The new Midland XTC400VP is basically a higher-spec version of the Midland XTC300 (review) we reviewed one year ago.
The XTC400 adds WiFi connectivity; a mounting system with standardized mounting rails on either side of the camera; a rotating lens and several user-controlled recording options.
The kit also comes with a (rather bulky) waterproof housing.
While the rotating lens is a definite plus that should be standard on every motorcycle video camera, the additional features makes the camera somewhat more complicated to use than the simple on/off XTC300.
Subjectively, the XTC400VP video quality seems about the same as the XTC300 and that's a plus, although it would be nice to see quality improvements in each new generation.
The quality of the video is excellent when compared to many of the other action cameras we've reviewed, but there's always room for improvement.
The contrast and exposure in the XTC400VP are excellent and about as good as it gets for a sub-$300.00 action camera.
When the XTC400 is in its waterproof housing, the assembly becomes rather heavy, which makes it more difficult to securely mount the camera on a helmet or motorcycle. The weight has as pendulum effect with the camera out at the end of a suction cup tripod or even when using the basic mounts provided with the camera.
This causes more vibration and bouncing than we expected, which can affect the quality of the video.
The WiFi app is made by Foneric for Midland and although it's sort of fun to use, it's not really necessary to run the camera (although it's needed to change the advanced settings). There are almost no instructions for using the app and the Midland instruction manual is very basic and missing explanations of many key features.
In the end, we'd probably opt for the less expensive, easier-to-use XTC300 or perhaps even the Midland XTC200-series, which can be had with a waterproof housing for less than $110.00 list. We haven't tried the XTC200 series and they're 720p only, but that should be perfectly adequate for most users.
Midland is probably best known for their two-way and CB (remember those?) radios. The company has become more serious about the "action camera" market over the past 5 years or so; we reviewed the Midland XTC100 (review) in 2011 and that was probably the first of the newer-generation Midland action cameras using the current form factor.
The XTC100 was released just about the time that HD became the standard format for video, but the camera's ease of use and form factor had promise.
We reviewed the Midland XTC300 (review) just one year ago and we were very pleased with its performance and also its ease of use. Action cameras seem to have evolved into two formats: vertical cameras like the Midland XTC family, the Replay XD1080 (review) and the Garmin VIRB (review) and the "Big Square" cameras, like the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition (review) and the BlackVue Sport SC500 (review).
Although the "Big Square" cameras are easier to chest mount, we think the vertical cameras are easier to mount on a helmet or motorcycle. Opinions differ on this, of course.
We don't know if the "guts" of the XTC400VP -- i.e., the lens and image processor -- are any different from the HD components of the Midland XTC300. The video quality seems about the same to our eyes and, in fact, the XTC300 may actually have a slight advantage in sharpness when the video is played on large screens.
Both cameras have excellent to outstanding contrast and exposure control along with excellent color rendition right out of the box -- something that can't be said for the Garmin VIRB and the very disappointing Sony Action Cam (review).
We're guessing that the vast majority of motorcycle action cam owners will use the video solely for sharing on YouTube, Vimeo and in social networking and if that's the case, then frankly, 1080p is overkill. In fact, Vimeo recommends 720p and after YouTube smashes the video with their compression algorithms and you watch it in a 600 pixel window, you'll never know the difference.
That said, the XTC400VP adds some features you need and a couple you probably don't. The new side rail mounting system is very nice; it includes a mounting rail on either side of the camera and a metal tripod mount on the bottom.
The mounting rails are duplicated on the waterproof housing the comes with the XTC400VP kit and Midland throws in a couple of basic mounts that snap into the rails.
The problem though -- as it is with every action camera we've reviewed -- is that none of these mounts are really optimal for "action" camera use, in our opinion. Mounting these cameras is always a compromise and solid mounting is crucial to good-quality video. That goes double for motorcycle use.
The XTC400VP adds a rotating lens, which is a definite plus and something that should be standard on every action camera. It makes it so much easier to align the video when the camera can't be perfectly aligned vertically or horizontally.
The camera also has WiFi capability, which connects to a free app to control some of the advanced settings. We'll discuss the app in more detail in a minute, but suffice it to say that the app needs work. It is nowhere near as seamless or easy to use as the BlackVue Sport app and the Midland app (actually developed by a third-party, Foneric, which may be part of the problem) has one frustrating flaw and one major flaw.
