I am mourning the death of very dear and close companion of mine. My Dell XPS 15 Laptop 😭.
It was the tool I used to edit my cycling videos and to write my blog posts.
Unfortunately I am in a situation that prevents me to buy a replacement right now and the computer I am using to write this post is old and not powerful enough to encode even the less demanding of videos, so please forgive me in advance if you don’t hear from my in a few months. Any posts I may write in the period will lack videos or things that require more computing power.
In the mean time, I will look for alternatives, but I am not enthusiastic about the prospects as my laptop will probably need a motherboard replacement, which is almost as expensive as a brand new one itself.
I had just finished editing all the videos for day 5 of my Via Francigena pilgrimage last year and was (slowly) uploading them to YouTube (it takes almost 10 h to upload these videos with my current bandwidth). I managed to upload the 1st of the 3 videos for day 5 and had the other 2 ready for upload in my laptop’s hard drive, which I now have no access to (my laptop had a special mSATA drive as the boot drive and that is where the videos are). If I do, however… somehow, manage to access the other 2 videos I will try uploading them to YouTube and will publish the post.
I am also preparing for my upcoming cycling pilgrimage on the “Caminho da Fe” (Faith’s way) which is the Brazilian equivalent of the Caminho de Santiago. I should start next week if everything goes as planned, but I will write a separate post once everything is confirmed.
Apologies once again, but assuming you’re all used to travelling by bike you will know that “shit happens!”
According to Wikipedia a Gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. Interestingly , gimbals pre-date Jesus Christ by almost 300 years, yet if you are not a rocket or aeronautical engineer or a film maker you’re likely to never have heard of this device.
As this post got a little longer than I originally expected I also recorded a short video to demonstrate the device.
Further down the page you’ll see a few recorded test rides I did with the gimbal mounted on the handlebar and on a chest strap.
When I started recording my bike rides the one thing that became impossible to miss is the shaking, especially if the camera is mounted directly onto the bike and not worn by the cyclist (like on top of a helmet or on a chest strap).
Digital Image Stabilization can significantly improve the image quality, but there is a limit to what it can do, at least in commercially affordable cameras. As the 1st action camera I bought didn’t have it, before going on the Camino de Santiago I decided to invest a little more and bought myself a Sony HDR-AS30V which I reviewed, or rather, wrote about in July 2015 (it was a long post about all the cameras of my life).
I like this Sony camera, but as I started to do more and more videos I took yet another step and spent a little more money on a more professional GoPRO 4 Silver camera, which I also wrote about on this post in November 2015. Even in a similar configuration it is hard to miss the fact that the GoPRO records almost 3x more information than the Sony Camera does (the file sizes are an indication, even if not a very scientific one), yet the GoPRO still didn’t solve the problem of the shaking. As a matter of fact, it made it even worse as in generation 4 GoPRO took away digital image stabilization completely. So, the result ended up being a very nice, but “shaky” Ultra-Def picture which can be seen in all videos I recorded during my Via Francigena pilgrimage to Rome last year, made worse by the fact I record everything in time-lapse, so everything looks extremely accelerated.
Looking into solutions to minimize the shaking is when I found there are such things as 3-axis motorized devices that keep the camera steady, as well as things like mechanical steady cams often used by film makers, which are however, bulky and large as they work with counter balancing weights. The solution appeared to be one of these devices that would mechanically keep the camera steady. To fully stabilize a camera the device needs to move in all 3-axis (X, Y and Z in 3 dimensions), so it needs to have 3 motors, hence the title 3-axis gimbal (there are gimbals that stabilize the camera in only 1 or 2 axis as well).
GoPRO launched itself such a device in October 2016 called the “Karma Grip” to fit as a stand-alone device or the be used in conjunction with their Drone of the same name (the “Karma Drone”… GoPRO has a lot of Karma). By doing that GoPRO actually entered this action-cam accessory market quite late as many Chinese companies were already profiting from it for years. At £250 (or USD 320 at time of writing) it was just as expensive as my GoPRO 4 Silver itself, and just under the Black version, their flagship model (now replaced by their GoPRO 5 camera).
Even though, as I mentioned before, Chinese manufacturers appeared to be quick to profit in this action camera / GoPRO corner, this market is relatively new and the options are relatively limited. I watched quite a few YouTube videos reviewing some of these devices. At the end, price together with the fact I wanted to use one for cycling became the strongest factors.
For those who money is not an issue, one new device launched earlier this year (2017) appeared to check all my boxes as it is also additionally waterproof, but at a cost of £350 (even more than the GoPRO one), the Removu S1 gimbal was even more out of reach.
Even on the lower end part of the market, gimbals are selling for £150 to £200, which I considered to be too much money to spend on a hobby for an amateur, not to mention it becomes one more thing to carry and charge during bike rides… Yet I bought one, after all. So what made me change my mind?
