Another camera, another time limitation

One of the things I liked about the Garmin VIRB 360 camera is that they actually say “Constantly record for more than 1 hour on 1 charge5 — without overheating” on their product page, which shows a lot more concern for continuous recording than GoPro. They also sell a cradle that gives external power. So I thought I’d be all set for the sort of 2 – 3 hour recordings that have been my holy grail since I got into race videos.

I’ve been running various tests with different combinations of external batteries, and never seemed to get more than 1.5 hours. And today while running a test, I just happened to be looking at my camera when I displayed a “High temperature alert” on the screen just before it shut down. Well, again, I’ve got to give them props in handling high temps better than GoPro – GoPro usually don’t even give you a beep before they shut down for high temps.

But I’m still left with the quandary on how do I keep my cameras from overheating. I’ve thought about covering my camera with tinfoil or attaching a computer CPU heatsink, but a 360 camera doesn’t give you much in the way of non-vital surface to attach things to. Freeze it? My Fenix can act as a remote for it, maybe I could just turn it off in the middle of a race when nothing much is happening?

New Camera

I decided to make a jump and bought a used Garmin VIRB 360 camera. I was going back and forth about this camera, because it’s several years old and there’s been no hint that Garmin is considering updating it or even improving the support (there are posts in the forums complaining about bugs in Garmin VIRB Edit that have been unfixed since 2016).

But there are two extremely important factors that led me to buying it:

  • They advertised that it won’t overheat even with an hour’s continuous recording. Considering how many times I’ve lost a GoPro early in a race due to overheating, that’s a good thing to see an action camera care about. GoPro seems to feel that action cameras are meant to record short clips like a downhill ski run or a sky dive, not an hour or more of continuous action.
  • They make a “powered tripod mount” that allows you to connect your camera to an external USB battery in a water resistant manner.

There’s another cool feature I didn’t know about until I got it home – when it’s paired to my Fenix fitness watch, it will start recording when I hit start on an activity on the Fenix automatically. Also I get a warning on my watch when its battery is getting low. If I get the external battery working, I might prefer not to wait until I hit start to start recording, but it seems like this is a good way to record as much of a race as I can.

I have done a few shoots with it, and so far it seems to give just about exactly an hour of video even with GPS turned on and external sensors and devices paired to it. The video is pretty good quality, and I like the idea of a 360 degree video for seeing all the action in a race.

You should be able to move the viewport around by clicking and dragging or touching and dragging, or even moving your device around if you’re on mobile.

I’m still not sure if I’d rather put up 360 video on YouTube people and hope people see which direction the cool action is happening, or if I’d like to “direct” it.

Here’s a 360 video where I use the “reorient feature” to point the default view where I think the action is, but the viewer can move the viewpoint around manually, and then when I reorient it might get confusing.

Again, you can move the viewpoint around manually, but if you don’t you can see that I’ve tried to move it myself to track things of interest.

And here’s pretty much the same “reoriented” video, but converted to flat so the viewer can’t mess with the viewpoint.

In this one I still track points of interest, but you can’t drag the viewport around to look at things other than what I want you to look at.

The camera records what Garmin calls “G-Metrix” data – i.e. the speed and distance and heart rate and other data that I love to overlay on my videos. By recording it in the camera instead of taking it from my Fenix watch, it simplifies the process of getting the data on the video, but there are a couple of major problems with it

  1. VIRB Edit lets you plonk a gauge on the screen, but it stays in the same place relative to the view, rather than to the viewport – i.e. when you move the viewpoint around, it scrolls off the screen. I’d rather there was an option to keep it static in the viewport as you move the viewpoint around. And this is still true even if you’re using what they call “Hyperframe” to convert the video to flat. You’d think once you made the video flat you could use gauges the way you do on a normal flat video.
  2. There are a different set of gauge templates for 360 videos than for flat videos, and when you use Hyperframe, they still only show you the 360 templates.
  3. VIRB Edit had terrible editing tools. You’d think the difference between doing “trim right” in VIRB Edit and Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) wouldn’t be huge, but Final Cut Pro has keyboard shortcuts as well as “blade” and “blade all” as well a the trims. When it comes to transitions and titles the differences are night and day – there are 156 transitions in my FCPX (some are 3rd party) and 5 transitions in VIRB Edit, and hundreds of titles in FCPX versus 1 in VIRB Edit. Add to that the fact that VIRB crashes with shocking regularity – like 3 times when trying to do that flattened video before I gave up and did it in Final Cut Pro X.

So yes, I can edit the footage in Final Cut Pro – I’m not sure if I can grab it directly off the SD card or if VIRB Edit has to do something first, but I grabbed a video out of the ~/Movies/Garmin directory and dropped it in to FCPX and it recognized it as a 360 video and I was able to point around and do 360 stuff immediately.

