Category Archives: Rant

Sony FDR-X3000, first impressions

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.

Is there such a thing as a camera sponsor?

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.

Fitness Device for kayak racing

Back in April of 2015, I wrote a “wish list” for what I considered the idea fitness device for kayak racing. At the time, I was using the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, and most of what I wrote there was based on my experience with it and previous devices (Garmin Forerunner 301, 310XT and 910XT as well as a brief flirtation with a Polar RC3 which sucked. I had also been looking at Garmin’s website for their new Forerunner 920XT and was trying to justify buying one. “Fortunately” I left my 910XT on my car roof and drove off, and it got run over by a truck so I had to buy the 920XT soon afterward. So let’s just see where we stand with the 920XT versus my wish list, shall we?

Wish List Item How the 920XT stacks up
As big a display as feasible. The 920XT continues the downward slide on display sizes. No relief in sight because Garmin wants these things to work as watches as well as training devices. I don’t think the Edge or the various remote displays from Garmin or Wahoo are waterproof enough for kayaking.
Compatible with polarized sunglasses To be honest, I was avoiding sunglasses this year because of all my video cameras, so I don’t know if the 920XT works with them.
Don’t scroll the fields that don’t change Sadly, no. Even though I have the same heart rate field on the top of three screens in a row, you can briefly not read it as it switches between the screens
Support for multiple profiles While Garmin Connect had some glitches in the last year, my “Paddling”, “Paddling Intervals” and “Paddling Race” profiles all upload as Paddling activities in Garmin Connect. Unfortunately so does my “Indoor Paddling”, and then I have to manually change it to “Fitness Devices/Cardio”.
No holes in the case 920XT continues that feature of the 310XT/910XT. The fact that this 920XT on my wrist spend a couple of weeks immersed in a river and in river mud proves how well it works.
ANT+ and Bluetooth 920XT supports both.
Bluetooth uploads and live tracking I’ve never used the live tracking. The only person who would care is Vicki, and she uses “Find My Friends”. But it’s awesome having your workout uploaded to Garmin Connect as soon as you finish.
Great battery life The 920XT’s battery life is so great I use it as a daily wear watch. I couldn’t tell you how often I charge it, but it’s probably no more than once every three days.
Course map if you load a course I tried this at Lighthouse to Lighthouse this year and it worked great. Except they changed which way you went around the second lighthouse and that confused it, and so the distance to go was wrong for most of the second half of the race.
Virtual Race Again, that was working great at Lighthouse to Lighthouse right up to the point where we went around the second lighthouse. I’ve tried it on a few training runs and it works well.
Start on movement. Still a problem – if you want it to start when you start moving, it stops when you stop moving, even if it’s for a buoy turn.
Louder beeps. Still a problem.

I’m trying to think if I have any new wish list items. The only thing that springs to mind right away is that I bought a Wahoo cadence device, and Garmin won’t allow me to add a cadence field to a Paddling activity – if I want to use it, I have to make a cycling activity. That’s pretty annoying and arbitrary. I could probably think of a few for Garmin Connect.

Still looking for a good camera (or three)

One of the things I’ve really gotten into in the last couple of years is making movies of my kayaking, especially races. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from them. Unfortunately, I have yet to find cameras I like.

The basic problem is that my requirements are not the same as most people who use “Action Cameras”.

First and foremost, it appears that your average GoPro user only wants to go out and do a few stunts. Or they’ll be doing something where they can use their hands to turn on and off the camera. Or they can stop what they’re doing to change the battery. None of those use-cases require ultra-long battery life. My use-case is that I want to be able to turn on my cameras as I leave the dock to go warm up, finish my warm up, do a 2-3 hour race, warm down, and then come back to the dock and turn off the cameras. Mostly the cameras are not within my reach, but even if they were I couldn’t spare a hand to deal with them during a race. So basically my number one priority is that they have at least 3.5 to 4 hours battery life. I have only found one camera that comes even close to that battery life, and that’s the Contour Roam 3.

