Gadgets and other cool stuff
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Original S.O.E. Gear Xmas Stockings
11/13/08 - Just in time for the holidays, Original S.O.E. Gear is putting out these manly Xmas stockings, fit to hang above any tactical fireplace. Made of Crye MultiCam cordura (and other colours), these stockings can be loaded up with heavy presents like ammo, knives, and all those manly toys that we like. The stockings come in two different colours of felt trim and two different sizes. There are two velcro panels sewn on, for nametapes or flags, or IR markers in case Santa uses NVGs to get around a dark living room. For the greedy folk, there are three rows x four columns of PALS on the front for additional goody-holding pouches on the larger stocking, and three columns on the small one.
Original S.O.E. Gear is not selling them directly, but shipping them to their dealers, so contact one of their dealers like AEX, Tactical Response or OPTactical to get these. Note that different dealers might carry different colours and sizes. This is one MultiCam item even the wife wouldn't mind you getting.
Advanced Tactical Camera
6/8/08 - The Advanced Tactical Camera (ATC) made by Pacific Concepts and available from U.S. Cavalry is an affordable option for those looking for a self-contained video camera to record crucial events (or, for just plain fun). For military, law enforcement or other government agencies, having a record of events and operations where force has been used can provide an unbiased witness, which in today's sue-happy world, can be crucial to justifying said use of force. Of course, it works both ways, and provide accountability as well. A video camera can record a mission's events for use in the debrief, or as training material. Consumer video cameras are available, but most are too bulky. Small, professional quality 'lipstick' cameras are also available, but the systems tend to be expensive, or the recording device is separate from the camera unit. The ATC is a digital video camera and recording device which is light and small enough to mount on a weapon or helmet, or just about any place you can figure out how to mount it to. For the civilian, a portable, self-contained camera can be used for all sorts of sports or recreational activities.
Here's a rundown of its specifications:
Description - The ATC is a self-contained digital movie camera/recording device. The camera and electronics are housed in a rubber-armoured plastic body. The front rectangular lens is also protected by rubber armour, which also functions as a sun shade. The ATC looks identically externally to the one offered by Oregon Scientific, but they aren't the same internally. Originally, Pacific Concepts had intended to market the ATC as-is straight from the overseas factory and build a mount for it, but found that during testing, the camera would not withstand the recoil of mounting on a weapon. Pacific Concepts then went right to the overseas manufacturer and worked with them to modify the camera so that it would stand up to recoil. They then do further mods stateside when they arrive.
On the bottom of the camera is a non-removable microphone cover. It is secured by triangular-bit screws and is not meant to be user removable.
The rear end cover unscrews for access to the battery compartment, SD card slot aond cable connect ports. To ensure waterproofness, two o-rings are installed in the grooves for the cover. A thin layer of silicon grease is then applied to the dual o-rings. If the camera is not going to be exposed to moisture, one o-ring can be removed, which makes unscrewing the end cover easier. The battery compartment has a door which swings open for the installation and removal of two AA batteries. Right above that is the SD card slot. The ATC will take SD cards up to 2 GB. The SD card needs to be pushed in till it clicks and is retained. To remove it, it's pushed in again where it is then ejected. There are two ports - one USB for direct connection to a PC and an RCA cable port for playback on a TV.
The ATC comes with a split ring mount which is picatinny/weaver rail ready and is tightened with four allen screws. It is important not to overtighten it, as it can distort the plastic camera body. When the ATC arrived, I had a hard time sliding the batteries out of their compartments; I almost had to pry them out. I emailed Pacific Concepts and they said that they should slide out easily. Apparently, whoever installed the ring mount had snugged down the screws too tightly as once I loosened them, the batteries slid in and out without a problem. I suggested to Pacific Concepts to manufacture the ring such that there is no gap between the two ring halves, so that it can be snugged down all the way without fear of warping the camera body and damaging it. Since the body is covered in rubber, it doesn't really move in the ring, and need not be squished. Rotating the camera in the ring requires loosening the screws. It'd be nice to have some sort of quick release lever so the camera can be rotated when moved from one mount to the other, but no biggie. The mount has a thumbscrew to secure it to the rail.
- The is a small LCD display window on top of the ATC, and three rubber
covered buttons. One is the ON/OFF & Enter button. The larger,
round one in the middle is the shutter button, and the third is the
Menu button. The buttons do not 'click' - you press down until the
camera responds with a beep to confirm you've engaged the button successfully.
Mounting it up - For mounting the ATC on a rifle, I wanted it as close to the boreline as possible. Placing it directly in the center on top of the rail would have been ideal, but it would have obscured the optic. Mounting it on the bottom of the rail, and the flash hider/barrel wasn't in the field of view, and I think it's important to have that in there. I initially used a 45° yankee hill offset mount, then found a GG&G offset tactical light mount in my parts box, which placed it as close to the center without fully obscuring my Aimpoint T-1 red dot sight.