So now I’m trying to figure out what my future video workflow will be. If I’m going to always flatten the video, I might keep doing what I have been doing and making a blue screen video with gauges in VIRB Edit and overlaying that on the flat video in FCPX. But if I’m going to output 360 videos, I could stick the gauges down near my boat, and output the full video with the gauges in VIRB Edit then bring it into FCPX for cutting, adding titles and transitions.

Maybe I need to do both for a while and see what people like.

Disappointed once again

Early this year (or possibly, it’s hard to tell the flow of time, but it was “pre-COVID”), I saw a new 360 degree camera called the Insta360 ONE R. I was really interested because I’ve been thinking that a 360 degree camera might be better for my kayak videos that the split screen that I currently use (at least, what I use in the rare occasions when both cameras work). I could either publish as a 360 video or crop it to a flat but looking at what might be interesting right now (like the kayaker sneaking up behind me or the C-2 I’m about to take a rest behind).

And there are three reasons why I started thinking about this now with this camera when I hadn’t with previous 360 degree cameras:

  • I’ve heard horror stories about how long it takes to stitch the video together with the GoPro Fusion and GoPro Max – like possibly more than 2-3 days for one of my 2 hour race videos. The ONE R supposedly does the stitching in the camera with “no waiting”
  • The ONE R is modular, so if you decide 360 is a gimmick and you don’t want to do it any more, you can pull out the 360 module and plug in the 4k module and use it just like a Hero 7.
  • There were no extended batteries for any 360 camera, just a lot of suggestions to buy multiple batteries and swapping them out, which isn’t an option in a kayak race.

For various reasons, GoPro has always seemed to target about a 70-80 minute battery life. And GoPro’s support page freely admits that they don’t care that the GoPro Hero 7 and Hero 8 will overheat and shut down long before you hit the 70 minutes if you’re trying to use the full advertised resolution and frame rate on a summer day. I get it, I guess, their target market are guys with RedBull sponsorships shooting 5-10 minute ski or surf or mountain bike runs, not me.

The ONE R listed a similar battery life (of course, no indication of whether they have a similar overheating problem), but they also listed a “boosted battery base” as an option that was coming soon. The “boosted battery base” would double the number of milliAmp-hours, theoretically giving you twice the battery life. But it wasn’t out, so I just bided my time.

Well, the Boosted Battery Base is now out. And to my massive disappointment, they have the following warning on the order page:

ONE R is not waterproof or designed for extreme action shooting when assembled with the Boosted Battery Base.

https://store.insta360.com/product/one_r_battery

I kind of don’t want to buy $500 for a camera if it’s going to be ruined if I tip over. That doesn’t often happen in a flat water race, but I have been pretty soaked by rain. And once would be enough.

How to cough up a lung in the privacy of your own attic

So anybody who follows me on “athletic” social media (Strava, Garmin Connect, etc) probably knows I have a new wrinkle in my winter training on the KayakPro ergometer. I bought their new “Genesis Port” bluetooth adaptor and a subscription to Kinomap. This allows me to “race” against geo-referenced videos. Of course, the first thing I did was upload a bunch of my own race videos (https://vsuq.adj.st/userName=paul_tomblin?adjust_t=e3qslbp&adjustdeeplink=com.kinomap.training%3A%2F%2F%3FuserName%3D?paul_tomblin&adjust_redirect=https://www.kinomap.com/en/u/paul_tomblin/videos) – I figured they’re the best training because they’re the right length and speed. Grayson Bourne, the president of KayakPro (and former(?) British kayak champion) has uploaded a bunch of his own videos as well, but I didn’t want to challenge them, because he’s a LOT faster than me. Also his videos tend to be shorter than mine.

Also, another paddler who makes YouTube race videos that I follow on social media goes by either “Szechung Kayaker” or “Chris Sze”. He lives in Bishops Stortford England, and I’m intensely jealous of how much racing they do there, even if it is on narrow canals in narrow little sprint boats. I was watching one of his recent videos and it suddenly struck me that

  • He’s paddling a pink KayakPro boat
  • One of Grayson’s videos is of a pink KayakPro boat in Bishops Stortford.

Hmmm. I wonder if Grayson just used on Chris’s video? I definitely had to try that route now. It’s only 5.6km, which means it’s pretty much an all-out sprint, but I did a couple of long distance workouts this weekend, so why not?

When I’m racing against my own videos, I’m the only person whose ever done them. Which is fine, but it takes out some of the competitive aspect. This one had a lot more people on it – I think it was 9? Certainly enough to make it a huge challenge.

Right off the gun, there were two people who jumped right out front – literally 100+ meters ahead before the first kilometer was over. There was one guy who was more like 20 meters ahead, and one guy who was 20 meters or so behind. Right, I thought, my work is cut out for me – just keep between these two guys and hope they tire before I do. Very much a familiar race tactic for me, except there was no wake to ride.

