A month and a half after purchasing my big new toy, a Suzuki SV650S, I decided I should get some kind of camera to go with it. Originally wondering if this was a good excuse to purchase a new dSLR w/ video I was instructed that mounting a dSLR to a moving object is better suited to someone with more money than I have, in case the inevitable happens, it falling off at speed and shattering into a million zillion pieces. So I opted to go cheaper and smaller with a GoPro HD.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I’ve been trying to find a way to make an interesting video. One that helps show some of my excitement on the bike while also not displaying any of the illegal things many people might do to try and achieve such excitement. It’s really hard! To get the lean angles that people expect, you have to go “too fast” and to get the sound from the bike you have to mount the camera in a boring location unless you’re willing to use the secure tapes that GoPro provides which so far I’m unwilling. Even just finding music that goes well with the video is hard. Because of these difficulties I’ve only managed to produce a couple example videos. So instead of showing off I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about the quality of the device as well as the video it outputs.
Ok, I cheated. Drossel isn’t holding it’s full weight.
The GoPro HD itself is a pretty neat device, especially considering it’s size and weight. The device is 42mm x 60mm x 30mm (1.6″ x 2.4″ x 1.2″) and weighs just 167g (5.9oz) with the battery and the polycarbonate housing. This tiny package can do up to 1080p @ 30 fps and 127° view angle and if you drop it down a level or two can do 720p @ 60 fps and 170°. It also has a couple different modes beyond just video, it’ll do photos at 5 MP in four different modes, single shot, timelapse, 3-shot burst and self-timer. Depending on the base kit you choose the mounts and straps will differ. I accidentally ordered the GoPro HD Helmet Hero when I wanted to buy the Motorsports Hero so had to order some extra bits, such as the suction cup and motorsports mounts. However in all kits they include multiple housings, open design for better sound at lower speeds and a closed design for higher speeds as well as for use underwater to depths of 60 m (180 ft). Lastly, the device will output live SD/HD video to a TV via connectors on the side and included cables. Seems like a pretty impressive little device doesn’t it? Especially given the relatively low price point of $260-300.
So far however, while I do enjoy using it, I have not been very impressed with the quality of the recorded video, it’s very much like that of a “good” cellphone camera. The biggest issue I have with it is something I knew going in and the same issue many people suffer through with cameras based on CMOS sensors. Rolling shutter. Rolling shutter is a side effect caused by flaws inherent in how a CMOS sensor works as it does not capture the entire frame at once. Rather a CMOS sensor scans line by line from the top of the sensor to the bottom. This method of capturing data off the sensor allows for the subject to move within a single frame causing a skewing effect or in some more extreme cases like propellers on a plane some really funky unreal photos and video.
My second issue with the GoPro HD is white balance. It seems incredibly rare that it actually gets it right. When I tried my first timelapse recording, nearly every single shot was different. There was no easy way to fix it in post-production without tweaking each frame individually, and there were 3,252 frames. This meant there was a constant flickering in the video. I did however do my best to adjust on some kind of average between all the frames. On the left you’ll see the unchanged photos straight out of the GoPro HD and on the right some normalization via Lightroom before producing the video as well as a failed attempt at levelling the horizon. Additionally the video on the right also has a slower frame rate making it about a minute longer in duration. (Note: Let each buffer a bit before playing otherwise they’ll likely stutter.)
Another issue that cropped up on me was night time shooting. I rode out through the country side at around 23:00 with my high beams on and while I could see perfectly the GoPro made it look as though I was driving entirely blind. Even once I hit town again with the street lights all over the place it seemed to barely register them. Turns out part of this was my fault. I always leave the device set to 720p60 in case for whatever reason I feel the need to slow down the video for some slow motion, say perhaps, avoiding a deer that jumps out out of no where (I didn’t have the GoPro then). Leaving the device set to 60 fps works great in the day but at night it doesn’t leave enough time for the sensor to absorb light between frames resulting in what I described previously. Additionally the GoPro has a very tiny sensor and tiny sensors are very poor in low-light situations as their surface area for absorbing light is at a premium and amplifying what little light they receive increases the visible noise.
The addition of the LCD Backpack that GoPro offers has been invaluable for my use. Trying to get the device lined up and level on the bike has been difficult even with the screen, I can’t imagine the trial and error I would have had to go through had I not bought it. So while it’s over priced on their website at $100 I do think some of the value you’re getting is ease of use. Not only are you able to line up your shots more easily, you can visit the cameras menu and very easily adjust settings that I find just plain confusing using the little LCD on the front.
All in all I suppose I’m pretty happy with the little device but if GoPro were to ask me how I would improve the camera I would certainly provide them with a list. From things as small as remembering the date and time when swapping the battery out to bigger things like white balance and longer battery life and biggest of all, a better sensor. But, given a figma can hold the sucker up, I guess it is a pretty small little package for all it can do.