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Gear

    Best Action Camera 2014 - Ultimate POV Camera Shootout

    Action cameras aren’t merely changing the production world, they have become a staple of the production world. Getting the inside shot is simple with POV cameras and the number of choices in this niche world is broad and perhaps daunting. Action cameras are inexpensive and provide a simple means of additional camera angles to any production.
    In this review, I’m going to tackle all of the “name-brand” cameras available out there. This article will not provide the answer to “which camera should I buy?” The range of criteria is so broad that the question is beyond the scope of a single review. This review will provide information about which action-camera is best suited for specific criteria and provide information that may help you make informed purchasing decisions.
    I’ve gathered what I believe to be the most viable options for most “extreme” sport enthusiasts for shooting broadcast-quality video. During this review, each camera is set to 1920x1080, 30fps (except where otherwise noted).
    The criteria for inclusion:
    Price point (150.00-400.00 USD)
    Bit-rate (16Mbps or higher)
    Codec (must be non-proprietary) The selectees:
    GoPro 3+ ($399.00)
    GoPro 3 Black ($349.00)
    Sony AS100 ($299.00)
    Sony AS30 ($299.00) JVC Adixxion ($299.00)
    Midland XTC400 ($249.00)
    Polaroid XS100 ($169.00)
    ReplayXD Mini ($199.00) Liquid Ego ($179.00)
    Drift Ghost S ($399.00) Scoring Procedure
    With the criteria determined, particpants selected, I created a scoring sheet that could be used as a reference throughout the process. The goal is to be as objective as possible in a subjective conversation.
    A panel was selected, four people who would review images from the cameras and choose the best image when image quality was relevant. Other factors such as battery life, wireless functionality/reliability, audio features/quality are objective. Scores are based on how these functions are implemented and may be relied upon.

    For this shootout I mounted 17 action cameras on a single helmet, then took it skydiving, snorkeling, zip-lining, bob-sleighing and motorcycling to enable accurate side-by-side comparisons of each camera. For example in the battery life test, the Liquid Ego went for nearly 5 hours of record time, blowing through a few cards, while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3 Black barely reached 50 minutes of record time. The Liquid Ego nets a score of “5” while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3+Black earn a score of 2. The Sony AS series weighed in at just over 2.75 hours earning a score of “4”. Had it not been for the curve-altering record times of the Liquid Ego, the Midland and Polaroid cameras, Sony’s AS100 would have won this category. Regardless, with a linear scoring value of 0-5, the weighting may seem unbalanced from time to time. Please note that the score card contains two scores; one based exclusively on image quality, and the other score relevant to the overall product experience.
    Most of the cameras have tweaks and settings that allow them to be the best they can for specific situations. Rather than setting each camera to its best settings, all cameras were used exactly as they come out of the box. In other words, once the box was opened the battery was charged, a card inserted into the camera and formatted, it was put to the test.
    Sony, GoPro, and ReplayXD all have internal tweaks accessible via either proprietary software or .txt files. Each allow for an optimized image even though I’ve avoided using any of these optimizations.
    After all the results were in and the panel gave their feedback, here's what the final result looked like. I sorted the score sheet below by total score but you can click on any header to sort the table by that column and see how the different cameras compared in any specific test. I discuss each test area in detail below.
    Score Sheet
    Image Quality
    Winner in Image Quality - Sony AS100V
    The subject of image quality is subjective. The four panelists had to choose from a variety of videos (a few of which are linked in this article). Factors involved in the comparison are dynamic range (darkest to the brightest representation of image content), saturation, color accuracy, codec compression/banding/pixelation, motion management, and frame to frame blurring.

    Watch the Wingsuit Exit Video For example, in the image above, the center top allows for the lake in the background to be seen, while also allowing for the darker interior and tires of the aircraft to hold details. There are no blowouts of the highlights, and the reds, greys, whites, and orange colors are all accurate to original. Watch the YouTube-linked video at the 4K resolution on YouTube for the best experience and ability to determine which image you find best. Each camera is displayed at approximately 720p.
    You’ll likely want to turn off your audio as there is no usable audio content.
     

    Watch the Zipline Video  
    Watch the Bobsled Video In the above test, one of the cameras failed due to (I believe) card error. The high motion, high contrast, light and dark areas for exposure testing provides for a terrific challenge. Even in the still framegrabs, the torture is evident in blur, color, and compression artifacting.
     

    Watch Wingsuit Overhead Video The complexity of the ground coupled with the high motion makes for a good test of contrasts and detail management in moving platforms. Note that the majority of the cameas are set to an FOV of 120 degrees, as that’s how they come out of the box. A couple cameras are 170 degrees.
    All panelists unanimously chose this action camera over all others in all resolutions and framerates. The GoPro 3+ came in second. The Sony AS30 takes third prize, and an honorable mention goes to the Drift Ghost S. In well-lit situations, the Midland and Garmin VIRB cameras really surprised me too, but at 35Mbps (this camera also does 50Mbps in XAVC-S mode, not used in this shootout), the Sony AS100 sweeps the image quality score.
    Battery Life
    Winner in Battery Life - Liquid Ego
    This was a stunner. I left all the cameras running/recording and went to dinner. Battery life would be lessened by movement, but the bigger point was how long the cameras could record. In most cases, the camera battery died prior to the card being filled (I used 16 GB cards for this test). The Liquid Ego kept running and running, filling a 16 and then 8 GB card before finally dying at just under 5 hours in 1080 mode. Wifi was disabled (all wifi was disabled for most tests).
    This is one of the least expensive cameras in the shootout; it has some shortcomings, yet one major bonus is that this camera, removed from its own mounting clip, can be fitted to GoPro mounting systems. Brilliant move on the part of Liquid!
    What I didn’t like about this camera are the number of button presses to record in 720-30p or 60p without wireless enabled. However, shooting in 1080 mode is as simple as turning it on and hitting record.
    When in the waterproof case, it’s impossible to see the LCD display. For budget users, this is an easy camera to like.
    Profile
    Winner of the Action Camera Profile Category - ReplayXD Mini 1080
    At slightly larger diameter than a nickel this camera is rock-solid, doesn’t need stabilization, and blew my mind when I found I could drive a car over it. So small to present less of a snag hazard for skydivers, this tiny marvel is also perfect for UAV/Drones, hiding on cars (ReplayXD is the camera most used in professional auto-racing) and so small it can even be placed upright under a skateboard. It’s tiny and weighs virtually nothing. The camera also offers a threaded head so that lens adapters may be used for either lenses or filters for better image. This is tremendously valuable for outside photography, where an ND filter will immediately remove the heavy contrast and juddered playback, while reducing jello-cam (rolling shutter) issues. JVC, Polaroid, and Garmin all have the ability to come in fairly high in this conversation except their mounting systems are not only flimsy, they’re high profile and a snag hazard. Using these cameras without their manufacturer-issued mounts will provide a very low platform and a much more stable image.
    Testing Locations
    The waters of Ocho Rios Jamaica, Mystic Mountain for snorkeling, bobsled, and zipline testing
    Lake Elsinore California for skydive tests
    Virgin River Gorge for road/motorcycle testing
    Toronto, Ontario for slow motion and other comparisons Although durability wasn’t a measured factor in this shootout, ReplayXD would easily win the durability category (comparing cameras out of their waterproof box). There simply isn’t a tougher camera on the market. Other features I like; the camera offers up timecode for professionals, external audio inputs and user-controllable image quality (Saturation, Exposure, Audio Gain, Sharpness, etc).
    Wifi
    Winner of the Wifi Category - Sony AS100 and Liquid Ego
    This was a tougher call. Other than the Replay Mini, all of the POV cameras offer wifi control or connectivity to a mobile device. I tested the systems on a Samsung GalaxyIII cell and Samsung Galaxy Tab2 tablet. All devices connected successfully. All devices allow for some level of “streaming preview.” Some devices such as the JVC Adixxion allow for streaming directly to UStream if the user has an account and is fortunate enough to be very close to a WAP. Streaming for preview is a serious drain on battery life, rarely works in a moving environment, and is overall somewhat useless beyond setting up a camera angle or adjusting settings (in this writer’s view). Sony’s Play Memories application was difficult to use on their early AS15 models but on the AS100 they’ve gotten it right. It’s install and done. The same can be said for the Liquid Ego. JVC’s Adixxion was a bit of a struggle but it did work once all the paths were traveled properly.
    The same can be said for the Garmin VIRB, the Polaroid X, and the Midland XTC. GoPro was also reasonably easy to set up so saying that the Sony and Liquid win this category is essentially a small thing. In the end, these two were simply easier/faster to set up than the others by a small margin of time and/or frustration. It should be mentioned that the JVC Adixxion was the most difficult to set up. They use a broader-scope application called WiVideo, designed to work with a host of action cameras.
    Wet Use
    Winner of the Wet Use Category - Three Way Tie Between GoPro3+, Sony AS100 and Drift Ghost S
    What made the difference in this category is “how deep can they go and how easy are they to operate under water?” I did not take the action cameras to their rated depths and I am relying on the manufacturers for accurate information on how deep these POV cameras can go. With that said the Replay Mini, Garmin VIRB, Ghost S, Polaroid XS, do not require water housings.

    Watch Underwater Video After spending 3 hours in the water with the action cameras, water was no issue for any of the cameras. GoPro and Sony both include the waterproof housing in the purchase price. Garmin, Midland, Liquid, and even ReplayXD (for depths greater than 12’) all require the purchase of a waterproof housing for wet use. For underwater image quality, Sony AS100 and Drift Ghost S provide the most accurate image, yet the GoPro has a slightly smoother color saturation that is pleasing to the eye. For reasons I could not figure out, the Sony AS30 fogged in the lens. This didn’t happen with the AS100 and more curious, it didn’t happen with the hand-held AS15 I was using to document the event. The fogging didn’t affect the image much, but it was there. What I liked most about the AS100 is that the LCD panel is large and it was easy to see what was going on with the camera while under water.
    Audio
    Winner of the Audio Category - Sony AS100
    With external microphone-in that requires no adapters, AGC, and high-end audio converters, this camera offers wonderful compressed audio, equal to the audio recording capability of significantly more expensive cameras. The Sony AS30 also offers external audio inputs, but is a bit less flexible, as the audio input is hidden under the connection cover.
    ReplayXD also offers external microphone input as does the GoPro 3+ but both require larger, more bulky adapters that cost more dollars. ReplayXD offers a user-controlled gain function which is a real benefit to professionals needing nat audio from locations and in loud environments (such as auto races or helicopter skins). However, the Sony AS100 offers not only the external microphone input on the bottom of the action camera (obviously cannot be used in the water housing), but a higher grade of DAC (Digital Audio Converter) than its categorical counterparts.
    Ease of Use
    Winner of the Ease of Use Category - No Clear Winner
    Most of the cameras offer a one-button on/record feature. Out of the box the Sony series, Polaroid, Midland, Garmin, and ReplayXD cameras offer a one-button record feature. GoPro offers one button record as a menu feature, and the Drift can be programmed to loop and record when turned on for ease of use. However, out of the box there are several that are easy to use as point and press action camcorders and so there is no clear winner.
    If menus are the measure then the Drift Ghost S, the Garmin VIRB, and the JVC Adixxion win for graphic interface. Sony AS series win for clear instruction and ease of navigation. The GoPro wins for sheer depth of options. I’m not a fan of some of the GoPro surface options that make the menus long and kludgy to navigate. Curiously enough, ReplayXD has no menu; all controls are done in a .txt file set on a phone, tablet, or computer. However, their menu options go deeper and are more relevant to picture quality than any other POV camera available.
    Mounts
    Winner of the Mounts Category - Replay XD Mini
    Although the (likely obvious) winner for mounts would be GoPro, it actually isn’t. On sheer numbers of achievable angles and mounting systems, REPLAYXD Mini takes the prize with GoPro following a close second. There is a reason there are so many mounting kit options for some of the cameras out there; their factory mounts are terrible.
    Many of the parts and pieces available for various POV cameras are designed to compensate for the initial weaknesses of the mounting system. Mounting systems matter far more than most users of action cams realize. If the mount is not 100% solid then the image will be unstable and aside from needing stabilization in post (which affects image quality), the image will likely incur ‘jello-cam’ also known as “rolling shutter,” which cannot be repaired.
    In this video, both are out-of-the-box mounting systems. Note the difference in stability. A rock solid mount needs no stabilization work in post. Choosing the right mount system is important. A weak mount will be buffeted by the wind, bounced around by roads, surf, or the turbulence that affects a UAV camera platform.
    Internal stabilization is a tremendous benefit if it is done well. The Sony AS100 has a tremendous stabilization system (Sony has long been famous for their BOSS camera stabilization) matched by no other low-cost camera whether a POV/Action camera or a larger palm-corder category camera.
    This stabilization system makes the AS100 superior for use on a UAV platform, as it is not susceptible to jello cam, is very light weight, and allows for long battery life. Matched with a two or three-point gimbal flawless smooth video is possible for very little cost on a drone system.
    JVC and Garmin VIRB ELITE offer stabilization, but at a tremendous cost of resolution and color saturation.
    Slow-Motion/Overcrank
    Winner of the Slow-Motion/Overcrank Category - Sony AS100
    It’s no surprise that the newer Sony AS100 wins in this category. Only Sony and GoPro offer high framerates of 120 or 240 frames per second, so only the Sony AS100 and the GoPro 3+ were tested for these features. Most every action sport benefits from slow motion, so with the ability of the Sony AS100 to sync up to five cameras with one button push, it makes for a wonderful mix of slow motion and normal motion possibilities.
    GoPro 3+ shoots 240fps with a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels and Sony shoots at 800x480 pixels. The Sony has been cropped to match the GoPro3+. Both cameras would benefit in their “pro modes” where GoPro offers up to 35Mbps and Sony AS100 offers 50Mbps in the semi-professional XAVC-S mode. However, since these tests are entirely “out of the box,” it was not appropriate to compare the slow motion at anything but the stock settings.
    Low Light
    Winner of the Low Light Category - Tie Between Sony AS100V and GoPro3+
    This is a challenging category for most of these cameras. All of them have very small imagers and lenses that shoot at a very high resolution. Packing so many pixels onto very small surfaces means very little light can get into the individual pixel sensors and therefore, noise is usually part and parcel of for each of these POV cameras.
    GoPro offers the smoother color representation with slightly more noise. Sony is brighter with less noise, but a blue cast is apparent in both Sony cameras. The additional information in the 50Mbps file allows for a cleaner color correction, yet the smoother color in the GoPro 3+ means less need for color correction. Pushing the color in the GoPro3+ at 35Mbps brings up the noise pretty quickly, so if matching cameras is part of the workflow, beware that matching higher grade formats might be difficult. It’s a choice between removing blueish casting or a fair amount of noise reduction processing in the professional environment. On a personal note, I’d prefer to remove/reduce the blue cast.

