If you're interested in superior quality helmetcam footage, read below. If you're interested in a lighter alternative that's waterproof and mounts easily to a bike, boom, cable, etc., stop reading right now, buy a GoPorHD and go have fun.
Updated, the end of an era...
My latest MiniDV camera met its untimely end after plunging off a shelf from 8' to some concrete in a little league dugout. The monopod that was attached didn't help things and the camera cracked in a number of places and I hade to dissect it to get the video tape out (full of good footage).
Therefore, I bought a new camera. HD even. The quality is pretty amazing although the optical image stabilization doesn't like high speed bounciness as much as the electronic image stabilization on the old camera did. All in all, it's a good trade off.
There are a number of folks that make camera enclosures for the skydiving crowd like X Jackets , Bonehead, and Cookie. I chose a cookie blackbox to house my Sony HC9. I also got one of their Liquid Lens wide angle adaptors and filter kit. The optical quality is good and the wide angle lens is very low profile. I bought the Cookie stuff from chutingstargear.com and they were great. Buy from them if you go this route.
2.5 pound counterweights courtesy Sports Authority and they strap right onto the helmet.
Step 1: Get a Video Camera
I'm using a Sony DCR-PC1000 and a DCR-PC330 which are mini-DV (digital video) cameras. Any camera can be used to capture video, but DV's advantages are its compact camera size and ease/speed of import into your computer for editing. In addition, video editing and exporting back to tape is virtually lossless.
A wide-angle adaptor is helpful for shooting with the camera mounted on your bike, on your helmet, or in tight quarters. This is useful because the lenses of most video cameras are biased towards telephoto. Wide angle lenses also help reduce perceived camera shake.
Note: I used a PC3 for a little over two years. It was about an inch taller than the PC9. After two years of dusty abuse in the helmet case, being attached to my frame, and being shaken inside a car on the track, it started to eat tapes. I'm amazed at the durability of these cameras. Maybe I just got lucky. Then I used a PC9 for a over a year until it met an untimely death due to a non-biking offspring-induced drop to hard ground.
Step 2: Take Some Interesting Video
I have few suggestions here. I just tend to flail about shooting from as many angles as possible. The junk footage just gets trimmed away during editing. For the "I feel like I was there" feeling I like helmetcam video.
You can try experimenting with backwards facing helmetcam footage which can be tricky to capture but which really captures the feeling of speed well. You can attach the camera to the bike, but I don't recommend it anymore (unless it's a lipstick cam).
Helmetcam option #1, using a camcorder:
The mounting case that I've been using is made by Think Helmets and accepts smallish DV camcorders (now sold by a sister company.) You need to drill a few holes in your helmet to mount it (experiment with the right angle/orientation beforehand).
You will need to add a counterweight to offset the weight of the camera (so the helmet doesn't lean to one side). I used 2 lb ankle weights and zip ties to attached mine.
I recently installed the case on a newer helmet and I was able to save about a half pound by reducing the counter-weight from two pounds to one and one half pounds. Here are some more pictures (including a modification that allows you to shoot backwards video with the Think case.
Update: That helmet cracked and the support straps weren't working too well so I'm back to the silver helmet.
For a DIY case/counterweight solution, check out this site by Shane Schieffer.
Helmetcam option #2, using a lipstick camera:
--NOTE: this info is over ten years old at this point and there are many manufacturers who will supply you with a lipstick camera and an integrated power supply--
Get a video camera/camcorder (your video camera MUST have a "video in" port and have a "VTR" function).
These days, it can simply be a matter oy buying a lipstick video camera. You can scroll down for the DIY instructions but there are a number of companies like helmetcamera.com, Viosport, etc. that are selling complete kits that include tube cam, power source and microphone.
My current experience is with an older lipstick camera and as can be seen in the examples in the sidebar, there are some serious color/white balance issues. The newer consumer lipstick cameras, especially those using the 1/3" Sony EX CCD and putting out 480 lines of resolution are pretty good (for lipstick cameras) based upon what I have seen on the web and shooting some video with a borrowed setup.
