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Hero Shot: GoPro Goes Pro for A Range of Applications

No longer a niche camera for blond, blue-eyed surfers and mud-splattered sporting enthusiasts, GoPro HERO2 is an incredible tool for all filmmakers. The lens is twice as sharp, the processor twice as fast, the chip twice as big as predecessor GoPros. There’s auto white balance, a mic input, HDMI out. The list goes on and on…

So it doesn’t have manual exposure, so the optional viewfinder is widgey, and the video is a low 15 Mb/s—the fact is, the images I’m getting match those of HD cameras costing 20 times more.

GoPro Goes Corporate
When Flip was zapped by Cisco, I bought a GoPro. I took it with me while I was shooting a 30-second TV spot. And guess what: 50 percent of the shots in the commercial are from that day-one GoPro.

Since then, I regularly use GoPro as a third, behind-the-speaker camera. No one notices it and it gives me the important reverse angle coverage I need.

GoPro records in 4 GB chunks. That means that every 30 minutes I lose sync with the other cams in the setup. Used to be a drag in editing, but now, with FCP updated to 10.0.3, I can sync up automatically. Check “Use Audio for Synchronization.” Bingo—instant sync.

How Wide Can You Go?
If I have one gripe with GoPro, it’s the lens: it’s just too wide.

The new HERO2 has three 1080p fields of view: 170°, 127° and, wonder of wonders (’cause it’s nowhere in the printed user manual), a 90° FOV called “narrow.” Narrow? 90° is narrow? In my 16mm filmmaking days, I had a 5.9mm Angenieux and I loved it—my favorite lens, it gave me a wide, wide 90° at f/1.8. Now the bad news…

GoPro’s 90° “narrow” is a big disappointment. The GoPro folk say it’s not digital zoom; you lose no quality—hmmm… Outdoors it’s OK, but inside: a flop—with a ton of video noise. Big disappointment, but there IS a solution. Read on…

Enter the Aftermarket
GoPro’s aftermarket has a collection of alternative lenses. Bang goes your GoPro warranty—a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

I buy a $99.99 4mm lens—it’s 90°—from the curiously named RageCams.com. To my surprise, it’s shaper and better than HERO2’s narrow view and there’s no video noise. It’s like having my old Angenieux 5.9mm back again. Come to daddy…

Inspired by the 4mm, I invest in a 2.8-12mm varifocal lens. It goes from a wide 135° to a tight 28°. It’s not a zoom, as you need to carefully refocus each time you change the field of view. To focus, I use an ikan VX9e HD monitor looking at HERO’s HDMI output. If you can live with twitchy, pernickety focus, I recommend the varifocal.

RageCams and others have many more screw-in lenses for GoPro. They say the 50mm lens (7.8°) is “ideal for capturing license plate numbers at 100 feet away.” Now why would you want to do that?

We all know that GoPro comes in a waterproof case—great for surfers, skiers and dirt trackers. But use it underwater and the picture goes soft and fuzzy. GoPro specialist EyeOfMine.com solves that with a $99 flat lens housing. The Discovery Channel used it, riding on the fin of a shark.

But Why Use A GoPro?
I’m glad I asked that question. Here are just three answers: It’s small and inconspicuous, cheap, and lightweight.

Small and Inconspicuous
I’m in Washington shooting Peter Meyers delivering his “high-performance” lectures. One of my Sony HDVs is locked off on a wide shot. I’m operating my second Sony—the close-up one—and little GoPro is filming its little heart out siting there on the mantelpiece. It’s so small, you really don’t notice it.

Cheap
So you spent $6,000+ on a “real” camera—well, for less than $3,000 you can buy ten GoPros. Crazy—no? Can you imagine a wedding shot with ten cameras? Top shots, reverse angles, friends and relations, close-ups at the altar. These days multi-cam is a cinch to edit. You have the tools. Do it!

Lightweight
Heavy cameras need heavy tripods. The GoPro is so light, you can hang it from a party helium balloon. I fix mine to 12′ 5/8th aluminum tubing for top shots.

My big thrill is a new Steadicam Smoothee (who thinks of these awful names?). I bought mine from Amazon.com for $149.88.

In my past life, I owned a Steadicam JR for my Sony DSR-PD150. It just didn’t work. Perhaps the camera was too heavy—I don’t know. I practiced for days and got nowhere. When I moved to the States, it didn’t.

The GoPro/Smoothee package is a different experience. Adjust with two simple balance controls. An hour of practice and you’ll be making Hollywood-style Steadicam shots.

Picture your next wedding shoot—ten cameras in the church and you with a HERO2 on a Steadicam Smoothee (if I have to type Smoothee again, I’ll throw up).

The Coolest of Them All
I’ve saved the OMG aftermarket gadget ’til last. Drop everything, run to Shapeways.com and buy the three-axis camera gimbal mount. They sell the four-piece fabricated cage—then buy three MKS DS470 servos from HobbyKing.com. See the GoPro gimbal video on YouTube and be blown away. With this gizmo you can pan, tilt and roll remotely. EyeOfMine.com has wireless transmitters and remote stop/start devices. Go crazy…

Are We There Yet?
Soon children, soon; GoPro’s WiFi BacPac and WiFi Remote are just around the corner. It’s been a fun trip. Enjoy the ride.

GoPro, étonne-moi.

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