Camera Research – Two Streams

Camera research has taken a lot of my time lately as I am finalizing my options. At this point it seems like a good idea to have two recording systems on the bike. This will be an expensive option, but possibly worth it. A lower resolution, “always on” system that will record every time I ride the motorcycle and a removable high resolution camera that I will control while riding. My previous research can be found here, and much of this page will refer back to systems I have already considered, when adding new information.

Low Resolution Camera

The low-resolution camera and recording system can be integrated into the motorcycle electrical grid, so it can operate as any electrical accessory, in the background. The image is highly compressed, so not as much memory is required to store hours of video. The downside of this is that the video will not be high enough quality to fill a large screen, but the benefit is that I won’t miss some great moment because I didn’t have the camera turned on. I do intend to artistically re-purpose this footage, not just present a travel diary; so split screens and vignettes can integrate lower resolution material, particularly if I catch something interesting.

Equipment Sources

The On-Bike TV site is now OnBoard TV and they carry the Bullet DVR recorder and the ubiquitous 560 line Sony camera. The camera has been improved since December and now has interchangeable lenses. HelmetCamera.com has a similar package and a Canadian company, Micro Video Products has equipped other motorcyclists.

The proven advantages of these systems are many, as they can be wired directly into the bike’s electrical system, the equipment is very small and easy to install and the flash memory is inexpensive and commonly available. It can be mounted on the motorcycle, more or less permanently, so that it is a very easy task to record constantly. The disadvantages are in the video quality and the difficulties I have had in editing compressed file formats. I find .avi to be the most widely accepted by editors and MEPG4 to be difficult to edit without converting the file. As soon as the file is converted, there is usually a degradation in quality. I will have to now look at available editing tools to see if editing technology has caught up with MPEG4 as this is an essential factor in choosing a system.

High Resolution Camera

The high-resolution camera is requiring a lot of research. There are a lot of options on the horizon right now and the introduction of High Definition (HD) video as a viable, affordable option has changed the “pro-sumer” marketplace. There are many independent video producers who are driving the demand for broadcast quality recording and with recent advances in technology, some are achieving big screen release with low budget gear.

My research last year pointed me towards cameras that had 3 charge-coupled devices (CCD) in Standard Definition (SD) cameras as having the best quality recording, and three CCD cameras still do capture the best quality colour because they use a different sensor chip for each colour — red, green and blue (RGB). Reds in particular are hard to capture and true black is always elusive, although PAL format is supposed to be better than NTSC. PAL format is mainly used in Europe and NTSC in North America and the formats are not interchangeable, although they can be converted.
Now High Definition (HD) cameras have become more available, the 3 CCD models are very expensive, packed with professional features and quite large in size. It has been argued that HD with a single, larger CCD chip recording more lines of resolution can offer comparable results to an SD with three smaller size chips, even though the colour might be a little more washed out. There are a lot of “D”‘s for definition in this alphabet soup because it is the operative word in video quality.

I decided to research as if money was no object. This is always fun as it can uncover previously unimagined possibilities. In this case I found the Iconix HD-RH, the world’s smallest HD, 3 CCD camera. The Vancouver dealer was listed as Miller Camera at 1055 Granville, and I thought I would ask their advice, so I rode downtown. The address turned out to be Leo’s Cameras, so, despite the ambiguity, I went in to look at the latest in High Definition cameras. A very knowledgeable young man named David, helped me look at video capture in my price range and he explained many of the available options. He also confirmed my suspicions that the audio quality on these cameras, even the expensive ones, is not a high priority and compact disk (CD) quality (16 bit 44.1kHz) is not standard even though it is considered the lowest acceptable quality in a music studio. I plan to do another page on high resolution camera options as there are so many variables and this page is an overview.

Camera Protection

These video cameras are all fragile and will have to be protected from the elements because I am mounting in front of the fairing. This mounting position gives the most realistic effect of actually riding as can be seen on Virtual Riding TV and the $5 camera mount demonstration. I looked at scuba diving camera enclosures to see what kind of protection I could get and how much it limited my camera choice. Jeff, from Virtual Riding TV, uses a SONY SPK-HCB Sports Pack, but there are many other enclosures, some to fit specific cameras and some more generic models.

SCUBA Diving

What do motorcycling and scuba diving have in common? A large investment in equipment. Upon investigation of this underwater world, I found scuba divers to be very serious about camera equipment vs the elements. Although I am not planning to be submerged on my Yamaha anytime soon, I have ridden through cloudbursts that have simulated this effect.

The amount of choice available ranges from a simple plastic bag cover to professional models costing thousands that are ready for the challenges of deep ocean video. This is an amazing world and the videos are incredible. I have assembled a short list of options, but I feel that I am just scratching the surface.

Aquacam – a universal housing at a reasonable cost. Controls for a specific camera can be added for approx. $300. USD

Ikelite – model specific housings with controls – a list of available models here. This system features a wide-angle lens mount on the case itself (lens approx $350 USD).

Seatool – machined from solid blocks of aluminum to fit your camera. Technology from Japan comes to USA and impresses.

Light&Motion – very compact Sony-centric housing.

Equinox Housings – model specific and custom built. Cost as much as the camera.

Camera Mounting

All of these enclosures are meant to be hand held underwater. I will have to find some I can look at or contact the dealer to find out how I can mount them to the steel bar I have on my bike. If I can get a camera with a remote, then a less expensive, generic housing could work well.

This will require more research, but my goal is to get a working system operating by mid-August 2008.

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