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Technology Untangled: GoPro action cam for work and summer fun

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technology-bourThe summer vacation season is upon us, so today’s article will review a camera that you may find both useful and fun for your summer adventures. This camera is also useful for video documentation functions at work. It provides a superior video to the typical cell phone.

The GoPro HERO3 White Edition action camera impressed me as a versatile, capable, high-quality camera for the recording of most any activity, including water sports. If you have ever watched YouTube videos of people engaging in high-action sporting adventures such as skydiving, skateboarding and the like, you have probably seen footage from a GoPro action camera. Many of the reality TV shows on cable also make use of these exceptional cameras.

I have been aware of these cameras for quite a while, but always assumed they were more expensive. The basic White Edition camera retails for $200. There are also several more expensive versions with a few more features, but even the basic model uses the same sharp, ultra wide-angle lens as the high-end models. It records that wide view at 720p, HD quality at up to 60 frames per second, which is twice the frame rate of broadcast television. The recordings are surprisingly stable and are not prone to the jittery, shaky-camera effect that often is seen when using a regular video camera in a dynamic situation.

The camera is small, less than half the size of a deck of cards. It weighs only 2.6 ounces. For most purposes though, it is housed in the included waterproof polycarbonate case. This adds some bulk, but still allows the camera to fit easily in the palm of your hand. The case includes an interface bracket that facilitates mounting of the camera on virtually anything or anybody.

For my working purpose, that “anybody” was the actual driver of a vehicle that was previously involved in an accident. The attorney’s desire was to depict as accurately as possible what the driver could or could not see when approaching the intersection in question. I mounted the GoPro camera to the driver’s forehead with an elastic head strap mount. This is when the ultra wide-angle view of the lens showed its usefulness. The view we recorded out the windshield was from pillar to pillar, and slightly beyond, including both of the side view mirrors. The distortion at the edges of the frame was minimal.

And how did I know we had a good shot? The GoPro HERO3 is Wi-Fi capable. I was able to beam a video preview directly to my iPad in real time to make sure the camera angle was good. The GoPro Wi-Fi app is free and is available for both iPad and Android tablets and smartphones. In addition, you can also remotely turn on and off the recording from the iPad. I do, however, have one complaint about a feature missing from this app. It does not include the ability to review footage recorded to the memory card; it strictly provides a real time preview. In order to view your recordings on site, you have to connect the camera via USB to a computer or insert the camera’s memory card into a computer. Another method for after-the-fact viewing of your footage is through use of an accessory micro HDMI cable tethered directly to a high-definition TV.

If you prefer to have a more traditional LCD touch screen as part of your camera, GoPro offers that as an $80 accessory. It attaches directly to the back of the camera, increasing the overall thickness but providing full preview and playback capability.

A memory card is not included with the camera and must be purchased separately. I was glad to learn that you do not need the more expensive Class 10 high-speed microSD cards in order to capture high-definition video. You can use any standard microSD card from 4GB to 64GB. The video recording time that fits on a 16GB chip is about 3-and-a-half hours at 720p, 30 frames per second.

Several sticky-backed mounting brackets are included, one for flat surfaces and one for curved surfaces. GoPro offers a wide variety of other mounts such as suction cups, tripod mounts, chest, wrist, bike and helmet mounts, and, of course, a surfboard mount. The waterproof housing says it is rated to a depth of 197 feet.

For recreational purposes, the uses for the camera are obvious. For work situations, I could see it being quite useful for documentation of accident scenes, crime scenes or insurance claim reviews. I imagine it being used with a head mount as an auxiliary recording device during the normal course of photographing and videotaping evidence for any legal matter.

Consider a GoPro HERO3 camera for this summer’s vacation, and then put it to use at work. I will be anxious to see who sends me the first action clip from their surfboard.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.
 

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