The Action Cam
In my past two blogs I covered a variety of cameras that are used to make productions that span the gamut of digital media, each one had their strengths and weaknesses. Camcorders are very well rounded and great for run-and-gun videography. DSLR's are great for the cinema production on a budget or the photographer that enjoys toying with the idea of motion picture. The cine cam is definitely the pinnacle of motion picture with models that range from the usage of indie filmmakers all the way to the cameras being fed film to shoot The Dark Knight. To some users though, all these options are far too bulky and incredibly brittle feeling because they put their camera in the same amount of danger as their body, which can be a lot.
Hero introduced the GoPro on April 13, 2005 and then really struck it big when it came out with the HD HERO in 2010. The HD HERO allowed anybody with $200 to have a portable and shock resistant camera that came with a case that went underwater. These cameras were great, and still are today, I do think that the ease at which one could attach one of these to a helmet (and the expansion of social networking) led to an incredible rise in stupidity in teenagers. Because when you try to film your snowboarding parkour while on a pier it doesn't matter what happens, it's going to be awesome, or an awesome fail so someone is going to give you attention right? The GoPro made all this possible, but there are more applications of an action camera than dying while trying to impress a girl you have never met while attempting to flip 3 times out a 3rd story window while on fire.
GoPro might have been a poor name when taking into consideration the typical user of this camera (not a professional), but that doesn't mean that it can't have professional application. Because they shoot in such great resolution, and are incredibly portable and versatile, GoPros can be used in almost any serious filmmaker's tool kit. Recently we saw the release of the newest HERO 3 line which basically gave us 3 options. The first, costing about $200, is the GoPro White. What you basically get in a GoPro White is the same thing as the HD HERO (HERO 1) when it first came out just smaller and a little more user friendly. The image quality is good but nothing to fawn over and the pictures are almost worthless only being 5mp. The next level up, the "economy plus" version, is called the GoPro Silver. As you may have predicted, the silver is the exact same processor that one would find in the GoPro HERO 2. The only difference from its predecessor other than the facelift that it's been given is the addition of an new microphone that is supposed to provide vastly improved audio quality, but since you would NEVER use GoPro audio for anything other than reference in editing, that is mostly irrelevant.
The really cool stuff is all in the GoPro Black edition. It comes with a totally new sensor that is capable of shooting in 4k, in something that you can accidentally lose in the wash. Realistically though that is just a novelty feature because it is only capable of capturing 4k resolution (3840 x 2160) at 15 frames per second. The real world utility comes when you start to dumb down the resolution closer to standard HD. The GoPro Black can shoot also at 2.7k (2704 x 1524), which can provide a much more detailed shot, but typically we have to take the resolution back down to 1080 because the format is a little bit ahead of most monitors. What I see as the best feature of the GoPro Black is the new integrated wireless application. You can wirelessly adjust your shot with either the included remote or the free GoPro iPhone app. The app is super cool because you can actually see what you are filming on your phone: very helpful if your GoPro is in a stupid spot. My other favorite features are the ability to record in 1080p at 60 frames per second and 720p at 120 frames per second. With the addition of just those 2 features you can add almost high speed looking footage to your reel, especially when you run the 720p@120fps thru twixtor or a similar plugin. Check out this video of a man flying through the air at very slow speeds. Finally the last thing that I think is a massive improvement from the previous model is the low light handling of the GoPro Black. Disregarding the complete flatness of the images below, look at how much better the picture on the bottom looks because of the absence of ISO noise.
The HERO series is the undeniably dominant species when it comes to action cameras. As of late though, there has been a slew of competition that are trying to break the current reign of the mighty GoPro. One of those competitors is JVC with their Adixxion action camera. Unlike the GoPro, the Adixxion comes out of the box ready to have the piss beaten out of it and drown in the nearest water, while the GoPro needs to call a timeout to put on its water proof safety pads. Another feature that the Adixxon has going for it is the built in screen on the side of the camera, a feature that would cost you extra if you purchased the GoPro. The Adixxion costs about $300 which is about the same as a GoPro Silver and the specs are very similar. Like the Silver, the JVC shoots 1080p at 30 as its maximum resolution, but the JVC falls down a bit with its still captures that are seen at a mere 5mp versus the 11mp that the GoPro Silver offers. Both also support wireless control.
All in all, between a GoPro Silver and an Adixxion, it completely depends on your preference and which one seems more friendly to you. The Adixxion does seem a bit less cumbersome having everything all-inclusive, while I need to worry about water damage to a GoPro without its case. A selling point of versatility of the GoPro Silver is the adjustment capable fields of view. Instead of having no option but a super wide angle a Silver will give you narrower options that the JVC cannot provide. The overall quality of the footage of the JVC seems a bit lackluster when compared to the GoPro though, just a bit less sharp and less saturated.
Regardless of what action cam that you decide is right for you, there are a number of uses that don't involve almost dying. They are the most useful when they are used to shoot supporting shots like driving scenes or shots perched in a precarious positions that are integrated with your real cameras. They are also excellent for underwater or half underwater shots because they usually come with some sort of underwater apparatus and if you do happen to break it you are only out a few hundred bucks.
Action cams are very versatile in where they can be put, but at the same time they are very limited as to what images they can capture. Obviously because of their small size and design to be mounted just about anywhere you want, they are going to be great choices for the "fly on a wall" type scenes and the typical point-of-view shot. Unfortunately though, all you get with an action cam is basically the same depth-less shot every time you turn it on. To add to the depth-lessness of it all, the controls for the light control and color control are severely limited.
Though the color isn't bad, and the image is still quality, it will ALWAYS have that deep depth of field and that same focal length. So even though these things are great for action photography and very good for a supporting shot camera in some situations, it is by no means a primary camera.
Happy filming :D