it if it's not broken?
If you're looking for broadcast
quality with all the bells, whistles, add-ons and goodies, it's hard to
beat the GoPro or Garmin's high-tech new Virb. But we're ignoring
these, in favor of far less expensive cams - cameras capable of
producing quality video while cheap enough to modify or destroy without
breaking the bank.
Verify camera specs and
sources before purchasing any cam, and be aware that some cheapos found
online advertise frame rates and specs that are absolutely false.
Cameras, components and sources discussed below have proven reliable,
if not outstanding. nCity is not affiliated with any manufacturer, product or
vendor mentioned here, BTW. For information and links to these, see
resources and references list at bottom
of this page.
Video cams come in all sorts of
configurations with various options and features; cams considered here
employ a minimum feature set (detailed below) crucial for mobile video
and primarily for use on a motorcycle.
and results are sure to vary.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK
See you on
down page to:
Action cams, security cams and lens options
The majority of both action and
security cameras share a common lens type known as M12. Action cams
typically use wide-angle lenses while security cams tend to have a more
focused or close-up field of view (FOV). Image distortion can be
considerable at 100º or more (most action cams), and a FOV below 30º might be too tight. Somewhere between 40º and 60º may
be considered "normal," 70º to 85º might be an acceptable wide-angle
compromise with less of a fisheye effect than typical action cams.
Why care about FOV and various lenses? If your goal is to cram maximum
information or FOV into the frame, a wide-angle lens is the only way to
go and this is why fisheye has become ubiquitous as the hallmark of
action-cam video. If
you're happy with your camera's lens (saving yourself much of what
follows), great! Maybe there are some mounting or power mods here
you'll find useful. On the other hand, a "normal" FOV with little
distortion and better focus on your target makes for better video,
which is what we're after.
Field of view (FOV) and focal length for 1/3" sensor, M12 lenses
important to note that sensor size, typically 1/4 or 1/3-inch, will
affect FOV. All specs here apply to 1/3-inch "megapixel" sensors.
1/4-inch sensors may have a slightly reduced FOV although these have
improved a great deal in recent years and may match their larger
The three (reduced) stills
above are from three Drift cams all mounted together to demonstrate FOV
difference between lenses. Distance from cameras to motorcycle was
about 20 yards (60 feet).
is from the Drift's OEM 2.5mm lens. Unwanted inclusion of objects
surrounding the camera becomes a problem when mounting a cam. Unless
placed at extreme front or rear of vehicle, a large portion of frame
will be consumed by nearby fenders, handlebars, helmet, or other things
that may detract from shot.
accurately shows target and frames clouds nicely while cropping out
peripheral nonsense and presenting more-or-less what the eye sees with
a 51º field of view. 6mm lens is good choice for general-purpose video.
3rd still from 8mm
lens just begins to enlarge target a tiny bit and might be best suited
for close-ups. Objects within about 20 feet or so will fill frame,
making it perfect for filming other riders or closeup targets. You may
notice a slightly different color balance in this shot, too, which is a
function of its IR-cut filter. The weaker the filter, the less color
saturation it produces as infrared begins to overwhelm other
frequencies, which is why using a high-quality IR-cut filter is very
The BFD about CCD
complicated can it be, right? Plenty. Read
all about it if you like, but here's the short version:
CCD was analog, sharp and smooth, from security cam and CCTV systems.
CMOS is digital, fast and easy, used in mobile devices and computers.
(CCD = charge coupled device, CMOS =
complimentary metal oxide silicon, pronounced 'sea-moss.')
Okay, let's be honest. Analog video doesn't stutter, it doesn't stall
or drop frames or make chunky exposure/color adjustments on the fly.
But we're dealing with _digital_ video output that can do all those
things, and the object is to avoid all of 'em in pursuit of the one
concern that certainly affects both types: Image quality (resolution,
color balance, exposure, playback).
Cameras may use either CCD or CMOS
sensors with identical lenses and IR-cut
filters to produce digital video output, so
while it's helpful to know which sensor/lens/filter combo your camera
of choice uses, sensor type really doesn't matter much. Both types are
equally sensitive to infrared wavelengths, BTW.