I used a Microvideo lipstick camera. Another good resource (although I haven't tried their stuff) is www.helmetcamera.com. It appears that they sell complete packages, which would save much of the cobbling together that I've described below.
Mount the damn thing
This is where your Rube Goldberg talents can manifest themselves. You will have to ensure that the camera is oriented properly along the horizontal plane as well as being aimed in such a way that it is aimed about six feet off the ground when you are riding with your head in a "normal" position.
Trial and error resulted in this angle. The hardware consists of 2 zip ties and one old bar end plug (trimmed).
Night riding lights also provide some camera mounting opprotunities:
Power the lipstick camera
Go to Radio Shack and get 8 rechargeable NiMH AA batteries, a charger, a battery holder, and an adapter for the power plug on the lipstick cam. Get some wire and the thingy (technical term) that attaches to the battery holder. Charge batteries, insert batteries in holder, attach thingy and your camera is now powered!
The video out plug on the lipstick camera attaches to the video cable that came with your video camera. Switch your camcorder to VTR mode after attaching the power cord to the lipstick cam and connecting the video cord.
Push the RECORD button on the camcorder, and start riding. The batteries last approximately an hour and a half.
If your camera features anti-shock technology, like Sony's SteadyShot,
you can experiment with mounting it to various parts of your frame.
This clamp is made by Manfrotto (the "Superclamp")and is available at many camera stores, especially the ones who cater to photography professionals.It sometimes can be found in the lighting section being sold as a lighting mount.
Note: Even with Sony's SteadyShot, you'll get some degradation of video quality if you are riding fast on rough terrain. Mounting the camera to the bike also can destroy the camera's tripod mount if you don't use a supplemental strap to hold the camera down on the mount. Riding with the camcorder attached to the bike can also seriously damage the tape heads and other bits inside the camcorder (can you tell that I don't mount my camcorder to the bike that much anymore?).
Answers to frequently asked questions:
How about that cool new Tony Hawk/Oregon Scientific helmetcam ?
Fasten your seatbelts. Those toys are really pieces of crap. Sorry. I'm not passing judgment on the folks using them but the footage that has oozed onto the web does a fantastic job of confirming my opinion. The footage is simply horrible.
What lipstick camera do you recommend for the best video?
None, I recommend mounting a camera on your helmet. If you want a lipstick cam, get one of the newer ones that usues a Sony HAD chip and has 500+ lines of resolution.
Which videos were made using a lipstick camera?
Not a one currently on the site. I haven't used a lipstick camera for years.
Isn't that Samsung Scx105 sports camera with the helmetcam thingy just awesome?
No, it's a particularly bad combination of low res lipstick cam and MPEG4 capture onto solid state memory cards. Starting with poor quality raw footage and being limted by the use of a card (as opposed to a tape) is a bad idea. Editing the footage is another can of worms.
Need another opinion?
In depth review
How about ease of editing those MPEG4 files?
If you were to buy a camcorder right now, for use as a helmetcam, what would you buy?
I would buy the compact 3 chip Sony DCR-PC1000 for image quality and its ability to record in anamorphic 16x9. Or one of the new compact HDV camcorders from Canon or Sony.
Another option would be to pick up another PC330 or PC350 on ebay. Those cameras are large single chip cameras that also have anamorphic 16x9 capabilities.
Here's my comparison between the two types of helmet cams:
What I like about using the case instead of the lipstick camera:
+many lens options
+less camera shake
+richer colors, sharper video
+quickly adjusts to rapid light changes (trees,etc.)
+low light performance
+night vision IR
+no messy cords or additional battery packs.
What I don't especially like about using the case instead of the lipstick camera:
+heavier (can be hard on your neck and upper back)
+bolts close to your skull
--but you get used to the added weight pretty quickly and the resulting video is fantastic.