Free guide to help you decide which helmet camera is right for you.
We’ve all seen those scary YouTube videos, right?
Incredible footage captured by cyclists. I don’t mean those beautiful picturesque mountain descents though.
I’m talking about recording incidents of road rage, near misses, acts of aggressive, dangerous or inconsiderate driving.
You know the sort. They make you wince and feel sorry for the poor rider who went through it.
But there’s more to capturing footage like that than just getting tons of views on YouTube.
And there’s more to wearing a camera than just plonking any old bit of hardware on your head.
I mean, look at this dude…A recent study in Australia looking at cycle-camera footage showed motorists were responsible for 87% of accidents or near-misses with cyclists, mainly due to lack of driver awareness.
Yes, cycling video footage is hard evidence that could be used in court.
Increasingly, cyclists are recording their daily commutes as a personal insurance policy, so you need one that’s easy and comfortable to use.
Another recent research project by Direct Line Insurance, using eye tracking technology, discovered that drivers fail to see 22% of cyclists on the road in clear view of their vehicle.
That’s a pretty damn alarming statistic!
Let’s put that another way.
How many vehicles do you think you interact with on your average commute? Every vehicle that overtakes you, every vehicle at every junction, every roundabout.
Hundreds, if not thousands, right?
ONE IN FIVE DO NOT SEE YOU.
Prevention is better than cure, so do what you can to make yourself as visible as possible. Get a great rear light. Wear good reflective gear. But if something goes wrong, wouldn’t you like to have a record of the incident that you could show to the police?
I know I would.
With a helmet safety camera, if something happens you’ll have it all on film. (ok, an SD card…)
It should be pointed out that personal video evidence is not always considered by the CPS, and there have been some well known cases where video evidence was deemed inadmissible.
I’m not a legal professional. As a layman though, if I were to be involved in a collision, I think I’d rather have the video evidence than not.
Here’s what the MET has to say (from http://content.met.police.uk/Site/roadsafelondon)
Occasionally, people refer us to video footage in the public domain e.g. YouTube or similar sites. In the course of dealing with your information we may direct others to any material that has been openly posted, to raise road user awareness and to promote safety.
Some points to bear in mind regarding video submissions: Videos should be submitted within 48 hours of the event. Footage should be of high quality and include at least two minutes before and two minutes after any incident. For prosecution purposes, video evidence can only act as corroboration. This means that you will need to attend a police station and give a written statement and must be prepared to attend court to give evidence in person.
Videos should not be edited in any way. They must not rely on a perception of distance such as a close pass as the apparent distance will vary according to the type camera and settings. There are other issues with video evidence, such as parallax error, which makes objects appear close together when they are seen in line. In general, evidence of provocation or disproportionate reaction will mean that no action is taken.
Some people have been known to carry out online naming and shaming campaigns with their footage, but see this Guardian post about what happens when that can go over the top. Others have reported that approaching the insurance companies of the third party can be a useful strategy.
Here’s a nice coincidence. During the time I was putting this post together, this post on Road.cc highlighted a case in which a van driver was fined and had points put on his licence as a result of video evidence.
So, assuming that you think there’s some value in using a helmet camera whilst riding your bike, read on….
What’s the best action camera / head cam for recording bike commutes?
As you’d expect, there are a number of factors to consider.
Firstly, there’s a difference between “sport” cameras and “safety” cameras.
The very popular GoPro cameras produce beautiful footage but from a practical point of view, they are not designed to be a safety camera.
Put another way, there are alternative helmet cameras out there with features that make them much more appropriate for recording daily commutes for safety purposes.
Let’s look at that ticklist.
#It needs to be waterproof
You’re going to get caught in rain eventually, so the camera needs to be totally waterproof.
By totally waterproof, I mean you could actually submerge it, take it scuba diving and it wouldn’t fart out a stream of bubbles and die.
There’s a technical term in the industry for this, known as the IP rating, which stands for Ingress Protection.
There’s IP65, IP66 and IP67. The higher the number, the better the protection. See this site for a more detailed explanation.
