After reading initial reviews of the TomTom Bandit’s 4k camera, GPS, auto editing and immediate upload features I’ve been super interested in trying out this relatively new entry to the action cam market. A freak, early-season snowstorm in the Alps provided the perfect opportunity to test it out.
This footage was shot in 4K, 15fps on a sunny day. Edited in iMovie.
This review is going to cover my initial impressions straight out of the box with very little info on how the thing works. Why? Because, let’s admit it, when a lot of us get a new device we immediately start playing with it until we hit a dead end that drives us to the humiliation of reading the manual. And while most reviews are written by electronics experts, I’m more of what you’d call a ski bum. So this is going to be a good test at how intuitive the TomTom Bandit and the smartphone app are for normal users (if you want to call a ski bum ‘normal’).
And since first impressions are certainly not always the most accurate, we’ll also be posting more reviews of the TomTom Bandit that go into further detail after I’ve had more time to use it in a variety of bizarre scenarios that were probably never dreamed of by the guys who designed it. So check back for future reviews.
Mounting the Bandit
So let’s start by stating the obvious. Looks matter, right? If not, we’d probably all be driving Toyota Priuses by now. Having said that, it’s also important to note that looks are a matter of personal preference and I for one, really like the Bandit’s low profile, tubular design as opposed to the little box you see sitting on top of some people’s heads. In addition, the mounting bracket can be rotated 180˚ so not only can the camera be mounted on top of a helmet but also on either side for those who prefer not to look like a Teletubby (huge bonus IMO).
And get this: the Bandit even comes with an adapter to use with GoPro mounts, which is really just a way of saying to your competitors, “Great work getting the whole world interested in action cams. We’ll take it from here, thanks.”
The Bandit features three buttons – the one at the back of the camera is ‘on’, the one at the front of the camera is ‘off’, and the one next to the screen is a toggle for navigating the menus. The best thing about this setup is that there is no confusing on and off. So with the TomTom Bandit, those days are gone when you thought you were turning the camera on when in fact you turned it off and missed a great shot – aaaargghghghhhh!
As a backup, the alert for both on and off are distinct: the ascending ‘on’ alert is a clear powering up sound while the descending ‘off’ alert is unmistakably powering down. A great backup to ensure you don’t miss any shots. Result!
For those who are looking for an action cam for skiing I should also mention that after a few tries I eventually got to where I could turn the camera on and off without taking my gloves off. The camera also comes with a remote control switch which seems like a great option that I’ll try next time I take it out.
Once on, the little screen on top is where you’ll find the menus, which even for an idiot like me, was super easy to navigate. After about five minutes of scrolling around to see what was there and to set preferences, I felt really familiar with the interface and was ready to film. I was really surprised at how easy it is.
You can easily film without connecting the Bandit to a smartphone but there are some pretty cool advantages to doing so. Downloading the TomTom Bandit app to your smartphone enables the camera to communicate with your phone so that you can set the perfect angle before you start filming and review clips afterwards to make sure the shot looks every bit as awesome as it felt. Or at least half as good.
The app itself is a bit fiddly and it took me awhile to figure out how to connect with the camera and delete the images I didn’t want. I was also hoping there would be a way to edit clips within the app but all I could figure out was how to manually move the highlights.
And speaking of highlights, to mark a point on a video simply hit the start button. This is a huge help if you leave your Bandit running continuously and want to be able to easily go back later and find the best action.
Auto edited in under 2 minutes...
This footage was shot in 2.7K, 30fps on a stormy day in Chamonix. Edited in TomTom Bandit's desktop app in under 2 minutes with the auto editing function.
So what’s all this ‘highlights’ business then? Well, another great feature of the app is its ability to auto-edit a quick video for you, for instance if you want to send something out immediately. This is also an excellent feature for those who never seem to have the time to edit their videos. So even though I quite enjoy editing it does take ages so I used the auto edit feature to produce a quick preview of the rad-ness that was soon to come.
Quick note: After shooting and editing in both 4k and 2.7k I was stoked on the quality of 2.7k 30fps and don’t foresee shooting any more skiing in 4K until Teton Gravity Research gives me a call.
Yet another bonus of the TomTom Bandit is the innovative battery unit. Designed with a USB plug and the memory card slot built in, the unit can be plugged straight into your computer to charge the battery while you are downloading footage, all without any extra cables or pieces. Can I get a big hooray for one less cable!
Yet with all this excitement about connectivity, it’s easy to forget the most important thing about the battery: power.
Filming skiing in cold and often wet or icy conditions is notoriously hard on electronics - equipment fails and sub-standard batteries die an early death. So it’s good to report that in my experience the battery on the Bandit lasts much longer than any of the other action cams I’ve used. If nothing particulalry interesting is happening the Bandit automatically switches into sleep mode to conserve power and much to my amazement, having filmed (more than I normally would) from first to last lift I still finished the day with power to burn! Just as i was finishing this review I caught up with James from Elemental Adventure who had recently been testing the Bandit on a heliski trip in Kamchatka. His comments were: "The single best thing about the Bandit is the battery unit and the fact that it's almost impossible to run out of juice. You can literraly go out all day and not even have to think about it." So that's another big tick for the TomTom Bandit...no more struggling to keep spare batteries warm and changing them out in a snowstorm.
Without a proper viewfinder and flash there is only so much you can expect from any action cam camera. Having said that, the images from the Bandit are crisp and have good color in bright light. In addition, the wide angle lens is great for capturing action images of things skiing/snowboarding halfpipe shots and of course, the all-important selfie with a big background that you can never quite squeeze onto the screen of your iPhone.
So for me, i’ll continue to use my iPhone for most photos but will definitely pull the TomTom out for shots where I want to take a selfie with more panorama or fisheye effect (which is pretty much anytime I’m in the mountains).
Comparison Bandit vs Iphone 6
So after just a few tries, I’d have to say that the TomTom Bandit is a lot more intuitive to us than the other action cams I’ve tried and with a quality that stands up to the best of them. I didn’t have the chance to use the GPS function, the other camera modes (slow mo, timelapse, night timelapse), the remote control/heart rate monitor or the TomTom Bandit editing suite so those are some of the things we’ll review in the next post so check back in a few weeks to see if there are any surprises.