Get it on video
Cameras are everywhere these days, as are cell phones with ever-improving photo and video capabilities. The "best camera" is always the one you have on hand, so make it a good one. Phone cameras are excellent (and handy), but DashCams, HelmetCams, SecurityCams and such can capture video in ways a handheld camera cannot. With a little ingenuity, these dedicated cams can be automated to various degrees, too.

Why fix it if it's not broken?
If you're looking for top-quality with all the bells and whistles, it's hard to beat the GoPro, Garmin's Virb or specialty cams like those from Sena for special features and ready-made accessories. But, we're ignoring these big, bulky and costly cams in favor of broadcast quality video from far less expensive cameras that can be modified without breaking the bank.

Be aware that some cheapo cams found online advertise frame rates and specs that are absolutely false. Cameras discussed below have proven to produce outstanding video in a tiny package making all sorts of applications possible. Sources listed below are well known and verified, presented for the sake of convenience alone; nCity is not affiliated with any manufacturer, product or vendor. Information and links are listed at bottom of this page.

Getting started
It helps to be familiar with editing software and to settle on specs and requirements that suit your purpose. For example, file size (determined by image size, resolution and frame rate) will dictate storage requirements, and the computer platform you use will dictate editing apps (beyond scope of discussion here). If you've shot any video at all, you know how large video files can be. Cards used are typically micro-SD class 10 or better.

Our minimum camera feature set (detailed below) was selected for mobile video and DashCam use (primarily used on a motorcycle). A short list of support sites appears at bottom of this page, along with vendors, reviews and a few other video-related links.

Your requirements and results are sure to vary.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!



Jump down page to:










ActionCams, SecurityCams and lens options

The majority of both action and security cameras share a common lens type known as M12. ActionCams typically use wide-angle lenses while SecurityCams tend to have a more focused or close-up field of view (FOV). Image distortion can be considerable over 100º (most ActionCams), and a FOV below 30º might be too tight, depending on objective. Somewhere between 40º and 60º may be considered "normal," 70º to 85º is an acceptable wide-angle compromise, and there are other ways to minimize fisheye by programming in some cameras.

Why care about FOV and various lenses?
If your goal is to cram maximum information or FOV into the frame, a wide-angle lens is the only way to go, which is why fisheye has become ubiquitous as the hallmark of ActionCam video. If you're happy with your camera's lens (saving yourself much of what follows), great! Read on for mounting, power and other mods you might find useful. If you prefer a "normal" FOV with minimum distortion and better focus on your target, you might consider changing to a longer lens.


Field of view (FOV) and focal length for M12 lenses     ©2013 nCity


It's important to note that sensor size will affect FOV and image quality, as does the chip set used, its response time and firmware running the camera. Sensors, chip sets, lenses and cameras have all improved a great deal in recent years and will continue to improve as time goes on.



The three (reduced) stills above are from three Drift cams shown below, all mounted together to demonstrate FOV difference between lenses. Distance from cameras to motorcycle was about 20 yards (60 feet).
1st still is from the Drift's OEM 2.5mm lens. Unwanted inclusion of objects surrounding the camera becomes a problem when mounting a cam. Unless placed at extreme front or rear of vehicle, a large portion of frame will be consumed by nearby fenders, handlebars, helmet, or other things that may detract from shot.
2nd still accurately shows target and frames clouds nicely while cropping out
distractions and presenting more-or-less what the eye sees with a 51º field of view. 6mm lens is good choice for general-purpose video.
3rd still from 8mm lens which  just begins to enlarge target a tiny bit and is well suited for distortion-free shots with a specific target. Objects within about 20 feet or so will fill frame, making it perfect for filming other riders or vehicles. You may notice a slightly different color balance in this shot, too, which is a function of its IR-cut filter: The weaker the filter, the less color saturation it produces as infrared begins to overwhelm other frequencies, which is why using a high-quality IR-cut filter is very important.






The BFD about CCD and CMOS

How complicated can it be, right? Plenty. Read all about it if you like, but here's the short version:
CCD was analog, sharp and smooth, from security cam and CCTV systems.
CMOS is digital, fast and easy, used in mobile devices and computers.
(CCD = charge coupled device, CMOS = complimentary metal oxide silicon, pronounced 'sea-moss.')

Okay, let's be honest. Analog video doesn't stutter, it doesn't stall or drop frames or make chunky exposure/color adjustments on the fly. But we're dealing with _digital_ video here that can do all those things, and the objective is to avoid all of 'em in pursuit of the one concern that is critical to both types: Image quality (resolution, color balance, exposure, playback).

Cameras may use either CCD or CMOS sensors with identical lenses and IR-cut filters to produce digital video output, so while it's helpful to know which sensor/lens/filter combo your camera of choice uses, sensor type really doesn't matter much if output is acceptable. Both types are equally sensitive to infrared wavelengths, BTW.