Micro lens assembly (left), and a typical
Another type of camera capable of producing
high quality video is the "spy" cam. High-end spy cams use a micro lens
package like the one shown above - complete with sensor and IR filter -
and are quite sophisticated, capable of shooting 1080p/60fps in some
cases. Certain spy cams are even programmable, offering image rotation,
loop/length options, time stamp and exposure adjustment, along with
audio. If micro-miniature is important to you, there's only one type of
cam to use and that's the 808-series cameras popular in RC and drone
projects. (See 808 cam section and links below.)
cameras have IR filters built-in for daytime use, but bare lenses will
probably not include any filters. As it turns out, getting a good
IR-cut filter can be the most difficult part of changing a lens, and
mounting a filter can be tricky. IR-cut filters typically consist of a
delicate coating on a small piece of glass positioned between
sensor and lens, and the quality of this filter has everything to do
with color balance. Digital video shot without an IR-cut filter (or
with a poor one) will appear slightly fuzzy with little or no color.
There are red IR-cut filters that reflect
IR and blue ones that absorb it, but the important thing is to prevent
infrared wavelengths from reaching the sensor. Some IR-cut filters are
much more efficient than others. If you purchase a new M12 lens, be
sure to get a top-quality IR filter to go with it, or use the filter
that came with your camera - if you can. IR-cut filters may be attached
to back end of lens or beneath lens fastened to mount or fixed over
sensor. In many cases, you'll won't be able to remove lens from mount
without destroying one or both, so plan on replacing all three; mount,
filter and lens.
Two types of M12 lens mounts are shown above, one upside-down showing
its IR filter attached to end of lens. Critical dimensions for board
mounts are the distance between centers of mounting screws (X mm =
18mm, 20mm, 22mm, etc.), and the depth of "box" covering sensor and
filter. Left mount has a deep box; upside-down mount on right has a
very shallow box. Some mounts use a locking ring or spring tension to
fix lens to mount, some have a set screw, but many are simply glued
together. Recommend storing original mount/lens/filter assembly in a
sealed bag in case cam is to be restored to original specs, and
replacing all three components when lens is modified.
Focus is achieved by screwing lens in/out of mount (more on that
later), but any contact between lens and sensor will likely damage
both, so beware o'that and make sure there is room and means to install
File type and editing: Resolution,
playback, size and apps
H.264 codec is best choice for editing purposes and
playback, a standard supported by most computers, handheld devices, web
browsers (HTML5) and editing software for its video
quality/compression. H.264 should be considered a requirement for
camera output (tho it may go by a variety of other names). From there,
it's a matter of file formats supported by your computer platform and
editing app. Objective is to avoid additional steps required to convert
video from some obscure camera format - especially if camera produces
corrupt or non-standard output making it a real PITA to deal with.
Video codec also determines storage requirements, and H.264 can cut
file size by 50% or more over older types.
As for resolution and frame rate, 720p at 30fps is the preferred
standard we've settled on here, considered minimum
1080p is available on many cams, as is 60fps (4K is next), but these
improvements aren't necessarily worth the extra burdens of storage and
editing requirements for us (haven't seed Ridley since '01 ;-); you may
prefer to shoot at higher quality settings. We're talking about just
under 1GB/min. streaming and storage, depending on number of cams,
edited versions and software power - and that's only at 720p.
(720p = 1280 x 720 pixels, and 1080p = 1920
x 1080 pixels. Both are wide-format 16:9 aspect ratio.)
At the very bottom of video
quality/size scale is QVGA (320 x
240), followed by quite-acceptable-for-web VGA (640 x 480), both in 4:3
aspect ratio. Then a big step up to 16:9
aspect ratio and 720p and 1080p digital. If your goal is YouTube
or web video, there's nothing wrong with shooting in VGA. YouTube
will likely distill submitted videos anyway. Plus, many ISPs cap file
size transfers to as little as 10MB - all good reasons to use
lower-quality VGA. However, these things are bound to change, and once
recorded it's not possible to improve video quality later, so - again -
you may decide to shoot higher quality and submit reduced versions on
is a topic worthy of the many books and manuals written on the subject,
options are legion, running from free (and easy) to hundreds and even
thousands of dollars.
