2010 Tachyon XC Helmet Camera Review
2010 Tachyon XC Product Review
The 2010 Tachyon XC is an inexpensive helmet camera that is well constructed and waterproof to over 30’. It uses the same CMOS chip as its little brother the XC Micro, making the video and audio performance is pretty much the same as the Micro version. There are other similarities, so a lot of the comments in this review are the same for the XC Micro. The main difference between the XC and the XC Micro, is that the XC offers a lot more features that you will read about later on in the review. Like its little brother, the XC is built for extreme conditions, and could be used in a variety of sports where rain, snow, water, and mud are a factor. This camera is particularly popular with the paintball crowd. Tachyon offers Lens Armor to protect the camera lens from a paintball impact, and other flying objects. No other manufacturer offers this type of feature for their camera. The manual for the XC is only available on Tachyon’s website, so you can either read it on-line, or download it to your computer. The XC’s primary competitors in its price range are the GoPro Wide, the Oregon Scientific ACT3K, and the Epic Action Cam. The XC records video in AVI format, and can accept up to a 32GB SD Card. It is slightly larger than the XC Micro, and runs on (2) AA batteries. It comes with a nice selection of mounts that allow you to secure the camera to the top or side of your helmet, or to other mounts that use a ¼-20 thread (i.e. tripod). Its CMOS chip boasts low light performance, though it is configured to shoot best during a sunny day. As you will read, I think you will realize that the XC is the best in its class (along with the Micro version).
Tachyon XC Micro
The camera measures 4” L x 2” W x 2.5” H, and weighs 4.4 oz (without batteries). It has a 90 degree field of view, which is far superior to its competition. The Tachyon XC is a “point and shoot” type of camera, and is very easy to operate. It has (3) buttons on the top, one for power on/off, one for start/stop recording, and one for menu functions. The camera incorporates audio cues to convey different modes of operation, and has an LED on the front to visually convey recording modes (Red – Recording, Green – Standby). It can accept up to a 32GB memory card, where its competition can only accepts up to 4GB. This allows you to record up to 8 hrs of video if you max out the card (1hr/4GB). The XC shoots in four different video resolution modes at 30 frames per second, and has an on-board microphone. It is very well built and incorporates a patented shock-proof battery cartridge design, which helps to prevent loss of video (sometimes an issue with other cameras). The camera can also operate deeper underwater than most of its competitors. You can connect the camera to your computer using the USB cable to download video, or you can pop out the flash card and plug it directly into your computer using an adapter (not included). The camera also comes with a TV interface cable so you can watch your video on the big screen. If you are interested in being creative, the XC comes with the ability to shoot time lapse photography. For those of you who live across the Atlantic and use PAL versus NTSC, the camera supports both formats. When you buy the camera, make sure you pick up an SD Card and some batteries, which are not included.
- Superior – 640 x 480 VGA, 30 fps
- High - 640 x 480 VGA, compressed, 30 fps
- Medium – 320 x 240 QVGA, 30 fps
- Low – 320 x 240 QVGA, compressed, 30 fps
- You can get longer recording times with lower resolutions, but you sacrifice video quality.
This function is set through the MENU. If you want to make your recordings, both video and still, in “secret”, you will not want your camera beeping or showing any LED indicators. There is an icon on the LCD that designates this mode.
This function is set through the MENU. One photo will be taken every two seconds. The number that you see displayed on the LCD will be the number of photos remaining until your memory card is full. There is an icon on the LCD that designates this mode.
After you have been recording for 30 minutes, your camera will pause for five seconds to auto save your video footage to your memory card
There are a variety of audio cues which advise: Power-Up/Down, Recording Mode, Stand-by Mode.
The remote uses a “line of site” IR technology to control the camera recording function. It is very simple to operate, having only a Start/Stop Recording Button. It would be nice if there was an LED on the remote to visually communicate when the camera is in “record” mode, but there is an LED on the front of the camera. The Remote “works” up to 20 feet away from the camera. The working distance might be lower if you have interference from the sun shining into the sensor on the front of the camera. The remote is NOT waterproof, so you will need to protect it when working around environments where there is an exposure to water. The Remote requires AAA batteries for operation.
Tachyon offers an optional Green Power Pack (GPP) that can be used to plug your camera into a wall socket or into your car’s lighter adaptor. This will give you unlimited power when plugged in. When the GPP is unplugged and fully charged, you will also get one hour of power. So the GPP is also, in effect, a rechargeable battery cartridge, and not just an adaptor.
Lens Armor (Cover)
This cover goes over the front of the camera to protect the lens from flying objects, and during storage or transport. If the lens gets damaged, usually the whole camera has to be replaced. This is the first camera I have reviewed where the manufacturer provides this important feature.
- Hand pans with the camera on different types of outdoor scenery - color performance test – sunny day
- Driving around the neighborhood in my car – general performance test - sunny day
- Riding my bike around the neighborhood – general performance test - sunny day
- Hand pan at dusk around the neighborhood– low light test
- Shooting video in the rain – Waterproof Test
The Tachyon XC can shoot in a variety of resolution modes. The video looked very good at the “superior” setting. The video in fact looked better than some of the higher priced cameras like the Drift X170. If you want more recording time, you can accomplish this by reducing the video quality in the MENU (trade-off). Picture clarity was pretty good too, which means the camera has a good lens. As mentioned in my review of the XC Micro, there may be some people who may not consider this camera because it is not HD, but HD cameras cost around $300, and you need a state-of-the-art computer to edit HD video files due to their size. I personally like standard definition, and I think the video shot with this camera looks pretty good on your computer or uploaded on YouTube.
