Guide to Buying a Helmet Camera

Featured

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

Image via Wikipedia

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?

A Guide To Helmet Cameras

Helmet cameras are becoming popular with cyclists. For evidential purposes and down to videos of cyclists just having fun. With the increase in users and more people watching the videos, i get asked regularly about my set up and what cameras i recommend. It’s time for me to create a detailed list of what cameras are out there and which camera to buy.

There are lots of things to think about when buying a camera, the most important being how much you want to spend. But lets not forget about; video quality, size, weight, waterproofness, battery life, battery replacement and the list goes on.

Something which is often overlooked but very important is storage and editing of footage. If you choose to go with a HD camera, then you will want to make sure your computer is up to scratch with editing the footage. The company that make the cameras should be able to supply you with the information you require on minimum system specifications for their camera. Look at how much storage space you will require if you want to keep some of your videos. HD recordings will take up a lot of space.

My top 5 list of helmet cameras to buy.

  1. Veho Muvi
  2. ContourHD
  3. GoPro HD Hero
  4. Drift HD170
  5. VIO POV 1.5

Veho Muvi
The camera which came out a little over a year ago which has made helmet camera’s popular and affordable is the Veho Muvi. It can be picked up for around £60. You are limited to about 1h30m max on the battery and due to the size of the camera it can be very discreet. The camera it’s self isn’t waterproof, but a special case or good positioning can sort this issue out.

A copy of the muvi is the MD80, and can be picked up at a fraction of the price without losing much quality.
There are a few copies of the muvi, a few are good but most are bad. Look out for the switches on the side of the camera, if they are buttons then avoid the camera!

I have to put the Muvi at number one because of the sheer amount of cyclists that use it and its cheap price for great quality.

ContourHD
The ContourHD is my camera of choice, i have the old 720p model and a 1080p model. Both very much worth the money and hopefully my reasons for choosing it will be outlined below.

The ContourHD pretty much covers every base with what you need from your camera. Superb quality, good variety of mounts for all situations, water-resistant, replaceable battery, rotateable lens, two lasers to line up the perfect angle and a button configuration that is very easy to use without looking at the camera and using gloves.

Things to know about behind the scenes with the camera and the company, vholdr have set up a community where you can upload your videos and a decent forum where questions are answered by other users. Differently worth checking out. There is some software which is available to edit and upload your videos, and change the quality and various light settings.

A key thing for me, was how the camera looked when mounted on the helmet. The contourHD appears to be bullet like and fairly flat, with a red recording light that is visible from the front and the side. This was a big factor for me when choosing it over the gopro HD Hero.

GoPro HD Hero
This is definitely the best camera from a picture point of view. The features and accessories are similar to the ContourHD, in fact there isn’t much difference between the GoPro HD Hero and the ContourHD. They are both amazing cameras, offer great options, deliver great video and are easy to use.
The two downside’s for me with the GoPro are the shape of it and you’re not able to rotate the lens. It’s square and looks ridiculous when you put it on top of a helmet. Rotating the lens means that you can still get the perfect angle when recording but having the ability to mount the camera in strange positions and angles.

One way around this downside is to mount the camera somewhere on the bike, where other oddly shaped things are mounted. MrOrigamist on youtube has done just this, mounted on his stem i believe, it gives a really interesting perspective that no one else currently uses and it looks great. So it’s only downside may not be relevant if you’re not actually going to mount on your helmet.

Drift HD170
Another HD camera here with some different attributes. Similar to the ContourHD the HD170 lets you rotate the lens so that you can get the perfect angle where ever you are mounting it. But where it lacks in laser pointers, it makes up for it with a screen which you can use to watch playback and check your angle. It also comes with a little remote clicker which you can use to start and stop recording.

If I’m honest i think the screen and remote are gimmicky. In day-to-day use I wouldn’t use either of them. A big problem for me is the buttons and their spacing. Due to their close nature and quite small size, it would be hard to operate the camera whilst it is on your helmet with gloves on. This was the main decider for me no to get a Drift HD170.
Apart from that the camera is just as good as the ContourHD and GoPro HD.

Vio POV 1.5
The Vio POV is an expensive option for a helmet camera, but it’s a damn good one. I doubt it’s the camera for most people anyway. It’s a 2 piece unit, a camera and a recording unit (DVR) these are connected via a cable. You will need to find a place to store the DVR whilst you are cycling, this is easy if you have a back pack. The DVR has all the buttons you need and a screen to go with it. On the screen you can watch recordings or the live feed. This gives you an easy way to check the recording angle without taking the camera off or going back to your PC.

The VIO makes it onto my list due to the technology it uses, the better lens and CCD recording chip means the image quality (whilst not HD) is truly amazing. The camera will also be much better in low light when compared to the cameras listed above.
The ability to upgrade the camera or DVR separately is also something that is attractive, especially if one breaks.

Conclusion
The muvi is the best value for money and one of the most widely used cameras among commuters (including clones). The HD cameras in my opinion are the best way to go. The quality they provide means that number plates and actions of cars are clearly visible. But the price jump between the Muvi and the HD cameras is huge, and if you don’t want to spend that money but want better quality then don’t disapear, as there is a gap that the companies have filled.
GoPro, Drift and several other companies have cameras that are in the non-HD range and are of still good quality with good features. If you want one of these, then i will suggest checking out the footage of that camera on youtube or similar.

This is just a list of my top 5 cameras i would recommend. I will do a detailed list of all helmet cameras i know about.