Review: Minidv Digital Video Camera for the Bike
- by Nathan Besh
- Published: 4 May 2011
Since the media started reporting on bike cameras last year, the use of bicycle mounted cameras has been growing rapidly. When cyclists capture an incident on their camera(s), whether it be a close call or abuse from a motorist, the videos have a tendency of going viral amongst the cycling community. More and more cyclists recognise the value in having a device to record evidence if the worse case scenario strikes.
The two most popular bike cameras on the market are from GoPro and Contour, while they offer great usability, high resolution (1080p) and a large range of accessories, it can still be hard to justify an investment of $300 plus.
At the lower end of the market there are a plethora of cameras, however the old adage applies – you pay for what you get. Many of the low end cameras perform poorly with terrible image quality, have poor mounting solutions and accessories and most importantly – many have reliability issues.
I have purchased and tested a number of cheap and moderately priced ‘bike’ cameras and all of them have failed to deliver. They didn’t deliver as specified, had fogging issues in wet/cold conditions and loved to turn themselves off randomly along with a plethora of other assorted failures.
Enter the Minidv – an affordable camera solution
Firstly, the Minidv camera from iDV is small, and I mean SMALL! It is literally the size of my thumb. Why does that matter? Convenience and portability – if you have to take it off after a commute it easily fits in a jersey or pocket, and while riding it takes up absolutely minimal real estate on your handlebars, a common sticking point with many commuters.
The low weight also plays a huge part in performance, the lighter the camera is – the less is suffers from vibrations and movement while mounted, if a camera is above approximately 130g then its almost impossible to get good performance when bicycle mounted.
With a retail price of $135 including delivery, this initially seems expensive for a 640×480 resolution camera, it is however a good reflection of the Minidv package which is simply superb. The build quality is second to none, very solid, tight tolerances with no mould markings. The supplied waterproof enclosure is as nuke proof as a cockroach, 3mm thick clear plastic case with a tight fitting silicone seal – if it does take a tumble, it shouldn’t be any cause for concern. The camera sits rock solid inside this enclosure with absolutely no movement in any direction.
Inside the plastic casing, the window in front of the camera lens is a separate piece of glass – not plastic, This gives superior clarity and means it is a lot harder to scratch or get damaged, particularly in gritty wet commuting, or if you put it in your pocket/bag with some keys or other items. If it does get damaged then it is a quick and easy replacement.
This waterproof housing features a single clip-lock to secure the camera inside, which means it is very fast to install and remove the camera, and its not going to come loose or wobble off during even the most rigorous use.
The current recording status and operating mode of the camera can easily be viewed on the top of the camera through the clear plastic enclosure. A pair of LEDs which use a sequence of flashes indicate battery life, operating mode and operating status. This makes it quick and easy to tell if you are recording – this makes sense when you are commuting.
Another feature not to be overlooked is that the camera is being imported and distributed from Sydney, NSW and this means there is local support! For low priced cameras purchased online, often there is no after sales support. With the Minidv however, if you have a question you can quickly fire off an email, and if for some reason there is a technical issue or manufacturing fault then it is easy and cheap to send it back for replacement. In the case of a cheap internet camera, the cost of sending a package back to the supplier in another country typically outweighs the cost of the camera itself. Local warranty and support is invaluable to ensure a reliable and working camera for every commute.
Mounting the Minidv
The camera was tested within its waterproof enclosure and while it comes with a range of mounts for the camera alone and also the camera within the waterproof enclosure, the bicycle handlebar mount is an optional extra available for $55. I chose to use a RigidMount generic mount instead. (For full disclosure, I hand make RigidMount mounts for cameras and lights).
The quality of image is by far the best I have seen come out of a camera with this resolution. While it may possibly use the same or a similar sensor and/or processor as other lower end cameras, there is clearly a big difference with the quality of optics used. The image has higher contrast and better definition and clarity with a lot less smudge and blur.
The waterproof case is easily and quickly mounted to the handlebars – requiring a single bolt into the base. The clear plastic housing can remain permanently on the handlebars and you can quickly and easily remove the camera from the inside the housing when you need to transfer files or charge the batteries. This also saves you from continually re-aligning the camera each time to make sure that it is pointing in the right direction.
The Minidv performance
While commuting on rough roads there was no smudging, blurring or wavy artefacts which are common problems for bicycle mounted cameras. The camera performed identically regardless of whether I was riding billiard table smooth hotmix or rough concrete spotted with expansion joints and cracks.
