Recently I had the idea to make some snowboarding videos, which will catapult me into the realm of the super-rich when they sell like hotcakes all over the globe. I am so sure of success that I bought an HD digital video camera to make into a helmet cam. The Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder uses SD memory cards and will capture High-Def video in 1920x1080i (60i or 30p!). And it has mechanical (optical) image stabilization!
Now, the challenge of sports video is to hold the camera while moving. You need your whole body for most sports, so the logical way is to mount the camera on a random body part that doesn’t move so much. (Hehe… I’m imagining a foot-mounted cam for running. That footage would make just about anyone hurl). Below is the bracket I made to mount the camera on a helmet that should also keep my head warm on the slopes:
I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket (made of aluminum L-channel) to the helmet. The screw sticking up is going into the position-lock hole on the bottom of the camera. The cutout in the back is for the battery release switch. Don’t forget Loctite so those screws can’t vibrate out!
Next I covered most of the exposed aluminum with gaffer’s tape, the best tape ever made. It’s like duct tape on crack. It unsticks easily, can be re-used, tears perfectly straight (and effortlessly)… if you never used it, I recommend to order some from B&H Photo or any camera place. Finally, I put a piece of velcro around the camera (through its hand-strap) as a safety in case the mounting screw were to come undone.
Sure, you could argue that the chin cup makes you look silly when wearing a helmet like this (as someone pointed out to me). But you need strong support to hold the camera on the side (or top) of your head, and a chin cup is the best way. One note: this setup wouldn’t be ideal for skydiving unless you add a bracket to protect the back of the camera from riser strike. The start/stop record button (right on the back, sticking out) would probably get smacked by a riser on almost every opening.
If you want to see video taken with the Canon Vixia HF200 helmet-cam after I’ve put it to the test, just subscribe using the orange RSS or E-mail links on the left sidebar! First use may be on the side of a cliff at the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain), weather permitting.
- PC — So far I’ve found that you need a very fast PC to edit 1920×1080 video. I have a AMD Phenom II X3 (the three-core system — for my ex-Qimonda friends, I guess they’re “leftovers” where one core of a quad-core chip didn’t pass the testing!). Editing some short videos it works OK, e.g. 3 minutes of video takes ~10 minutes to render.
- Progressive scan — Use the camera’s progressive feature to avoid most interlacing issues. Computers and many new flat TV’s display in progressive, and if the software doesn’t deinterlace properly you get weird line artifacts with fast motion. In PF30 mode, the camera captures the frame all at once, then displays the 2 parts of the image (“even” and “odd” lines) in successive frames of the 60i (interlaced) stream. This is a way to use 60i hardware to record a 30p progressive image.
- Cold weather — When using this in the cold, the battery is going to die FAST. I’m going to make a thick neoprene shell to wrap around it, and will use handwarmer packs to keep the camera and battery warm (so the recording time will be longer and less error-prone).
- Wide Angle Lens — For most sports where you use a POV (Point Of View) camera, you’ll want a wider angle than what the stock lens provides. This camera accepts 37mm lenses, and I have a wide angle Kenko lens for it (the black attachment on the front). I have a fisheye lens too, but that’s a bit much for most applications.
- Screen corners — The camcorder screen doesn’t show 100% of the image, so you can’t see the very edges. This is a problem with a wide or fisheye lenses at widest zoom. I never realized on the cam that I could see the UV filter edge in the corners when using my standard wide lens! Filter now removed. However, I saw that in the camera’s media folder, the thumbnail of the video does display the full size including corners, if you need to check this in the field.
- Shutter speed — High shutter speed definitely gives an appearance of jerkiness, I believe because there is no motion blur within the frame. A bit of motion blur seems to help the eye interpret the scene as moving! So I will have to experiment with this in snowboarding or Ultimate Frisbee, using 1/500s for some shots and lower shutter speeds for others. Very slow shutter speed (like 1/30s) is too blurred, though.
- Camera motion — Don’t move the camera too fast. The background just doesn’t look good when the whole scene is moving fast! It might be OK only if (e.g.) a snowboarder was very close to the camera, and you move with him, thereby making him not only the focus but the largest screen area as well. I will experiment this winter!
If you’re interested to buy the Canon Vixia HF200, please use the link below and support a freelance author (hehe). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the HF200. It’s an upgrade of the old HF100 and brother to the HF20 (which has built-in flash memory at a steep add-on price). Avoid Hard Disk based recorders for sports, where shocks may stop the disk drive.