The GoPro Experience

Feb 15, 2010
by strahan loken  
When it comes to video, I’m a rookie. I’ve spent countless hours shooting still images, and a fair bit of time on the athlete side of video production, but when it comes to aspect ratios, frames per second, editing timelines, or encoding, I’ve got a lot to learn. In an ideal world, I would have jumped into the video scene by upgrading my DSLR body to something like a Nikon D300s, but with these coming in around $1500 CAD, that wasn’t in the cards.

Enter the GoPro Hero HD.This tiny piece of kit shoots video in five resolutions, captures 5MP still images as single frame or timed sequences, while offering a rugged waterproof housing and wide variety of standard and accessory mounts. With a list price of around $350 CAD it seemed like an ideal tool to escape my daily engineering tasks, and keep my creative side exercised and entertained. Since there are plenty of detailed technical reviews to be found out there, I won’t dive into that here, but read further to see how I decided to mount the GoPro and what kind of output it can produce.

<center>My GoPro: decaled out, posing over a black background, and showing some character marks</center>
My GoPro: decaled out, posing over a black background, and showing some character marks

Once I had my hands on the camera, the next question was mounting. Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen plenty of helmet cam footage, and most of it sucks. Long videos of the same head or chest mount perspective, with minimal editing to remove the boring sections, certainly loses its flavor. I wanted a flexible and versatile mounting system which would allow me to explore the creative angles I imagined, but with robust enough construction to survive the abuse associated with mounting camera gear on a bike, then dragging it through the mountains.

This led me to the Manfrotto Magic Arm and Superclamp system. These parts are technically designed for mounting commercial lighting components, but do a great job orienting a camera body while articulating to an infinite variety of positions. Add in the capability of the Superclamp to grip almost anything on a bike as well as nearby roots, stumps, or branches that provide the perspective for your shot, and you’ve got a very adaptable mounting system. At more than $200 CAD, these components seem expensive, but when I considered the cost of materials, plus my time to design and fabricate an alternative system, it’s very reasonable. The only thing left to do was fabricate an aluminum plate to couple the arm to a flat adhesive-backed mount supplied with the camera.

<center>Manfrotto Magic Arm, Superclamp, GoPro, and custom aluminum adapter (plywood optional)</center>
Manfrotto Magic Arm, Superclamp, GoPro, and custom aluminum adapter (plywood optional)

Enough with the technical talk, let’s get to the art. My first day using the system, in the tradition of January on Vancouver Island, I was caught in an unexpected rainstorm. Neither the camera or the mount were bothered by these conditions, although my feet could have been warmer and I could have been more careful with removing water spots from the lens. Surprisingly more than a few people have commented that the water spots help to convey the winter dreariness, but I’ll leave that up to individual taste. Here are the words and video from when I first posted it on the Race Face blog.

Living and playing outdoors on Vancouver Island during the winter months means dealing with one thing more than anything else, rain. The winter’s grip transforms the terrain into something familiar, yet unpredictable. Rock faces glisten and dare you to descend them as green growth slowly erases the tracks of former tires. Corners you would carve in dry conditions appear solid, but yield unexpectedly as rubber knobs slice though muddy layers. You navigate off camber sections knowing there’s an even chance you’ll cruise through, or be tossed recklessly into the undergrowth. Wet feet, soaked gloves, squealing brakes, and mud encrusted eyes become strangely…tolerable. It’s never bothered me. I always think about how, soon enough, the seemingly endless overcast and damp days give way to renewed growth, sunshine, and dusty trails. Then paradoxically we’re left wishing for a good rain ride.

Views: 15,965    Faves: 65    Comments: 19

In this edit I explored a variety of mounting positions, on and off the bike. A few worked really well. A few, such as grinding a muddy rear tire into the camera body, obviously didn’t. One challenging aspect of trying a variety of angles is that the GoPro has no capability to align your shot, since it has neither an LCD or a viewfinder. However I did discover that by sighting behind the camera, and interpreting the reflection in the lens, you can get a pretty good idea of what your footage will look like. Below are some examples of how I mounted the camera to various points on the bike for that video.




Remember how I also mentioned you can configure the GoPro to shoot a timed sequence of photos? That functionality can be used to create time lapses, such as this one from the Victoria waterfront. Now if only the winter weather would just cooperate and produce some dramatic pink sunsets, instead of the light dying off just as it reaches the horizon!

