Helmet Camera Central Buyers Guide
Helmet Camera Buyers Guide
Point of view (POV) cameras have gotten more popular over the past few years, and there are a variety of cameras from which to choose. However, figuring out which camera to buy can be confusing. The following article will provide some guidelines to help you make an informed buying decision.
Know Your Application
Knowing your application is the first step. What type of event will you be shooting? Will the camera be exposed to water? What time of day will you be shooting? How important is audio quality? How and where will you mount the camera? Having a good understanding of your application will help in the decision-making process. If you can describe your application to someone at a camera store, they should be able to recommend a few cameras for your consideration.
As mentioned above, camera store employees have a good understanding of the products they are selling. Some of their staff are camera users themselves and have tried various cameras in a variety of shooting environments. They should be able to recommend specific cameras based on your shooting application, personal preferences, and budget. There are several camera retailers out there, so feel free to chat with a few of them and compare their answers.
Product reviews are another great way to collect information on cameras. I often type in the name of the camera model and the word “review/s” in the Google search field to see what pops up. Also, camera stores will often publish their own product reviews that provide helpful information for potential buyers.
When shopping for a camera, there are several key features to consider, including field of view, video quality, recording capacity, pricing, media format, size, available options, etc. Having a side-by-side comparison is very helpful for reviewing the features of different cameras. Speaking directly with a knowledgeable sales representative is also a great way to understand the differences between products.
Cash to Spend
Camera prices can range anywhere from $150 for entry-level cameras to more than $2,000 for professional-grade cameras. Knowing how much money you have to spend will help in the selection process. Most good-quality cameras are priced between $200 and $350. Prosumer-grade cameras are priced between $500–$800 dollars, and professional-grade cameras, such as the Sony HXR-MC1, cost about $2,500.
Video Quality – Standard Definition (STD) vs. High Definition (HD)
STD (DVD quality) and HD (high definition quality) are the two levels of quality that are currently available. HD cameras provide better video quality and a wide-screen perspective. If your intent is to only post video on YouTube, a standard definition camera may be all that you need. Most of the better cameras come with basic video sharing software that allows you to download video from your camera to your computer, trim clips, and upload the finished product to YouTube. If you are interested in real video editing, the current versions of MovieMaker on PC-based systems and iMovie on Mac-based systems easily handle HD video files. For more advanced video editing software, you might consider programs such as Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut, AVS4YOU, Cyberlink PowerDirector, Corel VideoStudio, Magix Movie Edit Pro, Pinnacle Studio, or Sony Vegas.
Working with HD Video Files
HD video files are data intensive and put a significant load on your computer. This may require upgrading your computer hardware. HD video will look choppy on inadequate systems, and rendering video during the editing process will be time consuming. An ideal computer system designed for HD editing will include the following components: dual- or quad-core CPU, 4–6 GB RAM, a good HD video card (512 MB Ram), and an HD monitor. To burn HD DVDs, your computer will also need a Blu-ray burner. Buying an HD camera can be costly.
Field of View
The field of view is how your camera sees the world. Some cameras have a narrower field of view, down to 50 degrees. Others have a wider field of view, up to 170 degrees. If your camera has a narrow field of view, your subject will fill most of the shot, you will not see much of the surrounding action, and your video may appear shaky. If your camera has a wide field of view, you will see a lot more of the surrounding action, and your video will look smoother. I personally prefer cameras with a wide field of view, between 90–120 degrees, for general applications. If your field of view is extremely wide (170 degrees), you may see a slight distortion around the outside edges of the picture. The top cameras typically have a field of view from 110–170 degrees.
One-piece cameras are priced $200–$350 and are compact and lightweight. Everything is integrated into a small, single unit. Two-piece cameras run between $500–$800, use better optics, shoot better quality video, typically connect the camera to a separate recording device via cable, and include an LCD on the recording device for video playback. The downside of the two-piece system is the hassle of a cable, which can snag on things, and add unnecessary bulk to the recording device.
Ease of Use
When shooting in the field, you do not want to spend a lot of time adjusting your camera. Fortunately, you can operate most cameras with just one hand. For instance, the ContourHD has a large sliding record switch on the top, which you can easily activate with one hand, even wearing ski gloves. Some cameras like the VIO POV and the X170 have wireless remotes that you can
wear on your wrist to activate the camera. The ContourHD also has built-in lasers, which greatly help with camera alignment. Where some cameras allow you to adjust the recording settings (resolution and frames per second) on the camera itself, others require you to connect the camera to a computer and make the necessary adjustments using software. Some cameras are easier to mount than others due to their design. Regarding ease of use, buyers should consider camera operation, making recording adjustments, installation and removal of the battery and recording media (memory card, DV tape), making physical adjustments, downloading video, mounting to various surfaces, verifying camera alignment, and video playback (higher end models).
