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