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GoPro HD for Skydiving

This article is great for an overall about the original GOPRO HD and still highly recommend it to newer jumpers jumping with any series of GOPRO cameras. If you are looking for more information on the GOPRO HERO3 please see our article Skydiving with the GOPRO HD HERO3. However, please come back and read the below sections on mounting and safety. 

A lot has happened since I wrote this article just when the GoPro HD cameras came out. I've used these cameras extensively in the past year or so and figure its time for an update of this article. Below the fold you will find 'Is a GoPro right for me?', 'Which GoPro is right for me?', mounting the Go Pro for skydiving, correctly setting it up, using it to take photos in freefall, and various tricks I have learned.

Trunk Jumping over the keys with a gopro. Photo by Scotty Burns

(Me jumping over Marathon Key sporting a GoPro - Photo Scotty Burns)

Is a GoPro Right for Me?

This question is basically up to the skydiver but here are my general rules of thumb.

  • If you have less than 100 jumps the answer is hell no! Period, the End. See your local camera guy/dropzone.com/SIM manual (USPA members) for reasons why
  • If you have 100 to 200 jumps probably the answer is no, USPA says absolutely no, I say no but some dropzones will allow you to jump it. Don't be a statistic!
  • Above 200 jumps and current you may want to start jumping a GoPro. There is a definite entanglement issue with them. There has been already been 1 GoPro caused fatality cause by an entanglement and unfortunately many of us expect more. Please see your local S&TA or better yet, someone that is actually knowledable with cameras and using a GoPro. Don't you go dying on me!

As far as the GoPro vs. other cameras, that is a harder question, some of the factors that weigh in are:

  • How much weight am I able to handle (full setup)... features (lenses/screens)... quality (distortion/pink lines)?
  • Form factors for type of skydiving (AFF coach wanting side mount vs. videographer wanting top)
  • How much I'm willing to spend?
  • Am I using it for other sports?
  • Does it need to be waterproof/beerproof?

Which Go Pro HD Hero is Right for Me?

When I first bought GoPro's I liked the GoPro Helmet Hero for skydiving. I have since realized this is not the best option for most people. Let's first go over the three options.

Model Parts Used Parts Not Used Notes
GoPro HD Hero Naked -1 curve mount only for mounting on helmet Use everything Recommend purchasing GoPro Grab Bag of mounts for skydiving
GoPro HD Hero Motorsports

-2 curved mounts for mounting on helmet

-suction cup for plane/motorcycle/car/in shower/headboard ;-)

-3 flat mounts. Use all over the place. See above card table

-'J' adapter - Use for a bobblehead view (beware of greater entanglement possibilites!)

Some people will not use the suction cup, but I find it useful all over the place. They are quite strong I find this the most useful for skydivers
GoPro HD Hero Helmet

-2 curved mounts for mounting on helmet

-2 flat mounts for using other places

-Helmet Strap - Useful if you play in activities where you do not use a helmet or if cut off the strap and attach to shoe laces  (See future article)

-Vented Helmet Strap - Unless you are skydiving with a ProTec (in which case you probably have under 200 jumps and shouldn't be jumping a gopro) this mount is useless.

Spending the extra money for a helmet kit with mounts that you probably will never use to me is not a good idea.

Gopro screen grab poker table

(Screen Grab from GoPro during a stunt)

RTFM

Read the user manual first. I'm serious. Read it and get to know it, it's a page long and it will only take one good dump or a long call to finish the whole thing. With that said...

Mounting

  1. Figure out where you are going to mount the camera. Put a curved mount on the helmet and see where it sits the most flush. Check for clearance from your flip up visor if you have one. Having the mount flush is more important than having it in a place that is square with your vision. Remember the mount angle is adjustable.
  2. Basically clean off the area where you want the mount from stickers, snot, etc. I use rubbing alcohol but 151 or similar cleaning agent will work. 
  3. Peel off the VHB and press it down. I normally repeat this a couple times for a few minutes ensuring it sits properly.
  4. Place the camera on the helmet and have someone help site the camera. Generally just get into the flying position with the helmet on and set it square with your vision. Feel free to record some footage to see how it looks. It does not need to be dead nuts since it's extremely wide. 
  5. Place two small pieces of gaffers tape on the receiving end to firm up the mount and prevent shake while skydiving. See below picture.
  6. Use the white or orange rubber thingy and fit it in the void formed from the clips. This protects those clips from breaking prematurely.

gopromountwithtape

GoProWhiteThingy

Setup

Firmware

After you have played around with the camera, viewed it on your computer, read the manual with the camera in hand, I would update the firmware to the latest. As of the writing of this, the latest firmware is located at: GoPro Firmware Update See the right side of the page. The user manual gets updated each time there is an update, so make sure to download it and print it.

R1/R2/R3/R4/R5 Mode for sky diving

Here is what I generally set my customers up for:

  • Inside footage/Newer camera people: R3 mode (60fps) if if they have a fast computer, R2 mode (30fps) if they don't have a fast computer
  • Old school camera flyers that know framing: R5 mode

Here's why:

R1/R4 mode are 4:3 aspect ratio, basically that is a square frame and not good for any of the newer TVs or even youtube or vimeo. Don't even bother with them.

