The market for sports action cameras seems to have ballooned in recent years and the range of possibilities is bewildering. However, one can always ignore the 'carefully researched product comparison approach' and simply buy on impulse. That was what I did when I saw this camera on display at a cycle show and offered at a moderate 'show discount'.
The video camera is tiny, hardly larger than one's thumb, being just 55mm long by 18mm wide and 18mm deep. It has a fixed focus lens, built in microphone and re-chargeable battery. The latter has a micro USB socket so that the camera can be re-charged either from the supplied USB transformer or from a computer USB socket. Charging takes about an hour, while battery life in use is up to about 2 hours continuous use. However, unless a larger storage card is used, the card may run out before the battery.
The video is specification 640 X 480 resolution at 30 frames per second. However, completed video was reportig around 20 frames per second. This footage works out at about 45 minutes per Gb of storage. The camera is supplied with a 2Gb micro SD card, but can take up to an 8Gb card. The camera has three switches. One is to switch on the audio activation while on the opposite side is the power on/off switch. On the top of the device there is another on/off switch similar to a camcorder record/pause button.
The camera has a loop for a lanyard so that it can be carried round the users neck on the provided lanyard. There is also a small range of fittings into which the camera can be snapped. This permits the camera to be secured in (say) a top pocket or to a band around a helmet. There is also a specific bicycle handlebar mounting bracket. It is possible to obtain a wet weather cover for the camera made of clear plastic. This comes with similar clips and clamps so that it can be mounted in a variety of ways. With the wet weather cover on it is impossible to pick up any useful audio.
Finally, the pack includes a small fabric draw string bag into which all the bits can be bundled and kept together.
The first hurdle to overcome is deciding where to fix the camera. The crocodile clip casing seems the obvious place to start and then comes the decision on where to attach the clip. A jacket breast pocket would be ideal, except that it is unlikely that the user will be wearing that sort of jacket when out cycling otherwise. Even if that were the case, the position of the rider's body is crucial. The same would be true if the rider was wearing a Sam Brown high viz bandolier. The forward leaning position of most cyclists would mean that the film would be mostly of the rider's front wheel or knees.
The second possibility is to secure the device to the bike/handcycle. There are a reasonable number of clips/brackets, so that is not necessarily a technical problem. However, there are a number of practical problems. Attaching the camera to the end of handlebars picks up a significant amount of road vibration which translates into very jerky video. Surprisingly, attaching the camera to something like a bar bag is possibly worse. It was discovered that the bar bag seemed to jump about more than the handlebars. The best bike based fitting seemed to be in the middle of the handlebars. This suffered vibration, but somewhat less than the handlebar ends.
It would appear that helmet mounting is probably the best overall option for a stable picture as one's body automatically damps out vibrations so that the head moves smoothly. There is still something of a problem with this solution, however. That is the extent to which one looks down and around rather than maintaining a steady forward facing position. It is possible to correct for this by packing the camera mount so that the camera looks at the road ahead, even if the rider is focused on the pothole just in front of the wheel.
Once the mount has been decided upon, the next difficulty is switching on the camera. All the buttons are small, so switching by feel is not that easy. It is probably best to accept that one needs to remove one's helmet to start or stop the device. The odd extra footage can then be removed at the video editing stage. When the power is switched on, a purple light indicates that the camera is in standby mode. However, if one has also switched on the audio activation, the camera will jump into record mode. Audio activation would come into its own if the camera was set up to record some short event, the start of which could be signalled by a shout or similar. In a road use context, the background noise means that the audio activation is almost always operating, so is perhaps best left switched off. The good news is that the camera still records audio with audio activation switched off.
If the camera is used in the waterproof case, audio activation should also be switched off as the casing seems to amplify background noise and would be always on if audio activation was on. With audio activation off, the camera can be stopped and started with the button on the top of the clear plastic casing.
The camera comes with a disc of software, but with no explanation of what it will do. After a brief use, it was abandoned as trying to download video to the video capture software was worse than watching paint drying. The faster solution was to use an SD card reader or the USB cable and get at files with Windows file manager. Data transfer speeds are then sensible. Much the same is true for viewing and editing the video. Being in .AVI format, all the usual video players on computers will play the material. For editing, the normal video editing software such as Corel Video Studio will happily manipulate the files. The only down side is that 640 X 480 video is not the same shape as 1080p in which many other devices now record material. However, it is still of a respectable quality.
One possible problem is that there appears to be no way to set the date and time of the video. An internet search suggested the creation of a text file with the name TAG. In the file is meant to go:
The date and time should be whatever date you wish to set. The file is then copied to the top level of the SD card where the DCIM folder is found. If the video is switched off and re-booted the date is supposed to be updated and the file removed. This has never worked for me, but is reported in several places on the internet.
This is a low cost (approx £40) miniature video camera which is easy to use once the controls have been understood. Its tiny size offers some challenges in relation to where to mount it, but then again, the small size and weight mean that it is not obtrusive. The quality of the audio is adequate rather than good while the pictures are good rather than excellent. However, given the size and price of the camera, it would be churlish to complain about either. If one wants better audio and video then there are higher quality cameras available, but at much greater cost and size.
Compared to the Waterproof Action Camera reviewed elsewhere on this site, this product is in a different league. The price is similar, but the performance is much, much better, apart from the lack of a date function. For anybody wondering whether to venture into the field of activity video, this would be an excellent introduction. Highly recommended.
© Cycling Otherwise 2015