Watching my own videos made me change my mind! I think I am a bit of a perfectionist, I am afraid (not easy to be a perfectionist on a low income, but I try). While on my cycling trips I spent a lot of time caring about these things… making sure the camera is rolling and everything else is as good as it can be on my cheap setup, sometimes even to the point of feeling a little bit guilty as I should just be enjoying myself. After the trip I spend countless hours editing these videos, making sure I can make them as good as they can be, taking into consideration my equipment, skills and knowledge limitations. I’ve learned a lot over the past 2 years and I was becoming a bit irritated with the stabilization barrier. So much time and effort only to be challenged by a simple mechanical issue (actually simple in terms… “stability” of all sorts has been humankind’s’ greatest challenge for ages).
So, when I saw a product being sold at a discount price in Amazon, I bit my lips, opened my pocket and went for it. That was a Neewer Zhiyun Z1-Rider. Before you become all too excited, let me quickly tell you that I returned it to Amazon right after my 1st use. I was so disappointed…
In all fairness, I purchased it on an Amazon Warehouse deal, which are not brand new, but this item was listed as “like new”. Perhaps I did receive a faulty item, but to start with the item I received wasn’t exactly the item Amazon had pictured in the page. The Gimbal I received had no tripod screw mount on the bottom and had several exposed wires which immediately made alarm bells sound in my head. GoPRO and other Action Camera gimbals are supposed to be used in rather rough conditions. Having those tiny, and extremely fragile looking, exposed wires did not inspire my confidence. I think later models have solved that issue, but I didn’t have one of those, I had that one. Yet, I decided to give it a go.
On my very 1st use the device could not keep the camera steady for even a few seconds after movement started, tending to point the camera downwards and to the left. At the end of a 15 min ride the bottom motor appeared to developed an even bigger fault being unable to stabilize the camera at all in that axis.
As I was completing the returns form in Amazon, my frustration with having bought a, pardon the word, “crap” device grew, but I continued to watch the market and then I came across a device I had already previously seen in YouTube reviews, the Feiyu FY WG 3 axis Wearable Gimbal.
At least this device withstood the 1st and 2nd rides, so for now it is a keeper. Having had the bad experience before, I actually was already quite excited about this one right at the start during the unboxing. The device feels a lot sturdier and the build quality feels a lot better, just by touching it. It’s an all metal construction, which makes it a little heavier, but then what difference can a dozen grams make for an amateur? In terms of performance I was a bit on edge, but then as I don’t know if any other motorized gimbal is able to perform to my desired standards I am taking it easy on it.
The main problem when recording time-lapse videos from a handlebar mounted camera is vibration, as you perhaps have seen in the review video I posted on top. Unfortunately none of the two gimbals I tried could compensate for these very fast types of tiny movements. I actually don’t know if there is an affordable device in the market today that could do that, so if you know of one, I’d appreciate if you could drop me a comment in this post or send me a message through the contact form.
If you want more detail in terms of the gimbal’s operation, feel free to download the device’s manual straight from the Feiyu Tech’s web side, which also has a number of other downloads available such as the latest gimbal firmware, the software to update the firmware and the USB driver (windows and Mac, I believe).
I think I said and wrote enough… So let’s take a look at the test ride videos, shall we?
This 7 min video shows a test ride where I mounted the gimbal on the bike’s handlebar side by side with the Sony HDR-AS30V I mentioned above. Unfortunately the gimbal was too close the the Sony, so the GoPRO caught the view of the Sony cam on it’s left hand side. Still a watchable video though and I think it should give you an idea not only of the performance of the gimbal, but also of the gimbal vs. Digital Image Stabilization (on the Sony cam)
The next 13 min video is a test ride I did from Slough to Eton with my friend Fernando. We both had good reasons to ride this day (not that we need one). Fernando had just purchased his new touring bike and I wanted to test the gimbal mounted on a GoPRO chest strap.
The results are encouraging and wearing it so close to my body reduced the vibrations on the camera quite significantly (and when I tell my girlfriend that I am a stable guy she doubts me, here is the scientific proof of that), but the chest strap had to be quite tight to support the extra weight of the gimbal, which became a bit uncomfortable over time. On this ride I had also mounted the gimbal on a too low position with the GoPro mount attachment connected to the back of the gimbal body, near the battery compartment as shown the the picture below.
On my return ride (the next video) I moved the position of the camera in the chest mount used the attachment on the bottom of the gimbal and the camera in inverted position. There improved the picture, but forced me to tighten the chest strap even more. Not sure it is something I would like to wear for 8 to 10 hours non-stop as that is sometimes the length of time I record time-lapse video in 1 day of touring. Time will tell…
So, the next video 1 min video is a time-lapse video recording of a portion of the return journey from Eton to Slough with the bottom of the gimbal attached to the chest strap.
