Sep 14 2011

Helmet Camera: Lessons Learnt


One of the hopes I’d had for The Trip was to capture a good deal of helmet camera footage along the way. That plan was thwarted to a great extent by a broken collar bone, and by spending a fair chunk of the trip travelling in a 4WD. Apart from the Flinders Ranges and the Oodnadatta Track, the parts of the trip I did get to ride and capture were almost all on bitumen, and usually in a straight line.

Now that I’m editing the footage from the trip, I think I can offer some sage advice on the use of a helmet or vehicle-mounted camera:

  • I still don’t care for actual helmet camera footage. On tight and technical tracks, with trees and rocks and other bikes close at hand, it can make for some exciting clips. But after a couple of minutes, it leaves me wanting for another point of view, and vomit bag.
  • Vehicle mounting can work, as long as the mount is secure, and the camera is light. A lot of my footage was captured on a long arm made of RAM mount components. The weight of the components and the length of the arm resulted in a lot of amplified vibration, even though I used a light weight camera head and a wide-angle lens. Use a short arm, and keep it vertical so it can’t bounce under its own weight.
  • Handlebar mounting has its limitations. At speed it works OK, but on slow rides, where you move the front wheel for balance, it can make for some nauseating footage.
  • Velcro is not your friend. It adds a squishy layer between the two surfaces that it is trying to keep together, and on a vehicle mounted camera that translates to more vibration. 3M Dual-Lock tape is best if you absolutely have to use something like that, but ultimately a solid mounting system, backed up by some cable ties, is going to serve you better. Live with whatever inconvenience that causes.
  • Every time you stop, move the camera. When you’re trying to edit an hour of bitumen boredom down to a minute long montage, it helps if you have something to cut to other then from-the-handlebars-over-the-left-shoulder. You can fake a multiple camera rig if you keep moving the camera and the landscape doesn’t change too much. Short of the lengthening of shadows, no one is going to know that your B-roll footage was shot an hour later.
  • Use a mount that is quick to move (for the reason above). I’m starting to lean away from the oh-so-versatile RAM system in favour of a Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp, or one of the myriad Chinese knock-offs available. They clamp quick and tight to just about anything, and the the camera can be repositioned and locked off with the twist of just one knob.
  • If the weather is good, a handful of $11 MD80 spy cameras from eBay will capture all manner of footage from all sorts of angles. You’ll only get an hour or two of charge, but for that hour or two you’ll get total coverage of you, the bike and the surroundings. And they’re so small and light, Dual-Lock tape is more than adequate to hold them in place. (I’ve bought a couple, and I’ll write about them some more soon.)
  • Test everything before a trip. I had high plans for in-helmet commentary, and the ability to speak to my travelling companions while on the move. The closest I got to either was to leave the UHF radio in my top pocket with the volume all the way up. In the end, I did not get one second of useful audio from my helmet camera.

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