Micro pinhole lens assembly (left), and a typical M12 lens

One type of camera capable of producing high quality video is the "spy" cam. High-end SpyCams use a micro lens package like the one shown above - complete with sensor and IR filter - and are quite sophisticated, capable of shooting 1080p/60fps (frames per second) in some cases. Certain SpyCams are even programmable, offering image rotation, loop/length options, time stamp and exposure adjustment, along with audio. If micro-miniature is important to you, the pinhole SpyCam might be just the ticket. While camera size is crucial to applications discussed below (DashCam for one), cameras using the M12 lens are generally more versatile and produce better video.






Infrared (IR-cut) filters

Most cameras have IR filters built-in for daytime use, but bare lenses will probably not include any filters. As it turns out, getting a good IR-cut filter can be the most difficult part of changing a lens, and mounting a filter can be tricky. IR-cut filters typically consist of a delicate coating on a small  piece of glass positioned between sensor and lens, and the quality of this filter has everything to do with color balance. Digital video shot without an IR-cut filter (or with a poor one) will appear slightly fuzzy with little or no color. Not good.

There are red IR-cut filters that reflect IR and blue ones that absorb it, but the important thing is to prevent infrared wavelengths from reaching the sensor. Some IR-cut filters are much more efficient than others. If you purchase a new M12 lens, be sure to get a top-quality IR filter to go with it, or use the filter that came with your camera - if you can. IR-cut filters may be attached to back end of lens, beneath lens fastened to mount, or fixed over sensor. In many cases, you'll won't be able to remove lens from mount without destroying one or both, so plan on replacing all three as a single unit; mount, filter and lens.

Two types of M12 lens mounts are shown above, one upside-down showing its IR filter attached to end of lens. Critical dimensions for board mounts are the distance between centers of mounting screws (X mm = 18mm, 20mm, 22mm, etc.), and the depth of "box" covering sensor and filter. Left mount has a deep box; upside-down mount on right has a very shallow box. Some mounts use a locking ring or spring tension to fix lens to mount, some have a set screw, but many are simply glued together. Recommend storing original mount/lens/filter assembly in a sealed bag when replacing lens unit.

Focus is achieved by screwing lens in/out of mount (more on that later), but any contact between lens and sensor will likely damage both, so beware o'that and make sure there is room and means to install IR-cut filter.





Operation by remote or automation
Cameras with remote controls are becoming common for good reason. A wireless remote eliminates having to grope for controls and allows easy start/stop without risking change in focus or direction by handling camera. Multiple mounted cams may all be activated simultaneously by a single remote, too, provided they've all been paired and setup. This function is important enough to be considered critical in many situations (driving, riding, etc.), and can be thought of as in-camera editing saving a lot of time later. Cams with a standby mode - screen off - often have impressive battery life, too, lasting 4-8 hours or more. There's really only one alternative to remote control, and that's pre-programmed automation.

Programmable cameras may be set to record nonstop, re-recording over previous video in a continuous loop. Cameras with loop functions in their programming are commonly sold as dash-cams or "black-box" cameras and operate much like a so-called black-box in an aircraft. Any physical shock to the camera automatically saves a current clip and locks it to prevent being overwritten as camera continues to record. Most such cams also have a button that serves that same purpose, saving blocks of video manually (without a shock). Autosave options are entirely a function of camera's programming, and options vary between brands. Otherwise, a non-stop loop may be used to capture everything, but be prepared for reviewing hours of video.

Most cameras will have firmware updates from time-to-time, so be ready for that. Some cams use a computer file that may be modified and customized before loading into camera where it becomes camera's configuration file (or "script") notably the Mobius cams, our current camera of choice. Being about the size of a Zippo lighter allows Mobius cams to serve in ways that bigger, bulkier, heavier (
and more expensive) cameras cannot manage.






File type and editing: Resolution, playback, size and apps
H.264 codec is best choice for editing purposes, file size and playback. Also known as .MOV or MPEG-4, H.264 is supported by most computers, handheld devices, web browsers (HTML5) and editing software, thanks to its video quality/compression. H.264 should be considered a requirement for any camera you may choose, tho AVI will work as well. It's a matter of file formats supported by your computer platform and editing app, so best to choose a compatible camera. Having to convert video between formats is an extra step that's best avoided. Video codec also determines storage requirements, and H.264 can cut file size by 50% or more over older file types.

