Action Cam – Bicycles Network Australia https://www.bicycles.net.au The Top Australian Cycling Portal Fri, 25 May 2018 06:40:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Knog [qudos] – Action Video lighting for GoPro https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/08/knog-qudos-action-video-lighting-gopro/ Mon, 04 Aug 2014 09:47:32 +0000 https://www.bicycles.net.au/?p=12026 Australian bike accessory brand knog officially announced their [qudos] action camera light today, targeting the massive action video market. If you have ever filmed video at night with an action cam, the chances are that the footage was unusable, just a bright hotspot surrounded by darkness. The [qudos] serves this thrill-seeking audience as knog CEO […]]]>

Australian bike accessory brand knog officially announced their [qudos] action camera light today, targeting the massive action video market. If you have ever filmed video at night with an action cam, the chances are that the footage was unusable, just a bright hotspot surrounded by darkness. The [qudos] serves this thrill-seeking audience as knog CEO Hugo Davidson explains, we want to highlight those people who do crazy, adventurous, interesting things at night. Hence the name – we want to give people the kudos they deserve.”

GoPro cameras (including GoPro 2, Hero3 and Hero3+) can be seamlessly coupled with the [qudos], as well as the Sony Action Cam and any camera that has GoPro compatible mounts. There are three light modes, a wide-angle (Action Sports) up to 400 lumens, a narrow angle (Target Spot) with up to 175 lumens, and an ultra wide angle (Ambient) up to 270 lumens. Depending on the angle (light mode) and light power, the run-time is between 40 minutes (Action Sport wide angle at 400 lumens) and 4 hours 20 minutes (Ambient ultra-wide angle at 70 lumens). Knog note that the beam angle is 72° for the wide beam and 45° for the narrow beam.

The [qudos] light incorporates three XB-D CREE LEDs and the rechargeable lithium polymer battery takes 5-6 hours to charge. It comes with the GoPro compatible action camera mount bracket and hardware, but also a Cold Shoe tripod adapter so that it can be used with DSLR camera. One of the exciting features is that it is waterproof to run in depths up to 40 metres, which will make it an awesome accessory for surfers and divers.

The [qudos] is due in stores in Australian from mid August and will retail for $149. The big question now is, how well does it work? At BNA we look forward to finding out and the review unit is due in any moment.

Knog qudos night video light

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Dramatically Improve Your On-Bike Action Cam Footage https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/03/dramatically-improve-your-on-bike-action-cam-footage/ https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/03/dramatically-improve-your-on-bike-action-cam-footage/#comments Sat, 01 Mar 2014 03:00:55 +0000 https://www.bicycles.net.au/?p=10126 A lot can go wrong when you’re capturing great action cam footage on your bike that will ruin all of the fun. The footage can “go missing”, become corrupt, get distorted, or be so wobbly that you think you are stuck in a blender watching the outside world. I have experienced all of these disasters […]]]>

A lot can go wrong when you’re capturing great action cam footage on your bike that will ruin all of the fun. The footage can “go missing”, become corrupt, get distorted, or be so wobbly that you think you are stuck in a blender watching the outside world. I have experienced all of these disasters and more since getting my first action cam, the GoPro Hero1. I have however been able to eliminate or minimise most of the problems and will share the tips and tricks I’ve learned to help you get better footage on the bike.

 

Missing or Corrupt Footage
This is one of the hardest problems to resolve but you will minimise the chances of this happening if you make sure that you have a quality Class 10 SD or Micro SD card for high resolution filming. Memory cards with a lower speed rating may be too slow to record higher video resolutions. This may cause the camera to drop frames or even stop recording and damage any existing footage.

San Disc Micro SD Kingston SD Card
A Kingston 16 GB SD card, a SanDisk Ultra Micro SD card and an adapter for the Micro SD card

It goes without saying that the memory card also needs to be large enough to capture for the duration over which you are filming and the camera needs to have sufficient battery life.

A frequent problem with missing footage is simply forgetting to record or pressing the wrong buttons. The default GoPro settings have caused me a lot of anguish when it accidentally switches from film mode into photo mode, so it can be worth changing the settings to start recording automatically when the camera is turned on. Other brand cameras, such as Sony or Contour, offer a one button/switch recording function.

To minimise these problems, read the manual, set up the camera, and then develop a routine of formatting the memory card, charging the camera, and checking the settings before recording. If you are recording action footage that you can’t afford to lose, review it and, when possible, back it up on location to ensure that it is safe.

 

Foggy Footage
Hard cases for camera are fantastic for protecting against damage and water, but as the camera heats up it can cause condensation to build up inside the camera where it often builds up on the inside of the lens. Changing temperatures can accelerate or intensify the effects of condensation and, when that Vaseline ‘wedding photo’ look with the blurred edges creeps over to engulf the entire scene, then you can throw the footage away.

Foggy Action Camera Condensation
Perfect conditions, but the video is ruined by fog

 

The easiest solution is to film without the closed waterproof case, but for biking this often isn’t practical as the camera has to be mounted and usually requires the case to mount. The Drift Ghost, Garmin Virb, ContourRoam and brand new Sony (AS100V) camera are waterproof without a case, whereas the Contour+2, GoPro, and Sony (AS30V and AS15) cams require a case. Older GoPro cameras were delivered with an additional ‘open’ door with holes and this fixed the fogging problem. To get the best of both worlds, I would stick strips of Gaffer tape onto the outside of the case which I could then move and temporarily cover the holes if there was an unexpected downfall.

Gaffe Tape Waterproof Camera
Emergency Gaffer tape to seal the holes in the ‘open’ door in case of rain

The new GoPro cameras have a ‘skeleton’ case as an optional accessory and, while fogging isn’t as bad, it still happens. Fogging was, and is, a serious issue with the new and original Sony Action Cams. There is no ‘open case’ option, unless you’re using a helmet mounted strap which doesn’t use the closed waterproof case. To try and eliminate the fogging issue, I tried two techniques: firstly, using a hair dryer to evaporate any moisture and secondly, anti-fog spray which is applied to the inside of the lens of the camera case. Neither are effective, and anti-fog spray is difficult to use as it forms a thin film on the inside of the lens which can also distort the video footage.

