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I do a short commute in Paris (about 7 km / 30 minutes each way) and I am seriously considering adding a camera (maybe 2) to my bike to be able to report dangerous behaviour and also generally because it's fun and interesting.

I've seen a lot of great footage on the web but I wonder how they get such a stable picture. I guess that helmet mounted cameras produce an inherently more stable picture but I also heard of stabilizing software.

The thing is I don't wear a helmet and I would like to fix my camera to the handlebar. My bike (Cross Areal CR) has suspension in the front, however I'm not sure it's enough to dampen the road shake, though my route is mostly on smooth asphalt (some potholes, some old paved passages).

Does mounting a camera on the handlebar mean that I must invest in a more expensive stabilized camera or do you find that most cameras work just a well? Are there any tricks to getting a stable picture with such a setup?

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As a daily commuter in Germany with regular visits to Paris, I very well understand you. However, this recent article in a German newspaper discusses the privacy concerns that can prohibit using the evidence gained from dashcams. My guess is that similar concerns apply under French law. –  StefG Dec 4 '13 at 0:18
    
@StefG To clarify: French privacy law and admissibility in court are two distinct subjects. There are some restrictions in France on what public footage can be shown or published. However there is no specific law forbidding filming in public places (what would tourism in Paris become!). When it comes to using the footage in court, I doubt that a French judge will refuse to see footage of an incident. Whether she/he decides to use or dismiss it is left to her/his appreciation. –  Sébastien Dec 4 '13 at 1:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Cameras on bikes are a trade-off. I run my camera from the handlebars, but it can be very shaky particularly depending on the road surface: on a newly paved road it can be almost perfect, but on cobbles it's almost useless.

Certainly you can helmet mount, but then you can look quite silly. (The cuboid Go Pros on top of a helmet just look ridiculous.) There are some advantages though, it's definitely more stable (as @cherouvim correctly points out - your neck and body are great shock absorbers) and it means that you are getting the camera to record (more or less) what you are looking at.

If you're planning on being able to use the footage to report problems, then it is going to be much more flexible to be able to point the camera dynamically. The lack of a helmet isn't the end of the road though, I use a Contour camera and they've got headband, cap and helmet mounts - so while you'll need some form of headwear, it needn't be a helmet.

Some of the shake can be mitigated with a fast frame rate and post-production, but it'll be easier if it wasn't there in the first place and the best way for that is not to mount it on the bike.

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The headband is probably the best solution for me, though I will experiment with a handlebar / head tube mount as well as suggested by cherouvim. As it happens the Contour Roam2 is one of the cameras I am considering buying and their headband seem to be a solid product. –  Sébastien Dec 1 '13 at 15:31
    
Surprisingly, a chest mount is actually one of the more stable spots to shoot from. However, it's also pretty tricky to get it aligned correctly. –  Aaron Dec 2 '13 at 16:02

Will mounting a camera on the handlebar instead of the helmet make the picture more shaky?

Yes. The helmet mount provides the most stable video because any terrain roughness has already been absorbed by your body.

In addition to shakeness the handlebars mount will provide a not so pleasant video because it will constantly be panning left and right due to the automatic microadjustments you do to keep you riding straight.

... to be able to report dangerous behaviour ...

A more important reason to mount it to you head is that you'll most probably end up with the correct footage. The handlebars do not always point to where we are looking. Examples:

  • while cornering you look at where you want to go but the handlebars do not (yet)
  • pointing your head elsewhere while riding straight is obviously very common when you want to make a safe lane change, pass a green light etc

Does mounting a camera on the handlebar mean that I must invest in a more expensive stabilized camera

You can stabilize later with software. Although it needs a bit of experimentation.

Are there any tricks to getting a stable picture with such a setup?

No but you can try mounting on the head tube. It'll provide a pretty solid video, but always pointing straight.

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+1 for all your explanations. It makes sense that the bike and lower body absorb a lot of shock before it propagates to the head. I also agree with the ability to easily direct the camera wherever I look. And if stabilization has to happen "in post" as they say, I don't think it's worth it for day to day operations. –  Sébastien Dec 1 '13 at 15:37

More shaky: yes.

I run a fairly cheap "kaiser baas" camera mounted on my handlebars. It took a bit of work to get a stable video - after some experiments I put a layer of rubber around the handlebars (very large rubber bands) then tightened the mounting as much as possible. The result is acceptable for me. Certainly big potholes and very rough sections cause poor video. The rough sections can also transmit noise to the audio pickip.

Contrary to another reply, I find that small steering movements are almost undetectable in the video, because of the angle of view of the camera.

Unrelated to your question, I find that when I run the camera I am a safer rider: somebody is watching me!

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+1 I agree with the self policing effect, I think sometimes I would be more careful if I knwew I was not only recording others but also myself... –  Sébastien Dec 1 '13 at 15:33

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