GoPro Camera and making time lapse videos

I bought the GoPro camera without ever having used it before. Then on my trip I used it without knowing what sort of video the images it was taking would make. I could view the images, but until I got to Denver, I did not have the ability to put them together as a video. Now that I have completed the trip and completed making the daily videos, what did I learn? 

Aesthetics:

First, to make a real movie, it would be best to have another video camera or maybe two. These could be a GoPro or something else that shot video like a point-n-shoot. The second GoPro could be mounted in such a way that I would be in the video/time-lapse all the time. Filming people is important and since I was the hero of this story it would have been nice to have footage of me riding from various angles to insert into the footage of the road ahead.

When I got to Denver, and made a short trial of some of the video, it seemed like the camera was positioned so that the road was the biggest part of the scene and little of the scenery along the sides was visible. So I made a new mount that moved the camera from my handle bars out to the front of the front rack. Previous to that, you could see my hands gripping the hoods of the breaks or when I’d reach into my handle bar bag or when I’d stretch out resting. This did add a personal aspect to the films. After the GoPro moved out to the front of the rack, I was rarely visible in the film, but more of the scenery alongside the road was visible.  I am not sure about the trade-off. Both have their benefits.

I wrote to GoPro suggesting they make another mount/case that has two cameras in a V-formation and taking pictures simultaneously so that you get a very wide field of view — something like 270 deg. That way you could capture everything happening in front of you. The said they’d think about it.

The GoPro Hero had several settings for time lapse pictures. The intervals were 1 second, 2 second, 5 second, 10 second, 30 second…anything longer apart didn’t make much sense if making a time lapse video of biking all day. I first tried every 10 seconds because I though that would make each day about 2 minutes long. After watching a short video I shot at that spacing, I decided it was too jumpy. Calculating how much space would be needed, I decided that every 2 seconds was not logistically possible. So I settled on a picture every 5 seconds. It is still a bit jumpy but not too bad especially in the wide open western US.

Logistics:

I started the trip with three batteries. The camera itself can act as a charger and the battery backpack (supplemental battery power) can act as a charger. I also had two single USB wall plug adapters. This meant I could only charge two batteries at once plus I had my iPhone to charge. The batteries are not exactly quick charging often requiring over an hour and a half to charge. It meant I had to hang out at restaurants and other places waiting for batteries to charge a long time.

I ended up buying another battery backpack that gave me another battery charger plus another battery. Now I had four batteries and three chargers. Then I bought two dual USB wall plug adapters. This gave me the ability to charge three GoPro batteries and my iPhone at the same time. Much better. I also became more battery focused and anytime I’d stop somewhere for a while I’d look for a plug immediately — restaurants, highway rest areas, convenience stores…anywhere with electricity. I also found that RV parks leave the electricity on so that you can pull into one of their spots, charge up and then leave.

I could generally get by using 2-3 batteries per day. Each battery lasted about 2.5 hours. Usually I’d turn off the camera if I was going to be not riding for a while to save battery as well as memory card space.

The memory cards also required some logistical planning. I had 9 SD cards at 16 GB each. Each day I’d take roughly 10 GB of data. Usually I’d switch in a new card each day although a few times I’d leave the card in until the camera registered it as full. Of course, that meant trying to pay attention every time I stopped to see if the card was full. I had to plan when I’d be stopping at a library to transfer the cards to the 1 TB USB hard disk I brought with me. It would take an hour or two depending on the the USB setup on the library computers to transfer a week’s worth of data.

I missed hours of video due to forgetting to turn it on, batteries running out, and cards getting full. I only missed one full day because I had no more battery — Day 25: King’s Canyon to Delta, UT.

I had a small waterproof stuff sack that I used to carry around my GoPro stuff. Inside were used SD cards, empty SD cards, charging stuff, and the portable hard disk. It was pretty easily accessible so that I could get the charging stuff out quickly. Altogether it weighed about a pound.

Next time I’d look into a generator charger that run against the tire like the ones used to work lights on bikes. I tried a solar charger but it didn’t work, and later in my ride the sun was getting less and less as the days grew short.

The Video:

I created over 300,000 pictures during the trip and turning that into video too a while — about 35-45 minutes per day: 5 minutes putting the pictures, captions, titles, and credits together and then 30+ minutes of computer processing time. Initially, I decided to just put each each day’s video up basically in the raw with very little editing. Now I am thinking of what to do next with the images and video.

I have thought of trying a program like AstroStack to see if I can align the images so that say the white line on the edge of the road is in the same place each time and the edges of the frame move around. This might make the central area of the video smoother.

I have also heard of VReveal as another way to stabilize the video. I am also looking into VirtualDub and AviSynth as open source editors that look to be pretty complete even if the user interfaces aren’t great.

Unfortunately, all this video processing is a bit beyond the capabilities of my old IBM T43 laptop. (Unless I render overnight…) It might be time for a new computer.

Other Cameras:

I also carried a Canon a590is and my iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 has a pretty good camera, and it had the added convenience of being able to email photos right from the phone. The Canon took better pictures and had more modes, but later in the trip the lens sometimes would not focus. I’d turn the camera on and off several times before it would decide to start focusing. I did like that it took AA batteries so I didn’t have yet another thing to charge.

Anything else I would have brought?

Something like a Joby Gorilla Pod tripod would have been nice. So I could set up for self photos easier, taking some low light photos, and using my GoPro off the bike. Even though it is a small tripod it comes with a quick release shoe so you can quickly attach the camera to the tripod instead of spinning the thing around for a minute or two before it is ready to use. That is really nice.

I recently downloaded Quick Lapse HD for my iPhone and have been having fun making short time lapse videos using it. I also bought Joby’s Gorrilla Mobile for the iPhone 4. It is pretty nice for shooting the time lapse and other video. (I also like it for Skype video calls and watching movies while lying in bed — set the tripod on my chest and try not to snooze!) Plus it comes with a quick release shoe that I put onto my regular digital camera.

I used a GoPro Hero just missing by a month the release of the MUCH improved GoPro Hero2 that has twice the resolution, better user interface, more time lapse modes, more video modes (including 120 frames per second for SUPER slow motion), and all around just cooler camera. If I could get two of them, I’d love to play with 3D video using the adapter that connects two cameras.

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