Dear Lazyweb,

I've long wanted to get a system rigged up that will let me capture video while flying. Once a flight is over, I'd like to transfer the video to a computer and edit it down to a reasonable size and format.

The requirements are roughly:

  • A recording capacity of a minimum of 4 hours, ideally 8 or more (some flights are long)
  • Television quality video or better
  • Small size and weight (there's not a lot of room in the gliders and planes I fly)
  • Able to take external power via a cigarette style adaptor (the gliders usually have a 12 volt power supply available)

So let's look at the options...

Separate Devices

Viosport Lipstick Camera One option to consider is a small lipstick style camera which I can mount above the aircraft panel, above my shoulder, or even on my hat. I've found a number of these devices online. Viosport makes a line of lipstick sized cameras for helmet mouting in "extreme" sports.

The output would need to be fed into a recording device capable of recording the video signal in a useful format. I've had little luck in locating a small self-contained video recorder/encoder device which can take the output of such a camera. Ideally, the device would be roughly the size of an iPod or maybe an iPAQ.

Unified Hard Drive Based Camcorder

JVC Hard Drive Camcorder I've long wished that someone would build a compact video camcorder that had a built-in hard disk rather than using old-fashioned low capacity tapes or similar media. That day has finally come!

I just discovered the JVC Everio G series camcoders (specs). There are several models available, featuring either 20 or 30GB hard disks, 15-25x optical zoom, and either 1 or 2 megapixel sensors.

I need to see one of these in person to determine if it is physically suitable. However, there are a few things to note just reading the specs:

  • The standard battery lasts roughly an hour. Progressively larger add-on batteries are available, but even the largest promises just under 5 hours of life.
  • There's apparently no cigarette adaptor available for external power (see accessories). There are standard wall power adaptors, so I'd likely need to poke around some more and rig up an ad-hoc solution.
  • It's not clear whether there's anything I can do to stop the auto-focus from focusing on the aircraft canopy from time to time. I've noticed that this is occasionally a problem with digital still cameras, so I can only assume it affects video cameras too. However, it's far less likely that I'd notice until is far too late.

Are there other hard drive based video recorders out there?

In My Dreams

My dream rig would have self-contained power for up to 6 hours, store 20 hours of high qualify video, and record extra data along with the video (time and GPS coordinates). But I suspect that's a couple more years off.

Posted by jzawodn at December 26, 2005 12:23 PM

Reader Comments
# Brian M. said:

I think the ideal rig would be a lipstick camera with a seperate disk-based video recorder The Archos AV series units ( seem to have a cigarette lighter adapter available.

Any decent camera should allow you to select a manual focus mode. For skydiving, I set my Sony PC105 to infinity and everything from a foot to the horizon is in focus. You should probably also consider whether or not the camera includes the ability to change lenses. The stock lens on most camcorders would probably have to narrow of a field of view.

on December 26, 2005 12:55 PM
# Jim Howard said:

I've been recording the audio on my flights into an IRiver mp3 player using this very nice "Video Recorder Adapter Cable":

I purchased it from Arizona Aviation Supply. The audio quality is excellent, one hears no engine noise.

I have not tackled video yet, please keep us updated on your progress.

on December 26, 2005 01:20 PM
# Lisa Williams said:

You know, I've been going through this myself, and I've found that the current limitations and high price of both HD and flashcard based video cams is just too high, and I've selected a MiniDV cam instead. The upside is that these cams are much cheaper and the output is good enough to look beautiful on a big-screen TV. All the current ones come with Firewire ports so you can transfer the footage onto your computer for editing (that's what I'll be doing). Many come with standard threads to make it easy to add lenses (a wide angle lens would probably be a nice add-on for aviation purposes).

I'm probably going to get the Panasonic PV-GS120 (this one might be too big for your purposes, but there are plenty of even more compact ones). has very thorough reviews. It's surprisingly difficult to find out basic information about some cams at the manufacturer's site (I had a hard time finding out whether some cameras had a microphone port, for example; I wanted the option of better sound quality than on a surface-mount mike built into the camera).

