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The Helmet Cam Buyer's Guide


>> Ashley Benson


There’s a little exhibitionist in every one of us. Don’t deny it. If there wasn’t, cameras would have never been invented. Humans just have an innate desire to share their finest (or maybe not so fine – ahem, Paris Hilton) moments with the rest of the world. But there’s always been a struggle with power sports. What the camera shows to the audience is a very different experience than that of the rider. And in power sports, it’s the ride that’s the best part. So it hardly seems like a surprise that a camera that is attachable to pretty much any orifice of a power sport rider or machine is at the top of every one’s wish list. But it wasn’t always that way… Please, take a step back in time with us and explore the evolution of the helmet cam.

It all began when a man (or woman) picked up a soft piece of rock and noticed that it could be used to scratch stick figures on cave walls – ok, ok. Maybe we don’t have to go that far back. But you might be surprised when the first helmet cams were being put out compared to the technology we have for them in this day and age. Helmet cams first started being conceived in the mid 1980’s when a movie producer, Mark Schulze, wanted to portray what bicycle riders experienced while mountain biking. But in the 80’s, we didn’t exactly have credit card sized digital cameras. The devices along with all the mounting gear and required batteries were heavy, bulky and altogether inconvenient.

Despite the size and many challenges that came with mounting cameras on helmets, the idea caught on. In the early 90’s helmet cams were introduced into the power sports industry. But while producers and audiences loved the idea, it was the riders who suffered the most from the additions. They were still massive and no rider wanted to wear one. Adding a few awkward pounds to the head meant adjusting during riding and races. Who wanted that disadvantage?

Still, people wanted to see the action from the rider’s seat and pushed to have these monstrosities in on the action. A company by the name of Seal Entertainment was working to broadcast motocross and supercross events and invested a fat 125,000 bills to develop a small enough camera that riders would agree to wear. But even after dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on it, the camera still had to be messed with. In order to be attached to a helmet, a two liter bottle of soda needed to be cut in half and then Velcroed to the helmet with the camera placed inside. But with all of the money thrown at the thing, the company wanted a big name rider to debut it.


gopro was used during races


After a heck of a lot of hesitation, Jeremy McGrath, the King of Supercross at the time, finally agreed to sport the newest helmet cam during his competitions. It was 1995 and the industry thought that they had finally made the necessary breakthrough that would push helmet cams into motorcycle riding for good. After all, if McGrath was wearing one, no one else really had an excuse. Or at least they thought until the Atlanta SX race in February. McGrath was jamming through the turns and the feed from his helmet was being thrown up live on the JumboTron for everyone to see. But it all went wrong for McGrath and his helmet cam when he hit a jump and managed to land directly on another rider, Michael Craig. Since the feed was live, everyone got a first hand view of the crash.

McGrath was mortified and swore to never wear a helmet cam again, no matter how much the company offered to pay him. So just as people had thought that having McGrath wear the helmet cam would encourage other riders to do the same, having McGrath denounce the helmet cam had the opposite effect. That race put a stigma on the helmet cam and made it even harder to convince riders to broadcast directly from their helmet.

Thankfully, helmet cam idealists didn’t surrender to the McGrath incident and continued to work on designing a camera that could be installed on a rider while still being practically non-existent. Thus the “lipstick” camera was born. Instead of having the entire camera unit, battery and all, directly on the helmet, the camera was placed in a small cylinder about the size of a tube of lipstick (hence the name). But the device still needed all its other bits and pieces so the recorder and battery were placed in a small backpack. Still, even that was too much for most riders. While the weight was manageable for outdoor riders who were used to carrying around camel packs, racers refused to carry the extra burden, especially in races like thirty minute long moto’s or anything with jumps.