Field of View (FOV):
The FOV for this camera is 90 degrees, which is close to what the human eye sees. It is much better than its competitors, which I feel are too narrow. With the XC, you capture a reasonable amount of the surrounding action in a shot.
The Tachyon XC did pretty very in this area. Blues were really blue, and all of the other colors were well saturated. Colors were more pronounced in brighter lighting conditions, but this is typical with all CMOS based cameras.
Like every other CMOS helmet camera, the XC is specifically tuned for shooting in sunlight. The camera did pretty well in transitioning between light and dark shooting conditions. CMOS cameras typically struggle in low light settings, but the XC and the Micro version did very well in my low light tests. In fact, they both outperformed the higher end Contour HD that I tested a few months ago.
All the cameras in this price range use the same camera alignment technique. You have to use your eyeball to line up the camera mounting and shoot some test footage to verify its position. Once you get it set, you are good to go.
The XC records mono audio on one channel, like the Micro version. If you want a stereo affect, you will need to use editing software to duplicate the channel. The microphone is internal to the unit, and as with all waterproof cameras, its performance is muted. The only way to improve the audio performance is to open up the camera’s back door, but that will expose the camera’s internal components to the environment. I tested the audio performance with the back door closed and with it open, with me speaking toward the camera at distances of 1, 2, and 3 feet. With the back door closed, the audio performance was really poor. It picked up some ambient sound, but you could not hear any speech. With the back door open, the audio performance drastically improved. Besides ambient sound, you could hear my speech with reasonable clarity at all three test distances. Lastly, low frequency sounds, such as engines, and underwater sounds tend to come through better than others when the door is closed.
The XC incorporates an auto-save feature. In a situation where the camera senses batteries are running low, it will stop the recording, save the current video footage, and then shut off. You can use alkaline or lithium AA batteries for the camera, but the manufacturer recommends lithium because they are lighter, and provide longer operational times. Alkaline batteries die quickly in cold weather, so you should only use lithium batteries under these conditions. The manufacturer advises not to use rechargeable batteries because they will not fit into the battery tray, their voltage ratings are irregular and can “fry” the camera, and they do not work properly with the auto-save feature risking the potential loss of video footage. Name-Brand Alkaline Batteries will give you around 2:45 (Energizer); 3:10(Duracell) hours of recording time. Energizer Lithium/Ultimate Lithium Batteries will give you up to 10 hours of recording time.
The camera comes with a nice selection of mount options. You can mount it to the top or side of your helmet and it includes a mount with a ¼-20 thread. This allows you to attach the camera to a tripod, or to a suction type mount used on a windshield or car body panel, or to some other type of rigid mount for a motorcycle or ATV.
The camera is rated for 30’. There is a YouTube link in this article where someone is using the camera while scuba diving, which is pretty cool. For my test, there was a storm front moving through my neighborhood over the weekend, so I set the camera out in the rain and let it record for 5 minutes. There were no issues with the recording.
I tested the remote on an overcast day (no sun interference) at 5’, 10’, 15’, and 20’. The remote worked fine every time up to 5’ and 10’. Once I got to 15’, the performance was inconsistent. At 20’ I was unable to activate the camera after several attempts. As it pertains to audio cues from the camera, the neighborhood was quiet that day, and I was able to hear the audio cues at 15’. Based on my tests, I would say the Remote works consistently up to 10’ from the camera.
The camera comes with a standard 90 day limited warranty from date of purchase, which is typical for all cameras in this price range.
Promo Video (A compilation of user’s video clips)
RC Indoor Car Racing
Underwater Spear Fishing
Road Bike Footage:
The XC Camera is a little larger than its competitors, but it has a more robust design and construction. The camera is built to operate in extreme conditions and is shock resistant. It can accept up to a 32GB flash card, which its competition cannot match. The video performance was pretty good regarding resolution, clarity, smoothness, and color (same as Micro version). The field of view is far superior to the ACT3K and the Epic, along with its waterproof rating. The GoPro’s resolution is not as good as the XC, and the GoPro’s FOV at 170 degrees shows image distortion. The Tachyon XC is very easy to operate, and provides audio cues regarding its operation. For $150, you get a great camera for the money. The manufacturer includes ¼-20 mount so you can attach it to a tri-pod and some other type of camera mounts. The camera is now shipping with Lens Armor to protect the lens while in storage, transit, or in the field. Based on video performance, I think the XC and its little brother are the best helmet cameras in their class. In closing, the Tachyon XC shoots nice looking video, and if you like bells and whistles, this is the camera for you.
Manufacturer’s Comments about the camera:
- If you are not going to use the camera for long period of time, always remove the batteries from the camera. Also, store the camera in a cool, dry place with the back door open
- When selecting an SD Card, only purchase a Class 6 or better to ensure a fast encoder rate (smoother video)
- After using the camera in a salt water environment, always rinse it off since salt water is a corrosive.
Mike Stoll has been using helmet cameras for over 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.
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** First Draft.
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