GoPro Hero at Portland International Raceway

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Last year I bought a GoPro HD Video Camera with the idea of attaching it to helicopters, racing cars, boats and anything else I could think of. While circumstances have not allowed me to use the camera as much as I would have liked I have used it enough to get an appreciation of what the GoPro system can and cannot do.

The first outing for the GoPro was on Allen Nicholas’s beautiful 1971 Brabham Formula 2 car. Maybe you aren’t interested in car racing, perhaps not even cars in general, but you must admit, this is one stunning racing car from an era where sponsorship was minimal, aerodynamics were somewhat understood and if a car looked fast it likely was. Enough of that, what happened?

1971 Brabham Formula 2 with GoPro Hero attached to roll bar

1971 Brabham Formula 2 with GoPro Hero attached to roll bar

Being a little paranoid I decided to wrap all the GoPro connectors with racers tape (basically good quality duct tape) to be positive in my mind that nothing would vibrate loose causing the loss of the camera and more importantly, the risk of the camera falling off at high speed and striking another car or driver. The GoPro accessories are very well designed and incredibly well made so I think the chances were slim but… I like to error on the side of safety! A few wraps and any chances of a problem are certainly minimized. I’ll also use this same technique with aircraft in the future.

GoPro Hero mounted on a formula racing car

GoPro Hero mounted on a formula racing car. Note the racers tape added for safety!

My initial thought was to shoot at the highest resolution available from this camera which is 1920×1080 at 30 fps but after a quick test I decided this possibly was not a good idea. My main problem was not having a fast enough notebook computer to play the videos so the videos were somewhat jerky and occasionally stalled. Not really knowing whether this was a camera issue (I was guessing too slow a card so the buffer filling up) or my computer (more than likely for a cheap 6 year old notebook) I decided to shoot the rest of the videos at 1280×720 at 30 fps and hope for the best. Overall I was very pleased with the results from this first experiment. Certainly at very high speeds (the car was running perhaps 150mph on the straights?) there is a small amount of jumpiness due to the 30 fps that I shot at but it’s certainly impressive and everyone I’ve shown the high resolution video to has been quite impressed. The exposure and color look quite good, my only real complaint being the amount of flare when shooting into the sun as can be seen around 1:00 minute mark in this video. I may make a custom lens shade to minimize this in the future.

GoPro provides two backs fro the camera housing, one which is solid for wet locations or underwater use and one that has a few slots in it to let more of the ambient sound make it’s way to the microphone. We tried the closed back for this video and the sound is more of the wind than the engine. A bit of a shame really as the Cosworth engine in this car has a very pleasant sound. The new GoPro Hero 2 has a stereo external microphone input (the GoPro Hero is a built in microphone only)  that likely would be an excellent way to create the sound that you really want. Certainly a lot of testing is required to perfect this aspect of shooting.

On an interesting GoPro forum resolution and frame rates are discussed in detail and many of the GoPro users that are shooting high speed sports seem to be using 1280×720 at 60 fps and this has become my norm with the camera. As for the stalled and jerky videos that we were viewing; they are courtesy of my old notebook computer. My fast desktop has no problem playing these videos smoothly. What I’ve learned here is to trust the camera to do the work and perhaps I should buy a new notebook computer.

GoPro has since released the GoPro Hero 2 Video Camera which appears to be a good upgrade to the package with higher frame rates available and a claimed 2x sharper lens. Waterproof to about 2oo feet (60m) and capable of capturing full 170º wide angle 1080p video and 11 megapixel photos at a rate of 10 photos per second I’m tempted to test one of these new cameras for a large photography project I’m working on for the summer as I’m in need of 2 GoPros. As mentioned previously, the external microphone input might be very useful as well although this certainly depends on the type of work you are doing.

Stay tuned!

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