VelonCC, an organization of professional cycling teams, makes “Inside the Peloton” videos that show highlights of every day’s stage in major cycling races, using GoPro Hero Session cameras mounted on some of the rider’s bikes. But the Hero Session, like just about every other action camera, only has 90-minute battery life, and so I wondered how they are showing the finish sprint at the end of a 4-hour stage. I asked them, and they claim that they program the cameras to turn on and off during different times. I downloaded the manual for the Hero Session and I can find no mention of timed start times. VelonCC also claims that they don’t have special firmware to allow this timing. So I don’t know how they actually do it. Maybe there’s a secret menu that isn’t in the manual. Maybe I’m missing something in the manual. I don’t know. They also seem to be extraordinarily good at guessing who is going to be involved in major events of the stage and when those events are going to be happening. I have my suspicions – I suspect they’re lying about the timing and they’ve got people in the caravan using remote controls, or they have some special device or firmware to allow the timing.

Secondly, I require my cameras to be waterproof. Naturally, most cameras are waterproof or come in waterproof housings. Unfortunately, my attempts to deal with the battery length issue have lead to me compromising the waterproofing. I had a Polaroid XS100 camera that produced a really nice picture and was simple to use, but I attempted to bodge a battery extension using sugru and an external USB battery. Unfortunately after a few uses the camera stopped working – I assume it got water through the sugru and shorted out. I also had a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver camera and a third party extended battery, which was just about perfect. It produced a really nice 1080p/60fps picture, a bit washed out in color compared to the Polaroid, but nice and smooth. And the battery life was pretty close to the required five hours. Unfortunately when I was at the surf-ski vacation of my life in the Gorge, the hinge on the case broke. I thought I had fixed it, but afterward, the camera would stop recording after 5 minutes or so. I thought I was recording when I wasn’t because it had shut off almost as soon as I got underway. I guess my fix wasn’t adequate and allowed water in. I tried both with and without the third party battery and it still does that, so it’s toast.

I also had a cheap Chinese GoPro knock-off called a “GeekPro” (because intellectual property is something that happens to other people, not Chinese companies). It looks a lot like a GoPro but is just different enough that the GoPro extended batteries don’t work on it. I worked out a bodge using a tiny flat cable from a wireless charger for Android phones. In bench testing, I got nearly 7 hours battery life. However, as soon as I tried it on the water it reverted to the 90 minutes that the built-in battery is good for. I assume that means my bodge isn’t waterproof. But it hardly matters because the picture quality is terrible – if you include any bright sky you get weird bands of color and everything is horribly over-saturated.

By this point, I was getting leery of any solution to battery life that didn’t come from the camera maker, and like I said I didn’t really like the picture quality of the Roam, so I bought a Veho Muvi K2. It promised a 2 or 2.5-hour battery life shooting 1080p/60fps. It also says the waterproof case is good down to 100 meters depth. What they don’t tell you in on the web is that it has a terrible tendency to fog up inside the waterproof case. They provide a bunch of silica pads to put inside the case, but even so, it fogged up terribly. I used in two races where I had it mounted in the front of the kayak pointing back at me, and both times I could see the lens fogging up as I paddled away from the dock. The third time I used it I hit the camera on some rocks while portaging and loosened the mount to the point where it fell off into the water about a kilometer afterward. I made a grab for it, but it sunk before I could reach it. I don’t miss it.

As I alluded to a few times above, I’ve decided that 1080p/30fps just isn’t good enough for capturing the action in races. The Contour Roam has the battery life and waterproofness I want, but I really don’t think much of the picture quality, and at least part of that is because it looks choppy and pixelated in high action like at the race start. I’m thinking 1080p/60fps is the bare minimum. After watching Bradley Friesen’s YouTube channel, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be doing 4K video. Unfortunately, 4K video seems to only come in 30fps. Some of the new Action Cameras do a 2.7K video at 60fps which looks intriguing – and some of them use the size of the 4K sensor to do image stabilization at a lower resolution (basically they’re doing some sort of cropping in the camera). Those are all things I’d like to experiment with.

There are a couple of new cameras like the GoPro Hero 5, the Hero 5 Session and the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 that do all the fancy 4K stuff and the image stabilization at 1080p/60fps. But so far none of them have any option, either first party or third party, to extend the battery life beyond the nominal 90 minutes or so. Maybe there will be in the spring by the time I need to start recording kayak races again. There is also a whole slew of cheap-ass 4K Chinese GoPro clones appearing on Amazon for around $100. It’s unlikely they will ever have any options for extending battery life because although they look like GoPros, they don’t include the proprietary GoPro port that earlier GoPros used for expansions. Another option is to forget about 4K and image stabilization and buy older GoPros. GoPro themselves have an eBay shop where they sell “factory refurbs” – I could buy 2 GoPro Hero 3+ Silvers for what a Hero 5 Session would cost me, and I could use the extended life battery I bought for the one that got wet. I’d just have to be more careful about the hinge.

