Why fix 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.

Your requirements and results are sure to vary.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK
See you on YouTube!



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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 100 or more (most action cams), and a FOV below 30 might be too tight. Somewhere between 40 and 60 may be considered "normal," 70 to 85 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     2013 nCity


It's 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 cousins.



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).
1st still 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.
2nd still accurately shows target and frames clouds nicely while cropping out peripheral nonsense
and presenting more-or-less what the eye sees with a 51 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 important.






The BFD about CCD and CMOS

How 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 M12 lens

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.)






Infrared (IR-cut) filters

Most 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. Not good.

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 IR-cut filter.






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 broadcast quality. 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 the 'net.

Editing video is a topic worthy of the many books and manuals written on the subject, and software 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.

With both 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 NevCo page.

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)
Cameras 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.









Providing power

Primary 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.
The 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, t
he 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 & mods Night Vision!
Objective of this mod was twofold: 1.) Rotate image 180 so that camera may be mounted upside-down, (+ display flips UP with cables attached), and 2.) replace 120 wide-angle lens with a tighter 76 (4mm) lens.

WARNING: 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).

Teardown:
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:

Hold speaker 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).
 
Remove Lens:
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.

Lens and mount may now be replaced with new lens, new mount and new IR-cut filter (6).

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 180. Sensor board was also modified, cutting flat side on (new) top required to clear mechanism inside housing.

Infrared Mod:
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 180 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

Objective here is to replace cam's wide-angle 130 lens with a "normal" lens, in this case a 6mm/50 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 camera case.
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 with case.

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 camera focus.


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.

Microphone breakout
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 work, too.

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 "spy" cams:

Last but 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 early 808:


Inside 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 better.
All action 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.










References
Techmoan - Extensive reviews covering a wide variety of inexpensive video cams
Techmoan's YouTube Channel - Video cam reviews posted on YouTube
Chuck Lohr's 808 cam pages - The unofficial how-to pages for 808 cams
Chuck Lohr's Mobius cam pages - Good look at the new Mobius ActionCam
Tom Frank's 808 cam pages - RC aircraft site with extensive 808 cam info
Tom Frank's Mobius cam pages - Specs, pics (incl. internal), mount, case, details
Cinemacuteo Film School - How-to shorts about all things video from Vimeo.com


Sources
B&H Photo and Video - Outstanding source for all sorts of cams and accessories
Wasabi batteries and Chargers - from Blue Nook on Amazon
B&H M12 lens mount w/IR-cut filter - SKU = MAVLH4IR w/FBG28 filter
Vivitar DVR 480 - Find dealers or search eBay for these cameras
Drift cameras, UK - Including the new Ghost cam. Find cams, vendors, accessories
M12 Lenses - M12 lenses and mounts (NOTE: Their IR-cut filters are worthless)
808 and DR32 cams on eBay - Beetleonline eBay store

808 and Mobius cams on eBay - Eletoponline365 eBay store

Excell Electronic on eBay - Hard-to-find ribbon cables used on lenses, boards (China)