Minidv Camera Test Video: riding fast with a poor surface
Minidv Camera Test Video: slow riding with variable conditions
The video does appear a little choppy and not as smooth as some other cameras (higher resolution with MOV/h.264 format) this is most likely due to the internal processor and AVI/MJPEG format used.
Performance in low light levels was also solid, no additional blur was introduced and the image was still clear at dusk, rivalling similarly priced and more expensive competitors.
Wet weather performance was also exceptional, no water penetrated the enclosure at all and most importantly the camera remained properly focused, it did not attempt to adjust to water droplets that were on the enclosure. The glass provided the advantage of ensuring that any droplets in front of the lens did not remain there permanently. The complete image was as clear and visible as any camera I have used. Most importantly there were absolutely no fogging issues along my 35 minute commute. Given the small size and minute power consumption of the camera coupled with the internal air space in the enclosure I cannot see any fogging issues (due to internal vs external temperature differences) arising.
While commuting in good conditions, the clarity of image was fair, number plates directly in front of the rider are visible up to around 10 metres. This would certainly make it usable for “evidence” as both a forward facing and rear facing camera.
A really nice feature was the viewing angle of the lens. It is wider compared to most other cameras – the exception of course being “wide angle” cameras. This allows the camera to show what happens around the cyclist and not just directly in front, plus minimises of effect of vibration and movement. The narrower the field of view and the more “magnified” the image, the more a small vibration translates to a huge movement of image. This will start to give you motion sickness pretty quickly!
This is an area where yet again the Minidv proves that it is not just a low resolution camera and really differentiates itself from the market. The accessory package is not only extensive but incredibly good quality. It includes:
- Waterproof case
- arm strap
- Head/helmet strap
- General small strap
- Shirt/tie Clips
- Desk stand
- Velcro straps
- Silicon protective case
The quality of accessories is not just a ‘nice to have’ but important for performance of the camera and also influences the life of the device. The included straps for fastening on the arm or helmet were very well stitched and the elastic was nice and firm, easily put on and taken of quickly with Velcro. Most similarly priced packages come with very weak straps that quickly fray and come apart.
The most important detail on any accessory is the mounting clips – these are used to attach and release the camera (or housing) quickly to the mounts. If there is any play in a mount, no matter how small, it will have a serious impact on the image. Vibration and noise can make a camera close to unusable. I have received feedback from owners of ‘market leader’ cameras which have suffered from these issues! Each clip of the Minidv had an incredibly firm and snug fit ensuring there was absolutely no movement, and that there was no chance of the camera coming loose or falling out/off, they give a nice sharp ‘click’ so that you know it is correctly in place.
All of the accessories worked as expected and as well as being intuitive and easy to use, they offered an incredibly amount of versatility to the camera.
A great all round camera package. The camera simply works properly with everything provided and it works well. The accessory range makes it an incredibly versatile tool, and not just as a bicycle camera, but a general little household camera. It is a camera that can be on hand and is ready to record in seconds, where ever you are.
The main downsides are the low resolution, only 640×480 which is below my minimum recommendation of 1024×720 (720p) for bicycle commuting, and the video is a little choppy. These are both due to the internals of this model of the camera, perhaps an updated 720p version could offer improvements.
To help you decide whether this camera suits your requirements you can watch the sample footage. If you are happy with the quality of the footage then it is a package worth buying. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye out for a HD model, if Minidv were to create a HD version it would have the potential to decimate the competition.
- Packaging: size and weight
- Automatic rollover – new files are created every 30min, keeping the file size low for when you need to transfer data
- Battery Life
- Bomb-proof casing
- Slow transfer of data on my computers, even after installing software/drivers
- The video seems choppy and not as smooth as other cameras (typically higher specifications)
- Resolution – only 640×480, I consider 720p to be the “minimum” for bicycle commuting
- Uses a metric 6mm mounting thread, not a standard 1/4″ – so wont fit standard camera mounts/tripods
- Size: 60mmx50mmx40mm
- Weight: 64g (with enclosure)
- Memory: Micro SD (TF), 2Gb supplied, 16Gb max supported
- Battery Life: 2.5hrs (approx)
- Resolution: 640×480 @ 30fps, AVI (MJPEG)
The Minidv retails for $135 and can be purchased online from www.idv.net.au (with local support and service).