The Prism has, in my opinion, the correct form factor for two-wheeled use. It is small 63x44x23mm and light at 125g including battery. For helmet use a long device with a small frontal area (Prism or Drift) obviously suffers less wind drag than wide and boxy (GoPro et al).
Perhaps more fundamentally, with the Prism’s superbly engineered side-mount, ball joint, clip-in helmet bracket, you don’t have to look like a Teletubby with a stupid protrusion sticking out of the top of your head. For me, that’s a big factor. I’m tall enough to struggle fitting below door fames as it is, so adding another 10cm of action camera to the top of the helmet is a disaster. Included within the Prism kit are adhesive mounts if you insist on helmet top nonsense, but these can also be used to side mount on the few helmets that do not accept the clamp bracket.
Admittedly, you can also mount a GoPro onto the side of a helmet, but this is a massive ungainly carbuncle on a big arm rather than a slim solution like the Prism or Drift.
The flipside of this argument is that the horizontal box (e.g. GoPro) format is actually better for chest-mount shooting. This angle can be more immersive and revealing than helmet mount for extreme riding, but you are stuck with forward-only shooting.
Whichever type of video camera you choose be aware that if you mount on your body or your helmet then you are compromising your safety in an accident. Most race organisations ban the use of rider-mounted cameras for that reason. Still, if you wanted to live in a cotton-wool-enclosed protective bubble you probably wouldn’t be reading an adventure motorcycle magazine. A little risk is part of the game and as long as you can quantify it in advance then it’s your choice whether or not to wear a camera.
The clamp-mounted Prism sticks out a little way from your helmet, but not so much that it unbalances things or gets caught on your shoulder when looking behind. In wide-view setting the right side of my full-face Shoei helmet was just visible in shot, but I prefer that effect to a totally unhindered view because it gives the viewer an obvious rider perspective.
One aspect of the Prism I liked was being able to leave one of the QRM (Quick Release Mount) wedges screwed to the underside of the camera, even when it was clipped into the helmet mount. While riding I could reach around, unclip the camera from the helmet and slot it into a QRM-equipped ball mount fixed to the scooter; which I set up to record alternative angles. This flexibility puts all rival mount systems in the shade.
Once you’ve watched helmet-cam footage for more than five minutes you’ll realise the importance of changing shooting angles. You must do this to maintain interest without the viewer feeling that they are part of some Clockwork Orange torture experiment. The key here is to remember that long sections of uncut Point-Of-View (POV) filming are best reserved for moments of extremely high drama, or pornography.
The full Prism kit comes with a massive and superbly well-designed selection of mounts, many of which I left at home simply because being able to swap from helmet to alternative, adjustable mounts front and rear of the scooter was enough. Take my word for it; whatever you need, from clamps to suction mounts, will probably be in the kit.
The Prism has another advantage over most rivals in that you don’t need to use a waterproof case for slight inclemency. Sena claim it can handle 1-metre submersion without its clear plastic case, but that depends how securely you fitted its push-in rubber rear USB cover. On the few occasions it did rain when I had the camera fitted I suffered no water ingress problems. Having said that, I’ve read other reviews where enough moisture managed to get inside the Prism while raining to fog the lens. The tip to remove any fogging is to leave the camera in a bag of uncooked rice overnight to let Uncle Ben suck the badness out. For my part it simply made more sense to put the camera away when it was peeing down because rain riding footage is about as sexy as watching fat, old men in the shower. Maybe that works for you though. Weirdo.
My test Prism did come with a waterproof plastic case but since I didn’t plan to go under the sea, I left it at home. Also, the waterproof case does not clip into the clamp-on helmet bracket like the bare camera does; which restricts its usefulness.
For most adventure situations I reckon you could ride using the camera without its waterproof case, except perhaps falling off in a river. In which case you’ve got other things to worry about anyway…
Here we come to the Prism’s killer feature. While straight helmet camera footage with a built-in microphone will almost always require some sort of over-dubbing in post-production (due to wind noise and engine drone) the Prism can take audio from Sena (or rival) Bluetooth headsets.
The massive advantage of Bluetooth audio is that it allows you to narrate directly onto the video as you ride. I constantly used the Prism as a method of taking video notes about things I saw, or thought, while I was riding.
A Bluetooth connection also allows you to commentate live during moments of action. I absolutely loved this feature because it creates footage that is far more interesting and immersive without any need for post-editing. Or rather, that would be the case if I could train myself not to be such a potty-mouth. Certainly few of my blue-tinged clips would gain a PG rating in the cinema.
Kudos here must go to the absolute mastery that Sena have over the noise-cancelling effects of their intercom system. My Prism was paired to their 20S helmet to helmet intercom which builds on the many of the clever features offered by high-end rivals such as phone, FM radio and MP3 player integration.
I was shocked at the 20S microphone’s aptitude at cutting out wind and engine noise compared to voice frequencies. During my trip I had a perfectly clear phone conversation with my wife while she was driving at 70mph in England (on Bluetooth car hands-free) and I was riding a noisy scooter at the same speed in Spain. The call quality was completely unimpeded by distance or mode of transport. Remarkable.
When this Bluetooth audio is used as a track on the video clips, the voice clarity is almost spooky, with other traffic and even the scooter engine note being a faint buzz in the background. The only down-side of this microphone efficiency is that if you let the boom move far from your lips then even the narration volume can drop to a whisper, however there are multiple options to adjust sensitivity and even mix microphone inputs. Only once home did I read in the manual that you can feed the microphone output in your earphones; which would really help to set a voice volume. Studying manuals is not very ‘bloke’ but the fact I could soon work most functions without thorough instruction proved that the Prism operating system is quite logical.
