Head into your local REI and you’ll see a few different varieties of action cameras. Go into a less-specialized retailer, and you may find even more. Hit Amazon, and it’s the veritable wild west. Other than price and brand name, how are they all different? Does a new entry like the Intova HD2 action camera offer more or less than its competitors? The answer is a definitive “yes” to both the “more” and “less” questions.
Based in Hawaii, Intova has a decades-long history in underwater photography. So, it’s no surprise to see the Intova HD2 billed as a “marine-grade” action camera. Intova’s heritage shines through in several different attributes, most notably the HD2 being waterproof up to 100 meters. Most people aren’t headed 100 meters down, but those divers who do will be pleased to know the HD2’s got their back. It’s also a nice security blanket for fans of other water-based activities, as the Intova HD2 isn’t going to bat an eye if it’s splashed or even taken underwater for hours at a time.
As you can see in my Intova HD2 unboxing video, the camera ships with two different battery/input covers. One uses a gasket that makes the case water-tight. The other has a little door through which you can charge the camera or output to an external device, but doing so sacrifices its waterproofing in the process. For that very reason, I never even used that cover during months of testing the HD2.
The Intova HD2 has best-in-class waterproofing, which is great, though the built-in flash and video light are probably the most remarkable feature. It’s amazing how quickly light gets eaten by depth, but the 150-lumen light keeps the Intova HD2 capturing video or photos throughout. It can’t fix murky or brackish water quality, but light? No problem.
Mounting the HD2 comes with little concern. The camera includes a 2.4G wireless remote that’s easily affixed to a wrist or piece of kit via a Velcro band. Using the wrist control you can easily power the Intova HD2 on and off, snap a photo or begin/stop shooting video. I found this particularly handy when mounting the camera to a kayak, as I don’t have “go, go Gadget arms.” I’m no T-Rex, don’t get me wrong. But there’s no way I’d want to reach five feet in front of me every time just to begin filming or snap a photo.
Ironically, the camera regularly exceeded its billed two-hours of continuous filming, so I could have just hit “record,” mounted it, and left it alone. Still, having a remote felt good, and it underscores Intova’s decision to ship everything you might want inside the HD2 box.
With a strong accessory lineup and tech specs, the question begs to be asked: how’s the footage? You can see for yourself in the video below. Although I mixed some audio and transitions, everything you see in this four-minute video is raw, non-adjusted footage from the Intova HD2.
I want to draw attention to the fact that I mixed audio over the native video. This is a common technique by people who splice together clips with a soundtrack. Historically this is done for one of two reasons: 1) People want to make it seem more energetic or look like a music video, or 2) The original audio was low-quality, so they were trying to gloss over some shortcomings. In the case of the Intova HD2, not enough audio even captures to be deemed “low quality.”
Near the end of the video, at about the 2:40 mark, I run a series of tests in my living room. In one of them I speak at a normal level, much like I’d narrate a review, and end the scene standing 12 inches from the camera. You can barely hear me. I then turn around and begin yelling at the top of my lungs, first from 10 feet away, then reaching my closest point at 12 inches from the camera before backing away. Only when I yelled did the Intova HD2 pick up any meaningful audio.
For folks who cut action-cam music videos, this isn’t a big deal. For those who want to capture the true essence of the moment, this is a major shortcoming. The Intova HD2 isn’t the only action camera to suffer, but it seems to suffer the worst. There are logical reasons, but it doesn’t make them more palatable. Most action cameras are small units that come with a waterproof case. When they’re out of the case audio tends to be picked up more clearly. Once they’re inserted into the case, the audio quality tends to degrade. By contrast, the Intova HD2 is its case. Nothing goes in or out. Therefore, there’s no way to improve the audio, which lives in a perpetual state of low-volume gobbledygook. It’s really a shame, because the video quality is solid.
As you can see from the clips, the 1080p footage captures great details below and above water, particularly if the scene is relatively still. Fully immersing the camera in water and then bringing it out leaves no water beading on the lens. Droplets do tend to appear if water hits in an un-uniform manner, though, so splashes from the front of a kayak (not shown) often leave some of the frame obscured.
The more troubling video aspect is how the camera handles light/dark transitions. At the 2:21-2:40 mark of the video above, the camera struggles with exposure based on the background. The lens eventually adjusts, but it looks under- or over-exposed until it does, which implies the lens reacts slowly to changes in lighting.
But again, Intova markets the HD2 as a marine-grade action camera. “Marine-grade” implies it’s designed to handle serious underwater depths, which it seems qualified to do. But “marine-grade” also implies slower transitions from light to dark, consistent lighting conditions, little to no focus on audio, and slower movements. If you’re SCUBA diving, you’ll have all four of those factors in hand. If you’re on the mountain, kayaking or doing something equally fast, then the scenery, lighting and speed are bound to change quickly, and you might care more about audio capture. (Audio is one of the reasons I’m so intrigued by Garmin’s VIRB Ultra 30.)
All things considered, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Intova HD2 for underwater adventures. Its 1080p video looks great in consistent conditions, the ruggedized waterproof exterior holds up well, and the wireless remote lets you control most functions from afar. It also performs great on slower, scenic outings where audio doesn’t matter. But it falters with some of the core requirements of action-cam users, so I’m not sure it can be your go-to GoPro alternative for above-water activities.
The Intova HD2 was provided for review. All opinions and words are my own and honest, and the article contains no affiliate links.
Intova HD2 Action Camera
- Great video quality on slow-moving scenes
- Truly waterproof to 100 meters
- Comes with a 2.4G wireless remote
- Nice zoom that doesn't hinder image integrity
- Built-in flash and video light for low-light or deep-water scenes
- Can't pick up audio to save its life
- Struggles with quick changes in lighting conditions
- Camera being built into the case offers protection but eliminates the prospect of improved audio
- Leaves droplets when water doesn't hit the lens in a uniform way