So, I think this is it. Was my 1st “gadget” post in quite a long while, I had to make it count 🙂
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For a while I’ve been willing to write a post about this: Cycling and Music.
First of all, please don’t expect this to be a product review, even though I will be giving you my impression about 2 products I use. I have NO desire to start doing this type of things. All I really want to do is to ride my bicycle and share my experiences with you, but I do think that to share this is relevant as music has been a constant companion for me when I am out riding solo and I know that to be the case for other cyclists too, even though, according to my “research” (what I mean by “research” is the Facebook post I wrote few days ago asking if you listen to music while you ride your bike) most of you don’t. As far as product reviews go, there are good people out there doing product reviews on everything and they can do a much better job than I can, so at the bottom of this post I’ll add some product reviews I found in YouTube.
As this post turned out to be rather long, I decided to put some anchor links so you can jump to the part you may be more interested in.
The first thing that has been inspiring me to write about this is that listening to music has a very positive impact on my performance while cycling. It acts as an additional incentive to keep the cadence high and in sync with the rhythm of the beat. If you are interested in learning the effects of music on physical exercises, give this document a read. I loved the opening sentence: “Despite what you may have heard, the connection between music and exercise didn’t start with Jane Fonda’s dance aerobics or the Sony Walkman portable cassette player. Try 300 B.C. Probably even earlier“. One thing that came to mind is that many young riders might not understand the “Fonda” connection, nor know what a Walkman was (Goggle them, if you don’t), but since I am old, I do remember them well 🙂 .
Another interesting scientific article I found through Google and that provides metrics and measurements is this one. I talked about this in my last Bike Vlog.
The second thing is that some time ago I participated in a heated online debate about whether it is right or wrong do listen to music while cycling. Even the Major of London, Boris Johnson, got into the discussion stating he would support a prohibition or ban on cyclists wearing headphones after a series of cyclist fatalities in London at the end of 2014. Check these newspaper articles, if interested: The Telegraph, The Independent.
Third… well, I think two are enough, but I also drew inspiration to write this post from the fact that I do spinning and anyone that has ever attended a well delivered spinning session knows how physically demanding it can be and how important the music is. Without music there simply is no spinning.
Another aspect of music while cycling is the environmental noise around you. I would gladly refrain from listening to music if riding around a beautiful forest path to listen to the sounds of the forest, the birds singing and so on, or simply to be in silence. On most urban environments, however, that is not the case and I would much prefer to listen to my favourite tones than to the petrol engines passing by. Even in nature, however, the activity I find myself doing also plays a role whether to listen to music or not. I love to go to the Swinley forest and ride the MTB tracks there while listening to music (typically loud and fast). It becomes like an open air spinning class to me.
Although there is no scientific evidence that suggest that riding with music increases the risk of harming yourself, as this study suggests, I believe that are things for which good sense is better than science.
The funny thing is that when I was out on one of my rides to Windsor some time ago and decided to record the ride and talk over it (my first, not very successful attempt at a Bike Vlog), I felt even more distracted than if I was just listening to music. I’ve not only heard about, but I’ve seen with my own eyes, how distracting it can be when you are riding in a group or with a partner and talking. I’ve seen a few accidents happening under these circumstances. It begs the question, if you should not listen to music while riding solo, should you also stay quiet when riding with someone?
It is logical to think that music can prevent you from listening your surroundings, especially if very loud, but the activity of listening to music does not require a high degree of attention, while talking to someone does and the brain has to multi-task.
In moments where I was cycling in busy environments, such as narrow roads with intense traffic of light and heavy duty vehicles I too have taken my headphone’s earbuds away from my ears.
Now this big introduction got me to the point that I really want to cover, or rather “uncover” in this post: My ears…
Up to an year ago they used to be covered. I had several in-ear headphones which I used while out riding my bicycle. Some of them, like the Sony DR-BT160AS were absolutely brilliant. Great sound quality, light weight and easy to use.
But just over an year ago I discovered that there are such things as bone conduction headphones. Google can do a much better job than I can at explaining to you how they work, but just in case you’re feeling lazy, they are headphones that sit in front of the ear (some sit behind the ear, like the Google Glass) and utilize bone conduction technology to deliver stereophonic sound through the listener’s cheekbones to the inner ear. So, that means unlike conventional headphones there are no earbuds and nothing is on top or “inside” your ears. Therefore your ears are uncovered and open to listen to the sound and noises around you. Of course, if you set your bone conduction headphone to a high volume the sound will tend to overcome the environmental noise, so each person that wants to listen to music while riding has to find their own level of comfort.
