Alright, so to begin my first full review of helmet cams, I will be comparing the ATC3K (or ATC 3000) from Oregon Scientific and the newly-released Tachyon XC.
Construction and Dimensions
At first sight, we can see the big difference in shape and construction. Many of today’s helmet cams are constructed in a cylindrical lipstick shape just like the 3K, while Tachyon’s new product has a completely different exterior casing that is actually a little bit boxier and slightly lighter. As I noticed, the ATC3K was identical to my old ATC2K in terms of size, shape, weight, etc. After some measurements and weigh-ins, the XC is about one ounce lighter without batteries. When measured for size, the XC was three quarters of an inch smaller in length. The exact measurements put the ATC3K at 4.75” (12cm) and the Tachyon XC at 4” (10.16cm).
On the top of each camera, there is a series of buttons. Both cameras are standardized and provide a power button, a record button, and a menu button. Although the controls perform the same function, the 3K’s controls do prove a little more difficult to press than the XC’s bigger buttons. Both cameras provide a beeping sound to identify when buttons are being pressed, and when recording has commenced. On the front of the Tachyon XC, there are two small LEDs to help indicate status of power on and of recording.
Just like the ATC2K, the ATC3K offers a twist off cap to reveal its interior workings: battery compartment, SDHC card slot, and TV and USB plugs. Its battery casing is a simple slide-out tab that makes battery placement easy, but then again, maybe it’s too easy. One of the leading problems with helmet cameras comes from battery movement within the camera while you are recording. This leads to camera shutdown and lost content. Along with several complaints I have seen online and with friends, I did have a problem with occasional shutdowns and losing video with my ATC2K, so I’d hope the 3K does not suffer the same problem.
The XC goes with a locking door rather than a twist-off cap, similar to the design of professional waterproof camera cases. It offers an O-Ring clamp with some padding on the door that pushes up against the battery cartridge and the SDHC card, locking them in tight. The cartridge and the padding really seem to keep things tight. I haven’t had any shutdowns yet.
One of the first great features of each of these cameras is full waterproofing. According to the manuals, the ATC3K is intended to work up to a full 10 feet (or 3 meters), while the Tachyon XC is assured to work well up to 28 feet of water (or 8.5 meters). The maximum time for both is listed as 30 minutes. I didn’t exactly jump in the full pool to test these claims, but I did allow both cameras to get wet with no problems. The ATC3K requires you to do a bit more than the XC does to keep your camera waterproof. You need to take care of your O-ring (rubber seal) with silicon grease. And I have to wonder what the constant screwing and unscrewing of the cap will do to the O-ring over the long run. The XC, on the other hand, needs no attention. Just close the door and you’re sealed tight.
Stills and Secrecy
One of the new features for these types of cameras is the option to take still photos. The Tachyon XC can do this, while the ATC3K cannot. The photos are straightforward and are taken in the same VGA resolution as the video. Is this really useful? In action situations, probably not. Your hands will be too busy to be pressing buttons anyway. But if you want to go out with just one camera instead of two, it might do the job.
Both of these cameras come with a ‘secrecy mode’ for shooting hidden cam shots. The beeping sounds that both cameras make are silenced when in this mode. As are the red and green LEDs that the Tachyon XC uses to show when your power is on and when you are recording.
So if you want to sneak some video of your friends or family, either one of these cameras could do the job.
Something that might be very useful with the secrecy mode is the XC’s remote control that can start and stop your recordings from a distance. This could also be useful for certain sports where the buttons are not easily reachable, such as when the camera is mounted on the top of your skiing helmet.
Both cameras have included standard mounts so that you don’t have to go out and build them from scratch. Both camera’s mounts can easily slip on and off of the camera and have loops for attaching straps. The “swivel” mount of the XC can attach to a standard tripod and will rotate in a complete circle. It also attaches to their optional handlebar mount.The ATC3K comes with a simple handlebar mount – not as substantial looking as the XC’s. Both cameras come with straps, pads and Velcro, but the XC gives you a lot more of the pads and Velcro than the 3K does.
The Tachyon XC is a multi-TV system that can work on TVs anywhere in the world, while the ATC3K will work on either NTSC or PAL systems, but not both. So you need to be careful where you buy the ATC3K. If you live in Europe, don’t buy from the US, or vice-versa.