For R2/R3/R5 modes are in a 16:9 aspect ratio which is what you want.

For R3 mode 60fps means 60 frames per second. That means you can slow the speed down to half speed without it looking jerky at all. This is awesome if you accidently crash, have a reserve ride, or anything that you really want to slow down. This is at the expense of more storage being gobbled up per second and a little worse color depth and low light sensitivity.

R2 mode is at 30frames per second which means it can be slowed down but it'll look choppy.

R5 mode is the narrowest setting this camera has. If you are not good at framing video, I would stay away from this for skydiving and use the R2/R3 modes which are much wider.

Other Options

  • Auto power off setting - Make sure this is set to OFF otherwise you're camera will turn off after x seconds of not recording. Just make sure to turn it off when u land, Duh! Wait ;-)
  • Default mode on startup - Set to 'F'! If it is set to another mode, you are going to be pissed after you get down from a jump and see you took 1 picture or took pictures the whole time.
  • One Button Mode - I personally use this. With this enabled all you need to do is turn on the camera and it will start recording. To stop recording, just turn it off. Viola! Easy!
  • Read the manual on how to set all these up.

Using the GoPro as a Still Camera in Freefall

One of the best features of a GoPro is using it as a still camera. To do this just set the default mode on startup to "PES" or Photo Every x seconds and set the time to 2 seconds P2. The latest firmware allows you to snap a photo every 1 second!

This feature can also be used to do timelapse videos. Mount the gopro on a tripod using the adapter or a fixed object and start recording. I've used it before on a bunch of videos and it turns out great. You will need to crop the footage since the photos are taken in a 4:3 aspect ratio. 

GoPro LCD BacPac for Skydiving

The LCD BacPac is a nifty little add-on but it does add significant (in comparison) weight. It comes with a new interchangable back panel for the clear case which has a single control button on the side. The biggest compliant I've heard is people not updating their firmware before installing it into the camera. The camera will not turn on at this point, the firmware must be updated first!

80_tiny_acldb-004-683x426.683x426

Usage I'll be honest, its a tad tricky, read the manual, try it, read it again try it. Eventually you will get it right. My biggest beef with it is not being able to turn off the camera if the camera is in playback mode. You must first switch to record mode and then it turns off. Other than that, it works well, for playing, fast forwarding and rewinding your footage. Don't expect easy to control debriefing with pausing, rewinding back to a spot and slow motion. It's definitely meant for select the footage, fast forward near the position you need and play through. With that said, I think its awesome for some applications. If you like one, we do have them here.

Good to Know Notes

  1. Don't use transflash/microSD cards with adapters. I've had serious issues with attempting using these cameras with these. Stick with grade 4 plus SD cards (look for the cards that have a 4 with a circle around it on the label). The camera will act funky if a bad SD card is used. An ok list of various known GoPro HD SD cards cards.
  2. If the card doesn't work, or shuts off prematurely, attempt "Delete All" through the camera (see GoPro Manual) or deep format the card (Google for your OS if you don't know what that means). This gets rid of possible fragmentation of the card. It's also possible that your card has a bad sector in which case a new card may be necessary. The other thing is your card or worst the camera's connectors are mechanically getting worn. Try another card and if it continues contact GoPro support.
  3. On Mac’s make sure you empty the trash bin after deleting. I got screwed out of footage by not doing this. I'm not a MAC guy though so it was not intuitive to me.
  4. Place a piece of gaffers tape in the mount between the camera and the 3m baseplate. This makes the mount a tad more rigid.
  5. The 3M tape is super strong, don't bother with screws. I've seen the plastic mount break before the tape ever breaks off. To take off the mount, slowly peel it up with a flat head screwdriver.
  6. Be creative with your mounting. I like mounting them towards the forehead area of a helmet. This allows you to film forward and down. It's good for headdown jumps where you want to see what everyone's feet are doing or fun on tracking dives where u want to see your nose :-). Use the 'J' mount from the motorsports kit for even more "bobblehead" view. Be cautious of entanglement issues each time you remount the camera. It takes 200lbs of force to pull off the VHB. Your pilot chute is not that strong!
  7. If you are viewing on a laptop, make sure to have it plugged in or setup for full speed when the battery is not installed. It's night and day difference.
  8. If you see SOS on the screen press the button on the camera to allow it to finalize. It basically combines it to the last file. If it continues, try a different card.
  9. If the footage you are trying to play is acting corrupt put the card back in the camera and see the above note about SOS errors.
  10. If the footage is damaged and you do not have the original camera cause its in a million pieces, etc. Try a utility such as: Sos repair utility
  11. If you see a FAL on the screen don't drop the camera from 13,500ft. :-) I suggest power cycling the unit and then turn it back on and see if it still does this. If it does contact Go Pro for support.

Closure

If you like a GoPro Hero HD please help support our skydiving and drinking habit by ordering through us it would be greatly appreciated!

Blue Skies, -Trunk

     

    jeffro