The most effective anti-fog solution I have tested, and one that works on all cameras, is anti-fog inserts. While they are not cheap, they can usually be reused, and simply baking them in the oven or microwave for a very short time dries them.

Anto-Fog inserts Action Cam
Anti-Fog inserts were required for the Sony Action Cams to eliminate fogging.


Cleaning up your act

Greasy fingerprints on the camera lens, or the lens of the case, are just as bad as dust spots or road and trail grime. The camera lens, and the waterproof cover lens (inside and out), needs to be spotless and it is worth getting a small sunglass cleaning cloth for this purpose. Train yourself to keep your fingers away from the lens and this makes it easier to polish after or prior to each ride.

Dirty Camera Lense
The dirty lens of an original GoPro Hero1

Most sports action cameras unfortunately don’t come with a lens cap, which is unusual considering SLR and compact cameras either have a lens cap or a protective shutter when it is not in action. A consolation is that the protective lens on the waterproof case for some brands is replaceable which is cheaper to replace than an entire new case if you do scratch it.

 

I’m all shook up!
Up until now, even if you have done everything right, if you are not mounting the camera properly, the video could turn out unpleasant or un-watchable.

Rolling Shutter Jello Effect Camera
An example of ‘shutter roll’ (jello effect) when vibration causes distorted footage

 

The easiest solution to get smooth footage is to not mount your camera on your bike. A helmet mount will immediately improve the fluidity of your footage as your body absorbs the bumps. The downsides of this are that helmet mount makes you look like a dork, you have the extra weight of the camera on your helmet, and if you like to look around then the video will follow you and swing left and right, up and down. The long thin format of Contour and Sony cameras are better suited to mounting on the side of your helmet.

Chest mounts are an alternative that save you from carrying the extra weight away from your head, and also reduces the amount of movement in the footage (due to your natural head movements). The chest offers a lower vantage point and will include your arms and front of the bike in the field of view. This perspective is fascinating to watch for mountain biking with the front suspension pumping up and down.

A bike mounted camera is by far the most convenient mounting option, but is also the most susceptible to vibration and movement. The first step to reduce this problem is to toss out the plastic mount that came with the camera. Get some cable ties, some super glue, and some foam, and mock a mount up yourself, or use a K-Edge mount, which is CNC machined from aluminium, which is the best solution I have found so far.

Sony GoPro Camera Comparison

 

The K-Edge
K-Edge produce handlebar and saddle mounts that fit the GoPro style camera mounts as well as cameras with a ‘camera screw thread’ (Universal 1/4-20 UNC thread) which is used by the Sony Action Cams (you may be familiar with this screw-in type mount on SLR cameras or compact digital cameras).

K-edge GoPro and Universal Camera Screw Mount

Inner Tube Vibration Camera Mount
A small section from an old inner tube will protect your handlebar

When attaching the K-Edge handlebar mounts, I usually take a small strip of rubber from an old inner tube and use this to protect the handlebar and provide a slight dampener before tightening the K-Edge mount and attaching the camera. You need to ensure that the screws are tight and there is no movement. On a side note, while the handlebar mounts are built for 31.8mm diameter handlebars, if you have a smaller diameter handlebar it is possible to pad it out.

K-Edge Range Action Camera Mounts

The aluminium mount eliminates the vibration and flex that is responsible for the rolling shutter/jello effect. For rough terrain, the footage may be harsh and every bump that travels up your fork and through the handlebars will be noticed, but this is still far better than distorted video. Footage captured from behind using the saddle mount is generally a little more stable than the front since the weight of your body reduces the amount of vibration that travels up the seatpost in comparison to the front forks and handlebars.

K-Edge GoPro and Universal Saddle Mount
Saddle mount with GoPro fitting [left] and ‘universal mount’ adapter [right]

Rear Mounted Sports Action Camera
The action cam mounts comfortably on the saddle rails

Rear Mounted GoPro Saddle
Screen capture from rear mounted camera – watch the Mountain Biking in Rotorua Video

I have two gripes with the K-Edge. Firstly, it is pricey – after purchasing a $400 – $500 camera, and perhaps a few accessories, paying an extra $50 – $70 for a mount is asking a lot. I bit the bullet and got both a front and rear mount and, after seeing the results, I recognised that it was money well spent.

K-Edge Worn Hex Bolt
The hex bolt in the old version K-Edge mounts was prone to wear

The second issue was the 3mm Allen key (hex) bolts used for GoPro style cameras; they are inferior and easily wear. The current models, however, appear to have new bolts and are hopefully more durable. The camera screw thread version is quite nifty; the camera is first fastened by hand (by turning the dial) and then a larger 5mm Allen key is used to really tighten the screw. When it is not in use, a nicely integrated rubber o-ring ensures that thumb-screw doesn’t fall out. Nice!

The K-Edge mounts are purpose built, so they mount very well. With the saddle mount, you wont be able to carry a saddle bag, and with the front mount you may have issues with brake and gear cables getting in the way. I prefer the GO BIG “Pro” version of the mount which extends the camera forward to clear the cables.

Action Camera K-Edge Handlebar Mount

Make sure that you mount your camera below the handlebar. Not only is the camera tucked away and the space around your handlebars clear, in the case of an accident the camera is better protected. GoPro cameras can be easily adjusted to film up-side-down, but the original Sony camera (HD-AS15) couldn’t, so footage needed to be rotated on your computer.

In Australia the K-Edge mounts are imported by De Grandi and are available from retailers across the country.

Stable Camera Mount

 

The Cinematic Experience
There are other ways to improve your footage. Simply lowering your tyre pressure will reduce the amount of vibration transported through your bike. There are limits to this, and the road or trail surface will still impact the quality, but it is a simple and effective option.

