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Oregon Scientific ATC9k Action Camera Review


Introduction:
Oregon Scientific has upped their game with the introduction of the ACT9K. It incorporates a 5 megapixel CMOS sensor for high definition shooting, includes a nice quality LCD for video playback, and offers the ability to customize a variety of shooting parameters through its onboard menu.  The camera is waterproof to 20 meters, allowing you to shoot in extreme conditions and underwater. It records video onto a MicroSD Card (not included), and stores video files in an H264 format. Its feature set is comparable to the GoProHD and the ContourHD, and is priced at $299.00 USD retail.


What’s Included:
Below is a list of items that comes with the camera. They even include an HDMI cable so you can connect it directly to your TV.

  • HD Camera
  • Carrying Bag
  • Software CD – Viewing video on PC, and uploading them to the Internet
  • IR wireless Remote Control
  • Rechargeable Battery
  • Silicon Strap
  • Velcro Strap
  • Helmet Grip
  • Handlebar Mount
  • Base Mount & Tripod Mount
  • USB Cable
  • HDMI Cable
  • Manual
  • Misc Parts

Pictures of the Camera:


Technical Specifications:

  • Sensor Resolution: 1920 x 1080 Full HD, 1/3.2” CMOS
  • Lens Type: Fixed Focus (3m - ?)
  • Aperture: F/N=3.2
  • Supports MicroSD & SDHC, Class 6 Cards, Max 32GB
  • Max recording bit rate: 12Mbit/s
  • Movie Settings:
    • 1080p (1920 x 1080) @ 30 Frames Per Second (fps) – 1GB Memory = 9 minutes of recording
    • 720p (1280 x 720) @ 60 fps – 1GB Memory = 10 minutes of recording
    • 720p (1280 x 720) @ 30 fps – 1GB Memory = 15 minutes of recording
    • WVGA (800 x 480) @ 60 fps – 1GB Memory = 15 minutes of recording
  • Based on using a 32GB Memory Card, recording time available:
  • 1080p @ 30fps: 4hrs 48min
  • 720p @ 60fps: 5hrs 20min
  • 720p @ 30fps: 8 hours
  • WVGA/60fps: 8 hours
  • 1.5”, 320 x 240 Resolution, Color LCD Monitor
  • Images stored in H264 format
  • Rechargeable 1050 mAH Lithium Battery


Key Camera Features:
The camera dimensions are 40mm in diameter x 110mm in length, slightly larger than the ContourHD, and weighs around eight ounces. It has a 130 degree field of view (FOV) to capture wide angle shots, and the image only has a slight distortion around the edges unlike those cameras shooting at 170 degrees FOV. It is easy to operate with two buttons on top, one to activate recording and one to take a picture. When shooting video, the camera has a green LED in the front to indicate standby mode, and a red LED to indicate when the camera is recording. It also uses a variety of audio cues to communicate camera modes and functions. The camera accepts a space saving MicroSD Card for storing video footage and pictures. I like the fact Oregon Scientific includes an HDMI cable so you can connect the camera directly to your HD TV, which saves you a trip to Best Buy.  You can connect the camera to your computer using the USB cable to download video, or you can pop out the MicroSD Card and plug it directly into your computer using an adapter (not included).  The camera has a very nice appearance incorporating a sleek design with yellow accents. It also comes with a lens cap and LCD cover, which a lot of other manufacturers do not offer. The camera is packed with an extensive feature set similar to other high-end HD cameras. By viewing the LCD and using the navigation buttons below it, you have a tremendous amount of options for configuring the camera regarding exposure, white balance, resolution, sharpness, etc. You can use the LCD to verify the effects of your settings before you start shooting, which the ContourHD, GoProHD and most other competitors do not offer. You can also use the LCD to view your video, which will help you determine if you need to reshoot the video before you leave your shoot location. If you are interested in slow motion editing, the camera allows you to shot HD at 60 fps, so your video will look smooth. There are a couple other unique features offered by this camera:

  • GPS Module:  This camera supports a GPS module accessory, which allows the user to map their route during their recording, and to measure their speed and elevation changes. This can be seen by using the included ATC9K software.
  • G-Force Sensor:  The G sensor measures the G forces and acceleration during your recording – for instance, during a flip while wakeboarding, it can measure the G forces during that flip and your direction and magnitude of acceleration at that moment.


