DON’T CALL IT A ‘CASE’ | Optrix turns iPhone into an HD action-sports cam that can take a beating and a bath

The Optrix XD5 and helmet mount in action.

We’ve all done it—fumbled with our iPhone during a ride to try and get “the shot” only to have it wind up face down in the dirt with a new spiderweb screen saver. And point of view with the same iPhone? Forget about it, unless you like riding one-handed.

Enter Optrix, a unibody polycarbonate housing that turns iPhone 4, 4S and 5 models into waterproof, wearable, wide-angle, high-definition, point-of-view action sports cameras. Given the HD capabilities of the iPhone and the fact that most users carry it just about everywhere, this seems like a no-brainer. So, why didn’t someone think of it sooner?

Well, they did.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” John Willenborg, Optrix founder and CEO told The Link.

The first Optrix was designed around the iPod Nano in 2009.

Optrix has been a labor of love for about 4 years,” recalls Willenborg. “I used to be a semi pro motorcycle racer and used a GoPro frequently. One race weekend I was getting ready to head on track and I realized I left the GoPro SD card in my computer. My iPod Nano was just sitting there on the table and I decided to zip-tie it to the front of the motorcycle. The results were fantastic. The Nano was clearer, easier to use and I was able to watch the race back right on the device. The simplicity made so much sense I decided to start Optrix and create a better way to capture action video.”

The XD5 is not Optrix' first rodeo. Photo courtesy Optrix

The XD5 is not Optrix’ first rodeo.

In 2010 the company patented a clamshell design for the iPhone—then scrapped it.

“If there was a mistake to be made on the housings, chances are we made it,” Willenborg says, surprisingly candid about the dead ends in the extensive development process.

“The XD5 is the fourth generation of our XD Series, and it’s the result of countless hours of industrial design and engineering—making Optrix more than just a ‘phone case,’” says Willenborg. “We built prototypes, we tested, we found flaws, and reengineered until it was, in our eyes, perfect. There’s a reason our housing doesn’t look like anything else on the market: we’ve tried them all, and none compare to the durability and user friendliness of Optrix XD5.”

Among those flaws was the fact that the clamshell design required 15-percent more area—read more material—to be waterproof. More material equals more weight, and one of the goals—other than being waterproof and nearly indestructible—was to be lightweight, according to Willenborg. That lack of heft was achieved with a distinctive low-profile, monocoque, polycarbonate construction that still allowed it to take a beating—and a bath. During the marketing, er, testing phase, Optrix dropped its latest incarnation, the XD, from a second story window, threw it against a wall, ran it over with a full-size pickup truck and took it snorkeling in the Pacific, all—safely—while recording.

Not bad considering we’ve had friends mourn the loss of iPhones that met their demise during mundane activities such as getting out of the car or using the restroom. But we digress.

Out of the box

The Optrix XD5 includes everything you need—and a zip tie.

Out of the box, both the XD4 and XD5 include the main housing, an iPhone “sled,” a 175-degree wide-angle lens, a flat base mount, a curved base mount, a safety leash, a removable rail clip and a zip tie (hey, ya never know when you’ll need one).

The main housing—the true brainchild of Optrix R&D—is what makes it unique in the world of cases and mounts for both stand-alone POV cams and camera phones. Optrix claims it received inspiration for the monocoque, unibody construction of its housing from the driver “cocoons” designed to protect Formula 1 drives in fiery 200-mph crashes. It all sounds a bit dramatic, but regardless of the inspiration, the waterproof, nearly indestructible result is impressive. A “membrane” over the screen allows the user to retain full touchscreen functionality while remaining sealed and waterproof. The XD5 features an access door on the bottom of the housing to allow easy access for charging and headphone use while inside, though opening this port mitigates its waterproof properties.

The included iPhone “sled” serves as a sort of protective cartridge for inserting your iPhone into the main housing. Upon slipping an iPhone into the rubberized sled, we discovered it lives a surprising double life. The sled, as it turns out, makes a rather fine iPhone case for everyday use on its own. Bonus.

The wide-angle lens enhances the field of view, making the most of the iPhone’s HD recording abilities. Flat and curved base mounts with 3M industrial adhesive give you some mounting options to get started, but over 40 mounts are available, including our personal favorite, the chest mount. A sliding rail system means that you can easily attach and remove the main housing, allowing you to utilize its protective capacity whether or not it’s mounted and filming.

A safety leash and zip tie are thrown in for good measure.

In action

Head or chest? Life is about choices. Photo courtesy Optrix

Head or chest? Life is about choices.

Setup is easy. The sliding rail system allows for easy attachment to various mounts. The adhesive mounts work as well as any others we’ve used and the unibody construction keeps weight to a minimum. Other than being able to immediately watch footage you’ve just recorded, being able to immediately see what you’re recording on the iPhone’s screen makes for easy adjustment when mounting, taking the guesswork out of getting the right angle. There’s nothing worse than having a great run only to download your footage and find out your chest mount was pointed straight up your nose the entire time.

Once on the sled and in the case, things are pretty simple—but they weren’t simple enough for Optrix. The company developed propriety iPhone apps to maximize POV potential. The Optrix VideoSport is a free app featuring focus lock and adjustability for resolution and frame rate. The focus lock feature prevents the iPhone from “hunting” and constantly attempting to focus while in motion. At the time of press, motion-activated start/stop and a “minutes left” warning are slated for the next update.

An Optrix VideoPro gives users the ability to overlay telemetry data on their videos including speed, G-Force, lap times and a track map in addition to the functions of the VideoSport for $9.99 in the app store. Both also include oversized record, stop and play buttons for ease of use.

Final take

While it may seem counter-intuitive to bomb your favorite trail with an expensive iPhone anywhere but stowed safely in your pack or back in the truck, we’re looking forward to spending more time with and putting the Optrix through its paces and—most likely—testing its crash-test rating. While other dedicated POV cams likely aren’t going anywhere, the Optrix offers an ingenious and viable option for riders who already have a very capable iPhone, but don’t want to drop the extra coin for an expensive stand-alone unit.

by Don Stefanovich 

 

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