Current generation cameras often have a video stabilisation option and I recommending testing this option before a big filming run. Stabilisation may be able to take away the tiny bumps and improve the fluidity, but may come at the cost of a slightly lower video quality. For higher quality video production, some video editing tools also have stabilising options and can be easily tested. In my experience, YouTube’s video stabilisation is rubbish for bike video and will further degrade the overall quality. If you are producing high quality video, you might want to look to Vimeo which has garnered a reputation for professional videos.

If you have aspirations for breath-taking action video, you should start exploring different mounting options on the bike and off the bike. Even before you introduce expensive digital SLRs to take your movie making to the next level, the sports action camera, when setup properly will give you a lot of bang for your buck.

Chosing the right camera is a different story, for now, this is an unsorted list with web links of the major players along with the name of their current top model action camera:
Sony: Sony Action Cam HDR-AS100VR
GoPro: GoPro Hero3+ Black
Contour: Contour+2
Drift Innovation: Drift Ghost-S
BlackVue: BlackView Sport SC500
Rollei: Rollei S-50 Nitro Circus
JVC: JVC Adixxion GC-XA2
Garmin: Garmin Virb Elite
ION: ION Air 3 Wifi
Shimano: Shimano Sport Camera CM-1000
Polaroid: Polarois XS80 HD

There is a lot of cheap junk and look-alike cameras on the market so take tike to check the specifications.

Edited: From feedback, specific detail note on Sony camera model regarding recording up-side-down

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A New Point of View – Sony Action Cam https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/02/a-new-point-of-view-sony-action-cam-hdr-as30v-bike-camera/ https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/02/a-new-point-of-view-sony-action-cam-hdr-as30v-bike-camera/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 21:47:07 +0000 https://www.bicycles.net.au/?p=9983 Sony boldly entered into the sports action camera market in 2012, taking on the market leader Go Pro and making some headway in a very competitive market. A year has now passed and Sony have released a new camera which BNA got a chance to compare against GoPro as well as against their original camera. […]]]>

Sony boldly entered into the sports action camera market in 2012, taking on the market leader Go Pro and making some headway in a very competitive market. A year has now passed and Sony have released a new camera which BNA got a chance to compare against GoPro as well as against their original camera. We really wanted to see whether the “action” in the Action Cam includes cycling.

Before you go on with this review, it is worth reading the review of the original Sony Action Cam since we are cutting straight to the chase with the new camera and concentrating on the new features and the differences between old and new. This also means focusing on features that are more likely to be used by bike riders; options such as single image capture, image bursts or even the underwater video mode won’t addressed.

New Sony Action Cam Comparison
The orginal Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15 above and new HDR-AS30V below

Aside from some different graphics and labels, the new HDR-AS30V looks and feels the same as its predecessor the HDR-AS15. The camera design and weight are identical, though the battery is no longer inserted using a removable ‘holder’, instead it pops straight in and is easily removed. The micro SD card slot and other cable ports, which are accessible at the bottom of the camera, are the same.

New Sony Action Cam Inside Battery
The new camera (left) has a nicer battery compartment

New Sony Action Cam Batteries
The orginal Sony Action Cam (top) requires the battery to be placed in a ‘holder’.

One of the most notable additions of this new camera is an increase from 30 frames per second (fps) to 60 fps for capturing 1080p Full-HD (1920×1080). There is now also GPS functionality to receive and record your location while travelling. Additionally, Sony incorporate a more advanced (and simpler to use) technology to connect with smart devices. Trialing both the original and the new Sony Action Cameras side-by-side revealed features and improvements that really stood out:

 
Connecting with WiFi and NFC Pairing
WiFi is a must on a modern sports camera, but it also tends to be a pain, or so I thought. In my experience a lot of patience and trial and error is required to successfully ‘pair’ a smart phone (or tablet) with an action cam, the original Sony Action Cam was no different. For the new Sony I downloaded and opened the Sony “Play Memories” app on my iPhone4 (iOS version / Android version). On the camera I turned on the WiFi setting and then on the phone I selected the camera wireless network, gave it the password and bingo… I was in. It immediately showed a live stream video… wow.

I was impressed by this and if you have a smart phone the NFC (Near Field Communication) capability connecting is even easier. For compatible smart devices (which excludes all Apple iPhones) Sony promote the super easy ‘tap and use’ functionality “This feature allows you to pair your camera with your NFC-equipped phone via WiFi with ‘One Touch’, enabling you to use your smartphone as a remote control and viewfinder quickly and easily.” Apparently it’s the only action camera with this capability. The apps controls are straight forward; the modes can be changed along with basic settings such as video resolution, steady shot, and angle (120 or 170 degrees). While recording there is a live video stream and a facility to swap files with a USB connected device via the smart phone.

Sony Action Cam

 

SteadyShot
This is a feature I neglected with the first Sony Action Cam as I couldn’t do a direct comparison, but this time around I was able to line up the old and new camera with identical settings, one with SteadyShot on while the other had SteadyShot off. SteadyShot takes out or smooths the small bumps while recording, and the footage becomes more fluid. The improvement is first apparent in the direct comparison. The catch is a marginal drop in the level of detail in the video, so budding filmmakers should test both options first – I personally preferred recording with the SteadyShot on as the footage was nicer to watch.

For capturing great footage, the ‘camera mount’ is a crucial part of the equation so I left the plastic Sony camera mount (an accessory for bikes) in the box and went straight for an aluminium K-Edge mount instead. The K-Edge mounts are now available with a ‘camera screw thread’ (1/4-20 UNC threads) option which Sony incorporates instead of the GoPro style mount.

New Sony Action Cam Waterproof Case

 

Waterproof Case
The single most significant improvement for daily use is the waterproof case: – It is smaller and more compact – The door no longer fell off accidentally as the hinge has been improved (i.e fixed). – All of the buttons could be accessed without opening the case.  The waterproof case is simply awesome because it has solved all of the problems I faced with Sony’s original waterproof case, but it retained the excellent ‘yellow latch’ mechanism for securely closing and easily opening.