    Watch the Low Light The table cloth in this image is purple, not black. The GoPro3+ (lower right) is smoother in its dynamic range but less accurate than the Sony AS100V (upper left). The GoPro Black at 16Mbps is quite noisy, while the Sony AS30 is clean, but also displaying a blueish cast.
    Extra Features
    Winner of the Extra Featured Category - Garmin Virb
    This category is easily earned by the GARMIN VIRB. With a cyclometer, heart rate monitor, GPS, ANT+™ wireless control (a wide range of remote and input possibilities), accelerometer, barometer, and a “skiing” mode that is a huge benefit to action sports enthusiasts, this camera is packed with features. In Skiiing mode, the camera knows when you’re engaged in your activity or not. It will stop recording when you’ve landed, stopped moving, etc. Unfortunately for skydivers, the camera senses aircraft movement as “sporting movement so in this mode, it will record the climb to altitude. For mountain-cyclists, this is a great feature. However, it’s also a battery-eater. Sony AS100 and GoPro 3+ also offer a plethora of features that advanced users will appreciate, such as higher framerates, controllable scenes, FOV adjustments, 24p, and other video-related features. Both Sony AS100 and ReplayXD Mini offer Timecode for multiple camera sync, logging, or reference video.
    Professional Codecs/Bitrates
    Winner of the Professional Codecs/Bitrates Category - Sony AS100V
    Both Sony AS100V and the GoPro 3+(Black) offer users higher bitrates and professional codecs for critical functions that will benefit the editing process during post production. Only these two cameras offer these features and although the unique features go beyond the scope of this review, I feel it’s worth of demonstrating what the differences look like. Not all video editing systems can manage these codecs. Professional video software has the necessary decoders yet even casual users can find free decoders on the GoPro and Sony websites. Apple FinalCut has issues with both the XAVC and Cineform codecs without downloading the decoder but again, every pro-level application can decode/read files generated by these cameras.
    Why would one want a higher bitrate, more robust codec? If color correction or compositing are to be employed to process the footage captured by these action cameras, it’s a good idea to have as much information in the file as possible. A higher bitrate provides more “bits” that the NLE can push around, and still retain quality.

    Watch the Codec Test Video This image is raw, no processes added. Keep in mind that when shooting high bitrates the camera is shooting flat, no internal color processing. In the upper right is a GoPro Black shooting standard bitrate. In the lower left, I’ve set the Sony AS 30 to “Neutral” so that there is no color processing. Pay attention to detail rather than color range. This is an overcast day, so there is no blue in the sky. In the next image, I’ll oversaturate and over luminate the image to better demonstrate how far the footage can be processed without falling apart.
    Here, an HSL filter has been applied. Note that the Sony AS100V in the upper left, and the GoPro 3+ in the lower right, best hold together. As subjective as this conversation is, most would agree that the AS100V at 50Mbps holds together better than its counterparts, although the GoPro 3+ at 35Mbps is very impressive. This is a very important consideration for professional users.
    To access high bitrates with the Sony AS100V action camera, a 64GB SDXC card is required. Smaller cards use the FAT format while the larger 64GB card uses EXFAT. EXFAT is necessary to access the PRO mode in the AS100V. The manual does not clearly state this, so beware. It actually took two calls to Sony technical support to realize this. Their own technical support team didn’t know the answer, probably due to the newness of the camera model.
    See the 4K video for more content and comparison.
    In Summary
    All in all, each of the action camera/POV camera products tested in this shootout did very, very, well and far exceeded the quality of cameras only one generation past. This shootout truly came down to a select few cameras though, and any one of the top five are excellent choices depending on requirements for form factor, image quality, post-production requirements, and high framerates.
    Not unexpectedly, the scoring fell very close to the price points of the cameras. Only the ReplayXD Mini was the surprise. Ultimately, it came down to a few things, all of them feature-related as opposed to picture quality related. Truly, there are so many offerings overall, it’s impossible to suggest that any one camera is significantly better than the others for overall use. My personal preferences come down to the Sony AS100V, it’s been called the “GoPro-killer” by many reviewers, but there is a reason everyone compares themselves to GoPro cameras; GoPro is a damn fine product. I don’t care for the GoPro manufacturer mounts, and mount stability is a very large factor in action sports, motor sports, and high-impact situations. The Garmin VIRB took me by surprise; the camera is the heaviest of the lot and has a terrible mount. It would be a terrific camera for most users if the mount was as stable as the camera itself. It truly feels like manufacturers pay almost no attention to the stability of the mounting system, and it’s for this reason that I didn’t use most of the manufacturer mounts (I was doing them a favor while also watching out for my own safety).
    Mounts aside, battery life aside, the VIRB is an exciting newcomer to the mix of cameras. Midland’s new XTC 400 really threw me for a loop, as the camera feels/looks cheap. Again, they have a horrid mount that is even more flimsy than GoPro’s mount. Yet the picture quality, price point, and ease of use make the Midland a wonderful choice for the budget-conscious sport shooter. Finally, Liquid’s EGO really is a delight. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to use when in the water housing, and it has a mount identical to GoPro, but it looks like a Minion. How can one just simply not LOVE a Minion? The record time makes this an all-day camera and given that it shares mount points with GoPro, a whole world of mounts are available for this fun little camera at the lowest price point in the mix (it barely made the review criteria).
    Final Standings:
    Sony AS100 74 GoPro Hero 3+ 60 ReplayXD Mini 1080 58 Sony AS30 53 Garmin VIRB 52.5 GoPro 3 Black 51 Drift Ghost S 49 JVC Adixxion 45 Midland XTC400 41 Liquid Ego 34 Polaroid XS100 34 All The Test Videos:
    Motocycle / Road
    Motocycle / Road
    Underwater Snorkel
    Underwater Snorkel II
    Underwater Snorkel III Wingsuit Overhead
    Wingsuit Exit
    Zipline
    Zipline II
    Bobsled Slow Motion
    Codec Test
    Low Light
    This Week in Photo    
    1st Runner Up
    GoPro Hero 3+
    $399.99

    More Information
    Winner
    Sony AS100
    $299.99

    More Information 2nd Runner Up
    Replay XD Mini
    $199.99

    More Information    
    New Action Camera Releases
    - Sony HDR-AZ1VR (Release Date: October 2014)

    - GoPro Hero 4 (Release Date: October 2014)
     
    About The Author

    Douglas Spotted Eagle (D29060) is a videographer/producer living between the world of professional production and skydiving. With more than 5000 skydives and 300 film/television productions, he loves playing with cameras and things that go fast. He is the managing producer and instructional designer at VASST, who will be releasing “ActionCam ClipFix,” an NLE plugin product designed for POV camera shooters. Thanks to Max at Mystic Mountain, John/Karl/Steve/Kenn/Ziggy at Skydive Elsinore, Pepper at Jamaica Snorkel, the Arizona Highway Patrol, Dropzone.com, Adam, Roger, and Nashie who helped make this review happen as smoothly has herding lenses can be. No animals alive or simulated were harmed in the production of this shootout/review.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Best POV Action Camera Shootout: 6 Challengers Reviewed

    We have a newer and more comprehensive action camera shootout available.
    We set out with 6 of the most popular models of action cameras in an all-out camera review. Our desire was to uncover the answer to the question "What is the best POV camera on the market?", and at the same time determine the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras being reviewed. The overall performance results were a little surprising to us... Could the GoPro be dethroned?
    It’s the “Me” generation, and modern action cameras provide transparent windows into the very lifestyles of these individuals. “Check out
    what I’m doing” seems to be the prevalent theme. Quite a few electronics manufacturers have recognized the vast market for small HD cams. As a result, action cameras have undergone a tremendous shift from the low-resolution bullet cameras of 5 years ago. Today, we have POV cameras that shoot 24p, 4k resolutions, p120 frame rates for overcrank/super slow motion, and a whole lot more.
    Setting out to find the best action cam, I assembled a collection of mounting points onto my Bonehead Flattop Pro camera helmet. This skydiving helmet is perfect for testing cams in the most demanding situations. On this helmet I have mounted:
    Sony HDR AS15 (3 ea) GoPro Hero 2 (3 ea) Replay XD (3 ea) JVC Adixxion (1 ea) Drift Innovations HD (1 ea) Contour Roam2 (1 ea) It’s a total of 12 cameras on top, plus one wrist-mounted for documentation.
    When possible, each of the action cameras are tested in one of three modes:
    1920x1080p30 (Full HD/30 progressive frames per second) 1280x720p60 (HD/60 progressive frames per second) 1280x720p120 (HD/ 120 progressive frames per second) In this comparison, the following criteria shall be observed:
    Overall quality in identical lighting conditions Quality in low light Audio quality Features/flexibility Ease of use/setup/ out-of-box experience Slow motion/over-crank quality Third party support Codec/post production And off we go…
    Overall Quality
    This is the most subjective conversation of the lot. Rather than shooting
    charts, I chose to shoot actual subjects/scenes. Subjectively speaking, the Sony
    HDR AS15 is the best of the group in the most common 1920x1080p30 modes. Colors
    are natural, whites are white, blacks are black, and the gamut is smooth. There
    is no banding from the codec, and the dynamic range is broad.


