The improved quality, more compact size and affordability of the latest generation of helmet cams – or wearable/point-of-view (POV) cams as they are also known – has brought them within the reach of more and more riders, runners and outdoor adventurers who wish to record their epic days in the saddle or the surf for posterity, share their race runs with their sport’s online community or even create their own video masterpieces.
The best helmet cams offer not only high-quality image and sound recording but are robust enough to withstand changeable outdoor conditions, compact enough to be worn without the extra weight being noticed, and versatile enough to be mounted in a numbers of ways.
Meanwhile a variety of accessories are available to allow you take your camera wherever you go – even underwater.
Wearable or POV cams evolved in the late 1980s as bikers and outdoor sports enthusiasts sought to record their experiences first-hand using helmet-mounted camcorders connected to VCR players that were carried in a backpack.
The advent of digital camera technology has in recent years revolutionised the helmet camera market, with both lens units and recording devices becoming smaller and smaller. The popularity of cameras like this meanwhile exploded with the development – and widespread adoption – of the GoPro Hero, the first wearable cam that really took off with its intended market.
The helmet camera you choose will be decided to a large extent by how much you wish to balance image quality with wearability. The smaller, lipstick-style camera are light, unobtrusive and versatile when it comes to mounting options, but the trade-off is in terms of features and image quality. Larger, more expensive cameras such as the industry standard GoPro are bulkier and heavier than lipstick-type cams but offer better recording quality (up to 1080p Full HD for TV-quality footage), more adjustment, longer battery life, interactivity with your PC, tablet or smartphone and generally a wider range of accessories including wireless remote controls etc.
Advantages and drawbacks
Today most helmet cams are integrated units (like the GoPro) – consisting of a single compact device that mounts to a helmet or elsewhere without the need for a separate digital recorder.
The major advantage of this is that there are not fiddly connecting wires to worry about, and modern integrated cameras are small and lightweight enough to barely be noticed when worn.
However one of the drawbacks of such a small unit is that there is generally no integrated playback or viewing facility, as there would be with the LCD screen found on ‘normal’ digital cameras. Some helmet cams can be fitted with an expansion unit that includes an LCD screen, but the ‘lipstick’ types are too small for this and must be connected to a PC, laptop or digital media player in order to view footage.
This means that as well as not being able to view footage immediately after shooting (unless you choose to carry a playback device on your person), riders can also experience difficulty in ensuring the lens angle is perfectly aligned – i.e. that it shoots the trail in front, rather than the sky above or the front tyre alone.
Some manufacturers of lipstick cams especially have overcome this difficulty by incorporating twin lasers into the lens housing. The laser beam can be used to adjust your camera angle so that it captures the oncoming trail, while by aligning the laser points horizontally you can make sure the lens is rotated correctly.
Storage and image quality
The amount of storage offered by a helmet cam and the quality of the image it records will be largely dependent on the model of camera chosen, and its price point.
Most models feature CMOS (metal-oxide semiconductor) image sensors which enable very small batteries to be used but are a slight compromise in terms of image quality when compared to cameras with CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors.
Modern helmet cams record to memory cards – common formats are SD (Secure Digital) or SDHC (SD High Capacity) which offers storage of up to around 4GB for SD and anything up to 32GB for SDHC.
The latest high-end helmet cams offer Full HD (High Definition) recording for television-quality images – look for the 1080p resolution standard indicating 1,080 lines of vertical resolution. Some cameras will allow recording at lower HD resolution settings – eg 960p or 720p – to enable more footage to be stored for a given memory card capacity.
Most cameras offer a field of vision of around 100 degrees, with some having a narrower field and wide-angle or ‘fisheye’ cameras offering a broader field.
Construction and fittings
Wearable cameras designed for use in mountain biking or other action sports must be robust enough to withstand the constant vibrations and occasional impacts that are part of the package, without affecting image quality or resulting in and end product that is too bulky and heavy to be practical.
Most athletes seeking to use POV cams will also look for a degree of weather protection – cameras must at the very least be water-resistant or splash-proof to fend off the inevitable showers, or fully immersible if they are to be used for surfing, kayaking etc (separate, waterproof dive housings are also available).
Finally all fittings and mounts must be secure and easy to use in real conditions – ie large, easy-to-access buttons and straps and fittings that can be manipulated with cold, wet, gloved hands.
Most ‘helmet’ cams are also compatible with a variety of other types of mounts – front fork mounts for close to the ground action, seatpost mounts for a rear view, goggle mounts for the real POV experience, chest straps, suction mounts for motor vehicles, surfboard mounts etc. – that may or may not be bundled with the original product.
Check what fittings your cameras comes with – or what must be bought aftermarket – if you intend using your action cam for a variety of different applications.
Your helmet or wearable camera is versatile enough to record the action as you experience it – on the trail, in the air or even underwater.
Our full range of accessories and replacement parts will help you get the best out of your cam in every situation, including replacement housings, helmet and handlebar mounts, chest and head straps, chargers, cables, suction cup mounts, motorsports kits, lens covers and more.