Final Cut X, Adobe Premier, Avid Composer are all high-end, top-notch
apps, but there are some low-cost and free gems out there, too,
starting with everybody's favorite iMovie.
iMovie has changed dramatically over the years in operation, interface
and price. Once a free addition to the MacOS - and still available with
a little hunting - it's now a $15 app (or part of $50 iLife suite).
Windows users have Windows
Movie Maker, among others. Search "video editing software" on
Google for countless choices, but you're certainly going to need
_something_ for video editing.
As with everything these days, you get what you pay for (mostly), and
free or light-weight video editing apps lack the pizazz of pro apps.
Major considerations include 4:3 versus 16:9 aspect ratio, ability to
handle high-rez or HD video and file-type compatibility. Other things
to consider include multi-cam support, audio editing, transitions and
special effects and many other capabilities that will become apparent
over time. Final Cut X does it all and then some, but its $300 price
and learning curve involving all things video means a serious
commitment. It will require its own 1TB+ hard drive (7200rpm or better)
for best results, too. So there you have it. If shooting VGA video on
the cheap is okay with you, the starter setup below will get you going.
Quick, cheap and easy (QCE!) starter setup
If web video is your thing and you're okay with a 640 x 480
movie, here's a two-camera setup for less than $100 using Vivitar's
great little DVR 480 cameras and an older version of iMovie HD (v6.0.3) that came free from
Apple (and may still be found online). Or, use Vivitar's video editing
software that comes with this camera.
This lil' guy measures 11/2" x 33/4"
x 1" thick and weighs less than 3oz. with batteries and card installed.
It has a standard 1/4x20 camera mount on its bottom and LCD readout on
top with a blue on/off LED.
Best of all, it has a great lens, records at 30fps, and will record all
day long on a pair of AAA alkaline batteries. LCD displays battery status
and recording time, about 4 hours in high resolution or 14 hours in low
rez QVGA on a 16GB card. It comes with a variety of helmet and adhesive
mounts, a USB cable, and a silicon cover to protect it in foul weather.
At about $35 apiece, you'll have plenty of money left over for
batteries and SD cards.
(NOTE: The one and only minor glitch is that some of these cams have
doors that catch on batteries when closing, but slipping a piece of
paper past batteries while closing the door takes care o'that.)
Vivitar DVR 480 teardown and audio mod:
Like all video cameras, the DVR 480 also records audio. But, like most
of these small video cameras, it's audio quality suffers from having
its microphone inside its case. Once removed and made into an external
mic, audio quality from this camera is outstanding.
Remove batteries and memory card, then pry off side panels using a
spudger (shown, aka "black stick," a soft plastic tool perfect for jobs
like this), or use a plastic card to avoid damaging housing. (Just
don't use a credit card, you'll need that later.) Start at rubber lens
cover and work down each side toward camera rear to free clips.
side panels removed, free the rubber "ears" of lens cover from slots on
each side, then pop
rubber lens cover from housing at top and bottom. With unit
up-side-down, remove four phillips screws, two on each side. Remove two
more short screws from front lens cover. Carefully pry housing halves
apart and lift off unit's bottom case.
Microphone was removed
and replaced with a 2.5mm jack from Radio Shack soldered to mic leads
(red + to tip). Opening was cut in housing, a matching hole drilled
thru side cover and jack was then epoxied in place. Observing polarity,
mic was soldered to a short 3" cable with 2.5mm plug and placed in a
fuzzy wind muff. Resulting audio from this motorcycle-mounted camera
was much better than expected.
To see the Vivitar 480 at work, including audio after the mod above,
see the 21st Annual NCFTR video posted on our
Cams were mounted front, rear, both sides + one down low on bike. All
audio during the ride was from the 480 tailcam (mostly audible in last
1/3rd of video if you can suffer thru it).
Operation by remote or autopilot (loop)
with remote controls are becoming common for good reason. Think helmet
cam: A wireless remote eliminates having to grope for controls and
allows easy start/stop without risking change in camera focus or
direction by handling camera. Multiple mounted cams can all be
activated simultaneously by a single remote, too, provided they've all
been paired up and turned on. This function is important enough to be
considered critical in many situations, especially when riding, and can
be thought of as in-camera editing saving a lot of review and editing
time later. Cams with a standby mode - screen off - actually have
impressive battery life, at least the ones we've used do. Many will
last nearly all day. There's really only one alternative to remote
control, and that's pre-programmed automation. We call it autopilot.
