Tuesday 21 August 2012

Camera Reviews

On my cycling commutes I like to record the action around me onto camera.  Over the last several months I have been experimenting with different cameras.  Different users will have different uses and purposes but, for what it is worth I tender my thoughts on the cameras I have tried.

Veho Muvi with sports kit.

Basic cheap camera with, I think, very reasonable quality of vision and sound for the price.  Ease of editing files is, for me, very important as I do not wish to spend all day reviewing and editing files.  The Veho records onto 30 minute files of around 635MB.  A relatively  low capacity (4 or 8 GB) SD card will therefore take many hours of video, which can be easily cropped using Microsoft Moviemaker.
The limiting feature for my commute is the battery life.  Although sometimes advertised at 2 hours I have never had this long on any of my Muvi cameras.  More like 1 to 1 1/4 hours and this deteriorates with age.  Mine generally last about a year before the battery life is so low I change the camera (the batteries are not replaceable and the units are relatively cheap).  I bought my last one from Amazon for about £40.  I did buy one once when the colour was all off but it was replaced without drama.
The sports kit enables me to place it in a 'shell' that attaches to a strap which can be run around the vents of a helmet if you wear one or attached to the bike.  Be sure though to secure something through the little eye on the camera itself in case it falls out of its shell.

Daytime example:  Film used to convict Scott Lomas of threatening/abusive words and behaviour.

Quality at night is obviously diminished but still useable and better than nothing.
Nighttime example.  Film used to convict Levi Rayner of careless driving (and caution for threatening/abusive words and behaviour).

The camera does struggle when pointing towards the sun.  Since I live southwest of where I work this is a particular problem for me and calling out the number plate is always advisable as a backup.

Likes: Inexpensive.  Ease of operation.  Ease of preparing files.  Usable quality of video/audio..
Dislikes: Short battery life, not good in wet.


The police cycle team spoke highly of this camera when I spent a half day with them last November and, thinking them to be experts, I ordered one.  The bullet camera is mounted onto the side of a helmet (or onto googles) and a lead is run from there to the central unit.  After a bit of experimenting I decided the best thing to do was place the unit in a freezer bag and drop it down the front of my jersey hoping it did not migrate too far (or pawing at myself trying to encourage it one way rather than another).  The controls were out of reach but since I set the camera to run and left it that was not a great problem.
I never got on with this device.  The advertised battery life of 2 hours+ never materialised for me.  Mine lasted 1h19m.  I tried a new battery: same result.  The unit then started to record sound but no vision.  When I sent it back the replacement had a blank screen with just a narrow strip at the top.  The screen is used for the controls and settings and not just for playback so that unit had to go back too.  Picture quality was ok but I was expecting greater things of HD.  File sizes were bigger and harder to edit and to play.  I had to download software to play the files.
One further considerable annoyance was that the computer cable was non-standard size, meaning I had to carry the cable around with me or use only my work or only my home computer.
I did not use it for long but here is an example picture.  As you can see night time quality was not great:

Likes:  None (though the Met Police like it)
Dislikes: Expensive.  Hard to use.  Unreliable.  Not great quality (especially for HD).

Justice camera issued by 'Policewitness'

I was loaned a Justice camera to review and I have to say that once I got used to using it I have been favourably impressed.  The first camera I was sent did keep shutting down unexpectedly but a replacement was fine and it is possible that the fault lay in the SD card I was using rather than the camera.  Picture quality in daytime is good though at night mediocre.  The camera can be set to record in files that are whatever length you wish.  The default is only 60 seconds which is too short as the film skips half a second between files and this is always at a critical moment.
It is easy to use.  Just two buttons on it and the back screws off to reveal the standard mini USB port and SD card slot with a reset button (which is quite frequently needed to 'reboot' the camera).
The camera comes with mounts for helmet and bike frame though I had to rig something together for a rear view as the frame attachment only adjusts in one dimension (which leaves it pointing down if attached to a seat tube)..
Battery life is comfortably sufficient for my 2 hour commute.  For reliable use though I find that I do need to use a 16GB SD card.
One thing I do like about this camera is that (like the Veho but unlike the Contour) it has a similar focal length to the human eyeball so what you see on the film is much as it looks in real life.
Example, the driver of this van was required to attend a driver improvement course:

Like the Veho it struggles when pointing towards the sun (this vehicle remained unidentified) and nightime use is not great either

Another minor irritiation is that, I find, the time and date needs to be reset at regular intervals if you wish it to remain accurate.

