Helmet Cam Review 3: Launch Helmet Cam Complete Pro Kit

Reviews > Helmet Cam Review 3: Launch Helmet Cam Complete Pro Kit

Date2006-09-04
AuthorTechno Destructo
PhotographerTechno Destructo
ManufacturerLaunch Helmet Cams
SupplierLink
Forum ThreadLink

Helmet cam review: Launch Helmet Cam's Complete Pro Kit

In the third chapter of our series, we look at an up and coming company in the helmet cam arena. In business for about a year and a half, Launch Helmet Cams are based in Western Australia, and is the brainchild of Matt Fitzhardinge and Markland O'Connell. Along with motocross, wakeboarding, surfing, skating, snowboarding, these guys both are aggressive mountain bikers, spending most of their time doing downhill or jamming in skateparks... so you know these guys have extensive first hand experience with how rough you can get with electronic gear you wear while playing...

Launch has a good varied range of packages to suit most requirements and bank accounts. They range from a barebones and very affordable "Comp Entry level" package at just $189AUD (which is comprised of your bare necessities to get out there and start filming: a 420 line cam, a battery pack, and a gimble), to their premiere package, the "Complete Pro Kit" which retails at $469AUD and is the package that we'll be covering in this review.

What do you get in the Complete Pro Kit?

  • a 520 TV Lines Sony weatherproof helmet camera
  • Hi-gain microphone
  • Crush proof, dust proof, water tight hard case with foam insert
  • a "Nuke proof" helmet mount/encasing
  • a battery pack
  • a gymble mount
  • replacement screws, manual, stickers...

The Complete Pro Kit (note: LANC sold separately)
The supplied Pelican case customised to hold a Sony camcorder
When I first opened the package, it was pretty apparent the Launch Helmet Cams had come to play, and they've come to play ROUGH. As seen with Hel-Cam, many of the kits that Launch offers come packaged in the industry standard Pelican hard plastic case. You could use this bomb-proof, water-tight, insulated case to create a carrying kit for your helmet cam and assorted parts, but you'd be far better off customizing the "pick and pluck" foam to fit your camcorder, and drilling a well placed hole into the case to feed the cabling out from your camcorder and battery pack. Although you would negate the water-proofness of the case, the peace of mind that comes from having your camcorder safely protected from almost any abuse you can throw at it is priceless. The dimensions inside the case are 19x13x7 cm so remember to measure your camcorder ahead of time. If you feel the case is too large or too small, Launch can supply alternative size Pelican cases. Matt Fitzhardinge of Launch says, "Due to the large range available we would ask that people contact us for a price and availability (we will special order them one from the distributor - as a general guide expect a difference of plus/minus $5-$10 per size change)". I'd recommend going to a camera shop nearby that stocks Pelican cases to check what size would be best for your camcorder before ordering with Launch.
 
With your helmet cam inside of this puppy, there ain't much that's gonna hurt it...
CNC'd machined goodness!
 


Nuke Proof casing/mount with the cam fitted inside

What really blew me away was the protective mount/casing for the actual cam itself. Launch describes the casing by saying "After the apocalypse, the cockroaches will be able to use these as a home." LOL! They were NOT kidding. The mount is actually precision machined out of a solid block of aircraft grade aluminum, with a removeable lens cover made from lexan! For all those fans of CNC'ed chunks of metal out there... this helmet cam setup was made for YOU. With the mount comes 3M Dual Lock fastening strips (think Velcro on serious steroids), grub screws (for holding the cam in place inside the casing), an allen key, and an unconditional lifetime warranty. Although... when's the last time you had a warranty problem with a CNC machined block stem?

Besides looking insanely bulletproof (and very PIMP), the Launch casing comes with very slick laser-engraved graphics on the side. Do keep in mind though, that this mount isn't the ultimate protection solution for your helmet cam. You can guarantee your cam will NEVER get crushed or scratched, but the cable coming from the cam can still be ripped out (so tape down the cable to your helmet with duct/gaffer tape) and there also isn't any insulation from shock or vibration, since it's a very solid connection between the casing and the cam. But vibration is a non-issue when mounted on your helmet anyway, and the shock needed to damage the cam would have to be fairly extreme... probably more than you can do crashing on any trail...



