Cheap camera mount option

I thought the “hat mount” for my camera isn’t perfect, because I think it moves around a bit and also it puts the side of my face as a static object in the side of the frame. So I was thinking what I really want is something like what Ryan Paroz had at the Gorge – a suction cup mount and a pole to put the camera up high enough so it’s sort of looking over your shoulder. I’ve been looking high and low for a pole, and couldn’t find anything for regular tripod mounts, just for GoPros. The closest I could find was this selfie stick that has a 1/4″ socket on the handle. It was only $6, so I figured it was worth a try.

The result wasn’t terribly bad, except the camera moved over the course of the paddle. I tried to tighten it up afterwards to see if I could make it less likely to move, and I think I stripped the thread a bit. So back to the drawing board.

Actually though, what I think would be really good would be some sort of reverse pendulum. In case you don’t know what I mean by a “reverse pendulum”, here’s my crude drawing:
export

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Buffalo Paddle Festival

So they had this race last year, I didn’t go, and it was a bit of a mess. Multiple laps around the inside of the harbor in an area that was weedy. It was so bad that racers were stopping to clean off each other’s weeds. Evidently it was a permit problem or something. But this year, they said they had the permit problem licked and planned multiple courses from a nice beach well outside the harbor. The long course was to be 12 miles, and go along the shore to the harbor, enter the harbor and paddle along the inside of the breakwall, then exit the harbor and paddle back along the outside of the breakwall, and then paddle back to the beach. For some odd reason they put the start and finish areas a few hundred meters apart, but no matter. At one point they were talking about having people run along the beach for that few hundred meters, but changed their minds and just had a short finish chute and some great volunteers to catch your boat while you ran for the finish.

On race day (today), it turned out this course would be too hard. There were whitecaps coming straight into shore. One of the local paddlers said he sails out of the harbor and the entrance we were going to have to use to get into the harbor was damn near impossible in these conditions in a sail boat. Plus we’d be running along the outer breakwall with waves pushing us directly into it with rebound waves bashing us from the other side.

The organizer made the last minute decision to do a completely different course. Instead of heading north towards the harbor, we’d be heading south west towards a very visible house on a beach and jetty and turning on a buoy, then coming back to the start where there would be a buoy (but just in the return, not on the start), then back to the first buoy, then back to the finish chute at the RedBull tent. The medium course would just go out to the buoy at the house and then direct to the finish, and the short course would have an even closer buoy then back to the finish. The organizer said that according to his map, each leg to the buoy would be about four miles. (Foreshadowing alert: it wasn’t.)

The start was a bit of a mess – he’d said to go out beyond the breakers, and as soon as everybody was out there he’d sound the horn. There was no start line or buoy, because the guy who was placing buoys was still placing the buoys for the short course. So people weren’t lined up in any coherent manner. I was still trying to drain my bucket from the complete fill I’d gotten going out, and my foot strap was twisted around so I couldn’t see my GPS. When I heard the horn, I said to somebody near by “I think that’s the go signal” and took off. The seas were about 30 degrees off directly abeam, which was a relief, but they still made me slow. There were sets of fairly large waves, maybe four feet high, interspersed with smaller ones about one to two feet. At first I seemed to be the only one going, although Todd came through pretty quickly. As I saw a gap in the big stuff, I shakily reacted down to start my GPS, but instead I saw the big red square indicating that I’d stopped it. I guess it had started when I was untangling my foot strap. I quickly started it again.

A bunch of racers came through, including Jim and John. Everybody seemed to be following Todd, who was to my eye was way too far upwind. There was one guy not very far ahead of me in a v12, and he was bracing more than he was paddling even on the intermediate waves. I couldn’t understand why he was ahead of me – he must have gone past when I was fiddling with my GPS. I was on the same line as everybody else trying to catch this guy.

Dan rarely races these days and initially said he was going to do the short race, but he loves these waves so much that he upgraded to the medium race, and he came through pretty quickly. He was also on a very direct line to the buoy. I decided to go direct as well, and abandoned my attempt to pass the guy in the v12. But I was a little disappointed in myself to see Dennis coming through. Dennis is a local triathlete who has been paddling with us a bit, but today he’s in a sea kayak today because he’s not comfortable in his ski yet. And here he is going faster than me. Up ahead I saw a v10 double flip over, and the two of them were so slow remounting that I was able to pass them. There was a sea kayak over with them so I guess they had help if they needed it. There was also a large coast guard boat standing by near the course line.