Video Recording and FPS
We now move on to the most important factor in this review and that is how well these cameras can record. To begin my test, I held both cameras in my hands while riding my skateboard. I set each camera to their highest setting, along with using the same SDHC card. Although both cameras worked well, I did notice a difference in overall quality. As you can see in the video, the 3K’s video appeared lighter, less saturated, and a bit jerky, while the XC stayed truer to natural colors and was a bit more smooth.
The XC advertises 30, 26, and 15fps, depending on the settings you choose. The two highest modes are at 26, the medium mode at 30 and the surveillance mode at 15. I found these to be accurate. The ATC3K goes with two shooting modes, both at a claimed 30fps. This claim doesn’t hold up, however. I found the true frame rate to be 26fps. To get an accurate frame rate for each setting, I imported the videos into Photoshop as frames and divided the number of frames by the time. As for Field of View on both cameras, the XC is labeled at 50 degrees compared to the 3Ks 48 degrees. Though for the common video viewer, there really isn’t any distinctive difference.
The ATC3K claims to be shock resistant, while the XC claims to be shock proof. One of the leading problems with many helmet cameras has always come from battery movement within recordings, which has led to shut downs and loss of video. As I mentioned earlier, the ATC3K is pretty much identical to it’s predecessor ATC2K which claims in its manual that it is not shock proof and that you should not to drop it! Along with several complaints I have read online and heard from friends, I myself did have problems with occasional shutdowns and lost video on the 2K. Because of this problem, I hope the 3K does not suffer the same flaw. Tachyon claims a patented shock-proof design that is intended to eliminate this common problem suffered by the 2K and other action cameras. During my earlier test, which was admittedly not very rough, I did not have a problem with either camera turning off on me.
Memory and Recording Times
Secure Digital cards (SD cards) are an important element of both these cameras, as they provide the only way to store content. While the ATC3K’s manual lists its camera of being compatible with up to a 4GB card, the Tachyon XC’s manual shows a capability of 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB SDHC cards, and is marketing itself as the only helmet cam in the industry capable of using SDHC cards above 4GB. According to the manuals the 3K’s recording times with a 4GB card can range from 2 to 3.5 hours (depending on mode). The XC’s manual says a 4GB card will give you 1 hour at its superior setting to 8 hours at its lowest setting. For best performance, Tachyon suggests that customers use SDHC (High Capacity) cards of a Class 4 (10MB) and up. They also encourage the use of Lithium powered batteries to record up to 11.5 hours, and especially for use in cold weather. The ATC3K also encourages lithium batteries for cold weather.
Now, to talk a little about sound quality. As you should know, many helmet cameras are not meant to have high-quality sound recording because waterproof casings make that pretty much impossible. But I decided to test them both out anyway. I sat both of the cameras down a foot away from my mouth and set both to the highest settings to test. The XC in fact soared over the 3K in relative audio quality. Both cameras provided audible sound but the XC had a touch more gain and a less tinny quality to its sound. The traditional helmet cam is not going to give you superior audio either way, so your decision could depend on how important audio is on such types of cameras.
Just to also give you some pricing tips, the Tachyon XC sells worldwide, from its website, for $149. The price for the ATC3K varies depending on where it is sold. It ranges from $149 in the US, to €199 in Europe. For further information on pricing, please see the video above.
From a quick reaction, I would have to give the edge to the Tachyon XC for overall use and performance. There were of course things I liked about each camera. The 3K offered me a more standard shape and style for a helmet camera, while the XC gave me a mini-camcorder feel with a completely new design from standard helmet cameras. For another, I felt that accessing the batteries in the 3K was a bit easier, but then as I mentioned above, this might come at a price. Both gave me a simple, user-friendly design that can work for any age of user. Besides the fact that the XC gave me better video and audio quality, it just overall had a lot more features to go with its whole package. Overall, I can see how some people may prefer the standard look of the ATC3K, but in my opinion, there is no reason to compromise on the security and quality of your video in a strong, secure helmet cam, like the Tachyon XC.
You don’t have to take my word though to compare and choose one of these cameras; if you go check out YouTube or any other video hosting websites, you can search and find tons of user videos with these two cameras in action to see for yourself. All you have to do is hop on YouTube and search Tachyon XC or ATC3K