Friday, August 19, 2011

My Presidential Hat Cam

I decided to ban hand-held cameras from my tail wheel flight lessons this summer - too distracting when I need to focus on learning tricky new skills. But I was also thinking it would nice to have a hands-free way to record video of my flights so I could review them and maybe learn more quickly from my mistakes. I know there are various "action cams" available these days, but I figured they would be really expensive.

Then a couple of weeks ago Amazon had a daily deal on a tiny Kodak Zm1 VGA video camera for $30, so I ordered one, along with an 8 GB MicroSDHC memory card (4 hours of video). The Zm1 doesn't have a tripod mount, so I had to improvise with a small bolt, epoxy, a nut, and a couple of large washers. I drilled a hole in the brim of a baseball cap I rarely (never) wore (sorry Caroline), a Washington, DC souvenir with a large presidential seal on the front. Voila! The camera only weighs 2.6 ounces (maybe 4 ounces with the hardware), so it works pretty well on the brim of the hat. I have to be careful to position the hat so the camera points where I'm looking (and not mess it up when I put on my headset or move my head around the cockpit). The camera shoots upside down as mounted but I can fix that easily in the editing software.



Bottom line: based on one test flight, it works. Samples here and here (and above). The low res VGA video is not very pretty but is adequate for evaluating what went wrong with some of my recent landings. I can get enough of a look at the airspeed indicator and altimeter along with the front and occasional side views. The camera has no image stabilization, but the head motion and airplane vibrations are not a problem.

Unfortunately I saw a sample video that one of Ed's other students shot with a ContourHD mounted with a suction cup on the right door window. Really gorgeous full HD video, and the CountourHD costs less than I thought ($139). I'm sorely tempted but will try to resist and work with the hat cam for at least a few flights.

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