The videoblogging group on Yahoo is very active and participants there gave me good advice when I told them what I was looking to use it for.

on December 26, 2005 02:34 PM
# Travis said:

Check out -- they're popular amongst the amateur motorsports crowd. It's a small business and the owner, Randy Chase, is pretty responsive to new needs for things like this.

I know that he's done setups for Karts before which don't have any on-board power supply available.

on December 26, 2005 05:10 PM
# alek said:

While a direct plug-in for 12VDC would be nice, don't let that be a show-stopper. Any auto-parts store/target/etc. will have a 12VDC->120VAC convertor so you could use that as a fallback if that was the only showstopper. Heck, in a pinch, bring a PC UPS which should provide plenty of hours of run-time for these low power devices. Yea, I know weight is more of an issue in a glider ... plus you are going to want to make sure that is REALLY strapped down well ... but just some thoughts for you in case no other more elegent solutions are available.

on December 26, 2005 05:12 PM
# Pete said:

Might want to ask around to make sure the 12v-120v converters are a good idea in a smaller aircraft. Many singles output at 24v, and while charging your battery @ one-three thousand seems cool, the possible electrical fire that *may* result would certainly be interesting.

Good luck with the search!

on December 26, 2005 06:10 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Actually space is a bigger issue than weight.

on December 26, 2005 07:39 PM
# Kishore Balakrishnan said:

See and - I did check/compare Everio before finally buying Panasonic NV-GS250 - is good place to compare reviews before your final decision

on December 26, 2005 08:14 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

Having spent a lot of time in a 757 with multiple video camera locations, I would suggest that you consider a wide angle camera mounted at the top of the vertical stabilizer. From there you should be able to get the full wingspan and the views are nothing short of spectacular. This does mean some modification to the airframe, running cables, and a dedicated camera, but so what. I would think that adding in some aux data from a GPS and instruments would be possible today. Do your instruments have digital out? The 757 had digital everything and some moster SGI cluster doing the data handling - might not fit in the glider though.

on December 27, 2005 05:02 AM
# Thor Henrikson said:

Have you seen the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 and their other products?

It's close to what you are looking for. It's small, and it records MPEG4 video directly to flash cards. Worth consideration.

It's also open source.

on December 27, 2005 07:00 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

The Neuros looks nice, but capacity is limited by the availability of high capacity flash cards. Hmm...

on December 27, 2005 07:08 AM
# Kevin Kirwin said:

Large capacity and resolution in a small portable recorder
FireStore FS-4
Higher recording resolution options than the neuro if needed.

on December 27, 2005 08:10 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

RF shielding can be an issue. I did some air-to-air photography years ago (in the days when 3/4-inch videotape was standard for mobile broadcast). When we landed and reviewed the video, we found that every time I transmitted to the rescue helicopter we were shooting, there was bad video noise on the tape. We ended up shielding the equipment with aluminum foil as best we could, then reshooting with minimal radio usage. It was a bit unnerving to be flying with a helicopter about 10 feet off my right wing, with no radio cues. But it was darn interesting flying.

The other issue that I'm remembering is image stablization. Our stabilizer was a very experienced camera operator... and vibration was a problem. A lot of the video was not usable. I wonder if digital image stabilization would do well.

I also once shot video from an two-seat ultralight. We did it early one morning near Monterey Bay. The pilot was the inventor of the Pterodactyl, which I think was the first ultralight. We were making a video about a guy who was a paraplegic after an accident while he was at the Air Force Academy. He could move, pre-flight and fly the ultralight without any help -- his wheelchair clipped in next to the pilot's seat. This was around the same time as the other video, so I was strapped in with a huge 3/4 VTR in my lap, holding what now seems like an enormous camera, almost impossible to see what I was shooting because of the helmet I was wearing. We were up for 20-30 minutes. When we landed, my legs were completely numb from the weight of the VTR on them. I stood up and fell right over, which was ironic, of course. Weight was definitely an issue.


on December 27, 2005 08:19 AM
# Jeremy Cole said:

Recording your flights? Hah, we know what it's really for, Jeremy :)

Actually, I like the idea of a wide-angle up on the tail... those are always awesome shots... would alleviate the problem of accidentally focusing on the canopy, as well. :)

on December 27, 2005 09:25 AM
# Shankar said:

I bought a Sony HandyCam that has a DVD writer just a month back. I did see this model by JVC, but I chose to ignore it for the reasons below:

* I had issues with the battery life too.