New Sony Action Cam Original New

New Sony Action Cam HDR AS5 HDR AS30V

That said, fogging was an issue and both the original and new cameras started showing signs of condensation build-up inside the lens, which of course ruins the video. Neither an air dryer (to dry up condensation) nor anti-fog spray were able to improve this, so Sony provided anti-fog inserts which immediately solved this problem. These inserts are simply a must. Of course this camera can be also mounted on a hard-shell helmet with the head mount accessory, although I find mounting on the bike using the solid waterproof mount infinitely more practical.

 

Bits and pieces
Remember the days of home video and handheld camcorders? Sony have resurrected the good old times and offer an accessory for the action camera which turns it into a camcorder. While this wasn’t very practical for my purposes, this accessory has an LCD screen and may appeal to sports action film makers for capturing handheld video.

Camcorder Accessory Sony Action Cam
The camera comes with the waterproof case and the camcorder case with LCD as an accessory

One issue with the Sony is knowing which way to insert the micro SD card; it isn’t as obvious as it should be. On one occasion, although the card was correctly inserted, the camera wouldn’t recognise the card which left me swapping cards and wondering what was going on. I asked Sony about this and discovered that my particular card, the SanDisk Ultra Micro SD card was known to have compatibility issues. During the review, I usually recorded at 1980 x 1080 resolution (1080p Full HD) with 30 fps and got an average battery life of about 110 minutes. Recording at lower settings such as 720p significantly increased the recording time. As expected, with GPS and WiFi on, the battery life is reduced. In comparison, the GoPro Hero 3 Black with identical settings has a battery life of 90 minutes.

 

New and Improved?
I recorded and reviewed over 100 GB of footage directly comparing the old and new camera and admit that I originally found the footage from the older camera more attractive. But that bothered me because newer is meant to be better. The older camera simply has much more colour saturation, however reviewing the full-screen footage side by side showed that the new camera has more realistic colour handling. On the original Sony Action Cam, the skies were bluer than blue skies and the vegetation greener than green vegetation. This made the realistic colours of the new Sony appear dull in contrast.

A subtle improvement of the new camera is better image quality, though this was very hard to detect. By comparing synchronised fast moving full screen footage from both cameras, the video from the original Sony with a 12 Mega Pixel sensor appeared to have a little more fragmentation. The new camera has a 16 Mega Pixel sensor which would explain this difference. The following are stills captured directly from the video and scaled and cropped to fit, but without modifying colour or sharpness. (Some detail is lost in scaling down)

Video Still Original Sony Action Cam 1
Video Still: Original Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15

Video Still New Sony Action Cam 1
Video Still: New Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V

Video Still Original Sony Action Cam 2
Video Still: Original Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15

Video Still New Sony Action Cam 2
Video Still: New Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V

 

GoPro Hero3 Black and Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V Comparison
The GoPro agent in Australia did not provide a test unit to compare with the Sony, but luckily one of our BNA reviewers was able to lend me a GoPro Hero3 Black. The Hero3 Black was the top GoPro camera but it has just recently been superseded by the Hero3 Black Plus (longer battery life, a smaller unit, and higher quality video capture).

The biggest difference between the cameras is the price: the Sony Action Cam is $349 while the GoPro Hero3 Black was $489 and the new Hero3 ‘Plus’ model is $549. As the market leaders, GoPro packs an impressive array of features into their cameras, but are they worth the extra cost?

GoPro Hero3 Black Comparison Sony Action Cam

The direct comparison between the two cameras shows that the Sony footage is a little darker with less saturation. The GoPro appeared to be better with the contrast low light and shadow sections, but in bright sections the Sony appeared better.  The colour saturated footage of the GoPro has the wow factor, similar to the original Sony Action Cam footage. While the SteadyShot option of the Sony improves footage where there is a lot of vibration, for smooth sections the Steadyshot was a slight disadvantage for picture clarity.

 

Do you or don’t you?
The new Sony Action Cam is coming of age and they have improved on the deficits of the original camera. Although the colour saturation of the video is natural, the artistic effect of a more saturated video from the Sony Action Cam’s predecessor and competing brands could be a deciding factor. The maximimum video resolution of 1080p at 60 fps puts it on par with the more expensive GoPro Hero3 Silver Plus. In my brief testing, GoPro appear to have solved the fogging issue of the waterproof casing better than the Sony, but with the anti-fog pads fogging is eliminated.

Sony have superior menu navigation and camera operation, including via the waterproof case. GoPro are boasting an even smaller unit in the Hero3 Plus edition although these are two different shaped and sized cameras, so it will also come down to personal preference. If you are a Steven Spielberg and higher video resolution is important, then the Sony may not be the right camera, but in price bracket of $349 this is a well known and reliable brand that ticks a lot of boxes with the new Sony Action Camera.

Discover more about the New Sony Action Cam >

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Watching me, watching you – BlackVue Sport SC500 Action Camera https://www.bicycles.net.au/2014/02/review-pittasoft-blackvue-sc500-sport-action-camera/ Mon, 03 Feb 2014 01:49:24 +0000 https://www.bicycles.net.au/?p=9809 For cyclists, the advantage of a sports action camera can be twofold: they allow you to capture and share radical footage and, increasingly, they offer cyclists a type of insurance in the unfortunate event of an accident. You will rarely spot me cycling without a camera and I have been able to capture naughty motorists […]]]>

For cyclists, the advantage of a sports action camera can be twofold: they allow you to capture and share radical footage and, increasingly, they offer cyclists a type of insurance in the unfortunate event of an accident. You will rarely spot me cycling without a camera and I have been able to capture naughty motorists who have almost knocked me off (despite cycling defensively and courteously), as well as stunning video from mountain bike and road cycling trips.

The BlackVue Sport is a brand new contender in the sports action camera market. BlackVue is a brand from the Korean company Pittasoft who have already made a name for themselves with car dash cams and are now seeking to expand. The BlackVue car dash cams have a tubular format but, for the BlackVue Sport, they have opted instead for the GoPro ‘block’ style format and, before it hits the market, Bicycles Network Australia was invited to review a preview model.

The BlackVue Sport SC500 features full HD recording with 1920x1080p viewing resolution and up to 60 frames per second. It relies on a Sony Exmor 12 mega pixel sensor which are renowned for the quality of video with low light conditions. Sony are, incidentally, now using their new 16 mega pixel version of this sensor in their own cameras.

