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What is a Pivothead?
In the spirit of James Bond, 007, Pivothead has developed a hi-def, 1080p video camera tucked inside a pair of polarized, if somewhat bulky-looking, sunglasses. Entering a market currently dominated by the GoPro and Contour cameras, Pivothead puts a decidedly unique twist on things.
Far more discreet than either the GoPro or the Contour, the Durangos sit comfortably on the face, and are not prohibitively heavy—I didn’t notice them at all on any of my rides. They fit well with my S-Works Specialized helmet, but required a bit of jiggling with my POC Trabec Race. My Oakley Jaw Bones do also, for that matter.
Pivothead glasses come in four styles with optional lenses. My first pair (which were defective, but immediately replaced) was matte black with dark grey lenses. The second pair were white with polarized “glacier blue” lenses, which worked quite well in variable lighting on the trails.
In between the eyes, embedded in the frame itself, you will find a small 8-megapixel CMOS sensor. The lens is protected by a bezel, although you need to be mindful that there is a lens between your eyes, lest you push your glasses up with the tip of your dirty, sweaty, glove finger.
The camera functions are controlled on the left arm of the glasses. There is a power switch on the bottom and a rocker switch on top; LED lights on the inside of the arm indicate power, battery life, and recording (among other functions). Once the camera is turned on, push the forward rocker button to start recording, push it again to stop.
The unit also takes relatively high-quality still photos by pushing the rear rocker switch. There are also options for burst photos, which can be set up on the desktop software.
The rocker switch can also be used to change settings on the camera while on the trail, such as focus mode (continuous, auto, fixed), and resolution (1080p, 720p/60fps, 720p/30fps, etc.).
One drawback to this design is that you cannot see the lights when you’re wearing the glasses and there are no beeps (like the Contour) to indicate whether you’re actually recording or not. A few times the unit had automatically powered down to save battery life and I thought I was recording the whole time, which I found a bit frustrating. Of course, you can simply remove the glasses and look at the lights, but when your hands are on the handlebars, it’s not always convenient to do that. The addition of beeps would improve the design significantly.
The unit is charged via a micro USB port on the bottom of the arm, which is also how you upload the videos and pictures to your computer. The unit comes with 8GB of storage, which works out to about 60 minutes of 1080p video.
The Pivothead also has an optional device called the Air Pivothead, which allows you, via a WiFi connection, to preview and upload your images and video to your Apple iPhone, iPad, or any Android device.
The quality of the still images is really quite impressive given the convenience and size of the camera. No need to stop, pull a camera or an iPhone out of your jersey or Camelbak to capture that view or your buddy’s epic wipeout; just touch the button on your temple, and voila, say cheese.
See them in action >>
In terms of video quality, the Pivothead doesn’t quite compete with the GoPro Hero 2 or the Contour, both of which I have used extensively. In this video I took to compare the videos side-by-side, you will first see footage shot in hi-def 1080p with the Contour HD, and then footage of the same trail at 1080p with the Pivothead. Both cameras do a good job of showing rider POV, as you can see, however, the “fixed focus” setting, which is the recommended setting, frequently blurs and does not offer the stability that the Contour does.
I then did a side-by-side shot of the same trail with both cameras on at the same time with a rider in front of me, which is typical for a lot of mountain bike video footage. To be fair, I adjusted the Pivothead to 720p to conserve storage space and battery to complete the shoot, so the side-by-side is not meant to compare video quality, but rather to demonstrate what I feel is the Pivothead’s biggest weakness in its applicability to mountain biking: the viewing angle of the lens.
The GoPro Hero 2 has a 170 degree viewing angle, and the Contour+ has a 170 degree (at 960p and 720p) and 125 degrees at 1080p. The Pivothead, however, has only a 75 degree viewing angle. What that means for us mountain bikers is that your field of view is far shorter, so if you’re filming someone from behind, it’s almost impossible to see them because the lens is looking out in front of your bike, not up at the rider in front of you.
I was aware of this potential problem when I hit the trail, and I intentionally tried to look up farther down the trail, which is always a good idea anyway. Even with this fact in mind, it was very limiting, as you can see in the clip.
Does this kill the deal for Pivothead? Not necessarily. It’s a matter of priorities; there are no mounts to fumble with (a big issue with the GoPro in particular) and you can effortlessly switch from still pictures to video with the touch of a button — features that the competitors cannot claim.
I spoke with Pivothead about my concerns regarding the field of view and the lack of sound indicators and was told that they have no plans to increase the field of view as it would require a larger lens, which is not an option in a glass frame. With regard to the beeps, they said that it was a “frequent request” and that, while not possible at the present without making the frames larger, they are interested in exploring that in the future.
The bottom line
I think if you already have a GoPro or a Contour, the Pivothead could make a really cool addition to your videography tools by providing some cool POV angles and some great stills to edit into the footage. It might be a better application for snowboarding, or other sports, but at $350, and with the limited field of view and rather mediocre video quality at high speeds, the Pivothead is certainly not going to endanger GoPro or Contour sales any time soon.