If you’re not keen on looking like a Snork, with an extra appendage sticking out of your helmet to capture your adventures on video, then consider a pair of sunglasses with a video camera built in.
The Durango from Pivothead grabs brilliant HD video on a camera mounted literally between your eyes. It is one of four models offered by Pivothead, and is the only model that offers photocromatic lenses. (They lighten and darken with the changes in ambient light.) I picked this model to test because I wanted to be able to film in full sunlight as well as in darker environments, like canyons or trails deep in the woods.
Most cameras will do very well in bright light, and the Durango is no exception. With auto-everything (focus, aperture, shutter speed, ISO) the Durango provides a crisp image even when moving quickly — like when on a bike — and the photochromatic lenses are nice and dark in full sun. Without any sort of lens hood, you’ll naturally get some lens flare as you turn toward the sun. Wearing a hat with a brim may help, but without a screen to frame your shots, you won’t know if the brim is in the shot until you download and view the files.
In darker conditions, when the lenses start to lighten and clear, the first thing you’ll notice is the chunkiness of the glasses frame. It really dials the geek factor up to 11. Considering the frame and arms of the glasses hold the camera, battery, memory, and essentially a mini computer, this is no surprise. Low-light video performance is serviceable, but not spectacular, and less stable when compared to full light. Just try not to whip your head around too fast when you’re in the shadows and you’ll be fine. Also, the glasses will inevitably slip down the bridge of your nose, and you’ll have to be careful not to smudge the lens with your fingertip when you push them up.
The photochromatic lenses only react to the presence of ultraviolet light. It could be very bright out, but if the UV radiation is low, the lenses won’t darken much. For instance, when you’re in your car, the windshield will block much of the UV rays, but not the visible light. On the other hand, if it’s cloudy but a bunch of UV rays are still getting through, the lenses will darken even if it’s not very bright out. In general, I liked the lenses, and I even used the Pivotheads as regular sunglasses after my other pair fell apart on me. To that end, the glasses are comfortable and not particularly heavy. Also, while the lenses are not technically interchangeable, they can be popped out and replaced with a handful of other lens options provided by Pivothead, including prescription lenses.
The camera is very easy to use. A series of lights indicating the camera’s status sit inside the temple piece, just beyond your peripheral vision. It may seem annoying at first to pull the glasses forward a nudge to confirm you’re recording, but I’m guessing it’s less annoying than to have the lights visible (flashing while recording) while wearing the glasses. A simple “beep” indicator would be nice.
The three buttons to operate the glasses are also on the temple: power, record/stop, and a button to take 5-megapixel still photos, which works even while recording video. I’d like to see a combo power/record button to get to recording faster. Sometimes, a scene starts to unfold before you, and faster access to recording could mean the difference between getting the shot and missing it. The glasses will warn you when the battery is down to 10 percent, but that’s no help if it’s at 11 percent as you’re heading out for the day. I tried to be good about being sure to charge the glasses before a day of recording, but at times found the battery dead after charging it just a day or two before.
As you can see in the video above, these glasses only capture what is literally right in front of them. While riding a bike, it’s not uncommon to be looking down at the trail much of the time and only glancing up by rolling your eyes forward. The lens does not roll forward with your eyes, so a deliberate effort is needed to be sure to look up more and just glance down — otherwise, the person riding in front of you will appear to be decapitated most of the time. A little vertical lens angle adjustment dial would be brilliant to match your activity.
Also, these glasses will not be going on any wet outings — they’re not waterproof and probably not really water resistant, either. While they may well survive a light sprinkle, I’d be putting them away if rainfall got any heavier. You’ll still be relying on your GoPro for rafting, surfing and the like.
The Pivothead’s video settings include a wide range of options. In the embedded video, I used the fixed-focus setting, shooting 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. Basic function changes can be made in the field, and a little guide is provided in the carrying case. You’ll need to download Pivothead’s control software and plug the glasses into your computer to get into the nitty gritty of options. There’s also a Wi-Fi adapter, but it’s not something that’s convenient to use while wearing the glasses.
Cameron Martindell suffers through the throngs of gear-testing while exploring the world so you can explore the world suffering-free. Follow him on Twitter (@offyonder) and read about his exploits on offyonder/em>