As for resolution and frame rate, 720p at 30fps is considered
minimum broadcast quality. 1080p is better, as is 60fps, and these settings can be mixed down for posting. 4K and above is overkill (IMHO), and not worth the extra burdens of storage and editing requirements (haven't seed Ridley since '01 ;-). You may prefer to shoot at higher quality settings, but we're talking about 1GB/min. or more; depending on number of cams, edited versions and computing power, storage requirements can escalate quickly.
(720p = 1280 x 720 pixels, 1080p = 1920 x 1080 pixels. Both are  wide-format 16:9 aspect ratio.)

At the very bottom of video quality is QVGA (320 x 240), followed by almost acceptable VGA (640 x 480), both in 4:3 aspect ratio. These might be considered "home movie" territory. Then comes a big step up to 16:9 aspect ratio and 720p and 1080p digital. If your goal is YouTube or web video, there's nothing wrong with shooting in VGA, tho aspect ratio may look a bit dated. However, once recorded it's impossible to improve video quality later, so - again - you may decide to shoot higher quality and submit reduced versions on the 'net.

Editing video is a topic worthy of the many books and manuals written on the subject, and software options are legion, running from free (and easy) to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier, Avid Composer are all high-end, top-notch apps, but there are some low-cost and free gems out there, too, starting with everybody's favorite iMovie. iMovie has changed dramatically over the years in operation, interface and features and is included with the MacOS. Windows users have a free Movie Maker app with Windows 10 or later. Search "video editing software" for countless choices, but you're certainly going to need _something_ for video editing.

As with everything these days, you get what you pay for (mostly), and free or light-weight video editing apps lack the pizazz of pro apps. Major considerations include aspect ratio (
4:3 versus 16:9), ability to handle high-rez or HD video, and file-type compatibility. Other things to consider include multi-cam support, audio editing, transitions, special effects and many other capabilities that will become apparent over time. Pro editing apps like Apple's Final Cut and Adobe's Premier are sophisticated enough to handle just about anything, but these come with a learning curve and price tag that requires a serious commitment. Any editing beyond the most basic will require dedicated hard drives and backup, too.

So there you have it. If shooting VGA video on the cheap is okay with you, the starter setup below will get you going (if you can still find these cams or similar models).











Quick, cheap and easy starter setup - oldie but goodie
If you're okay with a 640 x 480 VGA movie, here's a two-camera setup for far less than $100 using Vivitar's great little DVR 480 cameras (if still available) and an older version of iMovie HD (v6.0.3) that came free from Apple back in the day. Or, use Vivitar's video editing software that comes with this gem of a camera. (I see later models eliminated the LCD screen on top, which was very useful. That's too bad, but this cam is facing extinction.)

This lil' guy measures 11/2" x 33/4" x 1" thick and weighs less than 3oz. with batteries and card installed. It has a standard 1/4x20 camera mount on its bottom and LCD readout on top with a blue on/off LED. Best of all, it has a great lens and records at 30fps on a pair of AAA alkaline batteries. LCD displays battery status and recording time, about 4 hours in high resolution or 14 hours in low rez QVGA on a 16GB card. It comes with a variety of helmet and adhesive mounts, a USB cable, and a silicon cover to protect it in foul weather. At $20-35 apiece, you'll have plenty of money left over for batteries and SD cards.
(TIP: The one and only minor glitch is that some of these cams have doors that catch on batteries when closing, but slipping a piece of paper past batteries while closing the door takes care o'that.)

Vivitar DVR 480 teardown and audio mod:
Like most video cameras, the DVR 480 also records audio. And, like most of these small video cameras, it's audio quality suffers from having its microphone inside its case. Once removed and made into an external mic, audio quality from this camera is outstanding.


Remove batteries and memory card, then pry off side panels using a spudger (shown, aka "black stick," a soft plastic tool perfect for jobs like this), or use a plastic card to avoid damaging housing. (Just don't use a credit card, you'll need that later.) Start at rubber lens cover and work down each side toward camera rear to free clips.

With both side panels removed, free the rubber "ears" of lens cover from slots on each side
, then pop rubber lens cover from housing at top and bottom. With unit up-side-down, remove four phillips screws, two on each side. Remove two more short screws from front lens cover. Carefully pry housing halves apart and lift off unit's bottom case.

Microphone was removed and replaced with a 2.5mm jack from Radio Shack soldered to mic leads (red + to tip). Opening was cut in housing, a matching hole drilled thru side cover and jack was then epoxied in place. Observing polarity, mic was soldered to a short 3" cable with 2.5mm plug and placed in a fuzzy wind muff. Resulting audio from this motorcycle-mounted camera was much better than expected.

To see the Vivitar 480 in action, including audio after the mod above, see the 21st Annual NCFTR video posted on our NevCo page.

Cams were mounted front, rear, both sides + one down low on bike. All audio during the ride was from the 480 TailCam (mostly audible in last 1/3rd of video if you can suffer thru it).











