Video camera battery life sucks, and this is what I did about it

Most action cameras I’ve looked at (GoPro, VIRB, etc) all have battery life somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. Unfortunately, most of my kayak races are somewhere between 1:40 and 2:00 hours long, and plus you have to start the camera before you get in your boat, so you end up either rushing back to shore to start it after your warm-up, or you start it before your warm up and miss the last half hour or more of the race.

This is the Polaroid XS100.xs100 It’s a very nice action camera, except just like the others it has lousy battery life. I got one for a present, and was very impressed with the picture quality. It’s not as light as a GoPro, so I didn’t think I’d want to wear it on a headstrap, but mounted on the boat it did well recording some of the shorter races. But the battery ran out on the Canadian Surfski Champs, which is a bit longer race. So I decided to do something about it.

This is the cover on the back.IMG_0868. It covers the back of the camera where the USB charging port and the SD card slot live.

Here is the back without the cover. IMG_0869.

Note the curious bump on the cover that fits into the USB port. I have no idea why they put it there, but it’s kind of handy for my purposes.

The first thing I did was buy a second cover from Polaroid. I wasn’t sure if this was going to work, and I didn’t want a useless camera if it didn’t. The second thing I did was buy some waterproof USB batteries and some Sugru. Sugru is amazing stuff – it’s like plasticine, but it hardens into a waterproof rubber.

The next thing I did was drill out that bump I mentioned, and a bit more, so I could slide a USB charging cable through the hole. I “Sugru-ed” around the hole to seal it up. I did the same with the cap on one of the waterproof batteries.IMG_0870IMG_0871.

If I’m really careful, I can wiggle the cap and cover back on without disturbing the Sugru and wrecking the seal.IMG_0872IMG_0873 The battery is now semi-permanently zip tied to the side of the camera. The camera is on a Panavise suction cup mount which I can move from boat to boat. I tested it and I get more than 5 hours video with a 32GB microSD card. More than enough for any race I plan to do.

My video work flow kinda sucks

So today I used two video cameras (and of course my Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS and heart rate monitor). Trying to make a video from all that is kind of a pain in the ass.

  1. Use ffmpeg to assemble the multiple files from one camera into a single file – this was required when I was going directly to VIRB Edit but I might be able to skip this when I’m doing my current step 2
  2. Bring both files into iMovie. Use iMovie to try to synchronize the two clips, but still get the half a second or so off. (If anybody has a better way of doing this, please let me know). Make a split-screen in iMovie. Since the battery life on the new camera sucks, there is a section at the end with only one camera, so break the clip and switch back to non-split screen. Export.
  3. Bring the new file into Garmin VIRB Edit. Overlay the GPS/Heart Rate data (what they call “GMetrix”) on the video. Try as best I can to match up the place where I can see myself hit the start button on the Forerunner with the beginning of the “GMetrix”, get it within half a second or so, and call it done. Export.
  4. Bring the exported file into iMovie again, and use iMovie to cut it into highlights and add titles. I’ve tried doing this step in VIRB Edit and it’s pretty horrible. Export to YouTube and/or another file.

The worst part is those “Export” parts. Exporting from iMovie takes over an hour. Exporting from VIRB Edit takes over 3 hours. No idea why it takes so long. So obviously I’m looking for anything that could eliminate a step or allow me to do stuff in parallel.

Alas, poor Thunderbolt, I knew him well

Paddling today on the river, about 3km downstream of where I last saw him, I came across the trashed carcass of my poor old Thunderbolt.

The poor thing is completely trashed. There is no way it can be fixed. It’s also full of hundreds of pounds of silt, so any attempt to drag it off the river bank and over to the other side of the river to some place where it could be recovered (like the RIT Gosnell Boathouse, which is about a hundred meters away and does have a couple of motor boats) would just cause it to sink like a stone. I should probably go and scrape off the “Baycreek Racing” stickers though, just so no blame for this disaster accrues to Bay Creek.

On the other hand, in the picture you can see a strip of duct tape leading from the side of the cockpit and a tangle of debris under the boat. That strip of tape is the last thing holding on that “tangle of debris”, which is a half-skirt and the tie down bungies from the back deck, and more importantly, the thing to which I attached my GPS. I pulled it out and the GPS was there! Pressing the power button showed the Garmin logo briefly and then it shut off, indicating that it was working but the battery was dead. After I got it home and put it in the charger, it uploaded the data from the fateful day I lost it. It appears to be working perfectly. Anybody want to buy a Garmin Forerunner 920XT?