Guide to Buying a Helmet Camera

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Mark Schulze, a Director of Photography and ow...

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The popularity of helmet cameras has exploded over the past few years, hundreds of cyclists across the world are using cameras to record and tell their stories. Thousands of road users are also doing the same.

So you are in the market for a helmet camera? But where to start? Follow this guide and hopefully you will be in a position to make a choice about which camera is best for you.

Budget!

Your budget will be the biggest factor in choosing which camera to go for. The general rule is that the more you spend the better quality camera you get. Be it HD, better mounts, better quality parts used and more features.

Quality?

The biggest decision is going to be quality. HD is a great thing to have but comes at a cost, greater than £100 for a good camera with a HD chip. HD isn’t everything, you can still get a good picture without HD by choosing a camera which uses a good quality sensor. HD does often give a clearly image and has a wider lens angle, all positives.

Lens Angle

The lens angle makes a huge difference to what is captured by the camera. A wider lens angle will pick up more footage but it has it’s downsides. Wide angle lenses often create a fish eye look and elements on the edge of the film will often be further away than they actually are (making close passes look further away than they really are). It also makes judging speed on film a little bit harder.
I use a 1080p camera but run it at 960p, why? Because the 1080p mode uses a smaller lens angle and zooms the image in. I would much rather have a wider lens angle and a taller image to get the most footage I can, it makes a huge difference.

Body Format

Helmet cameras come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from bullet to cubes. When choosing what you want it is wise to take into consideration where you are going to mount your camera (It doesn’t have to be on the helmet). Square cameras look a bit silly on a helmet when you compare them to bullet format cameras but the square cameras seem to look and fit better when fitted to the handle bars. Slimmer cameras, such as the veho muvi, can also fit into the vents of your helmet, making them a bit more discrete.

Mounting

It is a good idea to look at what mounting options there are with each camera you are considering. The more expensive cameras usually have more professional looking mounts and a wider selection. If there isn’t a specific helmet mount or if you choose to make your own then it is a good idea to take into consideration how secure it is going to be. The specific helmet mounts are designed with some sort of give in it, so if you are involved in a collision then the camera will come away from the helmet and not cause added damage to your head by causing the helmet to crush more than it should do. I would suggest not to zip tie your camera to your helmet.

If the camera comes with a 1/4″ screw thread then the possibilities for mounting are pretty much endless. RAM offer some amazing options which a few of us take advantage of and mount our cameras to various parts of our frames and handlebars.

What is in the box?

It’s a good idea to check what comes with the camera before you purchase it. The accessory that you want may be excluded or in the case of the Contour cameras the vented helmet mount is not included and i know this has caught a few buyers out. So it’s important that you check and factor any additional items in the total cost of the camera.

Memory Cards

Pretty much all cameras use some form of SD card, be that standard or Micro. Most cameras come with a memory card but often one small in size. You will probably need to get a bigger memory card, but how big depends on how long you want to ride between visits to a computer or a memory card swap.

Battery

Not all cameras have a removable battery, limiting your time on the road before you have to visit a computer or wall plug. Some of these can be modified to charge of a AA battery. Other units have removable batteries, so if you are on a long ride then you can swap out the battery when one dies and continue.

Features

Some models of cameras come with some added features which can be nice, from lasers and small screens to bluetooth and GPS. Some features can be handy to have where as others are just additions which you never use. Think about which ones you need and which ones you don’t as they do affect the cost of the cameras.

Reviews

It’s worth looking at reviews of the products and see what others thing about it. Just search the camera name + review in a search engine like google. Point Of View Cameras has reviews on all the major cameras and Magnatom has done a view of some cameras and compared them against each other. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Example Footage

Pretty much each camera type is already used by a cyclist online, so search for the camera on youtube and see if someone has some footage of it in use. This can make the difference in your choice. If you see another camera cyclist on youtube that has good footage, ask them what camera they use and they are more often that not happy to let you know what they use. Although it would be worthwhile looking on their channel and see if the information is displayed there or if someone else has already asked.

Where brands make good cameras?

  • Contour / Vholdr
  • GoPro
  • Veho
  • Drift Innovations
  • V.I.O POV

Where to buy cameras?

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Helmet Cameras and the Law

I posted before about the use of cameras on the road and the laws behind it. But i feel i missed a few things out that are worth noting. From before we know that the general use of a camera is perfectly legal. The information commissioner confirmed that recording for personal purposes on the road is perfectly fine and that uploading footage to websites like youtube is fine, even if it includes faces or VRNs (Vehicle Registration Number). The information commissioner also confirmed that this is not braking any part of the Data Protection Act.

What about article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Martin Porter wrote about just this, what is more important, the right to privacy or the right to live? Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights states

Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.

People have tried to spin this argument against me but the European Convention on Human Rights only applies to a state and not an individual member of the public. Let’s also not forget that the roads are a public place and there should be no expectation of privacy on them.