But it was in 2002 when everything changed. Nick Woodman found himself in Australia attempting to capture some great photos of a surfing competition. But it didn’t take him long to realize that without a professional camera, the surfers were all too far out to get any decent shots. Two years later, Woodman had founded GoPro and was selling its first camera. This first version was a 35 mm film camera meant to be strapped onto the wrist of a surfer. But it didn’t take long for the cameras to get switched over to digital and people were finding new ways to attach them to anything and everything.

To this day, however, many pro riders are still hesitant. Though the cameras are extremely light and the battery carrying backpack is long gone, the tiniest bit of weight is noticeable to riders. Many have switched to mounting the cameras on their bike frames instead, but the extra weight shows there as well. So GoPro continues to come out with new versions and new mounting options to make the cameras as convenient as possible. And a whole slew of other companies have begun developing versions as well.

vio pov 1 point-of-view video recording system
V.I.O. stuck with the lipstick camera design and put out a system with a small cylindrical camera with a built in video recorder, called the V.I.O. POV.1 Point-of-View Video Recording System, that can be mounted on a helmet. The camera itself records with a 720 x 480 resolution at 30fps. And it comes with a wireless remote that allows user control with either single handed camera control or hands-free video recording. V.I.O. also understood when designing their unity that it would be mounted in high impact areas and made the whole set up waterproof, dustproof and shock-resistant. This unit is sold at BikeBandit.com and also comes with the software required to edit your footage as well as a 1GB SD card to store it on. You’ll also get all of the mounting accessories and the carrying case with a USB cable to hook it up and download your videos directly to your computer. The whole package sells for $679.95 and it’s definitely one of the higher end helmet cams on the market. The price may be higher but so is the quality and usability.
gopro motorsport hero 3

With the major success that GoPro had in recent years with their cameras across all powersport genres, it didn’t take long for them to continue to advance their helmet cam technology. Recently, GoPro released their GoPro Motorsport Hero2 HD Digital Camera. Capable of capturing professional full 170º wide angle 1080p video and 11 megapixel photos at a rate of 10 photos per second, the HD HERO2 is GoPro’s best camera yet. Whether you want to capture your next track day or this weekend’s dune riding, this camera comes with all the mounting gear and technology to get it done for $299.99.

midland 1080p hd xtc wearable action camera

Want an action camera that is a tad bit cheaper? The Midland 1080p HD XTC Wearable Action Camera features the same 1080p high definition capabilities as the GoPro Motorsport Hero 2. The Midland Wearable Action Camera also features a simple one-button operation to start and stop recording as well as a plug and play feature that makes sharing your videos easier than ever. Plus, the whole unit including a spare battery for charging is only $219.95.

motocomm dsr-1003g digital recorder and camera system

The MotoComm DSR-1003G Digital Recorder & Camera System is the next step up from MotoComm's DSR-100 and is loaded with tons of bells and wistles. Not only does it record video and audio through its waterproof bullet style camera, this helmet cam features a built in MP3 player that you can rock out to while recording. And, like the GoPro, the MotoComm DSR-1003G also features a color playback/display unit, all going for $188.96.

liquid image ego 1080 wifi camera

Probably one of the smallest action cameras on the market today is the Liguid Image Ego 1080 WiFi Camera. This mountable camera measures a mere 1.6" x 1.2" x 2.5" tall while still capturing full 1080P HD video. And since it's WiFi enabled, saving and sharing videos is painless, especially since it's compatable with smartphones and tablets as well as computers. The Liquid Image Ego 1080 WiFi Camera is available in five colors including black, white, yellow, red and blue, each for $179.95.

gopro 3d hero

Want to give your fans and friends an even better look at how it feels to be in the ride with you? Show them in 3D. GoPro’s new 3D Hero Digital Camera System allows you to combine two HD HERO cameras, or two HD HERO2* cameras into a single housing to record 3D video while still recording in the usual 2D video and stills all at the same time. The whole kit comes with all the mounting, housing and cables to synch up two Hero’s for an unprecedented recording experience. Plus you even get three pairs of the 3D glasses all for $99.99.

 

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