Providing power to DashCams and ActionCams

Primary modus operandi here is the ActionCam approach, and these are usually battery-powered in the 3-5vdc range and may be charged via USB. Record what you like, when you like, in short clips, with manual control and multiple mounting options (incl. HelmetCams). Or, if hard wiring to vehicle 12vdc is the plan, a USB adapter is the obvious choice for cams with USB ports (5v). Cigarette lighter adapters are common in the U.S. and Euro-style "powerlet" ports are provided on many import vehicles. Hard-wire or battery power, both have specific advantages and corresponding drawbacks.

Needing a battery tender for winter, I found a nice one with this bullet connector and cap on it. Wired to battery lugs, this connector is concealed behind motorcycle's side cover where connecting battery tender is convenient. Happened to be right next to saddlebags, so I built a proper 12v adapter for use as USB/12v battery and device charger while on the road.

Pictured to right is a dual-port USB adapter, about the size of a cassette tape
, which also has two 12v-out jacks if needed. Each USB port is rated at 3000mA (3 amp) @ 5vdc, plenty of power for charging most any USB-powered gizmo. This adapter uses a pair of tiny N117 12v to 5v USB buck converters (pictured below in Mobius section), equipped with the same bullet connector/cable as that for battery tender (above). Adapter is mounted inside saddlebag where it is out of the way and easily accessible to charge cameras, batteries, GPS or iPhone while riding.

The Wasabi charger (pictured at left) came with a pair of batteries for my hand-held video camera; these chargers are available for just about any type of camera (from Amazon vendor Blue Nook, link below). Both the Wasabi batteries and chargers are top-notch and well made. Chargers have retractable 120vac plugs and 12vdc in for mobile use (arrow). All this is great for recharging battery-powered handhelds and ActionCams.

A hard-wired DashCam that continuously loops over previous recordings will catch everything that happens from vehicle ignition on to ignition off. Do the math and you should find a 32GB SD card gives you plenty of recording time (64GB for dual front/rear
DashCams), especially if you use the shock/lock feature to retain clips while it continues to loop. Some have motion-detect, and time-lapse options as well. A DashCam is the way to go if you only have one camera, guaranteed to capture any surprises while driving. Handy for insurance claims, too.

Battery and USB power
All of these cameras use rechargeable batteries. Some handhelds have removable batteries that are placed in a charger, others have internal batteries that charge by connecting camera to USB. In the case of a DashCam application, using capacitors is recommended in place of a battery due to operating temperatures and the fact that camera is usually hard-wired to a power source and operated with vehicle ignition.

The Mobius internal battery and optional capacitors shown above (four super capacitors wired in series) both serve to activate camera when powered on and save last recorded file when powered off. Both charge when connected to
external power, whether from a USB power source or from another, larger, battery.

Shown at left and below is the external battery used with VisorCam (illustrated in next section, below). This unit is equipped with its own battery management board (BMS) which is matched with battery to safely maintain and charge this specific battery. In this case, we have a

1000mAh (1A) lipo battery connected to a TP-4056 BMS board providing .


Finished unit is a bit larger than a pack of gum and provides simple on/off operation with additional recording time.

Hard-wired
DashCam, or battery-powered and portable ActionCam? Tough choice. Why not do both? 8^)
 










Mobius programmable FHD
These tiny video cameras are nothing short of spectacular. They have evolved and improved over the years, from the first Mobius model (M1) to the much improved Mobius Maxi and it's little cousin the Mobius Mini.

Three M1s served in a variety of motorcycle roles for over two years - as hard-wired DashCam, external-battery TailCam and as a HelmetCam. They've survived multiple trips across the desert, thru mountain passes and along the coast without so much as a dropped frame. While the M1 can record 1080p/60fps, I used 720p/30fps to keep file size/storage to a minimum.

Since upgrading to the Mobius Maxi and new Mini models with improved lens, chipset, recording time and vastly improved video quality, I've switched to using 1080p/30fps for recording, tho it is capable of 2.7K. The Mini has its own set of specs: 1920x1440 or 1080p @ 30/60fps, 720p up to 120fps, and VGA up to 240fps. (The high fps settings are great for slow motion playback.)

All Mobius cams may be ordered with their "standard" (A) lens or a wide-angle (B) lens and they have a variety of options designed for use on drones and RC vehicles, as DashCams, as SecurityCams, SpyCams or most any other use you can think of. FOV is adjustable via programming (wide or narrow).

Manufacturer has included many features designed for those of us who like to modify these things, with the understanding that their product will most likely suffer such a fate (as all of mine have). For $70-80, audio/video quality is every bit as good as $200-300 cameras. Links posted at bottom of this page provide a detailed history of these cameras along with support sites and vendors.

