Tag Archives: GoPro

Review: The GoPro Karma drone

By Brady Betzel

It seems like every week there is a remarkable update to drone technology or the introduction of a completely new drone. From DJI, GoPro, Yuneec or even Parrot, there are a lot of drones to choose from.

I’ve reviewed the DJI Phantom 4 drone and it was awesome. There were a few issues I had with the Phantom 4, like wanting a higher data rate for the footage and a smaller form factor — DJI answered both of those requests with the DJI Mavic Pro and their more recent small drone Spark. So what would GoPro’s Karma drone offer that DJI could not? To be honest, I wasn’t sure GoPro could rise up to DJI’s level. But the GoPro Karma is actually pretty different from the DJI Phantom.

Last year, GoPro sent me up to Squaw Valley in Northern California for the unveiling of the GoPro Hero 5 and Karma Drone. I’ve written about the Hero 5 line of cameras on this site and I still think the Hero 5 is a top-notch camera. If you follow tech news you probably saw that GoPro had to recall the first version of the Karma Drone due to the power from the battery disconnecting mid-flight. So that wasn’t good, but GoPro found a solution by adding a latch to the battery compartment to keep it in place. So here I am with the new and improved GoPro Karma Drone.

The GoPro Karma drone can be purchased in a few different configurations: $1,099 for the entire package, including the Hero 5 Black camera, Karma grip and Karma drone; $799 for the Karma grip and Karma drone (no camera); and $599 for the Flight Kit, which includes just the drone (you have to supply the Karma grip and camera). You can buy it here. If you have a Hero 4 you can purchase that camera harness for $29.99.

Unpacking the Box
When you buy the complete Karma with Hero 5 Black kit, you get the drone itself, a slick carrying case that doubles as a backpack, a charger, a battery, all-in-one-controller (no need for a phone), Karma grip and Hero 5 Black Edition. When I opened the box I immediately charged the batteries on each component: the camera, the Karma grip, controller and the Karma drone battery. It’s a lot of things to charge so make sure you have enough outlets. The charger that comes with the kit will charge a battery as well as a USB-C connected device, like the Karma drone controller or the Hero 5 Black Edition itself.

My advice is to let everything charge overnight if you can contain yourself. If you can’t, then let everything charge for an hour or so. You should at least be able to get a few minutes of flight time. If nothing else get that Karma controller plugged in and run through the built-in Flight Simulator and Learn to Fly apps; they will at least get you comfortable with the Karma and how it operates.

You do not need the Karma drone powered on like you do with the DJI Phantom to access the flight simulator, so you can pretty much start practicing immediately. After you master the flight simulator, do some research and check your local drone laws. One day you might have to register your drone, or you might not. It’s a constantly changing landscape of drone laws right now and you don’t want to get into trouble or accidentally hurt someone, so checking out the FAA website is a good place to start your research.

After you have your entire GoPro package charged, insert the Karma drone battery completely into the drone body, insert just the stabilizer from the Karma grip into the drone body and lock it into place (you can pack the Karma battery grip for later), spin the propellers on and tighten with the supplied tool, unfold the landing gear and legs, press the power button on the drone, and press the power button on the remote — now you will be flying. One of the first things I noticed when putting the Karma Drone together was that I definitely liked the way the Phantom 4’s propellers connected to the drone more than the way the Karma’s attached.

Before leaving the ground, I got into the routine of setting my Hero 5 video settings before I launched (when I remembered). Personally, I think the video settings sweet spot on the Hero 5 Black Edition is at a resolution of 2.7K and running at a frame rate of 60fps to allow for smooth slow motion when editing (slow-motion drone footage when done right seems to always make people say “wow”). In terms of the ProTune, I set the appropriate white balance and knocked down EV compensation to -1 when the sun is out or clouds are bright. Knocking the EV down helps to retain the details in bright white colors. Think of it like built-in sunglasses (or digital ND filters). And 2.7K, 60fps seems to be a pretty happy medium in terms of quality vs. storage space on the Hero 5.

Keep in mind that the data rate of your video will stay between 50Mb/s and 60Mb/s no matter what resolution you use on the Hero 5. Logically, that means that 4K will stretch that data rate out, leaving you with a bigger image but technically less detail. Hopefully, GoPro will ramp up their data rates and check out another codec like the H.265 or maybe a new Cineform codec in their next release; everyone would really appreciate the extra image detail and color. And while I’m at it suggesting things, I wouldn’t mind seeing some 10-bit 4:2:2 recording — know that is wishful thinking.

Like most drones, the Karma batteries didn’t last all day. They were lasting between 18 to 24 minutes, depending on wind conditions. The heavier the wind gusts the more your Karma will try and compensate to stay straight, which will drain your batteries fast. Mine started to get between 13 to 14 minutes with medium wind gusts. A second battery is definitely worth it.

The Remote
Arguably my favorite part of the Karma drone, besides the actual drone, is the remote. The screen could be a little brighter outside but it looks good: it is a touchscreen, and it is very comfortable to hold. I never really liked the way the DJI Phantom remote felt, but the GoPro Karma remote feels awesome. In my opinion, the GoPro Karma drone remote is the best drone remote I’ve used. Besides controlling the settings of your GoPro camera from the remote, you can run the flight simulator and access any maps you have downloaded as well as the automatic flight settings.

You get four auto shot paths: Dronie, Cable Cam, Reveal and Orbit. Dronie starts off either close to the operator and flies up and out, or the reverse. Cable Cam has you set two points and will fly between those points. Reveal starts with the camera pointed down and slowly pans up to reveal the horizon. Orbit will circle an object you pre-determine. With all of these paths, you set the start and end points as well as speed and distance they travel. Once you tell these auto shot paths to begin you can control other parts of the drone easier, such as camera movement and orientation, as well as speed. They are awesome to play with and make great opening or closing shots for a movie.

When you are running out of battery, the Karma will automatically return to home base where you took off. This is something you need to keep in mind when flying because the GoPro Karma does not have collision avoidance, and if you simply hit return to home or it does it on its own, it could fly straight into power lines or something like a tree… and that will not go well. But when you are ready to fly back to your home base or on top of your Karma carrying case, which makes a great launch pad, you can hit “Return to You” or “Return to Launch.” If you’ve walked away and you want your Karma to come to where the remote is “Return to You” is what you want to hit. Again, this is when you need to be aware of what obstacles are in the Karma’s path.

