Friday, 13 February 2009

What helmet cam to buy?

A few years ago I did one of those once in a lifetime rides -Cairns to Cape York, Queensland Australia -and back again -with Cape York Adventures. It was a great ride and as an aside I would recommend one of these trips to anyone looking for a great adventure.

There were two of us Kiwis amongst a bunch of Aussies and despite the inevitable sheep jokes we really enjoyed the ride and showed them a thing or two about riding, especially through the wet bits.

One of the Aussies had a video camera hooked up to a lipstick camera and took plenty of footage. I was impressed with the whole concept and even more so when a tape arrived of the ride and saw myself in all my glory. I resolved to get my own camera.

Eventually I bought a Samsung Minikit. Samsung no longer makes these cameras and to be fair technology has moved on. This camera has served me pretty (click here for links to various videos) well but has finally succumbed to the kind of abuse you'd expect if you were duck taped to a trail bike. I had thought that the video quality was fairly good but now I have been looking around for a replacement I can see I can do much better for a package that will cost $6 or 700 less than the Samsung unit cost me four years ago.

Latest Video- as the helmet cam died

I am not all that technologically savvy in some respects so I have found that actually selecting a new unit has been a bit of a mission. There are not many places locally that you can go to get information about this kind of thing. The staff in most local stores, even the professional suppliers just give me blank looks when I as a=bout this kind of thing. Shopping on the internet has its own risks, you need to know exactly what you are after. If the shop is in the US or Europe you can't just stroll in there to look at the device or get some expert advice. However, I have made some progress-now it is just a matter of coughing up the bucks.

There are two main types of helmet camera system. Single unit models that you simply strap to yourself or your bike. The video quality is not too bad -resolutions of 640 x 480. The same as my Samsung. The advantages of these cameras are that there are no wires to worry about, they generally record to SD cards and they are relatively cheap. They can be quite bulky and generally don't have a playback function so getting the angle of the dangle  right could be a challenge initially. 

The last thing the budding videogropher wants is to find that they have spent several hours videoing the sky or the ground just ahead of their front wheel and not the series of crashes, hills, and spills they thought they were. This blog has a good review of these options. The winner appeared to be this little beauty from Tachyon.

The other options are generally variations on a theme-a bullet camera and some kind of recorder. The recorders can range from someone hooking up a bullet camera setup to a camcorder to fully integrated units -some using DVR's as the recording device. There are all kinds advertised on the interweb. It is actually a real mission to sort out what they are offering in many casesand compare various units.

The best units have an package where the bullet camera gets its power source from the recording device via the audio/video cable that. Most units require a separate power source for the bullet camera. More batteries and wires to get hooked up or cocked up.

You also have to be careful with these options that the solution-dictated by the bullet camera specs and the recording device - delivers a better quality picture than the much cheaper one piece units. Otherwise why bother?

The best value for money seem to me to be the likes of the Vio POV 1.5
Not cheap but the resolution is good up to 720 x 480, they record to an SD card, they do have a small screen for playback. Best of all these little babies apparently record for hours on a couple of AA batteries which seems to me to be a great solution. 

I am still tossing up what to get. It really comes down to how much do I  want to spend. $4-500 NZ or a bit over a $1000.

For me the choice has come down to the Tachyon or the Vio POV 1.5. The Tachyon  appears to be the best of this type of unit around. Simple, rugged, and well priced. The only thing that concerns me is that it is a fairly bulky unit and I wonder how easy it would be to attach to my helmet and how often I would whack it with something out in the bush.

Of all the integrated systems I have looked at the thing that struck me about the Vio POV 1.5 was its use of AA batteries to power both the recording device and the camera and an impressive recording time. It appears that it is not called the Holy Grail of helmet cams for nothing.

Now it is just a matter of justifying to myself how much I want to spend.

If anyone wants my old Minikit for spare parts and batteries let me know.

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