At the buoy, I had caught up to the guy in the v12. But I knew that if a wave threw us into each other we’d both be practicing our remounts in difficult conditions, so I gave him a real wide berth. My GPS was beeping at 1km intervals, so I know the turn was about at 3km mark, depending on when my GPS started itself.

After the turn, the waves were now about 30 degrees off my stern beam, not conducive to surfing. But in spite of that, I very quickly passed the guy in the v12, and not long after, Dennis in his Seda Glider. One nice thing about a 180 degree turn in a race is you get to see if there is anybody else behind you. There’d been a couple of people at the start who I hadn’t seen pass me and I didn’t see behind me at the turn. I guess some of them abandoned. Can’t say I blame them.

The rest of the way back was pretty uneventful. Like I said, I wasn’t getting much of a ride off the big stuff, although there was a set of smaller waves that were going almost directly in my direction and I got a bit of help from them. Everybody ahead of me was well ahead, barely visible, although I could see Todd leading the main pack well offshore rather than directly to the turn buoy. I stayed on a direct line. That coast guard boat was still standing by just offshore from our line.

After the turn back up, things were a repeat of the first time only much more lonely. But it was still looking like 3km per leg, so at least I knew it wouldn’t last too long. The guy in the v12 was still behind me, but Dennis wasn’t. I guess he decided to do the medium course. I could barely see some of the leaders rounding the buoy way, way ahead of me.

After the buoy, the route back to the finish is only a little bit further downwind than the second leg, so still not much surfing from the big stuff, although there was still that small swell heading in a favorable direction. I was trying to turn off course to get a diagonal ride on the big waves and then turn back towards the finish between the big ones. It didn’t work very well because I couldn’t get going fast enough to really catch them. I ended up far enough offshore that I was able to turn directly down the big ones straight at the finish and catch them that way. I got two actual fast rides. Not enough to make the race fun, but enough to bring it up from “man I suck at this” nearly all the way to “glad I came”. 

I didn’t want to ride a big wave right into shore and smash up my boat, so I tried to get behind one as I had been taught in Tarifa. It mostly worked except a small breaker caught me – I turned sideways on it and very nearly stayed upright as it broke over me, but I fell over at the last moment. It was shallow enough to stand up so I just started running and dragging the boat. The helpful volunteers came out and took the boat while I did world’s slowest beach run. I crossed the line and two little girls attempted to outdo each other with passing me a ice cold bottle of water, and a mug with two beer tickets and a lunch ticket. That definitely pushed it up into “glad I came” territory.

I heard an amusing story after the race. After the v10 double flipped, one of the paddlers decided he didn’t want to continue but the other one did. So they pulled into the finish and the one who didn’t want to continue swapped out with one of the ski paddlers I’d mentioned who seemed to have dropped out early, and with the substitution they completed the long course. I wonder how they divvied up their two trophies?

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Review: Motionize Paddle Edge

Summary: If I were you, I’d hold off buying it until they can work out some of the problems.

So they started talking about the Motionize device last year some time, and I was really excited. The idea was that it would put sensors on your boat and paddle and a phone app that would tell you exactly what your paddle stroke was doing, and give you advice on how to make it better. Sort of like an extra pair of “eyes” on your technique. But the device they announced as the first product was an all-singing, all-dancing do-everything monster device with built in phone charging, bluetooth speakers, all in a massive case that you’d somehow have to lash down to your kayak or surfski. And because it attempted to do everything, it cost way too much. It seemed like something you’d want to buy as a club and pass around from paddler to paddler to get some feedback, go off and work on it, and then borrow it back every few weeks to see how you were improving. A few months ago, they announced a stripped down version called the “Paddle Edge” – it just had the sensors, and a mount that you could put your phone into, but it would be up to you to provide a waterproof case for your phone and keep it charged up. And so not only did it fit better on a surfski, it also fit better in your budget. I jumped at the chance.

I’ve been paddling with it for a few weeks, and while it does offer some good advice and coaching, I have a few complaints that I feel really need to be addressed.

