I don’t know much about video cameras. I’ve never owned a camcorder. So please take this post as my observations, not expert advice. My adventures in bike video and video editing began in October 2008 when Brian DeSousa came to Orlando.
Brian was generous in showing me CyclistView equipment and methods. And, of course, in providing valuable video of me cycling in Orlando traffic. With all that great video, I had to learn to do some basic editing. I hacked away at iMovie (the free version), later upgrading to the more-robust-but-frequently-aggravating iLife version. This was my first iMovie product.
Brian returned in March. He spent a few days here and shot a bunch more video with me, including some group video that Dan Gutierrez used for an educational piece, and the downtown cruiser video I edited for this post. All of this video was shot on a VIO POV 1. I also had the opportunity to use a VholdR while Brian was here in March (more on that later).
Since Brian’s first visit, I’ve had the itch to buy my own camera. Bike cam video is such an incredible educational tool. But I wanted the best camera for the job, which meant plunking down big bucks on something I’d essentially use for hobby and volunteer work.
The FBA Law Enforcement Toolkit project gave me a legitimate business expense to purchase my own POV 1.5 this fall. In November, Robert Seidler and I put our new POVs through the paces collecting video for that program.
Versatility & stability
One of the main attractions of this camera is the tiny profile of the camera head. You can mount the thing almost anywhere.
I had always been under the impression that mounting a camera to the bike would produce too much vibration. Many of the bike-mounted videos I’ve seen require a lot of digital stabilization, resulting in image loss at the edges.
When we mounted cameras to our bikes to shoot road hazards, I figured a little camera shake wouldn’t be a bad thing. The idea was to show why bicyclists need to avoid the edge of the road, and that conditions that are merely annoying to motorists can be intolerable and dangerous for bicycle drivers. Well, it turned out the camera was almost too stable for that purpose. It certainly belies the pain and suffering one experiences on a road like Summerlin Ave. Here’s a sample:
Choosing a Lens
The POV 1.5 comes with a 110° wide angle lens. VIO also offers a 70° lens for tighter shots. I’ve experimented with both. The 110° is ideal for both image stability (especially on the helmet mount) and showing the the peripheral scene. For traffic interactions in their entirety, this is essential. One limitation I’ve found with the wide angle is that it makes everything look farther away. If you’re demonstrating properly-functioning traffic dynamics, this is an asset, but if you want to show traffic conflicts, it doesn’t work well. The last 2 clips in the video below compare motorists passing into oncoming traffic. In real life, the one shot with the 110° was slightly farther away than the one shot with the 70°, but nowhere near as far as it looks on the video.
I found the 70° lens works best mounted to the bike. On my helmet, the tight field shook wildly, exacerbating every bump, no matter how hard I tried to absorb the shock and hold my head steady. On moderately rough pavement, the video is unwatchable (the above clip of Mighk on the six-lane road—U.S. 17-92—is on fairly smooth pavement).
I like the 110° mounted on the back of the bike, but haven’t found a good forward-facing mount. There is too much side-to-side movement when it is mounted to the handlebars. When mounted to the frame pointing forward, the peripheral movement of the bars and cables is disruptive.
A helmet mount is best for shooting overall traffic dynamics because of the high perch. There is also a benefit to being able to turn my head to follow action (like here). The downside is I can’t turn my head for a shoulder check when I’m holding the camera on a subject. I put a take-a-look mirror on my helmet visor, I’m still getting used to that. Another downside is the inevitable stiff neck. Plus, on our rough roads, I get sore quads and calves from holding myself off the seat and using my legs as shock absorbers. But as Dan G. says, “we suffer for out art.”
A valuable feature this camera has that most other helmet-cams don’t is an LCD display. Being able to aim the camera and see what the image looks like on the fly is a big time-saver. When Brian and I used the VholdR, we had to set up the mount, then take out the card, put it in a portable player, check the image, and do it again until it was right. Then, since it was on my helmet, I had to focus on holding my head in the exact same place as when I set it up. At one point we tried to set the VholdR up on another rider in a hurry — skipping checking the image — it was aimed wrong and the resulting video was useless. With the POV, I can check the image without recording anything. And I can check it again as I’m riding to make sure it’s aimed where I want.
My favorite accessory is the Ultra-Clamp, an incredible little contortionist with a vise on one end and a camera mount on the other (you can use any tripod-ready camera with it). It can be purchased from VIO or HelmetCameraCentral with the camera, or you can get it at a photo store. I bought mine at Colonial Photo and Hobby.
The basic POV kit comes with a number of nifty mounting devices, but it’s missing some essentials that must be purchased separately. I bought the C-Clamp and Wide Flange Base to attach the lens to the ultra-clamp. I also use them to Velcro the lens to a helmet. VIO sells a separate mount kit, but I didn’t see anything in that with similar functionality.
I hope the next generation includes an HD version and a bigger LCD (my old eyes need some help). I wonder if the color could be more vibrant.
An incredible tool for education and advocacy
In building instructional materials for cyclists and law enforcement, point-of-view video is priceless. It’s not possible to shoot accurate traffic interactions with video in a following motor vehicle. We’ve used a car to get motorist-perspective video for the law enforcement program. It’s valuable footage, but if the video car follows the cyclist for more than a few seconds, it really screws up the traffic dynamic (even on a multi-lane road). Then if the video car passes while there is traffic behind it, the cyclist is left with a herd of of angry motorists. (The same thing happens if any motorist sits behind a cyclist instead of taking ample opportunities to pass.)
The greatest gift the POV camera has given us is the view of the world behind the cyclist. Being able to show a continuous view of traffic overtaking safely, especially on roads most people think cyclists can’t use safely, is like shining a light under the bed and exposing the lack of monsters. Watching Brian and Dan’s Cyclistview videos gave me the courage to ride much more assertively on high speed roads. Once I experienced it, courage was no longer required — having cars pass in the next lane (8 – 10ft away) is so different and so much more pleasant than what most cyclists experience, it changes your entire perspective of the road.
This is an important tool for the education of non-cyclists as well. Once we demonstrate our legal right to use the road, the bogus safety and delay arguments become the weapon of choice for those who want to remove us from it (“That may be the rule, but…”). POV video is a powerful defense against mythology, misinformation and deliberately specious arguments.
Here’s an example of rear-facing video in daylight and darkness on Curry Ford Rd.
The video was shot by Robert Seidler. The daylight video was shot from the POV attached to the seat stay of Robert’s Bike Friday. For the darkness video, the camera was attached to his seat post. The darkness video was shot at 6 AM on our way to meet the Colonial High School Bike Bus. Not much traffic eastbound at that hour, but drivers typically speed on such a road when it is empty. They all still saw us from a long distance and changed lanes. Our speed was never above 15mph, it was probably around 12mph. I was hauling a trailer with 150lbs of production gear.
The VIO POV was a huge asset to the project, allowing us to get valuable traffic interaction video while we rode from location to location.