On one of my outings I was going hiking about a half mile away from where I live in the hills of Simi Valley, California. It was a few months back when the hills were lush green from the recent rain, but it was warm. I had the Karma backpack on and was walking up a narrow path for about 15 minutes as I was chanting, “Please no snakes, please no snakes” in my head. Well, low and behold, Mr. Snake popped his head out from the side of the trail and said hi. It was probably a rattlesnake that wasn’t mad as we have tons of those in the hills around Ventura County. Nonetheless, I got out of there without any footage. If I had my wits about me I probably could have got a decent shot with the Karma Grip…nope. Let’s be real. I was out of there faster than the Flash.

I did discover that if you leave your Hero 5 in the Karma stabilizer while plugged into the drone or the Karma Grip, it will drain your Hero 5 battery. So take it out while it’s in storage. I really don’t have much to criticize in the Karma drone, but my wish list would include proximity sensors for collision avoidance, a higher data rate for the Hero line of cameras, which may come in their next release of the Fusion camera, and possibly a smaller form factor.

Summing Up
In the end, you won’t really get the idea of how fun drones are to fly until you get your hands on one. Drone filmmaking is not easy; it takes time to get beautiful shots. Think about it, there are camera people who make a good living off getting great shots. So don’t beat yourself up if it takes a few times to get the hang of just being comfortable flying a drone around while trying to keep everyone and everything safe.

However, once you get past the initial paranoia when flying a drone, you can get some unique shots that you may never have thought were possible. In my opinion, the GoPro Karma is the easiest and overall best drone to use. While it may not have all of the collision avoidance that the Phantom or Mavic have, it has an ease of use that is unrivaled.

The controller is so easy. My wife, who doesn’t really care about drones and would rather sew, was able to pick it up and fly within 20 minutes. This definitely wasn’t possible on the Phantom. In addition, being able to pull out the Karma stabilizer and attach it to the Karma grip within minutes is a game changer for someone running around the beach or hiking in the mountains.

If you are already a fan of the GoPro products, the Karma drone and grip are definite items to add to your shopping cart. GoPro even sent me the Karma Grip extension cable to play with. You can use it to stash the grip handle away from the stabilizer and then use a chest mount, or even the mount on the strap of the GoPro Seeker backpack, bringing stabilization everywhere.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Timecode and GoPro partner to make posting VR easier

Timecode Systems and GoPro’s Kolor team recently worked together to create a new timecode sync feature for Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro stitching software. By combining their technologies, the two companies have developed a VR workflow solution that offers the efficiency benefits of professional standard timecode synchronization to VR and 360 filming.

Time-aligning files from the multiple cameras in a 360° VR rig can be a manual and time-consuming process if there is no easy synchronization point, especially when synchronizing with separate audio. Visually timecode-slating cameras is a disruptive manual process, and using the clap of a slate (or another visual or audio cue) as a sync marker can be unreliable when it comes to the edit process.

The new sync feature, included in the Version 3.0 update to Autopano Video Pro, incorporates full support for MP4 timecode generated by Timecode’s products. The solution is compatible with a range of custom, multi-camera VR rigs, including rigs using GoPro’s Hero 4 cameras with SyncBac Pro for timecode and also other camera models using alternative Timecode Systems products. This allows VR filmmakers to focus on the creative and not worry about whether every camera in the rig is shooting in frame-level synchronization. Whether filming using a two-camera GoPro Hero 4 rig or 24 cameras in a 360° array creating resolutions as high as 32K, the solution syncs with the same efficiency. The end results are media files that can be automatically timecode-aligned in Autopano Video Pro with the push of a button.

“We’re giving VR camera operators the confidence that they can start and stop recording all day long without the hassle of having to disturb filming to manually slate cameras; that’s the understated benefit of timecode,” says Paul Bannister, chief science officer of Timecode Systems.

“To create high-quality VR output using multiple cameras to capture high-quality spherical video isn’t enough; the footage that is captured needs to be stitched together as simply as possible — with ease, speed and accuracy, whatever the camera rig,” explains Alexandre Jenny, senior director of Immersive Media Solutions at GoPro. “Anyone who has produced 360 video will understand the difficulties involved in relying on a clap or visual cue to mark when all the cameras start recording to match up video for stitching. To solve that issue, either you use an integrated solution like GoPro Omni with a pixel-level synchronization, or now you have the alternative to use accurate timecode metadata from SyncBac Pro in a custom, scalable multicamera rig. It makes the workflow much easier for professional VR content producers.”

Review: GoPro’s Karma Grip and Quik Key

By Brady Betzel

There has been a flood of GoPro-compatible accessories introduced over the last several years, with few having as much impact as handheld stabilizers. Stabilizers have revolutionized videography (more specifically GoPro videography) and they are becoming extremely compact and very reasonably priced.

A while ago, I reviewed a GoPro Hero 3- and 4-compatible handheld stabilizer from Polaroid, which was good but had a few kinks to work out, like a somewhat clumsy way of mounting your camera.

Over the last year, GoPro has ventured into the drone market with the Karma Drone where it unfortunately fell out of grace — it was recalled because of a battery latch issue — but has recently returned to the market.

When I first got my hands on the Karma Drone (the initial release), I immediately saw the benefit of buying GoPro’s drone. Along with the GoPro Karma Drone came the Karma Grip, a handheld stabilizer for the newly released Hero 5 action camera. It is really mind blowing to be flying a drone one minute and seconds later remove the Karma Grip from the Karma Drone and then be creating beautifully smooth shots. Handheld stabilizers like the GoPro Karma Grip have really helped shooters to create more cinematically styled footage at a relatively low cost.

When GoPro sent me the Karma Grip to borrow for a few weeks, I was really excited. I received the Karma Grip between the time they recalled the Karma Drone and when they subsequently re-released it. In addition to the Karma Grip they sent me the Quik Key, a mobile microSD card reader.

In this review I’m going to share my experience with the Karma Grip as well as touch on the Quik Key and why it’s a phenomenal accessory if you want to quickly upload photos from your GoPro action cam.

Jumping In
When testing the Karma Grip I used my GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition, which is important to note because the Hero 5 has a different case build than previous GoPro models. You’ll need to purchase a different harness if you have a Hero 4. Nonetheless, I love the Hero 5. While the Hero 4 and Hero 5 have similar camera sensors, they have some major differences. First, the Hero 5 has some really sweet voice control. I’m not a huge Siri user, so I was initially skeptical when GoPro tried to sell me on the voice control. To my surprise I love it, especially when paired with the Remo waterproof voice-activated remote. To not be a total GoPro fanboy, I will avoid reviewing the Remo for now but it’s something that I really love.

The Hero 5 has a built-in waterproof housing (unlike previous versions that needed a separate waterproof housing), voice activation, easy-to-use touch screen menu system and many other features. What I’m getting at is that the Karma Grip comes out of the box to fit the Hero 5, but you can purchase the Hero 4 Harness for an additional $29.99. The Session mount will be released later in the summer.