    Watch this video full
    screen for best comparison. The GoPro Hero2 produces a warmer overall image and it appears warm, but
    balanced when viewed alone. Standing next to the AS15, however, the Hero2 image
    reveals itself to be softer and less contrasted, with colors that selectively
    pop and/or are over saturated due to the more limited dynamic range. In the
    below image, note that clouds appear as ‘industrial haze’ vs being white.
    However, some people do prefer a more warm color to neutral/proper white
    balance. White balance is as much an aesthetic preference as it is a standard.
    My eye (and post workflow) prefers neutral colors. *
    Low Light
    Next, low light tests are performed. The purpose of this test is to see how
    well each camera performs in low light conditions. Typically, small format
    cameras are very challenged in low-light scenes, due to the small image sensors
    filled with high pixel values. Many sports activities take place early
    morning/late afternoon, or inside cramped quarters.
    Low light scenes are where the Exmor processor (used in the Sony HDR AS15)
    outshines all others. Although the images have a blue cast, color tone is closer
    to the ‘eye-view’ of the scene. The 1280x720p60 modes in the GoPro Hero 2 and
    the Sony HDR AS15 proved to yield the best overall images for clarity, smooth
    motion, and exposure, but they display quite different in presentation.
    Among these cameras, it’s interesting to see the differing methods used for
    handling the range of white to black: blooming whites to light the scene or
    reducing whites to balance the color. Although the Drift HD has less noise than
    other images, it also is the least useful image overall in how little information is contained in the frames. The Sony AS15 shows more noise than the GoPro Hero2 in p120 modes, yet also has more of a useful image. The gain can be brought up in post on the Hero2 (I did look at this), and the noise becomes
    about equal. However, the AS15 also offers better clarity, sharper edges, and smoother contrasts.
    Audio Quality
    Sound reproduction is an important part of the video experience. Audio was
    tested both with and without waterproof housings on relevant cameras. This is a
    no-brainer. Waterproof box or not, the Sony HDR AS15 wins the audio test quite
    handily. With a stereo mic and 16bit audio, the AS15 trumps all the competitors
    in every way. Adding the waterproof box to the Hero2 or Contour Roam renders
    them nearly useless. Drift, JVC, Contour+ and RePlayXD all are water resistant
    to shallow depths, and do not need housings. Therefore audio quality outside an
    external housing was superior to the Hero2 in all examples.
    As you can tell from the helmet setup pictures, we tested one GoPro and one Sony inside their
    housings, but without their respective front lens assemblies. This was not only
    to match up lenses, but to also give each action camera the best audio opportunity
    possible. Audio is a somewhat important part of action sports, and isn’t
    forgotten by most of the manufacturers. Sony, GoPro, Drift,Replay, Contour+ all
    allow for external microphones to be connected. It is important to note that the
    Sony HDR AS15 offers no audio in p60 or p120 modes.
    Features/Flexibility
    This is incredibly subjective, as one person’s pleasure is another person?s
    pain. In my view, this is where everything outside of image quality becomes part
    of the purchase decision. I reviewed what I like/don’t like/found missing in
    each of the cameras. This section has no specific rhyme nor reason; it’s merely
    my personal impressions of the camcorders themselves, without looking at the
    packaging or image quality. It was easy to compare image quality, as all of the
    cameras use the .mp4 codec, packaged in a variety of containers such as .mov and
    .mp4. Bitrates are similar on all of the cameras, so the real variations come in
    the imagers, lenses, and usability.
    Lenses are varied from 115 degrees to
    180 degrees on these cameras. Some have selectable Field of View, and where
    possible, I selected as close to 120 degrees FOV as possible to best service the
    similarities in the test. Only Sony and JVC offer stabilizers, so the
    stabilizers were disabled for most of these tests. In the ATV stabilizer tests,
    Sony HDR AS15 performed significantly better than the JVC Adixxion.
    RePlay XD


    I LOVE the simplicity of this camera. One button powers up the camera, it
    vibrates and provides LED feedback for record, pause, and battery level
    information. It is water resistant, and can be stashed almost anywhere due to
    its tubular aircraft aluminum form. RePlay offers several mounting options,
    including swivel/ball head mounts made from aluminum billet. Quite simply put,
    it’s a tough camera. RePlay offers a mounting ring that allows for wide angle
    lenses to be attached to the camera. Since the lens is only 61 degrees in width,
    it is substantially tighter than any of its competitors, and a wide angle
    adapter will be necessary in some situations. The lens rotates, allowing for
    side or flat-mount surfaces. This camera is a staple in the NASCAR circuit, and
    it’s easy to see why. It also offers HDMI output for live previewing or
    uncompressed output to a Ninja or similar device. The HDMI output can feed a
    wireless HDMI system for broadcasting over a remote area. Additionally, RePlay
    offers a waterproof cable connection for underwater HDMI use, perfect for
    placing the camera under water while monitoring or recording above water.
    For advanced users, the RePlay XD has certain settings that may be modified
    in a Notepad application (one that is .txt only). This allows users to customize
    the camera.
    Out of the box, this camera is ready to roll including a MicroSD
    card.
    Battery life is approximately 2 hours in 1080 mode.
    RePlay also provides users with a very nice Cordura case for storage.
    The camera cannot free-stand due to the round body; a beanbag with weight is the only way this
    camera can sit on its own. Fortunately, the RePlay comes with several plastic
    stick-on mounts. This camera uses a proprietary mount system, but in reality any
    conduit mount/tiedown works nicely.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    JVC Adixxion


    I was excited to check out this camera because JVC brings great things to the
    table. They mark the second professional camera company joining the HD POV fray,
    which makes it clear that POV is a strong bet in broadcast B-roll cameras. The
    form factor is nice, and I love the standard ¼ camera thread provided on two
    sides for side or top mounting on a helmet, roll bar, fuselage, or whatever. The
    camera is easy to operate, using two buttons for control. Menus are easy to
    navigate, and users may configure vertical or horizontal positions. JVC also has
    wifi available on the camera, and can stream live to UStream directly from the
    camera without a PC. Also there are Android and iPhone apps available for
    external camera control/linking. JVC uses WiVideo to configure the camera. I
    could not get the app to function with the camera on my laptop, tablet nor two
    cell phones. The camera locked up and required battery removal on multiple
    attempts to configure the wireless setup (ver 0483). It does upload directly to
    UStream without any difficulty.
    Otherwise, users will need to install an SD card (purchased separately) and the device is ready to roll. My test unit was charged to approximately 10% of life.
    A beautiful feature on this camera is the electronic stabilization mode. It smoothes out images very nicely (yes, this works for skydiving, as it is EIS). The image quality does suffer with the stabilizer engaged.
    Battery life is approx 110 mins in 1080 mode.
    I found the camera buttons clunky, and the mounts that come with the camera had several of us scratching our heads, wondering “WTH were they thinking?”. Perhaps because of the standard thread mount, JVC felt that creative mounting solutions should come from the user? The camera comes with a plastic ball swivel stick-on mount that cannot be trusted in any sort of medium impact activity. The Addixxion will easily snap out of the ball swivel. It also comes with a rubber mount to go on an elastic
    goggle headband such as ski goggles, similar to the “jockstrap” mount that is available for the GoPro.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Contour


    Contour really stepped their game up with the + model, offering Bluetooth
    control of the camera and preview over a cell phone or tablet (low framerate).
    Similar to the RePlay, Contour thoughtfully provides a MicroSD card in the box
    (why doesn’t everyone do this?)
    The camera features a GPS receiver that embeds the GPS signal in the video stream. Some users may find great benefit in this feature. It’s fun to open the GPS data in GoogleEarth, playback the waypoints while watching earth, and re-live the experience. GoogleEarth may be screencapped for additional (and interesting) B-Roll footage.
    Recording can be enabled simply by sliding the locking record switch forward.
    The camera automatically goes into record mode, so there’s no clumsy fumbling
    with small buttons that one sometimes cannot see due to mounting systems.
    The Contour+ does have some external controls for features such as white
    balance (accessed via cell or tablet device over BlueTooth. Video may be
    streamed over HDMI, as with most of the other cameras.
    Out of the box, this action camera is ready to roll including a MicroSD
    card
    BlueTooth preview and control is a nice addition, although it was very
    choppy and slow on my Samsung Galaxy SIII phone and Galaxy Tab2.
    Battery life is approximately 90 minutes of continuous record in 1080 mode.
    The form factor is very well thought-out for most applications; however, the
    proprietary mount system is a personal dislike. The camera cannot freestand due
    to the rounded bottom. A mount, housing, or similar device is required to use
    this system. Mounting the camera on a tripod requires additional adapters not
    easily found due to limited distribution. Contour is the only camera that comes
    with a tether in case the camera is knocked free from its mount. While this may
    be desirable in some sports, in skydiving, BASE jumping, or paragliding, it is
    not a wanted feature.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Drift HD


    This camera wasn’t originally on my list of cameras to test, as it has always
    seemed like a toy camera company to me (I had one of their original SD cameras
    and found it wanting). However, pressure from several friends around the world
    caused me to re-think my position.
    The RF remote control is cool. It lets the user configure the camera(s) for remote start/stop, and it can sync multiple cameras. With a rotatable lens, the camera may be placed at any angle. One can
    monitor over a streaming HDMI output, or use a built-in preview screen that may be powered down to save on battery life (this is a big plus in this camera). The packaging is pretty nice too , acting as a case for the gear. Only RePlay and Drift offer a package to store the camera when not in use; I like this
    feature.
    The rotatable lens isn’t without flaws. In vertical mode the angular
    distortion all but renders this camera useless, due to the already-challenged
    quality of image.
    With a battery life of only 45 minutes in 1080 mode, this is not a camera for
    lengthy shooting. Drift does offer an extended life battery… you’ll want it if
    this is the camera you choose to purchase.
    The Drift comes with a pair of stick-on mounts, a strap mount, and the remote
    control. The remote is necessary in gloved environments: the big buttons are
    easy to hit, while the camera’s tiny buttons are easy to miss even when not
    wearing gloves. The Drift HD can free-stand without any assistance, and the
    standard ¼ camera thread on the camera body makes it easy to mount on a
    tripod.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Sony HDR AS15


    The HDR AS15 is one of the newest camera choices, and it’s Sony’s first foray
    into this market. The switchable FOV from 120 to 170 is terrific. I’m a bigger
    fan of the narrower views as they don’t distort the image, and provide a closer
    to ‘natural’ image. The glass lens is a Zeiss, and it does not disappoint.
    Coupled with the Exmor sensor/imager, it is a beautiful combination. A
    one-button camera-on/record enable feature makes this identical to the Contour+
    for speed to record.
    Out of the box, this camera is ready to roll, minus a needed MicroSD card
    (purchased separately).
    The AS15 offers wireless control and camera setup. Connecting to my Galaxy
    SIII, Tab2 10.5, and iPhone 4s was simple and painless. Each camera has a
    control code printed on a sticker. I don’t care for this; Sony should provide
    more than one sticker, or better yet, print the code inside each camera. If the
    code is lost, it’s not easy reconnecting without linking via USB to discover the
    password. Using wireless for constant monitoring cuts the battery life by around
    25%. The wireless is challenged in a way, as only one unit may be controlled at
    a time. Had Sony used a different network scheme, multiple cameras could have
    been controlled from a cell or tablet device. Hopefully they’ll look into this
    with future updates. Operating the camera is easy: the two menu buttons are
    simple and the menu flow is logical.
    The electronic stabilization system is standard Sony sweet smoothness, and no
    one can really compare with what Sony has given users of stabilization modes.
    Sony uses the CyberShot batteries, both standard and extended life. The camera
    comes with two battery trays. This is a benefit, as batteries may be found at
    any Walmart, Best Buy, or other big-box store.
    Sony’s mounting system is the most robust of all the various camcorders; a
    standard ¼ camera thread in the bottom of the waterproof housing is easy to
    mount. Compared with the non-precision plastic mounts offered by GoPro, JVC,
    Drift, and RePlay, the massive ABS plastic mounts provided by Sony are rock
    solid and will not chatter in even the most extreme vibrating environments.
    Outside the box, the camera doesn’t mount well to anything without some sort of
    other mount assist. The camera cannot free-stand because of its rounded bottom.
    Additionally, the external mic connector and HDMI connector are in the bottom of
    the camera. Sony has a box with LCD monitor available for the camera, making it
    more bulky, but also utilizes this accessory port on the bottom of the
    camcorder. With the LCD/box option, the AS15 may be easily mounted on a tripod
    or other mounting system.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    GoPro Hero2


    This is the camera that changed up the world of action sport photography, and
    which has been the longest running action sports camera in the market, now in
    its third version.
    GoPro comes out of the box with a squarish form-factor, sharing the ‘box’
    format with the Drift and JVC cameras as opposed to the longer, more slim
    stylings of the RePlay XD, Contour, and Sony camcorders.
    The 170 degree lens may be switched to a 127 FOV (used for most of these
    tests) via menu settings.
    The menus are the most challenging aspect of using
    this camera; alternating between the power/function button and the
    shutter/select button can become confusing, even for the most seasoned user. I
    have around 20 of these cameras, and still sometimes have to go all the way
    through the menu cycle to reach the desired setting. Out of the box this camera
    is almost ready to roll, coming with a partially charged battery, 2 mounts, and
    a waterproof box (SD Card not included).
    GoPro offers a WiFi backpack system for 99.00, but I could not get it to work
    with my cell phone. The remote start/stop switch worked properly. The remote
    system may be paired with multiple GoPro’s for simultaneous start/stop.
    GoPro uses a proprietary mounting system, but this is of little consequence.
    One can go to Walmart or other big-box store and purchase additional and widely
    varied mounts. GoPro offers far more mounting options than any of the
    competition. At first glance, this is very nice of them; however, they need to
    offer a wide variety of mounts simply because they are proprietary. To mount a
    GoPro on a tripod, for example, will cost another 10.00 just for the adapter to
    mate its proprietary mount with a standard ¼ camera receiver.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Overcrank/Slow-Motion Modes
    Overcrank/Slow motion not only allows for better viewing of very fast action,
    it also adds drama and lends a sense of timelessness to fast and exciting
    scenes. All of the cameras in this shootout offer a p60 mode in 1280x720 mode.
    Only the Sony HDR AS15 and the GoPro Hero 2 offer p120 modes.
    Sony records p120 in a true 1280x720 mode. GoPro Hero2 records a resolution of
    848x480 when in p120 mode.
    One frustration with GoPro: they pack the frames, so the NLE doesn’t see the native stream. Sony flags (and plays back over HDMI) the proper slow motion/overcranked content. There is a benefit to the non-standard method GoPro uses, as it allows for real-time playback “on the set,” although editors will have to manage the timeshift in post.


