This is a guide to using small video cameras in sports and in cars. I have used spycam type video cameras in paragliding because of their small size. These devices can easily be fitted to a helmet or harness. They come from China in a variety of forms, all small. I have tried two different spycams for flying. The D001 device (a clone of the US MD80 spycam) and also the D011 car video camera. Both were available on eBay. I am sorry to say that these (and probably all variations of the Chinese SpyCams currently available are not suitable for videoing with motion. The D011 is excellent if it is stationary (as in a cctv type use).
Any vertical movement the camera makes causes video wobble in which the video seems to wobble up and down like a jelly. This happens when simply driving down the road. When I used these devices during paragliding (when there is a high degree of pitch movement) the resulting video was unwatchable.
When I videoed a paragliding flight with my compact camera (using the basic video function) the results were perfect. So there is clearly something wrong with these Chinese spycams - I think it might be that the video processor is a cheap and slow chip because with pitch movement the video frames seem to be captured too slowly so each frame captures the vertical movement like. A video frame is saved like any slow shutter speed photograph - it starts at one corner and saves the image one line of pixels at a time. By the time it gets from the top to the bottom the image being received has changes due to the vertical movement of the sport so the resulting frame is distorted. This is what happens with these Chinese spycams. It doesn't happen with a standard camera's video function as the camera is of higher quality (and cost) and has a faster processor allowing quick capture of the video frame and thus leaving the frame undistorted.
Unfortunately, a standard compact camera is too bulky to use as a helmet camera. The only way to get around this is to purchase a non Chinese helmet camera for sports or in-car use. This will cost much more and expect to pay £100. But for this the result is good.
When choosing a video camera for sports consider the angle of view of the lens. A wide angle camera gives a much more 'human' view of the action but everything seems further away until the last moment when it tends to 'loom' close. Such a wide angle lens will include more details giving 'context' to the video. Using a less wide angle camera will give a proportionally more acceptable view but you get a 'blinkered' viewpoint. When you turn your head (with a headcam) or change direction it comes as a surprise on the actual video you see. It can make some people nauseous to watch this compared to a wide angle video, which seems to subue the movements of the camera making the result seem smoother and more professional.
You should be prepared that a non-wide angle camera will not capture what you - the sports person - actually experiences. The human eye has the ability to give you wide angle view and close-up detail viewing almost at the same time due to the illusion that the brain creates. Actually we only see detail in a tiny part of our vision at any one time. The rest of what we see is blurred. But the brain fools us into thinking we see most of our vision in detail. A video camera cannot replicate this so you might be dissapointed with results. Of all the paraglider pilots I have known who experimented with helmet video cameras very few did it for long, for this reason. So approach sport videoing with an open mind to the possible results obtainable.
Sports Video Cameras
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16 November 2010
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