  • Probably the most important complaint is that the app freezes up. Probably 25% of the time, it freezes soon after I get on the water. If I’m lucky, I’m in a position to return to the dock and get out and fiddle with the phone to kill the app and restart it, but sometimes I just end up paddling with a useless frozen display staring at me for the whole session.
  • The thing will chew down your phone battery in no time flat. I find the most interesting screen is the one that shows a “top view” of your paddle travelling through the water in real time, indicating if your catch or withdrawal is outside of the recommended zone. But that screen will completely drain my phone’s battery – today it went from 85% to 5% in 75 minutes. This ranks right up there with the freezing problem as reason not to buy until they do something about it.
  • The display of where your paddle goes in and out of the water is really sensitive to boat tilt and other factors. I was doing intervals today up and down the canal and every time I did a 180 degree turn the display would show my paddle moving at 90 degrees to the boat right through the middle of the cockpit for hundreds of meters beyond the turn. At other times it would show one side going way too long and the other side way too short – I suspect the boat might have tilted a bit and it got confused about where the waterline is. This really cut into the usefulness of the info it gave me.
  • The device is capable of giving you a lot of information, but there isn’t much room on the screen. It would be really useful if, like a Garmin Forerunner, it could be configured to automatically cycle between two or three screens with more information on them (but not the map – I never need to see that). It would also be useful if there were a way to review some of the info afterwards. The summary you get on iOS is pretty minimal. I’ve seen what other people get on the Android version of the app and it’s better, but still not perfect.
  • Some of the coaching information it gives you is obviously not based on any sensor info – like when it tells you to remember to hydrate. The thing is, I don’t know if some of the other advice it gives you is somehow determined from sensors or not, like when it tells you to look forward rather than down or when it tells you to rotate at the hips. It should probably have some sort of indication which is which – even a simple color code would be helpful.
  • The push button on the paddle sensor is supposed to switch screens, and also if you double tap it it’s supposed to start or end a session. Switching screens works most of the time but not all the time, double tapping to pause and end a session works less than half the time, and I’ve never gotten double tapping to start a session to work.
  • When I was setting it up, I clicked the “Connect to Garmin” button, not realizing that was only for the Fenix not for the Forerunner 920XT, and now every time I startup the app it tries to connect to the ConnectIQ store to download something, only to tell me it’s not available for the 920XT. I haven’t figured out how to make it stop doing that.
  • Not really their fault, but I find it hard to see the screen in direct sunlight. I don’t know if it would help, but an option in the app to change it from white text on a dark background to dark text on a light background might help.

Not related to the list of complaints, but I needed to put my water bag under the front bungies on Friday, and when I tried to move the phone mount out of the way I overstressed the mount and broke it. I bought a more robust RAM suction mount and this thing looks bombproof. Highly recommended.

Also not a complaint, but a recommendation to Motionize: you guys should put a link on your page so people can order more of those sticky mounts to they can move the sensors to their other boats and paddles.

The thing is, I really want this thing to work for me, and for everybody else who bought them. So I’m making this offer to anybody from Motionize who wants to fix this issues – I’m willing to do anything you need to help. I could film the screen when it’s doing weird stuff (like it did today when I was doing 180 degree turns). I could install a debug version of the app to help you collect information – I’ve installed beta apps with mobile provisioning files before, so I’m familiar with the process. I could file bug reports or talk with your developers. Let me know what I can do to help.

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USCA Nationals

Today I paddled the USCA National Championships marathon class in Northfield Massachusetts. I wasn’t originally going to do it, but after DNFing at the Gorge Downwind Championships and then finding out that I’m going to have to have carpal tunnel surgery in October, I figured I needed to do every race I could get my hands on this fall just in case next year is a wash-out.

I found a video online showing the course. It was up and down a river, so it was nice and flat, although a bit shallow and weedy. I could easily have managed it in my V12, but I’m still not convinced I’m any faster in the V12 than in the V10 Sport. Plus I have a very short rudder for the V10 Sport, and I haven’t paddled the V12 since I got back from out west. So I decided to paddle the Sport.

One odd “feature” of this race is that the K1 Unlimited class races on Friday. Most of my races are on weekends, but they’ve got a full calendar on this event, with sprint races on Thursday and other class races on Saturday and Sunday.