At first I was a bit skeptical to be honest and didn’t really want to spent the 80 quid for a good quality headphone. These types of headphones are not as easy to find as the more traditional in-ear ones and I had also read reports the sound quality they produced were nowhere near in comparison to good in-ear headphones. After a while curiosity took over I decided to buy a cheaper Chinese version from eBay.
I end up buying a DIGICare Bone Conduction headphone from this eBay seller for about £50 (prices came down a little since) who had the product available in the UK and shipped it to me rather quickly, but there are many others to choose from, some perhaps even cheaper than what I paid for.
The first thing I think I need to say is that it works, although the hearing sensation is more like the one you would probably get if you touched tiny speakers to your cheekbones. What I mean is that, of course you will feel the vibration coming through your bone, but I believe most of the sound is picked up by your eardrums anyway. The DIGICare headphones come with a hard-shell case which may be useful if you intend to carry it around, in a suitcase or a bag, for example, but I don’t think I’d ever use it as such. Comes also with a pair of earplugs, which I thought it completely defeated the purpose of buying a bone conduction headphone in the first place, since you want to have your ears free. When I tried them is that I understood the effect the sound being carried by the bones had. In essence, one of the applications would be to completely close your ears to external noise and still be able to hear the sound coming from the headphone, which was a cool experiment, but that is what it was for me.
If I had to rate the DIGICare Bone Conduction headphone in categories such as sound quality, comfort and user friendliness I would give the following values out of 10.
Music Sound quality: 5 out of 10.
Like Maghan Trainor, for me is all about the bass. Although the sound is crisp and clear the lack of bass is a bit of a turn down for me. Sound leakage is pretty bad on them, but I believe that this is present in every bone conduction headphone.
Phone call sound quality: 9 out of 10.
I get occasional calls while riding and the audio quality for that is very good. Never had a problem understanding the person on the other side. The MIC appears to work well as well, as the callers on the other side rarely complained about not being able to hear me. The headphone has 2 MICs and one is for noise reduction. I think that in really noisy environments that may still be a problem, but then that would probably be true also if I was talking directly to the phone’s MIC.
Comfort: 6 out of 10.
I found them a bit uncomfortable to use over an extended period of time. While I was riding on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage last year there were days I wore them the entire day. After a while the pressure they were making on my cheekbones started to hurt a little, a problem you may not have in in-ear headphones as they rest inside the ear. Most helmets I used where no problem with the headphone, except the skiing helmet that I use to ride in the cold, which is closed over the ear.
User Friendliness: 8 out of 10.
I found them really easy to operate. I liked the fact that there were easy access buttons on both sides to pause the music or answer phone calls. The buttons behind the head were a bit more difficult to operate and some of them were, in my opinion, quite important such as the volume keys. To be honest though, they weren’t hard to get used to, once I memorized their position, and they were quite tactile friendly.
Bluetooth connection: 9 out of 10.
No issues here, although they are not super fast to connect. They start breaking at about 7 to 8 m with no obstacles and about 4 to 5 m with walls in between. One benefit present on this headphone and not on the more expensive Aftershokz below is NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows you to connect simply by touching the headphone to your smartphone.
If you are on a budget, want to try bone conduction technology and are OK to trade a bit of sound quality for the safety of having your ears free, than these can be a good option. I have had them for 1 year and have always used them when out on my bike. So far I had no problems with them. The built quality is good and they don’t feel cheap in your hands.
One of the brands I considered before buying the DIGICare product was Aftershokz. I had done a bit of Google research before buying the DIGICare and Aftershokz appeared to be the best “affordable” Bone Conduction headphones one could buy. At the time they were retailing between £80 to £90 and that was more than I wanted to invested just to satisfy my curiosity. This has apparently changed now and recently they came down in price to about the same price range as I originally paid for the DIGICare ones, so I decide to get one to compare. Worth saying that the reason they may have come down is because a new generation is out now (the Bluez 2S) and they might be clearing stock of the old model. Aftershokz also has another, top of the range, model called Trekz Titanium.
I purchased the Aftershokz Bluez 2 from Amazon and paid £56 and the price appears to be have stayed under £60 ever since.
I have been using it for a couple of weeks now and in general the concept is exactly the same as with the cheaper DIGICare ones. The sound quality is considerably better though, with a much better defined bass. I still don’t think it can beat a good in-ear or over-the-ear headphone, but it definitely does a better job than the DIGICare one.
The operation of the Bluez 2 is a bit different than the DIGICare one. There are less buttons to play with.
