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Helmet Cameras 101

A guide for getting started with a Helmet Camera

Getting into a Helmet Camera may seem like a bit of an undertaking, but it really isn't bad at all, you just have to do a little planning. There are only three basic requirements: a Helmet Camera, a recording device, and a way to store the equipment safely while it's in use. Afterwards, it just a matter of what you want to do with your footage.

Helmet Camera
You can go to Google and type in Helmet Camera and you'll find a bunch of different sites dedicated to Helmet Cams. It's enough to say that there are quite a few options out there, and in the end it's your call. Western Power Sports and Lockhart Phillips also distribute Helmet Cameras now, so you can also order one from your favorite dealer as well. No matter which Helmet Camera you choose, you're going to need batteries, most likely either eight AA's or a single 9V. The AA's can last between 5-10 hours and the 9V lasts 15-20 hours, so know your ride and prepare accordingly.

Another Option: Lose the Batteries
  • Depending upon what you're riding you might want to consider a Motorcycle Camera instead of a Helmet Camera. The Motorcycle Camera runs off of the vehicle battery, which saves your Duracell fund. Additionally, an on-bike mounting system lets you store everything on your bike which means you can avoid the 80's jokes about your fanny pack. Google can be used here as well to locate the various Motorcycle Camera retailers.
Recording device
If you have a recording device already, then be sure to check with your Helmet Camera manufacturer to see if your device is compatible with their camera. In most cases, as long as your device is capable of dubbing from another video source (you can look this up in your manual if you're not sure) then your system is most likely compatible.

If you happen to be in the market for a recording device then you need to decide between a digital camcorder and a personal media player. Pricing is a moot point as either can be found in the $200-$250 range. The pros and cons of each are laid out below: Digital Camcorders vs. Personal Media Players
  • Camcorders – The DV-AVI setting of the miniDV camcorder offers the highest quality setting you can get for your Helmet Camera. The camcorder is also the only device that is capable of hosting a LANC input, which is a remote start/stop button. That being said, the camcorder is also fragile, bulky, and the costs of media can add up. You will also need to consider the additional requirements when it comes to getting the footage on to your computer (discussed below).

  • Personal Media Players – Personal media players are extremely compact, lightweight, and durable. They allow you to record your Helmet Camera footage directly to compressed mpeg4 format, a standard “computer ready” video file, via an internal hard drive or removable Compact Flash. The quality, however, is not quite as good as miniDV and battery life can be a challenge if you cannot make use of the car adapter.
Which One to Get and Where to Get It
  • Camcorder – If you are in the market for a camcorder, then use your manufacturer's camcorder list as a guide and search through online deal sites like Pricegrabber or Newegg for the best deals. The LANC input is also noted on most lists, so be sure to take that into account as well.

  • Personal Media Player – If you want a PMP, then eBay is going to help here. On eBay you can find refurbished units for brands like RCA's Lyra or the Archos and save a bunch of cash over getting a brand new unit. Most refurbished units will come with a new warranty from the OEM so your risk is minimal. There is also one PMP that records to removable memory. Mustek's PVRA1 can be found at Sam's club online for under $100.
Storage
This can be any combination of what you want, have, or need. If you're involved in water sports then you'll want to get a waterproof case, such as a Pelican case. If you're into endurance sports and you need a water bladder, then be sure to get a pack with a little extra storage space. For the rest of us any old fanny pack will work fine (note: smaller = tighter pack = less bouncing and shifting while pack is in use).

Sharing
If you only want to replay your videos on your TV, then you can skip this section as any recording device will have A/V output cables that can be attached to your TV for direct video playback. However, if you want to share your files online, edit your footage, and/or burn CDs or DVDs for others to watch, then you're going to need a computer. The choice of recording method from above will drive how much computer you're going to need.
  • Computer needs – A firewire card is required to get footage off of a miniDV camcorder and onto your computer. These can be obtained online or at any big-box chain for under $25. Install is easy, so don't pay anyone to do it, please. And since you're already opening your computer, go ahead and buy yourself a big old stick of RAM as well (you'll thank me later when your videos are hiccup free). If you opted for the Personal Media Player instead of the camcorder then you can go ahead and save yourself the trip to the store. Your files can be transferred via USB, and the compressed video is more manageable, so no extra RAM is required for handling your file.

  • Video editing – Most computers have Windows Movie Maker which will do fine for basic editing functions, such as cutting dull spots, adding sound, and stock video mods like brightening. However, the videophiles of this world are probably going to run out and drop $800 on Adobe Premiere so they can drool over the 1 million tools that they'll probably never use. But hey, they like the security of knowing that the fish-eye-disintegration-mezzotint-adjust tool is there, just in case they need it.
About the Author: Jason Green wrote Helmet Cam 101 to aid those interested in recording their experiences. Costly mistakes and unnecessary purchases can make getting a Helmet Camera more expensive then it has to be, this guide was meant to help enthusiasts avoid the common pitfalls. Jason is a closet videophile and currently writes the news blog for Twenty20, a company that sells Helmet Cameras and Motorcycle Cameras.


  Comments

A very well ballanced article. but did you know if you have a camera that does not have AV in, dont dispaire we know ways of converting it to av in. we sell helmet camera kits at www.cameras4sports.co.uk and we generally get 5 to 10 e-mails and calls a day asking if their camera has av in, so we put a list of cameras on our website that do have Av in to help. Our camera have only one cable and the microphone is built in to the camera so no extra bundles of leads and cables to confuse you just plug in the yellow phono to your video cameras phono lead and the white audio to the cameras audio phono lead connect the battery to the pp3 clip and you ready to go its that simple.

We also found that the multimedia recorders are not very good for recording when used on bikes and vehicles that are going to go over lots of bumps jumps as the laser or write to disk jumps and fails to record. I f you want to use the helmet cameras for extreme sports use a video camera as the recorder.
- mark j

I really enjoyed your article, it answered a lot of questions other web sites dont even talk about. I got more info from your article in 5 min. than 2 weeks searching on other sites, thank you.
- Roy J


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