Teardown:
Two tiny screws allow case to be opened and removed. Lens is attached to printed circuit board (PCB) by a ZIF ribbon connector or snap-connector, depending on model. Internal battery unplugs, lens lifts out, 3-4 screws removes PCB from case.
 
Lens Replacement:
Lens holder is a standard M-12 mount with a set screw in the M1 model; I've changed out lens in favor of longer 6mm, 8mm and 12mm lenses with no difficulty, using WebCam mode to adjust and set lens focus. The Maxi, with its programmable FOV, pretty much eliminates need to swap lenses - and video is so fast and smooth that it is near impossible to improve upon.

Format and file types:
All these cameras are capable of formatting their own SD cards, up to 128GB in the Maxi and 64GB in Mini (class 10 or better). Videos are H.264 MOV, MP4 or AVI. Image may be flipped with a slew of other programmable features.

Mobius Mini TailCam Mod
Simple: A few cuts to modify case, cut a circle out of top cover (right), and lens can be angled up to 115-degrees from camera body. (Yellow plastic strip protects thermal pad during mods.)

Once case mods are complete, lens sits nicely in remaining guides with ribbon cable delicately reshaped to eliminate any stress. With battery in place, top cover secures lens in its new position aided by fitting a lens hood.

Back of camera mounts to an aluminum bracket that acts as a heatsink while securing cam, tucked in between sissy bar and passenger back rest. Lens was placed at a very specific 75-degrees for this application and lens hood reduces glare from chrome and reflected sunlight. Bracket also holds on/off switch and connection to external battery (more about external power below). Only the TailCam's lens peeks out from backrest, camera is nearly invisible.

Mobius Mini BarCam (or BodyCam) Mod

Photo at left is another specialty mod of the Mobius Mini. This one has lens angled to its maximum 115º pointing slightly downward, specifically designed for motorsport use.

This Mini was mounted to the aluminum housing of a cell phone power bank that dwarfs camera and provides both heat sink and 5,000mAh of power.

Glove-friendly rocker switch starts and stops recording (by providing external power ala´ Mobius program), lens angle is precisely fixed to keep video centered and level, also secured by lens hood. Camera is worn around neck with lens near jacket collar.

Calculations from real-time tests on this camera indicate a full 8-hours of recording time per 32GB (class 10) SD card with video set to 1080p @ 30fps - 20 min. = 4GB. Using a 64GB SD card (camera's max) would record 16 hours. Battery will go for days before needing a charge. (Next BarCam will be prettier.)

Programming the Mobius
Mobius provides a programming utility created in conjunction with state-side Mobius fans, but it's merely a graphical interface and is really unnecessary. Camera's script can be dumped onto SD card and edited with any text editor app. (Recommend TextEdit on a Mac.) Script is a straight-forward line-item list of settings and options, set on/off by putting a 1 or 0 in the brackets next to each function. Multiple choice options are numbered 0 (usually off) thru 5 or 6; some settings, like exposure and color balance, require an actual numeric value. Simple. Once adjusted, load script back into camera.

Mobius recommends formatting SD cards within the camera, which is probably best, but Apple's Disk Utility may also be used with these settings:



Always use quality name-brand SD cards from a known vendor; many - if not most - recording issues can be traced to media failure, corrupt/improper format or an SD card that's not up to Class 10 specs.

Mobius Mini VisorCam (aka HelmetCam)
Having had a Mobius M1 mounted on left-side of helmet for years (the M1 had a sideways-mount option), I was never really happy with results - but it wasn't the camera's fault. Mounting and aiming was difficult; the side of helmet was always in the shot; and exposure to the sun eventually ruined housing. To eliminate helmet from video, I tried a variety of longer lenses, from 6mm up to a 12mm. But, as any photographer will tell you, the longer the lens the more image will shake (unless using a tripod). Solution to all these issues was to put cam into helmet's visor. But wait.....

Camera fits into notch cut from visor with only its lens housing exposed to
the elements and minimizing it from view. Perfectly centered and fixed at eye-level, what could go wrong? Plenty.

Fortunately, the Mini's SD card is accessible from the side of camera, but its mini-USB port was right up against helmet - no problem if using camera as designed (self-contained) - but fiddling with buttons while riding with hand in front of face was a non-starter. First off, buttons were impossible to find while wearing gloves. Second, operation requires a press of power button, wait for standby mode, then another button starts/stops recording. Third, cam's LEDs were impossible to see (it has 5), so no feedback if on/off.

Finding buttons while wearing gloves was solved by removing buttons from camera, then placing a fat drop of 10-minute epoxy on each. But, still a lot of fiddling around (never a good idea while riding). Solution was to employ Mini's "autostart with external power" setting; this allows operation with a single on/off switch while extending recording time from an external battery. A win-win situation enabled by external battery fastened to left side of helmet (illustrated in Power section, above).