To start the DIGICare one has a button on the left and a button on the right transducer (the little speaker that sits on your cheekbones). The Bluez 2 has only 1 multifunction button on the left transducer, which you use to play/pause music when it’s playing or to answer a call when the phone rings (amongst a number of other things… amazing how much you can do with a single button)
Yes, I believe it sounds better than the DIGICare one, but compared to a good in-ear headphone, such as the Sony DR-BT160AS they have still some way to go. To be honest, I don’t even know if this technology is able to produce the same quality of sound as a good in-ear or over-the-ear can. It might be a limitation of the technology itself. Sound leakage is heavy at higher volumes as well, but it doesn’t feel to be as bad as with the DIGICare one. I do believe the safety issue makes it worth sacrificing audio quality though.
Phone call sound quality: 9 out of 10.
I believe the call quality is the same as with the DIGICare ones, perhaps slightly better, but to be honest and fair I have not had as many calls in the same varied number of situations that I did with the DIGICare. Like the DIGICare it also has 2 MICs of which one is for noise reduction.
Comfort: 7 or of 10.
I think they are a bit better to use, but again, to be fair and honest I have not used them as much and for as long as I did with the DIGICare ones. What I can tell is that they are a bit smaller and appear to be lighter. Their centre of gravity is also different than on the DIGICare ones, where the battery and controls are on the back, while in the Aftershocks the battery and controls are on the sides. So they much thinner on the back and just a little wider on the sides. I didn’t feel the need to use the rubber strap that came with the Aftershokz, while I do use them on the DIGICare.
User Friendliness: 7 out of 10.
I felt it took a little bit more getting used to the Aftershokz than it did to the DIGICare headphones. To be fair and honest, this could well be because I was already familiar with the controls of the DIGICare. While wearing my helmet I found it harder to reach the side buttons on the Aftershokz than the back buttons on the DIGICare. The multifunction button also takes a bit more getting used to with its 2 second presses and double presses on the same button you use to both answer / end calls and pause / start music. The manual says it is possible to change the equalization of the sound by pressing both volume up and down simultaneously, but I never manage to do it that easily.
Bluetooth connection: 9 out of 10.
No issues here and they are a lot faster connecting to the phone than the DIGICare ones, however the DIGICare has NFC and the Afershokz does not. Haven’t really made the distance test, but I believe they will be at a pair with the DIGICare on this.
So, enough said about what I think of cycling while listening to music and my impressions on both bone conduction headphones. If you can afford to spend the extra cash and want to give it a try, I would recommend you go for the Aftershokz product, but keep in mind there are other brands available in the market too. If you happen to have or get something else and want to share it here with all of us, feel free to leave your comment below.
As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, I don’t want to go into the product review arena, so I have found a few reviews in YouTube that I considered to be interesting to share.
This was the most positive review I found. I found it, however, to be… “too” positive. It gave me the impression that the person is more interested in driving sales than a true product review, but judge it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=907wKWnWcBQ
Still far from being a PRO, but I now have a GoPRO… a GoPRO 4 Silver, to be exact.
So far I’ve been using essentially 2 action cams, which I have written about earlier: A Sony HDR-AS30V and a SJCam M10. Both had “goods” and “bads”, but after having done this for a while I thought I needed something better.
After some research I went for the GoPRO 4 Silver edition. I did consider the most expensive model, the Black Edition, for a while, but what won me over to the silver was the ability to see what the camera is filming without having to use a mobile phone over Wi-Fi or something else. The Silver has a touch sensitive LCD display on the back which makes configuring it a lot easier, in addition to actually showing the picture on display and being able to playback straight away.
The Black edition is more powerful, but I didn’t think I was going to start uploading 4K videos to YouTube any time soon.
I also wanted the ability to produce better time-lapse videos. On a long distance bike ride it usually takes many hours to get to the destination. No one, not even die-hard cycling fans, have the patience to watch it for that long (real cycling aficionados use to time to do the real thing, rather than watch it on a screen).
One of my biggest problems with the Sony and the SJCam was the minimum picture interval of 5 seconds. When going downhill, at higher speeds, 5 seconds covers a lot of distance. It becomes especially difficult to keep the notion of continuity if there are many curves or turns, so I was looking for a camera that could do it at intervals of at least 1 second. The newer GoPRO models not only can do it with a minimum interval of 0.5 second (in addition to intervals of 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds), but it can actually create the video directly in the camera, with no editing needed. You get the real thing straight out of the camera… Great! … and it does work!
One thing I’ve learned in life is that there are always “buts”…
So, it does work, BUT…
I’ve learned that the desired 1 sec interval produces video which is way too fast for my taste. What I mean is, the camera takes take 1 frame (picture) each second, but when it produces the video it packs way too many frames per second (not sure how many really, haven’t checked, but must be between 15 and 24). With the 5 sec intervals of the Sony, I was producing time-lapse videos with 3 frames per second, which after many tests, seemed to produce the best results fir my “taste”. I couldn’t find a setting in the GoPRO to define how many frames per second you want the time-lapse video to contain. If anyone knows how to do that, please message me.