What makes the GoPro Karma Grip different from other handheld stabilizers, in my opinion, is its build quality, ease of use and GoPro-focused mounting options. Immediately when opening the Karma Grip box you get four key components: the removable grip handle ($99.99), mounting ring ($29.99) and stabilizer ($249.99) with the Hero 5 harness attached ($29.99). In addition, it all comes in a form-fitted case. The case is sturdy but kind of reminds me of a trombone case; it does the job but is a little unwieldy. When you buy the Karma Grip as a set it retails for $299.99, which is a little pricey, but in my opinion completely worth it — especially if you plan to buy the Karma drone because you can purchase the drone separately.

If you know you are going to buy the Karma Drone, you should probably just go ahead and buy the whole drone package now ($1099.99 Karma Drone with the Grip and Hero 5, $799.99 Karma Drone with the Grip). If you decide you want the Karma Drone you can purchase the Flight Kit for the Karma Grip for $599. For those counting at home that comes to $899 if you purchase the Grip and the Karma Drone separately, so it’s definitely a better deal to buy it all at once if you can.

Once I opened the form-fitted Karma Grip case, I plugged the USB-C charging cable into the base of the Karma Grip handle. I kind of wish the cable plugged in somewhere other than the base, since I like to rest stabilizers on their base, but not really a big deal if you have your case around. I set the Karma Grip to charge overnight, but the manual writes it will take six hours on a standard 1A charger, and one hour and 50 minutes if you use the “Supercharger” — immediately I was like what the hell is this Supercharger and why don’t I have one? They are $49.99 and can be found here.

So the next day I tried using the Karma Grip in conjunction with a suction cup mount inside of my car on my ride home from work. I wanted to see how the Karma Grip would work when mounted to a windshield (inside my car) to film a driving timelapse. To attach the Karma Grip you have to put a separate mounting ring between the handle and the stabilizer. Like a typical bonehead, I didn’t read the manual, so I tried mounting the ring with the GoPro mount. It took me a few tries to get it on right, but once it is on it actually feels very sturdy.

From there you have to do a typical GoPro mount connecting dance to get everything situated. You can check out my results here.

Admittedly, I probably should have locked the view of the Karma Grip to keep it focused straight forward, but I didn’t. It worked okay, but I definitely would need way more time to perfect this. However, if you can lock in your Karma Grip to something like the side of a train or airplane, your shooting options will become way smoother.

On the Move
Next I wanted to test running around with the Karma Grip. Once you lock your Hero 5 into the harness on the Karma Grip it’s as simple as powering on your Grip and hitting record. You can flip over the Grip to record a ground level view very easily. Flipping the Karma Grip over to a ground level view was the easiest transition on a handheld stabilizer I have ever experienced. Usually you have to either tell the stabilizer that you want to film ground level or you have to do a certain motion to not make the stabilizer flip out. The Karma Grip is incredibly easy to use; it lets you film smoothly with minimal effort.

To go a little further into testing I made a makeshift mount using a pipe and a 2×4 I had lying around. I screwed some sticky GoPro mounts to the 2×4 for mounting. In the end, I wanted to put my Hero 4 mounted alongside my Hero 5 mounted on the Karma Grip to demonstrate just how stable the Karma Grip makes your footage. You can check it out here. After a few hours of using the Karma Grip, I really felt like I had many more options when filming. I saw a staircase and knew I could run up it without my steps being reflected in my video recording; it really opens your creative brain.

One thing I wish was more easily accessible was a mount for an external microphone. In my video, I separated the audio on the left from the GoPro Hero 4 not mounted in the Karma Grip and the Hero 5 mounted in the Karma Grip. I did this so I could hear the difference. Once in the Karma Grip, the Hero 5’s audio becomes pretty muted. I know that GoPros aren’t necessarily supposed to be used with external mics, but with the GoPro’s audio not being high level all the time I sometimes use an external mic mounted on something like the iOgrapher Go or even the Karma Grip. If the Karma Grip could somehow mount a microphone along with possibly integrating a ¼-inch jack instead of having to buy a $49.99 converter I would be very happy.

Quik Key
The Quik Key is a great addition to the GoPro accessory line and is available for Lightning Port for the iOS ($29.99), Micro-USB ($19.99) and even USB-C ($19.99). It works directly with the GoPro Capture app on your mobile device to transfer photos and videos without having to hook up your GoPro or microSD card to your computer. Based on support documents, it seems like Android phones are more compatible with formats and resolutions, but since I have an iPhone the iOS version is what I am dealing with. You can get the specific iPhone resolution compatibility chart here. It’s interesting to note that ProTune footage is specifically not compatible with iOS.

The Quik Key is great for my dad adventures (or dad-ventures!) to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, hikes, baseball games, etc. If for some odd reason one of my sons takes a nap, I can transfer some videos or images to my phone and upload them to the web while on the run. The Quik Key comes with a carabiner-style clip to hang on, but it’s definitely small enough to keep in your pocket with the Remo remote. I love the Remo for the same dad-ventures with the kids; you can use the button as a shutter release and also change shooting modes from video to photos by just saying “GoPro Photo Mode.”

Summing Up
In the end, while GoPro is digging their way out of the Karma Drone battery latch caper, I continue to love their gear. The GoPro Hero 5 is my favorite camera they’ve made to date and it’s easy to take along since you no longer need an external housing to keep it waterproof. All of the GoPro accessories like the Karma Grip, Hero 5, Hero 5 Session, mounts, three-way mount and practically anything else fit perfectly in my favorite GoPro bag, The Seeker. It’s an incredible bag that even comes with room enough for your CamelBak water bladder.

The Karma Grip is smooth and super easy to use, it works flawlessly with the Hero 5 and coming soon in spring of 2017 is the Karma Grip extension cable. The extension cable allows you to put your Grip handle out of sight and mount the stabilizer inconspicuously, something I bet a lot of television shows will like to use, opening the GoPro creativity door a little more.

I really love GoPro products. Even if there are other options out there, I always know that for the most part the GoPro product line is made of high-quality accessories and cameras that everyone from moms and dads to professional broadcasters rely on. I can even give my GoPro to my sons to run around with and get muddy without a care in the world allowing them to capture the world from their own point of view. The GoPro product line including the Karma Grip is full of awesome gear that I can’t recommend enough.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Polaroid camera accessories

By Brady Betzel

When you hear the name Polaroid, your mind likely serves up an image of an instant camera, but that image might vary depending on your age. Not long ago, the once ubiquitous company sold off its last instant film factory — to a very interesting company named Impossible — and began to produce new cameras for the digital age as well as boatloads of camera accessories. (Check out their refurbished Polaroid format cameras and film here.)