"Autopilot" means a camera may be programmed to record nonstop,
re-recording over previous unsaved video in a continuous loop. Cameras
with loop functions in their programming are commonly sold as dash-cams
or "black-box" cameras and operate much like a so-called black-box in
an aircraft (or car). Any physical shock to the camera automatically
saves a pre-defined length of video and locks it to prevent it from
being overwritten as camera continues to record. Most such cams also
have a button that serves the same purpose, saving blocks of video
manually (without a shock). Autosave options are entirely a function of
camera's programming, and options vary between brands. Otherwise, a
non-stop loop may be used to capture everything, but be prepared for
reviewing and editing hours of video.
Most cameras will also have program (firmware) updates from
time-to-time, so be ready for that, too. Some cams, notably spy cams,
use a computer file that may be modified and customized before loading
into camera where that file becomes camera's firmware program.
modus operandi here is the action cam approach, and these are usually
battery-powered in the 3-5vdc range and may be charged via USB. Record what you like, when you like, in short clips, with remote control and multiple mounting options (incl. helmet
cams). Or, if hard wiring to vehicle 12vdc is the plan, a USB adapter is the obvious choice for
cams with USB ports (5v). Cigarette lighter adapters are common in the
U.S. - even on motorcycles - but Euro-style "powerlet" ports are
provided on many metric vehicles. Hard-wire or battery power, both have
specific advantages and corresponding drawbacks.
Needing a battery tender for winter, I found a nice one with
this bullet connector and cap on it. Used
wiring from powerlet port (instead of going to battery lugs), and ran
this connector out to motorcycle's side cover where connecting battery
tender would be convenient. Happened to be right next to saddlebags, so
I whipped up an ugly-ass 12v adapter for use as a camera and battery
charger while on the road.
Pictured here is what used to be a dual-port USB charger from Vivitar
designed to fit into a cigarette lighter. Each port is rated at 1000mA
(1 amp) @ 5vdc, plenty of power for charging phones, cameras and other
USB gizmos, so I wired up a standard bullet connector to mate with
battery tender lead (above). The two coil cords plug into Wasabi
battery chargers and are both direct to 12v. This allows me to charge
two cameras on USB and charge two spare batteries at the same time.
Wasabi charger shown came with a pair of camera batteries, available
for just about any brand of camera and at a great price. (From a vendor
named Blue Nook on Amazon, link below). Both the Wasabi batteries and
chargers are top-notch, well made and highly recommended. Chargers have
retractable 120vac plugs _and_ a 12vdc port (arrow) for their included
car adapters. All this is great for the battery-powered action cam
approach to video, but what about the so-called "black box" approach to
recording video? These components could easily be modified and
installed to provide power, if necessary.
A full-time powered camera that loops over a 32GB+ card will catch
everything, nonstop. Wired thru ignition switch, most "black-box" cams
start recording as soon as they receive power and don't stop until
ignition turns off, triggering cam to save video before shutting down.
Do the math and you should find 32GB gives you plenty of recording time
at 720p/30fps. Some cameras are event, shock and/or motion-activated,
some have time-lapse options as well, but all will generate loads of
video if you're willing to wade thru it to pull out those few seconds
of drama. Handy for insurance claims, the
black-box approach certainly has its place and purpose, guaranteed to
catch the unexpected at all times.
Black box hard-wired and fixed-mount cam, or battery-powered and
portable action cam? Tough choice. Both? 8^)
Crocolis Extreme cam teardown
of this mod was twofold: 1.) Rotate image 180º so that camera may be
mounted upside-down, (+ display flips UP with cables attached), and 2.)
replace 120º wide-angle lens with a tighter 76º (4mm) lens.
Rotating cam's lens will show an upside-down image on display while
screen data remains as-is, both of which are less than useful, or - at
least - disconcerting. Makes display pretty much useless. (Fun to watch
friends turn camera over and over trying to get image right-side-up
tho. ;-) Video records
properly (right-side-up), only the LED display is inverted.
However - a better use for this camera might be recording in the
infrared range, in which case inverting lens is not desirable and a
16mm/12-degree M12 lens might be better (see Infrared Mod below).