Images to right show epoxy-enhanced buttons (now ignored), and camera's heatsink/frame which mounts between center visor snap and visor notch up-front. Also visible is a small tape tab added to micro-SD card (making it a little easier to handle), and the finished VisorCam's lens housing which protects lens and helps to eliminate glare and unwanted reflections.


That leaves the LED problem - nice to know what camera is doing. Adding a bent and polished acrylic lightpipe to camera case (left) allows LED to be seen clearly - even in bright sunlight while wearing sunglasses. Blue LED status light is shown on and is most informative, changing colors during operation. Red (on-only) LED is up against helmet and cannot be seen. (Audible feedback, a feature of the Maxi, would be useless here due to wind noise generated by the helmet.)

Mobius Maxi as DashCam
Pictured at the top of this (too-long) diatribe between the M1 and Mini, the Mobius Maxi is a stout and stellar performer, limited only by the maximum size of its micro-SD card (128GB). Using our formula for 1080p/30 at 4GB per 20-minutes, that's 640 minutes or 10.6 hours recording time per card.

Used as a DashCam, it can be set to loop - or not - and will save/lock select clips manually or automatically via its G-sensor. It has a host of other features and capabilities, mounts and options, far too many to list here.

On the bike, this cam is mounted inside a protective case behind a crystal
lens and is clamped direct to handlebars - no modifications needed beyond mount and power source.

Camera is connected to an unused circuit within headlight bucket, activated by ignition switch, and uses another N117 Buck converter to step down from 12v to 5v USB (right). N117 is also stashed within headlight bucket where it also feeds a GPS unit from time to time.

Had some teething problems with the Maxi early on - it seems to like recording in 1-minute clips - but once sorted, the Maxi has been nothing short of awesome, and no less remarkable given its price point. You can get four of these for less than a single GoPro without compromising video quality - and all four together are less than half the size of a GoPro's. What's not to like?











Drift HD 720 Camera teardown & mods
LATE EDIT: Drift cams have changed considerably since this teardown was posted; whether any of this applies to the newer Ghost cams is unknown, but odds are most of this is still relevant.

Objective here was to replace cam's wide-angle 130º lens with a "normal" lens, in this case a 6mm/50º lens with new mount and IR-cut filter. (C
hanging lenses means replacing lens, mount and filter as a unit because original assembly cannot be taken apart or modified. If you try, you're likely to destroy all three.)

Disassembly begins with removing back cover, battery and SD card. Remove four 1.5mm hex screws and lens cover. Flip camera upside-down and remove six long
phillips screws from bottom-half of camera case.
Lift
bottom case straight up, pull speaker loose from case (if necessary), set bottom case aside.

Note spring-loaded battery eject
mechanism and location of antenna wire. Remove eject spring and arm (to avoid losing 'em). Loosen rubber seal from rear of case and peel it forward toward lens, popping mic out of its rubber mount (see below). Holding seal toward lens, free antenna wire, then move battery box aside exposing circuit boards and lens assembly.

Next step is the delicate process of releasing ZIF connector and removing internals from top case. (If you're only replacing lens, you might be able to skip this step and work with only bottom case removed.) ZIF release is a brown tab that _slides_ about 1/16" away from connector toward case
wall. Remove screws from circuit board, then free circuit board assembly from top case by lifting lens end first. Ribbon cable should slide out of ZIF connector. Set top case aside.

Mark sensor board and corresponding side of lens mount for reference on reassembly; bear in mind that lens is upright when camera's display is on RH side and lens housing is aligned with case.

In a dust-free environment, remove four screws between sensor board and lens mount while holding all firmly in place to avoid damaging sensor. Two of these fasten board to mount, the other two are longer and pass thru to lens housing.

Remove lens+mount from housing/seal by pressing lens rearward (press fit). Store original lens/mount assembly in a sealed bag in case you might want to return cam to its original configuration - resist temptation of removing lens from mount.


Replacement mount with a proper IR-cut filter may be obtained from B&H Photo in New York (SKU = MAVLH4IR, security lens holder w/FBG28 filter, link below). New M12 mount will need to be filed down slightly on all four sides, but will then fit into Drift's rotating housing perfectly. And the IR-cut filter from B&H is excellent.

Lens must be a SHORT one to accommodate the Drift's lens cover. The two 6mm lenses shown here are both megapixel models with nearly identical optical specs, but the long one (22.5mm in length) will not fit behind lens cover when focused. The shorter model fits, but there's another problem: Drift's convex lens cover prevents sharp focus with normal lenses. So, we added a gasket cut from 1/8"-thick neoprene rubber and used a flat glass crystal. We also added a thinner O-ring to replace the Drift's seal.