The lexcan sheild in front of the cam protects the actual cam lens from dirt and scratches

Dave doing some modelling between runs. He prefers to run the helmet cam on the side of his helmet instead of the top. Note the LANC control on the shoulder strap of his pack... Photo: Naz
Another concern to keep in mind is that this isn't exactly a lightweight setup. In fact, the mount and the cam together weigh just over 200 grams... nearly 4 times the amount of a comparable cam with a velcro attachment, and about 2/3rds the weight of your average XC helmet. This probably won't have a huge effect on those wearing heavier helmets, such as full-faces... but it'll but start getting noticeable on skate helmets, and you can probably be sure that you'd notice it with an ultra-light XC helmet. However, those wearing ultra-vented helmets might find they have a trickier problem on their hands since the way the Launch mount attaches to the helmet is far more condusive to helmets with extended smooth surfaces than those with sculpted, pocketed surfaces. Also, all you Troy Lee Design full-face helmet owners out there... This mount will not agree with the ridge/peak on the top of your helmet, so you'll have to mount it from the side (one of our test riders, Tom Patton, said he didn't notice the helmet cam on the side of his TLD helmet at all...) Chances are, however, that if you're doing XC, you probably don't need "Nuke proof" protection for your helmet cam anyway. Just make sure you have a roll of good ol' gaffer tape handy if that's the case.

For those people who don't choose to purchase the cam with the Nuke Proof mounting, Launch supplies all of their cams with 3M DualLock strips, so you shouldn't have too much of a problem attaching your cam by itself to any helmet.

Centered on the top of a helmet means the least noticeable placement for the cam/casings weight The contour on the bottom of the mount/case fits skate lids almost pefectly. Just remember that the cable is still vunerable, so make sure you tape it down to the outside of your helmet (with better tape than what was used for this photo...
Another great benefit of the mount is that it protects the front of the cam lens from scratches and dust. While at the State 4X races out at Homebush, there was a lot of dust from the track being blown by the wind, and soon everything was covered by a thin layer of brown dust. I felt a LOT more comfortable wiping the lexcan cover of the casing with my shirt, than I would have wiping the actual cam lens. There's a lot to be said for peace of mind.... Launch kits that come with the mount now have a spare lexcan mount cover in it. Although Launch will be putting a spares kit for sale on the website, if people call up asking for extra strips/covers etc, Launch will just send them out free of charge if you are a previous customer.
Most full-face helmets will work very nicely with the mount/case contour. Although mounted on top of the helmet, smooth contours on the sides of helmets like this allow for placement there as well Mounted and ready for battle

The image sensor used in the cam is a 1/3 Sony CCD and the version we're testing (The Pro) has a resolution of 520 horizontal lines, which is perfect for most users out there since the resolution of your average MiniDV camcorder is also 520 lines. By having the resolutions matched, you're getting the highest resolution you need, without wasting needlessly higher resolutions that would be greatly diminished by the bottleneck of the recording device. Launch also provides cams with 480 lines (the Team series) and 420 lines (the Comp series), if you're looking to save some money. The cam doesn't come with a sunhood, so you'll probably need to mark which side is up with a pen or similar, and Launch also states that their cams are "weatherproof", so don't go dunking this cam underwater (at least, not for an extended period of time!).

The field of view of the cam has a nice fisheye, ensuring a range of vision that should be adequate for catching most action that happens in front of you.

The mic that is included in the package is very similar to Hel-Cam's, except that this one comes pre-fitted with a windsock! Nice. The wiring set-up is also very similar to Hel-Cam, with RCA plugs being used for, allowing for the widest range of connections. The 12V battery pack takes 8AA batteries, and should keep your cam (and mic) running for many, many hours.

 
Launch was nice enough to include a LANC remote for this review in addition to their Pro Kit. If you haven't read my introduction to LANC, you can see it in a previous review here. As for how Launch's LANC performed... It was everything I hoped for and more. Let me reiterate... If you are going to purchase a helmet cam... beg, borrow or steal the money to get a LANC as well. The LANC Lauch provided was made by CamEye Sport and came with it's own set of instructions, which was handy since the seemingly simple one button control actually has a few different functions and the LED on it can give you the status of your camcorder. Not only can the LANC start and stop the recording of the camcorder, but it can also turn the camcorder completely on and off! As well, the two colour LED can let you know when the camera is off, on, ready to record, recording, in a mode that won't allow recording, and when you've got five minutes of tape or battery left!
After hooking up the LANC to the camcorder, we packed the camcorder in the Pelican case, organized the cabling coming out of holes drilled in the case, and ran the LANC cable and button down one of the shoulder straps so it was easy to press by someone wearing the pack. During periods of long inactivity, we would have the camcorder off (no light coming from the LED). When ready to start filming, we'd turn the camcorder on by pressing the button for 2+ seconds. This would put the camcorder in paused mode (LED would be a green light). Recording would start the moment we pressed the button (the LED would turn red) and would be stopped after pressing it again (LED turning back to green). After recording everything we wanted, we could turn the camcorder off by pressing the LANC button again for two seconds, where the LED would strobe red for a couple of seconds, then turn off completely.


