Sports cams have gotten smaller, lighter and better than ever in the last few years. Compared to the newest batch of go-anywhere, film-anything action cameras, last year’s snazziest models are already starting to resemble VHS camcorders. The $199 Replay XD720 is tiny, weighs almost nothing, and attaches to absolutely anything including your Picatinny rail-equipped firearms. This makes it ‘gun gear’ and means I get to review it without Farago carping about ‘mission creep’. I won’t even have to insert a gratuitous SIG/Sauer P226 photo at the end! But I probably will anyway . . .
Size & Weight/Mounting Options
This photo shows just how small these gadgets have become: just a little bigger than a 12-guage shotshell. Would it fit in the chamber of a 10-guage shotgun? Probably not, but that would look cool. (Note to self: find friend with 10-guage to find out.)
The little unit measures .94″ in diameter by 3.2″ long, and weighs a scant 2 ounces. This means it fits almost anywhere, and Replay includes lots of mounting hardware to make that easy. A swivel mount and low-profile fixed mount are included, along with a handful of flat and curved mounting plates with unbelievably tenacious 3M adhesive pads.
The 3M sticky stuff comes off (without destroying anything) if you twist it while pulling it off. It takes some serious effort and finger strength, but it does eventually work. If you’ve got weak or arthritic hands, however, you’ll need some dry ice and a chisel.
I stuck one of the mounting plates to my electronic ears, and the result is perfect for filming my pistol reviews. What I discovered, though, is that this mount position sets the camera a little too low to get a cool view when I’m shooting a rifle from a bench. Surprisingly, even in 60fps and 720p, close-ups of sandbags aren’t that interesting to watch.
The Picatinny rail mount is an extra $79 (ouch) but it’s what makes this camera ‘gun gear’ instead of just ‘really cool.’ It’s absolutely bombproof, and I don’t think LaRue Tactical (drink!) could made one any sturdier. It clamps the Replay XD720 (or any other Replay camera) in a billet aluminum death-grip that lets you can clamp it to anything with a rail. And that gets you all kinds of creative (and sometimes disorienting) camera shots.
Warning: if you mount a Replay to a pistol like this, be sure to keep the lens well behind the muzzle so it doesn’t get blasted by hot gasses. The camera and mount only add about 3 ounces to the weight of the gun, so you won’t even notice the difference unless it’s mounted to a really tiny 9mm.
The XD720 is staggeringly simple to operate, because it only has two buttons. A long press activates the front on/off button: three buzzes tell you you’re powered up, and one long buzz tells you you’re powering down. The rear button controls the record/pause function, where three buzzes tell you you’re recording and (you guessed it) a single buzz tells you you’re paused. You’ll really appreciate the buzz feedback when when the camera is mounted to your head, because you can’t see the tiny blue ‘power’ LED light or the red ‘recording’ LED.
The Replay XD720 has a 5.1 megapixel sensor, capturing video at 30 or 60 fps in 1280×720, with up to 15 million colors. It sports an f3.0 lens with a 120-degree field of view. This screen shot was uploaded at full resolution, so it gives you a good idea of the detail the Replay XD720 captures (and also of my Mac’s installed software). You’ll notice the fish-eye effect at the edges of the screen, but some distortion is unavoidable with such a short effective focal length.
This is the video that the photo was captured from. Disregard any frame-dropping; that’s a YouTube artifact and it doesn’t appear in the raw video from the camera. I do apologize for any vertigo that the tilted camera may cause; any head-mounted camera gets tilted way over when you shoot a long gun. And yes, I’m still lusting after that AK side-charging handle and the ACOG scope.
When it comes to low-light conditions, wide-angle sports cams really don’t excel. Their pinhole lenses and tiny CMOS sensors aren’t big enough to really drink in the photons, and the video starts to get grainier as the light gets dimmer. Despite these physical limitations, the Replay cameras compare favorably to the Contour HD cameras in tests like this (warning: unusually annoying audio):
I got excellent outdoor video quality, but fairly grainy video indoors at night.
Setup And Configuration
The two buttons don’t give you a lot of manual control over the camera’s features, but there are a lot of features packed in there. Unscrewing the tailcap reveals the micro-USB charging and data port, the micro-SD card slot, the ‘reset’ button and two hardware switches. The switches let you select 60 fps, which is best for shooting your shooting exploits, or 30 fps which is better for filming grass grow but doesn’t fill up your SD card so quickly. You can also switch between the internal microphone or the (not included) external mic.
The rest of the features are controlled by a configuration script on the SD card. The camera automatically writes it to the SD card when you insert it, but you can manually edit the script on your computer to fine-tune the exposure, white balance, microphone gain, time-stamp and other parameters. About the only thing you can’t control is the zoom: it’s fixed to yield an only-slightly distorted 120-degree FOV.
Be sure to watch this clip in 720p, which might not be your default YouTube setting. The definition is fantastic, although you can tell from this clip that the microphone is a bit sensitive to wind. That’s entirely my fault, because I immediately misplaced the tiny little wind-filters that ship with the camera kit.