For a product to get an IP67 rating, it will have been tested to survive full submersion at a depth of 1m for 30 minutes.
See? You can learn stuff here. Remember it for your next pub quiz.
Ah, the bane of modern existence. Like just about every other gadget that runs your life these days, cameras too have a very limited battery life. Some will conk out after an hour, some may run for two if you’re lucky.
When the battery runs flat, they’ll just stop, often with no warning.
If your commute is short, this might be ok, but for longer rides you may want to choose a camera that can run on an external battery power pack. Be careful that it doesn’t affect the waterproof properties.
#Infinite recording capacity
My GoPro is great, but when the SD card is full, it’s full.
No more recording allowed, it just stops. If you get a decent size – 32Gb is about right, the battery will probably run out before your SD card could fill up. Note: SD cards in video cameras need to be high quality “fast” cards, as the amount of data written to the card per second is rather high. Look for Class 10 cards.
Some safety cameras are designed to use continuous “Loop Recording”. These cameras record a series of files and when the card fills up, it starts overwriting the oldest ones.
This means if an incident occurs, you will always have the footage.
For me, this is the main USP for bicycle safety cameras.
Using a GoPro for this just doesn’t work very well, you need something that’s specifically designed for the job.
#Forgot to switch it ON?
If your intention is to record your commutes, the best camera will be one which is always on and recording. If something happens, you don’t want to have missed it because the camera wasn’t actually turned on and recording.
Some safety bike cams are designed to record continuously. As soon as you press the power button, it’s recording.
This sounds like a no-brainer to me.
#Time and Date Stamp
The camera continually records time and date on the video image, which could be important if video is needed for evidence.
#High quality image
This means high definition, so go for something that can record at 720p as a minimum, and preferably 1080p for even greater detail.
There’s no point in capturing footage that’s so poor, you can’t make out the details of the license plate.
#Lens field of view (wide angle).
This could be a bit contentious, because whilst you may want a really wide angle lens to make sure you’re capturing as much footage as possible, footage can be excluded from being used as evidence because of the distortion that can occur from some lenses. It’s not reliable to judge distances from such footage because of the “fisheye” effect.
Some cameras, like the GoPro, allow you to choose between a few modes, so you can go wide angle or keep it more natural.
This is measured in frames per second. The higher the number, the smoother the playback. Standard framerates will be either 25 or 30 fps.
Some sports cameras offer a slow motion mode. To do this, they record at very high framerates. When the footage is played back at standard frame speed, the action will be slowed down, but still smooth.
It’s useful if the camera records sound without needing to plug in an external microphone. Cameras mounted to your frame will pick up a rather horrid road rumble. Helmet mounted versions will be more natural, but prone to wind noise, which is to be expected.
I know from experience that using the waterproof case with the GoPro Hero 2, it muffles the sound significantly.
How to use a safety camera on your bike.
First of all, you have to choose how many cameras to use, and where to mount them.
Forward Facing Safety Camera.
A preferred option among many cycle commuters is to mount a camera on your helmet. Certain designs, like the cylindrical “bullet” cameras are more appropriate than the chunkier rectangular varieties (GoPro etc).
I’ve worn a GoPro on my head once and wouldn’t do it again, as I found it quite uncomfortable and felt it looked very conspicuous (and silly).
The advantage to a helmet mounted camera is that it will record everything that you see, depending on where you look. A camera fixed to the handlebars will only capture the view straight ahead.
The helmet mount is also useful in that it will keep recording what you see even if you are separated from the bike.
A headcam records vehicles approaching from the sides with a quick glance. This could also prove that you did indeed check for oncoming traffic, or that you did make the appropriate hand signal .
Rear-facing safety camera.
In some areas, depending on the roads you ride on, you might be more likely to be hit from behind than from the front or side.
If you think this might apply to you, then you might want to consider a safety camera that faces backwards. This will film everything that approaches you from behind.
A rear facing camera is best mounted to the bike frame, seat post or securely attached to a rack/panniers.