    In this video, both p60 and
    p120 modes can be compared in well-lit conditions.

    In this video, both p60 and
    p120 modes can be compared in very dark conditions.

    In this p120 scene, the
    image goes from brightly backlit to exposure-compensated. I appreciate that the
    camera does not bloom nor pop when the exposure shifts. “Rugged-ness”
    Ok, this wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s well worth mentioning.
    Riding on ATV’s with these little cameras made it obvious that people are going
    to break them if they put the camera into harm’s way.
    RePLAY XD easily walks away with this; you can stand on them, drive a car over them, drop them from great heights (I dropped one from several hundred feet), and they’ll come right back asking for more. The JVC is well-built too; JVC claims they can be dropped from 6’ and survive, but frankly speaking, any of these cameras can survive a 6’
    drop, so that’s somewhat of a chuckle for a marketing bullet point.
    In their external cases, the GoPro and Sony are both very tough. The lens is the weakest
    point on any of these cameras, which again is a nod to RePlay, as they have a
    replaceable cover over the lens while keeping a virtually indestructible low
    profile. Out of the box, the Sony is perhaps the most fragile, with the GoPro
    and Drift HD being in the same categories.
    Third Party Support
    This category easily belongs to GoPro. They’ve been in the market longer than
    anyone, and until the announcement of the GoPro Hero3, the form factor hasn’t
    changed, allowing third party vendors to build custom-molded helmets, aluminum
    billet mounts, custom-colored housings, and even camera controls. That being
    said, Sony, RePlay, and Contour all offer additional mounts, housings, LCD
    displays, cabling systems, remotes, and other accessories. Additionally, Sony,
    JVC, and Drift all offer standard threads which eliminates the need for a large
    portion of the third-party tools built for GoPro cameras.
    Codec/Post Production
    All of the action cameras in the shootout are using the h.264 codec (AVC) packaged
    in one of two containers. Apple users of Mountain Lion OS are able to directly
    stream video from all the cameras on their machines. Windows users who run
    Windows XP or newer will have no difficulty playing back footage from these
    cameras. The Galaxy Tab2 has no problems playing back the files directly from
    the cameras or cards in a card reader with no transfer of data.
    For editing, all Windows applications will natively edit the files without difficulty. Users
    of Adobe Premiere CS5.5 or newer can edit native files on their Mac, but users
    of FCPX and FCP Studio7 will need to log/import the files and convert them to
    AIC or ProRes. This is one place where the shootout yielded a surprise; I’d
    expected Sony to use the superior AVCHD codec vs using AVC. The HDR AS15 is
    mainstreamed by using the AVC codec, which puts Sony squarely in the middle of a
    group where they could’ve had a significant advantage over the competition. To
    sum up this segment: none of the cameras have an advantage over the others in
    post, with the exception of the GoPro H2 with the ProTune upgrade installed (the
    35mbps rate may have some transcode advantages in post, depending on the
    subject).
    SUMMARY
    With all features, shapes, sizes, and mounts aside, it boils down to two main
    challenges for the best action camera: image quality and ease of use. In all image-related
    aspects of this shootout, the Sony HDR AS15 easily offers a superior image
    quality over all competitors. For low-light, brightly lit, and overcrank modes
    both bright and dark, all members of my team and I selected the Sony AS15
    footage. In blind tests with others, they selected the AS15 as best of all
    images.
    In 1080p30 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS 15
    GoPro Hero2
    RePlay XD
    In 720p60 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero2 (this is GoPro’s best mode, IMO)
    RePlay XD
    In 720p120 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero 2
    In low-light environments, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero2(p60mode)
    Contour+ (p60 mode)
    For color accuracy, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS 15
    GoPro Hero2
    RePlay XD
    (It was a difficult choice between the RePlay XD and the JVC Adixxion when the
    subject was well-lit/sunlighted subjects, with the JVC lens protector removed.
    The RePlay’s sharper edges gave it the advantage).
    GoPro, Replay, Sony, and JVC offer white balance settings either through
    menus or through .txt-based edits of the camera’s operation set up. All of these
    tweaks were avoided; every camera was “out of the box” for best/most fair
    comparison.
    Images from the JVC and the Drift HD are simply too soft for any sort of
    professional use. Removing the JVC lens protector (not recommended) somewhat
    improves the image.
    Overall, most every one of the cameras offers features, form, or function
    that other cameras do not have; particularly when looking at factors outside of
    image quality. For me, the final image quality matters most of all, and it’s the
    aspect we tested most thoroughly in this shootout.
    Keep your focus tight,
    dse
    Joel Hindman, Darren Burke, Andreea Olea, Tom van Dyck, Karl Gulledge, John
    Hamilton, Chris Warnock, Lob Lobjoit, Sydney Owen-Williams, Skydive Elsinore
    contributed to this article.
    About The Author

    DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy winning productions. Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others. Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He is active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.
    Editors Note: We are aware that the above review lacks the competition of the GoPro HD Hero 3, which was released shortly after we completed the review. We are as interested as you are to see how the HD Hero 3 compares to the other action cams reviewed in this article, in particular the Sony AS15 and we aim to bring you the answer to that question in the near future.

    By admin, in Gear,

    A Guide to Buying Your First Skydiving Gear

    This article by Alain Bard is meant as a general guide. We highly recommend contacting your local rigger and instructor before using any of the information provided in this article.
    In the years I’ve been a rigger, I’ve often seen the results of skydivers’ gear buying experiences. Most experiences go well, but some do not, and result in the buyer having to re-sell an inappropriate piece of gear they bought.
    In this article, I am going to try to lay down some advice on how to go about choosing gear. I’m going to try to not go into brand specifics, but rather which components you should get and in what order, buying new or used, and sizing.
    New vs. Used?
    Let’s tackle this one first. Should you buy new or used? Traditional advice is that if this is your first set of gear: you should buy used. You’ll probably only use your first set of gear for the first 100 jumps or so. If you buy used skydiving gear, you can save some money (over new) while jumping your first set of gear, and take your time figuring out what you really want before you commit to buying new equipment.
    Let’s break it down though.
    So to put together a rig, you have to get 4 components: a harness/container, a reserve parachute, an Automatic Activation Device (AAD) and a main parachute. Whether to buy each of these pieces new or used depends on the piece.
    AAD
    Let’s start with the easy one: the AAD. Used or new does not matter, as you’re paying a fixed cost per year for these units. This fixed cost per year varies between $80-160 per year depending on which unit you choose. If budget is an issue, and you can find one used, grab it. Used AADs are rare as they expire faster than the gear they are in. If your budget allows, you can buy new. AADs are super easy to re-sell if you ever need to.
    Reserve Parachute
    Next up: the reserve parachute. For newbies, I always recommend buying a used reserve parachute, as you can save a significant amount of money here, and the benefit of a new reserve isn’t really justified over the cost of a new one. Reserve parachutes don’t get used very often, and even after 10 years, are usually in next to perfect condition. A 10-year old reserve of the same design is the same as a brand new one, it’s just cheaper to buy. Ensure the reserve has less than 5 or so “rides” and is no older than 15-18 years old.
    Also, ensure it has no holes, patches or repairs, or if it does, make sure the cost is much less, and consider sending it back to the factory to have it checked out first.
    Main Parachute
    For the main parachute, my advice is the opposite to a reserve. I recommend buying a main with as few jumps as possible (under 200 if possible). Buying a new main parachute is preferable, if budget allows. You will use this parachute to save your life 99.9% of the time. Its condition matters. Age isn’t really that much of a concern as much as the number of jumps. I like to make sure a main parachute still has its original lines, because you can tell the number of jumps by the condition of the lines. Trying to estimate the number of jumps on a canopy after a reline is sometimes difficult if the parachute fabric has been kept clean, dry and out of the sun. Another consideration is where the jumps were made. A parachute that was jumped in the summer in Canada or the US Northeast on green grass for only 6 months of each year will be in much better condition than one jumped all year round in desert-like or beach locations. Sand really eats away at the fabric coating and gets into the seams.
    If budget is really an issue, then a modern-design (last 10-15 years) used main parachute with more jumps is OK too, but make sure to have your rigger take a look and don’t pay too much for it, as it’s not going to be worth as much.
    Again, ensure it has no holes, patches or repairs, or if it does, make sure pay much less, and consider sending it back to the factory to have it checked out first.
    Harness/Container
    Last is the harness/container, for 80% of newbies, a used harness/container is probably the right way to go. Newbies tend not to land on their feet 100% of the time, and if you get a used harness/container a little dirty or scuffed up, it won’t matter as much. The problem is getting the right size for both the canopies *and* for your body (ie. harness size). Sizing for canopies is easy enough, but then sometimes it’s difficult to find the perfect sized harness. Having a harness that is a little too big or too small isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not as comfortable as a made-to-measure harness. If the harness is more than a little too big or too small, then resizing a harness is always an option, but it may cost more to have a harness resized than the harness/container is worth.
    For 20% of newbies, their body type makes it almost impossible to find a used harness/container. I’m talking about the 6’ guy who weighs 120lbs, or the 4’8” girl who weighs 95lbs, or on the other end of the spectrum, what you’ll find advertised as “big-boy rigs” for really large and/or heavy people. For these people that fall outside the average body types, while resizing a harness is sometimes an option, getting a new harness/container is sometimes a better option. Some manufacturers make basic rigs with no bells or whistles that end up costing less than a used, fully featured harness/container. I’m talking about rigs like the Shadow Racer and the Rigging Innovations Genera. These are great rigs at an even better price.
    Also, if you are a serving military member, some manufacturers offer incentives (up to 30% off) on new gear. This is a great deal, and a no-brainer. If you are eligible for such discounts, get new stuff!
    Before I move on, I want to mention that when you buy used, you will have to keep an open mind when it comes to colors. It’s the price you pay to save some money.
    So now WHAT should I buy, but more importantly – in what order?
    So you’ve been jumping a certain size main for a while and think you’re ready to downsize and get a different set of gear. Great! Let’s go through it.
    One of the biggest gear-buying mistakes is choosing (or buying) a harness/container first, and then trying to fit the canopies into a container that was not sized for those canopies, so….
    Here’s the order in which you should think about it:
    Select the Reserve canopy first.
    Select an appropriately sized reserve. Your reserve should be big enough to not seriously hurt or kill you in the event of an unconscious reserve landing (no flare). This means that your reserve should be sized according to your wing loading on that reserve.
    For most people, that means I recommend getting a reserve at least one size bigger than the main you intend to jump. So if you think you want to jump a 150-size main parachute, get a 160 or 170-size reserve, and if you're a big guy that jumps a tiny cross-braced canopy, you'll maybe still want a 170-sized reserve (4-8 times larger than your main). You’ll thank me when you actually need to use the reserve.
    Then, pick a main, any main. Well, not really, but decide on the size of main you want to jump. You can pick the type of main later, but decide on size now.
    Now you can think about a harness/container!
    Then and only then start doing the research on what brand of harness/container you want based on the features you think are important to you. Look at harness/container manufacturers’ published volume charts to see which size container you would need to fit the reserve. You want to pick a size of container that fits the reserve and is described as “soft” or “normal” fit (if those descriptors are available). Stay away from a “tight” reserve fit at all costs.
    You’ll quickly notice that not all the manufacturers offer combinations that will fit a reserve that’s larger than a main. That’s really a shame. You should really ask those manufacturers why they don’t offer this.
    An expensive solution to this problem is a low-bulk reserve, which is marketed a being able to pack one size smaller than a regular reserve. So, if you want a container combination that fits a regular 150-sized main, and only fits a 150-size reserve, a low-bulk 160 reserve may be an option. Careful though, it doesn’t scale down. For instance, a low-bulk 126 reserve may not fit in a 113-sized container, or it may fit but be so tight that it interferes with the normal deployment of the reserve. This is bad, and should be avoided.
    So you’ve picked a reserve, and you know what size of harness/container you need, only then should you start looking at the classifieds to see if you can find something that has the right size harness attached to it.
    If you find something that you think fits, or described by the seller as fitting someone your size, ask the seller for the serial number of the harness/container. Then contact the manufacturer of the rig (even if it was made 10 or 20 years ago), and ask them what size the harness was made to fit. Most manufacturers keep data on all the rigs they have ever built, and will be happy to disclose this information to you, and discuss whether it would fit you based on your measurements. There is no need for guessing games. You can know before you even buy whether or not the harness/container will fit you. The only exception to this rule is if the harness has previously been re-sized, which is uncommon.
    Main Parachute
    7-cell, 9-cell, F111, ZP, Hybrid, low bulk, square, semi-elliptical, elliptical, air locked, cross-braced, etc., etc… There are many mains on the market today. There is no right or wrong answer here. It depends on what you want to do. I’ll have to save this topic for another article. Refer to my comments above on age and condition.
    Don’t forget the AAD!
    The last part is to get an AAD. As long as the AAD in question is within its service life, has been maintained at the proper interval (if required), operates normally, and is approved for the harness/container you want to put it in, then you’re good to go.
    So there you have it. It’s not always obvious at first, so I hope this guide will help some of you out.