Mounting it on a helmet was a bit trickier. I found a short length of rail (again, in my parts bin), and riveted it to the plastic helmet below. However, due to the curvature of the helmet, and how it sits on my head, and how I hold my head, it took some adjusting to get the camera pointed where I wanted it. The rail ends up pointing up (as I tend to hold my head at a slight downward angle when I'm shooting) and the camera is canted a few degrees. There isn't a way to view the picture real-time, so I had to shoot a quick movie while wearing the helmet on my head and walking around with how I think I'd be holding my head, then checking it on the screen and making adjustments. I finally found a decent position and marked it on the camera body in the ring. I also ended up drilling two extra holes in the helmet to tilt the rail up so that the picture appears somewhat level.
Sound - When I shot my first test vids, something was wrong with the sound. I could barely hear any speech or ambient noise. However, I could hear tapping on the camera when I tapped it. That puzzled me, as it meant the microphone was working, yet not picking up anything but direct tapping on the camera. I asked Pacific Concepts about it and they replied that "The camera sound is muted. One, because it was made to mount near the muzzle of a rifle or shotgun, and the report would blow out a hi gain mike, and two, it is waterproof. If you leave the cap off you will see a huge increase in the mic sensitivity. If it is not going to be submerged in water, then a small hole drilled in the cap will really increase the mic’s capability. We have two depts that use a small MP 3 recorder for voice recording on raids. About 98% of the users did not want sound at all and shut off the mic from the menu."
Well, I wanted sound, so I set about removing the bottom microphone cover. It was secured by proprietary screws, but I was able to make an allen wrench 'work'. The mic was actually covered by a rubberized plug. Since I had no plans to submerge the ATC in water, I removed the plug and left it off. I replaced the protective cover. After that, the camera picked up all sounds very well, including speech. I brought it along to the range and mounted it on the rifle. Gladly, the mic wasn't blown out when I reviewed the short clip and has worked fine ever since.
At the range - I had to wait until I had a chance to go to the range to shoot some footage (and rounds of course). The first time I took the ATC out was to a regular 'shoot from the bench' range with the closest targets 100 yds away. Needless to say, there's not much detail you can see from 100 yards, so the main purpose was to test the ATC out and make sure it still functioned after shooting about 100 rounds with it on. It worked fine afterwards, but the footage was just too boring to post. I noticed that the picture does distort slightly the moment the shot is let off, from the concussion, but it's not bad at all.
The next time out I went to a private range where we could run around a bit. I was testing my PWS piston upper and was fortunate to be with a friend who had registered full-auto lowers for me to use. So, I'd be able to subject the ATC to some full auto fire. I took footage with the ATC mounted on my PWS, and on my helmet. Strangely, the ATC batteries went dead on me. The ATC would turn on, then shut off when I started shooting. I noticed the low battery symbol and replaced the batteries, even though they were a new set. The replacement set are still going strong. Go figure. I got my buddy to film me with another camera off to the side for two different views. I didn't have anyone filming me when I wore the helmet though.
Observations and clip - As mentioned above, the concussion from each shot does affect the picture slightly. The microphone doesn't distinguish short full auto two or three round bursts very well, and they sound like one shot. It's only when a string of shots are let off where you can hear the distinction. When the ATC is mounted on the rifle, it points where the rifle points. That's cool when it's on target, but you don't see much when it's not. If I'm not shooting while moving, the rifle is pointed in a safe direction, and that means it's probably not pointing at anything interesting.
I found it more 'interesting' when the ATC was helmet mounted, as it's closer to what the user actually sees. Reminds me of a first-person shooter video game. I'm shooting an LMT MRP CQB upper in the helmet mount section of the clip below. You can see more of what's happening overall than when it's mounted on the rifle. The target is about 25-30 yards away in the video.
The control buttons are rather small, and I had a bit of difficulty manipulating them with gloves on. It wasn't really an issue with the ATC mounted on my rifle as I could see what was going on in the LCD window to confirm that it was on and was recording, but when it was mounted on the helmet, I couldn't really do that. I'd turn it on before I put the helmet on, but since I was wearing gloves and hearing protection, I couldn't feel the shutter button depress, nor hear the 'beep' to tell me that the camera was recording. I'd have preferred a more positive feel for these situations.
Overall, the ATC works as advertised - it's completely self-containted and very portable. Best of all, it's very affordable. Its price puts it within the budget of most departments or individuals and the uses it has are only limited by your imagination. I'm going to use it more and will update this writeup with more clips as time goes on, and the opportunity arises.
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