Views: 6,331    Faves: 5    Comments: 9

Another useful way to use the GoPro is to extract single images from a sequence of video. Using your video editing software or simply grabbing a screen capture from your media player, you can retrieve a very useable image, such as this one below, which happens to convey the motion blur of passing trees as a ribbon of singletrack winds though a moss blanketed forest, on January 31st. Yes, life on the Island is tough, but we work through it.

<center>GoPro Screen grab (shot in the 'Tall' R4 format)</center>
GoPro Screen grab (shot in the 'Tall' R4 format)

Overall I’m pretty happy with my GoPro HD. Having seen the output from the previous version, it’s fair to say that the image quality has been improved. It also seems to do an overall better job of controlling the exposure between extremely bright and very dark. I personally enjoy backlit images, and really like the lens flare produced by the tiny lens.

<center>GoPro Screengrab (shot in 'wide' R2 format)</center>
GoPro Screengrab (shot in 'wide' R2 format)

I’m pleased that GoPro chose to include a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack in the HD platform, versus the previous version’s AAAs. Although GoPro recommends using Li-ion AAAs, they are a less common battery and people often end up using alkalis. This can result in performance glitches as alkalis don’t work well in cold or under severe vibration, common challenges in the mountains. The GoPro accessory I’m really looking forward to checking out is the upcoming “Bakpac”. This optional kit will apparently plug into the expansion port on the back of the camera and provide an LCD for aligning your shot and reviewing footage. This is supposed to come with a new rear door which will maintain the waterproofness of the housing. The only disadvantage I can see is that the unit will now be a bit heavier.

One thing I dislike with my camera is the amount of play in the buckle mount. Other GoPros I’ve seen had almost no noticeable wobble, while mine has an obvious clearance. I’ve added some electrical tape to my mount to take up the gap, but it would clearly be better if the tolerances were perfect. I’d also like to see the buttons a little easier to actuate, as mine are quite stiff. In future versions of the GoPro, it would be nice if they either made the beep louder, or provided an additional indicator LED on the back of the unit, so you don’t have to look into the front of the camera to see if it’s recording.

The Manfrotto mount overall works very well and provides a secure method to manipulate the camera’s position relative to the bike and get that killer angle. It is a bit bulky though, and depending on how you’re mounting, can interfere with pedaling or other movements. Because of the rigidity and amount of overhang, the camera will shake under high frequency vibration. If you’re looking for a set-it-and-forget-it mount, this probably isn’t right for you. I also haven’t taken a spill with it onboard, so only time will tell how it survives that.

Thanks to the good people at Race Face, Marty's Mountain Cycle, and Banshee bikes for doing what they can to keep my gear running smoothly, I certainly do my part to try and wreck it all.

-Strahan Loken

Tyler Maine would like you to know that the GoPro Hero HD is available in the Pinkbike store, buy one here!


45 Comments

  • + 9
 WILL THIS THING FIT ME IN BED?
  • + 2
 haha, that's funny. Just as long as you don't say the lens is not wide enough for you!
  • + 4
 The problem with wide-angle lenses is that everything looks smaller...
  • + 2
 Great story and vrey helpful as well! I got the hero wide last summer and have learned alot about filming riding! It very fun but It look as the quality of the HD is so much better,outstanding the colors and clearness of your footage! Good job!
  • + 1
 'tis a pretty good camera, although (and I'm probably going to start a war here), the Contour HD is possibly a better choice as it's easier to "hide" on the bike and less vunerable to hit on something. Pros and Cons with both devices I suppose.
  • + 1
 I don't want to start a war either, but I do believe that the GoPro has the Contour beat hands down because of its mounting options. And in order to get the author's interesting angles, it is necessary to mount the camera away from the bike (using the arm) - mounting it directly on the bike only allows for very limited angles. As for the camera hitting things - I have crashed HARD on my camera many times, and it's still ticking. The housing is super tough. Any experience with crashes on the Contour?
  • + 1
 The mounting point is fairly moot, the ContourHD can fit a mount for a standard screw-type camera mount right? The author had to fabricate something to make the arm and GoPro mate up anyway, so there's no reason this would be more or less complicated with a ContourHD.
  • + 1
 To be honest, still not had a chance to use it yet. A weekend trip to Snowdonia (North Wales) is it's first outing. I'm hoping to mount it in various places including a rear face with the rear mech in shot. Not quite sure how I'm going to get that. As said many times by many people though, the Contour vs GoPro is all about balancing up the pros and cons. I'm not professional producer or rider so just wanted something quick and easy for "Jo Average" and it's the hide on the bike that I liked the most.