You can pretty much find anything you want among Polaroid’s offerings, from sliders to their own HD action camera. For this article, I chose to focus on three camera accessories that I think every prosumer videographer could make use of. Because, let’s be honest, many editors and video pros shoot their own projects on the side, so why not be outfitted for the job? And let’s not forget those filmmakers who aren’t precious about getting just the right shot, whether it’s with a Canon DSLR or a GoPro.

Panorama Pan Head
Up first is the Polaroid remote controlled 360-degree Panorama Pan Head. It’s a small, mountable, remote-controllable, motorized pan mount for your GoPro, smart phone or any camera weighing around 1.2 pounds. Physically, it’s a little smaller than a tennis ball. It has fold-out legs that can act as a surprisingly sturdy stand, or it can be mounted to a standard tripod via its ¼-inch screw mount.

Since I love to shoot using GoPro cameras, I wanted to test this out with my Hero 5 Black Edition. Along with the pan head, you get a detachable GoPro Mount, a smart phone holder to get those panoramic pictures and a remote.

The remote has a less-than-awesome design, but it works! Once you mount your camera of choice, you can go left and right, faster and slower, press one button to rotate the camera 75 degrees and return home, or set up a rotational timelapse by telling it to rotate five degrees every 10 seconds.

If you are looking at this for panoramic shots on your iPhone or Samsung Android phone, you can connect the Bluetooth and use the remote as a wireless shutter trigger. I have to say that the Bluetooth connected easily and quickly, which doesn’t always happen in life, so I was particularly happy about that. The pan head is rechargeable via an included micro USB cable. It only took me a few hours to recharge, but the manual says up to eight hours for a full charge.

In my experience, the pan head isn’t a necessary piece of equipment. It’s more a fun piece of niche hardware that you will use in few shoots. If you shoot a ton of panoramic shots and want them to be consistent then the pan head is for you. The timelapse feature is interesting but I’ve messed around with some “egg timers” that people have retrofitted with 1/4-inch screw mounts that have been just as good and cost a lot less. You can find this Polaroid 360 Pan Head on Amazon.com for $49.99.

Track Slider
Up next is the Polaroid 24-inch Rail Track Slider. There are a lot of sliders on the market and some for almost impossibly cheap prices. The Polaroid slider comes in two varieties: 24-inch and 48-inch. I do a lot of product shooting for these reviews, so the 24-inch was just the right size for me.

I tested it out with a ball head tripod mount holding a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and zoom lens. Sliders really add another level of professionalism to any video, so if you are looking to take your shots to the next level definitely buy a camera slider. A few pushes and slides really make a difference and add some great dimensionality to any shot. Polaroid’s slider has detachable and adjustable legs, tension adjustment on the carriage itself to adjust slide speeds and a ¼-inch screw mount on the bottom to mount onto a tripod.

In addition, it has ¼-inch mounts on either side of the slider to mount it vertically to a tripod. I used the slider quite a few times and noticed that it worked well. I also noticed that the sliding of the carriage wasn’t always consistent; even when I was super-cautious and careful I would get some bumps. The carriage screw wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked, but for $99 you need to remember you aren’t getting a $1,700 Syrp motion-controlled slider. The slider itself is relatively light, comes in a very sturdy bag with handles and transports easily.

65-Inch Varipod
Last on the list is the Polaroid 65-inch Varipod — a telescoping monopod with removable tripod balance stand. Polaroid has really stuck to keeping prices low with their accessories, and they continue with the Varipod, which is priced at $49.99. While cheap, the monopod is very sturdy. I didn’t have a problem mounting my Canon DSLR with lens.

I was feeling particularly brave and decided to let the monopod hold my DSLR by itself — the Varipod held up just fine. The Varipod can get up to 65-inches tall, but I never needed it to go that high. One trick hidden inside the screw mount is that you can flip over the ⅜-inch screw and on the bottom is a ¼-inch screw mount. The best part about the Varipod is the detachable legs. If you want to take the legs off and use them as a sort of table tripod you can.

Summing Up
Polaroid has thrown every camera accessory against the wall to see what sticks. While the monopod and the pan head are interesting, and if you need them you will know, the real gem is the Polaroid 24-inch slider. If you buy one accessory other than a sweet lens, lighting or a tripod, you need to buy a slider. For $99 you really get a great starting slider and may never need to buy one again. I warn you though, once you start using the slider you might get sucked down the motorized slider rabbit hole.

You can find these Polaroid accessories on Amazon.com for purchase.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

VR Production: A roadmap for stereo 360, AR, VR and beyond

By Beth Marchant

It may still be the Wild West in the emerging virtual reality market, but adapting new and existing tools to recreate production workflows is nothing new for the curious and innovative filmmakers hungry for expanding ways to tell stories.

We asked directors at a large VR studio and at a nimble startup how they are navigating the formats, gear and new pipelines that come with the territory.

Patrick Meegan

Jaunt
Patrick Meegan was the first VR-centric filmmaker hired by Jaunt, a prolific producer of immersive content based in Los Angeles. Now a creative director and director of key content for the company, he will also be helping Jaunt refine and revamp its virtual reality app in the coming months. “I came straight from my MFA at USC’s interactive media program to Jaunt, so I’ve been doing VR since day one there. The nice thing about USC is it has a very robust research lab associated with the film school. I worked with a lot of prototype VR technology while completing my degree and shooting my thesis. I pretty much had a hacker mentality in graduate school but I wanted to work with an engineering and content company that was streamlining the VR process, and I found it here.”

Meegan shot with a custom camera system built with GoPro cameras on those first Jaunt shoots. “They had developed a really nice automated VR stitching and post workflow early on,” he says, “but I’d built my own 360 camera from 16 GoPros in grad school, so it wasn’t so dissimilar from what I was used to.” He’s since been shooting with the company’s purpose-built Jaunt One camera, a ground-up, modular design that includes a set of individual modules optimized with desirable features like global shutter, gunlock for frame sync and improved dynamic range.

