Drift HD Helmet Camera Review

The night before we left on our Pyrenees tour our son dropped off a helmet camera. He bought it earlier this summer for the tour he and his finacee did of the Sunshine Coast in B.C. After giving me a fast tutorial on its setup (which I pretended to understand), he helped stuff our bags and disappeared. I have not troubled myself since to read the official instructions, so this review is written from the perspective of a "simple stupid" user.

The camera takes photos in three modes: single frame, multi-frame, and video. We discovered very early in the trip that the camera is not compatible with the iPad, so we took lots of photos with no feedback until very late in the trip. In other words we were shooting blind. (The iPad thinks it is supposed to charge the camera and says the camera wants too much power.)

Equipment Package

Helmet Cam (1)

The package came with a surprising number of components, most of which are still in the box in the above photo. Besides various mounting devices, the main items are the camera itself (centre), two batteries (white, on left), and the remote control (right). In the front of the photo is a cover for the camera back.

I wanted to mount the camera on the handlebars. However, LadyComo's handleboars were too thick for the mounting bracket so I used the camera on my helmet instead. This probably had more flexibility for taking photos, but the camera weight was noticeable.

Day 25 (3)

Sockets and Dockets

Helmet Cam (5)

There are five outlets on the back of the camera: USB, HDMI, microphone, battery, and memory card. The camera uses a microSD card for storing photos.

It comes with two back covers which screw on. One of the backs is completely sealed with no openings. I assume this one is to be used if you plan to cycle underwater and want to record the event. We did not try this.

The other cover has two little rubber flaps allowing you to plug in a USB cord and a microphone. The USB outlet is used for charging and connecting to a computer. The microphone input can be used to voice over a video recording. We did not try this either.

Power

The camera has a lithium-ion battery with a capacity of about 4 hours running time. It charges via the USB port. The small USB adapters used to charge telephones do not provide sufficient power to charge the battery. We missed a number of days' photos until we realized we had to use an adapter with larger power output (we used our Garmin charger for this).

The additional white battery can power the camera once its primary battery has run down. We didn't do this, but our son ran a USB cord down the back of his cycling jersey from the camera to the spare battery. He also had a small photovoltaic panel strapped on his back rack to charge a second battery while riding.

The Remote

Helmet Cam (3)

The remote is big and klunky. This is perfect. It is large enough to operate by "feel" when riding. It has only two buttons (Start and Stop) which are nice, large and easy to find. In single-frame mode only the Start button is needed. The Stop button is used for mutli-frame and video modes.

The camera gives an audible signal when using the remote so you know when you have taken a picture. This is very useful.

Lens Orientation

Helmet Cam (2)

The camera has a very strange lense. It is wide-angled in the vertical dimension but normal horizontally. According to Wikipedia this makes it "anamorphic". As a result a lot of our photos featured pavement instead of distant vistas. You get an feeling for this about 24 seconds into this video when I am moving my head sideways to capture the scenery.

Here's another example of a still photo. It is our hotel in Broto taken from the other side of the street. You can't see my toes, but most of the street has been captured.

Day 9 (8)

I don't know if the lense can be re-oriented. There are four screws on the front of the camera that might allow you to rotate it. I did not try this.

Photo Orientation

When photos are downloaded to the camera they are all rotated 90 degres clockwise. This is a minor aggravation for still photos. For videos it makes life a bit more interesting. You can either 1) lie sideways or 2) stand your laptop on edge for viewing. Alternatively, 3) Windows Movie Maker has an effect that will re-orient the video.

Photo Quality

The overall quality of the photos is moderate. When shooting into the sun the colour of shadows is very patchy. You can see this in this clip which was taken on our first day of riding when we were trying to find the start of the Via Verde (it took us an hour to find it). Sidelit or backlit photos are quite acceptable as seen in this example of a cycling team who passed us on the way to Broto.

Pyrenees Day 9 Campo to Broto

In video mode the motion is a bit jerky. You can see this in this clip on the way to Pont de Suert.

Summary

Positives:
1. Capability to take photos in three modes: single-frame, multi-frame, video
2. Rugged construction
3. Remote control
4. Storage capacity (we used a 32Gb microSD)
5. The memories. I'd forgotten how nice that day was on the way to Pont de Suert until I looked at the above clip again.

Negatives:
1. Sideways orientation of photos
2. Photo quality when shooting into the sun
3. Frames per second for video

Postitive and Negative:
1. Anamorphic lense

4 comments on “Drift HD Helmet Camera Review”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    A useful review Kern. I think it speaks partly about cycling video in general:

    ... our son ran a USB cord down the back of his cycling jersey from the camera to the spare battery. He also had a small photovoltaic panel strapped on his back rack to charge a second battery while riding.

    LOL... battery always seems an issue with video, and what you do with the video afterwards. I've more or less given up on my DogCam Bullet HD because there is so much messing about making it ready, operating the thing, and then the time spent editing on my computer. Plus my videos are tedious to watch (even for me!). A normal camera seems more convenient and expressive.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Yes, good review Kern.
    I'm afraid I try to steer clear of electronic gadgets as much as possible. They have their uses but complicate things a bit too much for me – or is it just me who can't follow the instructions properly? :)

  3. Thomas wrote:

    Regarding the iPad compatibility: did you try the SD card reader as well or just the USB adapter? I got the same error in my local Apple shop with the USB/lightning adapter, but I haven't tried the SD card reader yet.

  4. Kern wrote:

    Hi Thomas. Good question. Yes, we got an microSD card reader for our trip to Spain and it worked fine.

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