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Friday, August 29, 2014

Gearing up! Midland XTC Action Camera with Bonus!

Something personally I've liked doing recently is watching footage from other groups nerf events.  The stuff coming from B.U.R.N. as well as Basic Nerf and others is fun to watch and a good way to get ideas for games and gear.  At some point, the thought might cross your mind "I'd like to try recording my own events!"  But which camera to use?  Everyone has an opinion, here's mine.
The Midland XTC 205 with mounts and case.


I chose the Midland XTC 205 for several reasons.  First probably was cost.  What can I say, I'm a cheap bastard when it comes down to it.  Really though, it can be difficult to justify the cost of something like a Go-Pro (which costs several hundred dollars)  when you're only going to be using it maybe once a month.  The unit I picked up clocked in at about $40 plus shipping and was purchased through ebay, which is how I suggest buying one incidentally.  Amazon has a similar  model for just over $70 while buying one directly from Midland will cost about $100.

More after the break.

Size

Now that money is out of the way, let's consider ergonomics.  The official dimensions (pulled from the manufacturers website) are 1.66" x 3.35" x 1.19" and weighs in at 3.17 ounces with battery.  This makes it rather narrow and short, but long.  Looking at it head on, most of what you see is the lens, with everything else positioned behind said lens.  The operation switch is located on the top of the cam and on the back is a removable rubber pad that conceals the micro sd card, charging port, and a switch for recording in either HD or SD.  The bottom has a mount to attach the cam to a tripod, extension pole, helmet strap or other esoteric mounting equipment

Rail Attachment Process
Speaking of mounting, let me mention the primary method the cam uses.  The XTC family has a pair of grooves on both the left and right side of the camera set to the rear of the unit.  These act as a rail for a variety of other mounting platforms.  Anyone whose familiar with an N-strike rail should find this intuitive and easy to use.  This rail uses small spring loaded latch to keep the camera in place and (unlike the N-Strike rail) keeps the camera secure even during severe shaking.  The fact that there are rails on both sides of the cam also means that it should be just as easy to use for both lefties and righties.  The package I purchased came with a multipurpose mount that can be stuck to objects (such as a dashboard or helmet) using an adhesive pad.  However it also game with a goggle mount, for use with dive or snow goggles I imagine, though personally I just used some 2" elastic for a homemade head mount.  There even is an optional picatinny rail mount for the camera, something I'd like to pick up and check for compatibility on the nerf rail use as a gun cam (with second camera) in the future.

Observant readers may note the presence of a case in the first picture, which in did the camera does come with.  It is stated as being water tight and I would assume impact resistant to some extent.  A bonus feature is that the case also has the rails and screw port as well, making it fully compatible with all of the other mounting accessories.  Personally, I have skipped using the case in game as I prefer allowing the camera's mic to be able to record what sound it can.

Moving on, I'll assume most folks are going to opt for the handsfree convenience of a head mount.  The company does sell one, or you can home make one like I did.  Keep in mind though, with the rail system it will mean that the camera will be mounted to one side of your head (as Mr. Fluffykins is demonstrating.)  This sounds like a no brainer, but is important to consider when using the camera to prevent accidental damage or crappy footage (I have several minutes of a firefight that mostly shows the corner I was using for cover).  

Operation

What's it cost?  Check.  How's it feel?  Check.  How does it work?  Quite simply really.  On the top of the camera is a sliding switch.  Push forward and a few seconds later the unit starts to record.  Push the slider back, and after a moment the recording stops.  No other buttons or toggles to mess with, just that one switch.  Be aware that there is no screen to review recordings or adjust options (not that there really are any options to adjust.)  To evaluate what you've shot, you'll need to export the video to a computer.  

As noted above, there is a spot in the back of the camera for a micro SD card.  The camera is capable of handling up to a 32gb card, and of course the size of the card will impact how much footage you can hold.  For example, with the 32gb card it can record up to 416 minutes of high def or 640 minutes of standard def film.


Quality

Time for the real question though, what's the quality like?  I would have to say good, with some exceptions.  That being it really does need good light sources to be present to get the best footage.  Low light conditions generally make for grainy/fuzzy video.  Other than that, I would say that the video coming out is just fine for our purposes.  I will add, obviously I am not a video professional, this is simply my amateur opinion and your mileage may vary.  But check it out for yourself.


Overall Evaluation

In closing, I'm happy with the camera.  It does what I ask, the quality is decent, the price was right.  What more does it need to do?  True, it could get better video indoors (seeing as that's where my group holds their events) but seeing it does everything else right, I can live with that.


Ok, great, I got the camera, recorded myself shooting my friends for an hour, now what?  How do I put it together in a way that is watchable and fun?

Video Editing Software

Well my friend, I wish I could say you've come to the right place.  

But I can't really.  

What I can offer you is a total newbs opinion on a piece of video editing software that was recommended to me.  The software in question is Lightworks.  

Cost

Why this program?  First off it's free.  Free is good (remember the cheap bastard comment above?).  Secondly it is a very powerful collection of editing tools.  When their homepage calls it "The professional editor for everyone" they are not kidding about the professional part.  And that is where one of the programs downsides quickly rears its head.  

Operation

This is not a newbie friendly program at all.  The learning curve is quite steep and you will need to have patience in teaching yourself how to use it.  There are a series of tutorials that the company offers on some of the basic operations, and they will certainly get you off the ground in taking a clip and cutting it apart, then splicing it back together.  Once you want to start doing other things though, you may find yourself getting frustrated.  Case in point:  I have spent eight hours in the past two days trying to figure out how to freeze on a specific frame for a few moments and then continue on with the movie unaltered.  Eight frustrating hours before I finally found a post in their forums which lead me to how to do this.  Well mostly.  There's still issues.  Lord only knows that else lies in store.

On the other hand is the power in the program.  The person who suggested it also mentioned to get an inside look at what Lightworks was like as compared to other, very pricey editing suites (such as Sony Vegas Pro or Adobe Premier Pro).  Again, I wish I could provide a more insightful comparison but I don't have experience with those programs and barely any with this.  What I do have is a feeling of being overwhelmed.  There are so many possibilities here.  I know it.  But how to use them? 

Time, patience, google, and youtube are the answers.  The same way we keep up with reddit, blogs and forums on new modding ideas, you can learn how to use something like this.  The basics are pretty simple after all.  Import a source clip, use some features similar to cut and paste to get the parts of the clip you want into the edit you're working on.  You can add bits from other clips (say if you have more than one action cam recording the event) or even add additional audio tracks for music and/or narration.  There are ways to pan and zoom within a shot, or add in separate visual effects (not that I know how to do any of that.)

Overall Evaluation

When it comes down to it, I'm just not sure if I do or do not recommend this.  It depends on the user.  If you just want to get in, get the edit done, add music and call it a day, you are probably better sticking with something like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.  Simple is preferable to Complex in many instances.  If you want the most options you can have, and are willing to slog through the learning process, then Lightworks can do what you need it to.  It's all a matter of taste and perseverance.

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