This is an actual video still captured from our GoPro HD Motorsports Hero from race action
In-car camera feeds have been a part of NASCAR Sprint Cup race broadcasts for decades. They are nothing new, but they remain extremely popular because they are one of the best ways to get a feel for what's it's like to actually be behind the wheel. There's a big difference in the feeling of speed and fender to-fender action when you are at race-car level compared to sitting up in the stands and watching the cars go by.
That's often doubly true when it comes to the action on the tight bullrings taking place on local tracks across America practically every Saturday night. Of course, Saturday-night racing doesn't get the media coverage that NASCAR racing sees. That's one of the problems that Saturday-night racers have always had to deal with: Finding and attracting sponsors requires more effort and ingenuity when broadcasters aren't around to display your race car on televisions across the country.
But now some incredible technology is becoming available to racers that allows for several unique opportunities. Affordable video cameras are hitting the market that allow racers to create their own in-car videos to show friends, family, and even impress potential sponsors. They are smaller than a pack of cigarettes and weigh practically nothing so they won't interfere with your race car's handling or performance, and are self contained so they don't require wiring up a power lead. These new cameras are also capable of recording high definition video and are designed to work in low-light conditions so the finished product can look quite good, even when racing on a poorly lit dirt track.
With only two buttons, the GoPro camera is relatively simple to operate. The clear plastic
We recently got our hands on one of the latest offerings, GoPro's HD Motorsports Hero video camera, for testing in real-world racing situations. Honestly, the camera doesn't look like much at first glance; there are only two buttons, one small LCD screen, no viewfinder and a lens that's about the diameter of an M&M. But that's just another lesson of never to judge a book by its cover. In minimalist fashion, GoPro has stripped the HD Motorsports Hero of everything not absolutely necessary to produce a great image. This helps make the camera small, light-and don't forget, cheap-while still capable of producing broadcast-quality images. And that's not hyperbole. GoPro cameras have been used in broadcasts of the Traxxas TORC Series (trophy-truck style racing).
The HD Hero sells for a list price of $299 and includes a hard case to protect the camera and several mounting options. There is a suction cup which is quite strong and mounting pads that use double-sided tape to mount the camera to a helmet, dash, roof or any other flat surface. The tape doesn't mar paint and while it reliably holds the camera in place, it is also (relatively) easy to remove.
We, however, went with GoPro's optional roll-bar mount, which lists for an additional $30. In a stock car it's by far the best choice for finding the best shooting locations and angles. The mount has a quick release option and works with tubing from 1.4 to 2.5 inches in diameter. If you wish to mount the system on a bar that has rollbar padding installed, you will have to cut away an area about an inch wide to make it work, but that is all. There's also a rubber pad inside the mount that grips the bar and provides a positive grip on the metal to keep the camera from spinning on the bar.
The camera itself measures just 2 1/4 inches wide by 1 5/8 tall by 1 1/2 deep, and once ensconced in its protective case is only a little larger. The case is waterproof up to 180 feet, which doesn't mean much to racers, but it will keep out track dust and mud. Waterproof buttons mean the camera doesn't have to be removed from its protective case to be operated, and a second, open back is provided which improves sound recording in cleaner environments.
Sports car racers swear by GoPro's suction-cup mount, but they never touch it. For more ph
For such a small camera, it is also capable of many different options to suit your needs. Video can be shot in either 1080p (the current maximum resolution when it comes to high definition video) in a wide-frame format, 960p in a taller format, and 720p in either 30 frames per second (standard) or 60 frames per second which can be dropped down to 30 frames per second in most video editing programs for smooth slow-motion shots. There is also a camera function which shoots five megapixel photos and allows you to choose from a single-shot to continuous shooting with different timer delays. Light metering can be either evaluative or center weighted (when shooting from inside the race car but you want the scene through the windshield to be exposed properly).
The battery that powers the camera is a lightweight lithium ion that's rechargeable. Charging is done through a micro USB cable, and you can find them in most electronics stores that plug into a wall outlet, your car's cigarette lighter (these days I believe the politically correct term is now "accessory power"), or your computer. The battery should be good for 2 1/2 hours of filming which is longer than most memory cards will last while recording in HD. One thing to be careful of, however, is if the battery is allowed to fully discharge, the last file that was recording can be corrupted since the camera's hardware will not be able to close it out correctly. There's also no battery gauge on the camera, so this is something you will have to keep track of yourself while filming.
What isn't included is a memory card. All GoPro cameras use SD memory cards, and the HD Motorsports Hero can handle a card with up to 32 GB capacity. Thirty-two gigabyte cards, however, are expensive and difficult to find. We used an 8 GB card, which handled about 1 1/2 hours of high def video and cost a reasonable $45. When shopping for a memory card, look for one that is at least class four or better (you will usually see a numeral four inside a circle). These cards transfer information more quickly and are less likely to have a glitch when the camera records all that HD information to it. Lots of handheld electronic equipment use memory cards in the SD format these days, so you may be able to find and use a card that you already own. Try looking in your digital cameras or handheld camcorder.
