HD Cameras
Contour vs Drift HD 170 Stealth

Added 1/30/2012

At OSH 2011, I went armed with some cash, hoping to get a nice HD camera for recording some stuff in-flight.  My intention was a camera that I could use outside of the airplane, on some sort of mount, but also inside the airplane. I ended up buying the new Contour +, which I got from Sportys, via Nflightcam.  They add couple tweaks such as the Aviator Lens, and Avaiton Adapter cable, mark it up $100, and sell it to us aviators.  The current price is $499.  It does a fantastic job on HD video, and with the Aviator lens, the prop doesn't leave that awful prop effect in the video.  It has some other cool features like, it logs the GPS location during filming so you can follow where exactly the video was shot, in real time; it can use Bluetooth to talk to the iPhone which you can use as a viewfinder; it has an HDMI port and cable for connecting directly to HD TV's for playback; it has the Y-cable for hooking into a standard aviation headset jack. (Lucky for me I left one of these jacks in place as a 5th jack in the rear seat...I use Bose jacks everwhere)  I took a couple of trips where I brought the camera along and it does do a very nice job on video.  I also bought this $50 Waterproof case for it and took it with the kids for their SCUBA certification and it does a great job underwater too.  So all around it should be a super compact and handy camera.  It has a very wide field of view.  There are only a couple of things not to like:  1) The power button is hard to use, 2) It's more expensive than some other cameras...but, it is one of the more feature filled cameras around.  Also, with the price, I was a bit leery of mounting it outside the plane.  I know they use them all the time, and even just using the self-stick mounts they trust them.  It sounds like they are very secure with self-stick mounts, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it with a camera that cost that much. Oh, and while I'm just fine with it, this camera uses MicroSD cards, so they cost a little more for the same capacity.  I bought 16GB cards of class 10 speed.

Enter the Drift Stealth HD 170:  This camera is a little larger (probably not heavier) than the Contour+, and will make your prop look awful, but includes a small LCD screen to playback your video, and a remote control.  While Drift does have new cameras out that have HDMI output on them, this one does not...but the newer cams cost a lot more money, and I got this one from B&H Photo for $159, WITH an extra Long-Life battery.  Now this camera is a great little camera too, and does a fantastic job at HD video as well.  Neither one of them has the features of the other, so they both have their own plusses and minuses.  The drift, being unable to hook to HDMI, makes it tough to review footage on HDTV's without first copying the files to some other device to play back.  The drift DOES use standard SDHC (I got 32GB class 10 cards), so memory is a bit cheaper.  Although larger, the camera is pretty light and smooth lined so kept forward facing it probably doesn't add a ton of drag.  I tried this camera out while snow skiing and with the remote, it worked very well for video taping the kids skiing, and was easy to start and stop without touching the camera.  The contour is easy to start and stop, but required sliding the top switch to do it....not a huge deal either way.  The drift, however, at that price point, is a LOT easier to stick out on a wingtip, under a tail, or somewhere outside the aircraft.  It does not come with a Y cable to hook into your intercom, but by adding something like 1.5Mohm to 2Mohm resistors into the cable, a custom cable can be made that makes it work OK with the intercom. The one complaint I have about the camera in function, is minor, and fixable.  The field of view is so wide and tall that in mounting it above and below the wing, it was hard to keep the wing OUT of the picture.  Even in my outboard wing access plate, it had such a wide angle that it picks up my nose gear in 720P mode.  As it turns out, this is fixable if you are willing to sacrifice space and shoot everything in 1080P mode, because the 170 degree view gets reduced down to around 140 degrees in that mode, and it is not as tall, aspect wise, either.

So in short, I'm glad I have BOTH of these cameras.  I think the Contour is definitely the nice one for in the cockpit.  It's smaller, more feature filled, and comes with that Aviator lens to make the prop a nice blur.  The Drift though, is cheap enough to throw outside and not worry about.  They both can rotate their lens, and both are good at the things they do.  Neither camera has any sort of optical zoom, so neither will replace your handheld HD camera, sorry to say.

Mounting the Cameras
I don't currently have a photo of my Contour mounts, but, I have a suction mount that I can mount to the windshield and not see the RV-10's windshield bar, and I also installed a small 1" ball mount directly into my overhead console to attach to the camera.  This makes it reall good for forward facing shots in the cabin.  I'm not much into shooting video of myself, so aft facing isn't something I care for right now.

For my Drift cam, I so far have tried the trick of attaching it to the top of the wing using 2 screws through the included flat plastic plate, which worked OK but left the wing very visible, and then I ripped off Vic Syracuse's idea of the wing access plate mount that he had good luck with on his alaska trip, and made me one.  The only real changes over his was that I did mine in flush rivets rather than screws, hoping for a permanent and rigid structure.  The wing access plates are cheap, from Van's online store.  Under the camera is a strip of velcro that ensures the camera won't spin, and it's all secured by a 1/4"x20 stud and nut.  The mount is very solid, doesn't affect flight characteristcs, and generally should work pretty well.  The only downside is that it's going to aim slightly downward, to avoid the wing, so don't count on getting lots of high-angle shots.  For many people this is a non-issue, and it will help keep both the sun off the camera, and the camera from being hit by the sun's glare in some of the shots.

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