* The hard disk is good, but eventually, I'd have to spend time to edit / burn it out on DVD anyway (I don't have a DVD writer just yet). I already have a pile of tapes that have to be edited / burnt - this is slow, creative work.

* It is much lighter to carry my Sony handycam with a couple of double-sided mini DVDs than this JVC model.

* I'm willing to wait a couple of years before devices of this kind (and the associated technologies) mature and I get more bang for my buck.

For now, I'm perfectly happy getting a completed DVD immediately that I can view on any DVD player. Without any additional work on my part.

Best wishes...

on December 27, 2005 09:39 AM
# Aaron Brazell said:

One would wonder how many modifications Jeremy could make on a plane he doesn't own....

on December 27, 2005 12:08 PM
# Dirk Spiers said:

I always hoped that you would be able to plug an iSight straight into an iPod. I once put that idea/whish on the apple web site.

The JVC's won't do it for me. Difficult to put it into iMovie for editing.

Maybe the iSight connected to a powerbook?

on December 27, 2005 12:44 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

I think Dirk has the right idea. It would be nice to rig up an iSight socket that
would allow you to pop one in whenever you wanted to use it. Maybe a threaded retention ring would be desireable. I recall the glider having a small opening window, that might be an alternate place to mount/clip an iSight. I suppose any old webcam and a tiny subnotebook would also work. There are 12V to 18V DC-to-DC converters out there for use in powering a notebook from automotive batteries. What voltage are the plane's electrical systems?

on December 27, 2005 02:02 PM
# Kosso said:

Hi Jeremy,

Great find with those cameras. I like! (Nice to see they provide battery packs too) I would use it with an Archos device.

Those cameras would work perfectly (I think I can confidently say) with my ArchosAV420 or PMA430.

It should work great with the newer models (AV500) too - which they will be selling a camera for just this purpose.

I will be attempting to attach the lot to weather balloons with wireless a sender and a reciever on the ground with the Archos.

Cheap Aerial Vlogging! Yay! Web Zeppelin! Who knows? Could work.

cheers! (and Happy Christmas/New Year!)
btw: spotted this posted while playing with new aggregator development ;) (see my url)

on December 28, 2005 08:47 PM
# Pier said:

Hi Jeremy
i have been experimenting for some time,check out the teaser on
we spent 2 weeks driving motorcycles through the tunisian desert,using the AV in on my sony pc101 with bullet cameras the result was not mini dv quality,as the bullet cameras are not the same resolution,also the Av in is analogue so there is a conversion inside the camera.i bought a thompson lyra 20 gig mp3/video recorder 3 years ago,archos now makes better ones, and attached a bullet camera straight to that which worked well.very cheap,too.i am now looking to repeat the same exercise but on HD as i will wan o sell to TV or even print to 35 mm,which you can forget when u use analogue to mini dv recording.any suggestions as to how i can do this would be very appreciated.

on November 29, 2006 09:03 AM
# Mike said:

Go to this website:

The JonesCAM DVR4000SD SportDVR is the worlds most durable D1 resolution wearable personal digital video recording system (DVR / PVR). Having the same patented technology and quality components that JonesCAM supplies to nationally known broadcast companies, such as, Discovery, Fox Network, Clear Channel, and OLN the JonesCAM wearable DVR4000SD has been developed for ease of use and durability. All recorded video clips can easily be downloaded via high speed USB 2.0 and burned to a DVD (with 3rd party software). The JonesCAM wearable DVR 4000SD is perfect for wearable applications where the user needs to record near-DVD quality video in hands free applications such as extreme action sports, military, security, law enforcement, and investigative applications such as construction or insurance investigation.

The 480EX Helmet Camera is used to record first person perspective video for all variety of sports, law enforcement, military, racing... Whatever you need for hands free recording. This camera head is the same camera head included in the JonesCAM 480EX Helmet Camera Kit but does not include any of the accessories. This can act as a camera replacement or secondary camera that when combined with a switch can provide multiple camera views. The 480EX Helmet Camera can plug into any recording device (camcorder, DVR, etc) that accepts an AV input.

on January 8, 2008 08:30 PM
# Mike LoPresti said:


I'm Mike LoPresti with LoPresti Aviation and right now we are working on something that sounds dang close to your dream rig. We're calling it the Intuition Avionics system. We will be creating a panel mounted shock case for and iPod. this case will allow the iPod to work as an easy to remove and download flight data recorder, recording all instrumentation, including GPS, communications audio, and video off of a installed lipstick camera. Our aerobatic prototype aircraft, the Fury, is flying around with a preliminary version right now.