We've tested the HD Motorsports Hero so far in both an asphalt race as well as a dirt track race. The first test was on our Honda Accord project car when we raced it in the ChumpCar World Series race at Rockingham Speedway. You can check out that article in the October issue of Circle Track and watch the video online at www.circletrack.com. The ChumpCar format was 14 hours non-stop, so all we could do was mount the camera up to a rollbar, turn it on and let it run. After the race we discovered it had recorded about 1 1/2 hours of action before running out of memory.
By pointing the camera inward we were able to get video of driver Mike Huey working the wh
Mounting the camera on a bar to catch the action up front and beside the car can catch som
Here's what the rig looked like after the feature. We weren't able to get too much video-o
One of the strengths of the GoPro HD cameras is its ability to work in low-light situation
For the asphalt race, we used the optional back that has two holes cut into it. This is to improve sound-if speeds exceed 100 miles per hour and the camera is exposed to moving air, GoPro recommends sticking to the solid back. Overall, the sound the camera recorded was excellent. The camera was inside the cockpit so there was no wind buffeting and the engine sound came through clearly. After the race we did notice that there was some track grit trapped between the camera body and protective case, but none on the lens. Obviously, the open back is for use only in cleaner environments.
Exposure was also good for this camera. Shooting from inside a car is difficult for most cameras-video or still-because the interior is so dark compared to the light levels outside the car. By choosing center-weighted metering and pointing the camera so that it is looking out the windshield or window, the camera will expose for exterior light levels and allow the interior to be a little darker.
This also brings up one of this camera's few shortcomings: There is no viewfinder to help compose your shot. You essentially have to line it up as well as you can and hope for the best. In practice, though, it hasn't been bad. The camera lens has an extremely wide angle-a 170-degree angle of view-so framing is not an issue. In fact, in the Honda, we placed the camera on the same bar the shoulder belts are mounted to just to the right of the driver and managed to capture a full view out of the windshield, part of the driver, and part of the view out of the passenger window. Everything was in focus and the colors were crisp.
We had fun trying to find new locations on the car to mount the camera. This shot allowed
After that success, the next test was to take the camera to a dirt track, specifically Lancaster (SC) Speedway. Our goal was not only to see how well the camera handled the much dirtier environment of dirt track racing, but also to see just how many interesting shots we could get. Fortunately, we had access to two Dirt Late Model cars, a Late Model owned by Bill Hedgepath and driven by Mike Huey and a Crate Late Model that Huey owns and also drives. This meant moving the camera around between hot laps, heat races, and features, which was a bit of a stress test for the rollbar mount.
Because of its small size, the camera is relatively easy to mount just about anywhere you want. We were able to get some interesting shots of the rear suspension during hot laps and also found interesting shots by mounting the camera so it pointed out from the back of the car and even at the driver to show him working the steering wheel.
After the first heat it quickly became apparent just how valuable GoPro's protective case can be when filming dirt-track racing. Every time the car came back off the track it was covered in dirt and mud. I cleaned the camera by knocking off the biggest clumps of mud and then soaking it with water, paying special attention to the lens cover. Finally, I used a microfiber cloth to get the lens protector as clean as possible without scratching it. If the lens protector does happen to get scratched, GoPro sells replacements for $20 for two. This is a great feature for racers considering cameras like this from other companies which are obviously designed for cleaner environments and have no protection for the lenses. If they get scratched, the camera must be sent in for repair or replaced.
To cut out all the boring stuff, you will probably want to edit your videos with video edi
Overall, the camera worked very well and produced some outstanding video. If you choose, you can use the video right out of the camera, or you can use video editing software to create more professional looking videos with sharp edits, text, and even graphics if you wish. These can then be burned to DVDs to promote your team to potential sponsors or just give to your crew, friends, and family. We can see how a small, in-car camera such as this can be helpful to diagnose handling problems by using it to record exactly what the suspension is doing while the car is at speed on the track. You can also post the video to YouTube or other internet sharing sites to let the whole world see your driving prowess.
Doing your own video editing isn't especially difficult or expensive-some software such as Microsoft Windows Movie Maker (for PC) or Apple iMovie (for Macintosh) are actually free, if a bit basic. We've put together a video of clips from our testing, which you can view at www.circletrack.com, which was edited in Adobe Premiere Elements, which is a quite comprehensive piece of video editing software that can be purchased for $99. Just be aware that editing high definition video is a processing-intensive task for a computer, and you will need a fairly new machine to be able to do it.
So is this for you? If you have been looking for new and inventive ways to market yourself to potential new sponsors or display your driving skills to car owners as you move up the ranks, an in-car video system like this may be just what you are looking for. In-car video is also a great way simply to save your best races from a driver's eye view. Who knows, maybe someday you will be showing your vids to your grandchildren to prove that Grandpa (or Grandma) really was a wheelman back in the day. To get a better idea of what you can come up with, check out the video for this story at www.circletrack.com, everything there was shot with our GoPro HD Motorsports Hero camera.
Get The Camera You Need
Although we tested exclusively with the GoPro HD Motorsports Hero, there are other cameras like this on the market with different strengths and weaknesses. Before investing in a way to create in-car video for yourself, make sure to check out all your options.
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