Most cameras are water resistant, which means you can shoot in a light rain. If you are recording in a dynamic water environment while kayaking, jet skiing, or water skiing, you will need a waterproof camera. You may want to talk with the camera store or manufacturer to collect more information on the camera’s level of water resistance.
Construction and Durability
Unlike camcorders, helmet cameras are designed for dynamic environments, where they are exposed to water, dust, dirt, vibration, cold, and occasional impact. They are rugged and can take a reasonable amount of abuse. However, you should still take care of your equipment, and protect the camera and lens from damage and scratches.
After recording your footage, download the video to your computer so that you can either upload it to YouTube, save it to the hard drive, or burn it to a DVD. To transfer video files, some cameras come with a cable system that connects the camera to the computer. Others require you to remove the memory card and plug it into the computer. Either method works well, making this more of a personal preference issue.
Camera batteries can either be an off-the-shelf, or proprietary (lithium) type. There are pros and cons for both types of batteries. Off-the-shelf batteries, such as AAA and AA, are readily available, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly (if you buy rechargeable). However, they add bulk and weight, which has a negative effect on the camera’s profile. Proprietary lithium batteries are more expensive and are not as readily available. However, they are environmentally friendly (rechargeable) and noticeably smaller and lighter, which has a positive effect on the camera’s profile. For a smaller and lighter camera, choose a system that uses a proprietary battery.
Not all microphones are created equal. Most microphones are designed to only pick up ambient background sounds or close proximity dialog (within 3 feet of the camera). Some of the better cameras (GoPro HD, ContourHD 1080P, VIO Series, and X170) have a feature that allows you to adjust the microphone’s sensitivity. This allows you to fine tune your microphone’s performance for a particular application. If a camera is water resistant or waterproof, a protective seal typically covers the microphone. This will have a slight muting effect on the audio.
Accessories for a camera come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may include a camera mount, computer interface cable, wireless control, waterproof camera case, lens cover, camera carrying case, lens cleaning kit, etc. When reading about a product, check out the camera store or manufacturer’s Web site to see what accessories come with the camera and which accessories can be purchased separately. Also, camera stores will often sell universal accessories that can be used with any camera.
Manufacturers typically list product warranties on their Web sites. Camera stores may also list warranty information on their Web sites for the cameras they sell. Most cameras come with a one-year warranty, which is typically based on the date of purchase or the date of manufacture. Some camera stores may offer a customer satisfaction warranty (see below). It is always a good idea to read the complete product warranty so you know what is covered.
Watch Sample Footage on YouTube
A great way to evaluate camera performance is to watch footage on the Internet. You can visit YouTube and type the name of the camera model in the search field to find related videos. Watching and listening to sample footage should give you some insight on the camera’s video and audio performance.
Where to Buy
Your best bet is to buy a camera from an online camera store. They offer the widest selection, and their staff has played with the cameras and can provide you with recommendations. Local retailers usually have a very limited selection because this is a specialty product. Some of the online stores also offer great perks for buyers, such as expert product knowledge, live chat with sales or customer service agents, free shipping, 30-day satisfaction guarantee, no restock fees, frequent buyer awards, product reviews, etc.
Though cameras are pretty easy to use and operate, there may be a time when you need technical support. This type of help may be available from the camera store or the camera manufacturer. Regarding the manufacturer, I suggest visiting their Web site to see if they have a customer support page. If they do, determine if they have a phone number or if it’s just e-mail support. Manufacturers who have phone support earn extra points in my book, as working through technical support issues via e-mail can be frustrating.
There are a lot of different cameras from which to pick. When deciding to buy a camera, take your time to understand your application, your budget constraints, and your camera performance requirements. Camera stores, especially online camera retailers, can be very helpful in recommending some options. When carefully researched, POV videography is an exciting hobby, and provides a great opportunity to share your experiences with others.
About the Author
Mike Stoll has been using helmet cameras for more than six years in a variety of outdoor sports, including caving, whitewater rafting, and downhill racing—to mention a few. He has also written articles relating to helmet cameras for VideoMaker, Canoe & Kayak, and Paddling Life.