Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Oregon Scientifc helmet cams: ATC1000 and ATC2K compared

Once upon a time, what seems now like a long time ago, but isn't, I read about the Oregon Scientific helmet cam on the NSS caving forum. One of the gear-heads mentioned the ATC1000 which was just out at the time and I bought one and played around with it.

About six months later I bought the upgrade model ATC2K. So, seeing as I had promised this to the guys over at, time for my side by side comparison, here goes:

ATC1000 on the left, with AAA cell, right the ATC2K with AA cell

The ATC2K improves on many of the ATC1000's "problems" for caving. For me, these are waterproofness of casing / behaviour in low light / battery issues / mount. We'll go over these one by one.

The first is the more rugged and more waterproof casing. A side by side comparison of the two cameras shows that the older model is far longer than the recent one, but thinner and more cylindrical.

The ATC1000 is rated only splashproof (although mine has survived a brief total dunking) whereas the ATC2K is rated as being waterproof to 3m. The ATC2K also has a shadow guard (peaked front) for reducing flare and has a more rubbery feel than the ATC1000s very plastic look. Both have received their fair share of knocks and scrapes while attached to my helmet, without any problems or malfunctioning. After about 8 months of use (and this is connected to the mount also) the front end of my ATC1000 came off, making it no longer splashproof. I have submerged my ATC2K to about 4 or 5m without problems.

Behaviour in low light, next. The ATC2K is very much better at acquiring an image is low light. I don't know whether this is a CMOS issue, or a result of different hardwired software in the camera. The ATC1000 shoots at 15fps and gives a very smooth image with many tonal ranges. The ATC2K shoots at 30fps and gives a more contrasty (sometimes blocky) image. Whether the trick to achieve the increase in fps also necessitates loss of image quality I am not qualified to say. How this links in to the fact that the ATC2K will give a better balanced image in low light I also don't know. For someone who has not seen the image quality of the ATC1000, the quality of the ATC2K is not noticeably bad. The fact that it will capture an image, when the ATC1000 will not is what is important to me.

Comparison in low light and external conditions

Comparison in street conditions

Comparison in cave conditions

Battery issues: size and lifetime! The ATC1000 takes four AAA cells. The amount of recording I could get out of new alkalines varied from about 45 minutes to 75 minutes depending on the subject and the amount of time the camera was on standby. The lifetime of some otherwise pretty good Ni-MH batteries was not so good, ranging from 30 minutes to no more than 60 minutes. The cost of new batteries per hour recording or the inconvenience of carrying many spares was unsatisfactory. Further, it is almost impossible to change batteries without a pen or a safety pin to release the latch, especially when wearing gloves. The ATC2K takes two AA cells, much cheaper and much easier to find. The battery life was close to two hours for alkalines or well over one hour for Ni-MH rechargeables, meaning that you have to open the back more frequently to change memory card than to change batteries. So with the ATC2K you get many more hours recording for the buck. Another thing is that the battery indicator comes on when you have about 10 or 15 minutes of recording time left, giving plenty of warning. On the ATC1000, it would often come on immediately before the camera died. I am curious what the TFT screen on the back of the ATC5K is going to do to battery life.

Mount issues: The ATC1000 did not have a satisfactory system for mounting the camera on a helmet - the system required leaving the clasp in place on the helmet and sliding the camera in and out, something which may have sped up the detachment of the front cover of the camera. After a few uses like this, I decided on using inner tube rings to keep the camera attached to the helmet, something which worked well enough as long as I jammed a toothpick in there as well to keep the axis parallel to my line of sight. The mount for the ATC2K is much more handy, having a clippy system allowing you to detach the whole camera from the female mount with ease. I have the female part permanently fixed to my helmet and clip the camera into it whenever I want to. It sticks out from the helmet quite a distance but this is easy to get used to. As I wanted to be able to alternate place of mounting between helmet and elsewhere, without having to take off the helmet so as to undo the strap, I wrote to Oregon's customer support about getting more female clippy parts, but I received no response.

Some words about Oregon's customer service: there ain't none. You buy the camera, and that's it. If you want to contact them by e-mail, they'll never answer you. I have sent repeated mails to Oregon about various questions and none have been answered. I once sat in an automated telephone queue for 40 minutes never getting through to the support staff. Oregon are crap - if you buy something, from that moment on you have to come to terms with the fact that you are on your own. This is not the sort of customer services I have come to expect from across the lake. People interested in the ATC3K and ATC5K coming soon, should keep this in mind.

One more thing - after about 11 months of use, my ATC2K developed a patch of dead pixels or something, which was not on the exterior of the camera but which created a dead spot a few pixels in diameter. I have tried to reach Oregon about this as well, but with no joy.


Barmy Bill said...

I disagree with the customer service comment.

I contacted the technical support: and they got back to me within a day, dunno about the hotline or the other help emails though.

I have the 2K and am looking at buying the 5K. Looks cool with the LCD.

Pooja said...

Thanks for posting. The ATC2K seems to be a nice camera. I also like the ATC5K. It is a small camera with nice features. The design is pretty decent, it makes the front end a more heavy. The ATC5K is equipped with a colour LCD. The image quality is average. Overall it is a reliable camera, water and shock-proof. For more details refer oregon scientific atc5k

Anonymous said...

I also disagree about the Custi service. I just called the hotline spoke to an actual person and also was able to order the female helmet clip/grip.