Unlatch and open camera back, remove battery and SD card. Remove 4 screws from lens cover and remove cover. Flip camera
upside-down and remove all 8 recessed screws from bottom of case. Flip camera right-side-up with door wide-open (leave those
screws on top) and carefully push lens and assembly toward camera rear
until speaker wires are exposed, about 3/4". Speaker wires will have to
be unsoldered from printed circuit board to allow further disassembly.
Mark red and black on board with felt pens, then unsolder speaker wires
and insulate ends for now, as shown:
wires out of the way and continue to extract assembly from case, being
careful to avoid stressing ribbon cable connecting display to assembly (#1 below). Try not to disturb thermal pad (#2).
Once extracted, assembly may be placed upright on display/door as shown.
Remove four screws from bracket just behind round sensor board. Mark
corners of mount and corresponding corner of slotted bracket (3) as these are keyed together.
Remove 2 screws attaching sensor board to
bracket, exposing ribbon cable (4). Carefully open ZIF connector (5)
and remove ribbon cable noting orientation thru bracket to main board.
mount may now be replaced with new lens, new mount and new IR-cut
Rotate Lens Option:
New ribbon cable (7) is 50mm
long, about twice as long as original (8). Both are .5mm pitch,
30-pin with same-side contacts. Longer ribbon cable allows sensor
board/lens to be rotated 180º. Sensor board was also modified, cutting
flat side on (new) top required to clear mechanism inside housing.
Frankly, fitting an IR-cut filter to the lens mount
on this particular camera was a PITA. Not only that, _two_ IR filters
weren't enough for this camera. (original filter is ruby-red.) Which
makes it perfect for night vision, since it seems to be hyper-sensitive
in the IR range anyway. What's the mod? Reassemble cam without IR-cut
filter(s), and fix two locking rings to allow manual focus while in
use, at each end of focal range.
Initial reassembly: Connect new
ribbon cable to main board ZIF connector, determine intermediate
bracket's orientation (it is keyed and only mounts one-way), slide
bracket over ribbon and secure ribbon to sensor board ZIF connector.
Secure bracket's 2 screws to sensor board. Allowing for 180º turn, twist and shape new ribbon cable beneath bracket while
rotating lens assembly and secure bracket in position with 4 screws.
At this point it might be best to check
image before proceeding. Insert charged battery (and SD card if
necessary), or connect micro HDMI output cable to a TV input. Adjust
focus - get it perfect! - and lock lens in place with locking ring, set
screw, dab of paint or glue (if you're sure).
Final reassembly: Turn unit off,
disconnect HDMI, remove battery. Hold speaker wires outside of case and carefully slide complete assembly back into housing,
paying close attention to display ribbon cable (#1 above) and making
sure end of this cable and its support slip into slot in door without
snagging on anything. Stop with 3/4" remaining and re=solder speaker
wires. Tuck wires into case and press assembly forward until it seats
in place. Replace lens cover and all screws.
Drift HD 720 Camera
teardown & mods
here is to replace cam's wide-angle 130º lens with a "normal" lens, in
this case a 6mm/50º lens with new mount and IR-cut filter. (Changing lenses means replacing lens, mount and filter
because original assembly cannot be taken apart or modified. If you
try, you're likely to destroy all three.)
Disassembly begins with removing back cover, battery and SD card.
Remove four 1.5mm hex screws and lens cover. Flip camera upside-down
and remove six long phillips screws from bottom-half of
Lift bottom case straight up, pull speaker loose
from case (if necessary), set bottom case aside.
Note spring-loaded battery eject mechanism and
location of antenna wire. Remove eject spring and arm (to avoid losing
'em). Loosen rubber seal from rear of case and peel it forward toward
lens, popping mic out of its rubber mount (see below). Holding seal
toward lens, free antenna wire, then move battery box aside exposing
circuit boards and lens assembly.
Next step is the delicate process of releasing ZIF connector and
removing internals from top case. (If you're only replacing lens, you
might be able to skip this step and work with only bottom case
removed.) ZIF release is a brown tab that _slides_ about 1/16" away
from connector toward case wall. Remove screws
from circuit board, then free circuit board assembly from top case by
lifting lens end first. Ribbon cable should slide out of ZIF connector.
Set top case aside.
