Published Somedays

Making Mountain Biking Videos

[Update 2010] My newest helmet cam: The Contour HD 1080P camera..

[Update 2007] Read about my latest HD helmet cam setup.

First published 3/26/05

You too can look like something from Mystery Science Theater.

Update: This is my new mount setup from RAM Mounts. Not as stable as the helmet setup, but works ok in certain configurations. Lets you bring the action closer to the ground and you can also see the wheel which is kinda cool.

To make videos of mountain biking, I first had to find a way to mount a camera securely. I have a Sony DCR PC-5 mini DV video camera with a 0.6X wide angle lens adapter installed. It's nice and compact. So I decided to mount the entire camera on my helmet. But why would I want to mount the entire camera on my head when I can go out and buy a tiny lightweight lipstick camera?

Well, for several reasons:
  • Lipstick camera images tend to shake a lot because they don't have digital image stabilization like the video camera.
  • They aren't good at adjusting to changing lighting conditions, such as going from woods to an open field.
  • The lens is small which limits the light gathering capability (fine if you're in sunny CA but not for east coast woods).
  • There's a lot of wires to manage, including video, sound, battery, and remote wires.
  • I didn't want to spend any money.

Who knows, maybe they've gotten better by now. I'm always looking for something better. After all, it is kind of a pain carrying 8lbs on your head, although I've gotten used to it by now, including the stares I get from people.

Here's a couple links to places that make lipstick cams:

These cameras will run you $200 to $300 and up. I don't know $300 bucks will buy you a nice Mini DV camcorder these days with outstanding image quality. My Sony has been going since 2001 despite all the thrashing it's been through. When it breaks I'm getting another Sony.

And here's a link to a new concept in recording: (update 12/2007 -- This company's website no longer exists)

This hands-free wearable camera is always recording. You just press a button to save the last 30s. Kind of like a TiVo for your life. Now you can capture all the crashes you would miss otherwise.

Before you take your first video, make a checklist. This will avoid many mistakes that can ruin your footage.

Things to check include:

  • Is the camera mounted securely?
  • Is the camera aimed correctly?
  • Is the lens cap off?
  • Is the battery charged?
  • Is the lens zoomed all the way out?
  • Is there a new tape in the camera and is the tape at the beginning?

Also, periodically check during filming to make sure nothing has changed, such as dust getting on the lens or water. I lost a lot of footage one time when water droplets got on the lens and the camera focused on the droplets instead of the trail. Doh!

Take a look at these images of my homemade mounting system. You don't have to spend a lot - I think this cost me $5 at a hardware store. It's lasted nearly three years and still going strong. You can buy a camera shell for some extra protection. Think helmets makes one.

DSCN1807.JPG DSCN1692    

Recently I got a new mounting system from RAM Mounts. I can mount my camera just about anywhere on my bike using this system. I've tried the handlebar, fork, seat post and top tube. Even though it feels secure the camera still moves on rough trails. I've only had good luck with the top tube mounting position shown in the photo at the top. It's confusing to figure out what you need from the catalog, but if you call gpszone they carry RAM Mounts and are very helpful.

After I've filmed a ride, I fire up my Mac and import it through the Firewire cable. I use iMovie to do all my editing. iMovie is pretty basic - you can't do fancy editing, effects or transitions. Probably better that way because the one thing I can't stand is a lot of cheesy effects.

You'd be surprised at how much footage you'll have from just a short ride. Thirty minutes is a lot. It's hard to boil it down to five minute movie. Any longer and people will get bored. Today's editing styles call for lots of quick shots, never letting a shot linger for more than three seconds. I can't stand this. You never really get to see anything, but apparently people get bored otherwise. So I'm still learning.