Focusing primarily on live-action 3D spherical video but publishing across platforms, Jaunt has produced a range of VR experiences to date that include Doug Limon’s longer-form cinematic serial Invisible, (see VR Post) and short documentaries like Greenpeace’s A Journey to the Arctic and Camp4 Collective’s Home Turf: Iceland. The content is stored in the cloud, mostly to take advantage of scalable cloud-based rendering. “We’re always supporting every platform that’s out there but within the last year, to an increasing degree, we’re focusing more on the more fully immersive Oculus, HTC Vive, Gear VR and Google Daydream experiences,” says Meegan. “We’re increasingly looking at the specs and capabilities of those more robust headsets and will do more of that in 2017. But right now, we’re focused on the core market, which is 360 video.”

invisible

Invisible

When out on the VR directing jobs he bids on through Jaunt’s studios, Meegan typically shoots with a Jaunt One as his primary tool and rotates in other bespoke camera arrays as needed. “We’re still in a place where there is no one camera but many terrific options,” he says. “Jaunt One is a great baseline. But if you want to shoot at night or do aerial, you’ll need to consider any number of custom rigs that blend off-the-shelf cameras and components in different types of arrays. Volumetric and light field video are also on the horizon, as the headsets enable more interaction with the audience. So we’ll continue to work with a range of camera systems here at Jaunt to achieve those things.”

Meegan recently took the Jaunt One and a GoPro drone array to the Amazon Rain Forest to shoot a 10-minute 360-degree film for Conservation International, a non-profit organization with a trifold community, corporate partnership and research approach to saving our planet’s natural resources. An early version of the film screened this November in Marrakech during the UN’s Climate Change Conference and will be in wide release through the Jaunt app in January. “I’ve been impressed that there are real budgets out there for cause-based VR documentaries,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to infuse in the medium early on, as many did with HD and then 4K. Escaping into a nature-based experience is not an isolating thing — it’s very therapeutic, and most people will never have the means or inclination to go to these places in the first place.”

Pitched as a six-minute documentary, the piece showcases a number of difficult VR camera moves that ended up extending its run. “When we submitted 10-minute cuts to the clients, no one complained about length,” says Meegan. “They just wanted more. Probably half the piece is in motion. We did a lot of cable cams through the jungle, as if you are walking with the indigenous people who live there and encountering wildlife, and also a number of VR firsts, like vertical ascending and descending shots up along these massive trees.”

Tree climbing veterans from shows like Planet Earth were on hand to help set the rigs on high. “These were shots that would take three days to rig into a tree so we could deliver that magical float down through the layers of the forest with the camera. Plus, everything we had to bring into the jungle for the shoot had to fit on tiny planes and canoes. Due to weight limits, we had to cut back on some of the grip equipment we’d originally planned on bringing, like custom cases and riggings to carry and protect the gear from wildlife and the elements. We had to measure everything out to the gram.” Jaunt also customized the cable cam motors to slow down the action of the rigs. “In VR you want to move a lot slower than with a traditional camera so you get a comfortable feel of movement,” says Meegan. “Because people are looking around within the environment, you want to give them time to soak it all in.”

An example of the Jaunt camera at work – Let’s Go Mets!

The isolated nature of the shoot posed an additional challenge: how to keep the cameras rolling, with charging stations, for eight hours at a time. “We did a lot on the front end to determine the best batteries and data storage systems to make that happen,” he says. “And there were many lessons learned that we will start to apply to upcoming work. The post production was more about rig removal and compositing and less about stitching, so for these kinds of documentary shoots, that helps us put more of our resources into the production.”

The future of narrative VR, on the other hand, may have an even steeper learning curve. “What ‘Invisible’ starts to delve into,” explains Meegan, “is how do we tell a more elaborate, longer-form story in VR? Flash back to a year or so ago, when all we thought people could handle in the headset at one time was five or six minutes. At least as headsets get more comfortable — and eventually become untethered — people will become more engaged.” That wire, he believes, is one of VR’s biggest current drawbacks. “Once it goes away, and viewers are no longer reminded they are actually wearing technology, we can finally start to envision longer-form stories.”

As VR production technology matures, Meegan also sees an opening for less tech-savvy filmmakers to join the party. “This field still requires healthy hybrids of creative and technical people, but I think we are starting to see a shift in priorities more toward defining the grammar of storytelling in VR, not just the workflows. These questions are every bit as challenging as the technology, but we need all kinds of filmmakers to engage with them. Coming from a game-design program where you do a lot of iterations, like in visual effects and animation, I think now we can begin to similarly iterate with content.”

The clues to the future may already be in plain sight. “In VR, you can’t cut around performances the way you do when shooting traditional cinema,” says Meegan. “But there’s a lot we can learn from ambient performances in theater, like what the folks at Punchdrunk are doing in Sleep No More immersive live theater experience in New York.” The same goes for the students he worked with recently at USC’s new VR lab, which officially opened this semester.

“I’m really impressed by how young people are able to think around stories in new ways, especially when they come to it without any preconceived notions about the traditional structure of filmmaker-driven perspectives. If we can engage the existing community of cinematic and video game storytellers and get them talking to these new voices, we’ll get the best of both worlds. Our Amazon project reflected that; it was a true blend of veteran nature filmmakers and young kid VR hackers all coming together to tell this beautiful story. That’s when you start to get a really nice dialog of what’s possible in the space.”

Wairua
A former pro skateboarder, director of photography and post pro Jim Geduldick thrives on high-stakes obstacles on the course and on set. He combined both passions as the marketing manager of GoPro’s professional division until this summer, when he returned to his filmmaking roots and co-founded the creative production and technology company Wairua. “In the Maori tradition, the term wairua means a spirit not bound to one body or vessel,” he explains. “It fits the company perfectly because we want to pivot and shape shift. While we’re doing traditional 2D, mixed reality and full-on immersive production, we didn’t want to be called just another VR studio or just a technology studio. If we want to work on robotics and AI for a project, we’ll do that. If we’re doing VR or camera tech, it gives us leeway to do that without being pegged as a service, post or editorial house. We didn’t want to get pigeonholed into a single vertical.”

With his twinned background in camera development and post, Geduldick takes a big-picture approach to every job. “My partner and I both come from working for camera manufacturers, so we know the process that it takes to create the right builds,” he says. “A lot of times we have to build custom solutions for different jobs, whether that be high-speed Phantom set-ups or spherical multicam capture. It leaves us open to experiment with a blend of all the new technology out there, from VR to AR to mixed reality to AI to robotics. But we’re not just one piece of the puzzle; knowing capture through the post pipeline to delivery, we can scale to fit whatever the project needs. And it’s inevitable — the way people are telling stories and will want to tell them will drastically change in the next 10 years.”

Jim Geduldick with a spherical GoPro rig.

Early clients like Ford Motors are already fans of Wairua’s process. One of the new company’s first projects was to bring rally cross racer Ken Block of the Hoonigan Racing Division and his viral Gymkhana video series to VR. The series features Block driving against the clock the Ford Focus RS RX rallycross car he helped design and drove in the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship on a racing obstacle course, explaining how he performs extreme stunts like the “insane” and the “train drift” along the way. Part one of Gymkhana Nine VR is now available via the Ford VR app for iOS and Android.