Another “feature” is that you have to be a member of USCA. Since I had no reason to join USCA other than this race, that makes this race really expensive for what it is.

Now there are at least two places on the web site where it says that if you want to register, you either have to pre-register by mail before July 25th, or you have to register the day before the race before 6pm. Well, I didn’t make the decision to go until after the July 25th deadline, so I resigned myself to coming up early enough on Thursday to register. But then on Facebook they said “oh no, it doesn’t say that you can’t register after July 25th, it says if you pre-register by the 25th, you get a discount”. Well, it does say that in one place, but like I said, there are at least two places where it says the registration must be received by the 25th. But no matter – not the first time I’ve seen a race website that was contradictory and wrong. If they’re saying on Facebook that they’ll accept registrations now, I’m throwing one in the mail. And a couple of days later I got a confirmation that they’d received it. So that meant I could leave later on Thursday.

Once I was registered, it was time to book accommodation. The web site for the event had a list of place to stay, but most of them were B&Bs or full houses. There was a motel near the event site, but they were full. So I booked another hotel on the list that was really cheap. And after I booked it, Vicki said “how are their ratings on TripAdvisor”. Oh, I’d never thought to look. And man, I’m glad I did, because all the ratings were one and two stars, with frequent complaints about boarded up windows and trash. According to those ratings, the place had turned into a shit-hole after they’d put up a bunch of homeless people. (No offence to homeless people, but just parking them in a motel in the middle of nowhere is probably not the best solution for them.) Anyway, I quickly booked in a much more expensive but more highly rated hotel. Afterwards, I realized that as a single guy travelling alone, an AirBnB might have been a better and cheaper idea. Oh well. I heard some bad stories from people at the event about local AirBnBs as well.

Jim was also going to be here, but he’d come up well in advance. He wanted to paddle in the Sea Kayak class tomorrow, so he had to borrow a V8 from somebody, and that somebody didn’t want to go without his V8 for a whole week, so I ended up bring it up yesterday. Not a problem.

So on to the race. The weather forecast yesterday had said there might be thunderstorms in the morning, but when I woke up that had changed to a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So that was a bullet dodged. It was sunny and hot. Too hot. There was a bit of a breeze running up the river. I found out after the race that there was a hydro power pumping station just downstream of the event and when it’s discharging (like it’s going to do on a hot day when everybody is running their air conditioners), it can actually reverse the local flow of the river. That actually explains some of the things I saw out there, because my speed was pretty slow while going ostensibly “downriver” and I didn’t think it was only due to the breeze.

Long Course

The race itself was pretty well organized. There were a lot of paddlers, so even though they used much narrower age categories than, say, Armond Bassett, unlike Armond Bassett there weren’t only 2 or 3 paddlers in every class. There were 16 people in my age category in unlimited K1. We were in the second start wave (which the announcer insisted on calling “heats” rather than “waves”, which is weird), along with young and fast paddlers and the slightly older than them but younger than us category. So about 50 paddlers on the line in our heat. There was a slight delay in the start as they repositioned one of the downstream turning buoys – it looked from our vantage point that they were moving it more off shore to give some room. The Women’s C1s started in the first wave, and we could watch them head down to the turning buoys about a kilometer downstream. We started before most of them had made their turns.

Start Detail

We headed down and things were pretty chaotic at first. Everybody was trying to find their best group to paddle with, and still get around the two downstream buoys with a minimum of banging and barging. And considering the size of the field and the narrowness of the space between the buoys and the shore, I think it went off pretty well. As we turned the second buoy and started the long drag upstream (with a breeze at our back so we were in still hot air), I found myself on the side wake of a guy with a nice looking Stellar surf ski. There was a guy who I’d noticed before the start, thinking “oh, at least I’ll be able to beat him”, and he was on the Stellar guy’s stern wake. So much for first impressions. I think he was in a V10L. The three of us basically maintained that formation most of the way up the river – Stellar guy and I were side by side and so I’d try to take a pull for a while and then I’d drop back and just ride for a while. There was another guy just a few boat lengths ahead of us and when I took my pulls I thought about trying to bridge the gap but I just couldn’t do it. I was maxed out, with heart rates in the low 160s. A few boat lengths ahead of that guy was a large pack of kayakers, including Wesley Echols. I really wish I could have gotten up to that pack, because that would have been a good ride.

