by Mike Stoll
So you ran the gnar, canoed up to a bear, and sea kayaked under a whale spout. Where’s the proof? Without it, it’s just another tall boating tale. Luckily, there’s a new crop of Point of View (POV) cameras that make capturing these moments easier. Here’s some PL guidelines to help you make an informed buying decision to backing up your abducted-by-UFOs claim…
Know your Application
Knowing your application is the first step. What type of event will you be shooting? Will the camera be exposed to water? What time of day will you be shooting? How important is audio quality? How and were will you mount the camera? Having a good understanding of your application will help in the decision making process. If you can describe your application to someone at a camera store, they should be able to recommend a few cameras for your consideration.
Seek “Expert” Advice
As mentioned above, camera stores have a good understanding of the products they are selling. Some of their staff are camera users themselves, and have tried various cameras in a variety of shooting environments. They should be able to recommend specific cameras based on your shooting application, personal preferences, and budget. There are several camera retailers out there, so feel free to chat with a few of them and compare their answers.
Product reviews are another great way to collect information on cameras. I will type in the camera model and the word “review/s” in the Google search field to see what pops up. Also, camera stores will often publish their own product reviews that provide a lot of information for potential buyers.
When shopping for a camera, there are several key features to consider, including field of view, video quality, recording capacity, pricing, media format, size, available options, etc. Having a side by side comparison is very helpful in comparing the features of different cameras. Stores like www.helmetcameracentral.com often have a comparison chart on their website to help buyers in their decision-making process.
Cash to Spend
Camera prices can range anywhere from $150 for entry-level cameras to over $2,000 for professional grade cameras. Knowing how much money you have to spend will help in the selection process. Most good quality
cameras run between $200 – $350. Prosumer grade cameras run between $500 – $800 dollars, and professional grade cameras like the Sony HXR-MC1 will run around $2,500.
Video Quality – Standard Definition (STD) vs High Definition (HD)
STD (DVD quality) and HD (High Definition quality) are the two levels of quality that are currently available. HD cameras provide better video quality, and a wide-screen perspective versus STD. If your intent is to only post video on YouTube, a standard definition camera may be all that you need. Most of the better cameras come with basic video sharing software that allow you to download video from your camera to your computer, trim clips, and then upload the finished product to YouTube. If you are looking to do real video editing, the current versions of MovieMaker on PC based systems and iMovie on Mac based systems are able to handle HD video files. If you are interested in more advanced video editing software, you might consider programs such as Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut, AVS4YOU, Cyberlink PowerDirector, Corel VideoStudio, Magix Movie Edit Pro, Pinnacle Studio, and Sony Vegas.
Working with HD Video Files
HD video files are very data intensive, and put a significant load on your computer. You may find that you will have to upgrade your computer hardware. HD video will look choppy on inadequate systems, and rendering video during the editing process will take forever. An ideal computer system designed for HD editing may include the following components: Dual or Quad Core CPU, 4-6GB of Ram, a good HD Video Card (512MB Ram), and an HD Monitor. If you want to burn HD DVDs, your computer will also need a Blue-Ray Burner. Buying an HD camera could lead you into spending additional monies – food for thought.
Field of View
The field of view is how your camera sees the world. Some cameras have a narrower field of view down to 50 degrees, while others have a wider field of view up to 170 degrees. If your camera has a narrow field of view, your subject will fill most of the shot, you will not see much of the surrounding action, and your video may look a little shaky. If your camera has a wide field of view, you will see a lot more of the surrounding action, and your video will look smoother. I personally prefer cameras with a wide field of view between 90-120 degrees for general applications. If your field of view is extremely wide (170 degrees), you may see a slight distortion around the outside edges of the picture. The top cameras typically have a field of view from 110 to 170 degrees.
One-piece cameras run between $200-$350, and are compact and lightweight. Everything is integrated into a small, single unit. Two-piece cameras run between $500 – $800, use better optics, shoot better quality video, typically have the camera connected to a separate recording device via a cable, and include an LCD on the recording device for video playback. The downside of the two-piece system is the hassle of a cable, which can snag on things, and the additional bulk of the recording device.
