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Helmet Cameras Part 1
Written by Manny Bernardez   
Tuesday, 15 January 2008

As I did a lot of research before buying my helmet camera setup though I'll pass my findings on. The most important thing is to work out what kind of film quality you are after because this has the biggest impact on what type of helmet camera you will buy and there are many available, the second thing is to take into account is the environment you are filming in, the more detail the scenery and the faster you travel the better the recorder/encoder has to be to keep up with the information fed by the camera.

What is quality? When I talk about camera quality the benchmark has to be TV, here in the UK and most of Europe we use the Pal system 625 horizontal lines 25 frames per second while in North America they use NTSC which is 525 horizontal lines 30 frames a second, a helmet camera resolution is measured in TV (horizontal) lines the higher the number the better the resulting picture will be, a 420 lines Pal helmet cam is enough to give you a decent picture. On the recorder front the benchmark has to be DVD most movies you watch will have a bit rate over 5000 KB/s frame size 720x576 (4:3 aspect ratio ), anything lower than 2500KB/s IMHO will start to look fuzzy on a TV screen, small frame sizes can look bad as the picture is stretched to fit the screen, watching on a computer is a different matter a wide range of bit rates coupled to the appropriate frame size can look very good.

Let's start with the actual helmet camera at present there are two different technologies for capturing images digitally, CCD (charge coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) if you read up on both there's not a lot to pick between them on paper but because of manufacturing process cost CCD tend to be used as a high end solution and CMOS low end. As CMOS sensors are cheaper to manufacture they tend to be used on mobile phones cameras, cheap & nasty digital cameras and any other application where cost over quality is required though a large CMOS sensor is just as good as a CCD, also at present even the best helmet cameras with CMOS sensors are only 380 lines, for that reason I would just take them out of the equation, for filming Enduros were there is a wide variation of light levels and colours the results are going to be disappointing. If you going to be filming in the woods were it can be quite dark keep a eye out for the light sensitivity specification measured in Lux the lower the number the better, some cameras will blink and take a second or two to recover even if some foliage covers the lens momentarily.

Now you chosen the right camera you will need to hook it up to a recorder, again few different types available. Whatever type you go for do a little research and see what other people have experienced, with most helmet cameras you will need an AV IN connection. You will find some usu full links in the link section

All in one Unit

ATC 2000 Complete units like this Oregon Scientific AC-200 £85 are no more than a toy, CMOS sensor, max resolution of 640x430, 30 frames a second, 32MB internal memory but can take a 2GB SD card, even on the best settings it only works out roughly at 789 KB/s and the sound is rubbish.

Hard Disk Recorder


The AC-500 with 30GB of hard drive storage you could record a four hour event in one hit with extra batteries, at £250 pounds its good value.

Pros: Large storage capacity, easy to drag & drop files straight in computer for editing, records at full camera resolution and 5000 KB/s, nearest thing to a camcorder.

Cons: Fragile big bumps and vibration will destroy the hard drive even with the anti-shock technology; LCD monitor will be prone to damage.

Solid State Recorder



The DV-500 £235 would be the ideal solution as it's unaffected by vibrating and large shocks just the resolution of 640x480 @ 25fps(PAL) and 2000 KB/s lets it down, no doubt if your after something you can upload to a internet video sharing site this would do the job just fine DVD quality it is not.

Pros: Robust, very small size will fit inside a cigarette packet, files can be transferred in minutes to editing program, extra cover on the LCD screen.

Cons: Cost of extra SD cards , Mp4 recording format might need special editing software, resolution and bit rate are just about acceptable.

Mini DV Camcorders


Panasonic NV-GS50 Camcorders with an AV IN are harder to come by but there's plenty lightly used 2/3 year old cameras available second-hand or you might have one lying around. With a bit of isolating they can handle any vibration or bump, the weakest link being were the camera joins the helmet cam lead any movement can cause the picture to break-up.

Pros: Best movie quality, cheap recording media, cheap long life batteries, most video editing software can deal with DV codec's, you can use the camcorder for other things.

Cons: Can be a bit bulky (depending on camcorder), 1:1 transfer rate (1 minute of video will take 1 minute to transfer to computer) huge file sizes, not always enough time to change the tape every 60 minutes.

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