Like I said, I was treating this like a sprint, so instead of the 10.6-10.8 km/hr I usually make on the erg (and I don’t think it’s calibrated, because that’s on race courses where I usually average about 10.4-10.5 km/hr), I was making 12.2 km/hr. It was hard, but I was counting down the meters to the end, as well as watching those two names and the meters distance to each one. The guy ahead moved further out, reaching somewhere around 100 meters by the turn around, while the guy behind me got closer and closer, coming within 9 meters in the same distance.

But with about 3 km to go, the guy ahead of me must have slowed down to catch his breath or stopped to have a drink, because suddenly I was ahead of him, while the guy who was behind me dropped a bit further back to about 14 meters. I fooled myself into thinking they’d both gotten tired, but I was already giving it everything I could. The only thing that thought did was prevent me from slowing down, because I really wanted to slow down. But they both got their second wind or something and both of them passed me. I contested that sprint like I battling side-by-side with Dave W at a NYMCRA points race, but both of them beat me, the one who’d been behind most of the time beating me by 1 second.

I like this idea of doing shorter, harder sessions on the erg. I’ve heard there’s a way to use Kinomap for interval training, I’ll have to look into that as well. I know I work harder in intervals if there are other people with me, so maybe this will help.

Fingers crossed, I might have this figured out

I’ve ranted about all my problems with GoPro cameras here numerous times. I think I might have this finally figured out, just in time for the last points race of the season.

I bought these two GoPro Hero 7 Blacks over the winter. I had a GoPro Hero 5 Black and a GoPro Hero 5 Session, and they were both working great at 4K at 30 frames per second (fps), but I really liked how much smoother action was when shot at 60 fps, and so when the Hero 7 was announced supporting 4k/60, I jumped at the chance. I bought one and tried it out in some winter paddling, and was blown away with not just 4k/60, but also the amazing “Hypersmooth” image stabilization. So I bought another. Both times I was able to take advantage of deals where you sent in old cameras and got $100 off – I used that to get rid of some non-functional and/or horrible non-GoPro cameras.

GoPros, like most action cameras, have between an hour and 80 minutes of battery life. If you look at their promotional videos, you see a lot of people doing short intense action, like bombing down snow board runs or surfing or rock climbing. All things where you can record, then stop and change batteries. You can’t do that when you’re trying to record a 1.5-2.5 hour kayak race, so I’ve always searched out external battery solutions, preferably ones that are waterproof. (I wrecked more than one camera with a home-brew waterproofing solution.) Last year I had good luck with this “sidecar” battery from Orbmart:

Unfortunately I’ve had problems all season with the cameras just shutting down for no apparent reason. I tried a bunch of things, but eventually came to the realization that the problem is that they were overheating. I blamed the waterproof case that trapped the heat in. Then I got an external battery that didn’t require putting them in waterproof cases, but while I’d get 4+ hours with that in testing, out in the boat they’d usually work but sometimes they would flake out on me. Then a week ago it stopped working entirely. It wouldn’t charge, it wouldn’t discharge and the manufacturer has been very slow to respond.

But the heat problem wouldn’t go away. I reached out to GoPro, and they pointed me to a support page on their website that basically said “don’t try to use our high quality settings, unless you’re willing to take short shots and let it cool down between shots”. Once again I’m reminded that long duration stuff isn’t their target market. So I’ve given up on 4k/60fps. I did some testing, and I got reasonable results at 4k/30fps. And at 1080p/60fps. That’s the trade-offs I was making with my Hero 5s – last year I shot some races at 1080p/60 to get smoother action, but I shot Long Lake at 4k/30 because the scenery is so beautiful. I’m really not happy that I upgraded my cameras only to use the same resolutions I was using with with the old cameras.

But a few more experiments and I’m 99% sure I can get away with using the 2.7k/60 mode on the GoPros. I did a paddle last night and got nearly 3 hours with the sidecar battery.

It takes a few changes in work-flow to use 2.7k in Final Cut Pro – for instance, I usually take all the clips from one camera (because GoPros actually break your long video into chunks just over 8 minutes long for some reason) and make a compound clip from it and drag that into the timeline. But doing that with 2.7k clips make a compound clip at 1080p by default. Even when you do a “custom resolution”, you can give the proper 2.7k resolution, but it will make it 30 fps (actually 29.97) no matter what you do. But if you drag all the clips into the timeline and make it into a compound clip there, it picks up the correct resolution and frame rate. I haven’t yet figured out if Garmin VIRB Edit will do 2.7k, I’ll have to experiment with that tonight. If not, I guess I can do the data overlay in 4k and let Final Cut Pro resize it.

So I’m going to Long Lake this weekend with my cameras set to 2.7K/60fps. Keep your fingers crossed that everything works.