Action sports camera helmets are more than just protective gear that hold a camera, they're tools of the sports trade and action videographer. Just any old helmet can be used to hold a camera, and many videographers do exactly that. For those that are a bit more serious about their action photography, a helmet designed specifically as a camera mount system is needed. Tonfly is the newest player in the camera helmet manufacturing world.
Hailing from Slovakia, this small manufacturer may be new, but they've researched the needs of the typical action sports videographer very well and offer a wide lineup of products. The staff at Tonfly are predominantly from Italy, and the design of the helmet is Italian.
In this review, we'll look at a Tonfly Converter (CC1), which I purchased specifically for the purpose of wingsuiting.
The Tonfly Converter is brilliant in its design, given how the camera mounts to the helmet, and we'll examine those features in a bit. First we'll dig into the very important features like the fit, design, and safety functions.
The helmet fits well. It's quite thin, and one of the lightest helmets in its class. It's also very sturdy in spite of the thinness of the helmet. The helmet slips on easily, and is snug all the way around for an average head-type. I have a ponytail, and this helmet doesn't lend itself well to my hair being tied up inside the helmet without the helmet being too tight. People with shorter hair won't have this problem, of course, and Tonfly do offer various sizes.
The Tonfly Camera Converter helmet is one of the most innovative designs available to action-POV camera operators today.
Light-weight, strong, form-fitting, and comfortable, this helmet offers the most peripheral eye-space of any helmet in its class.
Another favored aspect of this helmet that is easily overlooked, is how far back the side of the helmet is cut. The sides of the helmet allow for much greater side-to-side vision than most camera helmets do, and this is particularly an important feature when flying camera for tandems when others may be joining in. Freeflyers will enjoy the wide peripheral view as well. Ski goggles will fit well in this wide-view cut, as the sides of the helmet won't interfere with the larger goggle sizes.
Built in pockets can hold audible altimeters for the skydiving videographer. The audible pockets come pre-cut for the typical sized audibles. A small bit of gaffers tape will hold the audible altimeter in place until the foam lining is replaced with the audible device in the pocket.
The Tonfly Converter comes with the audible pocket already cut to fit most popular audibles. (Photo)
A cutaway system is critical for many action sports, particularly for skydivers. This allows the helmet to be immediately removed/cut free from the body in the event of an accident that involves some sort of entanglement. The Tonfly cutaway system is a bit different than most as it has the cutaway handle facing upwards, which feels very natural and ergonomically placed. Unlike other cutaway systems that use looped nylon to release the latch, the Tonfly system uses a metal button that is drilled out. On initial inspection, this was a concern, but the truth is that the cutaway system works and feels no different from any other cutaway system. The metal containment system may even last longer.
The Tonfly cutaway system is unique in placement and method, but works identically to any other cutaway system. (Photo 1, Photo 2)
What makes this helmet truly unique is the way in which the camera mounts are inserted. Entirely flush with the helmet, the receiver side of the mount is installed so that if there is no camera mounted, the helmet can be completely flat (Tonfly provides small inserts that stick out approximately .25, but are smooth and pose no snag hazard). With the camera box mounted to the side of the helmet, the camera box is flush to the helmet and poses no snag hazard. I ran a bit of Spectra line over the edge of the helmet and there was no sticking/locking point of the line due to this very tight connection.
The mate point for a still camera is identical, however the top of the helmet isn't as wide as a Canon Rebel XTi, so it is possible, although not likely, that a line could snag in the area where the top plate isn't as wide as the camera body.
Another aspect of the Converter Camera mount is the ability to rotate the camera box in small degrees to compensate for head position when freeflying, doing tandem camera, or RW work. Each of the base ring (male ring) has a series of small holes drilled to fit a pin in the insert link (female receiver side), that is spring-loaded. The spring is very tight, there should be no worry that the pin will release on its own.
Note the spring-loaded pin in the female/helmet side of the connection, and note the three drilled holes in the male insert. These holes allow for user-positioning of the camcorder or still camera mount. (Photo 1 , Photo 2)
The pin isn't entirely responsible for holding the base ring. there is a rotational cuff that holds tight when the male ring is inserted in the female receiver plate, and it requires a full 90 degree turn of the male ring to remove the camera box or stills mount from the system, assuring that even in the event of a pin/spring failure, the box or still mount would not separate from the helmet. The pin is released by pulling back on a small nylon loop found at the back of each of the camera mount plates.
Tonfly has responded to another potential snag point problem with remarkable simplicity. Many camera helmets have a possible snag point in the ladder/clip attachment at the chincup. This leads some videographers to cut the ladder strap short, which is no big deal, other than it sometimes affects the ease of attachment on some helmets. Tonfly have addressed this challenge by opening up the chincup, allowing for any excess from the ladder strap to be concealed inside the chincup.
Any excess from the ladder strap fits neatly inside the chincup. (Photo)
The helmet isn't entirely perfect and some changes could be made on the part of Tonfly, or perhaps by users themselves. For example, some of the options Tonfly offers could be more readily identified as "important." For instance, most buyers should want the Carbon Look finish or at the very least, ask for a lacquer coat. From the model I received, it became immediately apparent that the finish will scratch quite easily, and all I was doing was mounting a Schumacher removable ringsight bracket. Drilling a hole for the HypEye Mini cable further demonstrated this.
Mounting the Schumacher articulating arm, I realized just how easy it is to scratch the flat finish. (Photo)
Another aspect of the helmet that users will want to be mindful of; until the helmet is worn in, a small amount of silicon lubricant will help with the mating of the insert ring to the receiver plate. On my helmet, I found that the pin release loop is a touch small for my large fingers. Using a pencil or pen inserted to the loop helped me get a better grip on it. I'm sure once the spring is more worn in, it won't be quite so difficult.
Small challenges aside, the Tonfly helmet is very well designed for skydiving and other action sports, offering a width of view and light weight that is very impressive. With prices ranging from around $500.00 USD to as high as $750.00 with all options, these helmets are investments rather than frivolous purchases. Until the dollar rises again, it'll be a while before they're competitive with helmets manufactured in the USA in terms of cost.
Congratulations to Tonfly for a very well designed, well-built helmet. This is one camera helmet model that any POV sports photographer should consider when choosing a helmet mounted camera system.
Check out the YouTube stream that shows how the Tonfly Camera Converter works.
Other hands-free sport photographer
-douglas spotted eagle
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