Having Fun with the GoPro Hero Helmet Cam

One of the great gadgets I saw at NAB this year was the HD Hero camera from GoPro.  It’s intended to be an adventure sports camera that can be mounted on anything from a surfboard to a helmet to the side of a vehicle but we’ve been having fun with it on our Opening Our Eyes journey going through markets and bazaars.

We had a fabulous day in Istanbul today before heading to our next subject in Warsaw, Poland.  After seeing some of the great landmarks in the city, we spent a couple of hours walking through the Grand Bazaar wearing this amazing little camera strapped to our head.  Depending on how fluid your stride is, you can get some stunning hi res imagery that gives a viewer the feeling that they are having the experience themselves.

You cannot preview the image you’ll get as there is no eyepiece, but the lens is a wide angle lens with auto exposure and auto focus so shooting blind isn’t such a crap shoot.  You have to do a bit of testing to determine how it reacts to various light conditions but the exposure compensates nicely as the lighting situation changes and it’s pretty much right on target.  The audio is also pretty good quality, at least for any b-roll shooting.

For the price and the ease of use, the imagery this camera shoots is spectacular and it’s a lot of fun shooting in situations where you might not be able to use a larger camera.  I’m suitably impressed and I haven’t even really tested all the capabilities.

We had a lot of fun today with it in the Grand Bazaar and  got a lot of funny looks and comments. Check out our walk through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and see for yourself.

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Shooting Video in the Field with the Canon 5D Mark II

The first two days of our Round the World Journey, shooting the documentary Opening Our Eyes has been quite full and I’ve faced numerous situations – really putting my tools to the test.

Our first full day was spent at the offices of Wrap Up Africa, which are located in Kampala, Uganda. In addition to shooting b-roll of tailors at work, we shot several interviews. Our main interview was with Wrap Up Africa’s founder, Letha Sandison, followed by interviews of a couple of her staff members. We also did interviews of some of the cancer victims that Letha has helped. Here is where I not only needed to be attentive to my technical details but be sensitive to the situation and the people that I was interviewing. Hearing some of their stories is heartbreaking and hard for many Americans to fathom. Sure, we all watch the travesties taking place throughout the world on the nightly news, but it’s quite another experience to speak with people who have experienced horrendous tragedies in their lives that are simply unimaginable.

One woman, Evelyn who works for Letha had been abducted and held captive by the LRA, which stands for the Lord’s Resistance Army, and is not exactly a charitable group. She managed to escape after most of her family had been killed in front of her. She is now raising three orphans who had been victims as well and works with Letha, helping others.

Our set up was simple and deliberately so. I set up the Canon 5D Mark II and captured my audio separately with the H4N Zoom. I had two mics – one shotgun on a small boom stand and another lav. I will sync them later in post. We chose a room that had ample window light as we are traveling with only a small camera light and nothing else. Our biggest challenge was that the cabinet installer decided to do his work the day we were shooting – so the sounds of hammering and drilling made up our ambient background sound. But the mics were placed close to our subjects and did a pretty good job of boosting their audio above the din of the environment.

The next situation we faced was shooting b-roll in the dirty environments of a potter’s studio and a foundry. Again we used the Zoom to pick up the ambient sound of the environments. After a morning with the artists, we packed up quickly and headed to Mulago Hospital to visit the children’s cancer ward. We were not allowed to shoot video but we did shoot some still images and was happy to have the hybrid cameras that captured beautiful files – far better than frame grabs from a traditional video camera.

Then we headed to the market, which as usual is always a trying experience. For anyone who has traveled to congested third world environments, you know what I mean by “trying experience”. You must be aware of your personal belongings at all times, while shooting and I wish at times that I had eyes in the back of my head. On top of that I’m sensitive to those that don’t want to be photographed. It’s exhausting but at the same time exhilarating because of the exotic nature of the environment. My daughter wore the GoPro Hero helmet cam that is a tiny camera made for adventure sports but she had a lot of fun walking through the market recording the event with running video as we walked through the market.

I was shooting video with the Canon 5D Mark II and used a shotgun mic on top of the camera and run through a JuicedLink audio mixer. I’m embarrassed to say that somehow, even after lots of testing – I came back with no audio! Luckily the helmet cam Hero picked up very good ambient audio so I’m able to use that and layer it in post. In the chaos and confusion of the market, I probably didn’t set it up right and today I will do additional testing so as not to make that mistake in the future. But the video was captured beautifully and I will interweave those clips into the documentary with sound from the interviews and ambient sound from the Hero.

I am realizing one thing though and that there is nothing easy or streamlined when shooting video with these hybrid cameras. The results are stunning, but the shoot and workflow are much more tedious than when shooting with a video camera. Perhaps at the end of this three-month journey, I’ll be singing a different tune – I certainly hope so.

I’ll keep you posted as I get access to the Internet, which is iffy, and we’ve been off line for the last two days. But there’s something humbling about being off the grid and I’m learning to take it in stride and appreciate what I have. Today is Sunday and we are resting and storing up a bit of energy for the coming week. Please read more about our journey at Opening Our Eyes.

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