I was kind of shocked to see Jim heading back when I was at about 4km or so. I figured he must have had a mechanical problem, although he said afterwards it was actually a problem with his hand or wrist. He’s been having problems with that recently, so I guess even he is finally feeling the effects of age.

Island Detail Long

On the way up, we had to go through a narrow channel between an island and the shore, and it was shallow and weedy in there. Stellar guy for some reason decided to try to get in tight to the shore, but I could see big mats of weeds there so I stayed in the middle of the channel, and he soon came back out and rejoined me and the V10L guy.

Not long after the island, Wesley started dropping back. He seemed to stop to backpaddle to get some weeds off, then started out not as fast as he had before. He joined up with the Stellar guy (since Wesley is a Stellar rep, I’m not surprised that they knew each other) and I let them paddle side by side while I took Stellar guy’s stern wake, although eventually I ended up on Wesley’s because it looked like he was going to make a move go get back to that big pack. We’d put in a small gap on V10L guy, although a couple of times he fought his way back up to my stern wake. I still couldn’t recover, it was just too hot and humid. I wanted to get my heart rate into the 150s, which I know is where I need to be if I don’t want to blow up, but the only way I could do that would be to lose Wesley and the other guy’s wakes.

Bridge Turn Detail

The upstream turn was on a bridge abutment. I think we had a solid gap on V10L guy by then, but Wesley, Stellar guy and I were neck and neck. Turning into the breeze felt really good, although it was slowing us down something fierce. I was now on Wesley’s side wake, and even tried to take a few short turns leading him. I didn’t even notice when we lost Stellar guy, but Wesley and I both seemed to notice it at the same time, and he suddenly put the hammer down (or I died a little, not sure which) and he was off. He got a good gap on me and I figured he was gone for good. But at least now I could get my heart rate down out of the 160s.

On the way down, we had to do a loop of the island, repeating our trip up the narrow channel. In a way, this was an enormous drag, but it did add some interesting features to the racing. As I was passing the outlet to the channel on my way down, a group of faster paddlers came out of the channel heading downstream and I managed to jump on the wake of the last of them and ride them for a few minutes. Then it was drag my way up the channel and emerge back into the downstream for the final section, but as I was nearing the channel entrance a group of three C1s, the first of the open men C1s, came roaring by. The first guy tried to scrape the other two off on me, and the third one banged his paddle into my boat repeatedly before he dropped off. But in the process, they basically cut me off directing me to the entrance to the channel again, which I did not want to do. I had to stop paddling and let them go by so I could continue downstream. I was annoyed at the time, but hey, it’s all racing, right? That first guy was using good tactics against his two rivals even if it wasn’t good for me.

By the time we were in the last part heading downriver, it was shockingly show – I was working as hard as I ever do and only managing speeds in the high 9s, low 10s. In still water and still air, even as fatigued as I was, I should have been doing mid to high 10s. One time I looked at my heart rate and it was down in the 140s, which seemed crazy low. Wesley was having real problems. I don’t know if he was cramping up or having balance issues, but every time I looked in his direction he seemed to be bracing. I was slowly catching him back up, and as I put in more effort my heart rate was back in the high 150s where I expected it to be. I hit the first of the yellow buoys, which I’d measured before the race as being 750 meters from the finish and I was about 2 boat lengths behind Wesley and closing fast when he suddenly turned his boat slightly and looked back and saw me, and he put in a big burst of speed. I had no finish sprint in me and I finished a few lengths behind him.

After clearing the finish line, I joined a bunch of other surf ski paddlers who were jumping out of their boats and swimming to cool off. What a great relief that was!

After the race, I was standing near my boat when one of the safety officials came over and yelled at me for having a Mocke PFD. According to him, USCA rules require US Coast Guard Approved PFDs only. Never mind that Mocke vests are ISO standard approved, and accepted by every canoe and kayak and surf ski organization in the world, and never mind that this river was so shallow and still that in the unlikely event that I somehow got separated from my boat I could have walked to shore, he said “I don’t know anything about what ISO means, just that it’s not American” or something like that, and he also said “Don’t you dare come back here without a Coast Guard approved vest”. It annoys the piss out of me that I can wear a Mocke PFD in the hairiest ocean races and through Swell City on the Gorge – places where I might legitimately have to make a remount or two, but here in flatsville I have to carry any old piece of shit that has a USCG approval sticker on it.