I find it very good as a rear view camera (though you will see a skip here):

The idea of policewitness is to engage an enterprising ex-police officer to report road crime and shove the police into taking action.  Shame it has come to that but, given the level of interest in most police forces in prosecuting bad driving, I fear that it has.  Google 'Policewitness' for further details.

Likes: Ease of use, picture quality (daytime), battery life, focal length.
Dislikes: Skips between files, occasionally needs resetting, time/date drifts off.

Contour Roam

Well this I thought ought to be the bee's knees and youtube is full of cyclists (like the famous Gaz) who use and recommend it.  It can be fitted to a helmet but is relatively bulky and I fit to the bike frame.  It records in files that are approximately half an hour long and absolutely gynormous. (3.66GB).  I will only play with these files if I feel I absolutely have to and have only managed to send the police stills when reporting an incident.  Contour provides some software called 'Storyteller' which is basically useless.  you can see the files but not edit them and I can not even get their 'Awesome' feature (whereby you should be able to upload part of a file to youtube) to work.
Only the Windows MovieMaker on my newest computer (latest version) can handle the .mov files and these take overnight to load before stills or shorter clips can be taken.
So this camera gives you the highest quality but at the expense of useability.  If you have the patience to spend hours editing your film footage then this is the camera for you.
One serious drawback though is that the lens is very wide angle.  this means you will not miss much in the fisheye world but that, when you show the police footage of a vehicle passing 6 inches from you, they will have every excuse to say 'that was not so close'.

Likes: Picture quality.  Ease of use (of camera)
Dislikes: Ease of use of files.  Fisheye effect.  Pricey.  Software.


I use the Justice camera a great deal and have it set up rear facing on my commuter bike.  I have the Contour forward facing on the handlebars but because i would much rather not have to look at those files I back this up with the old cheap but good value Muvi camera on the front.


  1. The 'Justice' camera can be picked up direct from China on eBay as the ACT20 HD. Mine cost me £45 delivered though you might need to pay VAT and import duty on top which would increase the cost.

    It has it's idiosyncrasies (and files need a bit of conversion to edit on a Mac) but great value.

    The benchmark for 'action' cameras is the Go-Pro. Not sure how well it works as a trip recorder however.

  2. Excellent review, thank you. I'm impressed with the Muvi, considering how small it is.

  3. One thing to add re. Muvi is that its shockingly breakable. Had two, both died relatively easily, won't be getting another one.

  4. The comments about wide-angle lenses are extremely valuable. Unfortunately, the apparent perspective distortion effects of lens angle of view on apparent distance are easily abused by the ignorant, and those who are wilfully dishonest to call into question the evidence of the camera. One camera has a field of view of 170 degrees. Resulting in a much increased fall-off of apparent size with distance than compared with normal vision. Unfortunately this isn't really amenable to a simple, easily digestible verbal description. It really deserves side-by side photographs of a sample scene, one with a standard lens, one with a representative wide-angle lens and a series of slides, explaining what is going-on.

    Essentially, for a video taken with a wide-angle lens to be really usable, especially in court, one would require an expert witness and post-processing of the video to render the video so that it correctly represented reality.
    What this means is that one needs cameras that each use a 'standard' lens with a ~50 degree field of view, which corresponds to the central vision of the human eye.

  5. Great reviews, thanks! I'm considering getting a camera to have evidence when I get threatened with being squashed next time. Most of the video samples are set to private though, so can't be watched.

  6. Hi Martin

    it looks like only the first video clip is viewable. For all the rest, I get the following message, both when viewed from your blog and also when viewed directly on Youtube:

    "This video is private.
    If the owner of this video has granted you access, please log in."

    Any chance you could investigate?


    1. Apologies Matt and Unknown and thank you for pointing that out. Now, I hope, fixed. Please let me know if any further problems.

    2. nope. getting the same message martin. Excellent article btw.

  7. Absolutley crazy we have to do this. I got assualted badly by a driver a month ago. Stupidly I didn't prosecute & I have no evidence apart from a scar on my face. I couldn't believe I was threatened by another driver a week ado who follwed me into my work premises. I don't know what's going on with some drivers. Cyclists seem to be a target. I'm going to have to start using a camera. A keychain #16 is good but not water proof. There is also the RD32 II which has a water proof housing. I'm still pondering on what to get.

  8. Thanks for the reviews - very helpful