For optimum coverage, many cyclists use two cameras to record both front a rear view. If something happens, they’ve got the best chance of having captured useful footage.
So, what’s the best bike safety camera on the market?
Because they’re not designed as safety cameras per se, I’m not including GoPro cameras in this section, though they are fabulous.
(If you want to check out the GoPro range, try here.).
Contour helmet cameras
Contour have been around a while and have a range of products of interest to the safety conscious, evidence gathering inclined cyclist.
There are currently 3 models to choose from, the Roam 2, Roam 3 and the +2 model, which actually includes a GPS receiver so that you can record footage with overlays for speed, elevation, and distance.
Contour Roam 2
This model offers Locking Instant On-Record switch, Still Photo Mode, 1080p Video, 270° rotating lens, 170° wide-angle lens, Laser alignment and is waterproof without an additional case.Find out more about the ContourROAM2 Handsfree HD Action Camera (Amazon link)
Contour Roam 3
- 270 degree rotating lens
- Waterproof up to 10m without a case
- Instant photo button
- Memory capacity up to 32GB
- Battery life 3-3.5 hours
Contour +2 HD
Locking Instant On-Record switch, Still Photo Mode, 1080p Video, 270° rotating lens, 170° wide-angle lens, Laser alignment, Mobile connectivity, GPS Video Mapping, Up to 120fps, Live streaming, External microphone jack, Waterproof case included.Find out more about the Contour +2 HD Action Camera
Replay XD – 1080 Mini
- Smallest and Lightest HD Camera : Full HD 1080p Video | microSD card, up to 32GB capacity | Simple 2 button operation | Vibration/LED feedback | Pro-shooter mode (20 settings)
- Waterproof without a Case : 3m/10ft Waterproof | Impact Resistant hard-anodized Aluminum Housing
- Video : Wide-Angle (120) Fixed-Focus Lens (F2.8) | PAL/NTSC | 1080P@25/30fps, 720P@25/30fps & 50/60fps | 5MP CMOS, Bitrate 15Mbps | Photo mode | Time-lapse mode
- Audio: Built-in omni-directional microphone, AAC 2-channel 32K, 24-bit, Auto Gain | External Mic/Audio Line-in 1.4 Vrms
- Battery : Built-in Rechargeable 3.7V, 650mAh Lithium-Ion | upto 130 Minute Record Time
Cycliq Fly 12 Front facing camera and front light
It also has the added advantage of being a lot more stealthy than a head mounted camera, which can provoke hostility from some.
Find out more about the Cycliq Fly 12 Front 1080p Camera and 400 lumen Bike Light (Includes 16GB SD Card)
Cycliq Fly6 rear light / camera
Ok, this isn’t a head camera, but it’s a very popular rear view camera AND a tail light, all in one neat little package!
- 720p video & audio recording from behind.
- Up to 30 lumens of light output, so you’ll be seen!
- Records up to 6 hours.
- Includes an 8GB micro SD class 10 memory card pre-installed.
Drift Innovation Stealth 2
This model was recommended by a ScarletFire reader, in the comments below. Thanks!
- Full HD 1080p @ 30fps / 720p @ 60fps
- Half the size – the smallest drift ever
- Built-in WiFi – perfect for shot setup, recording, photo capture and playback on your mobile device (iOS and Android)
- 40% lighter – super light weight of only 97g
- A powerful 1500 mAh battery provides an extended recording time of 3 hours
Extending the life of batteries
Our demand for battery life seems insatiable.
Will someone just please invent a micro nuclear reactor that could power a device for its entire life? That’s an episode of Dragon’s Den I wouldn’t want to miss.
Until then, you can top up your batteries with, er, other batteries.
USB battery packs are available cheaply on line from Amazon, try this bestselling portable external battery , reduced from £45 to just £15
There are even smaller ones, if you’re worried about space or weight, that can still extend the battery for 5 to 7 hours. Anker make some good ones..
What’s your view of head cams for cycling?
Do you use one?
Have you ever needed to use footage as evidence?
Please leave a comment!