Mark sensor board and corresponding side of
lens mount for reference on reassembly; bear in mind that lens is
upright when camera's display is on RH side and lens housing is aligned
In a dust-free environment, remove four screws between sensor board and
lens mount while holding all firmly in place to avoid damaging sensor.
Two of these fasten board to mount, the other two are longer and pass
thru to lens housing.
Remove lens+mount from housing/seal by pressing lens rearward (press
fit). Store original lens/mount assembly in a sealed bag in case you
might want to return cam to its original configuration - resist
temptation of removing lens from mount.
Replacement mount with a proper IR-cut
filter may be
obtained from B&H Photo in New York (SKU = MAVLH4IR, security lens holder w/FBG28 filter,
link below). New M12 mount will need to be filed down slightly on all
four sides, but will then fit into Drift's rotating housing perfectly.
And the IR-cut filter from B&H is excellent.
Lens must be a SHORT one to accommodate the Drift's lens
cover. The two 6mm lenses shown here are both megapixel models with
nearly identical optical specs, but the long
one (22.5mm in length) will not fit behind lens cover when focused. The
shorter model fits, but there's another problem: Drift's convex lens
cover prevents sharp focus with normal lenses. So, we added a gasket
cut from 1/8"-thick neoprene rubber and used a flat glass crystal. We
also added a thinner O-ring to replace the Drift's seal.
Focus and fine
tune before reassembly
NOTE: If you haven't removed
the battery eject spring and arm, now is a good time. Once eject has
been removed, insert a battery and SD card, power up and install lens.
Focusing this cam is a bit more
difficult than those with HDMI output than can be focused on a large
screen. We used an Air Force test target with the Drift's display as a
starting point, then shot test video using index marks to fine-tune
The M12 mount specified above has a pilot
hole for a short set screw to secure lens; there was also room for a
lock ring, so we used both. Lock ring is tight to lens with index mark,
a piece of white tape wrapped around mount has a series of clockwise
and counterclockwise marks in tiny increments. Starting with best focus
from cam's display at center mark, aim at a good target - we used a
building across the street with a chain link fence in front - and start
recording while saying, "clockwise one, clockwise two," giving each
mark a few seconds to record. Then review video on a big monitor.
Repeat as necessary to achieve a sharp image. Once satisfied with
focus, secure lens with set screw, lock ring, a dab of paint or glue.
Remove battery, replace eject mechanism and reassemble camera.
Moving the mic outside the lil' Vivitar (above) and into a muff was
such an enormous improvement in audio quality, I just had to do the
same for the Drift cam. Using the 8mm tailcam, I removed the Drift's
mic, soldered it to a short stereo cable with a 2.5mm plug (ignoring
center connector) and reinforced connection with some stiff shrinkwrap.
Mic was placed into a very soft,
hollow silicone grommet - just like Vivitar mic above - to further
deaden any vibration and give the mic a little more mass.
Muff is made
from a circle of sheepskin about the size of a silver dollar with a tiny hole punched thru hide at mic, then drawn tight with a stitch around perimeter. Foam
muffs are available from Radio Shack, or foam tips from earphones might
The original Drift microphone mount has a hard plastic
T-shaped spacer within its rubber socket; inside diameter is perfect
for 2.5mm jack, using the smallest, round, panel-mount jack available.
Jack's switch contact was carefully cut off - snug fit inside rubber
mic socket - and that T-shaped spacer had to be shortened a bit to
allow plug to seat properly. Naturally, the thin rubber mic cover had
to be pierced, which may compromise the Drift's weatherproof seal but
useful audio sans wind noise is absolutely worth it. (The little Vivitar 480 has slightly
better audio tho, sorry to say, even with same mic.)
The 808 family of
not least is a wide variety of tiny HD cameras loosely known as 808
cams from Hetai in China. The camera that started it all was a tiny
keychain model that shot such remarkable video it quickly became
popular with hobbyists of all kinds. It has since gone thru dozens of
revisions and improvements, and morph'd into pen cams, lapel cams, a
helmet/action cam (using M12 lens) and a full-on black-box type with
2.4" display and HDMI out called the DR32 Driving Recorder. Point is,
these folks are serious, and their cameras come in about any
configuration you can think of. And they all shoot excellent daylight
video! (The 808 is not quit fast enough for nighttime tho.) This is an
the original 808 keychain cam (shown actual size) you can see micro SD
card slot with card installed, USB port, microphone in upper-left above
lens, and its rechargeable battery on right.
