Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How To - Helmet Cam for Cyclists

People have asked about the helmet cam I use. It's a pretty straight forward setup with a camcorder, a remote camera, and miscellaneous things needed to make everything work. First a picture of the whole setup outside of the bag.

Lilly (she is the one with the pink collar) is suspicious about this bag previously not on the floor here. I've strapped the helmet cam bit to the chair leg. The white thing is the mic. And you can see the camcorder, battery pack, and the bag. The jumble at the bottom are all the various wires to feed the image from the helmet cam to the camcorder VCR.

Camcorder: I use a Canon ZR100. It has the ability to act as a VCR and record from an external source. It is NOT used as a camcorder - it's used only as a VCR. Many people do not realize this. I can't blame them since I didn't know that when I first looked into a helmet cam.

Left side of ZR100, closed, showing the taped allen wrench to try and somewhat successfully prevent the stop/pause button from being pushed accidentally (the two buttons on the right side, under the L of the wrench). I also have a sawed off drawer handle which is a little better. I'm going to use that again.

Next, the left side open. Note the lower left button labeled "Rec Pause". This means that as a VCR, this camcorder can record. This means you can use an external camera. Many camcorders do not do this and therefore cannot be used as part of a setup like this.

Below is the camcorder's right side is where the remote camera feeds to the camcorder. You can see the electrical tape to hold the wires in place and the power switch (the rotating knob at the back with the green thing on it) stationary.

Helmet Cam: I use a ChaseCam. Specifically it's a 520 line helmet cam pictured below. Go to ChaseCam, not any other site. Here it is with the battery pack described below. The thing wrapped in white duct tape is the powered mic. I have to find a wind screen for it so the sound is more interesting than a loud, roaring background.

Battery pack: I use one from ChaseCam. I use rechargeable Duracell batteries as you can see in the picture. I love the batteries - use them in my blinky taillight, LED headlight, remotes, weather station (going strong for a few months now, and half of it sits outside in the bitter cold).

Mic: I use a powered one from ChaseCam. Again, it's the thing wrapped in white duct tape. Why duct tape? Well, when I was getting ready for my race, I had the duct tape we use for the finish line next to me. So it got pressed into duty.

Camera bag: I use a basic CamelBak for this - the Hydro ($30). I took the water bag out and put all the camera stuff in.

I tape and zip-tied things together. I used a helmet mount from one of my many night light rejects (possibly a Vista light setup).

Since I can't start/stop the recording remotely, I have to do the following:
1. Set up helmet cam on helmet.
2. Plug everything in and put in bag.
3. Start recording and verify feed is active from helmet cam.
4. Put bag on.
5. I usually wear another jersey on top of the CamelBak. I guess I look like a motorcycle racer with the aero lump on the back, but at least you can read my jersey.
6. If I have someone around to help, they verify the camcorder is actually recording. So far I've had 3 events where something went wrong by this time.
7. With an 80 minute DV tape on LP, I have 120 minutes recording time. The camcorder battery can support recording this whole time.
8. When I finish, I have to remove everything. I don't know how regular users of the CamelBak do it because I just cannot reach the strap adjusters when it's on my back. I have to practically dislocate my shoulder to get the thing off. Then I can see if things recorded.

So this is the setup I use. I don't know how much it weighs exactly, but it's probably about 3 pounds. The camcorder is 1.5 lbs, the rest, well, I don't know. At my level of riding, 3 pounds on my back is not going to affect my racing. (3 pounds on my wheels, well, that's another story.)

My next mission is to get what I record and share it with you. The motivation for the helmet cam was to share with my fiancee just why I get so excited over racing a tightly packed criterium. Elbows, hips, shoulders, corners, jumps, brakes, it doesn't get more exciting than that. I also recorded one of my Summer Street Sprint workouts - this is where I use 30-40 mph traffic on a one way road as leadouts and opponents in imaginary sprint finishes.

Then she watched part of that tape. A tamer part, I have to admit.

"I think you were a little too close to that car."

Maybe it wasn't such a hot idea after all.


Murat Altinbasak said...

Aha! Found the info. That is a pretty heavy set-up! You actually mount the camera to your helmet? I bought a mini-dvr the other day and I'm returning it (it's the size of a credit card, accepts SD cards, records for 6 hours.. but the quality is terrible. Next I am going to try one of the "wireless" ATC-2000 units by Oregon Scientific. Clunkier, but it's all self contained in one cylinder- no wires. 2 gig SD cards can hold up to 2 hours of video. Weighs a 1/2 pound.. Check ebay- they'r e not expensive. $100-120 Decent quality? Not sure, but some of the sample vids I've seen are pretty crisp.

RacerXYZ said...


The camera that he mounts to his helmet is the little black tube in the last photo, not the whole cam-corder. That would be huge up there!

Aki said...

heh yes, the "tube" fits on my helmet. The size of my thumb. Technically it's a whole camera on its own - I use the camcorder as a VCR to record the helmet cam feed.

Here is a pic of the helmet cam in action. I'm in the dark blue in the middle right side of the picture. My helmet is red, white, and blue, and the black smudge at the tip of the red bit is the helmet cam.

A cord runs down to the CamelBak which is where I carry the camcorder, batteries, and extra cable.

I definitely notice the setup on my back when I'm racing but it's worth it. The helmet cam itself is extremely light and I don't notice it.

The camcorder makes for excellent resolution - and the helmet cam actually has better resolution than the camcorder.

I guess ultimately a digital type set up would be nice but I don't want to lose resolution. The clips on YouTube are compressed automatically and lose a lot of crispness. In real the clips appear to be something like what you see on TV with very sharp images (you can see the spokes turning, etc).

And yes I'll be posting the vid from that race too.