Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GoPro Hero3 Black Edition First Impressions

I wrote a little piece about my view on action cameras last fall. Since then the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition has entered the market and caused quite a buzz. I read all I could find about it, and while most of it were just hype without any actual testing, I did find enough solid information about it to buy one. My interest is not the traditional action camera jump-out-of-a-perfectly-functioning-airplane or watch-me-ride-15-minutes-with-the-same-view stuff, though see how I could add some dynamics to my videos by some POV angles. For me the action camera should allow me to get some footage in difficult (e.g. wet) conditions in addition to the POV angles.

On paper the GoPro Hero3 is very impressive, with a good number of video modes, including some potentially very interesting ones. Read this article for a good overview of them. It also has a built-in WiFi interface that works great with my Android smartphone. With the included housing it can take almost anything.

The form factor is in my opinion poor compared to that of the Contour Roam, which could be mounted just about anywhere without problems. The only situation where the GoPro form factor is better is for the chest harness. I also liked the Contour Roam weather proofing better, since it could take most ordinary situations like rain and water down to one meter without an extra housing. With the GoPro the extra housing is in practice always necessary and it does affect the video sharpness at least marginally.

So how good it is? Some systematic tests by knowledgeable people show that it actually is pretty good, with the video quality showing good resolution (though still far from the nominal resolutions) and color rendition.
My first impressions below are non-scientific and geared towards my own intended use, so take them for what they are. (Note that I'm using the 25 fps modes mainly, since I have some ambitions outside pure internet use. Faster frame rates are generally easier to use).

As can be seen from the video, the fisheye effect is pretty strong, which in my opinion is the biggest drawback. It can be dealt with in different ways, but I would prefer a more straight image. In some situations the fisheye effect won't be noticeable, in other situations the image can be defished with acceptable quality, especially from 2.7K source, and in some cases the medium FOV could be used to lessen the effect. Of course, there might be situations where the fisheye effect is desirable, but I generally prefer trees to be as straight as they are in the real world.

The GoPro is nowadays very easy to use and you can actually frame it fairly accurately with a smartphone. The Black Edition also includes a WiFi remote, but I don't see myself using it much when the smartphone interface is so much better.

The GoPro contains fairly good timelapse functionality, but in my opinion it is limited by the auto exposure and fisheye lens. See the video containing a short timelapse shot with the GoPro. The exposure might have been better with the spot light meter on, but I think I will do my timelapses mostly on the Canon S90, since it has full manual control and a lot better optics. For self documenting I do see some possible use of the timelapse functionality, though.

The 4K mode was a disappointment, but I guess it is more a marketing gimmick than anything else. With 15 fps it was never good enough for motion, but some so called reviews hinted that it would be a good way to get a fast frame rate for 8 megapixel stills. I tried it and the stills are just video frame grabs with similar quality. The resolution and colors are nowhere near real 8 megapixel photos. Here is an example, with the full size version being here.

What more to say? The battery life is poor and on my latest outing I got about 12 minutes of use of it. Granted, it was cold and the GoPro was in ambient temperature all the time, but my Panasonic GH2 was in the same temperature and the first battery lasted one and a half day with lots of pictures and about 30 minutes of video. I still haven't been able to get a GoPro spare battery, they seem to be out of stock at least here in Finland.

Finally, I think the video below shows the amount of POV angles I'm intending to use. Maybe I could have a few more, but I'm not going to overuse the them. Most of the video is shot with the Panasonic GH2, but the timelapse and the POV shots were done with the GoPro.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Real Winter

In the beginning of the week I came up with a cunning plan. My intention was to take Friday off and ride out with my bike on Thursday evening, spending the entire Friday riding on firm snow on the big mires. The night between Tuesday and Wednesday we got 10-15 cm of new snow making everything look like a winter paradise. This would affect my plan, though, by making it harder to ride and possibly softening the snow underneath. The weather forecast on Thursday, just a few hours before I left, showed that Friday would be an excellent day, starting with a temperature of about -20°C (-4°F) and then late in the evening a slightly warmer weather would come in. Toni also though the weather looked excellent and decided to join me.

I started at 19:30 and had 37 km ahead of me mainly on small roads. The temperature was about -13°C (8°F), but it dropped noticeably during my ride.