Here's a typical Sony camcorder with a LANC port.


LANC control attached to the port. You would then feed this LANC control from your protective camcorder case, out of your pack, and probably have it on the shoulder strap of your backpack for easy access.

Not only did this get rid of the tremendous hassle of having to open the backpack every time we wanted to start and stop recording (awesome!), but it also removed the risk of us disconnecting a cable, and protected the camcorder from all of the elements that could be thrown at it, whether that was dust, rain, shock, etc.... After setting up the cam, camcorder and the LANC, we never had to open the backpack again for the rest of the day! Considering that Launch sells the LANC control for $119AUD, you would be nuts not to spend the extra money to buy one. It's just not worth the savings doing it the other way, if you ask me...

The assembly of the helmet cam cabling was very easy and straight forward. The cabling, much like the Hel-Cam, wasn't the cleanest set-up in the world, being that there was a bit of cabling to keep track of, but as mentioned before... the benefit of this is versatility. Launch gives you the choice if you want to run one mic (or two!) with your helmet cam, and by not making an "all-in-one" package (as seen in the Twenty20 cam), you have the freedom to choose. The mic can just be attached the old reliable way by taping it to part of your helmet. Launch suggests keeping the microphone in your backpack, but you might find you'll get excessive scuffing noises from it rubbing on material.

The performance of the cam

Resolution test of the Launch Pro helmet cam (520 horizontal lines). Resolution test of the Sony PDX-10P "pro-sumer" camcorder (530+ horizontal lines, and about $3000+)
I thought the resultant images from the cam were good. As said before, being that the resolution of the cam we were testing was 520TV (or horizontal) lines, it matched the resolution of your average MiniDV cam. However, I found that the resolution of the Launch cam ended up being slightly less, but not to a point that it was an issue. The field of view has a nice range to it, thanks to the mild fisheye lens.

Video

Doing a tour of three locations in the Sydney area, this video showcases the cam and riders Dave Musgrove, James Hall, Tom Patton, Nicho (no last name needed), and supporting cast. These videos are meant to be enjoyed on two different levels: Normal playback speed to take it all in and enjoy the music and action.... and since there's a lot packed into these videos, it's also recommended to use a media player that allows you to step through frame-by-frame to look closer at things (since you might miss some of it at normal speed). Quicktime is strongly recommended for the small video, and required for the large video.

Launch review video - Hi res 120mb (requires Quicktime 7, fast processor recommended)
Launch review video - Low res 21mb

(Right click > save target as)

A huge thanks to one of the hardest working guys at Farkin, the illustrious Johnny, who shot all the third person perspective video seen.  Including the stuff from outer space.

Conclusion

The Launch Pro Kit with LANC remote is one of the most comprehensive kits out there, and at $469AUD (plus $119AUD for the LANC), the best value I had seen yet. With the camcorder safely in the included Pelican case, the bombproof mount/casing on my helmet, and the LANC remote control at my fingertips, it made for the easiest, most worry-free days of filming yet. Instead of thinking about not hurting the cam on my helmet, or how much battery and tape I had left, I could focus on what was really important... the riding! And if you're a rider who rides HARD and needs the best protection possible for your helmet cam (or likes CNC'ed bling), this is package for you!

Positives

  • fantastic value
  • insanely bulletproof protection from the Nuke proof casing
  • spare parts included in package
  • compatible with anything with A/V inputs
  • windsock included with the mic
  • LANC is a must-have accessory

Negatives

  • Nuke proof casing is slightly heavy and doesn't fit well on some helmets
  • Could use a marking on cam to clarify with side is up
  • not completely waterproof

Things I would do/buy differently next time

  • paint onto the back of the cam an arrow or line to show which side is up, to make multiple placements on helmets easier
  • purchase a length of 3M DualLock adhiesive strips, since it's very hard to find in stores or in the field, but absolutely SLAYS normal velcro
  • get a spare lexan cover for the front in case existing one got scratched
  • increase my health insurance coverage so I can ride at a level hard enough to match the toughness of this cam

You can purchase Launch Helmet cams directly from Launch themselves through their online store at http://www.launchhelmetcams.com/, or by emailing Launch directly at sales@LaunchHelmetCams.com.



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