On the bright side, it eliminates the “continuity” issue I described above and produces a very “time compressed” 4K video in a small file size, for example a 13 minutes ride was compressed in a 22 seconds video. Some of my Camino de Santiago bike rides had something like a 6 hours duration or more. I can perhaps extrapolate that a 6 hours bike ride would be compressed to just over 7.5 minutes.
I have not tested this, but I believe if I increase the interval to 2 or 5 seconds I will end up with the same issue as described with the Sony camera and still unable to change the rate of frames per second the camera uses when creating the video.
The video below was produced by the camera (I only added the logo and titles in editing) at 1 second intervals on a 4K resolution. Note that YouTube reduces the quality of the original video.
There is also the option to actually configure the camera just to take and store the pictures and not to produce the video. I could then take the many thousands of pictures and produce the time-lapse video myself in a video editing software, as I have been doing, but that is one of the most boring things and that take the most time.
There are only 2 options in resolution. The massive 4K picture size, which means it produces a video of 3840 pixels width and 2160 pixels height. Although things are evolving fast, still most TVs and monitors cannot truly display that type of resolution and only recently YouTube added the 4K option to video uploads. The other option is a 2.7K video (2704 pixels width and 2032 pixels height) which is created in the 4:3 (square) ratio. I could definitively use this resolution, if it was on a wide 16:9 ratio, but not on the old 4:3 one.
There are plenty of GoPRO videos in YouTube and it is not my intention to compete with the professionals in the area (either a professional YouTuber of camera man), but I had, obviously to do my own tests. I am massively disappointed by the fact the new top range GoPRO models do NOT have image stabilization. The Sony I use does and it is excellent. Even the old GoPROs (the HEROs) have image stabilization, so why did GoPRO remove this feature from their most expensive cameras is beyond me. They are supposed to be action cameras, right? And action usually means shaking. Yes, they say you can stabilize the video in editing later, but why do we have to go that extra work if this was already there on their previous models? This was a major let down! I am not returning the camera because of the lack of image stabilization, as I will be keeping my Sony Action Cam and will likely use it to record full HD videos and use the GoPRO mostly for the Time-Lapse option (even though there is no image stabilization in time-lapse either), but (let me say it again) this is a massive disappointment for something considered the best in the market these days.
The video below is a direct upload to YouTube of the video recorded by the camera. When I tried to edit the video to add the logo and title my video editing software produced only a green screen (perhaps some codec issue).
I found this video in YouTube while researching if there was anyway to get the camera do stabilize the image and I think the benefits are very clear here…
Well, that’s it! If this post was useful, please share, comment and let me know if you liked it or not by clicking on the rating stars below.
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To save you time (?), this post is not really a typical product review. I prefer to leave this to specialists, such as Techmoan, who is my favourite reviewer for these things. This post is rather an account of my personal experiences and impressions with my current Sony camera and a few others I´ve owned over the years. So, if you are looking for a good product review or you don´t like reading, please watch Techmoan´s reviews on the Sony Action Cams or the many others he has on his site. Keep in mind the review below is really for the Sony HDR-AS10/15 models while mine is a newer AS30V, but they are almost identical:
He has also made a comparison video between the Sony AS10 and the GoPRO Hero3.
I´ve always been sort of a geek. Less so in more recent years, however, once a geek always a geek, it seems. And in my geeky interests one of the things that I have always been keen about was cameras (video recording). I acquired my first ever digital camera in 1998 (a Fujifilm DX-10) while on a trip to the US and it it´s max resolution was 0.8 megapixel (1024×768 pixel), could not record videos, had a 2 MB (not GB) SmartMedia card (later I bought 8 and 16 MB cards) and a RS232 serial interface for (slowly) transferring the pictures (this was before USB). This camera was stolen in Brazil in 2002 when the entire bus I was travelling in with everyone in it was kidnapped and held hostage by criminals for almost 3h (thankfully no one got hurt).
Not accounting for the many consumer photo/video cameras I had along the years, there have been those I bought specifically to record activities such as car trips and bike rides.
Years ago I bought a very cheap Mini DV camera such as this one. Few months later I bought a keyring camera like this. Their size was ideal, but they all had big drawbacks such as low image resolution and short battery life.
I later bought a SJ1000 which I have used to record bike rides until the Sony arrived and still use as a car trip recorder. I also had a Kodak ZX1 for a while, but that was quite disappointing. Given this is old stuff I´ll refrain from writing more about them, but you have the links, if interested, and you will still find them on sale.
Although a geek, I´ve been a rather “economic” one, never allowing myself to spend a lot of money on this “addiction” because of the other priorities of life (such as the kids´ University fund). The Sony HDR-AS30V was my first entry into a more sophisticated category of device.
