at making promises to resolve the issue but fails to deliver.

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

view all comments

Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person. Required fields marked as *