I’ve been rather anti-action camera since they first appeared a few years back because I felt they were a waste of money – nothing more than slick advertising campaigns to get us using more and more social media and sharing facilities. However, I did buy a Muvi Action Camera in about 2010 but found this to be somewhat lacking and I do own several Aquapac devices so I can take my cameras and iPhones into places that might otherwise destroy them but they aren’t exactly ‘action-camera’ level.
Then I discovered at short notice I was off to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights and I felt as though I needed to upgrade my camera setup with something a little more exciting. After poring over the Internet for several days has eyeballing the various cameras – Garmin, Sony, Polaroid, etc I finally settled on the GoPro, but which one? I finally settled on the GoPro Session, why? Well that’s the big question and equally importantly did I make the correct decision?
Let’s look at the specifications first and then we’ll look at experience and finally is it any good for runners?
- App control: Android, iOS via WiFi
- Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS
- Sensor pixels: 8,000,000
- LCD screen size: None
- Video recording format: H.264 MP4
- Video recording resolutions: 1440p (30/25fps) 1080p (60/50/30/25fps), 960p (60/50/30/25fps) 720p (100/60/50/30/25fps), WVGA (120/100fps)
- Max recording resolution: 1440p (30fps)
- Time lapse mode intervals: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60s
- Video recording media: MicroSD
- Sound: 32kHz mono
- Maximum still image resolution: 3,264×2,448
- Memory slot: MicroSD
- Data connections: Micro USB
- AV connections: None
- Battery type: Li-ion
- Battery life: 2h 04m
- Size (HxWxD): 35x35x35mm
- Weight: 74g
- Price: £160 (Feb 2016)
To break down the specification above you’ll find that most of your photographic action camera requirements are covered. The default setting for video is 1080p/25fps and this is a very happy video quality – capturing an excellent field of view with not too much fish eye lensing at the edge of a shot. I was amazed at the quality of the actual video too when I played it back on a HD TV – it’ll be unlikely to win a BAFTA (either technical or content) but it was more than enough for me to capture high quality memories.
Photography: stills are okay on the move but obviously suffer with camera shake when you’re moving. However, as a static camera or time-lapse device then the Session reminds us why it has a camera capability. The photographs are like a very high quality mobile phone camera – but better and the time-lapse has a good range of time settings to capture long or short periods of time. I’ve been using the 0.5 second setting per shot when running post work and this had given me a mixed bag of results. In a half hour (night time) run you generate 3600 photographs of which a handful might be worth keeping but it offers a different overall creative and I’ll be interested to see how the time-lapse works in both Finland and during daylight hours.
The lack of an LCD screen is sort of made up for by the use of the GoPro app which offers previews of what you’re about to record but ultimately this is a point and click camera that is designed to capture moments quickly and without fuss. The app itself is a little flakey but not without promise – the wifi connection is good, you can manage the media on the card via the phone and the changes you need to make to the setup of the camera are simple enough not to need to read the manual. Truth is I was able to use the app to successfully download clips I wanted – make minor cuts and then drop it into iMovie to make a 4 minute run and cycle movie without leaving the confines of my iPhone – view the footage here. That to me suggests a decent, well integrated product.
Battery life is good and in continuous shooting you can expect somewhere between 90 and 124 mins of usage (depending on wifi usage). Perhaps one of the nice things is that the camera when it completes a recording session will simply power down using the one touch button – less chance of recording the inside of your pocket for two hours (unless you like that kind of thing).
Size and weight at 35mm square this has a nice form factor, it’s more discreet than its peers and sits tighter to the body (with the right mounts). It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, a handbag or your race vest. In terms of its weight this wouldn’t too negatively impact your race day need to be as trim as possible, if GoPro decided this was the form factor for all cameras going forward I don’t think there would be much complaint.
Experience? I’ve had the GoPro now for about three weeks and have been testing it extensively – different settings, different mounts, different activities, different times of day – sadly weather conditions have remained consistent but living in the UK means this is guaranteed to change.
As my primary activity is running I’ve been using it for this and it’s fair to say that at night time in a city you get reasonable results with a chest harness and 1080p at 30fps. As you might expect there’s some judder from your jiggle as you run but if the camera footage was smooth I think this would look fake. I improved the overall quality of the footage by upping the frame rate just last night to Superview (super wide basically) 48fps which provides a significantly smoother picture and I expect they moving to 60fps will improve this further again (though at the time of writing I have yet to test this).
Swift turns, leaping over stuff and darting between people and the neon haze of London have proved no problem for the Session and the footage can be quite interesting when viewed as snapshots of what you did rather than an entire run (which would be tiresome). While the video has been excellent as I’ve indicated the time lapse while running is less successful but not without merit and simply requires a little time to separate the wheat from the chaff – examples of time lapse footage are shown below.
This past weekend also provided me with a daylight testing option and I was able to dip out both on the bike and running trails to give the Session a proper go. For the bike I used the handlebar mount on the way out and the chest mount on the return journey and for running I used the monkey grip tripod for time lapse photography and the chest mount for running. Both systems worked pretty well with the least successful being the chest mount for the bike ride but that was the directors (my) fault. Technically footage was pretty faultless and it captured all the nuances of my run/cycle. Footage at the 30fps was much better in daylight and even managed to capture my gobbing green chest mucus all over the trail as we ran.
So I had fun and more importantly the GoPro Session is leaving a last impression.
For runners or not? If you’re a bit like me and enjoy a wide range of activities but your main activity is running then the GoPro is a curious one.
Running itself isn’t something you might want to watch back over and over but I’ve found the testing I’ve been doing has been a lot of fun. The footage itself is technically high quality that you’ll enjoy reliving but will you watch your footage like a box set? Unlikely.
The GoPro Session is best suited to other sports but for the socially media-d runner this could be an excellent purchase to help share your awesome experiences and at around £150-160 this is an absolute bargain at the moment.
I’m now just waiting for the real dog harness to arrive so that I can throw ThunderPad into the nearest lake with the camera attached for some properly fun footage.
NB. This is a product I purchased and has nothing to do with the manufacturer. No freebie testing here!