Camera parameters that are configured using the Menu:
Video

  • Video Resolution (1080p/60fps, 720p/60fps, 720p/30fps, WVGA/30fps
  • Video Quality (Fine/Good/Normal)
  • EV (Exposure Level) +2.0 to – 2.0
  • White Balance (Auto/Daylight/Cloudy/Fluorescent/Tungsten)
  • Contract (Standard/Soft/Hard)
  • Sharpness (Standard/Soft/Hard)
  • Video Effect (Vivid/Negative/Black & White, Sepia or Art)
  • Duration – Used to record a video with a time limit

Photo

  • Resolution (5 or 3 megapixels)
  • Video Quality (Fine/Good/Normal)
  • Night Mode – Boosts exposure when shooting pictures at night
  • EV (Exposure Level) +2.0 to – 2.0
  • White Balance (Auto/Daylight/Cloudy/Fluorescent/Tungsten)
  • Contract (Standard/Soft/Hard)
  • Sharpness (Standard/Soft/Hard)
  • Timer – Countdown Timer
  • Continuous Shutter (take 3 or 5 continuous shots at a time)

Tools:

  • Laser Pointer on for  (5 sec, 10 sec, Off)
  • Camera Volume (0-8)
  • Privacy (On/Off)
  • Time Stamp (Yes/No)
  • LCD Sleep (Always On, 10 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, 2 min)
  • Auto Off (Always On, 1 min, 3 min, 5 min)
  • Date
  • Time
  • Time Zone
  • Language (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese)
  • Light Frequency
  • Any a few other options

Camera Operation:

  • There are two buttons on top, one starts and stops video recording, and the other snaps a picture.
  • There are two LEDs on the front of the camera, the green LED indicates when the camera is in standby mode, and the red LED indicates when the camera is recording.
  • The camera will beep once when the camera starts recording, and will beep twice when it stops recording.
  • The LCD screen provides information regarding battery status, recording time, white balance setting, photo mode, photo resolution, video/photo quality, exposure setting, video resolution, SD card installation, privacy mode, GPS on, and G Sensor On.

Camera Test Parameters:

  • Tested only in 720p, 60fps
  • Neighborhood driving on a sunny day
  • Trail bike ride during the day
  • Tested low light performance indoors, and outdoors at dusk
  • Tested at a local swimming pool, and at the beach

Resolution
You can configure a variety of different resolutions using the menu.  I chose 720P at 60 fps, since I have a 40”/720p Plasma TV and that I like smoother looking video. The footage was clear and well defined, and was comparable to the other high-end cameras mentioned in this review. The ACT9K video had a nice image, but I would say ContourHD and GoProHD images are slightly sharper. If your computer cannot support viewing or editing HD files, the camera can be set to WVGA at 60 fps. The camera provides many options regarding resolution and frame rates that should satisfy any user.

Field of View (FOV):
The FOV for this camera is 130 degrees, which provides a nice wide angle shot with just a slight distortion around the edges. To me, the 130 degree FOV is a happy middle ground between cameras that have a very wide 170 degree FOV, cameras that have a 90 degree FOV. If the FOV is very wide, the video subject gets lost in the shot (too much background). There is also a lot of image distortion (fisheye effect), which some users do not like. Regarding cameras that have a smaller FOV, you miss the surrounding action around the subject, which makes the shot seem boring.

Color
The color saturation was very good. The blues were “blue” and the reds were “red”. All in all, the camera captured very vibrant colors. For those of you who are creative, the camera allows you to configure it to shoot in a variety of special effect modes including Vivid, Negative, Black & White, Sepia and others. Though I typically use editing software to create these effects, the built-in special effects were fun to play with and watch on the TV.

Low Light

Like every other CMOS helmet camera, the ACT9K is designed to shoot outdoors during normal daylight hours. Needless to say, it performed well during my daylight shots with no pixelation. The ContourHD and GoProHD have larger CMOS imagers than the ACT9K, which would lead you to believe they would perform better in low light conditions. When I tested the ACT9K indoors where there was limited lighting and at dusk outside, it performed as well as the competition. I would still recommend using the ACT9K and other CMOS based helmet cameras during normal daylight hours to ensure the best video results.