Great write up on the Go Pro through! Top marks!
  • + 1
 very nice! I just got two of the stand def go pros and I have noticed that some of the uploads to the internet show up rough with a pixel problem of some sort. On the other hand I have seen some like this one that are very clean. What can I do to insure a clean reproduction? Any help is appreciated!!
  • + 1
 Read on some forum about that and a codec update was all that was needed.
  • + 1
 Nice! Ill chk it out. Thanks much!
  • + 1
 Good article.
Recently got the naked version and am working on a modified/slightly tweaked handlebar mounted umbrella gripping device (yes, only in Japan !). Mounts well to hbar and seatpost and the head pans 360 and tilts about 180 (all for about 20$ US). Working really well in preliminary testing but as Loken pointed out is dificult to eliminate jitter caused by overhang and conpounded by the amount of 'play' in the stock mounts.
  • + 1
 Nice job. I always wondered how shots would turn out with one of HD's. The videos on the go pro website always seemed to pro for me to believe. Really nice job. You have inspired me to pick one up and try it out. Especially after having to replace the lcd on my D60 after getting it to close to a tree. Looks like I could use it for some stills aswell. My friend had one of the regulars, before the HD was available, and it never did a good job, looks like they have fixed alot of the earlier problems.
  • + 1
 How waterproof/ water-resistant are these bad boys? I ride (alot) but also ski (as it is winter 4months of the year) and was wanting too mount one too the front of the skiis... hence the need for them too not take on water! Cheers for any info.
  • + 1
 I've seen pics of GoPros mounted on Surf boards, so I will say that you are good to go for skiing.
  • + 1
 waterproof to 80 feet
  • + 1
 been using mine today but it was too dark in the woods and too wet and muddy every where else so the videos have been fairly rubbish. but no a good day the GoPro is an awesome camera
  • + 1
 Gopro includes a little orange piece of rubber that fits in the buckle mount thing. it prevents vibration and i have one and it works really great
  • + 2
 this is a pretty good tip - thanks!
  • + 1
 yeah no prob i had no idea what it was until i searched it up
  • + 1
 does anyone know why the canadian version is more expensive than the us version ?? is it because of the exchange rate between canadian/us dollar and euro's ??
  • + 1
 That magic arm is sick, what is the difference between the 244 and the 143, is there a reason you didn't get the one with the locking cam as opposed to the knob?
  • + 1
 I got the 244 because...well...it's what the local shop had in stock. I've also used it to shoot some pan shots which the 143 can't do. In hindsight it was a good choice.
  • + 1
 Sounds like i'm gonna have to add this to my arsenal....nice piece of kit whether you use it for stills or video!
  • - 1
 They're sweet, but the cash you have to doll out for one is a bit steep. Don't get me wrong, they're sweet, but Im just waiting for a used one to pop up on craigslist so i can buy it and replace the sensor cover.
  • + 1
 You mean the housing lens? You can get replacement ones on Ebay for really cheap, and they include new o-rings and screws too.
  • + 1
 Super article. Was very impressed with your edit. And now I know how they get those "off-the-bar" shots !
  • + 1
 I bought the standard GoPro camera and a week later the HD one comes out! I'm so pissed off!!
  • + 1
 I just ordered the non hd one. Cant wait to get it!
  • + 1
 very nice job! I love your video.
  • + 1
 that's an atlas with the graphics scrubbed off
  • + 1
 Yeah Strahan. Nice write up man.
  • + 1
 I would love to get my hands on a GoPro
  • + 1
 ya but there $300 for the hd
  • + 2
 That is ridiculously cheap for how nice they are honestly. Fisheye, slo-mo, and HD for that cheap is pretty incredible.
  • + 1
 There is a tripod mount available from GoPro...
  • + 1
 There is, but then I'd have to order it & wait. Instead I just fabricated a quick adapter.
  • + 2
 so sick!!!!!!!!!
  • + 6
 i got one of these like a month ago. best decision i have had in a long time.
  • + 1
 yeh man but i think im gonna get a vholdr hd.
  • - 1
 man i kove my nikon d300
  • + 1
 Thanks for that! Wink
  • + 1
 Need to get mine used more often, great write up Smile
  • + 1
 Can some1 tell me what handlebar is there?
  • + 1
 I want one!

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