Even though, at the time of purchase, the AS30V was not the entry level, it was also not the top Sony product in this category. Sony had already released the AS100V as their top of the range product. I did consider a GoPro, but their prices, even for the entry level version, were still a bit more than I was willing to pay at the time and, perhaps because of the way I am, I felt a bit annoyed with the “GoPRO Cult” many owners appear to belong to.
To start with, I do not recommend the Sony camera, even though there are many things I like about it. It may sound conflicting with what I wrote above, but for the price of this camera I´d recommend you actually spend a bit more and go for a GoPro or spend less and go for one of the Chinese made SJ series (with reservations given the lack of image stabilization).
Things I like about this camera:
The picture and sound quality are truly exceptional. I did quite a lot of comparing with the likes of GoPROs, the Garmin Virb and some cheaper Chinese clones and I believe it’s in a pair with the GoPRO (perhaps better) and beats the VIRB hands-down when it comes to picture quality.
The Image stabilization in video recording is great. It manages to eliminate most shaking even in very rough and uneven surfaces.
Who said TV killed the Radio Star? It has a lot of radios built in… GPS, WiFi and NFC. WiFi for live video streaming to a smartphone and NFC for quick connection with the phone (which would be good if it worked well, but I don´t know if the problem is in the camera or in my phone, so giving it the benefit of the doubt).
It has the ability to shoot stills at 11.9 MP (real pixel density, not interpolated), although the max resolution of time-lapsed pictures appears to be 1080p max.
It has an external MIC connector
It has several options of recording modes, even though I only ever used one.
It comes with a 5m waterproof casing which is more than enough for my bike rides and surprisingly lets a reasonable amount of sound get through, not that this wold be a major advantage when is raining anyway.
It can record while charging (although there appear to be some limitations, read below)
Easy to use interface (buttons, menu layout, etc)
Sufficient display for config and settings.
Reasonable battery life for this type of device.
It is not limited to 32GB MicroSD cards (with other limitations, see below)
Built quality of the device is very good… the Sony brand is very reliable in this category.
Things I don´t like:
First and foremost, the provided PC software is awful. Yes, it has a few interesting features,butonmyDellXPS 15 with Windows 8.1 it crashes all the time. So let me write a few more bullet points about the things I don´t like in the software…
It wants to organize your life for you. I like to be in charge and do certain things manually. Goes away and starts scanning everything every time it loads (there might be those that may like this, I don´t)
It can only use GPS information for videos, not stills. It can produce videos with map overlays and other trip information such as speed, distance, etc. Example below:
These are not very precise though. A positive here though (sorry to be mixed with the negatives) is that the software is also able to produce PiP videos where, for example, the Sony Camera records a forward facing video and another camera records a backwards facing video. You can then have the backwards video in a the corner of your forwarding facing one (never tested this though).
Even though the camera can take photos at time intervals, the software does not have the option to produce time-lapsed videos with them.
If the card is full, when connected to the PC it takes ages (really… something like 10 min) for the software to show the pictures in its interface. Something is not right here, as when I connect the camera, I can open the card as a storage device in windows and am able to see the pictures immediately.
The transfer of the files from the camera to the PC is not as fast as it could be.
When transferring the files to the PC, the folder creation process uses a dd-mm-yyyy format, which might be OK for most, but I would rather prefer yyyy-mm-dd for easiness of sorting and I could not find a place to configure this in the software. It appears to pick the folder format from the configured Windows taskbar date format. I changed the taskbar Clock format to show the day of the week and it started to produce folders with the day of the week as well.
Video editing is very limited and not very intuitive. Of course, Sony wants you to buy Sony Vegas, or Movie Studio or some other PRO video editing suite. Greedy bastards.
My Dell XPS 15 has a Ultra high 4K resolution display. The software can´t handle this screen size very well and absolutely doesn´t know how to handle screens with different DPI scales (not only a problem for this software though). For example, interface text gets so small it´s unreadble and if I am using the notebook screen I have to guess while typing a title as the interface is all messed up in that field.
Things I don´t like in the camera itself…
Minimum interval for time-lapse pictures is 5 seconds. Too long in my opinion. Ideal would be if 1 and 3 seconds options existed also, which the hardware could check against the speed of the card inserted in the camera (I have a fast 64GB Samsung EVO card). It can also only shoot pictures at 1080p, which is sufficient for Full-HD time-lapse videos, but not enough to use as stills.
The camera does not give write access to the card when connected. This means you can´t delete files in the card, so you cannot free space deleting the pictures or videos you don´t like without taking the card out of the camera. You have to transfer all the files (even those you don´t want) and format the card to free space. I´ve heard the GoPro has the same limitation apparently (?).