Otherwise, the XTC400VP has the generic or standard set of features for an action camera circa 2014:
Size and Shape
The Midland XTC400VP measures approximately 95 mm long by 35 mm wide by 50 mm tall. The camera with battery and Micro SD card weighs 140 grams (5 oz.), which balloons to 242 grams (8.5 oz) when the waterproof housing is used.
With the camera inserted in the waterproof housing, the assembly measures approximately 100x50x75 mm.
The live view is by app only. The live view is available only until video recording starts, then the view freezes at the last frame before the "record" button is pushed. This is unlike the BlacuVue Sport SC500, which has a continuous live view during recording.
The best results in our opinion comes when using the 720p at 60fps format. The 60fps does the trick, as it usually does, in making the video seem smoother because more data is captured per second.
The 480p (848x480) video quality from the XTC400VP is poor, in our opinion, and the 120fps doesn't seem to work correctly. It should render slow-motion video and it doesn't.
Still photo quality (12MP) from the XTC400VP is good, but the wide field of view introduces significant barrel distortion. The camera has an intervalometer and can take photos at 2-, 5- and 10-second intervals.
A 3.7V, 1700 mAh battery is actually excellent capacity for this type of camera and it shows. During our evaluation, we never had to recharge the battery -- and that's a first -- even when always using WiFi. In fact, we thought something must be wrong with the battery indicator light, since it never indicated anything other than full charge.
This is good news for motorcyclists, as most of the action cameras we've reviewed have terrible battery life, literally measured in minutes and maybe a handful of short videos.
The SC500 requires a microSD card with a minimum of a Class 6 rating, which is surprising, since many of the modern action cameras require a Class 10 card. We use a SanDisk Ultra, available here. The memory card is not included with the camera. The camera supports cards up to 32GB.
The Midland XTC400VP specifications on the Midland website have more information.
The XTC400VP kit comes with the camera and battery, the waterproof housing, a USB cable, a very brief quick start guide and a couple of the rail mounts.
The box has a lot of waste, with a large, thick clear plastic cover that is non-recyclable. C'mon Midland, get with it!
But, we're sorry to say, most of the action camera manufacturers are guilty of this problem. How about making the container a storage bag or pouch for the camera, then cover it in a simple cardboard sleeve? This would help the environment and owners.
It's inconceivable that non-recyclable materials are used in a product, especially targeted in this market, in 2014.
Without the app, the XTC400VP is very easy to use, but you'll only have access to the most basic options. Charge the battery and pop in a Micro SD card and you're ready to go (actually, the camera comes partially charged but a full charge is always good at the start).
There are 3 switches inside the camera: WiFi on/off; normal or low light; and low or high resolution. The factory settings are WiFi off, normal light and you can choose between the high resolution (1080p/30fps) or low resolution (720p/30fps). They really shouldn't call 720p "low resolution", but they did.
Slide the big switch (on top of the camera) toward the front and you're recording. Or, put the camera in the waterproof housing and again slide the big switch on top (the only control available on the housing).
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The camera comes with a very minimal quick start guide. A slightly more detailed instruction manual (.pdf) is available online, but it's missing many key features and has only the most basic instructions on installing and starting the app.
The Action Connect app is made by Foneric for Midland; Foneric is apparently a manufacturer of video equipment. We couldn't find any information on the app on the Foneric website either, so this is something that needs to be addressed by Midland. Perhaps we have an early example and they're working on it?
Install the app and then switch the WiFi button in the camera to "on". Switch the WiFi button inside the back cover to "on", then slide the big recording start switch forward. The camera will double-beep twice and the front LED turns blue. After about 20 seconds, the camera beeps once and the LED in front turns green, which indicates the camera is waiting for a WiFi connection.
Start the WiFi function on your cell phone or tablet and (hopefully) it will find the camera. You may have to select "connect" on your device to finish the connection.
Next, start the Action Connect app on your device. It should show "connected" in the info box. You can then select the "settings" icon to change any of the settings for resolution, microphone on/off and sensitivity and there's even a crude selection choice for contrast and exposure.