“Those brands that are focused on a younger market are a little more willing to take risks with new content like VR,” Geduldick says. ‘We’re doing our own projects to test our theories and own internal pipelines, and some of those we will pitch to our partners in the future. But the clients who are already reaching out to us are doing so through word of mouth, partly because of our technical reputations but mostly because they’ve seen some of our successful VR work.” Guiding clients during the transition to VR begins with the concept, he says. “Often they are not sure what they want and often you have to consult with them and say, ‘This is what’s available. Are they going for a social reach? Or do you want to push the technology as far as it will go?’ Budgets, of course, determine most of that. If it’s not for a headset experience, it’s usually going to a platform or a custom app.”

Wairua’s kit, as you might expect, is a mix of custom tools and off-the-shelf camera gear and software. “We’re using GoPro cameras and the GoPro Odyssey, which is a Google Jump-ready rig, as well as the Nokia Ozo and other cameras and making different rigs,” he says. “If you’re shooting an interview, maybe you can get away with shooting it single camera on a panohead with one Red Epic with a fisheye lens or a Sony A7s ii. I choose camera systems based on what is the best for the project I’m working on at that moment.”

His advice for seasoned producers and directors — and even film students — transitioning to VR is try before you buy. “Go ahead and purchase the prosumer-level cameras, but don’t worry about buying the bigger spherical capture stuff. Go rent them or borrow them, and test, test, test. So many of the rental houses have great education nights to get you started.”

The shot of NYC was captured by a spherical array shoot on the top of the Empire State Building.

Once you know where your VR business is headed, he suggests, it’s time to invest. “Because of the level that we’re at, we’ve purchased a number of different camera systems, such as Red Epic, Phantom, tons of GoPros and even a Ricoh Theta S camera, which is the perfect small spherical camera for scouting locations. That one is with me in my backpack every time I’m out.”

Geduldick is also using The Foundry’s Cara VR plug-in with Nuke, Kolor’s Autopan Video Pro and Chris Bobotis’s Mettle plug-in for Adobe After Effects. “If you’re serious about VR post and doing your own stitching, and you already use After Effects, Mettle is a terrific thing to have,” he says. A few custom tetrahedral and ambisonic microphones made by the company’s sound design partners and used in elaborate audio arrays, as well as the more affordable Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, are among Wairua’s go-to audio recording gear. “The latter is one of the more cost-effective tools for spatial audio capture,” says Geduldick.

The idea of always mastering to the best high-resolution archival format available to you still holds true for VR production, he adds. “Do you shoot in 4K just to future-proof it, even if it’s more expensive? That’s still the case for 360 VR and immersive today. Your baseline should always be 4K and you should avoid shooting any resolution less than that. The headsets may not be at 4K resolution per eye yet, but it’s coming soon enough.”

Geduldick does not believe any one segment of expanded reality with take the ultimate prize. “I think it’s silly to create a horse race between augmented reality and virtual reality,” he says. “It’s all going to eventually meld together into immersive storytelling and immersive technology. The headsets are a stopgap. 360 video is a stopgap. They are gateways into what will be and can come in the next five to 10 years, even two years. Yes, some companies will disappear and others will be leaders. Facebook and Google have a lot of money behind it, and the game engine companies also have an advantage. But there is no king yet. There is no one camera or or no single software that will solve all of our problems, and in my opinion, it’s way too soon to be labeling this a movement at all.”

Jim with a GoPro Omni on the Mantis Rover for Gymkhana.

That doesn’t mean that Wairua isn’t already looking well beyond the traditional entertainment marketing and social media space at the VR apps of tomorrow. “We are very excited about industrial, education and health applications,” Geduldick says. “Those are going to be huge, but the money is in advertising and entertainment right now, and the marketing dollars are paying for these new VR experiences. We’re using that income to go right back into R&D and to build these other projects that have the potential to really help people — like cancer patients, veterans and burn victims — and not just dazzle them.”

Geduldick’s advice for early adopters? Embrace failure, absorb everything and get on with it. “The takeaway for every single production you do, whether it be for VR or SD, you should be learning something new and taking that lesson with you to your next project,” he says. “With VR, there’s so much to learn — how the technology can benefit you, how it can hurt you, how it can slow you down as a storyteller and a filmmaker? Don’t listen to everybody; just go out and find out for yourself what works. What works for me won’t necessarily work for someone like Ridley Scott. Just get out there and experiment, learn and collaborate.”

Main Image: A Ford project via Wairua.


Beth Marchant has been covering the production and post industry for 21 years. She was the founding editor-in-chief of Studio/monthly magazine and the co-editor of StudioDaily.com. She continues to write about the industry.

GoPro intros Karma foldable drone, Hero5 with voice-controlled recording

By Brady Betzel

“Hey, GoPro, start recording!” That’s right, voice-controlled recording is here. Does this mean pros can finally start all their GoPros at the same time? More on this in a bit…

I’m one of the lucky few journalists/reviewers who have been brought out to Squaw Valley, California, to hear about GoPro’s latest products first hand — oh, and I got to play with them as well.

So, the long awaited GoPro Karma drone is finally here, but it’s not your ordinary drone. It is small and foldable so it can fit in a backpack, but the three-axis camera stabilizer can be attached to the included Karma grip so you can grab the drone before it lands and carry it or mount it. This is huge! If worked out correctly you can now fake a gigantic jib swing with a GoPro, or even create some ultra-long shots. One of the best parts is that the controller is a videogame style remote that doesn’t require you use your phone or tablet! Thank you GoPro! No, really, thank you.

The Karma is priced at $799, the Karma plus Session is $999, and the Karma plus Hero5 Black is $1,099. And it’s available one day before my birthday next month — hint, hint, nudge, nudge — October 23.

To the Cloud! GoPro Plus and Quik Apps
So you might have been wondering how GoPro intends to build a constant revenue stream. Well, it seems like they are banking on the new GoPro Plus cloud-based subscription service. While your new Hero5 is charging it can auto-upload photos and videos via a computer or phone. In addition you will be able to access, edit and share all from GoPro Plus. For us editing nerds, this is the hot topic because want to edit everything from anywhere.

My question is this: If everyone gets on the GoPro Plus train, are they prepared for the storage and bandwidth requirements? Time will tell. In addition to being able to upload to the cloud with your GoPro Plus subscription, you will have a large music library at your disposal, 20 percent off accessories from GoPro.com, exclusive GoPro Apparel and Premium Support.

The GoPro Subscription breaks down to $4.99 and is available in the US on October 2 — it will be in more markets in January 2017.