Arriving at the Vajosuo shelter after two and a half hours. Toni was supposed to be there and have a fire ready, but things don't always work out the way I would like.

I started a fire myself and grilled a few sandwhiches and drank hot chocolate while I waited for Toni. He turned up around midnight. It was already colder than forecasted.

We went to sleep a little before one o'clock. The night was a bit chilly, but I slept quite well and wasn't actually cold. At 7:30 I got up and made a fire. The temperature was now around -23°C (-9°F). This time my food was mainly sandwhiches, which in frozen form were rather hard to chew. Over the fire they became very tasty.

Toni was a slow starter and I went ahead to enjoy the sunrise at 9:20. It was a really crisp and beautiful morning, so please excuse the photos, or rather the amount of them.

It was perfectly possible to ride, but the amount new snow on top of the firm snow base made it fairly hard work.

A half hour later Toni joined me.

We rode on the Vajosuo mire for a while, before taking a "shortcut" through the forest surrounding the mire. Unfortunately I started about 500 m too much too the south (not too many reference points on the mire), and  we got our share of bike pushing.

The somewhat optimistic plan was now to enter the Laidassuo mire, in order to follow a circular bog traverse route I did two years earlier.

In order to get to the open mire we needed to go through a section with forest as well. It was very slow going and after a while we decided to turn back. While we've gained a full hour of daylight since the winter solstice, the sun is still up for less than seven hours, so the daylight is a limiting factor.

It was early afternoon when we had lunch, freeze dried outdoor meals. We also made more water from snow. The temperature was now the highest of the day, about -17°C (1°F).

My bike in winter bikepacking mode. In addition I had a Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW backpack with camera gear and a down jacket.

We continued on a short road section that took us the the Kurjenrahka mire, just in time for the sunset at 16:05. It was beautiful.

Soon the sky in the north turned purple.

We continued on a snowmobile track, which probably would get turned into an xc ski track this weekend. Riding on ski tracks is of course unacceptable, but we judged that tire tracks in loose snow would do no harm.

This was one of the occasions when you could feel the temperature dropping rapidly. I don't know how much is what you feel on the skin or how much is from experiencing similar conditions before, but it could easily be noticed without a thermometer.

We arrived at the Töykkälä shelter just before it became totally dark. The first thing to do was to start a fire, to warm food and fingers on. The fire doesn't give any warmth into the shelter, probably because they don't want people to use up the firewood for that purpose. Despite the temperature, we had no real problems with the cold. I did pay attention to my poor frostbitten (last winter) toes, but everything was fine.

Time for food: Sandwhiches...

... and behold! A pizza!

The rest of the evening was uneventful. After having eaten I became really tired and tucked into my sleeping bag already a little after eight. My sleeping bag wasn't really good enough for the temperature we now had, so I took a little heat pad and put it next to my feet. It was supposed to give heat for up to twenty hours, but in practice it cooled off after seven hours. If I had known it would be this cold, I would have taken my new Enlightened quilt to put onto the sleeping bag. It should have been more than sufficient.

I slept fairly well until around five in the morning, when it got a little cold. At seven I got up and started a fire. My thermometer was inside the shelter and showed -27°C (-17°F). The shelter probably adds a degree or two, so it was probably close to -30°C outside. We might again have had the coldest night of the winter. Toni had been smart and brought his new overbag and hence was warm and cozy in a similar sleeping bag as mine (same make and model, but mine is long and his regular).

You could here the cracking noise of the trees in the cold.

About 9:30 I started my 40 km ride home, mainly on roads. Toni decided to melt snow and have another cup of coffee before riding home.

The going was slow in the beginning, since I regularly stopped to walk a bit to get some blood and warmth into my toes. I even stopped a few times and took of the boots to check out the toes. I didn't feel the toes, so I got a little worried. Riding on road in this cold weather is really cold for the feet and my toes are no longer as warm as before the frostbites, and it is also difficult to know if they are really cold. During the last hour of my ride I could feel the temperature rise and it was only -13°C when I got home in the early afternoon.

This was an excellent trip in rare conditions. I would need warmer boots, which will be difficult to find, but otherwise I should have the gear for these temperatures. Thanks to Toni for joining me.

Check out Toni's report here.