Any of the choices you select in the settings will be reflected in the video resolution you choose; for example, if 720p at 60fps is selected in settings, then that's the resolution that will be used by the camera.
From the main app screen, press the red record button and you'll get the live view screen. You can select the video resolution (with the settings you chose in the settings screen) or switch between still photos and video. The live view remains active until you press the record button again, then a timer displays on the screen but the live view freezes at that point.
Besides the live view screen that freezes (which we assume is by design), the app has a few other quirks. When the phone turns the screen dark to save battery life, the video will continue to record, but when the phone's button is pressed to activate the screen again, the video timer clock starts again from zero.
Press the record button once more to stop recording, then press the back button to return to the main app home screen. On the HTC One, the app will crash as soon as the "share" button is pressed. We assume the share button allows the user to upload the saved video to either a local computer for processing or online, but the app immediately crashes whenever we press the share button.
All of this is illustrated in our Part 1 video below that details the features of the Midland XTC400VP.
The video quality of the XTC400VP is generally excellent and the exposure seems correct as does the contrast. The camera has minimal exposure hunting as it moves in and out of shadows.
The video does seem slightly soft when viewed at full resolution on a computer screen, but since most of the video will be viewed in a compressed mode on YouTube or other online services, you'll probably never notice the difference.
The color temperature also seems correct and it's much better than the Sony Action Cam or Garmin VIRB.
Note that the video quality as displayed in YouTube and Vimeo is degraded due to compression. Here's a 24 MB unprocessed raw video sample (.zip file; video is .mp4 format, 1080p/30fps) taken directly from the camera that you can download and view. It shows a bit of the lens flare that shows up more frequently than average in the XTC400VP and if you watch the clip at full screen resolution, you can see some of the details become a bit soft around the edges, with a sort of cell phone video camera look.
As always, mounting a video camera on a motorcycle or helmet is always an issue and to date, there are no good solutions. The Midland XTC400VP inside its waterproof housing becomes rather bulky and heavy. Weight is the enemy of solid camera mounting, as the weight will increase the pendulum effect when the camera is on a tripod or helmet mount.
Action camera makers should strive to reduce weight and size as much as possible. It was more difficult than average to get the XTC400VP mounted solidly enough to eliminate shake and vibration, especially when using a suction cup tripod mount. The shaking is reduced if the camera is mounted without the waterproof housing, using one of the mounts provided in the kit.
The XTC400VP has an external mic port on the bottom of the camera, which is good. Obviously, the port cannot be used when the camera is mounted in the waterproof housing.
The mounting rails on the side of the camera are duplicated on the outside of the waterproof housing and both the camera and the waterproof housing have standard tripod mounts (metal). This gives the XTC400VP a few more mounting options and the use of the standardized rails for the Midland accessory mounts is a good idea.
There were no firmware updates at the time of the review. We would hope that Midland works with Foneric to address the non-functional share button issue and to create a more detailed instruction manual for the app and the camera.
The Midland XTC400VP takes excellent quality video and the exposure, contrast and color rendition is notable.
Midland's strategy seems to be to offer equal or better features than the competition at a slightly lower price point. The XTC400VP shows an increased focus by Midland on the consumer action camera market; the company has been getting more serious about action camera performance with each new release.
The next step for Midland should be to find a way to lower the size and weight and, as always, improve video quality and mounting options for motorcycle use. Also, the instructions need improvement, as does the WiFi app. And don't forget the environmental issues with the consumer packaging.
We can't really say that the video quality of the XTC400VP is any better than the Midland XTC300 we reviewed almost exactly one year ago (in much better weather conditions!). The XTC400VP adds some complexities that frankly aren't really necessary and the so-so performance of the app makes it a novelty rather than a must-have (although you'll need it to change the advanced features in the camera).
The XTC400VP also becomes rather heavy when it's contained in the waterproof housing, which makes for a more difficult helmet or motorcycle mounting procedure and seems to induce more shake and vibration than normal, which is harder to tame. Our advice is to only use the waterproof housing if absolutely necessary.
Otherwise, the XTC400VP is a very good option at a reasonable price for this type of camera.
wBW Review: Midland XTC400VP Action Camera
|Manufacturer: Midland USA||List Price: $249.99|
|Colors: Black.||Made In: China|
|Review Date: March 2014|