If you drool over the latest Go Pro but not over its ticket price, it is worth checking out some of the less expensive alternatives. I recently tested the DVR 794HD V4 WiFi action cam, which is one of several affordably priced action cams from Vivitar. It takes both video and still pictures- up to 14MP and 1080 HD video. It comes with a waterproof case, bike mount, helmet mount, charging cable and wristband remote. I tested the camera in a variety of situations- on a horseback ride, at a dusty campsite and out swimming & paddling at the lake. Although the camera can be used without the waterproof housing I kept it in the housing during testing as that is how I typically use an action cam. The housing not only protects the camera from water and dust but also allows you to connect accessories. The waterproof housing has the same mounting system as Go Pro cameras, so you can use the readily available Go Pro mounts, selfie sticks and other accessories.
The DVR 794HD has a built-in rechargeable battery that charges via a standard micro USB- USB cable (included.) The battery is removeable so in theory you could get a 2nd battery for longer recording time but you would also need to purchase a special charger to allow it to be charged outside of the camera (it is not the same size battery as Go Pro so not compatable with its chargers.) It uses a Micro SD for recording (not included ), I used a Samsung 64GB EVO Class 10 Micro SDXC Card with Adapter up to 48/MB/s (MB-MP64DA/AM) purchased from Amazon for under $20.
Camera operation and settings
The camera can be operated in a variety of ways- via buttons located on the camera (or on the outside of the waterproof case), via the wristband remote or via the Vivitar ActionCam smartphone app.
The camera has 2 buttons on top and 2 on the right hand side. It is a little confusing at first as the buttons have multiple functions depending on whether you are using them to change settings or to operate the camera. For operating the camera the top left button is the power button, top right starts/ stops recording. The lower side button switches on the WiFi and the upper one opens the menu. The power button is also used to switch between video, photo and playback modes. Although the 1.8″ rear screen is relatively small, I found it useful to check the camera was pointed where I wanted it. In bright sunlight I was hard to make out the details on the screen and then viewing it via the smartphone app worked better.
The remote control is worn like a watch and has 3 buttons- these allow you to take a still picture, start/ stop video recording or switch the camera off. The user manual says it also allows you to switch the camera on remotely, but my camera would not do so (and when I contacted customer service to ask about it they said it only switches it off.) I thought the wristband remote was a great idea and worked well for controlling the camera, as long as the camera was already switched on. When using the camera on a horseback ride I used the helmet mount, and the wrist remote was great for taking pictures/ video at the start of the ride whilst keeping my hands on the reins. However, when I tried to take video later in the ride it was frustrating because the camera had automatically switched off after 3 minutes of inactivity, so the remote didn’t work and there was also no way of telling if it was recording or not without removing my helmet to look at the camera. I later discovered that it was possible to switch off the auto-off function, which makes the remote much more useful during action sports where you may not be able to reach the camera to switch it back on.
Vivitar ActionCam app
The Vivitar ActionCam app requires connecting your smartphone to the camera via WiFi. Once connected you can view livestreaming from camera viewfinder, view videos and photos (taken with the camera or with your smartphone), adjust settings for the video or still camera and start/ stop video and still picture recording, you can also download the user manual. When using the camera in a situation where I could access my phone, I found it much easier to adjust the settings via the app rather than on the camera itself. The preview video is also larger making it easier to check you have just the shot you are looking for. You can also adjust the white balance, set the video resolution at 1080p 30fps, 720P 60fps or 720P 30fp, set the still resolution at 14M, 12M, 10M, 8M, 5M or 3M, set up continuous shooting mode (3,5 or 10 photos) and also set a self-timer for 2 or 10 seconds. I had no problems using the app with my iPhone 5, it worked well, the only downside was I couldn’t use WiFi to connect to the internet whilst the app was in use.
These photos were taken with the DVR 794HD on the default setting of 5MP (just over ⅓ of the MP of the max possible quality) and I was happy with the picture quality and color balance. Because, like most action cams, the DVR 794HD has a wide angle lens (120 degrees) you will notice some curvature in the still pictures.