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VholdR helmet camera / headcam review

VholdR helmet camera / headcam review

Video cameras are a perfect way to capture footage of riders in action until you want to convey a bit more than how you look - and show how it actually feels to be you! Forget 3rd person, 1st person is where it is at...
I looked into running a helmet cam setup a while back got confused, could not find what I wanted and gave up looking. When I was racing the Masters Worlds this year, lots of riders seemed to be filming so since then I have looked into first person video cameras a bit more seriously. There appeared to be two options on the market, both with significant drawbacks.

First up are the "Tony Hawk" style fully self contained units. These offer simplicity and ease of use but they are relatively bulky and much more importantly, have no screen to use for setup. This means there is no real way of telling where they are pointing. You will have to resort to sighting down it and crossing your fingers when you get home and download the footage.

The other option involves hooking up a bullet type cam to the a suitable recording device and possibly some extra mics and remote control buttons and maybe even a battery pack. I am not looking to cover myself in gaffer tape, carry a hucksack and battle with cables just to capture a run. I already lug tonnes of still camera gear to events so this option was not for me.

Obviously the guys from Twenty20 share my problem, but they were in the business to do something about it. The VholdR is their solution.

VholdR (sat on my iPod classic for scale)

What is it? Well, it is a tiny self contained video camera that films at 640x480 resolution and stores the footage onto a Micro SD card. All this is wrapped up in a single lightweight water resistant and tough aluminium casing. The design brief was obviously concentrate on the usability and integration so the camera is backed up by the community software allowing you to easily upload and share your footage.

In the box you get the camera, battery, USB lead, 1gb Micro SD memory card, a flat surface mount and the software. Goggle, handlebar and vented helmet mounts are optional extras.

To get started, install the software, plug in the camera and charge it from your computer with the included USB lead. A full charge takes about 3 hours. Once the red light goes green, install the memory card and power on to boot up the camera.

A loud beep signals the unit had booted and you are ready to go filming. Choose a mount, slide the camera and use the spines in the base and rotating lens to point the twin lasers in the direction you want to film. Camera not vertical? No worries, the front lens element rotates 90 degrees each way - just twist until the two laser dots are level.

The camera is supplied with a stick on mount. The options are endless - stick it on your lid, car, skis, fuel tank, fender - you name it. Since the stick on mount is a bit of a one shot wonder and I will be running goggles on a variety of helmets for most of my film-worthy moments (riding downhill, skiing and motocross), I opted for the goggle mount.

Goggle mount on the strap, ready for the camera

The camera mounted to my moto lid

Vented mount for an XC helmet

Clicking the power button does two things. First, it lights up LEDs so you can check the battery and card status - green LEDs for good, amber for part used and red for flat/full. The battery life should be enough to fill a 2GB card, which is about 100 minutes of footage. Second, the power button fires up the twin lasers so you can see where the camera is pointing. This is the "killer" feature that sets this camera apart in its class.

Frickin laser beams let you check the camera alignment

Slide the big switch forward to start filming. 1 beep tells you that you are recording. When you are done, slide it back. Two beeps indicate the camera has stopped and the file is saved.

Once you are back to base and ready to relive your day, plug the camera into your USB connection (ensure camera is booted up first) and the desktop software downloads your videos. Here, you can do some simple editing then post the video straight onto the VholdR website to share with the community. Sharing video this way gives much better quality than uploading the footage to YouTube, where its aggressive compression ruins the quality.

In use I found the cam super easy to use, even wearing gloves. It is probably wise to spend a bit of time at home getting to know things like the boot sequence, how to activate the lasers (just push the power button again). Also ensure you know which way to move the big slider for "film" and "stop" or else you could be out of phase with yourself and end up missing the adrenaline fuelled action.

The laser alignment worked a treat. Just get in your riding position, look at something a few feet away and fire them up. Tweak the camera position so the lasers are in the centre of your view and you should be sorted.

I have not ridden DH much recently and it has not snowed yet, so here is some motocross action to test the goggle mount. The lens flare you see on camera was actually worse in "real life" through my goggles. The low sun really was that bad but overall the average exposure from the camera was fairly accurate. Occasionally it gets confused, trying to average the dark track and bright sky, exposing for one or the other. The original file quality (MPEG4 saved as an AVI file) was more than good enough to watch back on a 28" TV with minimal artefacts or "blocks" affecting the image.

Rather than me trying any kind of technical review of video quality, check out the website - it is a bit of an extreme YouTube! There you will get your own idea of the video quality and some awesome mounting ideas and tips to help you make your mind up if this option is for you.

One problem that I had was wind noise on the tiny mic. There is a little hole on the bottom which picks up all the sound. It is so sensitive that as soon as you hit a decent speed, wind noise is very invasive. To help solve this I made a little "muff", using the principle you see when a furry sound boom floats into shot on out-take TV! I had some sticky back velcro left over from doing my chain stays - a little polo shapes piece round the mic hole made the world of difference.

The desktop software has been updated a couple of times while I have had the camera. It is still fairly basic but now offers the ability to trim your clips. Joining clips together would be a welcome addition, as would the option to choose where files are saved (instead of the default "My Documents/VholdR Videos").

You can organise videos in folders, but the folders only go to one "depth" - I would like to have a top level folder by sport - such as Downhill, Skiing, Motocross, then folders by event under that. At the moment you are stuck to loads of top level folders. I have also not figured out if I can set the internal clock on the camera yet so all clips are recorded as created on the same date.

Aside from the few issues above, the camera proved really capable. Despite being subject to wind, rain and sand the goggle mount held it solid and I got some great footage. The laser alignment makes setup really simple and accurate.

At 349 RRP in the UK, it is an expensive little gadget. There are a few issues with basic software.

However, comparing the camera to other systems on the market, the unique combination of features and convenience make it a strong contender for capturing your finest moments!

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[ VholdR helmet camera / headcam review ] - posted on 17th December 2008 by Phil.

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[ NeoGuard review ] - posted on 4th December 2007 by Phil.

[ DMC Moto trainer review ] - posted on 27th November 2007 by Phil.

[ Shimano XT shadow mech ] - posted on 13th November 2007 by Phil.

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