    Alain Bard has been an active skydiver since 2003.
    Alain holds the following CPSA ratings: D CoP, Skydiving Coach Level 2, Jumpmaster (JM), Ground Control Instructor (GCI), Skydive School Instructor (SSI), Skydive School Examiner (SSE), Exhibition Jump Rating (EJR), Parachute Rigger (RA).
    He is also a Tandem Instructor.
    Alain is a certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot (Transport Canada)

    Alain is a certified Paramotor Pilot (Transport Canada)

    Alain is a certified Paraglider Pilot (HPAC)
    You can find out more about Alain at his website: http://bard.ca

    By admin, in Gear,

    Do Skydivers Care About Safety

    Image by Russell M. Webb If I've learned one thing in my 35 years in the sport, it's that it is very difficult to get most skydivers interested in safety. Years ago, when it became obvious that my hand deploy pilot chute and 3-ring release made it possible to deploy a malfunction, and then breakaway from it, 500 feet faster than the existing internal pilot chutes and Capewell canopy releases allowed, a lot of jumpers simply started deploying their mains 500 feet lower. Utterly negating the increase in safety these systems offered.
    Even today, most jumpers think that because all gear has a TSO tag on it, one piece of gear is as safe as another. Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over safety every time. Here are just a few examples of what I mean, starting in the '60's, right up to the present day.
    The army found out that if you put 2 foot band of fine netting around the skirt of a round parachute, you eliminate the most common deployment malfunction, the partial inversion. The trick worked so well that airborne troop static line malfunctions went from 1 in 250 to 1 in 250,000. WOW! So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume.
    Believe it or not, there is a similar, thought not nearly as drastic, choice jumpers are making when they buy a square reserve today. Let me explain. The first square canopies came without sliders, so they had to be built tough. This meant, among other things, that there was tape running spanwise (from right to left) between the line attachment points. With the advent of the slider and softer opening canopies, some companies began leaving the spanwise reinforcing tapes out of their square reserves. Why? Because they cost less to build, and (you guessed it) they packed smaller. This proved to be a wise choice, (at least in the marketing department) because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume. While reserves without spandwise tapes are fine in most situations, as we have seen recently, they tend to fall apart when skydivers push the envelope. (ie. big people on tiny canopies, going head down at high altitudes.) Safety doesn't seem to be any larger a consideration than it was when they passed up anti-inversion netted round reserves in the '60's.
    Standard size (large) 3-ring release systems have never given a solo jumper any problem. They ALWAYS release easily and NEVER break. However, mini 3-rings look neater, so that's all people will buy. No matter all the reports of hard or impossible breakaways or broken risers. Don't get me wrong, Properly made, and maintained, mini 3-ring release systems will handle anything even the newest ZP canopy with microlines can dish out. Unfortunately, because they are now being pushed right to their design limit, they must be made EXACTLY right. And a lot of manufacturers either can't or won't. On the other hand, a large 3-ring system has so much mechanical advantage, that even a poorly made system will still work just fine. But then fashion is much more important than safety, isn't it?
    Spectra (or micro-line) is strong and tiny, so it reduces both pack volume and drag , which means you get a smaller rig and a faster canopy. Unfortunately, It has a couple of "design characteristics" (this is manufacturer talk for "problems") It is very slippery (less friction to slow the slider), and stretches less than stainless steel. This is why it hurt people and broke so many mini risers when it was first introduced. Now, I must say that the canopy manufacturers did a wonderful job handling these "characteristics" by designing new canopies that opened much slower than their predecessors. However, the fact still remains, that if you do have a rare fast opening on a microlined canopy, Spectra (or Vectran) will transmit that force to you (and your rig) much, much faster, resulting in an opening shock up to 300% higher than if you have Dacron lines. (It's sort of like doing a bungee jump with a stainless steel cable. At the bottom of your fall, your body applies the same force to the steel cable as it would to a rubber bungee cord, but because steel doesn't stretch, your legs tears off.)
    So why would I have a fast opening? Well for one thing, you, or your packer might forget to "uncollapse" your collapsible slider. BAM! Or perhaps you're zipping along head down at 160 mph with a rig that wasn't designed for it, and you experience an accidental container opening. BAM again. The point is this: If you want to push the envelope, and get all the enjoyment this sport has to offer, and do it "safely", you need to make careful choices in the gear you jump. If you weigh 200 lbs. and do a lot of head down, perhaps you really shouldn't be using a reserve without spanwise reinforcement, mini 3-rings, or a canopy with micro lines.
    No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed.
    ~ Bill Booth

    By admin, in Gear,

    Top 5 RSL myths

    I keep seeing the same arguments made against RSL's, over and over. Many of them are just myths, word-of-mouth anecdotal stories passed down for so long that their original meaning has gotten lost. I figured I would list them here:
    1. You should get stable before you open your reserve, and so you should disconnect your RSL.
    First off, you should _not_ be stable face-to-earth when you open your reserve. The Racer manual spells this out explicitly - you should be head-high if possible to ensure a cleaner reserve deployment. Fortunately, you are head high the instant you cut away from your main, and that is the point at which an RSL will open your reserve.
    Secondly, there are two universal truths in skydiving - you won't do it if you don't practice it, and you _will_ do what you trained to do. If you practice "cutting away and getting stable" you _will_ do that in the air, even if you someday cut away at 500 feet. If you do that, the only thing that will save your life will be your RSL.
    Finally, before you decide that it's a good idea to cut away and then get stable, I'd recommend you do an intentional cutaway from a rapidly spinning canopy and see how long it takes. (Hint - it does not take just a second or two.)
    2. You only need an RSL if you're going to forget to pull your reserve.
    Rick Horn, one of the three people in the US who trains all AFF-JM's, once needed his RSL due to rig distortion. He could not find his reserve handle. If you are more current at cutaways than a man who teaches them every month, and have more jumps than him (6000?) that might be a valid point, but I think few people are.
    3. If you cut away on the ground on a windy day and you have an RSL, your reserve will inflate.
    Simply not true. Try it next time you need a repack - go outside in the wind and pull your reserve handle. The PC will come out, the freebag may fall on the ground - and that's it. Unless you have decided to jump in a hurricane, even 25kts of wind (way more than most people will jump in) won't inflate a reserve.
    Of course, you can disconnect your RSL once under canopy to prevent the reserve from opening at all if you have to cut away on the ground. That's a convenience issue, not a safety one.
    4. You can practice cutting away on the ground, so how hard can it be?
    RSL's are not for normal cutaways. They are for madly spinning mals where you can barely see one of your handles. They are for mals while wearing a wingsuit, where you have fabric flying in your face and you can barely see. They are for cutaways at 600 feet when someone sets up a hook right into your canopy and destroys it. These are the situations where RSL's save lives.
    If you will never be in such a situation, great. But I have discovered that those situations find you, rather than the other way around.
    5. You have to "fall away" from your main to guarantee you won't entangle with it.
    Simply untrue. I've watched an awful lot of rig testing, and the physics just doesn't let that happen. Even in a malfunctioning canopy, the forces work to separate the main and the jumper/reserve.
    And if you postulate a bizarre scenario where the reserve PC can somehow entangle with the main? The reserve will simply open faster.
    All that being said, there are still reasons not to use an RSL. We disconnected all our tandem RSL's a while back because there had been some problems with broken risers, and that's a risk when you use a one-sided RSL. If you're doing something bizarre (like jumping a 46 sq ft canopy and opening at 5000 feet) an RSL will probably not help you much, and if you're doing intentional cutaways or CRW, it makes sense to simplify your gear and be able to fall away from something before you open your reserve. But for a lot of people it makes sense.
    Personally, I recommend everyone use one until they get to 200 jumps and/or have their first cutaway from a spinner. At that point they will have the experience to make a good judgement on their own.
    -bill von

    By admin, in Gear,

    GoPro Hero 3 - Firmware Update and Stability Issues

    After a hyped release and what looked on paper to be an outstanding action camera, the GoPro Hero 3 has come under all kinds of scrutiny since its release late last year. While there appears to be a large number of users who are happy with their purchase, there is also a fair sized pool of users who are not happy with their product.
    A page on the Gethypoxic website dedicated to listing each of the GoPro Hero 3's issues, as well as potential workarounds has seen comments from a vast amount of users who feel as though their purchase of the Hero 3 was a mistake, many of whom recommend that those with GoPro Hero 2s avoid the upgrade to the Hero 3, citing that the GoPro Hero 2 offers a more stable and in turn, better user experience. One user who claims to have more than 20 years of software experience, suggests that the Hero 3 was rushed out too quickly in order to meet seasonal demands. He goes on to cite the need for an 'out of the box' update requirement.
    The Issues
    One of the more noted problems with the GoPro Hero 3, is the lack of continuous exposure adjustment when using the 'Photo Every Second' mode, which takes a still photo every second. The Hero 3 Black will set the exposure when it is turned on and fail to then adjust to allow for still images to be properly exposed, should one move from a dark to a light environment. Instead the exposure is locked to the automatic exposure setting based on the lighting when the camera is first turned on. Of course this means that skydivers, who will be exiting into much lighter conditions, will almost always end up with washed out images. This renders the 'Photo Every Second' mode virtually useless to skydivers. One would have to start the camera once one had already exited, a less than desirable action to have to do.
    The GoPro Hero 3 has also been known to turn off at unexpected times, often during connection to a television display or when using the USB cable to download. The cause for these shutdowns are not known, but there is the assumption that it may be related to an overheating problem.
    There have been many accounts of cameras freezing or locking up during filming.
    Several other small and more isolated issues also exist with the GoPro Hero 3 range.
    A number of other issues were present at the time of the camera's release, though updates released by GoPro since then have managed to fix many of them. Is it all a bit late though?
    With the current action camera market seemingly exploding, steps such as releasing a camera before sufficient testing can prove dangerous. One thing that has to go to GoPro is that they are generally quite quick to release updates to fix certain issues. We are however surprised that the exposure issue, which proves to render an entire feature useless for a certain market - has not yet been fixed.
    Good News
    The good news for GoPro fans or those with the Hero 3 that are still encountering the exposure lock issue, is that GoPro have responded to the bug, which as it turns out - isn't a bug at all.
    A forum user posted the following response from GoPro regarding this issue:
    "Sorry about the problems with exposure locking in the two shortest time lapse intervals. Would you believe that was intended as a feature and it's not a bug? My understanding is that some folks in the skydiving community asked for it, but since then we've heard lots of complaints from other skydivers, so we've asked the engineering folks to make it an option you can turn on or off.
    For now be aware that in the two shortest time lapse modes, 0.5 and 1.0 seconds, the exposure will latch on to the values encountered at the first frame. For time lapse intervals of 2.0 seconds and longer each frame will be imaged using auto exposure.

    Remember that if auto-exposure results in flickering you can improve and smooth out the assembled video by invoking the De-flicker filter from the Advanced Settings menu of our free Cineform Studio software.
    Keep an eye on the forums and check in to the firmware update page every few weeks for when the update hits.

    Thank you so much for your feedback."
    GOPRO HERO 3 Black Firmware revision 02.37
    While the above quote seemed to suggest that there would be a fix for the exposure lock in the latest firmware upgrade, it seems that the new GoPro Hero 3 Black upgrade did not contain a fix to the problem. Rumours are now that the adjustment of the exposure lock issue will happen with the next update. The fact that GoPro are aware of this issue and seemingly aiming to solve it, it is a fair assumption that it won't be long before they release a new upgrade that will take care of this. As for now though, there's a lot of frustrated skydivers who were hoping that this new update would solve some of their problems.
    While GoPro do not have the changelog available on their site yet for the new firmware update, the following changelog has been published elsewhere.
    HERO3: Black Edition
    Current firmware version: HD3.03.02.37

    Wi-Fi version: 3.4.2.9

    Release date: 04/03/2012
    Feature Enhancements:

    FW version # is now visible on upon startup.

