Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cockpit Cameras

Which point of view is right for your flying adventures?

TOP: Greg Miller of Big Rocks and Long Props uses Nflightcam's Nflight IP Viewer app to analyze one of his canyon flights. BOTTOM: Michael Goulian tightens it up for Nflightcam (left); Kirby Chambliss goes vertical for GoPro (right).
As pilots, we always want to tell everyone about our latest flying endeavors, whether it's a cross-country adventure or our best-ever landing. The ability to quickly and easily share video with the entire world through YouTube, Facebook and other online sharing tools has created a whole new culture of amateur video makers and affordable video gear to go with them.

The development of small point-of-view (POV) cameras started about five years ago and has advanced rapidly ever since into a half-billion dollar industry today. With GoPro leading the pack in volume, it's no surprise that we see these cameras affixed to glare shields or wing tips at almost every airport. There are several aftermarket companies that modify POV cameras, adding features like the ability to record intercom and radio audio. Here's a look at the features you'll need to consider when choosing your cockpit cam.

• Image size: Nearly every camera on the market today shoots in 1080p, which means that the image size captured by the sensor is 1,080 pixels tall by 1,920 pixels wide. The "p" stands for progressive, which means that an entire image is captured with every frame. It's safe to say that any camera that doesn't put out a 1080p image today is inferior. All of the cameras featured in this article are capable of 1080p.

• Image sensor: Although every POV camera on the market below $1,800 has a rolling shutter sensor, it's important to explain what this means when shooting through a propeller. Unlike a mechanical shutter in a still camera that exposes the entire image at the exact same time, a rolling shutter is electronic and has no moving parts. This is why the camera can be so small and lightweight. The image is actually exposed pixel by pixel in a scan pattern that's completed in milliseconds. Normally, this isn't an issue. However, when shooting through a high-speed object such as a propeller, it can create an ugly side effect.

• Form factor and mounting: Each camera has a different shape and mounting system. You'll want to consider how obtrusive the camera is if you're going to mount it on your headset, or how aerodynamic it is if you're going to mount it on the exterior. Consider the available mounts (adhesives, suction cups and more) that best match your purpose.

Aerotrust, based in Santiago, Chile, uses a GoPro Hero2 in a Citation CJ1.
• Ease of use: Your focus as a pilot should be flying, not managing a camera system. Setting up a camera shouldn't take more than about 60 seconds during pre- and postflight. Any longer than that, and it may become an unwanted distraction.

• Aviation-specific features: Certain cameras have been modified specifically for the cockpit. Features include the ability to record audio from both the intercom and ATC radio, and a reduction in propeller distortion.

• Price point: This is where the rubber meets the road. You'll want to know what type of value you're getting when you purchase the camera. What mounts are included? Is a memory card included that has a large enough capacity? What's the battery life? What accessories will you need in order to use the camera? What type of support is offered after the sale? Is the company knowledgeable about aviation?


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