- Review Price: £21.27
It isn’t always easy capturing the most dramatic moments of your life on video. If you’re jumping out of a plane, climbing a mountain, or even just riding a bike, you want both your hands free – and holding a camcorder at the same time could even endanger your wellbeing. But dedicated camcorder mounts are pricey, hard to find, and you may not want a device weighing half a kilo strapped to your head. On the other hand, dedicated camcorders aimed at sports usage, such as Oregon Scientific’s ATC5K Action Camera could set you back £150 or more. Chilli Technology has other ideas. With its Action Cam 1, the company is offering a head-mounted video camera for less than £25.
The Action Cam 1 is a cylindrical device the size of a small torch. On one edge is a bracket, and opposite that is a small monochrome LCD status screen. The main operation button is on the top, with a smaller button beneath the status screen and a USB 2.0 connection on the bottom. Power comes from a pair of AAA batteries, which aren’t included in the box, and video is recorded to removable SD memory, which also isn’t included.
However, the most significant omission is a TFT display, unlike the Oregon Scientific ATC5K, and pretty much every camcorder out there. So you can’t be sure of precisely what the camera is picking up. Only trial and error can teach you which direction to point the Action Cam 1 in order to grab the subject matter you want. Without a TFT, you have to hook the camcorder up to a computer via USB or pop the memory card into a media reader. So you might end up back up home after a trip before you realise you were shooting in the wrong direction.
We found the lens points slightly below where you might expect. In contrast, when cycling, where your head actually tends to look down most of the time, you need to point the camera slightly upwards to record the road ahead during normal travel. Fortunately, the camcorder body rotates in relation to its bracket, with a ratchet to keep it in place, so minor directional adjustments are possible. Getting the position right will take a few aborted attempts, which can be frustrating. But once you know the correct setup for your activities you can use this each time.
Attaching the Action Cam 1 isn’t always easy, though, as the rubber strap supplied to fasten the camcorder is somewhat rudimentary. It’s intended for helmet usage, but we found the strap was actually too short for a lot of helmets. For example, the extended rear of the regular adult cycling helmet we tried made it exceptionally hard to fit. We did manage to attach the strap eventually, but it took a few attempts, and cycling helmets with extended fronts and rears might prove beyond the Action Cam 1. It’s actually comfortable enough to attach directly on your head, should you be engaging in an activity which doesn’t require a helmet, although it’s hard not to feel self-conscious with a camera strapped to your temple.
Inside the Action Cam 1 is a 1.3-megapixel CMOS sensor of unspecified dimensions. The lens is entirely fixed, so you can’t zoom or focus. Anything beyond a metre or so will be focused, and a mono microphone is also built in. This allegedly has a range of 12ft, although we found its abilities somewhat mediocre. Video is captured at VGA resolution, so 640 x 480 pixels, and 30 frames per second. This is recorded at under 1MB/sec, so you can fit over an hour of footage on a 4GB SD Card. With 8GB SDHC cards costing around £10 these days, you won’t need to spend a fortune to make the Action Cam 1 capable of storing a useful amount of video.
Operating the Action Cam 1 is very rudimentary. With batteries and memory installed in the device, you simply press the button on the top to turn it on, after which the light on the front begins to flash and the unit emits a beep. Press the button again and the light goes off followed by a second beep to signal recording has commenced. A camera icon on the display flashes to indicate recording is in progress. You can’t actually turn the Action Cam 1 off after this. Instead, you simply leave it on. After a minute or so it will beep automatically, indicating that it is powering itself off.
In sunlight or good artificial lighting, the Action Cam 1 picks up a reasonably bright image. A fair amount of sharpening is applied, so the footage looks artificially detailed. There’s also no image stabilisation, so every vibration will be picked up. Overall, it does an adequate job of recording your point of view as you perform sporting activities. However, we also found the shutter speed was relatively low, so fast head motion made the image blurry. For example, we tried wearing the Action Cam 1 whilst sparring in a martial arts dojo, and the results were extremely jerky and unclear.
Its abilities in poor illumination are not so impressive, either. In our regular 100W ceiling light test, the Action Cam 1 scarcely picked up a picture at all. This puts it behind even cheap pocket Internet camcorders, although it’s significantly more keenly priced. So the Action Cam 1 is not going to be any use in dark environments, such as caves. But if you’re rock climbing, cycling, or on a motorbike trackday in good lighting, it records perfectly respectable video, albeit not HD or even widescreen.
Once you’ve gotten round the foibles of the helmet attachment, and pointed the Action Cam 1 in the right direction, it does a decent enough job. When you consider its sub-£25 price, its abilities seem more impressive. Even adding £10 for a memory card, it’s still amazingly cheap. As a second camcorder purely for picking up footage in more extreme sporting situations, it’s almost disposable. So you won’t need to worry about your expensive camera equipment, and can give your full attention to your sporting activities.
Score in detail
|Recording Media||SD card|
|Max Video Res||640x480|
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