However, I am curious is their anything that in your attempts you think would be a cool thing to add to such a system?

on May 27, 2008 07:30 AM
# Roy Dietsch said:

We have a system that was designed for aviation applications such as yours. Our XM-DVR Pro recorder is the highest resolution MPEG2 recorder on the aviation market , we also have systems that can be used in certified aircraft (Please contact for details). We offer one of the only systems that offers completely shielded cabling which filters communications interference. Our cameras and cabling are also 100% positive locking, waterproof and IP68 rated.
The XM-DVR Pro Recorder features no moving parts and can with stand over 100G’s
The XM-DVR Pro records at up to twice DVD quality from up to two cameras and with the new SanDisk Extreme IV 16GB cards you can get over 8 hours of recording on CF media. For non-aerobatic planes we can also install shock resistant hard drives which can give you up to 3 days of recording.
We developed the aviation package specifically for applications like yours and have an option for either a 4400mAh battery back or the cig plug adapter. Please take a look at the website for our complete line of high resolution bullet cameras and solid state digital video recorders and be sure to check out our videos page:
If you have any questions please feel free to call or send us an e-mail.


on December 23, 2008 06:59 AM
# hard drive camcorders said:

Jeremy, I’m from Indonesia.I also have the same dream with you because I have a hobby with the world video.Currently it seems that we need a tool that already exists. The development of camcorders technology at this time is very establish, however until now I don’t discovered yet in Indonesia

on April 27, 2009 12:00 AM
# Jean-Philippe Valois said:

I've been interested in doing something similar for recording a motorcycling trip (video, audio, gps, temperature, ...) and came across the FridaV project ( Their web site says that "Frida V. is a rugged and comfortable bicycle equipped for efficient exploration and mapping of public urban spaces. It carries a small computer, GPS positioning device, 802.11 wireless network transciever and a basic audiovisual recording unit".

It's not quite what you're looking for, but there are some interesting ideas there.

Good luck,

on July 16, 2009 06:38 AM
# Craft Fairs said:

That's great, I never knew before this blog.

on December 9, 2009 10:13 PM
# said:

Gatekeeper Systems, Inc has just introduced a new product for vehicles: The Nitro 4000 series.

I like the flyer for it. The system can record up to 4 cameras and up to 150 hours in looping record. I am thinking about one for my personal vehicle.

Item is not yet on their website.

on March 16, 2010 03:25 PM
# kate59588 said:

I have a JVC Everio HD300 (AVCHD) camcorder,i am annoyed with the MTS files, for they counldn't be edit on Adobe Premiere but now i found out a fastest and easiest way to solve it-just use a professional HD Video converter which can convert MTS/TOD/MOD to wmv, mov, mp4, avi, etc. without any problem.The software seems to do a decent job. I've had good results converting the .mts files to .mov, with the settings h.264, 1200, 1280*720, 25fps, aac. The files look good on my Mac running Adobe Premiere, edit easily, and convert well to DVD format.

How to edit JVC camcorder videos on Final Cut

on April 30, 2010 11:31 PM
# Nate Duehr said:

Hey one comment... I've seen a number of hard disk based camcorders lock up protecting the hard disk in the high-vibration environment in most light aircraft. Go for memory card/flash memory vs. hard disk for flying shots.

on July 1, 2010 01:38 PM
# Sterling said:

I've had great luck with the Panasonic "lipstick" camera and have attached the camera to the vertical fin of an airplane to record aerobatic flying. You can see my video on YouTube, just type in "Avid Aircraft" and look for my moniker "TUUTUUTANGO" You'll see a marketing video using this camera and my first flight in an airplane I built in my backyard, with the Panasonic mounted inside with a super wide angle lens.

on August 5, 2010 06:57 AM
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