    Narrow FOV 1080p30/1080p60 (Protune)

    Narrow FOV 720p60 (Protune)

    Medium FOV 720p60 (Protune)

    Default start-up mode is now 960p48
    At this point it seems to be a wait and see scenario with regards to the fixing of many of the Hero 3's bugs, but we have no doubts that GoPro are working hard to solve these issues and that sooner rather than later, we'll see these issues being addressed in coming updates.
    Do you own a GoPro Hero 3? Comment below and share your experience with using this camera.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Digital or Analog Altimeter

    Altimaster Galaxy We all know there are some hot debates in our sport: RSL or no RSL, AAD dependency, and exit separation are well-known dead horses. Another topic certainly worthy of discussion is the choice between analog and digital altimeter displays. Asking that question will yield a variety of opinions (no surprise there) and will likely be inconclusive.
    First, a clarification: this discussion revolves around the altimeter display, not the underlying hardware. Altimeters with mechanical internal aneroid capsules have analog displays; those with electronic pressure sensors can have either a digital or analog display. Now that we have cleared that up...
    Analog dial faces of all types commonly have numerical graduations and colored segments to indicate the status of what is being measured. Alti-2’s Altimaster Galaxy, for example, is first graduated in thousand foot increments starting at the 12 o’clock position (zero). There are yellow and red caution zones placed at commonly used altitudes to provide a visual warning at a glance. Digital displays, like Alti-2’s N3, provide a numerical altitude reference. N3 provides a three-digit decimal altitude in free fall and four digits under canopy. So – which is better? It really boils down to three things: familiarity, specific application, and personal preference.
    Many skydivers stick to what they learned to use as students. Later in their skydiving career they may choose to “re-train” that familiarity and transition to a digital display. I did so myself when Neptune hit the market nearly ten years ago and have been a huge digital display fan since then.
    Application brings a different frame of reference entirely. Let’s take a look at two commonly used analog dials, starting with the temperature gauge in your automobile. My dear old Dad taught me to look at my gauges periodically like a pilot does cross-checks. A quick glance at the temperature gauge should show the pointer dwelling just slightly left of center, or about 40% of its travel. I have no earthly idea what specific numerical data that conveys – I glance at the gauge, my brain processes the placement of the needle based upon my training, and I know that I am good to go! Now consider the gauge on a fire extinguisher which contains a small green segment and a large red segment. A quick glance reveals the pointer dwelling in the green or the red – good or no good. In both of these cases, an analog display is preferable to the way I do business.


    Altimaster N3
    What about skydiving? From day one we are asked to apply specific action to specific performance altitudes. As an AFF Student, we may be taught to recognize 5,500 feet on our altimeter to trigger a critical action: wave off and pull. It can be argued that the direct conveyance of that numerical data from a digital display eliminates the need for the brain to convert the pointer’s indication on an analog dial face into numbers for an action to be triggered. If an AFF Student recognizes 5,500 feet on his digital display, it directly sends him into action.
    Then there is personal preference. Electronic altimeters with a digital display often have other features like logbooks, timers, and the like that take more time to learn. Some skydivers just love the simplicity of turning a knob to zero the pointer and off they go.
    Mechanical/analog altimeters are usually more economical for skydivers on a budget. Electronic devices require power from replaceable or rechargeable batteries; mechanical devices do not. There are several other advantages and disadvantages regarding the mechanism which can also drive personal preference. Factor in accuracy, calibration requirements, form factor, mounting options, ability to read altitude in low-light or darkness, waterproofing, convertibility between visual and audible, and others – the decision becomes more complicated.
    So, if you are in the market for an altimeter, or are thinking about switching from analog to digital, I suggest you try them both. Put your trusty Altimaster II in your helmet bag and borrow an N3 from a friend or even your local gear store. Make a few jumps reading digitally conveyed numerical altitude and see what you think! In the meantime, I will be thinking about what advances in technology might be on the event horizon.
    Arrive safely,

    slotperfect
    John Hawke (slotperfect) is General Manager of Alti-2, Inc. in DeLand, Florida, USA

    By admin, in Gear,

    GoPro Hero 4 - Release Date and Specs Revealed

    GoPro have announced the specs and release date for the highly anticipated Hero 4 action camera, which will come in three models. The new series of GoPros are scheduled for release around the middle of October this year, and will feature the standard GoPro Hero 4, a GoPro Hero 4 Silver and then the top of the range GoPro Hero 4 Black.
    New Key Features
    Some of the highlights with regards to the specifications of the new GoPro range is the addition of 30fps recording at 4k resolution that is found with the Black Edition, which sees a big step up from the previous models 4k video recording, which only allowed for 15fps recording at 4k. The increase in frames from the Hero 3 will mean that users will find more versatility with their high resolution video recording.
    Another exciting new addition is that of a touch screen on the Silver edition. While GoPro has always been a reliable camera with regards to build and video quality, one aspect that many have found lacking has been the usability of the camera menus, which are handled with the on camera buttons and a small display. Now GoPro have gone and added what is likely to be a very welcomed addition in that it has introduced for the first time in the GoPro series, a touch screen which will no doubt allow for easier navigation of the menus, as well enabling the ability to preview your images (worth noting that the Hero 4 claims to have a new interface for quicker menu navigation too). It is however unusual that the touch screen feature is only available on the Silver edition and not on that of the more expensive Black edition, nor the entry level version of the Hero 4. The most likely reason for the inclusion in the Silver edition is that GoPro is marketing the new series towards three general groups of people, and the mid-range target market is more likely to desire the touch screen, without having to purchase the LCD "BacPac" accessory, which sells for another $80. Though of course it is still possible for one to use their smartphone as a remote for the camera.
    As customary with a new GoPro release, the company has focused on increasing the general image quality achieved and further enhancements have been made on ensuring better quality in low-light.
    GoPro Hero 4 Black
    The GoPro Hero 4 Black, is as mentioned above, the top of the range for the Hero 4 series and thus the most powerful of the lineup. A new processor is claimed to be twice as fast as that found in it's predecessor. The Hero 4 Black will not only have video performance enhancements, but also step up the game with far superior audio recording. There are three modes of shooting with regards to field-of-view: Narrow, Medium or Ultra Wide.
    There will be the ability to manually adjust settings like ISO limit, exposure and colour for both video and photos. The camera will include built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
    Waterproofing down to 40 meters will be standard.
    GoPro are seemingly targeting the Hero 4 Black to those looking for the absolute best quality and features available in an action camera, specifically professional use and dedicated adventure sports enthusiasts who are looking to create high quality video footage using the camera.
    The Hero 4 Black will cost $500 on release.

    GoPro Hero 4 Silver
    The GoPro Hero 4 Silver seems to be targeted to your average action cam user, from the weekend surfer to the seasoned hiker, or even tourist. The touch screen that is included on this model will make it easier to navigate and preview what you've taken. This is especially useful for those who want to use the photographic functions and treat it as both a still camera and video camera. The image sensor on the Silver, like the Black - allows for 12 megapixel images at 30fps.
    This model is still more than adequate to provide quality video footage and also offers 4k resolution video recording, but only at a maximum of 15fps.
    With functionality such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Waterproofing being the same as that of the Black, one can see why there is only a $100 price difference between the two. The Silver will sell at around the $400 dollar mark.
    GoPro Hero 4
    The Hero 4, is the entry model for the series and comes in at an extremely affordable $130. It records in full 1080p resolution at 30fps or 720p at 60fps. The sensor of the camera allows for 5 megapixel images, offering 5fps bursts.
    The market for this entry level camera would be those looking to enjoy the benefits of an HD recording camera, while not having to fork out more than they need to. The use of action cameras in every day life has become exceedingly common and this camera will offer more than enough for a large portion of GoPro users.
    This camera could also work for those who are perhaps wanting to try something brave with their camera to get a certain shot, but do not want to risk the potential damages to a higher priced model.
    We haven't seen much video footage yet, so it is difficult to put these models side by side to see exactly what one can expect from each one, and the difference in quality between models - but it will no doubt only be a matter of time before we see what this latest range is capable of.

    By admin, in Gear,

    How To Select A Parachute Container System

    The harness/container assembly is your safety system. Any canopy, round or square, can be plugged into the main or reserve container/attachment, and be persuaded to open. The container system controls the deployment of those canopies. The harness secures you to those canopies. There have been a lot of dissertations on parachute canopies (how to select, fly, repair, etc…). Little has been published about the harness and container system, because, while seemingly simple, they are infinitely complex. The sheer number of the different emergency scenarios while skydiving is astronomical (i.e., low speed, high speed, total, partial, two canopies out, and so on). Your harness and container system must answer these challenges; it must answer them by prioritizing procedures in the order of the frequency of occurrence. Your job is to understand those options and make an intelligent selection. The purpose of this document is to help you understand the individual features you should consider while making this decision.
    TSO
    The TSO is the minimum safety & testing requirement. TSO standards have changed over the years; so the present day TSO may be measuring one quality adequately but not another. There is a difference between a Performance Standard and a Structural Standard. A test to a “Performance Standard” is fine for a functional test. However, testing structural integrity is another matter. During a “Performance Standard” structural test, it is assumed that the canopy opens normally. In the real world canopies don’t always open normally. As we know there are frequent aberrant openings, usually dubbed “line strip” or “line dump” openings. This type of opening has, in fact, occurred during drop testing by some manufacturers. The results have been catastrophic. Some of the manufacturers who have experienced this have built their products to withstand these aberrant openings. Some have not. Some have modified their products after the original testing with no consideration for the reduction of structural integrity. How can consumers protect themselves? Ask the manufacturer about the strength of their webbing and hardware. Ask them to what load the harness has been proved. Then ask their competitor to confirm this claim. Ask them if the harness is “fail safe”. That is, which location/joint will fail first and what will happen to the wearer if and when it does fail. The wearer should not come out of the harness.
    The Ultimate Test
    Time in the field = Proof of performance. It takes a minimum five years to “prove out” a new feature of a rig.
    Containers

    Container Flexibility
    There are two choices for container comfort and fit. One is a soft flowing container which flexes and bends and is easy to pack. The down side of this choice, is that this type of container may “catch air”, and create excess drag. The other choice is a hard packed, molded container that is small enough to be completely out of the air flow, and will allow full body movement. This type of container must be shaped by design. Before you put it on look at it -- it should have a shape waiting to clamp onto your back. Modern design contour fit!
    Container Fabric
    There are several fabric types used in the manufacture of sport containers of today. They are generally divided into two categories: Parapac and Cordura. Certainly there is a sub difference of the base types. That sub division is usually defined by denier. military containers used a 420 denier Mil-Spec C-7219 Parapac. This fabric is specifically designed for use in parachute containers. There are deniers less than 420 available and they should be avoided except for decorative purposes. Cordura has proven to be a popular and durable fabric for use in containers in spite of it’s excess weight. Theoretically, Cordura is more ultraviolet resistant because the coarseness of the material casts a larger shadow protecting it from ultra-violet deterioration.
    Reserve Container Design
    There are two basic reserve container designs in common use today. They are internal pilot chute and external pilot chute. On the internal design multiple side flaps are cantilevered over the pilot chute to a locking loop through a grommet which is secured with a ripcord pin. The external system has the pilot chute sitting on the outside of the flaps with loops passing down through the flaps between the folds of the canopy to the back side of the container where they are retained with the loops through a grommet by a ripcord pin through the loop.
    Main Container Design
    Which flap closes first and which flap closes last? On some containers this is critical. Buy a container where it either doesn’t matter or where they can’t be assembled incorrectly.
    Available Sizes
    With the availability of over two hundred main canopies alone, container sizing has become an enormous challenge for container manufacturers. Generally, most mains are bigger than the reserve by a small percentage. The sizes of the canopies and the ratio between them should be close(See How To Select The Right Canopy For You). However there are times when you might need to vary from this practice, such as for an accuracy rig. The containers you buy should be sized for the canopy that will go into them. Over-stuffing and under-stuffing can cause problems i.e. cause the container to wear out more quickly by overstressing stitch areas and grommets, in the case of over-stuffing; premature openings, caused by pins falling out of loosely loaded loops, in the case of under-stuffed rigs. Be advised that similarly sized (square) main and reserve canopies seem to fly in unison better if you happen to have both open at the same time. This is a highly debated topic in recent years, with the world-wide move to square reserves and more frequent use of AAD’s.
    Main Deployment Choices

