So I contacted Sony’s tech support, and they told me both that shutting down in 30 minutes at room temperature is perfectly normal, and that if I sent it back to an authorized repair center, that they might be able to fix it. Wait, is it normal or does it need fixing? The tech support person seemed to think it was both.
That’s the last straw for me. I’m sending it back. According to DC Rainmaker neither the GoPro Hero 5 Black nor the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 have this problem. I think I’d rather have less than perfect image stabilization but be able to use the whole battery life than have great image stabilization but be unable to film more than 40 minutes of a race.
So I decided to stop cheaping out on video cameras and buy a top of the line Sony 4K action cam with real image stabilization. In the 24 hours or so I’ve had it, I’ve tried a couple of tests.
First, I put it in the waterproof case (aka “dive housing” because it’s supposedly good to 60 meters). Unlike the new GoPros, the Sony has no water resistance without the case. I had it set up for 4K/30fps, with all the bells and whistles (wifi, Bluetooth, GPS) turned on. It overheated and died after only 30 minutes (a suspiciously round number?). I took it out the case and let it cool a bit, and it continued another 16 minutes. Ok, that’s not great.
Then I put it into airplane mode and tried again, and this time it lasted 40 minutes (another suspiciously round number). I forgot to see if it had some battery left after it cooled down.
Then, leaving it in airplane mode, 4k/30fps, etc, I took it for a walk around the block.
I’m really pretty pleased about the image stabilization here. I looked left to right a bit too much and it didn’t deal well with that, but as I walked along the flat I could feel the camera bouncing a tiny bit in the head strap, and none of that shows in the video. I think it’s going to look pretty good mounted on my boat.
It was 23° F at the time, and I guess we walked for about 20 minutes. I kept the camera running as we came back inside and it continued to run until it had run for exactly 1 hour. (Another suspiciously round number!) After it cooled down, it ran for another 8 minutes before the battery ran out. So I think that proves that it has a definite overheating problem in the waterproof case at room temperature, which does not bode well for kayak races in warm weather.
Yes, unlike canoe racers who prefer it when they have to chisel the ice off their boats, we surf ski paddlers often race in the warm summer sun. That’s why I became a surf ski paddler.
I’ve done another test which is more hopeful. I tried switching it to 1080p/60fps. That’s a very good resolution for recording kayak races because let’s face it, not very many of us have 4k monitors and the extra frame rate makes everything look smoother. This time, in the waterproof case and in Airplane Mode, I got 90 minutes almost exactly. That’s long enough to capture the important part of most races. I’d prefer two hours or more, but I’ve got what I’ve got.
Next, I’ve got to try it at 1080p/60fps with all the bells and whistles turned on. The camera came with a remote control – I could strap the remote to my leg and turn the camera on at the start, turn it off when there’s nobody around, and turn it back on for interesting parts like the finish sprint. That will make synchronizing with my Garmin a bit of a nightmare, but I’ll do what I have to do. Maybe I’ll hit the lap button on my Garmin at the same time or keep a camera that has a longer battery life running at the same time. I don’t know.
My kayak videos attract a lot of attention from other paddlers. When I go to places like The Gorge or the Canadians or Lighthouse to Lighthouse, people recognize me and tell me how much they love them. I find that very gratifying because originally I was just doing it to analyze my technique and race strategy.
But I’ve been cheaping out on my cameras and getting less than stellar results – it was so bad that at the last race of the season I was paddling along and I could see the mount for one camera had been loosened where I hit it on a rock while portaging, and rather than asking the people in a canoe I was passing to rip it off and hand it back to me I figured that if it fell off I’d be rid of this horrible camera. As well as that one, this year I bought a no-name GoPro ripoff that had a horrible picture, and a refurbished GoPro whose case hinge broke and it leaked water and died at The Gorge. I also had a Polaroid that was pretty nice but I made a modification to improve the battery life but that ended up leaking and dying as well. And I bought a Contour Roam 3 but I’m not thrilled with the picture quality and it’s let me down once or twice by not recording when I thought I’d set it up right.
So I’ve resolved to stop cheaping out on cameras. Experience has shown me that I really need 1080p/60fps to get smooth action, and I’d really love to experiment with 4K. Some of the new 4K camera have built in image stabilization which I think would be a major improvement. Another kayak/surfski video guy, Jim Smith, sent me these really nice camera mounts for bow and stern that I can’t wait to try out. He told me that the optical image stabilization in the Sony XDR-X3000R/W camera is way better than the electronic image stabilization in the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 or the GoPro Hero 5 or the Hero 5 Session. Watching side by side comparisons on YouTube, it seems to check out. So that’s my new wish-list camera.
If I had all the money in the world, I’d have two of these Sonys- one for the bow and one for the stern, as well as a third camera, possibly a Hero 5 Session, for my head. I don’t think I need stabilization as much for my head because my head is pretty self stabilizing.
Of course the problem with all of these cameras, besides the price, is that nobody makes a camera with decent battery life. Well, except the Contour Roam 3, but like I said, I’m not thrilled with the picture on that one. That’s probably what did in my GoPro Hero 3 – I had a third party extended life battery and case back, and I can’t be sure but I bet the third party back overstressed the hinge closure and that’s why it failed. The four cameras I mentioned above (two GoPros, Garmin and Sony) have remote controls. Maybe the solution to battery life is to turn the camera on for the first part of the race, and then turn it off after things have settled down a bit and turn it back on for the finish and other parts where something is happening. Not ideal – I don’t like the thought of taking my hands off the paddle in the middle of a race to start and stop one or more cameras and it will make synchronizing my heart rate and speed data hellishly difficult. The only other idea is to continue my experiments with trying to tap a wire through the case and get power to the cameras that way. I’ve seen third party taps like that for older GoPros. But I’d need a sacrificial case or two to experiment on so I don’t wreck a $400 camera. What I’m most surprised about is that nobody else seems to have these problems. Maybe they don’t paddle as slowly as me so they don’t need three hours of battery to cover a race. But I’ve read that the Virb with ANT+ and GPS and WiFi turned on is only good for 30 minutes recording. Nobody is that fast!
But once again I’m stuck on the money issue. All these camera cost money. I’ve wasted money on cheap cameras and I don’t want to do that any more. But I also don’t have $1200 to plunk down on cameras right away. And you can’t make money off of YouTube if you only get a hundred views a month. Which leads me back to the semi-rhetorical question in the title. I need a sponsor/sugar daddy to buy me a camera or two.