Monday, December 7, 2009

Tachyon XC 2010 Helmet Cam First Impressions

The Tachyon Inc. design engineer, putting the finishing touches on the Tachyon XC 2010 model, gazed with his practiced eye at the detailed 3D model on his screen. What final element could he add that would signal, "Here is a design engineer with an eye for detail, someone who puts care into his work, someone who wants to leave his mark." With a twiddle of his mouse, he added six stainless 1.5mm hex screws, where two probably would have been sufficient to hold down the shiny trim piece.

But, lo, his fancy design work was undone by the orangutan-like assemblers, who did chuck up a 1.5mm bit into a hammer drill, and scabulate the clean hexagonal holes into sloppy, misshapen, odd-numbered polygons. (This is how it arrived. When hex heads are on display like this, they should be pristine.)

I ziptied the side mount to my helmet, and went out for a test ride. Here's the cam on the helmet. (A test ride video with the camera mounted on the handlebar is here. )

My first impressions of the camera were good. I spliced together some of the test shots, and put the video at the bottom of this post. The review that convinced me to buy this one is here, on the Helmet Cam Review blog. The reviewer covered the points I was looking for in a helmet cam, with the Tachyon XC coming out on the top of my criteria. The reviewer there goes into much more detail than I will here. I'll just mention a few points that came out during my test ride.

I like the buttons. They are just hard enough to press so that you get a positive result, with no accidental presses or activation due to vibrations or bumps. My only criticism is the dual rising tone is used to indicate both "record START" and "record STOP". Using the same pair of tones to indicate ON and OFF makes it impossible to know, when the camera is attached to your helmet, if you are starting it or stopping it. All you know for sure is that you successfully toggled it from one state to the other. When you are out bouncing around on the trail, with wind and lots of other noise, it is easy to miss the sound, and then you are stuck with taking off your helmet to check if the green light or red light is on.

Today I rode in a light rain. The camera is waterproof, and was completely dry inside when I opened it after the ride. The waterproofing makes the audio quality very low. But, they explain that on the web site where I bought it. I left the audio on the sample video I posted so that you can hear what it does catch. Two things that you can hear relatively well are the sound of my bell, and the ducks quacking (although I wish it were a little more sensitive to quacks. Oh well).

The FAQ on the Tachyon site cautions against using rechargeable batteries in the camera. Which is absurd.  I understand the caution of the engineers, and that rechargeable batteries come in different sizes and different quality control, and also appreciate the care that went into designing a battery carrier that is exactly snug enough that it doesn't jiggle around and is secure in a camera that's going to be subject to a hard life. I get it. And I love what they did. But I'm not going to burn a set of alkalines or lithiums for every hour or two of video I shoot. I'm just not going to. So I grabbed my favorite rechargeable AA batteries for use in cameras, the Rayovac Hybrids, threw caution to the the wind, and stuck them into the camera. They did not jam, and performed flawlessly. And when I was done, and flicked the little red catch that releases the battery carrier from the camera, it popped out without effort.

Ah, the forbidden fruit of rechargeable batteries, now depleted, exiting the camera successfully.

Here's the video. As I mentioned, the audio I left raw, as it was recorded, to give a sense of what it picks up. Overall, I'm very happy with this camera so far. Note: I paid for this product myself, and did not receive any payment or other incentives for writing this. Coming up soon, some mountain biking footage. Get up. Go ride.



  1. Dear John Romeo Alpha - how glad we were to find your post! We are on the verge of settling for the Oregon Scientific helmet cam, which although quite ergonomic in design, produces inferior video. The deciding factor is the issue of rechargeable batteries. We felt exactly as you said: "I'm not going to burn a set of alkalines or lithiums for every hour or two of video I shoot. I'm just not going to."
    Have you continued to use the Rayovac Hybrid batteries in your camera? Do you still use the Tachyon XC or have you switched to the micro, or something else altogether?

    Do you have any idea What the motivation of the product manufacturer is, to advise against use of rechargeable batteries? It must have more to do with just the size. Our conversation with the customer service rep at Tachyon eludes to the tendency of rechargables to have less stable voltage output. How did your Rayovacs perform over time? Did you have any failures, lost footage, or shutdowns?