Focus and fine tune before reassembly
NOTE:
If you haven't removed the battery eject spring and arm, now is a good time. Once eject has been removed, insert a battery and SD card, power up and install lens.


Focusing this cam is a bit more difficult than those with HDMI output than can be focused on a large screen. We used an Air Force test target with the Drift's display as a starting point, then shot test video using index marks to fine-tune camera focus.


The M12 mount specified above has a pilot hole for a short set screw to secure lens; there was also room for a lock ring, so we used both. Lock ring is tight to lens with index mark, a piece of white tape wrapped around mount has a series of clockwise and counterclockwise marks in tiny increments. Starting with best focus from cam's display at center mark, aim at a good target - we used a building across the street with a chain link fence in front - and start recording while saying, "clockwise one, clockwise two," giving each mark a few seconds to record. Then review video on a big monitor. Repeat as necessary to achieve a sharp image. Once satisfied with focus, secure lens with set screw, lock ring, a dab of paint or glue. Remove battery, replace eject mechanism and reassemble camera.

Microphone breakout
Moving the mic outside the lil' Vivitar (above) and into a muff was such an enormous improvement in audio quality, I just had to do the same for the Drift cam. Using the 8mm TailCam, I removed the Drift's mic, soldered it to a short stereo cable with a 2.5mm plug (ignoring center connector) and reinforced connection with some stiff shrinkwrap.
Mic was placed into a very soft, hollow silicone grommet - just like Vivitar mic above - to further deaden any vibration and give the mic a little more mass.



Muff is made from a circle of sheepskin about the size of a silver dollar with a tiny hole punched thru leather at mic, then drawn tight with a stitch around perimeter. Foam muffs are available from Radio Shack, or foam tips from earphones might work, too.

The original Drift microphone mount has a hard plastic T-shaped spacer within its rubber socket; inside diameter is perfect for 2.5mm jack, using the smallest, round, panel-mount jack available. Jack's switch contact was carefully cut off - snug fit inside rubber mic socket - and that T-shaped spacer had to be shortened a bit to allow plug to seat properly. Naturally, the thin rubber mic cover had to be pierced, which may compromise the Drift's weatherproof seal but useful audio sans wind noise is absolutely worth it. (The little Vivitar 480 has slightly better audio tho, sorry to say, even with same mic.)

This 6mm cam was used in FOV demonstration at top of this page, along with a stock wide-angle 2.5mm Drift and a third Drift with 8mm lens installed.











The 808 family of SpyCams:

Last but not least is a wide variety of tiny HD cameras loosely known as 808 cams from Hetai in China. The camera that started it all was a tiny keychain model that shot such remarkable video it quickly became popular with hobbyists of all kinds. It has since gone thru dozens of revisions and improvements, and morph'd into pen cams, lapel cams, remote car-key cams and more. Point is, these folks are serious, and their cameras come in about any configuration you can think of. Hidden in smoke detectors and alarm clocks, they shoot such excellent video and are so cheap they're still extremely popular. (The 808 is not quite fast enough for nighttime use tho.) This is an early 808 cam:


Inside the original 808 keychain cam (shown actual size) you can see micro SD card slot with card installed, USB port, microphone in upper-left above pinhole lens, and its rechargeable battery on right.

808 cameras are still available via select vendors on eBay, and some are also sold thru retailers like B&H. Beware of fakes and only deal with recommended vendors. See links below.











The smaller and lighter the cam, the better.
All ActionCams come with a variety of plastic mounts, typically handlebar and helmet mounts. Specialized mounts are available in countless configurations, too. At top-left is an anodized aluminum clamp designed for versatility with a ball-mount at camera and a set of jaws that will grab onto just about anything. Next is a rather awkward handlebar mount, then a typical suction-cup windshield mount, and in the middle is a two-part scheme where center piece threads into camera then clips into either of the concave helmet mounts on either side of it (left one takes a strap and right one has adhesive). My fav is the stainless clamp at bottom-left; found at a marine store on eBay and modified, it's as short and stout as possible. The one on bottom-right has a swivel head added from a $5 tripod. Between them is a modified "P" clamp for 1.25" bars from Formotion.

Since our primary focus here is mounting cams on motorcycles, we have problems to deal with that might not apply to other vehicles, starting with vibration and a phenomenon known as "CMOS wobble" which is all but unavoidable.
Camera size/weight and length of mount become critical; bikes generally vibrate most at low speeds and idle, but some shake so much that a HelmetCam or BodyCam may be the only usable options.

