Which Video Camera Should a Cyclist Use?
- by Graeme Lowick
- Published: 10 February 2012
There are very good reasons why cyclists have taken up using video cameras to record their travels. Some document road rage incidents, drivers who fail to give way, pedestrians not paying attention and of course recording a journey just for the sheer fun of it. The main reason video cameras are used is to provide solid evidence in the event of an accident. When there is no video evidence, it’s your word against theirs, a driver may claim you were riding erratically and veered in front of them. As more and more people turn to commuting by bicycle, a camera is a form of insurance.
There is also the sporting sector and documenting rides and radical manoeuvres, in this article however we are concentrating on using a video camera for urban cycling and commuting by bike and aim to provide an introduction so that you are better equipt when choosing the right bike camera.
Which Features are Important:
WaterProofing: Will you be using it during winter and in rainy conditions, or even for other purposes?
Mounts and Accessories: If you intend to use this for other sports, a good selection of mounts and accessories will be important.
Audio: Do you need audio? If you also need water proofing, you may find the audio lacking. If the camera is sealed in a water proof case, this will affect the audio quality.
Recording Times: Cheaper cameras tend to have shorter recording times, usually between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. While the higher end cameras are typically 2.5 + hours. Recording times will also affect the size of the memory card that is needed.
Video Resolution: High Definition (HD) is preferred, this offers sharper clearer footage. Examples of HD resolution are 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) or 720p (1280×720 pixels). Compared to HD, Standard Definition (SD) looks blocky or blurry. Examples of SD are 640 x 480 or 720 x 480 and some maybe up scaled from 640 x 480 to 1280×960.
Video Format: High Definition cameras are typically use the .H264 MOV format while Standard Definition are AVI or MJPEG format.
Settings: While cheap cameras usually only have one resolution setting, higher priced cameras can offer several resolutions options and also allow the user to change various settings. Being able to change settings easily on the fly makes a big difference. There are some cameras like the Contour that need to be connected to a PC. This can be a pain if you forget to change the settings before you head out.
Lens Angle: This is how much information is captured by the lens. Cheaper cameras tend to have a narrower lens angle and this can make it difficult to frame your shots. Mid and high priced cameras tend to have a wider lens angle, something like, 130º (1080p) or 170º (720p). They might also have a screen or laser pointer, these make it easy to frame your shots.
The following set of image shows the differences between the various lense angles. See how the length of wood looks further away the wider the lens angle and how close it looks with a narrow lens angle.. The cameras used are the MD80, Jumbo 808 and GoPro HD Hero 1. The shots have only been scaled so the black bands provide an indication of the respective video dimensions.
(Path: 1500mm, Camera Position: Centred, Camera Lens Height: 654mm)
More information about cameras as well as FAQ’s can be found here, >>>Camera FAQ’s <<<
Bike Camera Mounts:
The camera mount is critical and directly influences the quality of the video. You need the mount to be rock solid, with no movement and it also needs to hold the camera firmly. Any movement in the mount either at the base, or the point where the camera connects to the mount will allow vibration or rattling. This will make your video look jerky and spoil your footage. Because the microphone is internal, any rattles will be amplified.
In the Australian Cycling Forum I have prepare detailed info and FAQs on mounts and DIY mounts for cameras.
Types of Cameras
Although there are a lot of different cameras on the market they are not all the same and the old rule still applies, you get what you pay for. To get an idea of the quality of the cameras on the market I am presenting a short overview of the cameras that I own, however in the Australian Cycling Forum there is an ongoing discussion (with over 1000 posts) where the members present and discuss their bike camera: Video Camera – Who uses one?
I am presenting two low cost camera’s and one pricier camera for comparison.
MD80 Mini DV
Resolution: Standard Definition 640×480.
Video Format: AVI.
Registration Capture: Poor unless vehicle is directly in line and close to lens.
Lens Angle: Narrow 80°
Size: 55mm (L) x 20mm (W) x 20mm (H)
Water Proof: No
This is a classic case of you get what you pay for. This is a standard definition camera and for the money it does a pretty good job. But don’t expect clear video footage. If you want it to be able to capture number plates, you may be disappointed. In order to capture plates the vehicle needs to be rather close and directly in front of the camera.
Battery life is approx 1 hour and the mounts are cheap and flimsy, so you will need to make your own.
Bottom Line: If you cannot afford the extra money to get the Jumbo, it’s better than nothing.
Jumbo 808 #11
Resolution: High Definition 720×1280.
Video Format: MOV H.264 compression
Registration Capture: Very Good
Lens Angle: Medium 100°
Size: 65mm (L) x 34mm (W) x 18mm (H)
Water Proof: No
For the price, this is the best bang for the buck IMHO. It is High Definition, the video footage is very good and it can easily read number plates. Battery life is approx 1.5 hours and can be extended by purchasing and external battery pack $17, this gives an extra 2.5 hours. No mounts are included, so you will need to make your own.
Bottom Line: If you are in the market for a decent HD camera but don’t want to outlay hundreds then look no further. This camera will serve you well with very respectable video quality and battery life.
GoPro HD 1
Resolution: High Definition 1080p = 1920×1080 pixels, 30 fps, 960p = 1280×960, 30 fps, 720p = 1280×720, 60 fps, 720p = 1280×720, 30 fps
Video Format: MOV H.264 compression
Registration Capture: Excellent
Lens Angle: 127º wide angle in 1080p mode, 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, or 960p mode
Size: 42mm (H) x 60mm (W) x 30mm (D)
Water Proof: Yes to 30 metres.
This is the bee’s knees in my opinion. The camera is housed in a case that is just about bomb proof, it is extremely tough and can take a lot of punishment. It is water proof and there are a range of mounts that are included in the price.
GoPro also has a wide range of mounts available, optional add-ons are also available such as LCD BacPac, Wi-Fi BacPac with Wi-Fi Remote (coming March) and the Battery BacPac. It is High Definition, with a various resolutions. The video footage is excellent and it can easily read number plates. Battery life is approx 2.5 and can be extended by purchasing the Battery BackPack $69 this will give you 5 hours recording time.
Bottom Line: If you can afford it, buy it! The build quality is excellent as is the video and battery life. The range of mounts and the ability to add one of the optional BacPacs makes this a very versatile camera.
There are a lot of cheap cameras coming onto the market and on paper these may seem to be a real bargain, but it’s not always the case. Make sure you do your homework, compare specs, video footage and ask questions and read reviews etc.
In the Bike Camera FAQs you will find more detailed information and answers to the more frequent questions. Part 1 of this looks at what you should take into consideration before purchasing a camera. Part 2 covers information about memory, general FAQ’s, Editing and FAQ’s about the Jumbo 808 and MD80. Otherwise you can jump in and ask your questions and share your experience with other forum members in the Video Camera thread.