Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cameras and Mounts for Motorcycle Video

I’ve been asked many times about the camera I use for these videos, and the mounts and locations.  So I thought I’d do a short written blog with some photos to show you what I use.


There are many different types of “wearable” or helmet cameras out there these days.  The two big names are Contour and Go Pro.  My buddy, Jimmy Chance (Big Dawg), bought two GoPro’s before our trip to Beartooth in 2011.  So I was able to compare video quality, mounting options, and ease of use for both.  

Original ContourHD
I started in 2010 using the Contour HD as I bought a slightly used one with a whole camera bag of extras for an outstanding $200.  The camera by itself sold for $250 when new then you’d have to add extra batteries, extra SD cards, case, adaptors, mounts, cords, chargers etc.  You can probably find a deal better than this even now on Craigslist or a motorcycle forum.  

My first Contour with tripod adaptor
The Contour Mounted behind windshield

I thought it did a pretty nice job on the first four videos I did (Northern New Mexico, Island in the Sky, Beartooth West Slope and West Elk Loop). 

The problems I found with this camera were only minor, but enough for me to want something better the next year.  They claim a 2 hour battery life, as with most such claims on battery life, it was not exactly right.  In fact battery life was really a guess.  I kep the camera in stand-by mode a lot just waiting on the right short clip.  So who knows how much life you have between time in stand-by mode and time in recording mode.  Because there is no way to tell how much juice you have left it is a real problem in my book. 

Also I found batteries did not fully charge overnight, or they just went bad very quickly.  There is not much warning when a battery is about to go.  This was a real “pain” when you are on two wheels and riding in a beautiful canyon you really don’t know if and when your battery dies.  I’ve missed some pretty nice views because of this annoying feature. (they tried to fix this on the next model)

The picture quality was okay also, but it is a bit of a marketing ploy to say it is “HD”.  Real HD has one to two million pixels per frame, roughly five times that of standard definition television.  I don’t want to get too technical here, but let’s just say a ‘real’ broadcast HD camera is in the range of $80,000.00! 

It does shoot a very wide angle picture like most helmet cams.  This one is 135 degrees.  (The new Contour+ shoots a 175 degree picture!).

You can see how wide angle the camera is here on Lolo Pass
It uses an h.264 codec and shoots at 30 frames per second (fps) which is what you want for most editing and display on YouTube and others.  It will do SD at 60 fps (which is great for slow motion etc.) but pretty useless as most internet video sites won’t play 60 fps video. 

But for a 4 oz. camera that can attach to your goggle straps or on a handle bar, it’s pretty cool.  It is also streamlined and subtle unlike the GoPro which looks like a small SLR camera.
GoPro on a PanaVise suction mount
I had a chance to review a lot of video from my friends two GoPro camera and from many different angels.  I am a tough critic but - hey - they look the same to me.  The GoPro is a little “clunky” to me, especially in a helmet cam mount.  They are as subject to as much vibration as Contour, however, head-on into the wind, the Contour does better because it is more aerodynamic. 

My Contour+ with adapter
However in 2011 I wanted to upgrade so I bought the Contour+.  It retails for $500 and I think that was a little high compared to the GoPro HD which produces about the same picture.  But because I had all the Contour accessories that would fit, I went with this one to save in the long run.

Contour+ mounted on windshield looking back at riding buddy
I must say the picture is much better quality!  It also shoots a wider angle picture (175 degrees) which is very nice.  I have yet to edit and post any videos from this camera as this date, but that is my next task. 

The Contour+ is a GPS camera and using their software will follow you along on a map whenever you have the camera on.  Sounds very cool, but you have to use their software (Storyteller) to make it work, and I don’t, so that is a wasted feature for me anyway. 

The battery life is better and they in this model they give you a couple of LED lights to give you some indicator of life left  Green means greater than 50%, Yellow 20-50% and Red less than 20% (or in other words about to die).  I found this only mildly helpful. 

I say charge several batteries and if you know you are heading across Beartooth, or over Million Dollar Highway - put in a new battery.  Why take a chance of running out over a breathtaking mountain pass? 