Alignment
The camera alignment options for the ACT9K are superb. You can use the LCD to align your shot, or you can use the built-in laser that is similar to the ContourHD design. There are no other cameras on the market that offer BOTH of these features, which is really nice. I would also mention, since you can play back video on the ACT9K’s LCD screen, you can take a couple practice shots to ensure your alignment is zeroed in while in the field.

Exposure/White Balance
The camera offers the ability to tweak these settings through the menu. I changed the exposure settings to see how much they improved the image during over exposed bright lighting conditions (sunny day) and low lighting conditions (indoors/dusk). It is a nice feature and it did help a little in fine tuning the image. The LCD is really nice to use in this situation, since you can see the real-time effects of your changes.

Audio
The microphone is located on the bottom of the camera, next to the speaker. The ACT9K records mono audio on one channel like most other cameras. If you want a stereo affect in your final video, you will need to use editing software to duplicate the channel. The microphone performed much better than expected. Other waterproof cameras I have tested tend to have a muted performance because of the camera design. Typically, you are unable to hear normal dialog beyond three feet from the camera. The ACT9K did incredibly well and I was able to hear normal dialog up to eight feet from the camera. When I drove around the neighborhood with the camera mounted to the outside of my car, there was noticeable wind noise at higher speeds. One way to lessen the noise would be to place a piece of tape over the “mic/speaker” section. Some camera manufacturers have incorporated this concept in their design by installing a plastic film over their mic to make it water resistant and reduce wind noise. I would also mention the ACTK9 has a very good speaker. Some waterproof cameras either do not have a speaker, or the speaker is very weak. The audio from the ACT9K’s speaker was loud and crisp.

IR Wireless Remote

I tested the performance at ranges from 5 to 20 feet. The remote performed pretty similar to other IR remotes I have tested. It would consistently change the camera operations at a distance up to 15 feet, but after that, performance became sporadic. With all IR remotes, you must have a clear line of site, and be able to accurately point the remote at the IR sensor on the front of the camera. Outdoor lighting, such as a bright sunny day, may impact the effective range of the remote. You can control six camera functions with the remote including video recording, photo snapshot, play/pause, FF (forward), RW (backward), and menu. All in all, the remote performed very well. I would note, though the camera itself is waterproof, the IR remote is neither waterproof nor water resistant. You will need to protect it if you are shooting in an environment where there is an exposure to water. There is also a notch on the bottom the Remote which you could attach a key ring using a small zip tie.

Battery
The camera uses a 1050 mAH rechargeable lithium battery, which you can charge by a computer by using the USB cable, or by using an external AC charger (accessory). The battery runtime is 1.5 hours, and it takes around 2 hours to charge. As with all lithium batteries, runtime may be somewhat shorter in cold temperatures. If you are going to be on a longer camera shoot, you may want to consider picking up a spare battery. In the camera menu, you can also set the camera to auto-power-off at various time intervals to save battery capacity.

Mounts
The camera comes with a quick release base and a variety of mounts, which allow you to attach it to a helmet, handlebar, or tri-pod. Other mount accessories that are available from Oregon Scientific include a Goggle Mount, a Suction Cup Mount, and a Motorbike Handlebar Mount. Below are some pictures where the camera was attached to some helmets using the base mount and elastic strap, both of which are included in the camera kit. The elastic band did an acceptable job holding the camera in place, though I prefer a more rigid mount. With this in mind, I got creative and came up with an alternate mount design. First, I removed the elastic band from the base mount. Then I jumped into my car and drove to my local Radio Shack and picked up their SuperLock adhesive strips, also known as 3M Dual Lock. The SuperLock strips have incredible gripping strength, and are relatively inexpensive. They are like Velcro on steroids being 4-5 times stronger. My idea worked out great, and the mount was very rigid. Once you snap the SuperLock strips together, it is very difficult to get them apart. I would recommend ordering some dual lock strips from HCC when you purchase the camera. The following is a link that talks about the 3M Dual Lock Strips. http://www.andybaird.com/travels/gertie/superlock.htm



LCD
The camera comes with a 1.5” color TFT with a 320 x 240 resolution. The LCD display is clear, and the color resolution is quite good. The LCD is great for managing menu items and for playing back video. In the camera menu, you can set the LCD to auto-power-off at different time intervals to save battery capacity. As with smaller LCDs, they are a little difficult to see on a bright, sunny day. I had to shade the screen by cupping my hand around it. It’s a great feature to have, and sets the ACT9K apart from other HD cameras in its price range. Neither the ContourHD nor the GoProHD have a built-in LCD.