Quik App is GoPro’s ambitious attempt at creating an autonomous editing platform. I am really excited about this (even though it basically eliminates the need for an editor — more on this later). While many of you may be hearing about Quik for the first time, it actually has been around for a bit. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is the time. One of the most difficult parts of a GoPro’s end-to-end workflow is the importing, editing and exporting. Now, with GoPro Plus and Quik you will be automatically uploading your Hero5 footage while charging so you can be editing quickly (or Quik-ly. Ha! Sorry, I had to.)

Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session
It’s funny that the Hero5 Black and Session are last on my list. I guess I am kind of putting what got GoPro to the dance last, but last doesn’t in any way mean least!

Hero5 Black

Available on October 2, the Hero5 Black is $399, and includes the following:
● Two-inch touch display with simplified controls.
● Up to 4K video at 30fps
● Auto-upload to GoPro Plus while charging
● Voice Control with support for seven languages, with more to come
● Simplified one-button control
● Waterproof, without housing, to 33 feet
● Compatible with existing mounts, including Karma
● Stereo audio recording
● Video Stabilization built-in
● Fish-eye-free wide-angle video
● RAW and WDR (wide dynamic range) photo modes
● GPS built-in!

Hero5 Session is $299 and offers these features:
● Same small design
● Up to 4K at 30fps
● 10 Megapixel photos
● Auto upload to GoPro Plus while charging
● Voice Control support for seven languages with more to come
● Simplified one-button control
● Waterproof, without housing, to 33 feet
● Compatible with existing mounts, including Karma
● Video Stabilization built in
● Fish-eye-free wide-angle video

Summing Up
GoPro has made power moves. They not only took the original action camera — the Hero — to the next level with upgrades like image stabilization, waterproof without housing, and simplifying the controls in the Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session, they added 4K recording a 30fps and stereo audio recording with Advanced Wind Noise Reduction.

Not only did they upgrade their cameras, GoPro is attempting to revolutionize the drone market with the Karma. The Karma has potential to bring the limelight back to GoPro and steal some thunder from competitors, like DJI, with this foldable and compact drone whose three-axis gimbal can be held by the included Karma handle.

Hero5 Session

Remember that drone teaser video that everyone thought was fake!? Here it is just in case. Looks like that was real and with some pre-planning you can recreate these awesome shots. What’s even more awesome is that later this year GoPro will be launching the “Quik Key,” a micro-USB card reader that plugs into your phone to transfer your videos and photos to your phone, as well as REMO — a voice-activated remote control for the Hero5 (think Apple TV, but for your camera: “GoPro, record video.”

Besides the incredible multimedia products GoPro creates, I really love the family feeling and camaraderie within the GoPro company and athletes they bring in to show off their tools. Coming from the airport to Squaw Valley, I was in the airport shuttle with some mega-pro athletes/content creators like Colin, and they were just as excited as I was.

It was kind of funny because the people who are usually in the projects I edit were next to me geeking out. GoPro has created this amazing, self-contained, ecosphere of content creators and content manipulators that are fan-boys and fan-girls. The energy around the GoPro Karma and Hero5 announcement is incredible, and they’ve created their own ultra-positive culture. I wish I could bottle it up and give it out to everyone reading this news.

Check out some video I shot here.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Timecode’s :Pulse for multicamera sync and control now available

Timecode Systems, which makes wireless technologies for sharing timecode and metadata, has made its :Pulse multi camera sync and control product available for purchase.

Powered by the company’s robust Blink RF protocol, the :Pulse offers wireless sync and remote device control capability in one product. Used in its simplest form, the :Pulse is a highly accurate timecode, genlock and word clock generator with an integrated RF transceiver to ensure solid synchronization with zero drift between timecode sources.

As well as being a hub for timecode and metadata exchange, it’s also a center for wirelessly controlling devices on multicamera shoots. With a :Pulse set as the timecode master unit, users can activate the device’s integral Wi-Fi or add a wired connection to the Ethernet port to open the free, multiplatform Blink Hub app on their smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Enabled by the Blink RF protocol, the Blink Hub app allows users to not only centrally monitor and control all Timecode Systems timecode sources on set, but also any compatible camera and audio equipment to which they are connected.

Timecode Systems has already developed a bespoke remote device control solution for Sound Devices 6-Series mixer/recorders and is working on adding to the :Pulse the capability to control GoPro, Arri and Red cameras remotely via the Blink Hub app.

“With the production of the SyncBac Pro, our embedded timecode sync accessory for GoPro cameras, now in full flow, we’re very close to launching remote control of Hero4 Silver and Black cameras,” says CEO Paul Scurrell. “Using either the :Pulse’s Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection into the :Pulse, SyncBac Pro users will be able to connect their GoPro Hero4 Black and Silver cameras to the Blink Hub app. This, among other things, unlocks the capability to put a GoPro to sleep remotely and then start recording again from the app when the action starts again. It’s a great way to save the camera’s battery life when it’s gear-mounted or rigged somewhere inaccessible.”

GoPro intros Omni VR rig and production ecosystem

For those looking to create 360-degree, spherical, VR content, GoPro is now shipping the Omni six-camera capture rig. Omni is more than just a camera rig (Hero4 Black), GoPro is calling it an end-to-end content creation ecosystem.

Omni’s core features a pixel-level synchronization mechanism that allows all six cameras to act as one — there is one power button for all, and if you adjust the shooting mode on the primary camera, all other cameras automatically and instantly align on the same mode. They say because it’s synced at the pixel level, this allows for a quick and clean stitch.

Key hardware features include:
– Heat dissipation: Due to its aluminum frame, Omni draws heat away from the cameras, increasing thermal performance for improved run time.
–  Power options: Omni’s design allows you the choice to power the rig with an external battery pack (included in the all-inclusive package), or from the individual Hero4 Black batteries. It also allows users to power the rig only with external battery power, removing the Hero4 Black batteries for further heat dissipation.
–  Modular parts: Omni’s physical structure is made from rugged aluminum, so in the event that a panel or camera is damaged, the modular design allows for the easy and quick replacement of panels and parts, including the 1/4-20 mounting points.
–  Metadata / SD Card management: Users can take the cards out of Omni, plug them into a USB hub and each card will automatically be organized by camera into a filing system.

Omni Importer
According to GoPro, the Omni Importer is included free with Kolor AVP 2.5 software, but only functions with content captured on the Omni rig. Users can plug their SD cards into their USB hub, open the Omni importer and see an instant, low-resolution preview stitch of all shots. To help organize files, users can rename each shot within the importer for easy file management upon output. There is also a trim feature on the playback bar to select the exact moments of the shot to render. Omni has three levels of color correction (low, medium, high). Users can also choose between no stabilization or optical stabilization. Finally, users can render into multiple levels of output – 2K for a quick render and deeper preview look at your shot; 4K for a high-quality clip that’s ready to publish, or all the way up to 8K for cinematic quality.