CMOS wobble occurs when motor rpm hits a harmonic frequency causing camera sensor to react with wavy video, and it's completely unpredictable. Even the smoothest engine is likely to trigger it briefly when going thru the gears. Using the short stainless mount, Vivitar's tiny 3 oz. CMOS cam seems to avoid it, tho I haven't really tested the Vivitar at high rpm. The much larger 5 oz. Drift cam recorded CMOS wobble right around 3700 rpm on a recent trip, but that is sure to change with different mount or location. Forward cam was mounted on handlebars near left grip; moving cam closer to center of bars is bound to change things, as would a different mount, possibly one with some cushion might help. Just know that defeating vibration is one thing, but chasing CMOS wobble will probably be an ongoing battle.












Typical exterior security cam
Pictured above is a very common camera in use just about everywhere. This one measures about 3.5" x 3.5" and is almost 6-inches long. Of that bulk, only about the first inch of its housing contains components; the rest is empty space, designed to be visible and obvious as a deterrent. This one is equipped with WiFi (antenna on rear) for remote access, but most are also equipped with ethernet if wireless option is undesirable.

Some of these cameras have their own internal SD card as backup, most include infrared illumination for nighttime (with IR-cut filter for low-light conditions), and majority operate on 12vdc. Additional IR spot and flood lights are also available and recommended to enhance nighttime use.

That mass of cables/connectors includes ethernet, audio out, video out, 12v power input and a cable with reset button. The other ends of those cables go to a few tiny PCB connectors (below), suggesting all that bulk might be also be unnecessary, as with camera's case size. Dealing with cables is usually the most difficult part of SecurityCam installations.



TIP: If passing cable(s) thru a small opening, consider disassembling camera, disconnecting those tiny PCB connectors and passing 'em thru hole, then reassembling camera. Otherwise, you'll need a minimum 1" square opening. Either way is a PITA.

Infrared light on example above is a single high-output LED, an improvement over the old way of having dozens of (inefficient) 5mm LEDs ring the lens. And, yes, under that lens assembly is an M12 mount and lens (glued together). To replace lens on these units, you'll need to match its M12 mount as well. Since SecurityCams are mounted on a structure, they are a perfect candidate for a long, closeup lens targeting a specific spot. Adding an additional infrared spotlight makes for a well-targeted security setup. (See IR filter section near top of page.) "Digital zoom" is close to worthless in most cases, but a closeup lens will provide sharp and detailed video at a much greater distance than the stock lens can (typically 75-120º FOV), even with a 720p camera.

As far as brands go, Axis is among the best (and most expensive), but there are others available, including pre-packaged multi-cam surveillance systems from B&H, BestBuy, Fry's, Amazon and eBay, among other sources. Once again, pay close attention to details and specs before investing in any system; they're not always as easy and efficient as they may claim. Generally, you get what you pay for. Don't waste money on a cheap system you may be forced to abandon in favor of one that works correctly.

Security isn't the only concern with these systems. Privacy is pretty important, too. Lots of news stories lately reporting unauthorized spying by companies like Google, Amazon, Ring, and others. You may find it's a trade off between privacy (ethernet/wired) and convenience (WiFi/wireless). Limiting WiFi to one or two cameras on a wired network may be a good compromise.

Some interesting new entries into the home security market include HomeKit, Wyze, and systems that integrate with home automation. Look at tech reviews, news and consider company plans as it relates security and privacy. And ALWAYS change any/all default passwords.











References
Techmoan - Extensive reviews covering a wide variety of video cams
Techmoan's YouTube Channel - Device reviews posted on YouTube

Tom Frank's Mobius1 cam pages - Site protocols, Mobius1 cam support
Tom Frank's MobiusMini cam pages - Specs, pics, internals of the Mobius Mini
Tom Frank's MobiusMaxi cam pages - Specs, pics, internals of the Mobius Maxi
Tom Frank's 808 cam pages - RC aircraft site with extensive 808 cam info DashCamTalk MobiusMaxi - Site dedicated to Dash Cams, reviews and use



Sources
B&H Photo and Video - outstanding source for cameras and accessories
B&H M12 lens mount w/IR-cut filter - SKU = MAVLH4IR w/FBG28 filter
B&H handheld Camcorders - great source, various brands, specs, prices
B&H Sports and ActionCams - GoPro, DJI, Drift, Sony, countless others
B&H Security and surveillance - Analog, IP and wireless systems, cams
Wasabi batteries and Chargers - from Blue Nook on Amazon
Drift cameras, UK - Cams, vendors, accessories, features
Garmin cameras - Virb - ActionCam, DashCam, well-made, high-end
Wyze - newcomer to the home security market
M12 Lenses - M12 lenses and mounts (you will need IR-cut filter)

808 and Mobius cams on eBay - Eletoponline365 eBay store

Excell Electronic on eBay - Hard-to-find ribbon cables by spec (China)