    Ripcord
    In the beginning there were ripcords and spring loaded pilot chutes for deploying our mains from our backs, and reserves from our chests. This system worked by packing a conical spring loaded pilot chute, in compressed form, inside the main container, on top of the canopy and it’s devices. The container was held closed with a cone and grommet/pin system with the release pin on a cable leading to the release or ripcord handle. Pulling on that handle pulled the pin from a hole in the cone allowing the grommet to slip off of the cone, thus releasing the container flaps and allowed the spring to expand and spring out of the pack, hopefully. There were other variations on this theme, such as umbrella type springs, a even a springless pilot chute which was a hat (yes, a real hat!). To deploy, you removed your hat and flung it into the air; which brings us to the next generation in main deployment.
    Hand Deploy / Throw-Out
    While the hat trick was a little difficult, a pouch, external to the container, was devised. With the handle for the pilot chute mounted on the top or apex of the canopy, the springless pilot chute was folded into this container and the bridle to the container was Velcro’ed to the rig along its path to the pin on the container. The pin is curved to allow angular loading. Pulling the pilot chute out of the pouch with the handle on the top, and tossing the canopy into the free stream is all that is required to deploy the main. Pouches for this system have been mounted in several places, from the front of the leg strap, to the back of the leg strap, to the bottom of the main container.
    Pull-Out
    The pull-out retains the sequence of the ripcord system and provides the added safety of keeping the springless pilot chute in the same container as the main canopy. It is equipped with a handle, mounted on the back, lower outside corner of the main container. Pulling that handle extracts the straight ripcord pin allowing the container to open, and the internally stored springless pilot chute to be put into the free stream. The handle on this system is mounted on the base of the pilot chute.
    AAD On Main?
    Generally in this sport, AAD’s are mounted on the reserve container. Some skydivers, and the entire "East Block", have however, elected to put their AAD’s on the main. It was explained to me this way. "I want my AAD on my main because my greatest fear is to be knocked unconscious in freefall. I would prefer to wake up under a malfunctioned main than I would under a malfunctioned reserve."(Al Kruger a.k.a. "Captain Hook"). Of course, having an AAD on the main would require a spring loaded pilot chute.
    Reserve Deployment
    Reserves must deploy in two different environments. Slow speed, after a cutaway, and high speed, in the event of a totaled main. According to TSO C23c, slow speed deployments are required to complete within 3 seconds after a cutaway. The test allows no more than 2 seconds of free fall after the cutaway before pack opening. If an RSL is used, the benefit of the speed acquired by the 2 second free fall is lost and the reserve must still deploy in 3 seconds. Trying to control the “not more than 2 seconds” rule is difficult, and is allowed only because, without an RSL, there must be some delay. The intent is for immediate deployment. Manufacturers have played games with this specification. Some have interpreted it by saying, “if it opens in five seconds after cutaway it’s OK”. NOT TRUE! The only test that can be trusted is the test where an RSL is used. This is a critical feature, as there are many combinations of canopies and containers in use today which do not meet this requirement. Your only protection is to see a video of the tests. DON’T BUY a system without seeing a video of its reserve deployment abilities. Take a stop watch with you when you view this video and time the deployment. Time it from pack opening to full canopy. Make sure that there is no more than 2 seconds from the cutaway to the time when the pack is opened. If your time on the deployment is more than 3 seconds don’t buy it.
    The high speed requirement is not difficult to meet, but some do fail this parameter. It is generally accepted that a reserve should open in 350 feet, at terminal. That equates to about 2 seconds at 174 ft./second. The testing is done by throwing the dummy out at 500 feet, at speed. The test is not timed and is not difficult to meet.
    Riser Covers (Main):
    There are two choices for main riser covers. Open or trough type covers, and Velcro sealed closed covers. If you skydive on your chest all the time, then you might like the open or trough type. If you skydive in other configurations you will prefer the sealed type, as they don’t open when you are on your back. Recent improvements to the trough type include an "over riser" inside flap.
    Harnesses

    Harness Strength
    Webbing
    There are several types of webbing used in the manufacture of personnel delivery harnesses. To understand the choices requires a little history lesson. Originally, harnesses were made of cotton webbing. During this era hardware was designed for use with the cotton webbing. We use the very same hardware today. When nylon was invented, it became apparent that nylon was infinitely better than cotton for use in most applications, especially personnel harnesses. Rather than retool the hardware, the nylon was then configured to be compatible with the hardware. The resultant product was 7000 lb. tensile, Type 13 harness webbing, identified by a black edge trace. At the same time Type 8 (Black Center Line, 4000 lb. tensile), and Type 6 (Red Center Line, 2500lb Tensile) were designed to be used with the Type 13 in a supplemental roll, where involvement with hardware and exposure to environmental hazards were not a concern. Additionally, Type 7 (Yellow edge trace, 6000 lb. tensile) was introduced at that time for use in cargo delivery, where no interaction with personnel hardware would occur. Some sport manufacturers have adapted this weaker webbing (Type 7) for use in sport harnesses. While strength has been a minor issue with this application, it does slip in the hardware and won’t hold proper adjustment.
    Hardware
    Friction Adapters are the only hold over from the cotton webbing days. Most harnesses don’t use any other hardware, as additional hardware adds weight and creates a weak spot in the harness. Additionally, hardware can cause bruising of the wearers body. On harnesses where other hardware is used, for articulation for example, the consumer should know the ultimate strength of the hardware and its associated joint. A minimum of 4500 pounds, with a “fail safe” configuration is required for safety along the main lift web.
    Harness Comfort
    Sizing and fitting a harness is like sizing and fitting a suit of clothes. There are several benchmarks or “hard points” that must be held as the harness size changes. One is the point of suspension; it occurs at the top of the pectoral muscle in the hollow of your shoulder. Many rigs allow this point to rotate up to the top of the shoulder. This is incorrect and you will know it when you look under the shoulder portion of the harness and while the chest strap is keeping your mouth closed. If your harness suspends you correctly you will feel like you are sitting in a chair. This might require sliding your leg straps down under your thighs after opening. The other benchmark is the top of container. The harness must encircle your body while holding these two points. You should make sure that the harness you buy is custom made for you and that the manufacturer sizes your harness in both the main lift web and over-the-shoulder dimension. The harness must be comfortable in three different environments: in the air (in freefall), under canopy, and lastly on the ground. In the air we are usually on our bellies; under canopy, sitting in a chair; and on the ground, walking. The flex of webbing accomplishes this job just fine if the harness is configured properly.
    Harness Materials
    Harness materials should meet mil-spec., but that is not enough. The material must be used as design intended. The webbing should be “shuttle weave”(the weave of both edges look the same) as opposed to “needle weave”(the weave of both edges look different). A “shuttle weave” is a locking weave, that will not unravel if the edge is nicked or broken. Refer to The Parachute Manual, pg. 80 - , sections 4.060 through 4.062.
    Comfort Pads
    There are two kinds of foam used in comfort pads -- closed cell and open cell. Most manufacturers use open cell foam that they buy at the carpet store. Buy a rig that uses closed cell athletic padding that will float and not absorb water.
    Riser Releases
    The riser release system in common use today is the “3-Ring”, it is the de facto standard. There are several variations of this design in use. Due to some recent incidents where cutaways have been from difficult to impossible, I would anticipate additional variations or improvements. The 3-ring is a single point riser release system designed around three rings of decreasing diameter. Each is able to nest inside the larger with clearance for mounting webbing. They are secured and released with a locking loop, through a grommet, into a “push/pull” cable system that releases both sides. The housing pushes, while the cable pulls from the locking loop, which when released, allows the ring/levers to “tumble” open. There are two sizes available. The mini, which is capable of approximately 3600 lb. load and has about a 60 to 1 mechanical advantage, and the large or standard, which has more than a 200 to 1 mechanical advantage. The mini is generally accepted as adequate for normal solo sport jumping. The large is used for tandem, military and situations where high loading is anticipated. (See “The 3 Ring, What It Is And How It Works”)
    Option Availability
    You should look for a rig manufacturer who can provide you with the options your skydiving requires. Be reasonable, there are some options which might be dangerous. Find a designer with whom you can talk it over.
    Pilot Chutes
    Pilot chutes have become an included component in Harness and Containers, therefore they should be discussed.

    Main
    Main pilot chutes were generally discussed in the “Main Deployment” section. They do have some additional features mentionable here. There is large hole mesh and small hole mesh and there are two types of canopy fabric in common use, Zero-P and F-111. The zero-p is a silicone coated F-111, and as such, has a lower permeability, both initially and in the long run. The initial difference is minor, and for all practical purposes doesn’t exist. However, if you consider the following you can make your own decisions about the fabric and the mesh. A colander or sieve is held under a slow running stream of water. The water passes through the sieve as fast as it enters. Increase the water flow and the sieve will fill up and the water will spill over the edges. This is equivalent to what happens with porous fabric being drug through the air.
    Reserve
    There are two important aspects of the reserve pilot chute. As it is usually spring loaded, the “jump” or launch of the spring is important. Additionally the drag capability must be considered. While you can judge the jump with your eye (remember to judge it coming out or off of the container) the drag capability is more evasive. You could drag them through the air with a fish scale but your airspeed might vary from jump to jump. The only way to accurately determine the coefficient of drag, is in a wind tunnel test. Poynter reports on tests of several kinds which might be enlightening and help to establish a mental base line. You must ask the manufacturers and judge their answer. If they can’t supply a “Coefficient of Drag” number beware!
    Auxiliary Systems

    RSL
    Read our What you should Know About RSL’s article.
    AAD
    Will the rig of your choice accept the AAD of your choice? Has the rig maker approved the AAD makers installation? Has the AAD maker approved the rig makers instructions? The important thing to remember whenever you consider an AAD, is that the container, not the AAD, is the primary life saving device. The AAD must not interfere with the proper function of the TSO’d container and its TSO’d reserve.
    John Sherman

    April, 1996

    © The Jump Shack
    Reprinted with permission

    By admin, in Gear,

    Understanding your AAD

    With all the recent issues that have been brought up by the Argus AAD ban by multiple container manufacturers, I wanted to make sure that everyone knows that while most modern AAD’s have a similar design, based on that of the CYPRES1 which was introduced in the early 90’s, they all have very unique differences, and these differences can cause major issues if you are unaware of them. Also, this is a good time to remind people about best practices to use if you have an AAD in your rig.
    Because of safety concerns right now it looks like most container manufacturers have
    at least temporarily prohibited the ARGUS in their containers, so this article predominantly relates to the CYPRES and the VIGIL. If the ARGUS is approved again for most containers, updated information will then be made available. Although not widely seen, there are also the FXC Astra (electronic with cutter), and the FXC-12000, an older bulky mechanical pin-pulling device. Introduced at the recent PIA Symposium, the MARS M2 from the Czech Republic and being imported by Alti-2, is another newcomer to the AAD market, which may be available sometime this year once the container manufacturers approve it for use.
    All the modern electronic AAD’s currently on the market in their “Expert mode” work by activating a cutter that severs the reserve closing loop when the user is falling at or greater than a given speed (typically around 78 MPH or faster) and at or lower than a given altitude (typically around 750 feet). This cut closing loop should then allow the reserve to begin its opening sequence. This is all the AAD will do (cut the loop). If the reserve has been correctly packed, the cutting of the loop should initiate the reserve opening sequence, and hopefully a reserve canopy will open between 200-500 feet AGL (barring a pilot chute hesitation, etc).
    KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENTAs always, consult the user manual for your specific make/model, and discuss any of your AAD questions with a qualified rigger. We are lucky to have SSK Industries, Inc., the US service center for CYPRES units located in Lebanon, Ohio, so please feel free to contact SSK for any CYPRES questions also.
    The first major difference between AAD’s is “active” mode. This is the altitude above the ground that the AAD would allow itself to activate if the conditions were met for an activation. The CYPRES\CYPRES2 arms at 1500 feet AGL. The VIGIL\VIGIL2 will move to active mode at 150 feet AGL. Both of these have different rationale behind their decisions. While a CYPRES will not active if the airplane only gets to 900 feet and you have to do an emergency exit, a VIGIL moves into active mode at a lower altitude and this has caused issues when the door of the airplane accidentally opened which caused a pressure difference that triggered activation. Counterpoint to this for the VIGIL is if you exit at 1200 feet and hit your head on the tail the unit is already in active mode and is able to potentially fire to start the reserve activation sequence. (Note that CYPRES is armed if you climb to arming altitude, then descend lower prior to exit.) The CYPRES also disarms when it goes below ~ 130 ft. AGL. The VIGIL will also disarm at ~130 feet on the way down
    A second major difference is in the shutdown timing. A CYPRES until has a hard shutdown at 14 hours after the startup sequence. This means even if you are on the airplane climbing to altitude or in freefall when that time is reached the unit will shut down. In this method of shutdown timing you must do a manual shutdown and restart of the unit if you are approaching the 14 hours since startup to ensure that the unit will remain active for any skydives that you are intending on doing. The VIGIL checks to see if it is at its “Ground Zero” altitude and if you are 150 feet or higher or lower than that altitude via pressure readings then the unit will remain on until you reach “Ground Zero” altitude again. This can cause an issue if you take your rig home and you live more than 150 feet above or below the field elevation at the airport since the VIGIL might remain on for days or weeks. Specifically this can cause issues if you are frequently traveling and leave the DZ at the end of the day and travel to a different DZ the next day since the unit might still be on and is using the altitude of the other airport as its “Zero” point. This could cause the unit to fire much higher or lower than expected. As a reference point Middletown Hook Field, the home of Start Skydiving is at 650’ MSL, Columbus (CMH) is at 815’ MSL, Indianapolis (IND) is 797’ MSL and Covington (CVG) is 896’ MSL. All of these areas may be at a large enough altitude difference that you may need to manually turn your VIGIL off when you leave the dropzone to keep it turned on until it is returned to Start Skydiving. Leaving the VIGIL on for extended time periods can lead to the battery going dead prior to the expected life of the unit or the unit failing to realize the difference in “Zero” altitude if you travel to another dropzone.
    A third difference is the way that the altitude reference offset data is stored in the units.. If you are doing an offsite demo jump, or jump at a DZ with an airfield with an elevation different from the landing area, there exists an option that, if you know you are going to be landing at a location that is hundreds of feet higher or lower then where you are taking off from, allows you to adjust the AAD so it knows about that difference, so it still will activate at ~750 feet above the ground at the intended landing location. Because of the CYPRES automatic weather correction feature, it will re-zero itself on the way back to the take-off location, so it is necessary to switch it off and reset the DZ altitude reference prior to each jump at the remote airfield. At the end of the self-test procedure, CYPRES-2 displays the previously set altitude offset so that it can be easily selected again. The CYPRES(1) unit does not have a memory of a programmed offset and will forget the difference each time the CYPRES is turned off. CYPRES automatically tracks weather changes throughout the day, and if the airfield and landing site are nearby and at the same elevation there is no need to reset it every time you need to re-zero your altimeter. If you travel by car back to the DZ, or walk back from a different elevation after landing with your CYPRES, it is recommended to reset it (switch off/on). As the VIGIL does not automatically track weather changes in the same way, it will retain the offset information in its memory until you go back into the menu and change it back to zero even if the unit is shut down or it reaches its 14 hour point and shuts off. The upside is if you are frequently jumping at a location that involves needing to input an offset the offset is saved for you. The downside to this is if you program in an offset and forget to reset it you could have the unit activating incorrectly since it thinks it still needs the offset. The VIGIL also recommends resetting the unit if you travel with it in a car or walk back from a different elevation.
    Yet another difference is the “Function” of the AAD. CYPRES units come in four versions that are easy to tell the difference of at a glance. CYPRES Expert units have a Red button, Speed units have a Red button that has SPEED printed on it. Student units have a Yellow button and a Tandem unit has a Blue button. Each of these models has unique activation parameters so refer to the user manual for specific information. A CYPRES-2 unit can be reprogrammed by SSK or the factory to change its functionality and it’s done at no charge. The VIGIL is a multifunction device that allows for the user to change it from “Expert” to “Student” or even “Tandem” in the startup sequence.) You do need to make sure the unit is in the right mode to get the correct activation parameters loaded. You can tell the mode the VIGIL is in by looking at the display once the unit is turned on and it will tell the currently active mode. Tandem Instructors especially need to ensure if the rig they are about to jump has a VIGIL installed that it is in the right mode since having the unit activate at the EXPERT or STUDENT parameters may not ensure the canopies will open in time to save your life.
    There are additional differences so please read your User Manual to really understand all the details of your AAD. While we try to use the “Set it and Forget it!” attitude towards AADs, they are somewhat complicated devices that you need to understand the details of, so that you can properly use the unit if it is installed in your container.
    Modern AAD’s since they were introduced with the CYPRES1 in 1991 have saved hundreds of lives. They have also caused issues and even fatalities when inducing two canopy out situations at times where jumpers have opened their main canopies very low or other complications. AAD’s have a very high success rate when needed but they are not 100% flawless either. Just by having an AAD installed does not mean that you are now perfectly safe. Many jumpers inform their friends and families that “I have this little device that will pull for me if I don’t” as a way of reassuring them around the dangers of skydiving. While it is true that having an AAD does increase your safety factor it is not to be relied on and the true risk involved in skydiving does need to be considered.
    Reminder of Best Practices for use of your AAD no matter which brand you use:
    1) Only turn your AAD on at the takeoff site, do not turn it on at home then drive to the DZ since it will think your home is “Zero Altitude” and may fire higher or lower than expected because of this.
    2) If a “multimode” device, ensure the unit is in the correct “Mode” for the skydive you are about to do.
    3) Notice any errors during the start up or during operations during the day and alert your rigger before completing another jump on the unit.
    4) Be aware of the shutdown timing on the AAD and if needed turn it off before you leave at the end of the day. Also be prepared to reset the unit if you will be doing more than 14 hours of jumping (Night jumps especially are of note on this)
    5) Only configure offset information into the unit if you are truly jumping at an altitude different than you are taking off from. Also be sure you know whether the unit retains the offset information or not.
    CYPRES2 User Manual:
    http://www.cypres-usa.com/userguide/CYPRES_2_users_guide_english.pdf
    or
    http://www.cypres.cc/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid;=89&func;=download&id;=182&chk;=5ca53a980b98700d976eb51f9e1fc9c3&no;_html=1〈=enVIGIL User Manual: http://www.vigil.aero/files/images/ENGELS___DP_JUN_2010.pdf