Ease of Use
When shooting in the field, you do not want to spend a lot of time fiddling around with a camera. Fortunately, you can operate most cameras with just one hand. For instance, the ContourHD has a large sliding “record” switch on the top, which you can easily activate with one hand even if you are wearing ski gloves. Some cameras like the VIO POV and the X170 have a wireless remote that you can wear on your wrist to activate the camera. The ContourHD has built-in lasers, which greatly helps with camera alignment. Where some cameras allow you to adjust the recording settings (resolution & frames per second) on the camera itself, others require you to connect the camera to a computer and make the adjustments using software. Some cameras are easier to mount than others due to their design. Regarding ease of use, buyers should consider camera operation, making recording adjustments, installation and removal of the battery and recording media (memory card, DV tape), making physical adjustments, downloading video, mounting to various surfaces, verifying camera alignment, and video playback (higher end models).
Water Resistant/Water Proof
Most cameras are water resistant, which means you can shoot in a light rain. If you are recording in a dynamic water environment like kayaking, jet skiing, water skiing, you will want a waterproof camera. You may want to talk with the camera store or manufacturer to collect more information on the camera’s level of water resistance or waterproof.
Construction and Durability
Unlike camcorders, helmet cameras are designed for dynamic environments, where they are exposed to water, dust, dirt, vibration, cold, and the occasional impact. They are built pretty rugged, and can take a reasonable about of abuse. You should still take good care of your equipment, and protect the camera and lens from damage and scratches.
After you record your footage, you will download the video to your computer so you can either upload it to YouTube, save it to the hard drive, or burn it to a DVD. To transfer video files, some cameras come with a cable system that connects the camera to the computer. Others require you to pop out the memory card, and plug it into the computer. Either method works well, making this more of a personal reference issue.
Camera batteries can either be an off-the-shelf, or proprietary (lithium) type. There are pro’s and con’s for both types of batteries. Off-the-shelf batteries like AAA and AA are readily available anywhere, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly (if you buy rechargeable). However, they add bulk and weight, which has a negative affect on the camera’s profile. Proprietary lithium batteries are more expensive, and are not as readily available. However, they are environmentally friendly (rechargeable), and are noticeably smaller and lighter, which has a positive affect on the camera’s profile. If you want a smaller and lighter camera, then choose a system that uses a proprietary battery.
Not all microphones are created equal. Most microphones are designed to only pick up ambient background sounds, or close proximity dialog (within three feet of the camera). Some of the better cameras (GoPro HD, ContourHD 1080P, VIO Series, X170) have a feature where you can adjust the microphone’s sensitivity. This allows you to fine tune your microphone’s performance for a particular application. If a camera is water resistant or waterproof, a protective seal typically covers the microphone. This will have a slight muting affect on the audio.
Accessories for a camera come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They could include a camera mount, computer interface cable, wireless control, waterproof camera case, lens cover, camera carrying case, lens cleaning kit, etc. When reading about a product, check out the camera store or manufacturer’s website to see what accessories come with the camera, and what accessories can be purchased separately. Also, camera stores will often sell universal accessories that can be used with a camera.
Manufacturers will typically list their product warranties on their website. The camera stores may also list warranty information on their website for the cameras they sell. Most cameras come with a one-year warranty, but it could be based on the date of purchase, or the date of manufacture. Some camera stores may offer a customer satisfaction warranty (see below). It is always a good idea to read the complete product warranty so you know what is covered.
Watch Sample Footage on YouTube
A great way to evaluate camera performance is to watch footage on the Internet. You can visit YouTube and type in the camera model in the search field to see what comes up. Watching and listening to sample footage should give you some insight on the video and audio performance.
Where to Buy
Your best bet is to buy a camera from an on-line camera store. They offer the widest selection, and their staff has played with the cameras and can provide you with recommendations. Local retailers usually have a very limited selection since this is a specialty product. Some of the on-line stores also offer great perks for buyers such as expert product knowledge, live chat with sales or customer service agents, free shipping, 30-day satisfaction guarantee, no restock fees, frequent buyer awards, product reviews, etc.
Though cameras are pretty easy to use and operate, there may be a time when you need technical support. This type of help may be available from the camera store and the camera manufacturer. Regarding the manufacturer, I always like to visit their website and see if they have a customer support page. If they do, I look to see if they have a phone number or if it’s just email support. Manufacturers who have phone support earn extra points in my book. Working through technical support issues via email can be frustrating.
There are a lot of different cameras from which to pick. When deciding to buy a camera, take your time to understand your application, your budget constraints, and your camera performance requirements. The camera stores can be a great help in recommending some options for your consideration. POV videography is a cool hobby, and provides a great opportunity to share your experiences with others.
About the Author:
Mike Stoll has been using helmet cameras for over six 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.
For more information about helmet cameras, visit Helmet Camera Central
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