GoPro El Cheapo

I’m not that much into video, but it’s a thing that keeps nagging me and there are occasions when I’d like to take video of things that are happening when on a trip or the like. My camera takes quite reasonable video, but it’s often not quite what I’m after when it comes to the type of video that I want to record and the ease of use that I’m after. A GoPro is the style of video camera that usually fits the bill, but I simply don’t want to spend the money on a GoPro for the relatively limited use that it’s likely to get. So what’s one to do? Think laterally as always and, to that end, I found an ideal solution in the dash cams that I’d bought a while back for our two cars (I’ll even give a plug for the eBay seller because of two good deals I received).

Full HD Dash Cam - (source: eBay)

Full HD Dash Cam – (source: eBay)

This is one of the new(ish) Full HD 1080p dash cameras and, as it has a quality wide-aperture lens and wide dynamic range for extreme lighting conditions, the image quality is quite amazing. It’s not as sophisticated as a GoPro, but at $66 delivered, it’s a bargain. For those seeking even better quality, there are units around that I believe are now getting close to 4K, if not already there, and still at a relatively modest cost. The biggest detractor is the fact that the mounting options are limited, when compared to a GoPro, but that’s reasonably easy to accommodate for what I’m after. Additionally, the dash cam doesn’t have the ability to be remotely controlled by a mobile phone app or a Bluetooth trigger but, all said and done, none of these issues are in any way deal breakers as far as I’m concerned.

Full HD Dash Cam - (source: eBay)

Full HD Dash Cam – (source: eBay)

The first thing I needed was a simple selfie stick. Considering my views on selfies, it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve gone out and bought a selfie stick; however, necessity is the mother of invention and the product could not be ignored. In this case, the selfie stick is the ideal companion for the dash cam, as it enables me to extend (pun intended) the dash cam’s versatility in ways that I couldn’t if just hand-holding the dash cam on its own. And with some further additions, it was easily modified to become a stable cam as well, as I had one of those camera panning timers that had the screw connection to attach to the base of the selfie stick, which provided the perfect counter-balance for the setup. This also allows me to position the camera and take panoramic sweeps (albeit slowly) if so inclined.

Selfie Stick - (source: eBay)

Selfie Stick – (source: eBay)

360 Degree Panning Timer - (source: eBay)

360 Degree Panning Timer – (source: eBay)

So at the end of the day, I’ve ended up with a reasonable combination of camera and support. There are other additions that I could make for this simple setup, but for the moment I’m going to see how well this basic setup works in a real situation. You can buy something similar readymade, but certainly not for what this setup cost. The panning head wasn’t even essential, it’s just that I had it and I could have just as easily adapted any weight to the bottom of the selfie stick for the same purpose.

Dash Cam Holder

Dash Cam Holder

So this is how it looks in its final form, more or less. I’m undecided about the piece of foam used to pad the holder, but it’ll have to do for the moment and it does keep the camera firmly in place. The only thing that I’m also not sure about is whether I need to make a handle (on a gimbal) for the selfie stick, so that it’s able to swing more freely when moving (a common accessory on commercial devices). At the moment, I’m going to see how well it works by just loosely holding the base of the mount (where the selfie stick tube ends) with thumb and forefinger, as the entire assembly doesn’t weigh much at all. There’s also going to be a bit of trial and error regarding how much I extend the selfie stick in order to get the best balance.

Dash Cam and Holder

Dash Cam and Holder

Now the camera does have an internal battery, which I’ve found can be good for around half an hour of video, which isn’t as much as you get from a GoPro battery; however, when I got my Windows phone and one for my wife, they came with external battery packs that can be connected to the dash cam to power it for extended times (we got the pretty pink ones). But to do so, I will have to get an adapter cable that converts the micro-USB of the power pack to the mini-USB of the dash cam, which will cost about $1. Talk about multi-function devices.

Nokia Lumia 630 Battery Pack - (source: Microsoft)

Nokia Lumia 630 Battery Pack – (source: Microsoft)

This is a short video I did a while back to test the dash cam when I first started to ponder the possibilities. Contrary to what I posted on Vimeo, my plan now is not to place the dash cam on the camera hot shoe, but to use it independently. The selfie stick offers many more possibilities regarding positioning and the like, which would be impossible if the dash cam were attached to the camera. This compressed video doesn’t show the actual quality that the camera can produce and I can only do that if I were to sign up for the paid version of Vimeo and, as I said at the start, I’m not that much into video (at the moment).

More testing is needed, but in early June I’ll be doing a trip into the High Country and will give the unit a good run in a hopefully more interesting environment. If it works out, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Update 1. Well that was a bust. As far as a steady cam holder goes, the selfie stick idea didn’t pan out as I’d expected. Walking around with it just gave somewhat jittery video, which was surprising considering that the results with the dash cam mounted in the car are much more stable. I guess I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board and do more testing and practice to find a solution.

Update 2. It’s been a while since I wrote this story and I thought I’d update it to cover some recent changes. While the dash cam continues to provide excellent results, it just doesn’t work as an action cam mainly because of its form-factor. If it had a tripod mount on the bottom, I probably would have bought a third one and used it on it’s own with one of my tripods on our trips.

So what I ended up doing after our most recent trip was to buy a dedicated action cam. Initially I bought what was supposed to be a 4K action cam but the quality was utterly woeful, and I mean totally unusable. I got my money back and, on recommendation, bought one from an ‘almost’ local eBay seller. I decided to stick with 1080p, as I found that even with the woeful 4K, the effect on my PC resources was significant. My video card wouldn’t even play a 4K clip.

The new unit is much better, uses less battery power and doesn’t throw my PC into a hissy fit. While these action cams aren’t as good as say a Go Pro or the newer alternatives like the Xiaomi Yi, or the SJCAM that is cheaper than either of the former, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper for someone that doesn’t really need ‘the best’. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what this action cam is able to do and can’t wait for our next Cruise.