This video shows the slo-motion fun you can have when you start at 60fps, and when you have a Benelli M4 loaded with rifled slugs. The XD720 doesn’t have a native slo-motion feature, but almost any video-editing software can slow down your videos to rates like this.
I really welcome the high-gain mic on the XD720, because my earlier sports camera had a tin ear that hardly recorded anything. I used to have to manually increase the gain in my video-editing software (a giant PITA) before I uploaded a video, but with the XD720 I don’t have to.
One small issue I had with the tailcap was its extremely fine threads. They were easy to cross-thread, and it took a very delicate touch to get them started just right.
Recording Time & Battery Life
I’ve shot a lot of video with the Replay XD720 in the last two months, enough to teach me two things: 1) I’m no Marty Scorsese, which you already knew, and 2) 1GB of card space will store about 12 minutes of video at 60fps or about 25 minutes at 30fps. The camera ships with a 4GB Micro SD card, which can store a seeming infinity of YouTube-length video clips, but you’ll want a 16GB Micro SD card if you want to shoot 60fps until the battery dies.
If you don’t plan on filming every minute of your afternoon at the range (or your 4×4 trek around the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park) then the 4GB will probably do you fine. I didn’t fill up the 4GB card during the whole week of the SHOT show, if that’s any indication. Besides, if you’ve got enough ammo to mag-dump your AR for a solid hour these days, I want to know where you got that ammo and how much you paid for it.
The internal Li-ion battery gives about 2 hours of recording time. This is more than adequate for field applications, and you can recharge it from any power source with a USB port or a car cigarette lighter or 120v AC.
The Micro USB cable worked for me as a charging device, but I never got it to work as a download cable or live monitor cable with my Mac computers. This wasn’t a problem for video downloading, since the card adapter and the USB reader both worked fine.
My other sports cam is only 1 year old, but it’s already showing the scars of of field use. The plastic case is cracked in several places, and the button which releases the detachable viewfinder has almost disintegrated. I’m pretty sure the metal-cased XD720 will age much more gracefully.
I got to meet up with Replay’s founder and president John Spar at the SHOT Show last month. He described the XD720 as ‘weather resistant’ instead of ‘waterproof.’ The innards are all o-ring sealed but the unit isn’t designed for immersion in water, so don’t go swimming with it. Here in the Northwest I do most of my winter shooting in the rain or drizzle, and I can verify that our perpetually-crappy winter weather hasn’t bothered the XD720 in the slightest.
John is an entrepreneur with a knack for knowing where cool things happen and how to get invited to them: before chilling at the SHOT Show, he spent part of the previous week at the equally-cool (but completely unrelated) CES expo. <envy> He also showed off his higher-end XD1080, a $300 unit which adds 1080p resolution and micro-HDMI output. This lets the XD1080 plug into the live LCD monitor screen ($179) shown above. The XD1080 has a wide selection of accessories, including extended-life batteries and (soon) a dive-rated waterproof housing. Many of these goodies don’t fit the XD720, so we’ll leave the XD1080 for another day and perhaps another review.
The XD720 is advertised as ‘shock-resistant’ instead of ‘shockproof.’ It’s made of sturdy aluminum and it’s got almost no moving parts, so it’s awfully rugged but not quite indestructible.
We put this ‘shock resistance’ to the test by mounting it to a Benelli M4 and an even harder-kicking Remington 870 while we fired box after box of full-power buckshot and slugs. Fun? Lots. Problems? None.
Disclosure: I rocked the 870 with nice mild skeet loads in this video, because the Replay XD720 tolerated magnum slug recoil a lot better than I did.
Confirming my opinion, the Replay website has tons of YouTube clips shot by Replay cameras whilst having the ever-loving crap knocked out of them on motocross helmets and Baja 500 race trucks. Rugged? Check.
If you’re looking for a tiny HD sports cam that goes anywhere (except underwater) and attaches to almost anything, the Replay XD720 is recommended.
Its few drawbacks have nothing to do with its ability to turn your extreme exploits into YouTube stardom. I wish the USB cable had worked for data transfer, and the threads on the tailcap could be a little less delicate.
On the positive side, the XD720 delivers excellent video quality and good sound from an incredibly small package. It’s also been utterly dependable and undaunted by recoil or miserable weather, and it’s only slightly more expensive than no-name eBay cameras that start to fall apart after a few months. Other cameras like the Contour HD are loaded with features, but can’t compete with the XD720’s $200 price point.
Resolution: 1280x720p @ 60fps or 30fps, 15m colors
Display: none (live to PC via USB cable)
Size: 0.94″ long, 3.2″ diameter
Weight: 2 oz.
Lens: f3.0, 120-degree FOV
Accessories: Tons of them; check the Replay website.
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Resolution * * * *
If 1080p is the gold standard, 720p is the next-best thing.
Features * * *
Not a lot of bells and whistles, but it takes good video.
Size/Weight * * * * *
Tiny and weightless.
Ease Of Use * * * *
Basic functions are super-easy. Advanced parameters can’t be adjusted without a computer, but I never needed to adjust them anyway.
Oh, and one more thing…