There are some things big, expensive video cameras don’t do. Things like surfing or skydiving or filming from the handlebars of a mountain bike. The cameras either watch from the sidelines or risk ending up soaked, trashed, or dead. But what if you’re looking to get some in-the-action footage of your next watercraft ride? A sports camera like the JVC GC-XA1 is a possible solution.
Out of the box, the GC-XA1 comes with a battery, USB cable, a flexible mount with two bases, mini screws and screwdriver, protectors for the lens and LCD, and a goggle strap mount. The flexible mount has two sticky strips for shots when tripods aren’t an option. The two plastic lens protectors fit very snugly over the camera lens and require attention to remove. The goggle strap mount fastens over goggle straps to mount the camera alongside the operator’s head. With a tight strap, it provides great point of view shots and hands-free shooting.
Short and Sweet
The GC-XA1 literally fits in the palm of a hand. The six buttons and battery door are water and dust resistant. The rounded corners give it better odds of survival in the event of a tumbling fall, and tripod threads on both the bottom and side of the unit allow for secure mounting in a variety of places and positions. A small, fixed, inch and a half LCD screen is flush on the right side for reviewing footage. The LCD screen isn’t high definition, but provides a good shooting reference.
Inside the battery door is room for the lithium ion battery, a standard sized SD card slot, a Mini-B USB port and an Mini HDMI port. The unit charges via the included USB cord on any powered USB connection. Add a Mini HDMI to HDMI cable and it easily connects to an HDTV to show footage on the big screen. The paper manual is amazingly short, but both the WiVideo software and a full manual are included on the camera itself and accessible when connected to a PC.
Easily one of the defining features of the GC-XA1 is the wireless connectivity. It can wirelessly transfer footage, stream live video or function as a webcam for a PC. Android phones, iPhones and iPads can function as a remote control, capable of controlling video recording, capturing a still or zooming in and out. Coupled with a Ustream account, the GC-XA1 is capable of broadcasting video over the Internet so smartphones and PCs can watch live.
Another impressive aspect of the camera is the waterproofing. Footage is quite clear underwater and capturing it is relatively hassle free. There are two additional white balance settings, blue or green, exclusively for underwater recording. Shutter speed, exposure and focus are automatic allowing the camera to stay submerged without the need for constant adjustments. The unit does not float however and requires a safety tether to ensure it never records a sad descent to the bottom of some body of water. Luckily, it can survive for a half an hour at depths just below 16 feet. In short – it can go as deep as its operator can without the use of scuba gear.
Footage is shot in one of four resolutions, including 1920×1080. Even with H.264 compression, a high capacity SD card will be required for time-consuming recordings. The video contrast tends to be strong when shooting in direct sunlight and overexposed objects have a soft glow about them. Shooting at night in poor lighting produces dark and grainy footage. The lens has a definite fisheye perspective, which gives it a satisfyingly wide angle and ensures the action isn’t just off camera. The only downside is that vertical objects appear to bow slightly in the middle in both video and still pictures. However, the effect is less noticeable when the camera is on a moving vehicle than in static shots.
The GC-XA1 trades off manual controls and other enhancements for a smaller and more portable unit. Zoom and stabilization are digital, which cuts down on space and weight required by optical versions of each. The onboard microphone picks up a lot, yet suffers from a slight muffled quality. The menu is simple and easy to navigate on the small LCD screen. While it does shoot in HD, the H.264 compression is a visual downgrade. Yet, the footage file sizes are smaller and easier to store, stream or post to a website.
Time for Action
The pros and cons of the GC-XA1 add up to a firm conclusion: it’s a solid sports camera. It’s great with water, small enough to mount just about anywhere and rugged enough to survive knocks and splashes that would make your expensive HD camcorder shake in its bag. If you’re looking for a camera that likes to be in the action rather than just watching, the GC-XA1 is worthy of consideration.
Format: MP4 H.264, JPG
Image Sensor: 5MP CMOS sensor
Still Resolution: 2592×1944 (5M pixels)
Lens: Fixed Focus (F 2.8) 170-degree
Shutter Speed: Automatic
Program Exposure Modes: Time lapse, self-timer, endless REC
Digital Zoom: 5x
Image Stabilization: Digital
White Balance: Auto/daylight/fluorescent/tungsten/blue or green (marine)
LCD Monitor: 1.5″
Resolution: 1920×1080 30p, 1280×960 30p, 1280×720 60p/30p, 848x480p 30p
TV Out: Mini HDMI
PC Interface: Mini-B USB
Wi-Fi: WiFi 802.11 b/g
Still Shot Mode: Yes
Memory Card Compatible: SD/SDHC/SDXC card (up to 64GB)
External Battery Charger: USB cable
Battery Type: Lithium-ion rechargeable
Waterproof: to 16.4′ (5m)
- Waterproof to 16.4-feet
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Mounts practically anywhere
- Compressed image quality
The JVC GC-XA1 is a durable sports camera that can get right in the action and survive to shoot another day.
Mike Houghton is a freelance videographer and an independent filmmaker.