15 Jun 2012

Technology keeps getting smaller and cheaper, especially that of HD cameras and video equipment.  What a great merging of technology when you can take an RC airplane and put a virtually feather light 720p camera on board to record video.  That's exactly what I've done with my Twinstar II Brushless Lipo RC airplane, in this case the 808 #18 720p keychain HD camera, which is known as the Car Keys Micro Camera.  The 808 has been around for a few years, but they have become more refined and the price is hard to beat.  Check out the video at the end that demonstrates this gem of a camera.  It also has video out support.

The 808 Car Keys Micro Camera

The 808 is a small color video camera that also does audio recording.  It can take both videos and pictures.  I purchased it from an eBay vendor for around $30 shipped.  Then I purchased an 8GB G.SKILL Micro SD card from Newegg for $7, which is class 6.  You typically want a higher class card to have less jitter in the recordings.  Class 6 and up seems to work best here, though technically the specs call for class 4 or higher, but many have reporting jittery video with class 4.  You can buy the cheaper 808 480p camera on eBay for around $10.  The 720p seemed perfect for aerial/fpv (first person video). 

**updated note.. some vendors have the #11 updated keychain or others the #18, the #18 has an 8 pin custom made micro usb cable, unlike other models like the #11 or #11 updated which are 5 pin.. don't try to use a different cable otherwise you may break the unit or your pc.  Here is a link to how to wire your own cable if you lose it.  The ones titled 808 #11 updated or upgraded basically have the #18 firmware installed, but this was removed April 2012.  Those #11 cameras running #18 firmware can't produce AV out.

You want to make sure you are getting the right HD 808 when you purchase it.  Things to look for are h.264, .mov format, 1280x720 and in the title the number of the camera, in this case #11.  Look out for vendors calling their keychain camera an HD camera with a spec of 1280x960, when in fact this is only 640x480 upscaled.

For the camera I bought, it already had the time setting removed from the display, though I still had to set the time so the files would save with the correct date and time.  If you want to buy one that doesn't have the video overlay already disabled, there are very good tips at the Chuck Lohr website.  For my camera i just created a text file called "timeset.txt" with content like this:

2012-06-09 17:32:51

Save the file and place in the root of the camera memory card.. The time should then be set correctly.  Some of the other key chain cameras use a file called TAG.txt with the same format for the date as above.  It depends on the camera.

As far as its quality on still photos, they are generally mediocre at best.  Many cell phone and pocket cameras take much better pictures.  It's the video that really shines for this camera.  You can see some of the examples of the video quality from my samples below. It low sun angle aerial footage, shadowing becomes an issue with the camera as it takes a moment to refocus in the darker sequences.  When sunlight is more evenly distributed it works quite well.

Here are some detailed specs on the #18

  • 1/4" CMOS WXGA (1 megapixel) HD Sensor with OmniPixel3-HS" Technology
  • 18 grams / 0.63 oz (compare to 39 grams with Mobious or 1.37 oz)
  • Lithium-Ion Battery 250mA
  • H.264/AVC1 DSP
  • Hynix 512MB DDR2
  • Micro SD slot (TF card), support up to 32GB (best to use class 6 or higher)
  • 4GB can record up to 80 minutes of video
  • 1280x720 30 FPS Video Resolution .mov
  • 2592 x 1944 5MP Photo Resolution .jpg
  • PC Webcam 640x480
  • USB 2.0
  • Comes with Micro SD adapter and USB charging cable
  • Recharge while recording video
  • USB Recharge time around 45 minutes if completely depleted
  • Timed shutoff battery save mode
  • Video output (if you open it and attach the cable to the port)
  • Battery life around 40 minutes

The particular model I purchased came with the following settings already modded:

  • Remove date and time from video
  • When battery dies, current recording is saved, rather than lost
  • Instead of creating a new file every 20 minutes, it creates one every 70 minutes
  • Video files can be edited as normal without transcoding
This image below, which someone found on the rcgroups.com forum, shows how to use the camera, which is useful, as the instructions are a bit lacking:

Other 720p Key Chain Cameras

There are a few other models of the 720p variety out there.  I hope to test at least one of them in the near future.  Of them there is the #16, which adds the ability to change the battery without soldering skills and also has a TV out option (#18 does too as noted before).  These versions add more easily customizable options like disabling the date and time in the video, loop video recording, better saturation and color boost, increased sharpness etc. 


Mounting the 808 on the Twinstar II

Initially I had the keychain camera mounted on the canopy of the Twinstar II.  This seemed to result in video that was full of vibrations.  I also initially had used the keychain and a piece of nylon kite string as an added tether.  I had a keychain from the 480p version of this camera.        


I later removed the metal keychain and went strictly with the nylon kit string as the safety tether.  The camera stays aboard mainly due to the velco.  This does not affect the balance of the plane.  I ended up going with the position closer to the nose in the end as there is minimal vibration in that location.


The Video Results (for best quality choose 720p via the YouTube interface):

The Tech-Stew Take Home

Overall I was quite pleased with this camera and its ability for the small price of around $30 shipped.  The focusing issue with darker sequences could have been a bit better though.  Perhaps the #16 camera will prove a better upgrade.  Either way its still significantly cheaper than buying a more expensive GoPro camera, which many FPV RC pilots love to use.  For a first leap into the realm of FPV and flight video the 808 makes for a great buy.  Ultimately, I hope to add OSD and GPS data to my flights in the near future, which will require a secondary camera or wireless camera type setup.  For now the 808 keychain camera will fill the void of having aerial video from my aircrafts.  Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, as I will likely add other videos there from other flights over time. 

UPDATE:  There is a newer #26 with 1080p 30 and 720p 60, but it may have firmware issues and custom ones are impossible to find as of Aug 2013.  Many are starting to recommend the Mobious Action cam as an alternative to the #26 1080p.   The #18 weighs around 18 grams, while the Mobious is around 39 grams for comparison.

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