Wolfcom may not be a name you’ve heard of. The company is well known in the security and law enforcement markets, however, selling thousands of body cameras to police departments every year. The Venture is the company’s entry into the consumer market. It’s a wearable, mountable camera that builds on Wolfcom’s experience to include some features not normally found in action cameras from the likes of GoPro or Garmin. While the final product is not yet available (Wolfcom recently held an Indiegogo campaign for the product, where it hit 300 percent of its funding goal), Digital Trends did get some brief time with a preproduction model and we can talk about the initial experience in our Wolfcom Venture hands-on review.
The everyday body cam
There are two things that we noticed immediately when we picked up the prototype: the Venture is astonishingly lightweight, but it’s not much to look at. This is clearly a product made by engineers, putting function above form. This isn’t inherently bad, but cameras like the GoPro Hero5 Black certainly look and feel better.
The Venture also isn’t the most capable filmmaking tool. Video resolution is limited to 1080p and it doesn’t have a built-in LCD screen. Nor is it waterproof, although, it is weather sealed.
That said, it is probably best not to think of the Wolfcom Venture as a direct competitor to the GoPro Hero. It’s more of an everyday body cam, useful for life-logging, demonstration videos, and safety purposes (as a dashboard or bike camera).
The Wolfcom Venture’s real selling point is its ease of use. A single switch is all that’s required to operate it; slide it down to turn it on and start recording automatically. The camera also employs a safety mechanism to prevent users from accidentally turning it off, requiring the power switch to be slid up, then down, and then up again in order to actually stop recording and turn off the camera. The Venture buzzes to let you know when it’s recording and when it stops, and an easily seen “REC” light on the front glows red when it’s recording.
This is clearly a product made by engineers, putting function above form.
The Venture ships with a basic clip mount that allows you to attach it to an article of clothing, the bill of a hat, or your car’s sun visor. It is surprisingly flexible as both the mount and the lens itself can rotate. Clipped to your shirt, simply rotate the camera so it’s vertically oriented, and then tilt the lens down so it’s facing forward. On a visor, do the opposite: align the camera in the same direction as the clip and tilt the lens back up.
Four LED lights surround the lens and provide illumination for low-light shots. They’re not terribly bright, but this could be particularly useful for, say, auto mechanics trying to record what they’re doing in tight, dimly lit spaces.
A suction cup mount, helmet mount, magnetic clip, and handlebar mount will all be available separately.
No Venture is an island
Another unique ability of the Wolfcom Venture is its support for accessory cameras. Wolfcom offers a variety of single-purpose add-on cameras that plug directly into the Venture. The night vision camera uses infrared light to see up to 20 feet in complete darkness. The headset and glasses cameras are great for hands-free point-of-view recording (or for your Locutus of Borg cosplay). There’s even a button camera that disappears invisibly into your shirt. Wolfcom advertises it as being perfect “for those secret spy missions.” I guess only you know if you need such a thing; in our brief hands-on experience, we (thankfully) did not have time to explore the implications of such a device.
One thing worth noting regarding the add-on cameras is that they won’t necessarily record at the same quality, or even aspect ratio, as the main camera in the Venture. The glasses camera, for example, shoots in a 4:3 aspect ratio; you know, like your old tube TV. So if you want to mix and match footage, well, it won’t be that easy.
Wolfcom is also touting its critical reconnect technology, which basically means the Venture is smart enough to start recording on the main camera if a connected camera becomes disengaged. This would primarily apply in law enforcement scenarios, where a scuffle with a suspect could cause the accessory camera to come unplugged.
We tested the feature using the glasses camera — unplugging it in the middle of recording — and it indeed worked as advertised. However, it also created two separate video files, and then a third when we reconnected the accessory camera. That’s likely not a huge issue, particularly in the intended use case, where the goal is simply to capture what you can, but it does seem somewhat unrefined.
A lot remains to be seen
There are many features in the prototype that are either incomplete or nonexistent compared to the proposed final version. Wi-Fi is absent, which means we couldn’t test the mobile app; given that the camera has no LCD monitor, Wi-Fi is probably important. The angle of view is also only 95 degrees, compared to 120 for the final version. For this reason, we found it pointless to try to analyze or share any sample footage. Wolfcom claims there will be no fisheye effect (straight lines rendered as curves) in the final version, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
What we can say is that the Venture is a tiny, lightweight, easy-to-use camera. Clip it to your shirt or jacket and you’ll hardly notice it’s there. At least in its current form, the Venture has basically no options — it is a set-it-and-forget-it camera in the purest sense. Again, this means it doesn’t stack up to a GoPro for people who need more control, but the absolute simplicity will certainly appeal to some.
The Wolfcom Venture will not dethrone GoPro, nor compete side-by-side with other action cameras of its ilk. However, it could be useful for a wide variety of demonstration videos, safety monitoring, and some security applications. It’s niche, but judging from the Indiegogo campaign, it’s a popular one.
Our one pause comes from the price, which is planned to be $359. This puts the Venture in league with high-end action cameras (the GoPro Hero5 black is just $400). And the one area where most people could benefit from a set-it-and-forget-it camera, driving, is already taken over by much cheaper dedicated dash cams that are better for that activity. The Venture may succeed in becoming the body cam for the rest of us, but we’re just not sure the rest of us really need one.