10 things to look for in a fire helmet camera

In addition to what to look for, here's a list of what's on the market and how much you'll spend

Helmet-mounted video cameras are all the rage these days, from snowboarders zooming down the slopes to firefighters disembarking their apparatus to make fire attack on a structure fire. The manufacturers of these mighty midgets continue to make their products smaller and lighter and packed with operating features.

Our discussion today focuses on the hardware — the video camera. The larger discussion, when and how video cameras can and should be used during emergency operations, is one that should take place within individual departments.

While there are many positive aspects of capturing real-time video during emergency operations — legal documentation of actions taken or footage for future training sessions are two that immediately come to mind — there are many potentially negative outcomes.

Consult your department's leadership before you arbitrarily decide to use a helmet-mounted video camera while operating on the company dime. That applies to volunteer as well as career firefighters.

When looking for the best buy for your video-camera dollar, here are 10 decision-making criteria that you might find useful.

1. Intended use. Look for models that are designed for rugged activity, that is, those targeted for sporting enthusiasts like skiers, snowboarders, rock climbers, or off-road cyclists.

2. Megapixels. Simply put, a megapixel is equal to 1 million pixels. Digital images are made up of thousands of these tiny, tile-like picture elements. Resolution relates primarily to print size and the amount of detail an image has when viewed on a computer monitor at 100%. The more pixels, the higher the image resolution; this is particularly important when working in low-light situations.

3. Waterproof. That's kind of obvious, right? Given the nature of the job, your video camera should expect to get wet. Make sure the model you purchase "understands" this part of the agreement.

4. High definition. When choosing an HDV camera you'll notice the HDV format comes in a variety of resolutions, scan modes and frame rates. Understanding what these designations mean, however, can be very confusing. For instance, the Sony FX1 shoots in 1080i or 1920x1080 60i, where the JVC GR1 shoots in 720p or 1280x720 24p. Both are considered HDV, but how are they different? What is 720p? What is 60i?

To be considered HD, video must follow certain criteria. It must have a 16:9 aspect ratio, varying frame rates, and resolutions of 1080 or 720 horizontal lines.

5. Image stabilization. VR image stabilization technology detects vertical and horizontal movement and offsets it by initiating compensating motion.

6. Interface. How will you manage your recordings, download to another device or share on social media? Find a camera that shares they way you want it to.

7. OS compatibility. What operating system does your other devices such as computers or tablets use? Be sure the video camera will be compatible with your device's system.

8. Power source. Know the expected battery life of the device that you're considering for purchase.

9. Memory storage type. The more memory the unit has, the more video it can hold. Learn how much internal storage capability the device has and what external memory storage is available, such as SD or SDHC card.

10. Dimensions and weight. Because size does matter, especially when it is strapped to your head.

Here's a look at what's on the market.

Fire Cam's Mini HD fire helmet camera is designed by firefighters to endure the rigors of interior firefighting operations. With its heat-resistant anodized aluminum case and a heat-resistant glass lens, the Mini HD can withstand temperatures approaching 900 degrees F — though neither you nor your camera should be in any neighborhood that hot. It is waterproof to depths of 33 feet.

The HD Mini comes with a 16GB Class 10 Micro SDHC Card and can accommodate up to a 32 GB card. The BlackJack Fire Helmet Mount enables mounting to any style helmet. It sells for $209.

For the firefighting video affectionato, Fire Cam's 1080 fire helmet camera provides professional-grade, high-definition video in 1080p and 720p. This big brother to the Mini HD is built to the same rugged specifications as its sibling. It sells for $269. 

Tachyon's XC HD is an HD version of their popular camera to compete against the GoPro HD 960 and the Epic HD. Tachyon products are very popular with the motor cross and paint ball crowds who are known to be rough and tough on equipment. It sells for $179.

GoPro is well known for making an excellent point-of-view camera, and they offer one of the best warranties. The HD Hero 960 model is for those camera enthusiasts who want HD quality but don't want to spend big bucks. It sells for $179.

ContourHD says its ContourROAM is tough, compact, waterproof to 1 meter, and versatile. It sells for $189.

EPIC HD's Action Video Cam is the latest camera from the people that produced the Epic Stealth Cam. This unit shoots 720p video, weighs less than 3 ounces and sells for $189.

Ion's Air Pro WIFI is one of the first smartphone-compatible action cameras that allows users to shoot high definition video and share in real time via social networking sites. This electronic device is comprised of the camera and a mini tripod. When fitted with the detachable accessory, the GO WiFi PODZ, users can replay video footage and seamlessly transfer it to YouTube, Facebook or the Internet without a computer or cables. It sells for $350.

The Drift HD170 is the latest video camera from Drift Innovation. This helmet-mounted camera provides full HD 1080p video and is powered by a lithium ion battery pack as opposed to AA batteries and supports up to a 32GB SDHC memory card. It sells for $299.

How about a video camera that doesn't need a helmet? iKam Xtreme's 3.0 sunglass camera incorporates mobile video recorder into a lightweight pair of sunglasses. The camera offers completely wireless operation, with no cords or battery packs required. It has a digital camera incorporated into the frame with 4GB of built-in memory for up to 3 hours of recording. The glasses will also accept a micro SD card for an additional 8 GB of memory. The integral microphone captures all the sounds to go along with the video. It sells for $160.

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