Gear Test: V.I.O. POV 1.5

In praise of one of the best helmet cams we've ever tried
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In praise of one of the best helmet cams we've ever tried

It's rare when a helmet cam can step in for a full-on camcorder and totally excel—but that's exactly what V.I.O.'s POV 1.5 did on our recent jaunt to the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. After our main video camera bit the dust, the POV 1.5 (which we'd planned to use only for helmet-cam action shots) covered interviews, close-ups, action, and anything else we could throw at it with aplomb.

Granted, it doesn't shoot in true high-definition (720 x 480 resolution at 30fps is the best you'll get), but that's made up for by a wide-angle lens that shoots at about 110 degrees. This gives your shots an expansive, widescreen feel without distorting into fish-eye silliness. Colors are a bit washed, but shots remain stable and dynamic. Even when shaking and rotating the lipstick-sized lens in the middle of action-packed coverage, it's hard to devolve into seasick, Blair Witch-style shots.

Sound is above average for a helmet cam; while you won't get Dolby richness, it's not nearly as tin-can sounding as most helmet cams. As long as subjects are reasonably close, you can pick up dialogue even while surrounded by a raging river.

Burly plastic and metal casing ensure that you'll have a tough time knocking the POV out of commission. And while it's easy as pie to use, a wealth of expandability options exist for pro and pro-sumer filmmakers who want to expand the camera's capabilities. While in the field, running out of juice on other cameras remains a constant worry, but 4 AA-batteries seem to power this baby for what feels like centuries.

The camera isn't perfect: The hyper-simple, unlabeled controls can sometimes get confusing, especially when you need to change settings in the heat of the moment. Also, getting the camera's .avi files to cooperate with Macs or Final Cut Pro can be complicated (try the freeware program MPEG Stream to mitigate that). Image-quality freaks or fans of still scenics won't be happy with the slight pixelization and MTV-esque look to motion, and the lack of a zoom still hurts. But for everyone else, this helmet cam works far beyond its advertised use.

We gave the POV 1.0 the thumbs-up back in March 2008, and we're happy to report the 1.5 has only gotten better (And cheaper—the $200 price drop is certainly welcome). For aspiring adventure filmers who care less about high-definition and more about capturing dynamic action with one single, indestructible, do-everything camera, the V.I.O. POV 1.5 is tops. (V.I.O. POV 1.5, $650).

—Ted Alvarez