The SC500 package includes the camera, an outer-shell (frame mount), adhesive pads, battery, cable and two mounts. The mounts are GoPro compatible and, even better, the camera comes with an additional a camera screw thread mount (1/4-20 UNC) which means it will fit on a standard tripod to provide more creative mounting options.

Complete Bike Action Cam Cycling Bike

Camera GoPro Bike Mount

GoPro Stykle Camera Mount Blackvue

Blackvue naked video camera

The camera itself is supplied with a lens cap, something which many of the big name action cam brands neglect. This means that it can be more safely transported, although I admit that I misplaced the lens cap a number of times. The main camera unit itself is light, compact and attractive.

BlackVue Recording 1080p

When the camera is recording there is a flashing red light on both the top and front of the unit, which is really handy, and small blue lights on the front signal the current camera mode (video, photo, or high speed), as well as whether WiFi is on, so there is no guessing or deciphering cryptic symbols or flashes for this basic information.

Black View Bike Action Cam Display

The most immediately obvious feature of this action camera is its LCD display, which adds 1 centimeter to the size of the unit. The LCD screen can be turned on and off independently of the camera, so it doesn’t need to be on while recording, but it does provide visual information for using the menus and adjusting settings to allow your ‘shot’ to be nicely set up.  The icons on the display are quite small and there is a slight learning curve although, on-the-whole, operating the camera is fairly intuitive and in most cases it will be ‘set and forget’.

I was happy with the camera’s default settings which use the highest video resolution (1080p) and was well suited for cycling. The high-speed recording may be of interest for fast action footage with 120 frames per second, although the maximum video resolution drops to 720p (i.e. HD, which is 1280 x 720 pixels). The still-photo resolution is a whopping 4000×3000 pixels, however the photo function doesn’t seem to make sense on the bike.

While the weight of the LCD screen is negligible, and both the frame mount and the waterproof mount accommodate the LCD display, the screen is actually removable. For some sports a display screen may be convenient, but for cycling it isn’t necessary, especially when the screen’s functionality is accessible via a smart phone (iPhone or Android). This means the camera can be mounted in a waterproof case or on an unreachable part of the bike, and still be controlled effectively if your phone is mounted on your bar or stem.

Blackvue Sports Camera Removable Display

Action Cam Removable USB Flap

A completely removable plastic cover on the side of the camera reveals USB and HDMI ports (the USB cable is provided) and a slot for a Micro SD card. As this cover wasn’t hinged, it was easy to misplace. Even with the camera in the frame mount there is access to this door and I suspect that if it isn’t put snugly into place, it could potentially fall off. It is not a deal-breaker, but there is room for improvement.

For this review I recorded using a quality SanDisk Mobile Ultra 16GB HC memory card. This is a ‘class 10’ card which, in broad terms, has the fastest data transfer rate and is best suited to recording full HD. If you are planning to film at full HD (1920 x 1080) avoid SD cards with a lower class (eg, 6, 4 or 2). Although they will be cheaper, they are also progressively slower and may have trouble keeping up (and cause problems in the video or stop recording). To make it a little more complex, there are also UHS (Ultra High Speed) cards which are faster still and each brand has different names and configurations, so stick with a quality brand, ensure it is Class 10, and no more than 32 MB (as spec’d by BlackVue).

Having used my Micro SD card in other sports action cameras, I needed to first format it before the BlackVue would recognise the card. I didn’t spot a format option in the ‘on-camera’ settings, however the smartphone app provides this function.

Blackvue Sports Action Camera Case

With the review unit a frame mount for the camera was provided; a robust rubberised exoskeleton that allows the camera to be mounted on your bike. The mount, however, is not waterproof and a clear plastic waterproof hardcase was not available for review. The frame mount was straight forward to use and the camera fit securely, with cutouts on the top for the microphone and on the side for cable and SD card access. Inside this frame mount, the camera buttons can still be operated (they are little tougher) and with easy cable and SD card access the camera could remain permanently inside this case if this was your preferred mounting option.

Actually, I felt quite uncomfortable removing the camera from the frame mount. To do so I had to press against the LCD screen and apply enough pressure to push the camera unit out of mount. It just doesn’t seem right pressing that hard against an LCD screen, for fear of permanently damaging the electronics. When using the camera on the bike, the BlackVue smart phone app provides access to all of the settings (more on this soon) and lets you see what the camera can see which suggests that this LCD screen is superfluous.

 

Mounting Options
The BlackVue comes with adhesive patches so that you can mount the camera to your helmet however, for cycling, I prefer a bike mounted camera, so I simply ignored the mounts provided.

Mounting on a bike means there are more bumps and vibration passed to the camera, so to avoid “rolling shutter” (that nasty Jello effect) you need to minimise the vibration, and the best way is to throw away your plastic mounts and go for an alumnium mount such as the K-Edge GoBig which I use exclusively for all sports camera mounting specifically for this reason.

Mounting is straight forward though and, even though the frame mount is very secure, the LCD display is exposed, so I was conscious of my gear cables coming into contact with this and was careful to prevent knocking or touching the lens. I couldn’t take the detachable LCD screen off because the camera unit would then move about in the frame mount.

blackvue_sports_action_camera_cycling

Pittasoft Blackview Video Camera Display

 

Watching You, Watching Me
Despite the details and specifications, it is the video quality that counts. This short two and a half minute video combines different sequences and provides a comparison between different weather conditions (sunny verses overcast), as well as different road surfaces. Note: YouTube have compressed this 1080p Full HD footage.

In bright conditions, the colours are saturated, though not so much that the video appears too gaudy. The Sony image sensor does a really good job of providing sufficient contrast when there are shadows and bright areas. The following images are resized screenshots from the video.

Blackvue Vibrant Colour

Bike Camera Traffic Accident

The  solar flare effect when pointing at the sun was softer than on other cameras I have used (remember this doesn’t have a waterproof case) although there was often a strong pink tint. In the following video still the road surface reveals pink and green tones as the camera tries to quickly adapt to the light.