Oh well, at least I don’t have to make a decision on this before spring. Maybe things will be more settled by then.

Seneca Monster Race

You might have noticed that I haven’t written anything about last weekend’s Seneca Monster race yet. There are a whole bunch of reasons for that, but first and foremost is that I had a terrible race. Secondly, one of my cameras wasn’t charged up so it didn’t get any video, and another fell off and was lost in the canal, so I have no video. And thirdly I had surgery on my wrist during the week and so I’ve had other things on my mind and a limited ability to type for a while.

If you want to know why I had a terrible race, you need to cast your mind back to 2014 when Epic changed the design of their V10 Sport. There are many things you notice, both large and small when you compare Mike’s 2013 V10 Sport with my 2014 V10 Sport. Most of them are awesome. The closable bailer is worth the price of the upgrade right there. The cutaways at the catch area are great too, and the handles sure are nice at the end of a long paddle. But if you look at the bow, there is a very subtle change in where the straight up and down part transitions to the curve that goes under. When Mike and I are paddling side by side, you might notice that on his, the waterline is actually on the curve whereas on mine it’s on the straight up and down part. I’m sure there are hydrodynamic reasons for that change, and I’m sure somebody figured out it would be half a percent faster on ocean waves or something, but the upshot is that my bow collects weeds in places where Mike’s doesn’t. They just seem to slide under his on the curve and stop dead in mine on the straight part.

The Seneca Monster race is entirely in weeds. There are weeds from the start to the end, worse than even the USCA Nationals. And just when you think it’s the weediest race you’ve ever seen, they run you through a channel behind an island that is twice as weedy and shallow suck water as well. And then just to make life terrible for kayakers, just before the downstream turn in Seneca Falls there is a massive mat of weeds that was so thick it stopped me dead from full speed. It was so bad I couldn’t make the turn until I paddled backwards to clear my rudder, then I turned and then had to go through the same damn mat again on the way up. There were three close together bridges in the town of Seneca Falls, and if they’d moved the turn to the second bridge, we could have avoided that horrible mess.

Before the race I’d been so worried about the two portages. I figured that Roger is faster than me on the carries, especially since these ones were perfect for using wheels, so I figured that I’d need a good lead on him before the second carry so I’d still be ahead at the finish. Instead, thanks to the weeds, I lost contact with him within 2km of the start, before the channel behind the island. By the third kilometer, exiting the channel, I was side by side with Mike and Scott. Both of these guys I’ve been beating pretty handily this year, but I’d blown so much effort on trying to keep up with first Roger, and then a guy I didn’t know who was behind Roger while dragging weeds that I didn’t have any energy left. My race was basically done well before the first portage. At one point Mike tried to stab the weeds off my bow with his paddle, but I had misinterpreted what he was doing and veered off so he missed. I stopped and backpaddled to get them off myself, and the weed bundle was the size of a football. By then I was blown up and I couldn’t catch back up with Mike and Scott.

At the first portage, at about 4.5 kilometers in, I actually caught them exiting the water, but they both portaged faster than me. Scott stopped to put on his wheels, but he came trundling past a few minutes in and disappeared into the distance. I did nearly catch him as he stopped to take off his wheels, and I got to see him practically drop his boat down these steep stone “steps” at the end of the portage. Since my boat is much more fragile than his I had to take it more gingerly, losing even more time. I still managed to crunch my boat a little bit – unbeknownst to me I’d loosened the stickum on one of my camera mounts, so about a kilometer later the camera dropped off and I was unable to catch it before it sunk. An expensive lesson in the value of camera tie downs, I guess.

After that, there really isn’t much to report. I tried to keep my speed up as well as I could. There were a couple of canoes that I would pass, and then they’d pass me back a few minutes later when I was backing up to clear the weeds, then I’d pass them again. In spite of the frequent weed clearing, my shoulders were incredibly sore from the effort of paddling with that much resistance. And the portages were hard on my shoulders as well.

If I ever go back to this race, it would have to be with a boat that doesn’t pick up weeds as badly as my Sport. My V12 has the same bow as Mike’s Sport, and it doesn’t pick up weeds, but it’s heavy. Maybe if I had wheels…