To accommodate their fans in the US and UK, they've made many
enhancements to cam's firmware, configuration and features. Battery now
plugs into board, lenses use ZIF connectors so they're interchangeable
with a variety of other micro lens assemblies (on a variety of cables),
and you can do just about anything with these cameras.
808 cameras may be obtained direct from manufacturer in China via
select vendors on eBay (link below), and some are also available thru
retailers like B&H. Remarkably sophisticated and capable lil' guys,
these cams are the darling of radio-control (RC) flyers everywhere due
to their size/weight and thanks to manufacturer's willingness to
provide parts, modifications and assistance. Rather than rely on
screens and menus or switches for setting various controls, all but the
black-box model rely on pre-programmed firmware for setup and
operational choices - and even the firmware can be easily customized.
They've become so popular on eBay and elsewhere that it's spawned more
than a few imitations out there, so be careful where you buy these. Two
of my fav eBay vendors are listed below, but Hetai has others.
In addition to the 808 cams, they now have a brand new, capable and
sophisticated action cam called the Mobius ActionCam. Fully
programmable including flipped video, time lapse, looping, audio, photo
size, video resolution, timestamp on/off, auto start/stop and more. It
sports 1080p/30fps, 720p/30 or 60fps, USB, video out in 4:3 or 16:9,
and the slickest mount ever. The Mobius ActionCam weighs less than 1.5
oz. and shoots excellent video, even in low light conditions.
They also have a camera with similar specs as the Mobius in black-box
configuration, the DR32. This one has a 2.4" TFT LCD display,
accelerometer with auto lock, HDMI and USB output, complete with
windshield mount and all accessories. Hetai cameras are every bit as
good as other video cams costing 3-4 times the price, and superior in
some very important ways including size/weight and functions. They
really are outstanding.
The Chuck Lohr and Tom Frank sites below have tons of info, mods and
example video to explore regarding 808 and Mobius cameras. Another
outstanding resource comes from a gentleman in the UK - Techmoan (I
believe his name is Mat) - who has created both a YouTube channel and
his own web side dedicated to reviews of these 808s and many other
small, inexpensive video cameras; quite possibly the most extensive
collection of video cam reviews on the web, certainly some of the best
and most thoughtful.
The smaller and lighter the cam, the
cameras come with a variety of plastic mounts, typically handlebar and
helmet mounts. Specialized mounts are available in countless
configurations, too. At top-left is an anodized aluminum clamp designed
for versatility with a ball-mount at camera and a set of jaws that will
grab onto just about anything. Next is a rather awkward handlebar
mount, then a typical suction-cup windshield
mount, and in the middle is a two-part scheme where center piece
threads into camera then clips into either of the concave helmet mounts
on either side of it (left one takes a strap and right one has
adhesive). My fav is the stainless clamp at bottom-left; found at a
marine store on eBay and modified, it's as short and stout as possible.
The one on bottom-right has a swivel head added from a $5 tripod.
Between them is a modified "P"
clamp for 1.25" bars from Formotion.
Since our primary focus here is mounting cams on
motorcycles, we have problems to deal with that might not apply to
other vehicles, starting with vibration and a phenomenon known as "CMOS
wobble" which is all but unavoidable. Camera size/weight and length of mount become critical;
bikes generally vibrate most at low speeds and idle, but some shake so
much that a helmet cam or body cam may be the only usable options.
CMOS wobble occurs when motor rpm hits a harmonic
frequency causing camera sensor to react with wavy video, and it's
completely unpredictable. Even the smoothest engine is likely to
trigger it briefly when going thru the gears. Using the short stainless
mount, Vivitar's tiny 3 oz. CMOS cam seems to avoid it, tho I haven't
really tested the Vivitar at high rpm. The much larger 5 oz. Drift cam
recorded CMOS wobble right around 3700 rpm on a recent trip, but that
is sure to change with different mount or location. Forward cam was
mounted on handlebars near left grip; moving cam closer to center of
bars is bound to change things, as would a different mount, possibly
one with some cushion might help. Just know that defeating vibration is
one thing, but chasing CMOS wobble will probably be an ongoing battle.