Solar Flare Pink Sports Action Camera

In low light with clouds, the image darkened to compensate and at times the entire image felt rather dark and moody, however the overall visibility and distinguishing features was generally very good. Against a brighter sky, the dark and shaded areas lose detail, though in comparison my older GoPro Hero1 has grainy video with a lower resolution and the darker areas are usually black.

BlackVue Dark Light Conditions

BlackVue Video Direct Sun

The sharpness and detail of the image was very good and only during fast light changes, such as riding beneath trees or in very low light conditions, was this image sharpness affected with pixelation/fragmentation of the image briefly visible.

Rolling shutter (in which the video has a jello effect because of rapid movement) was an issue with the BlackVue. Although this is generally eliminated with the K-Edge GoBig mount, the camera’s frame mount is responsible for allowing additional vibration and flex to distort the image. The frame mount uses a flexible rubberised material (with in-molded stiffer plastic for the mounting bracket) and because of this flex it means there is more movement in comparison to a solid waterproof case.

I compared sequences from the BlackVue with the worst rolling shutter problem to footage from the same stretches of road shot using other other cameras – all of the other cameras have hard waterproof covers and, as a result, had less or no rolling shutter in the same sections.

Blackvue SC500 Rolling Shutter Jello

With this in mind, the waterproof case would be necessary for mountain biking and preferable for road cycling. In addition, it reduces the risk of water damage if there is a sudden shower or water obstacles. That said, a sealed waterproof case can introduce a new problem of fogging (as the camera heats up while sealed) which likewise needs to eliminated.

 

It’s all in the detail
The ability to distinguish number plates was dependent on the light conditions, how far away the vehicle was, and the speed of the vehicle. Reading the number plates of vehicles traveling in the opposite direction was difficult, however the number plates you are more interested in recognising are usually from vehicles who pass too closely or are directly in your path.

To test this in practice I chose a number of brighter and darker instances where a car was close enough and in each case the video detail was clear enough to relatively quickly identify the numbers and letters. Sometimes a bit of scrubbing (manually moving forward and backwards in the video) was necessary to be confident of a correct plate.

The viewing angle for the BlackVue Sport is 157° – in between the 120° and 170° viewing angle options common on action cams. While there is curvature of the footage, which is completely normal, the resulting video was natural and well proportioned.

BlackVue Bike Camera Registration Number Plate

 

How it all adds up
With the Class 10 16GB Micro SD card onboard and filming at the highest video resolution of 1080p (1920×1080), I would get between 75 – 82 minutes recording time before the battery ran flat. This would amount to footage of 9 – 11 GB in size and split into 1.99GB MP4 video files.

Before you say ‘hang on’, the company claims 2 hours runtime at 1080p and 30 fps, I have already spoken with Pittasoft who make the BlackVue and for pre-production models, such as the one I have for review, some of the performance targets aren’t yet met; they are aware and working on this to ensure that they can reach these targets when it goes to market.

I continued testing run-time however, while the WiFi and LCD screen were off, to try and get a longer battery life. When I removed the LCD completely I could increase battery life to 96 minutes. The battery life on this pre-release model is comparable to my old GoPro Hero 1. The new GoPro Hero 3 Black Plus has an updated battery which increases the run-time from 90 minutes to (a claimed) 2 hours. The Sony Action Cam which I currently have in review comfortably gets 110 minutes, so a 2 hour battery life for 1080p filming would put the BlackVue in the same ballpark.

 

Wireless Access
This isn’t a complicated camera to use, and it isn’t packed full of useless settings, so WiFi connectivity is a big feature and BlackVue deliver it with an iPhone and Android compatible app.

In short, the Wifi functionality was just as difficult to setup as I have experienced with other camera’s and suffered from the same WiFi instability – but when it was running properly it offered even more features than available operating via the LCD display and enabled you to view the video live and access the files.

Having proceeded with the WiFi setup of this camera, for the benefit of owners I am including key details and new information (not available online or in the manual) that enabled me to connect. When this camera goes to market it it likely that some of these may be resolved / updated so simply skip to the next section if this isn’t relevant.

 

Connecting to BlackVue… The Missing Link
The manual provides some information how to create a WiFi connection and I eventually succeeded with trial and error as well as direct feedback from Pittasoft.

1. If your app crashes when trying to connect, old firmware is the most likely problem. Download and install the new firmware for the camera. The firmware.bin file needs to be copied onto the camera memory card and the camera needs to be turned off and then on. The camera should then ask you (on the LCD display) if you wish to proceed and install the new firmware.

2. Disconnect your smart phone from any existing wireless network and connect to the SC500-XXXXX network. If you have previously experienced a crashing app, first chose ‘forget this network’ (on the iPhone) and then reconnect.

3. The password to connect is “blackvue” in lowercase, and not uppercase as stated in the manual.

4. Download the latest BlackVue app and, in theory, you should be able to connect and use the app.
In use, the wireless connection would sometimes remain stable while at other times it would drop out frequently, even when the smartphone was right next to the camera. I did have a bit of wireless noise with various devices which may have caused problems.

Pittasoft Sports Action Cam 1080p

 

Coming Soon…
The BlackVue is a good sports video camera; the everyday cyclist would benefit if there was a version without the LCD screen and with a compact waterproof case. I was very happy with the level of detail and quality of the footage. For extreme action footage, such as downhill MTB and big jump, this is a very competitive camera that will deliver stunning footage when it is setup well.

I can say this with one reservation: the price has not yet been released, nor has the release date for the camera been confirmed. Pittasoft say that they are working to ensure that it is 100% when it goes to market. If the price is competitive against the other big market players such as GoPro, Drift, Contour, and Sony, and Pittasoft can get good distribution to Aussie retailers, then this will be a winner. And if they can provide a slim waterproof mount, then it will be an excellent lightweight, high quality camera for cyclists.

Until then, further details of the camera are online at www.blackvuesport.com and I will provide an update when this camera is released.

