Since cameras of decent quality became implanted into nearly all our favourite handheld devices, there have been very few activities we can’t conveniently capture for later viewing.
But extreme sports throw up scenarios where something a little more specialist is needed to cope with the elements and have the versatility to be wherever you are. That’s where 'action cameras' come in, and Liquid Image, a manufacturer whose products have been largely confined to the US before now, is beginning its assault on the European market with the Ego Sports Camera.
As soon as you pop the tiny Ego into the palm of your hand you can’t help but admire the look and feel of the product. I rarely feel at ease using the terms ‘cute’ and ‘dinky’, but they are completely apt for this particular device. The Ego really is compact, measuring just 4.1 x 3 x 6.4cm and weighing only 74g. The soft rubber finish offers a tactile quality, but you still feel that the camera could withstand the usual wear and tear, and even a whack on the ground were you to drop it.
The simplicity of the Ego’s design is key. Just two small buttons (the shutter and mode/power button) sit atop the camera, flanking a miniature LCD screen. Its front sports the lens, an integrated microphone and a small light that indicates the mode the camera is in.
This can be either 720p at 60fps or 1080p at 30fps. Alternatively, it can be put into photo mode to capture stills via its 3-megapixel sensor. A simple button press flicks between each of these options.
The only other exterior feature of the Ego is a rubber side-flap, peeling back to reveal a micro-USB charging port, micro HDMI socket, and a microSD card slot. ‘Micro’ is very much the name of the game on a camera of this size. The card slot allows up to 32GB of memory to be added to bolster the 256MB on board, though a memory card is not included in the box.
Without the luxury of longer finger nails or a finely pointed instrument the flap isn’t easy to open, so make sure the device is loaded with its card and ready to go before you set out. You won’t want to be scrabbling for the catch when you’re on the move and perhaps wearing gloves.
The electric blue colour of our review sample further enhances the aesthetics, and the Ego also comes in white, black, yellow and red.
Accompanying the device in the box is an adjustable mount, protective face cover and a spare adhesive pad for the mount's base. The mount has two screws: one for securing the camera itself and the other for adjusting its position, so you can angle the lens for the desired shot. The cover, a clear plastic shell, is a basic accessory that shields the Ego from dirt and light splashes. With movement restricted to tilting rather than full rotation on the mount, and the cover not making the device fully waterproof, users may want to look out for any accessories that Liquid Image promises to release soon.
A key selling point of the Ego that offsets the relative lack of peripherals in the box is its built-in Wi-Fi transmitter, which connects to its associated app, ActionConnect. The app, available on iOS and Android (2.2 Froyo and up) streams what the camera sees live to your phone or tablet, effectively making your device a jumbo viewfinder. A range of picture settings are also available in the app. The field of view can be adjusted (135 degrees and 90 degrees), while photos can be captured at the sensor's 3-megapixel native resolution or be interpolated to 5 and 12-megapixel. Continuous shooting and contrast adjustment are also at hand.
The app connectivity is more than just a fad too. A common gripe of action cam users is the inability to see what your camera is shooting without a viewfinder, often leaving you with footage recorded at a poor angle. ActionConnect solves this problem, and, when we put it to the test, the Ego's Wi-Fi remained connected to our phone with nearly 25m between them. Unfortunately, the connection is disabled once you start recording so you cannot watch the footage as you capture it, but conversely, stills can be taken straight from your phone/tablet.
That's what we did when shooting this sample below, taken in the 12-megapixel setting.
(Click on image for full size version)
When you're fixing the Ego to your vehicle, helmet, or whatever else, the simple sticky pad is surprisingly effective. We attached the Ego to the stem of a mountain bike and it sat extremely securely, despite only half of the base being in contact with the bike’s surface.
No practical problems were encountered during our test-cycle as the Ego unobtrusively recorded our exploits. Because of its size, it’s easy to forget that it's there. An action camera should be like an invisible spectator, allowing the user to concentrate solely on their activity - the Ego fulfils this role well.
But the mountain bike trial did show that the camera isn’t suitable for every extreme sport. As the video above shows, the fairly bumpy track we rode was somewhat amplified, making for a rather blurred and juddery playback. This is a shame, because many of the sports the Ego is billed for will naturally involve rugged terrain. The footage was much smoother when we cycled down routes closer to the beaten track (end of video), but this obviously made for less exciting viewing than the off-road moments, so the user is left with a catch 22 situation over the quality/excitement balance of their video.
We also tried out the Ego on board a speed boat hurtling down the River Thames (courtesy of Liquid Image). Glimpses of London’s iconic sites were captured fairly crisply in 1080p, while the option to switch down to 720p (with the 30 to 60fps increase) was useful when we wanted to move the camera around while recording.
The picture quality is acceptable given we’re not dealing with a specialist camcorder here. Granted, upon playback the lens' barrel distortion was pronounced at the widest field-of-view setting, giving it an almost fisheye effect that some might find too extreme. Highlights are often blown out, too, which can make video look rather garish.
The plastic cover did its job by protecting the lens from splashes, though we had to refrain from diving overboard into the Thames with the full waterproof casing as yet unavailable for the Ego. The 1050mAh camera battery powered us on for over an hour of solid filming, and Liquid Image claims it can survive for 1.5 to two hours of sustained activity before dying.
With GoPro becoming the go-to brand for action cameras, the Ego's arrival provides a welcome alternative for this fairly niche market. Undercutting the GoProHero 2 by around £50, you can save a few quid by opting for this camera - as long as you don't mind compromising on the quantity of the pre-packed accessories.
The Ego looks great and is incredibly simple to use and its compact size leaves you to enjoy your exploits without worrying what the camera is up to. Accessories are thin on the ground at the moment and for full waterproof capabilities you'll need to track down the dedicated waterproof casing. The picture and video quality isn't out of this world either, but we really liked its Wi-Fi feature and phone integration and based on that, the Ego is worth considering.