The Human Rights Act in the UK applies the acts from the European Convention on Human Rights to all members of the public in the UK and not just the state. But again the question is what is more important, life or privacy? The Human Rights Act states

You have the responsibility to respect other people’s rights, and they must respect yours.

How much privacy is actually broken by posting a video online? I would say minimal, everything that is displayed is public information and only friends and relatives can identify the person by their face. There have been no cases so far that relate to this so it is hard to say what the outcome would be in a court of law.

There has been plenty of media coverage about helmet cameras this year already several court cases involving footage from cameras. So far there has not been even a hint from the Police, CPS or any other legal body that using cameras and posting footage of it online is against the law.

RTC 16.12.10

It’s snowing, the ground is wet and traffic is backed up. I’m cycling in the bus lane and traffic up ahead starts moving but I miss a set of cars not moving at the start of a side road. The result is a car driving through a gap and into the side road, going straight across the bus lane without checking. It ended with me landing on the bonnet of the car with my arm taking my full weight which flexed the bonnet so much that my arm hit the engine block.

The police attended the scene and the driver spoke very little english. At the time the driver claimed that he didn’t see any lights on my bicycle, despite my bicycle laying in the street with the 900 lumen magicshine light and 240 lumen hope vision 1 light blaring on to the ground, lets not also forget the helmet mounted torch that I have which was shining in his eyes. The obvious problem is the driver didn’t look, so of course he couldn’t see.

An independent witness came forward (the driver of a vehicle that was waiting to leave the side road) and his statement matched my side of the story, which was also backed up by the video footage I had.

You would think that having video footage of the event would make everything plain sailing. Oh how wrong could you be. First I was told by the case manager that video evidence could not be used.

it is not something we would be able to use in court. This is due to the fact
it would not be seen as independent evidence and an argument could be
made to the effect that the footage could have been tampered with.

My response to that..

In at least 2 cases in 2010 video evidence was used in court to secure
convictions against vehicle drivers, they where recorded using similar
video equipment by cyclists.

My video evidence matches the statements that me, the vehicle driver and
a witness gave to the Police that attended the scene. I had not seen the
video before giving my statement and neither of the witness had viewed
or know about it.
This video evidence should not be dismissed due to the fact that an
argument could be made to the effect that it could have been tampered
with. As it clearly shows that the driver crossed across a bus lane
without checking to see if anything was in it. I have been advised that
if this is to be dismissed, it should be done so by a magistrate or
jury.

That was not the end of my issues. The MET’s video evidence/surveillance rooms are not capable of playing digital videos in modern h.264 formats. So they where not able to play the video that I had sent them. That in its self is quite frustrating. It ended up with one of them playing it on a personal laptop. How they then got it into a playable format to be used in court I do not know.

The case went to court nearly 7 months after the incident and I heard about the results yesterday, the driver was charged with Careless or Inconsiderate driving, got a £350 fine, 6 points on their license and ordered to pay £100 court fees. That is certainly a good result.

All that is left now is for me to claim back the cost of the damages from his insurance company.

Video Footage is Not Evidence

With more and more road users using video equipment to record their journeys in case of an accident, it is important to have a little bit of understanding of what is involved when using it to prove what happened.

A section of video footage only shows what happened during that section of time. I’ve had many people mention that a driver would only do ‘that’ if they were provoked. I don’t leave anything out of my videos on youtube and I never sensor sound. I’m open and honest about all interactions I have.

I have had various interactions with the police over the years of recording, all are fairly good. Most of my dealings have been with Roadsafe London and I can honestly say I’m happy with the results from that. It’s simple for me as I just need to fill out a short online form and include a link to the video. The police will most often send a letter to the owner of the vehicle explaining the situation and sometimes include a link to the video. Someone has been educated and that at the end of the day is my goal.

The problem any road user will face when submitting footage to the police in a more serious case is it’s still fairly uncommon for people to record and the digital formats we use are often hard to play on the police systems. This results in a lot of time wasted time in them even being able to view it.

It doesn’t end there, if the footage is of use then it has be made into something which can be used as evidence, this is going to mean at least putting the footage on to several discs to supply to each party involved in a court case and in some cases analysing the footage to see if it has been tampered with. This is quite a lengthy process and requires specific equipment which is used to process all CCTV and video evidence for a specific area (quite a large one) and only trained people can use this. So it’s a costly and lengthy task and one which will only be taken if the Police feel that the incident is worth pursuing in the case of public interest and if they believe the CPS will push for a prosecution.

I often see many people stating that they got a camera in case of an accident, this is not only the wrong message that we are sending out (it’s not dangerous to cycle in the UK, it has its ups and downs) but it also doesn’t make the process any easier and in most cases people’s expectations of what can happen to a driver after they cut you up, left hooked you etc.. is normally out of proportion.

As a side note. I said above ‘it’s not dangerous to cycle in the UK it has its ups and downs’. Obviously my videos sometimes show that there are some real idiots on the roads. You need to take into consideration how many miles per year I do and how many vehicles I have interactions with. In reality it’s probably less than 1% of vehicle drivers that I have a problem with.