    VIGIL SB on this topic: http://www.vigil.aero/files/images/Information_Bulletin___Airborne_Status_.pdfWith all the recent issues that have been brought up by the Argus AAD ban by multiple container manufacturers, I wanted to make sure that everyone knows that while most modern AAD’s have a similar design, based on that of the CYPRES1 which was introduced in the early 90’s, they all have very unique differences, and these differences can cause major issues if you are unaware of them. Also, this is a good time to remind people about best practices to use if you have an AAD in your rig.
    Because of safety concerns right now it looks like most container manufacturers have
    at least temporarily prohibited the ARGUS in their containers, so this article predominantly relates to the CYPRES and the VIGIL. If the ARGUS is approved again for most containers, updated information will then be made available. Although not widely seen, there are also the FXC Astra (electronic with cutter), and the FXC-12000, an older bulky mechanical pin-pulling device. Introduced at the recent PIA Symposium, the MARS M2 from the Czech Republic and being imported by Alti-2, is another newcomer to the AAD market, which may be available sometime this year once the container manufacturers approve it for use.
    All the modern electronic AAD’s currently on the market in their “Expert mode” work by activating a cutter that severs the reserve closing loop when the user is falling at or greater than a given speed (typically around 78 MPH or faster) and at or lower than a given altitude (typically around 750 feet). This cut closing loop should then allow the reserve to begin its opening sequence. This is all the AAD will do (cut the loop). If the reserve has been correctly packed, the cutting of the loop should initiate the reserve opening sequence, and hopefully a reserve canopy will open between 200-500 feet AGL (barring a pilot chute hesitation, etc).
    KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENTAs always, consult the user manual for your specific make/model, and discuss any of your AAD questions with a qualified rigger. We are lucky to have SSK Industries, Inc., the US service center for CYPRES units located in Lebanon, Ohio, so please feel free to contact SSK for any CYPRES questions also.
    The first major difference between AAD’s is “active” mode. This is the altitude above the ground that the AAD would allow itself to activate if the conditions were met for an activation. The CYPRES\CYPRES2 arms at 1500 feet AGL. The VIGIL\VIGIL2 will move to active mode at 150 feet AGL. Both of these have different rationale behind their decisions. While a CYPRES will not active if the airplane only gets to 900 feet and you have to do an emergency exit, a VIGIL moves into active mode at a lower altitude and this has caused issues when the door of the airplane accidentally opened which caused a pressure difference that triggered activation. Counterpoint to this for the VIGIL is if you exit at 1200 feet and hit your head on the tail the unit is already in active mode and is able to potentially fire to start the reserve activation sequence. (Note that CYPRES is armed if you climb to arming altitude, then descend lower prior to exit.) The CYPRES also disarms when it goes below ~ 130 ft. AGL. The VIGIL will also disarm at ~130 feet on the way down
    A second major difference is in the shutdown timing. A CYPRES until has a hard shutdown at 14 hours after the startup sequence. This means even if you are on the airplane climbing to altitude or in freefall when that time is reached the unit will shut down. In this method of shutdown timing you must do a manual shutdown and restart of the unit if you are approaching the 14 hours since startup to ensure that the unit will remain active for any skydives that you are intending on doing. The VIGIL checks to see if it is at its “Ground Zero” altitude and if you are 150 feet or higher or lower than that altitude via pressure readings then the unit will remain on until you reach “Ground Zero” altitude again. This can cause an issue if you take your rig home and you live more than 150 feet above or below the field elevation at the airport since the VIGIL might remain on for days or weeks. Specifically this can cause issues if you are frequently traveling and leave the DZ at the end of the day and travel to a different DZ the next day since the unit might still be on and is using the altitude of the other airport as its “Zero” point. This could cause the unit to fire much higher or lower than expected. As a reference point Middletown Hook Field, the home of Start Skydiving is at 650’ MSL, Columbus (CMH) is at 815’ MSL, Indianapolis (IND) is 797’ MSL and Covington (CVG) is 896’ MSL. All of these areas may be at a large enough altitude difference that you may need to manually turn your VIGIL off when you leave the dropzone to keep it turned on until it is returned to Start Skydiving. Leaving the VIGIL on for extended time periods can lead to the battery going dead prior to the expected life of the unit or the unit failing to realize the difference in “Zero” altitude if you travel to another dropzone.
    A third difference is the way that the altitude reference offset data is stored in the units.. If you are doing an offsite demo jump, or jump at a DZ with an airfield with an elevation different from the landing area, there exists an option that, if you know you are going to be landing at a location that is hundreds of feet higher or lower then where you are taking off from, allows you to adjust the AAD so it knows about that difference, so it still will activate at ~750 feet above the ground at the intended landing location. Because of the CYPRES automatic weather correction feature, it will re-zero itself on the way back to the take-off location, so it is necessary to switch it off and reset the DZ altitude reference prior to each jump at the remote airfield. At the end of the self-test procedure, CYPRES-2 displays the previously set altitude offset so that it can be easily selected again. The CYPRES(1) unit does not have a memory of a programmed offset and will forget the difference each time the CYPRES is turned off. CYPRES automatically tracks weather changes throughout the day, and if the airfield and landing site are nearby and at the same elevation there is no need to reset it every time you need to re-zero your altimeter. If you travel by car back to the DZ, or walk back from a different elevation after landing with your CYPRES, it is recommended to reset it (switch off/on). As the VIGIL does not automatically track weather changes in the same way, it will retain the offset information in its memory until you go back into the menu and change it back to zero even if the unit is shut down or it reaches its 14 hour point and shuts off. The upside is if you are frequently jumping at a location that involves needing to input an offset the offset is saved for you. The downside to this is if you program in an offset and forget to reset it you could have the unit activating incorrectly since it thinks it still needs the offset. The VIGIL also recommends resetting the unit if you travel with it in a car or walk back from a different elevation.
    Yet another difference is the “Function” of the AAD. CYPRES units come in four versions that are easy to tell the difference of at a glance. CYPRES Expert units have a Red button, Speed units have a Red button that has SPEED printed on it. Student units have a Yellow button and a Tandem unit has a Blue button. Each of these models has unique activation parameters so refer to the user manual for specific information. A CYPRES-2 unit can be reprogrammed by SSK or the factory to change its functionality and it’s done at no charge. The VIGIL is a multifunction device that allows for the user to change it from “Expert” to “Student” or even “Tandem” in the startup sequence.) You do need to make sure the unit is in the right mode to get the correct activation parameters loaded. You can tell the mode the VIGIL is in by looking at the display once the unit is turned on and it will tell the currently active mode. Tandem Instructors especially need to ensure if the rig they are about to jump has a VIGIL installed that it is in the right mode since having the unit activate at the EXPERT or STUDENT parameters may not ensure the canopies will open in time to save your life.
    There are additional differences so please read your User Manual to really understand all the details of your AAD. While we try to use the “Set it and Forget it!” attitude towards AADs, they are somewhat complicated devices that you need to understand the details of, so that you can properly use the unit if it is installed in your container.
    Modern AAD’s since they were introduced with the CYPRES1 in 1991 have saved hundreds of lives. They have also caused issues and even fatalities when inducing two canopy out situations at times where jumpers have opened their main canopies very low or other complications. AAD’s have a very high success rate when needed but they are not 100% flawless either. Just by having an AAD installed does not mean that you are now perfectly safe. Many jumpers inform their friends and families that “I have this little device that will pull for me if I don’t” as a way of reassuring them around the dangers of skydiving. While it is true that having an AAD does increase your safety factor it is not to be relied on and the true risk involved in skydiving does need to be considered.
    Reminder of Best Practices for use of your AAD no matter which brand you use:
    1) Only turn your AAD on at the takeoff site, do not turn it on at home then drive to the DZ since it will think your home is “Zero Altitude” and may fire higher or lower than expected because of this.
    2) If a “multimode” device, ensure the unit is in the correct “Mode” for the skydive you are about to do.
    3) Notice any errors during the start up or during operations during the day and alert your rigger before completing another jump on the unit.
    4) Be aware of the shutdown timing on the AAD and if needed turn it off before you leave at the end of the day. Also be prepared to reset the unit if you will be doing more than 14 hours of jumping (Night jumps especially are of note on this)
    5) Only configure offset information into the unit if you are truly jumping at an altitude different than you are taking off from. Also be sure you know whether the unit retains the offset information or not.
    CYPRES2 User Manual:
    http://www.cypres-usa.com/userguide/CYPRES_2_users_guide_english.pdf
    or
    http://www.cypres.cc/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid;=89&func;=download&id;=182&chk;=5ca53a980b98700d976eb51f9e1fc9c3&no;_html=1〈=enVIGIL User Manual: http://www.vigil.aero/files/images/ENGELS___DP_JUN_2010.pdf

    VIGIL SB on this topic: http://www.vigil.aero/files/images/Information_Bulletin___Airborne_Status_.pdf

    By PhreeZone, in Gear,

0