Friday, September 26, 2014

Trial & error with action cams by a motorcyclist

Alright there? Hang on for my little story of trial and error with action cams for motorcycling.

During the numerous years and alternating levels of interest between infatuation, and 'meh' I have tried almost all of the action cams you have heard of, and some you can't find a brand name on. To be honest, I reckon it's a total nightmare to navigate what's good and what's not. Why?
 Because you just can't tell what they are going to be like until you buy them. You can't get any better experience than a real world test. Usually this means parting with a few hundred bucks. Ouch. And I keep doing that, over and over, in search of the right one for me. Here is a list of action cams I've parted money for over the last five years, my thoughts and why I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Oregon STK 3

It all started many moons ago with a little camera called the Oregon STK 3. I find it hard to believe that I shot this video over 5 years now, man time flies.

As you can see, we are really talking first gen crap here. And what was I doing smoking in the opening shot? So bad ass. So much dickhead.

It was the start of my addiction to filming my riding. It might go back one further with one of those $19.99 one day deals actually, where I just couldn't help myself but try it. Complete fail.

As time went on SD Cards got better, battery life improved and so did the overall look of action cams. I got a Flip Mino HD. Remember those? They were the bomb for a while but completely impractical for moto-cam work. Here is an attempt I had at making a video of that ADR adventure, still using the STK 3 but some hand held Flip footage woven in.


Then I won a Contour Roam in a Facebook Scavenger hunt PR stunt. I was at work and Contour were doing a world wide scavenger hunt around major cities of the world and I happened to be following along, being the social media whore that I am. They dropped the clue, I Googled the shit out of it and ran down to claim my prize in torrential rain, typical Melbourne.

That was a good camera. It shot many a video. The only one I seemed to have upload is absolutely terrible! All in fast forward (what was I thinking) onboard my beloved Ducati Hypermotard.

I'd probably still have that cam today if I hadn't left it with a young bloke I stayed with in Scotland, for letting me bunk in his room. Contour have gotten a lot better since then too with updates to frame rates capabilities, bluetooth and GPS but I have heard rumour that they (as a biz) went under?

So apparently they are back and I have just started seeing the first promo stuff surrounding their latest camera - Contour ROAM3 Waterproof HD . For easy peasy not so squeasy staright forward filming, this little camera does the job, packs a decent battery life and a slim profile. But I've been there, done that and got the video to prove it.

That must have been when I first discovered motovlogs. Must've been around 2011 and I got intrigued by the fact that all these motorcyclists from around the world were making long-ish videos of their normal everyday riding adventures, basically talking crap. It was kinda cool. Either way, NOW is a good time to pick up a very cheap Contour Roam 2 - $149!

Crocolis HD Extreme

Still resisting the urge to get a GoPro, I tried to buck the norm (read: get out of it cheap) and I got a Crocolis Extreme HD Cam. Here is a video I shot in 2012 doing mic tests using that camera. You can see the progression in the films in retrospect, they are slowly getting higher definition as technology got better.


 Motovlogs got more popular and better cameras were out there and at this point for some unknown reason I was restricting the urge to get a GoPro. So then I bought a DRIFT Ghost HD and thought I'd give motovlogging a crack.

I didn't like the sound of my own voice and I never did another one, but watching that back now I am reminded of just how awesome that Ducati Hypermotard was. Good times.

The DRIFT was good, it has a smaller profile than a GoPro but not as small as a Contour, and it does everything and never really failed me.

Again not a great UI but at least it has an LCD that shows you the most important bits. It has an external mic input which was great but I still felt like it was too big for helmet mounting and eventually stopped using it much at all.

GoPro Hero 3

I eventually caved and bought the 'industry standard' action cam - a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition. I resisted because of their bulky looks, and I don't think I'd ever be comfortable in daily traffic wearing one of these on my helmet, they just draw too much attention.

But by the time I purchased mine we were up to GoPro HERO4 and they had become smaller and now included the ridiculous capability to film at 4k. Not that any TV I own could every display that resolution, I did indeed like the HD capability at 6ofps for silly slo-mo effects.

I was always put off by the UI as well. I find it unintuitive and awkward stepping through the menus. Sure it's straight forward once you nail it, and it does become easier to use but seriously Windows Vista had a better UI. Even early Nokia phones had a better UI.

All of that aside you can really see the difference in camera quality when you film some riding in HD.

The quality is pretty bloody good.

I got around the whole helmet situation with a 'Chesty' strap mount that goes over your jacket and puts the camera directly at your chest level, which works riding something like the DRZ but when I used it like this on the Multistrada, because of the riding position difference, the video was captured at the wrong level showing too much bike and not enough road.

I was pretty happy I got to record my first ever crack at a track day though! Here's one I'll revisit this in a slide presentation on my 50th, it was one of those moments :)

We'll all probably look back and laugh at the quality 'oh look silly Dan, had a GOPRO hahahaha'.

But I gotta say, I'd like a much smaller simpler camera for my helmet as I really believe that's the best position to film from, it's the most realistic and entertaining at least.

That's when I found the RePlay XD Prime X a camera that before now, I had never even heard about. Thankfully Bear and Stuart from AMM did a camera run down in Issue #16 and this was one that rate highly the Replay XD mini Pro.

 Well they are up to their fourth gen camera now, the XD Prime X and I gotta say the spec is impressive, as is the size, the weight and the battery life.   You can crank out 3.5hrs of battery life on one of these babies.

That's amazing and up there with Contour but a better spec camera. You can film up to 120fps at 720p and 60fps at 1080p. It's waterproof up to 3mtrs so no problem stuck on a helmet but by far the best thing is how small and light it is. 99 grams.

The GoPro alone is lighter than that at 85grams, but one you encase it, bolt bits to it and extend it etc it becomes a much 'bigger' thing. I always appreciated the streamline-edness of the Contour which means the Replay is even more appealing with its basic bullet style.

There is an optional external mic out which is great if I decide to do another motovlog and both iOS and Android apps for streaming or checking out your camera position.

This is why I call it a nightmare, because you can never really know how happy you are going to be with a cam until you get it out in the wild, film with it over a period of time, see how it feels to turn on and off, wear or mount etc etc. Should I fork out for cash for the RePlay XD Prime X? Probably not. But knowing me, I probably will because search for the (better, better) best, never ends.

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