For some outdoor enthusiasts, the age-old question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" has been replaced by "Did we actually have any fun on our rockin' mountain biking/kayaking/rock climbing adventure if we didn't get it on video?" Simple and rugged, wearable cameras have been proliferating on the market, recording video from a perch on one's helmet, chest or handlebars. Watching and editing is simple; just plug the units' USB cords into a computer to turn your high-adrenaline pursuits into home movies.
Only built-in view screen
Likes: I love being able to see and edit instantly what we just shot, a rarity in this point-and-pray category. The wide-angle lens shoots great quality video (1080p resolution) and is so light (3.5ounces, with hardware) that you barely notice it on your helmet. Included is a small stop-start wireless remote control that attaches to any strap, so you can record without digging out the big unit (which measures 6.5 by 2.4 by 1.5 inches and weighs 12 ounces). When not in use, everything stays neat and organized in a zippered, handled case.
Dislikes: Crazy price. The LCD screen drains battery power from the four AA batteries quickly, making the unit prone to unexpected shut-off. The claimed four-hour record time seems exaggerated. The VCR-like control buttons need more visible labels. One rider did not like having to carry the bulky remote in his backpack (although it didn't bother me).
Price: $599 (including 4-gigabyte SD card and 4 mounts). (888) 579-CAMS (2267); http://www.vio-pov.com.
Rugged design with dated controls
GoPro HD Helmet Hero: Small (1.25-by-2.25 inch) high-definition camera with clear plastic waterproof housing. Weighs 7 ounces with helmet mount.
Likes: Very good quality video in 1080p, 960p and 720p resolutions (recorded at 30 and 60 frames per second). Shoots 5-megapixel still photos too. Lithium-ion battery is said to record for 21/2 hours on an 8 GB SD) card (it comes with a 2-GB card and can handle a 32-GB card). The lens can switch from a 127-degree wide-angle to an extreme 170-degree fisheye setting. Distinctive "on" and "off" beeps and a flashing red "on" light assure shots aren't missed. Locks into clear waterproof case easily. Includes a variety of mounts.
Dislikes: No standard-view screen; an optional LCD BacPac screen ($80) attaches in seconds, but it's a hassle — you have to stop and take the camera out of its waterproof case to snap it on. Scrolling through the modes with hard-to-read numerals was slow. The on-off button is finicky and sometimes hard to activate.
Price: $299. (888) 600-4659; http://www.goprocamera.com.
Innovative GPS and ease of use
Contour GPS Video Camera: Side-mounted, easy-to-use, high-definition helmet cam is the only video camera with built-in GPS.
Likes: Great video quality (1080p, 960p and 720p resolutions), still-photo capability, and superb out-of-the-box functionality. Giant, idiot-proof on-off recording switch slides into place with a loud click; a flashing green light indicates "on" and it beeps twice when turned off. Dual laser beams light up for 10 seconds to help you aim the camera correctly. The built-in GPS receiver links your video journey to location, speed and altitude when you watch it on your computer, which is great fun. Includes a wide-angle 135-degree lens, a variety of mounts, and can handle up to a 32 GB memory card. The 7-ounce camera mounts unobtrusively atop a helmet when turned sideways; just remember to rotate the lens bezel or your video will come out sideways or upside down).
Dislikes: Lacks a view screen. Not waterproof, but water-resistant.
Price: $349. (866) 397-6920; http://www.contour.com.
Simple — but exhausting
EPIC HD Action Video Cam: Ultra-light (5-ounce) high-definition camera that shoots video and stills.
Likes: Good HD video with a choice of high (1280p), medium (720p) and low (640p) resolutions. Takes stills in 8, 5 and 1.3 MP resolutions. The 168-degree wide angle gets everything, with some distortion. Uses three AAA batteries. Can't handle anything bigger than a 16 GB SD card.
Dislikes: No view screen ($80 option) or mounts (various prices) are included. Lack of contrast makes it difficult to read the screen commands and the rubber control buttons. Readout numbers are not cumulative, resetting to zero every time you shut the camera. Adjustability of video, stills, 4X zoom, self-timer, burst mode and various viewpoints are admirable, but these features become confusing and unusable due to lack of intuitive controls and too many button sequences to remember. Not waterproof.
Price: $279. (877) 269-8490; http://www.epicactioncam.com.
Wallack is the author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."