By Rob Purver
Traditionally the term ‘High Definition’ was always associated with multimillion-dollar Hollywood blockbusters and David Attenborough’s breathtaking documentaries. Then in 2008 the winter sports world was blown away with the release of the snowboard epic ‘That’s it, That’s all’. I remember standing, slacked jawed the first time I watched it, thinking ‘how can it be THAT HD’
Jump forward another few years to 2010 and the release of the GoPro HERO HD point-of-view (POV) action camera. It was the first High Definition wide-angle camera you could drop, soak and shove in your pocket, making it the obvious weapon of choice for the budget winter sports videographer. Now, just a few years down the line, you can’t go more than a few minutes without seeing a helmet or chest mounted GoPro on the mountain. But what’s changed since the original HD HERO and are there any real alternatives?
GoPro HERO 3+ Black Edition HD
The latest edition of the HERO is at the cutting edge of the ‘action camera’ breed. Smaller, lighter, faster and more powerful than its predecessors, it has a resolution up to 1440p, meaning you can crop footage without loosing any quality. When set to 720p you get a super slo-mo worthy 120 frames per second (FPS).
The range topping Black Edition is even capable of shooting in 4k or ULTRA HD! Which although impressive, is relatively useless for winter sports in only being able to shoot at 15FPS. This means that any high-speed action would appear beautiful, but jerky.
Another nice feature of the GoPro HERO3+ is the quality of photos (12 megapixel) and with several different modes such as timed, burst, time-lapse and continuous you have no excuse for missing the action.
Together with GoPro’s huge range of accessories you’ve got yourself a very versatile and powerful camera.
There are literally hundreds of GoPro-a-like copycats out there but one that seems to be making waves is Sony’s contribution to the POV market.
Sony HDR-AS15 Action Cam
Even though the name would suggest otherwise, this is Sony’s first soirée into the POV world. Having clearly taken their lead from the hugely successful GoPro, Sony have produced the HDRAS15 or ‘Action Cam’. With its slightly elongated design the action cam is visually very different to the GoPro. Its slimline design means that forehead and especially chest mounting would be slightly awkward but the Action Cam would mount very snugly to the side of a helmet, a place where the GoPro would normally stick out well into harms way.
Whilst not matching the same near cinema quality or super-slow-motion of the GoPro, Sony have given the Action Cam a perfectly respectable resolution of 1080p 30FPS, and it does redeem itself with a healthy 12 megapixel photo option. Both the GoPro and the Action Cam have built-in WIFI, meaning you can remotely control start/stop and get instant playback through a compatible smartphone.
The main plus point of the Action Cam is its price. Coming in at around €290, Sony’s offering undercuts the GoPro Hero 3 Black by almost €160. Not only that, the accessories are significantly cheaper. The Action Cam is a great quality, well made and relatively inexpensive alternative to the GoPro.
There is another slightly unconventional way of going HD. In fact you may already have it in your pocket right now!
The Hitcase Pro.
The world’s first shockproof, waterproof, mountable iPhone case. For just over €100 you can get all you need to convert your iPhone (4, 4s, 5, 5s) into an all singing, all dancing wide-angle POV camera. Yes I know it sounds a little ridiculous, it does look slightly peculiar and it is still quite expensive, but it is actually a viable option for your POV alpine sports video needs.
The current iPhone 5s is easily capable of matching the Action Cam on video resolution and FPS, and with the PRO addition of the Hitcase you get a built in wide-angle lens that bumps your iPhone’s normal frame up to a full 170 degree GoPro equivalent wide-angle. The full range of mounts you expect from a POV camera are available and reasonably priced. The system allows you to quickly remove the phone from the mount if you need to do phone stuff. Another neat feature is the free App from Hitcase that will overlay telemetry data such as altitude, speed, direction and G-force over your video.
The Hitcase has two main advantages over the GoPro and the Sony. You get to use the iPhone’s beautiful retina display to view what you’re filming in real time and of course it’s already your phone; you’ve already bought it, you know how to work it. You don’t have to remember another charger, there’s no messing around with memory cards and when you’ve had enough of the wide angle you can easily remove the case and take a nice normal picture of the sunset. A trick neither the GoPro nor the Sony can pull off with their permanent wide angled lenses.
These aren’t the only options to go HD on the mountain, but they are some of the better ones. Now you’ve got the equipment sorted, why not work on your technique with some useful tips from two of Morzine’s finest professional videographers:
Will Nangle of NangleVideography.com
1. Think about the framing of your shots. The ‘rule of thirds’ is a good place to start.
2. When using a wide-angle lens for action shots the best technique is to get in close, between two and five meters, point the camera at the subjects waistline to keep their head and skis/snowboard in shot.
3. Film as much as you can – the more footage you have the better. This gives you the most chance of getting those great shots and means you have a lot of choice when it comes to editing. Vary your filming by getting some mountain action, travel, socialising, culture and don’t forget the epic scenery.
4. Look after your equipment. Even though all the models mentioned are waterproof, it’s best to keep them as dry as you can. Also, make sure you transport your camera securely. A Velcro inner jacket pocket or a zippy pocket on a backpack is best.
5. Be organised. Back up your memory cards after a good days filming. Go through and delete the rubbish. Name the good stuff with clear and simple names. EG Tom Crash Les Gets, Avoriaz Sunset Friday. It makes the editing process much easier.
6. Less is more. Shorter, action packed videos hold people’s attention more than longer uncut videos. Be ruthless with your editing.
Stewart Monk of Reelfunmedia.com
1. Remember that batteries run out faster when they get cold. If you prefer to wear your POV cam on your helmet, try to keep it in a warm pocket when you’re not recording.
2. Make sure you pick the right recording setting. Most POV cameras have multiple settings for resolution and frame rate but make sure you pick the right one for you. I shoot everything at 720P 50 frames. The higher settings require a lot of computer power to watch back smoothly.
3. Don’t forget the photo function on your POV camera. They can take great photos and you get great results both portrait and landscape style.
4. Out of all the mounting types available, one of the most versatile is the tripod mount. It opens up a whole new world of camera mount options. Instead of using an expensive adjustable poll (for that selfie shot!) you can buy a cheap photographers mono-pod for a robust adjustable pole that has more than one use.