- Written by Mike Gruwell
(Published in Blue Skies Magazine)
So you’ve racked up those first 200 jumps and you’re itching to throw a camera on your head…or it could be you’re looking to delve into video work to break up the monotony of tandem and AFF jumps…or maybe you’ve finally traded in that old camera setup from the ’70s, and you’re ready to try one of these new-fangled camera setups.
In any event, you decided you would just order the new cameras, helmet, box, quick-release, indicator lights, bite switch and the like and assemble it yourself. It can’t be that hard, right? A drill, a screwdriver, maybe some gaffer’s tape, and you’re ready to go.
The only problem is, now that you have all the parts in front of you, it’s not making a lot of sense. And you’re a little worried about drilling into your $400 camera helmet and screwing it up so bad that you would have to buy another one.
So one way is find a competent camera-flyer at your DZ who assembled their own stuff and beg for their assistance. Or you could send it all back to where you bought it from and pay them to do a professional install.
But if you still want to go it on your own, you can use some of the following basic tools and tips that will give you a better chance for success.
This is a basic list of tools to use for assembling camera helmet systems:
Drill with a large pack of drill bits and a few grinders
Dremel with a variety pack of grinders and cutting discs
Awl for marking before drilling and giving an indent to start drill bit in precise location
Hole saws for larger mountings
Screwdrivers, open-ended wrenches, socket wrench and Allen wrenches
Gaffer’s tape for keeping items in position during marking or screwing
O-rings for securing indicator button installs
Level for double-checking the mounts are centered/level
Table stand for placing helmet on to use level and to adjust angles
Ruler for checking the installs are even or mounted per manufacturer tips
Rubbing alcohol for cleaning up helmet when complete
Many manufactures include mounting layouts, tips or measurements. Follow those. They know what they are talking about.
The initial setup is best done by placing the helmet on some type of stand that is level and allows you to position the mounts as needed. As you get the mounts into position, use gaffer’s tape to secure the mounts while you check that it is level, even from side-to-side, and positioned as needed from front to back. When you are confident in the positioning, use an awl to mark where the holes will be drilled. The most common size drill bit used for quick release mountings is ¼”.
Use the awl to also mark the positioning of any other holes that need to be drilled for indicator lights, camera switches and ringsights.
For the indicator lights, some of the newer light systems can be taken apart from the button location by removing the back screws and unplugging the wires. This allows you to make smaller holes in the helmet and feed the small electronics plug through a small hole instead of a large hole for the actual camera plug. Check to see if your light system can be disassembled (such as the HypEye D Pro), and plan your holes accordingly.
Remove the gaffer’s tape, the mount and indicator lights, as well as all the padding (if removable) and any other parts you can. Begin drilling or using a Dremel. As you drill or cut each hole, check that you are still lined up with the remaining holes by placing the mount back into position. You should see your awl marks centered in the remaining holes. If you are off slightly, adjust the remaining awl marks accordingly. If you are far off, go back to the setup step and play with the mount position to get back on track.
Mistakes can happen when a drill bit slips, but if you check your mount to your holes and awl marks after each hole is drilled, you can usually salvage a hole that is off-mark. Salvaging a mistake can be done by adjusting the remaining marks. Just make sure the adjustments will keep your mount in the same general area. You can also enlarge a hole that is off-line to fit with a mounting hole and/or re-drill a hole and hiding or using the off-line hole for something else.
Once the holes are drilled or cut, you can start assembling the mount and installing the indicator light, camera switch and/or ringsight. Most mounts come with screws from the manufacturer specifically for their mounts.
As you assemble the mounts, use gaffer’s tape again to hold the mounts in position as you work with the screws, washers and nuts. Using gaffer’s tape allows you to flip the helmet from right-side up to upside down without worrying about your mount falling off and reduces the chances of a screw, washer or nut bouncing on the floor, never to be found again.
Feed your indicator lights plugs either through the holes drilled for the camera plugs or through the small holes for the electronics plug. If you were able to disassemble and use the electronics plug for a smaller hole, you can reassemble your button system. Plug the connectors into the button/electronics connectors and install your button into the buttonhole you’ve drilled. You can firm up that button install with a #9 or #10 O-ring around the outer lip of the button assembly.
Use a vacuum and also rubbing alcohol to clean up the helmet as needed after all the drilling, cutting and installing is completed.
Once all your mounts, boxes, indicator lights, camera switches and the like are installed, get all your cameras on the helmet and make sure everything is working properly. Practice installing and removing the camera from the quick-release mounts or box. Practice plugging in, using and then unplugging your indicator lights. Make sure your camera switch works as you expected and get to know just how fast you can take photos with it. Get to know how your chincup works and is adjusted. Practice putting on and taking off the helmet without a mirror. And also get familiar with how your cutaway system works, if you have one installed.
And finally, if this is your very first camera setup and/or a different type of setup than you have used before, please talk to your local S&TA, DZO and/or local cameraflyers before making that first jump. Just because you have the prerequisite jumps along with the newest camera helmet setup with a full-on cutaway system does not make you ready to jump it successfully. Sit down with a few camera jumpers to talk about camera gear safety procedures, canopy deployment tips and emergency procedures.
But after that…go jump and load that video onto YouTube so we can see how you did…well that is if you got more than just blue sky. Getting your friends actually in the video…well that’s a whole other article.