AIM SmartyCam HD GP Camera Review
Published: October 24, 2017
I found the video quality to be quite good. The camera records only in 720p, which I imagine can be perceived as a deficiency although it keeps the amount of generated data (more) manageable.
My SmartyCam never exhibited any waviness, tearing or vibration on the video, something I've experienced with Go Pro cameras.
The camera has good automatic exposure/color setting. Unless operated at night the features of the track can be distinguished on the video.
SmartyCam is a single camera system with no support for multiple cameras or picture-in-picture overlays. I imagine it is possible, although expensive, to set up multiple SmartyCams in the car.
The sound quality is generally very good. I've had the Smartycam mounted in a Miata and a BMW E30 convertibles as well as Miatas with hard tops and closed roof E30s. It works well in all of those configurations.
The camera does pick up interference that is usually car-dependent. Some of it can be a function of where the camera is receiving its power from - for best results, power should be wired directly from the battery rather than from the car's wiring harness to eliminate alternator interference manifesting as a high pitch, RPM-dependent whine.
It seems that the camera's wind noise elimination can be thrown off by a passenger being present/moving around in the car, especially in a convertible.
The camera can overlay data on the video. The data is not separable from the video later - it is merged into the video stream.
SmartyCam has an internal accelerometer and a GPS receiver, permitting it to show forward and lateral Gs, GPS speed, time of day, current lap time and best lap time, among other things.
SmartyCam can interface with an AiM dash via the CAN bus, and can overlay most values that the dash is capable of showing, including RPM and various sensor values.
One important deficiency of SmartyCam is it seemingly have the capability to show predictive lap time/realtime delta. This is not something that SmartyCam itself can produce, and even when attached to an AiM dash which shows the realtime delta the camera cannot overlay the delta on the video. I'm told this is because realtime delta is not a CAN bus channel that the dash exposes.
SmartyCam, as with any camera really, also cannot overlay delta against the best lap in the session, if the lap is in the future. This overlay can only be added during postprocessing.
I bought the GP version of SmartyCam which has a separate bullet camera. The reasoning for this was I would have a GPS receiver attached to the camera anyway as well as incoming power, hence there is no real benefit to keeping the camera and the control box together.
The bullet camera, being smaller, is easier to mount in the car than the non-GP SmartyCam. Furthermore, the bullet camera can easily be rotated 360 degrees which makes it very easy to move the mount around the roll cage with the camera still attached.
The contol box, being separate from the camera, can be placed in a location reachable by the driver. I mount it with velcro (hook and loop tape) on the transmission tunnel. In a street car with 3 point belts the control box, and hence the SmartyCam overall, is operable by the driver sitting in the car belted in. With a race harness it is often problematic to have a line of sight to the control box, however if I wanted to I could probably move it to the center console or figure out some other way to operate it with the harness on.
AiM sells a wire harness for attaching SmartyCam to the car for power and, optionally, to an external microphone. The power attachment is indispensable, as we'll see in a moment.
SmartyCam has an internal battery. This battery is not meant to sustain the camera, however.
Without a GPS receiver the camera would run about 30 minutes on a brand new battery. This would just about cover a typical NASA/SCCA sprint race.
With a GPS receiver the usable run time drops to about 20 minutes, which is insufficient to record even a single race.
SmartyCam needs to be wired to a 12 volt source for all practical purposes.
One annoying deficiency of the camera is it automatically splits the video files at about 4 gigabytes, for compatibility with older software/operating systems. At the highest recording settings this limit is reached about 1 hour into the recording, which makes most of our endurance racing stints that are about 1 hour 20-30 minutes long split into two files.
In practice whenever this happens the camera loses some of the video, as it is not recording when it is switching the files.
Additionally my SmartyCam does a full reboot when it rotates the files, which takes about 20 seconds. That is 20 seconds of driving the camera is not recording.
If doing a data overlay in post processing, each video file must be separately synchronized due to the missing video while the camera is cycling the files. This adds to the time it takes to get the videos up post event.
Forced Recording Stop
As far as I can tell there is no way to tell SmartyCam to record indefinitely. It begins recording with either speed or a CAN bus trigger (like RPM) and when it loses the trigger it will soon stop the recording. The maximum time to keep recording after the trigger loss is 5 minutes.
We had a situation where the CAN bus connection was faulty in a car due to a bad ground and the camera did not record most of the day as a result even though it was wired for power from the car and the memory card we had in it (128 GB) was sufficient for 8 hours of continuous recording.
The SmartyCam is about $1100 for the unit. Add $150 for the GPS receiver unless you have one already attached to your dash. Add $70 for a RAM mount and another $70 for a power cable which is most certainly required.
SmartyCam is a good camera with integrated data. It has several issues that preclude it from being unquestionably recommended, as well as no multi-camera support. Cameras without data can be sourced much cheaper - Go Pro knock-offs are being sold for under $20 on eBay these days - but I haven't seen more affordable cameras with data overlay. That said, I would look at RaceKeeper systems for a camera with more functionality and fewer issues, potentially at a higher price point.