Helmet cams have come a long way in the last five years. The days of strapping a camcorder to your back (let alone to your helmet) and wiring up an external “lipstick” cam has all but disappeared from the video production world. Today’s compact, self-contained, high-definition helmet cameras are amazing-eliminating the bulk and mess of yesterday’s gear and delivering more useful video formats and frame rates than most armchair directors could even dream about using.At Dirt Rider, we’ve been playing with these cameras for over a year now. And we employed the expert services of filmmaker, editor and dirt bike addict Beau Cottington to give us a professional voice. He was also cool enough to cut some video for www.dirtrider.com (at the end of this article). So if you’re in the market for a helmet cam, go HD and pick one of these. Now, take it away, Beau!
GoPro Hero HD
The GoPro Hero HD user interface takes a little getting used to. Read the manual to memorize the codes they use, but once you get them down, the process (and knowing what mode you’re in) is really fast and easy.Recording is affirmed by a single beep and flashing light while rec-stop is affirmed by a sequence of beeps, so there is no confusion of on/off while it is mounted on your helmet. However, the beeps are not loud enough for foolproof recording with the camera in the waterproof case or when your bike is running. We’ve gotten some excellent video of the pits because of this.There is no software to install and the camera works like a USB thumb drive-super easy to get to your videos on any computer. Just be sure to erase the card (with your computer’s disc erase) once you download to clear up digital memory for your next ride.Video Quality:
The GoPro Hero HD has an amazing lens, frame rate options and overall picture quality for both photo and video. It is truly amazing and comparable to $5,000-plus camcorder image quality.The 720p/60fps (frames per second) recording mode is what I use most; it gets the most out of the wide-angle lens while still producing a 16:9 aspect ratio video usable on standard HD TVs and in use with other HD video formats. The high 60fps frame rate makes slow-motion shots buttery smooth.The quality of the slow motion is amazing. I really can’t say enough about the image quality with the Hero; it exceeds expectations.Bonus Features:
Headstrap mount, chest mount, helmet mounts, bike mounts, roll cage rail and ski pole mounts-you name it and GoPro has the accessories available for purchase.The anti-fog inserts are a must for skiers, surfers or anyone really. The temperature differentials and moisture inside the case can ruin your footy…¡no bueno! Fogging has happened to me even in places as dry as Lucerne Valley, California. The inserts are only $15 for a few sets but a crucial buy. I use them every time I use the closed-back case.Environmental Toughness:
The only downside this camera has is the fogging issue; the case is practically bulletproof which sets GoPro a level higher than its competition. I have dropped it, smashed it with preloaded tree limbs, face dives in the snow, snorkeling and a cliff jump or two and gotten not so much as a scratch. It’s also waterproof. The lens cover, if it does get chipped, can be replaced for under $25, and it even includes the screwdriver to install the replacement. The Hero defines environmental toughness; it can take what you dish out.Battery/Charging:
The lithium battery lasts a long time (up to 2.5 hours), is small and can be swapped in the field quickly and easily if you have a spare.Mic/Sound Quality:
This is the only feature this camera doesn’t do well. With the open-back shell sound is better, but you give up a lot using that in a pinch situation in the elements where electronics are prone to damage. It is the best quality for the market, but it could be better.
Overall Rank In Comparison:
This camera system is worth every penny, and the most used camera in my arsenal. The other cameras are catching up fast, but GoPro has such a solid foundation with its current design it will be hard to dethrone. From the professional producer to the trail rider just wanting some good times on video, this camera’s versatility is unparalleled.
The Epic HD’s operation system is simple, to the point and pretty easy to use. It was a little too easy to hit the record/menu buttons accidentally and switch video modes, which happened on our ride. The shape of the unit is a little clumsy and it did not like to be mounted goggle side.Video Quality:
The Epic has a good lens; the video looked clean and compressed into an editable format as normal. It is on par-or standard-for most HD POV-type cameras.Bonus Features:
This works just like a USB thumb drive so there is no software to download or special programs to access your footage, which is a huge plus for a smooth and quick workflow.It came with several mounting brackets, which was cool, and it says “Epic Wide” on the side which has to count for something, right?Environmental Toughness:
The mounting system’s large spring-loaded latches for release can easily be pressed accidentally and send the camera to the ground, which also happened on our ride.The unit itself is not waterproof, and the camera’s bulky and heavy weight makes it susceptible to flopping around on the mount on heavy hits.Battery/Charging:
AAA batteries are bulky and heavy and do not last long enough, 40 minutes max.Mic/Sound Quality:
Wind distortion is at a serious overload.Overall Rank In Comparison:
The Epic HD shines on clear days without a lot of dust or a more controlled setting. Ride trails tight enough to have shrubs and branches make contact with the camera and you will most likely lose it. It would be good for filming motos at the track or street riding, skating, etc., safe from the harsh elements. But the AAA battery system is outdated.
The Contour HD is fairly advanced with a laser alignment system and a big slider to make on/off recording a no-brainer. The laser alignment system is great to take the guesswork out of your video’s framing. The lens rotates to accommodate top or side helmet-mounting options, and it comes with a water-resistant back panel to protect the more fragile controls and ports from the elements.Video Quality:
The lens is good, with clear images, and the video looked clean and compressed into editable format as normal. There are also good format options for use in the camera.
Contour offers a good selection of various mounts with plenty more options available for purchase. The camera works just like a USB thumb drive, so there is no software required to get your footage off the camera. However, the company does supply its own software and online community toolset to upload, cut and share images. The software is easy to use, and you can upload vids to your profile quickly for other Contour users to view. But real editing must be done outside their community, and most videos I shoot end up going to vimeo or YouTube.Environmental Toughness:
Mounting to your goggle with the camera’s goggle strap mount is very easy. But other than that the mounting options are fairly limited mainly due to the awkward shape of the camera itself, and the slide-in mounting has a little too much play for shake-free recording. The camera comes as only water-resistant and gets quite jammed up after a good romp in the mud-which we tested it in.The lens rotates for laser alignment which is great, but that also creates a place for the dirt and moisture to get into and jam up the action of the rotation. The company recently released a plastic waterproof case, which will pump up the toughness rating, but the bulky size/weight and the awkward shape will still likely prove difficult for variable mounting solutions.Battery/Charging:
The lithium battery lasts a long time (up to 2 hours), is small and can be swapped in the field quickly and easily.Mic/Sound Quality:
This is just bad. The wind noise overrides the engine on almost every bike, so during editing the volume levels get dropped immediately. This is the typical scenario with POV cameras; manufacturers have yet to master the microphone for good audio, and it is especially bad with the Contour HD.Overall Rank In Comparison:
Contour nailed everything except the inclusion of a waterproof/shockproof case, brainless mounting options and the microphone. This camera has great video quality, is easy to use and easy from which to import footage. A solid choice for controlled settings or in the elements if the outer case proves to be highly functional, but otherwise its limited protection excludes the Contour’s use in harsh environments as it comes from the factory.