  2. Hi Rider! I have continued to use the Rayovac Hybrids with no problems. I still use the Tachyon XC. I have tried it underwater a few times and was pleasantly surprised by the good results. I guess the manufacturer has good reasons for advising against rechargeable batteries, but I don't know what those might be. I have had no failures or issues of any kind with the batteries. Mine don't get stuck inside at all, but others might, and you might be up a creek without a paddle if they happened to get jammed in there because the battery carrier is a tight fit by itself even with no batteries. They last longer than one full 2GB SD card, which is all I really need. So my single sample experience with those batteries has been very good, but since usually manufacturer engineers try many different brands under many different situations, your mileage may vary. On one other note, the waterproof case works great, but acts as an odd audio notch filter, shutting out most normal sounds, but passing the quacking of ducks and the little ticking sounds the bike sometimes makes, so that ends up seeming strange until you figure it out. You can leave the back open if you want sound, which is OK, but really it's not meant for hi-fi sound recording due to the waterproofing, which I value a lot since rain and water don't affect it in any way.

  3. PS If you stick rechargeable batteries into your camera against the manufacturer's recommendation and something goes wrong, you are on your own, don't blame me. I don't recommend you go against what the manufacturer says you do. Always follow instruction manuals is the safest way to go. Maybe I just got incredibly lucky.

  4. The answer from Tachyon Support Team

    As for using rechargeable batteries, the Tachyon XC's auto-save feature was designed for Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries. Even though other batteries are still AA size (AAA for the Tachyon XC Micro), they run at slightly different voltages. The Tachyon XC was designed around Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries which runs at 1.6 volts each. As the batteries are used and lose power, the voltage drops slightly and the auto-save feature kicks in which protects your footage from being lost.

    Batteries such as Energizer Titanium, many types other types of alkaline batteries and rechargeable batteries run at a slightly different voltage and do NOT always work properly with the camera's auto-save feature. If you use a different type of battery you run the risk of losing the footage your spent all day recording and you also risk corrupting the card. Many times, the camera recognizes their different voltage as a problem and shuts down even when the batteries are full.

    This is why Tachyon recommends using ONLY the Energizer Ultimate Lithium or Energizer Advanced Lithium batteries. Ultimate Lithium batteries last 10 hours in the 2010 Tachyon XC (AA) and 4 hours in the Micro (AAA). The advanced lithium batteries last about half as long.

  5. I bought a Tachyon XC a month or so ago. I too read with interest the info about "needing" the Energiser Ultimate Lithium (EUL) batteries.

    Shortly afterwards, I happened to be in the local supermarket and they had a special on the EUL's, so I got two pairs at a good price. At the same time, they also had a special on an Energiser mains charger that came with two Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) batteries (rated at 2450mAh). Well, needless to say, all the EUL's are still in the packet they were bought in and I've just been using the Ni-MH's, which have been performing flawlessly. :-)

    I've been on several journeys where it was recording the forward view, from the dash in the car. One charge lasted at least five hours (a 2.5 hour journey out and back) which is plenty for me. This was recording at the highest quality (= "S" mode) to a 16GB Class 6 SDHC card, if that makes any difference.

    I have done a fair amount of research on the various battery types and thermal affects will cause a big performance difference between EUL and Ni-MH batteries. EUL's can be stored near indefinitely (5-10 years) without capacity loss. Wheras Ni-MH batteries will totally discharge in a month or so, in a warm house. I'd advise only charging Ni-MH batteries a day or two before you need them, then you need to store them in the cold (- like fridge temperature,) so they don't self-discharge. However, you will then need to warm them up before use (i.e. in your pocket/sunny window sill) to get all of the possible performance out of them. Also, if you are doing filming in cold/very cold weather, then you WILL NEED the EUL's, as these loose minimal perfomance/capacity in these conditions, wheras Ni-MH will let you down and cut out quickly.

    Further to the original post, the six hex/Allen head screws on mine were flawless - no damage at all. I wonder if that unit could have been a 'return' that someone had 'opened up', maybe?

  6. Hi Paul, thanks for posting your additional experience. I have had similar results using EULs in other applications. They hold their charge a long time -- I've had a flashlight that I use only rarely which has held the same set for four years or so, and still going strong. Also they are compulsory for extra-cold weather, but I don't run into much of that in Phoenix so I am OK on that score. EULs are also a bit lighter in weight, so they have that going for them. If you need those features they are worth it. I would just note that the Hybrid NiMH batteries being discussed above do not self-discharge at the comparatively high rate that regular NiMH batteries do. It's one of the reasons I like them. I can charge them up after using the camera, and know that if it's a few weeks until I use it again, they will still be charged. As for my hex Allen screws, mine were probably just a sample error, maybe my camera was smacked together at the end of the day on a Friday. Cheers Paul!


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