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How Good is the Sony Action Cam for Capturing Video on a Bike? https://www.bicycles.net.au/2012/12/how-good-sony-action-cam-capturing-video-bike/ https://www.bicycles.net.au/2012/12/how-good-sony-action-cam-capturing-video-bike/#comments Wed, 12 Dec 2012 23:14:05 +0000 https://www.bicycles.net.au/?p=7349 Sony releasing a sports action camera? That really caught my attention when I read it on the BNA Forums. A lot of relatively unknown companies have tried to get into the not-so-niche-anymore sports action and extreme camera sector, but they usually just follow, or fall in the wake of, the market leader GoPro. Sony are […]]]>

Sony releasing a sports action camera? That really caught my attention when I read it on the BNA Forums. A lot of relatively unknown companies have tried to get into the not-so-niche-anymore sports action and extreme camera sector, but they usually just follow, or fall in the wake of, the market leader GoPro. Sony are not just any brand, they are veterans and pioneers in the digital world; I got my first Sony digital camera in the late 90’s and not long after a Sony DV camcorder, both of which were reliable products at a fair price. If Sony were getting into this new market, things were about to change.

In releasing their first action cam, Sony build on their strong background and their ability to innovate. Shortly after their new Action Cam was launched in Australia, I was able to secure a unit for reviewing on Bicycles Network Australia. As you read this review, you shouldn’t be surprised that GoPro are referred to frequently. They essentially created the market of relatively affordable cameras that are compact, simple to use and extremely durable – they’re the benchmark. With that in mind, let’s have a good look at this new contender.


The Sony Action Cam as a Bike Camera

BNA is a bike site, so we are looking at this camera specifically for cycling. To me, cycling means both on road and off-road, vibrations and bumps, camera mounted on the head, the forks, the stem and the handlebars – everywhere you are most likely to use and mount the camera. It comes with a durable waterproof case, so I was encouraged to get it wet as well. Slow moving footage and fluid video? No way! –  fast moving footage with bumps and shakes; I wanted to put the camera to the test.


The Action Cam Close Up

The Sony Action Cam, without the case, is light and compact. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t stand up on its base; when it’s on your desk, it lies on its side. Since the lens can’t be rotated like a Contour camera, it means that the Sony camera is really only practical for filming while mounted or in the waterproof case.

Sony Action Cam Naked

Sony Action Cam USB HDMI Audio slots

Sony Action Cam Battery and MicroSD Memory Card

Lying on its side, the base of the camera is accessible and has a door which conceals a USB port, microphone port, HDMI jack, an ‘expansion connector’ and a light to show charging. I only used the USB port which let me charge the camera and mount the camera onto my computer to transfer files, though there was no simultaneous charging and mounting.

The battery and memory card are accessed from the rear of the unit and are quite straight forward. Out of the box, the camera comes with two batteries, a 4GB SD Memory card, desktop charger and universal mount adapter. The camera I reviewed (the HDR-AS15K) had an microSD 8GB memory card which extended my recording time, at the highest resolution, from 30 minutes to just over 60 minutes.

Sony Action Cam package contents


Camera Navigation and Control

The Action Cam presents the budding film maker with three buttons: next and prev are on the side, situated close to an LED screen; and the record button is on the rear. The tactile feedback of the buttons and knowing that a button has been pressed is reassuring. The three buttons offer a slight edge in navigation over two button cameras, but still require a bit of learning to navigate into menus, change settings and navigate back. The LED on screen info was quite intuitive for the main settings and functions.

The manual for the camera comes as a large sheet of paper with a schematic diagram of the menu and function structure. Truth be told, it’s pretty scary. While you can still try to learn intuitively, to get the most out of the camera and all of its settings, it is worth reviewing.

Sony Action Cam Instructions


Waterproof Case and Mounting

Sports action cameras owe a lot of their appeal to their durable waterproof cases. On a bike you can’t always guarantee dry weather, so waterproofing makes sense and further, it protects the camera from dust and knocks. The Sony waterproof case feels tough and durable. It has a rather clever latch for the front door (and lens cover) that opens and closes easily and provides a good seal. The front cover isn’t hinged, rather it’s connected to the main housing with a thin plastic strip which I found detached itself at times. It was a shock the first time it happened as I am particularly careful in protecting the lenses from scratches and dust. When the camera is inside the waterproof case, you are limited to only the record button to control the camera, so you have to remove it if you want to change settings ,or use a smart phone to connect wirelessly.

Sony Action Cam Waterproof Case

Sony Action Camera Screw Mount

The waterproof case accommodates a screw in clip that can be clipped onto adhesive mounts. For biking, I completely avoid this type of mount and relied instead on the Sony handlebar mount which can be purchased separately. This mount comes with different sized rubber inserts to accommodate different handlebar diameters and screws tightly with an allen key. The camera can then be attached and screwed on with the integrated ‘screw wheel’ which is reliable and tight.

Sony Action Cam Bicycle Handlebar Mount

Sony Action Cam Bike Handlebar Mount

Once in place, the Sony handlebar mount can be tilted or, by loosening the screw wheel, the camera can be reversed and easily tightened by hand. The handlebar mount has the camera on top of the handlebars, which this is fine for commuting or road cycling, but on the mountain bike I like to keep the top of the handlebars free of any electronic equipment that can be damaged if I take a tumble. As such I mounted the handlebar mount (and therefore the camera) up-side-down, though the allen key screw is tougher to reach from underneath between the gear and brake cables. If there is a tumble, however, the camera is better protected, plus it’s ‘out of the way’ for normal riding.

It is worth noting that the Bike handlebar mount works exceptionally well, it is sturdy and doesn’t seem to suffer from flex and vibration that other brand mounts tend to exhibit. It would be possible to use this as a generic mount for any camera’s that have camera screw on the base, though worth testing to ensure it fastens securely.

An alternative mount is the head mount accessory which is purchased separately. For this mount the waterproof case is not used, which makes it a conveniently light camera, lighter than many other action cameras. It doesn’t, however, work with a normal bike helmet, so on the bike the head mount is only practical with a full face helmet or a skater type helmet.