Now I found a web page that says that the USCA does allow the Mocke, Vaikobi and other ISO approved PFDs, but only if they’re worn not, if they’re on the boat. (And this isn’t on the USCA page, so it’s possible this is just a proposed change that never got applied.) But it was too damn hot to wear it. One guy I talked to afterwards said he’s going to take an old USCG approved PFD, unstitch it, take out half the floatation, stitch it back up, and use that as his (in the boat) PFD. I don’t recommend that. At some races in Australia, I’ve heard they have a very simple test – they attach a 5kg weight to your PFD and throw it in the water. If it floats, it’s a 50 Newton PFD and so therefore legal. (5kg of mass exerts approximately 50 Newtons of downward force in standard earth gravity.)

So after that bit of annoyance, the next part was even more annoying. When I picked up my race number this morning, they were out of goodie bags and shirts. So I had to wait for registration to re-open. And that wasn’t supposed to happen until after results were up. So I waited for the results to come up. And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, at 4pm, 5 hours after I finished, they said “we still don’t have results, but we’re going to give the first, second and third place prizes now”. I knew I wasn’t getting any of them, so I took a chance and wandered over to registration and sure enough they were open and giving out goodie bags. If I’d known, I could have gone back to my hotel, had a shower, had a nap, and still returned in time for them to not have results up.

So anyway, this was a pretty good event, right up until the finish. The venue wasn’t perfect, I would have preferred deeper water and fewer weeds. But the start was well organized, the course was interesting, the loop around the island was an interesting wrinkle, and everything was well marked and clear. The onshore area was shaded and very pleasant, and they had good PA and there were some good food trucks. They even had adequate parking, although some people had to park a ways away. It was just too bad that they screwed up so badly on the results, and that their safety guy was such an jerkwad about the PFD issue.

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New camera: Contour Roam3

After ruining two of my three cameras out west, I thought I’d get a camera that’s waterproof and doesn’t require any hacking to get a battery life that will last for a whole race, even a relatively long one. That search led me to the Contour ROAM3, which is actually marked down to $90 on Amazon these days. It’s a pretty simple 1080p camera, nothing fancy, but it’s waterproof and advertises 3-3.5 hours battery life. It’s very much like my late lamented Polaroid XS100, except with much better battery life. Just like the XS100, you can’t see what you’ve recorded until you pop the SD card out and put it into a computer – no wifi and no app like the GoPro and GeekPro have. And because there is no display, not even a little one, the only way to know what is going on is via a couple of cryptic icons and very cryptic beep signals. One very odd feature is it has a little laser beam to help you line it up. I’m not sure how useful that is since the only way to turn it on also appears to put it into photo mode. Like the XS100, it has a standard tripod mount as well as a proprietary mount. I also bought a “hat mount” for a few bucks which allows you to attach it to a baseball style hat.

Today we were doing a killer workout on the bay – 1 minute on, 30 seconds off, repeated 32 times with longer rests every 8. It seemed like a good opportunity to try it out.

You can’t see it from this part of the clip, but it did a pretty good handling changing light conditions, like going under a low bridge or into shadow. I liked the picture quality. I really wish it has a 1080p/60fps mode like my GoPro did – I think that made action a lot smoother looking, but I can hardly complain for the price. I didn’t much like the hat mount – the sides of my head don’t go straight up and down and so the camera ended up slightly off square. I think I’d prefer a proper headband mount like I had for my GoPro. Also the video shows that it doesn’t handle wind noise all that well when pointed straight into it. It actually was a lot better on the downwind part of the recording. Compare with the GoPro which hardly catches any sound at all when in the waterproof case.

Bottom line:
The GoPro has better picture quality and a much bigger ecosystem of accessories. But if adding a third party extended battery is going to cause the waterproof case to leak and ruin the camera, then I can’t afford it. Since I haven’t found another action camera with 3 hours of battery life, I guess this is going to be it until somebody makes a better one.

If you’re reading this, action camera makers, how about coming out with a waterproof camera that shoots 4K at 30fps (or even better, 60fps) and 1080p/60fps and with a battery that lasts 3+ hours? Yeah, and if you can bring that in under $200, that’d be great too. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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