Category Archives: Rant

Technique work

I’ve had two people point out this week that I’m *still* not getting my paddle blade fully in the water. I’ve been working on this for years now, and it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I’ve tried lengthening my paddle, shortening it, doing drills and just trying to be aware of the problem. I’m getting worried about it.

Another problem was pointed out in this Saturday’s video: I’ve got an asymmetry in the way my top hands come across my face. Compare:

Time to break out Motionize and find some quiet water to concentrate on my technique, I think.

I’m baffled by action cameras

One of the things that really bugs me about actions cameras is that almost every single one of them has about a 80 to 90 minute battery life. The sole exception I’ve found is the Contour Roam 3 which has nearly a 3 hour battery life. Unfortunately it’s limited to 1080p/30fps, and even at that I didn’t think the picture was as bright and vibrant as, say, my old Polaroid XS100.

After multiple camera failures mostly due to water, I decided this year to treat myself to a GoPro Hero 5 Black and a GoPro Hero 5 Session. They are both intrinsically waterproof and have good picture quality as well as higher resolutions like 4K/30fps and 1080p/60fps. But again, they’ve got that 80-90 minute battery life.

I did “bench tests” on my desk using external USB batteries and discovered that with an external battery, I could easily get 3 hours out of either camera. So using some zip-ties and silicon putty, I arranged these external batteries and waterproofed the cable connections and yesterday I went out to use them on the water. It was coolish and overcast, so overheating would not be a problem – it was certainly cooler than when I’d been testing at my desk, anyway. But I was extremely disappointed when the Session only gave me 88 minutes of video, almost as if I hadn’t had the external battery at all, and the Black gave me 115 minutes of video.

I’m trying to figure out why both cameras stop getting charge from the batteries out in the field, but work fine at my desk. Working hypotheses:

  1. The cameras are overheating and shutting down
  2. Recording a moving scene in the real world is more taxing on the cameras than recording a mostly static scene in my office, and so they’re trying to suck more power than the battery can provide
  3. The image stabilization is sucking down lots of power in the moving environment that it’s not on my desk
  4. The cables aren’t as secure as I think they are and they’re coming lose somehow

I consider the first one unlikely, because the field test was done in cool and overcast weather. When I got home, I tried both cameras again and they both started recording and lasted for the remaining time on the external batteries. To see if it was just the lack of motion in the office scene, I pointed both cameras at my computer screen and started a continuous play list of YouTube videos, and that didn’t seem to make any difference. That would tend to argue against the second hypothesis. I also discovered that I’d only had image stabilization turned on in the Session and not the Black, which argues against the third hypothesis. I can’t find any signs of looseness in the cable connections. Oh, and one other thing I discovered while doing my bench test – the front of the Session, especially the screws holding on the front lens cover glass, were almost uncomfortably hot to the touch. I should see if they get that hot on the water.

I have one other test I can try – I have a much bigger battery that has a 2.1A port for iPads. I don’t know if GoPros do the magic handshake that allows them to take higher amperage from 2.1A ports, but that would be a good test to see if they’re just using too much juice in the field. But this battery is way heavier, and also is going to be a bitch to waterproof, so I don’t think it’s a race-ready solution.

But one of the possibilities I didn’t include in the above list is that the target market for action cams are people who stop and start their cameras to capture short bursts of activities like sky dives and downhill ski runs, so nobody is actually designing or testing their cameras to see if they’re capable of doing multiple hour long videos.

One of the reasons I went for GoPro rather than some other brand is that the third party add-on infrastructure is there for GoPro in a way that isn’t there for Sony or Contour or other brands. Some of the older GoPro models had third party battery extenders, and I have hope that somebody else will eventually solve my problem for me. I asked Ray Maker (of DC Rainmaker) and he agrees with me that third party solutions may be imminent.

Oh, that isn’t good!

In the continuing tension between “wanting my lovely boat to stay lovely” and “wanted my boat to look like I’ve gotten good use out of it”, I’ve been leaning towards the “looking used” end of the spectrum. But I think I’ve gone a bit too far this time. Sometime in the last couple paddles, I’ve put some nasty looking cracks in my lovely Epic V10 Sport. I’m betting it’s the time from my video the other day where I paddled amongst ice floes. My local Epic dealer is closed this month, but I’m thinking I should probably keep it off the water until somebody can evaluate it and see how extensive and expensive the repair is going to be.

So while I hadn’t planned to start paddling the V12 while the river was still roiling and boiling like it is now, I guess it’s the best choice for now. Except when I went to get it from the rack, I discovered it was absolutely full of water. I couldn’t lift it, it was so bad. I wasn’t sure where the water was getting in until I turned it on its side and water started pouring out from the water line seam. Shit, I knew this boat was in bad shape, but I didn’t realize it was so bad. After spending some time pouring water out the drain hole, I picked it up and realized there were chunks of ice bouncing around inside the hull as well. Hopefully, those will melt over the next day or so.

My last option, and it’s not a great one either, is to get my ancient “Fat Oscar” V10 Sport back from the guy I loaned it to. I call it “Fat Oscar” because it was the first generation of V10 Sport and the cockpit “bucket” is hugely wide. Even at my heaviest, I’ve had to put pads on the insides to keep from wallowing around. Oscar Chalupsky is infamous for how much weight he used to gain in the off season and then lose in time for Molokai, so the joke is he designed it when he was at his heaviest. This one is “club layup”, meaning it’s heavy as hell, but also more robust than my “ultra layup” light but injured boat. It also has the drawback that it has an open venturi drain rather than the kick open scupper drain that the new boat has. Which means either I’ll be sitting with a crotch full of freezing cold water, or I could cover the drain with duct tape and hope it holds until I finish.

An actual conversation in YouTube comments

After my great disappointment with the Sony camera, I stumbled across a YouTube video of somebody reviewing some action cameras, some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t, and the Sony. I watched it, and they tested the cameras by going outside in freezing cold weather (it was filmed fairly recently somewhere in Southern Ontario, as far as I can tell). There was snow on the ground, they were dressed in winter clothing. For some odd reason they did all the comparison shooting in nearly dark conditions, which is an odd choice.

For the benefit of others who watched this video, I posted about my overheating problems with the Sony in the waterproof case while shooting 4K. And had to endure the following conversation in the comment section, roughly paraphrased:

  • Commenter 1: What sort of idiot uses a waterproof case in an office? Is your office under water?
  • Me: I’m trying to determine if it will work in the summer on my kayak. I have two choices: try it at room temperature in my office, or fly a few thousand miles south where it’s as warm.
  • Commenter 2: But the conditions outdoors are completely different than indoors – you’re not taking into account heat dissipation due to wind.
  • Me: I’m not taking into effect the effect of bright sunshine or the fact that summer is often much warmer than 20C either. It’s a fair test.
  • Video maker: We didn’t have overheating issues, but we didn’t use the waterproof case. Plus you didn’t take into account splashing.
  • Me: Well no, you wouldn’t have overheating issues without the case – I didn’t either. Neither did I have overheating issues shooting at lower res. But that’s not why I bought the camera. Counting on “splashes” keeping it cool is a $500 gamble I’m not willing to take.

One thing I didn’t mention is that I have another camera that I’ve done a similar bench test in my office and gotten 3+ hours recording (at 1080p), but I tried it several times on my kayak this summer and it has overheated and died after less than an hour. So not only is the bench test a reasonable test for overheating, it actually under-stresses the hardware.

Sony FDR-X3000 going back

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.