Over the last few days I've had some fun messing around with a GoPro camera. For those not familiar with the device, they're a tiny "action" video camera which comes with a waterproof housing and a variety of attachments for clamping them to your bike or helmet or parachute harness or whatever. We have a couple at work for shooting multimedia for the website so I borrowed one for the weekend to familiarise myself with the technology. While I think they've got a long way to go, they're a pretty nice piece of kit.
I played around on a couple of rides - the Bundle of Styx on the weekend and on one of my normal morning "faux commutes" up the Hobart bike track and back. Both times I got very reasonable footage. I mounted the camera to my handlebars. The wide angle lens captured the bike's brake levers - which gives a real sense of being on a bike - and occasionally the light and front wheel. I bought but didn't try a helmet mount. From the footage I made a couple of short videos using a couple of different software programs, mainly for my own amusement. The results, while amateurish in the extreme, pleased me greatly - which is all that matters in this game because just about nobody else will want to look at your bike videos, except perhaps other cyclists and maybe your spouse for a few minutes the first couple of times before making highly sarcastic comments. I found I became a lot better at putting together my short clips with each attempt. Even though I clearly have a long way to go as a videographer, I learned a lot and enjoyed myself immensely putting the videos together. The YouTube clip below doesn't really do the high definition output of the camera justice, although it does give a bit of an idea what can be done with even fairly mundane footage and rudimentary skills.
Before I headed out I had a look at a few videos shot by cyclists and spoke to a couple of GoPro owners. There were two consensuses. First was that the chest mount harness was considered best for cycling use because that position insulates from bumps better than on-bike mounting points and because it gave a more first-person view. The second piece of advice was that handholding the camera was a good idea to capture a variety of shots, such as of pedals turning and wheels spinning, to break up the sequences a little.
First: the good. The camera takes lovely footage. The high resolution is wonderfully crisp and real. Low light performance is good, although it does get overwhelmed a little by strong lights , like headlights and street lights but generally it handled transitions from dark to light well. The camera is light and the waterproof case is a very handy addition. There is a wide range of accessories available and once you have the settings sorted, it's pretty easy to use (Although I buggered up one lot of video by inadvertently changing some settings). The sound recording capacity is pretty good for such a small camera.
Then the bad. The camera has just two main buttons which drive a very odd menu system which is hard to get the hang of quickly. The clamps for attaching to a bicycle are expensive, of indifferent quality and even when tightened the camera tends to be knocked out of position by sharp bumps and didn't fit my seatpost - another mount would be required. (The nice but expensive mounts make by K-Edge look pretty good for most cycling purposes.) The battery life was - on the near-new unit I tested - unimpressive at around 40 minutes, although I suspect we may have a faulty battery. There is no way to see the footage you're shooting or even line up the camera without putting on an additional, battery-draining LCD screen or use the woeful GoPro app on a smart phone via wifi. And there's no way to review footage on the road.
There's another slight drawback that's not the camera's fault at all. Going for a ride for me at least is an exercise in clearing my mind, getting rid of the distractions and stresses of the day. Messing around with a camera, stopping to change or fix mounts and thinking about when to turn the camera on and off is a bit of a diversion from the main business at hand. I'm going for a ride, not making a movie. I imagine this becomes less of an issue once the novelty factor wears off and with practise.
I've got no doubt that more and more cyclists will mount cameras on their bikes in the coming years - it's fun and gives you an unmatched and highly watchable record of your ride. No doubt the technology will come ahead in leaps and bounds too - I can see a combined GPS and video unit not too far ahead - and the camera offers a good way for cyclists to record and report incidents involving motorists. But I probably won't be buying a GoPro any time soon. at $A500 I think the top-end unit is well overpriced and I'm not overly impressed by some of the accessories which must rates as some of the most expensive pieces of plastic this side of printer cartridges. All that to one side I've had a lot of fun playing with the GoPro and reckon I might shell out for one of the superseded models - probably a GoPro Hero 2, which can be found on eBay around the $200 point.