The other advantage of Bluetooth Headset integration is that the camera speaks to you to tell you what it’s doing. A female voice tells you what mode the camera is in or if the battery is low, giving you sufficient notification to swap another battery. It’s a brilliant feature, removing all the guesswork associated with other brands on non-connected camcorder.
Stated battery life for the Prism is 2 hours filming with a live Bluetooth connection, but with the camera switched off for stops I could usually get a day’s use from three batteries with recording limited to notes and interesting riding sections. If you record every part of your ride you will chew through data cards (32GB microSD is maximum accepted by the Prism) and produce so much boring footage that editing will be a nightmare.
A top tip for the Prism is to buy a universal 12-volt to 3.7v battery charger because this will allow you to charge spare phone or camera batteries from the bike while you ride.
What’s that, you’ve bought an action camera / posh phone with just one permanently fixed battery? Then you need your head examining. Swappable batteries are still the way to go…
*Note that YouTube reduces video quality. The raw footage looks much better than this.
The Sean Prism shoots in full HD (1080p) at 30 frames per second or 720p at 30/60 fps in MP4 format. It also offers a choice of two shooting angles: normal and 140-degree wide angle. In my view the video output from the bright F2.0 lens is very good, with realistic colours and a decent transition times from bright to dark scenes. In addition to video recording the camera can shoot 3.5 megapixel stills or bursts. It will also take time-lapse recordings either as separate Jpeg images or as Benny Hill style videos.
If you really want the ultimate in picture quality and a plethora of visual adjustment options then I still reckon the latest GoPros are ahead. But do you really need 4K cinema quality from a helmet cam if you don’t have a 4K TV?
I reckon the vast majority of sports-cam users will be happy to find a setting that they like and leave the camera recording at 1080p. If you are the sort that rarely wants to mess with settings, and can’t afford to waste too much time post-editing then the Prism a real contender.
Speaking of post-editing, GoPro – with its bundled software package – still has a major advantage over the Prism (and its peers) which does not include software for video editing.
The camera itself only has two rubberised buttons (Mode and Shot) which makes it very simple to operate, even with a gloved hand. Make a selection and the lady in your ear tells you what you’ve done. You can control the camera from the buttons on the Intercom system but I found it more natural to reach for the camera every time I wanted to record. This does however mean that all of my clips tend to start with a large gloved clutch-hand briefly obscuring the lens.
Conversely, working through the settings menu with only two buttons and a tiny screen to guide you is clunky. Thankfully Sena have thought of that, and their handy Prism Camera app allows you to make settings adjustments direct from your Smartphone screen. It’s simple and works really well. One useful setting offered is ‘upside down’ for moments when you’ve mounted the camera in an inverted position, saving the need to flip the picture in post-production.
Naturally, nothing is perfect, and the Prism has a number of small niggles, some of which Sena could potentially fix in future firmware or hardware updates.
Possibly the most annoying aspect of the camera is that there is no simple way to check footage or frame filming ‘in the field’ since the Prism does not feature an integrated screen. This was also a problem with the earlier small cameras such as GoPro, but newer models with Wi-Fi connectivity mean that you can now simply view clips (or live-view) direct from the camera to a Smartphone screen. If Sena could add this feature then it would be a massive boon.
From an imaging point of view I like the fact that the camera lens is not obstructed by another lens within a waterproof case, however at the moment the camera glass is not replaceable and therefore vulnerable to scratching unless the rubber lens cover is fitted. Incidentally, the footage takes on an eerie, horror feel if you forget to remove the lens cap…
For me, the most irritating problem was that each memory card you install resets the file numbering sequence to zero. That way you can end up with several cards all with the same file names (e.g. PRSM0001.MP4) for different clips. If you aren’t careful when you back-up your cards then you can end up overwriting one lot of files with identically-named ones and accidentally losing your original clips. The Prism desperately needs an option for the file numbering to continue sequentially from one card to the next, just like my Canon camera does. Hopefully Sena can make a small adjustment to future firmware releases to fix that.
The action camera market is still in a state of rapid development, with new and improved models coming along all the time. There will never be a ‘best’ action camera, at least not for long. There comes a point where you have to make a jump and join in.
From my perspective the Prism offers the right combination of worthwhile features and output quality for what I want to do with my videos, particularly since live voice recording is a massive time-saving feature. Pixel-peepers who demand the highest video quality may still be better off looking at other brands such as GoPro. However, I want to spend my time riding, not editing endless Gigabytes of video in a darkened room so the Prism is perfect for my needs.
Perhaps the biggest incentive is that Sena massively reduced the price of the full Prism camera kit from a-bit-too-expensive ($399) to very competitive ($249) in June 2015. The new price translates to €269 or a shade under £200. There is also a bare Prism camera option for €199 but that seems a bit pointless since the mounting kit is really one of the camera’s main strengths.
Bluetooth voice-over will require you to own a helmet intercom of any brand. Sena’s all-singing 20S retails for a hefty $299 but offers improved integration compared to other systems.
Note that Sena have recently released an all-in-one camera and Bluetooth intercom unit called the 10C which I originally thought would be a better integrated solution for touring. Now, having sampled the positioning flexibility and ease of battery swapping that comes with the Prism and separate Bluetooth headset solution, the latter still seems like the ideal set-up for touring.