Couple of other things on the Contour+.  It has come features that others may find useful (sort of like the GPS mapping), but I did not.  One thing it does have is a jack port for a small microphone so you can narrate.  However, I’m pretty busy picking my shots and navigating a 1,000 pound motorcycle, so I won’t be narrating anything except back in the edit studio. 

Over the winter I’ll be sending mine in for a “tune up” as the batteries do not come out easily and they are so thin that with motorcycle gloves, or on a cold day, this is a real hassle. 

So for me, this new camera was all about a better quality picture, and I got that.  I can’t wait to edit some of the 2011 rides. 

But I think you will see in upcoming videos the quality of the image is much greater and I hope it will be worth the extra expense and a better final video experience.  Also remember, HD video does not do well in low light situations.  If riding on an overcast raining or low light day, your video won’t be very good.   

I do have a pro JVC GY-HM100 HD camera that I sometimes use for panorama vistas, or this year at Glacier on board a Jet Ranger helicopter for some incredible video to go with the story I did on Going To The Sun Road.  Of course the issues here are added bulk on a motorcycle, the safety of an expensive camera and the need for a tripod etc.  But the video quality is outstanding and I only use it for special shots. 

JVC Pro Cam
JVC Pro Cam
Over Glacier National Park
Shooting from the helicopter over Glacier


Now for mounting.  I’m asked question about how I mount these cams a lot.  I took several pictures of the two main mounts I use and in their various locations.  Some have told me it makes them nervous to mount a camera with a suction cup mount on the side of a bike heading down the road at 60 mph.  Me too, but it’s all about getting a cool shot - right? 

I also do a lot of hand held shots to get the street level, overhead, wide side views etc.  To me, this is what makes a video interesting.  Not many will sit through 5-10-20 minutes of droning along a road.  But with creative angles, good music and clever editing videos become more “watchable”. 

I use two main mounts, the UltraClamp by Pedco and the PanaVise suction mount. 

UltraClamp by Pedco
PanaVise suction mount

The main issue is what you do with the mounts.  Get creative and get the fun shots.  I rarely have a mount in a location I cannot reach so I can turn it on and off.  However, for some of these shots I have it mounted near street level, or on a back luggage rack and when I know we are heading up or down a great twisty, I just turn it on and let it go.  They do make for some of the best shots.  Here are a variety of photos showing where I have placed these cams for good shots: 

Looking back mounted to luggage rack

Suction mount on windshield

Mounted high on the windshield

Stick mount under nose

Pedco mount R side windshield
Lets you get angle shots and access the power

I use stick on mounts for helmet shots and rarely on the bike (in the example above), but mostly use the UltraClamp on all sorts of places.  The higher your camera, the more "sway" movement you'll get on twisty roads, and that gets old for the viewer.  I like the stick mount I have shown above under the nose of the Goldwing because it is closer to the ground, gives a great viewpoint and has much less sway.  Problem with places like this is you cannot turn the camera off and on while riding.  But there are cases and special roads where you don't mind just letting it roll.  

I found all these mounts on Amazon and they are not expensive. 

Bugs on the lens is a problem, so stop frequently to clean your lens and change your angles. Hope this has been helpful.  

Shiny Side Up! 

Road Dog

This is a still from the Contour+ tipped down looking at the road


  1. Great ! I have a dumb question, what video editor did u use? Thanks!

  2. Hi Brian: that is a GOOD question. there are many video editing programs out there, from freebies to very expensive ones. I've used both, but because I do some video editing in my job, I use Final Cut Pro, one of the more expensive ones and it took me a year to become proficient.

    Now, that said, the first video on here (the 4th of July ride in Northern New Mexico) was done on iMovie and you can see it looks good also.

    I feel the real key is knowing what makes good television, from the basic television rules and techniques to nats sound, proper music etc.

    but if you want to do fairly basic editing and don't want to buy an expensive software system, try iMovie or Movie Maker. I think with a little practice you can do well.

  3. Thanks for the tips, I liked the old movie maker but not the new one...Ill try Imovie, thanks!

  4. Perfect gadget for this travel season! :)
    I'll probably focus first blogging some Open face helmets this time.

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