Mini camcorder for cyclists
DogCam’s Bullet HD WIDE mini camcorder is a wide angled version of their original mini bullet cam reviewed here in January. The lens resolution is the same high definition 1280 x 720 pixels but the camera’s field of view is increased from 60° to a much wider 135°. The new bullet cam also has a transparent lens casing that projects a little further, making it much easier to view the LED indicator light, and an on/off button that clicks audibly when activated. The cam is supplied with a 2GB Micro SD card with storage capacity for over 35 minutes of continuous video with sound.
Both mini Bullet HDs have a built-in battery that records continuously for 1.5 to 2 hours, so there are no external wires to bother with and – for cyclists – the cam fixes discreetly to a cycling helmet or to the bike’s handlebars (this latter option requires a Right-angled Double Hook and Loop Mount to be purchased separately; well worth the extra £5 in my opinion). The price of the camera is currently £145.
Bar / helmet mounting
DogCam Bullet HD WIDE, handlebar mounted (click to enlarge)
The camera is supplied with a couple of head straps, a plastic holder, two Velcro straps with elastic loops and several more pieces of double-sided sticky tape and adhesive Velcro. The method which works best on my cycling helmet is a strip of adhesive-backed Velcro stuck on the helmet with the smaller of the Velcro straps pressed onto it, with the camera held in the two elastic loops. The camera angle to the road can then be adjusted quite easily.
However, this is not ideal as this bullet cam is so small that it fits very close to the helmet and the lens field of view is so wide that part of the helmet stays in view at the side of the image. This is one reason why I prefer the cam fitted to my handlebars. The other advantage of handlebar mounting is that you have the cam right in front of you: easier to switch on and off reliably and easier to check and maintain the direction of view.
On the other hand, helmet mounting gives a higher viewpoint and more choice over where to point, so may be preferred by some cyclists, provided you are not irritated by sudden changes of angle as the user turns his/her head. For activities other than cycling a range of other mounts is available from DogCam. The bullet cam can be fixed to almost anything but bear in mind that your video will be much better if the cam is pointing in the right direction and the horizon is level.
HD video quality
The HD image resolution is 1280 x 720 pixels (aspect ratio 16:9) at 30 frames per second. At its original size the video image quality is, in my view, impressive for such a small and unobtrusive device. It should be noted that the maximum width of videos on YouTube is currently 640 pixels, which hardly does justice to the DogCam Bullet HD WIDE (or any other HD video camera). HD quality can only be fully appreciated by viewing at a width of 1280 pixels – direct from a hard drive or on a TV in other words. Loss of quality will always occur when video is downsized for the web.
Full size HD video:
Full-size stills from video:
Test video, handlebar mounted:
Town ride (view on YouTube)
Test video, helmet mounted:
Helmet test (view on YouTube)
Note! The YouTube videos are necessarily reduced in size and are not displayed at the camera’s full HD resolution.
An increasing number of cycle commuters are wearing a helmet cam to record bad driving, perhaps for court evidence in the case of an accident. A word of caution though. A wide angle lens throws subjects in centre view further away and it may be more difficult to read vehicle number plates unless they are quite close to the camera and the light is good. The standard Bullet HD with its more normal lens is still worth considering, as number plates are nearer and clearer, and if you like to wear the cam on your helmet you can always turn towards the subject.
On the other hand, wide angle brings more into view and enhances the impression of speed, adding to the sense of excitement. Note that a feature of lenses with a wide field of view is the tendency for verticals to curve inwards at the corners of the picture – a form of distortion. If you’re looking for accuracy a narrower angled lens is better; wide angle is more suited to a fun camera (both DogCam Bullet HDs are, of course, lots of fun).
Operating the camcorder
You charge the cam’s inbuilt battery with the supplied USB cable. It plugs into the cam underneath the end cap where the Micro SD card is also slotted in. Two end caps are supplied: one with holes (for the microphone) and the other without (for full waterproofing to 10 metres depth). I’ve found the microphone works even with the waterproof cap. The battery charges in less than an hour from flat, with the LED showing green when full (a mains charger is available as an extra).
The small button on top is then pressed to start (or stop) recording video. There isn’t much else to it; operation is very simple, but there is no playback facility on the camera itself. You won’t see what you’ve recorded until you connect the cam to a computer with the USB cable and played back the files in Windows Media Player or the Mac equivalent. The beauty of the DogCam Bullet HD is its tiny size, ease of portability, and discreetness. You can walk through a crowd with the cam in your hand and no-one will notice you are making a video.
Recorded video file format is .MOV which can be edited in Windows Live Movie Maker or the Mac equivalent. The video container format is AVI, codec H.264. You can easily play back your videos on a normal TV by connecting an HDMI SD card media player (now available from as little as £20-£30). Just remove the Micro SD card from the bullet cam and insert it into the player. This playback method will preserve the original integrity of your high definition movies.
ease of use
value for money
I’ve had my original DogCam Bullet HD (non-WIDE) video camera for over 6 months and I’m still very pleased with it. There are bullet cams with more features than these but to gain the full benefit you really need to learn how to use video editing software and that can be time consuming if you are new to digital video. They are also significantly more expensive. The attraction of DogCam’s new Bullet HD WIDE (and the original non-WIDE version) for documenting your rides is simplicity, ease of use and low cost.