Waterproof

The camera is rated for 20 meters or 65 feet. You can use it in extreme weather conditions and  underwater.

Warranty
Oregon Scientific offers a 90 day warranty, which is common for the helmet camera industry as a whole. Though the ContourHD and the GoProHD have better warranties, Oregon Scientific is a well known company and has a good reputation for quality.

Comparison

Features ACT9K ContourHD GoProHD
Price $299.99 $299.99 $299.99
Max Res 1920x1080 1920x1080 1920x1080
Sensor Size 1/3.2” 1/2.5” 1/2.5”
Max Megapixels 5 NA 5
Battery Life 1.5 hrs 3 hrs 2.5 hrs
Dimensions 40mm x 110mm 95mm x 53 x 34mm 42mm x 60mm x 30mm
Shock Resistant? Yes Yes Yes
File Format H.264 H.264 H.264
Waterproof? Yes With Separate Case With Included Case
IR Remote Yes No No
LCD Yes No With upcoming accessory
Field of View 130 135/110 170/127
Warranty 90 days 180 days (365 with registration) 365 days


Sample Video
The ACT9K was just released at the time of this review, so there is not much footage on the Internet. Below is some sample footage you may find interesting.
http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1550704008972
http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1545903048951
http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1545890928648


ATC9K Test from ATC9K on Vimeo.




Conclusion:
The ContourHD and the GoProHD are the two primary competitors of the ACT9K, and the new Oregon Scientific camera now gives buyers three HD choices from which to pick. The ACT9K is waterproof, whereas you have to purchase a waterproof case for the ContourHD and GoProHD (which significantly mutes the audio performance). The ACT9K also comes with an IR Remote unlike the other two competitors, allowing the user to operate the camera from distances up to 15 feet.  If you look at the performance specifications between all three, they are very similar. The image clarity of the ACT9K was good, though the ContourHD and the GoProHD images were slightly sharper.  If you like a slow motion effect, you can set the ACT9K to shoot in HD or WVGA at 60fps to get a smooth look to your video. The camera is easy to operate with two buttons on top for recording and photo. There are also audio queues to convey different modes of operation. Needless to say, the LCD on the camera is the icing on the cake, giving it an edge over the competition. It lets you navigate through the camera menu, view real-time camera configurations (i.e. exposure, white balance), align shots, and playback video. The ACT9K comes with a very nice feature set and about every bell and whistle available. It has a nice cylindrical profile similar to the ContourHD, and is more streamline than the GoProHD. For the retail price of $299.00, it is competitively priced and offers more features than other competitors in its class.

Manufacturer’s Link: http://www2.oregonscientific.com

ATC-9K Buying Options

http://shop.helmetcameracentral.com/HC-ORESCI-ATC9K.html

About the Author:
Mike Stoll has been using helmet cameras for over seven 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.



We Review and Sell Helmet Camera Systems

Helmet Camera Central was born as a result of our helmet cam experiences from our video consulting business, Two Brothers Video. Helmet Camera Central is a resource designed to help people find objective and pertinent information about helmet camera systems. Since 2005, we have reviewed numerous helmet camera systems with an unbiased and objective point of view. Our reviews focus on the functional and usability aspects of helmet camera systems. Since we use helmet camera systems in addition to selling them, our reviews result from actual day-to-day experiences with the products. Ease of use, reliability, and quality are our top priority. Rest assured, the helmet camera systems that we recommend and sell at HelmetCameraCentral.com were chosen for good reason: they rock! There are many systems out there, but the ones we recommend provide exceptional quality and services for the best return on your investment.

We are also here to answer your questions and help you choose a helmet camera system that meets your needs. If one of our recommended systems is a fit for you, you can find it at HelmetCameraCentral.com. And if our recommended systems do not fit your needs, we will put you in contact with the right vendor to find the best solution.


Change Log
08/26/10 / Erik Linden / Version 1.0
** First Draft.


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