Lights, action, cameras

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 11, 2015 19:40 IST

The first time I saw a GoPro camera, I actually burst out laughing. It was a clunky little device. Small, yet strangely out of proportion, with a design that resembled a camera from the 1980s.

It was fiddly to use and felt like something that had been put together by a teenager in a garage (it almost was). Despite seeing it in a lot of people’s hands and hearing rave reviews from some users, I dismissed it as a fad.

A few years later, I was forced to use the next generation of the GoPro during a shoot for a car review. The cameraperson used some strange plasticky cover on top, screwed it into a weird-looking clamp, jammed that into a suction cup, stuck it outside the car and told me to drive as fast as I could.

It flew off the car at a very high speed (the suction cup, not the GoPro, was to blame) and was found lying half a kilometer away in a totally undamaged condition. I was shown the footage we had got, and it was incredible.

But I still wasn’t impressed enough and dismissed it as something that only action junkies and camera professionals could use.

The third generation of the GoPro cropped up at regular intervals: While paragliding, using the iFly machine, trying a Mission Impossible-style suspended plunge at an event.

Every time I was doing something out of the box, a GoPro with some weird attachment would be latched on to my body. And the angle of the shoot and the resulting footage would be incredibly good.

I still resisted and kept postponing getting one for myself, until I saw an underwater video shot on a GoPro. That was it. If this little thing – taken 40 feet underwater with no expensive add-ons – shot with that clarity, I was sold.

I got myself a GoPro Hero 4. Before I get into a hands-on review, let me take you through the back story of how the GoPro came about, how it spawned a completely new billion-dollar market for action cameras and what GoPro’s competition is. Behind the lens

Nick Woodman, 39 (going on 16), is the billionaire behind GoPro. As with most innovations that truly change the world, he came up with the GoPro for his personal need.

He wanted a small waterproof camera that he could rig up to shoot his surfing tricks, to show them off to his friends. The first GoPro came from there and Nick literally went from one surf shop to the other selling them.

Today, about 9 million GoPro units sell every year, the company is valued at $4 billion and has about 25 per cent of the world market for video cameras. It’s also become a verb – you don’t shoot high speed action anymore, you GoPro it.

The top Hollywood directors use it, most TV channels use it for sports coverage in HD, music concerts have dozens of them strung all around the venues, and even military and police have GoPro units deployed.

Is it really that good or is it typical hype carrying a breakout product to heights it doesn’t deserve? Well, it’s time to GoPro it. Making of a pro

It’s really small (about 1.6x2.3 inches), very light (83 grams), but can shoot the pants off most cameras that are 10 times bigger. The GoPro Hero 4 Black can shoot at 4K (almost 4 times the normal HD resolution) and

1080P at 120 frames per second (you can do some really cool slow motion shots with that).

It can do automatic time lapse videos, burst shots, has night mode and takes really good still shots too. But it takes some work. It requires a whole world of set-up, accessories to make the cameras work, mounts to attach them to any object in the world, cases and housing for underwater shoots and a PhD-level study in how to make it all mesh together.

On top of that, the battery life on these cameras isn’t great. On the HD shooting mode, you’ll be out of juice in about an hour. But what you achieve in that hour, will blow most things out of the water.

As far as the price goes, depending on who you ask, these are either the most overpriced cameras ever, or the most economical options to do what professionals do. About $400 will get you started, but then you’ll start piling up a tower of accessories to make the magic happen.

The other players

When a product is successful beyond belief and sets up a whole new market, it automatically brings in competition. And there are big players here.

Sony makes the 4K Action Cam FDR-X1000V/W (uncool name for this market, it does 4K, does not

do very well underwater, plus it is pricey at $499). Xiaomi has the Yi Camera (they don’t make it, just

licence it from another company. It’s seriously cheap at $60 but the video quality is totally off).

Then there’s the very strange periscope-shaped HTC Re (easy to hold, about $150 and can do very good videos), followed by the Polaroid XS100 HD (yes, they still exist, look really good, shoot decent video and cost about $100) and finally, the SJ Cam 5000 (decent looker, nice price at $119, the video is actually very good and they throw in a serious number of accessories in the box).

The action camera category is a really hot market right now. GoPro may be the outright leader but it has enough competition around it. Even if you’re not an action and sports junkie, there are a number of cool things you can do with them.

Check out some action cameras and buy the one that makes the most sense. Irrespective of which one you buy, you should be ‘GoProing’ in no time.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 12

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