NFC doesn´t work properly with my phone: I have a HTC One M8 phone with NFC and it rarely works for quick connection with the camera. Tried touching the phone to the NFC point in the camera in many spots and angles. Quicker to connect manually.
The WiFi connection is not stable. Disconnects often over time, even though I only use it to adjust the camera position. I have also purchased a DSC QX-10 camera that has the same (and perhaps even worse) problem.
The camera design: Its round on the bottom. It won´t stay upright without the waterproof casing. This is weakness that Sony has apparently recognized and fixed in later models.
Even more things I don´t like about Sony…
Although they answer reasonably quickly, Sony´s support is awful. They don´t know their own products very well and contacting them is generally a waste of time, unless you have hardware issues under warranty.
Sony´s overall post-sales attitude: They sent me an email asking to provide feedback. I provided respectful feedback (such as this one) and they said my feedback wasn´t acceptable and invited me to re-write it. I didn´t, because I didn´t want to spend another 20 min writing the same things to get rejected again, but I wouldn´t have included it here as a negative if they were receptive to negative feedback. Organizations should not ask for feedback if all they want to hear from their customers is the stuff that helps them sell more. It´s just unfair to those that have given their time to them and perhaps made them aware of things they could improve upon.
Now, a few practical things I found out about this camera while using it that I did not see in Techmoan’s review or anywhere else.
Number of files apparently limited to 40,000: While I was riding my bike from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre the camera beeped and I could see it had stopped taking time-lapsed pictures. I stopped the bike to look what was going on and the display was showing “Max”. I immediately related that to storage space and started to curse Sony, because the 64 GB MicroSD card only half full. So I replaced the card in the camera with a 32 GB card and everything started working again. Only later I realised the “Max” message was not related to the amount of storage being used in the card, but the number of files. Because I was taking time-lapsed pictures with 5 seconds intervals that meant that, by the end of the day, the camera had taken between 2,000 and 4,000 pictures, or in other words, JPG files. When the number of files in the camera reached 40,000 the camera stopped working. While this doesn´t comply with FAT16 (you can have more than 65K files in each folder, except the root) it´s the best explanation I can provide as recording video the camera does fill the 64GB storage space of the card, but obviously with less files. So, if you are planning long periods taking time-lapse pictures keep this in mind.
Little issues with bottom cap/lid: Another thing is the hinge that secures the bottom cap or lid in the camera tends to bent and break. Most of the time I use an accessory called “Skeleton Frame” (which was also included in Techmoan´s video review above). It´s a bit of an ugly and odd thing, but is the only mount that provides access to the bottom connectors, such as the USB and MIC. So while in the skeleton case the camera can continue to be charged while recording (for obvious reasons the waterproof case does not have any holes). With the constant opening and closing of the cap/lid to attach the USB charging cable the hinge on my camera is at the point of rupture now.
Foggy/misty lens: Now, this one I saw in Techmoan´s review to be honest, but also experienced it myself. In cold days condensation starts to build inside the waterproof camera case, because the camera, while recording, warms up and the exterior of the case is very cold. This tends to fog the lens from the inside. It seems Sony knew very well of this issue, but instead of “out-engineering” it so that it didn´t become an issue, they apparently saw the opportunity to sell little sachets of “anti-fog” materials that magically fit in a space right underneath the camera within the case. Greedy bastards, huh?
The camera can record while charging, but that depends on the charger´s power. If you plug the camera in a charger port that provides less the 1A of charging current the camera appears simply to ignore the charger and use battery power instead. Luckily the “PowerBar” (external battery) I use while riding has a 1.3A port and even a 2.1A port which provide more sufficient power for camera operation and charging.
Well, I think this is all I have to say about the Sony Action Camera
Few weeks before I left to Saint Jean Pied de Port for my pilgrimage, I bought also a SJ M10 based on the review I saw in Techmoan´s site. One of my latest videos, riding a recumbent bike, was filmed with this little camera. It doesn´t have WiFi or any of the fancy radios that the Sony does, but it does a brilliant job at its core which is recording videos. There is, however, no image stabilization on video recording which is a shame. You do get quite shaky videos with this camera if mounted on a handlebar, for example. Keep also in mind, this camera cannot handle MicroSD card sizes bigger than 32GB. It suffers from a few of the same issues I highlighted in the Sony such as the min interval for time-lapse photos is also 5 seconds, for example.
Despite these shortcomings, I really like this camera and it costs less than 1/2 of what I paid for the Sony (in promotional price), is very compact, comes with a lot of different cases and does a brilliant job in my opinion.
On the bright side it has a small 1.5″ display in the back to help frame the picture. If you are on a budget, but still want a good action cam that you can also use as a trip recorder in your car I totally recommend this one.
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