Sony Action Cam Head Mount

Sony Action Cam Head Mounted Strap

Because the waterproof camera case accepts a camera screw for mounting, it opens up creative possibilities for DIY mounts and 3rd party mounts to get different angles. That said, the camera prefers to film upright as the lens can’t be rotated, although most video editing software can rotate the footage to compensate. While the shape of Sony Action Cam means that it mounts well with the handlebar and head mount, it isn’t well suited to a chest mount.


Wifi Connection

Connecting wirelessly to a camera via a smart phone is a must these days, and the Sony Action Cam can be used with Sony’s PlayMemories app, which is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. The setup, however, is difficult and after following the instructions that were provided to my by Sony, I headed online and with the help of Google found instructions that guided me through the Wifi setup.

Sony Action Cam Wifi Connection

The app is wonderful when it works. I set it up on my iPhone and after pairing my phone and the camera, and connecting to the wireless network of the Sony camera, I could see live video from the viewfinder. The interface allows you to switch between video and photo mode and record directly. Setting the shot via the smart phone is incredibly handy as is the ability to start and stop recording.

Sony Action Cam Smart Phone Settings

Sony Action Cam Wifi Viewfinder

From within the app the field of vision can be changed between 120° and 170°, the resolution/frame rate changed, and steady shot video stabilisation toggled on or off. Because the smart phone interface is so much bigger it would be a real advantage to able to adjust all of the camera settings from the app. In using the app, however, I had frequent problems; often the camera wouldn’t appear or would drop out so I couldn’t connect. Even with my phone next to the camera there were frequent connection stability problems to the point of having a serious lag when pressing record; at times the camera never got the message.

When I asked Sony about this they informed me that the PlayMemories App has been updated and this has been resolved. By this time, however, I no longer had the camera to be able to test and confirm.


Sound, Camera and Action

Many of the camera tests comparing the Sony Action Cam with other brands, such as the GoPro Hero and Contour, compare stationary or slow, hand held footage. Cycling is tougher on the cameras; not only is there faster movement, there are also bumps and vibration that make it challenging for any camera to record clean footage. For testing, I was joined by John Hawkins to mountain bike on sandy and rocky Sydney trails. We choose a bright sunny day to test the Sony. Filming at 1920×1080 resolution, the quality of the footage was influenced by the amount of sudden movements, speed and detail of the surroundings. The higher the speed, the more bumps and movement, and the more detailed the surroundings, the less detailed the footage was. All action cameras in this market segment have the same limitations.


Watch the Sony Action Cam Cross Country MTB video in full resolution

The Sony Action Cam, with Sony’s “Steady Shot” technology, has noticeably improved stability, creating a much smoother video. In comparing this directly with the GoPro Hero2, the Sony footage also showed more detail. While both cameras operated well with sun and shadow contrasts, the Sony footage was noticeably paler in colour than the Hero2.

Sony Action Cam and GoPro Hero2 Test

In the moving footage, the Sony was more detailed and had a higher contrast, while the freeze framed footage was softer and more attractive on the GoPro. The Sony didn’t deal with direct sunlight as well as the GoPro, being more susceptible to lens flare and less accurate light balance.


Watch the Sony Action Cam and GoPro Hero2 comparison in full resolution

The ability to change the field of vision to from 120° to 170° is nice and when mounted on the handlebars, I preferred the wider angle. The Sony footage has less fish eye lens distortion compared with the GoPro Hero2 (though the Hero3 probably reduces this).

During filming, the GoPro Hero2 camera heated up and the inside of the casing started to fog relatively quickly while the Sony resisted this, even though the Action Cam recorded for longer during our testing. The GoPro importer suggest that their recently released GoPro Hero3 (Silver) would provide a better comparison, however they were not available for testing.

Comparison of the GoPro and Sony Action Cam

The Sony was a little “louder” during our filming; though it fits snugly in the waterproof case, it seems seems to have some room to play, so some padding inside the case would probably eliminate movement and noise.

The handlebar mount from Sony was the best branded handlebar mount I have tested. It was constructed to be solid and stable and reduces micro-vibration that could cause rolling shutter. The chest mounted position for action cams is quite popular as it eliminates the vibration of the bike and movement of the head to provide relatively consistent footage. The shape of the Sony, however, rules out this option, but the camera screw mount makes it more easily adaptable.


Recording Modes and Runtime

Filming at the highest resolution (HQ 1920×1080 at 30fps) gave about 65 minutes recording time which filled the 8GB SD card and also coincided with the battery run time. For 1280×720 at 30fps (STD, standard resolution), I got 140 minutes recording time (6.8 GB) before the battery was empty. The Super Slow (SSLOW) mode records at 1280×720 with 120fps and recorded for about 43 minutes, which gives a playback time at 30fps of about 170 minutes of slow motion footage (albeit with no audio in slow recording modes).

The SLOW mode records at 1280×720 (60fps) and the VGA mode an old fashioned 640×480. This will obviously deliver a much longer runtime (pending battery charge) however, if recording time was an issue, it would be easier to use a second battery and a larger memory card. The battery recharges in about four hours.


It’s a Wrap

Practice makes perfect and it’s a matter of taking the time and testing to see which recording modes and settings work best for your purposes. As its first Action Cam, Sony has done its homework and holds its ground. You will be able to generate quality footage and, while the Sony is not miles ahead of the competition, it doesn’t lag behind.

The general operation of the Sony is good and, if the WiFi issues are resolved as reported in the latest PhotoMemories App update, it then really comes down to personal preference in choosing a sports action camera for biking. With the inbuilt WiFi, the Sony Action Cam beats the GoPro Hero2 on hands down price; the Hero2 requires the additional WifiBack pack (~ $99). On price and specifications the Sony Action Cam competes with the GoPro Hero 3 Silver Edition.

The Sony Action Cam is available in most electronics stores and retails for $369. Make sure you’re getting the HDR-AS15K version with WiFi, as there is also a version without WiFi (HDR-AS10) and version without the accessories (HDR-AS15). The Sony camera is being promoted with the Weekend Lives On (WLO) campaign which is a community website where you can upload your awesome footage and photos.

More details and specs for the Sony Action Cam.

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