Software and Plug-ins
Omni works with Kolor stitching software, which is included in the Omni system, to produce immersive, high-resolution VR images. GoPro says that if you are used to using Kolor Autopano Video for stitching, the Omni Importer will now get you 90-100% of the way there, and now users can now use AVP and new NLE plug-ins to manually fine-tune stitching, geometry and colors. And for those who want to use an Oculus headset while editing, there is a new plug-in for Adobe Premiere that allows for that.

“Omni isn’t just about capturing spherical – it also enables the director, in post, to create a 2D video from the spherical content that pans however the creator wants,” according to GoPro. “That plugin is called reframe and by over-capturing the entire scene with Omni, it allows the director to grab the exact 2D scene from an environment to produce a perfectly panned sequence.”

Finally, GoPro is offering a free player for desktop, web or mobile as well as an app. The player is optimized for high-quality VR, 360 and spherical content and allows for viewing on any platform (desktop, mobile, web, headset).

GoPro will be offering two rigs — one all-inclusive and one rig-only option. The all-inclusive Omni package will be offered at $4,999.99 and it includes the Omni rig with six Hero4 Black cameras, the Omni Importer with Kolor software and external power supply. The Omni rig only is offered at $1,499.99.

Review: Polaroid’s GoPro 3-way stabilizer and 350 LED light

By Brady Betzel

We’ve all seen the trend: technology has started to take off exponentially and give everyday people access to professional-level equipment and software for semi-affordable prices. It also allows professionals to capture images in a way they might not have considered in the past.

For example, you can buy a GoPro Hero4 and create your own stunning timelapses in 4K, or even add dramatic lighting to your independent Etsy-style boutique iPhone photos for a few hundred bucks. Something I find infinitely valuable is the ability to watch other people’s successes, failures and instruction on YouTube for free. What I’m trying to say is that with a few affordable pieces of production gear, you can take average looking footage or stills to the next level.

A few months ago I saw a press release for a 3-axis GoPro gimbal and a high-powered, dimmable LED light made by, of all companies, Polaroid! I was immediately interested, mainly because I chase my sons around with a GoPro and get shaky footage that makes my professional video editor brain cringe — don’t even get me started on the lighting!
Polaroid was nice enough to send over some sample products that I have started to fall in love with — not only for the technology they pack but for the price they sell for.

Stabilizing Your GoPro
Up first in this two product review is the Polaroid Handheld 3-Axis Electronic Gimbal Stabilizer for GoPro Hero 3/3+/4 Action cameras. For months I had seen examples of gimbal stabilizers for the GoPro, but was always left second-guessing an over-$300 price tag for an accessory that was basically the same price as the main camera itself. Then I saw that Polaroid’s stabilizer cost $180 (with free shipping on Amazon) and realized that this technology wasn’t out of my price range anymore.

I opened the slick packaging and charged the three proprietary batteries for an hour. I was pleasantly surprised that I was ready to fly around. To strap your camera to the stabilizer there are two options: with the GoPro LCD Bacpac attached or without the LCD Bacpac. It’s a little clunky to outfit your stabilizer for the GoPro without the Bacpac (i.e. the GoPro Hero 4 with built in LCD), but once you are thumb-screwed into place, your camera isn’t going anywhere. One thing I learned was that you must start the stabilizer on a level surface like a tabletop. So place it on the handle on a level surface, push the power button on the handle and let the stabilizer balance itself for a second or two.

Putting the GoPro on the stabilizer wasn’t as easy as I thought it should have been, but it only took 10 minutes, so not all that life-altering. In addition, strapping the GoPro to the stabilizer is a semi-permanent thing, as it involves thumbscrews. On the bottom of the stabilizer there is a threaded ¼-inch mount that can be used to attach to a tripod or monopod. I even tried it out on a tripod, using two of the legs as my fulcrum points and creating a pseudo jib to get some real long and smooth tilts with the GoPro and it was pretty fun.

I had both a GoPro 3 and 4 lying around so I tried both, and they fit snugly. One complaint I had was that the ring used to secure the GoPro to the stabilizer goes around the lens and feels real tight — I had to twist and turn to get it on which left me feeling like I might rip my lens off — but it is definitely secure when it is screwed on. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing and I would be hard pressed to find anything in the GoPro Hero 3/4 stabilizer category that is so low priced.

To test it out I told my son Atticus to get on his bike and ride. I ran after him with little to no training other than spinning around the garage a little bit. You can check it out on YouTube.

I started off walking but then picked up speed and ran a little (if you call that running). With GoPro videos, you definitely get better quality footage with good lighting and as little bouncing around as possible. The more stable your footage the less work the compression has to do, which basically means better detail and color fidelity in your video.

It doesn’t take long to get a handle on the 3-axis electronic stabilizer; it just takes a little practice time and patience to get the moves and footage you want. You’ll find out which ways the gimbal will and, more importantly, will not go when it starts to shake and go a little crazy (not limited to just this Polaroid stabilizer). This is a great accessory for anyone using GoPros in their work, and at under 10 inches long it can fit in a backpack when you go hiking! It gives you a real smooth and epic feel to your otherwise shaky action footage, and like I said, for $180 it’s a great price.

Dimmable Super Bright LED
Up next is the Polaroid 350 High-Powered Variable Dimmable Super Bright LED Light with Barn Door. After I played with the GoPro gimbal I saw that Polaroid also made lighting equipment that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and could really pump up my iPhoneography. What really got me thinking was the cold shoe adapters on top of my iPhone iOgrapher. The iOgrapher is a way to help stabilize your iPhone footage while adding options like tripod mounts, cold shoe adapters for accessories and even handles to even out your shaky footage. So why not use the iOgrapher mounts with the Polaroid 350 to make some stunning footage?

good lighting shotIf you’ve ever shot video or stills with your iPhone you know that you can get some incredible images. With the right lighting and stabilization, you can achieve looks that rival many professionally shot television shows airing today.

Earlier I mentioned an Etsy-like photo, and I really meant that you could bring your photos and video up to a pro level with just the addition of lighting. My wife recently got a lot of people asking her to make hair bows and bowties, so she opened an Etsy store. She had been taking photos with her iPhone 6s+ and they were good, but when we created a DIY lightbox (from instructions we found on Pinterest) and added the Polaroid 350 light her pictures really started to get that professional feel.

It was truly amazing at how improved the quality and most of all the color fidelity was just from using a little light. You can check out her Etsy store.

The Polaroid 350 is very easy to use. Inside the box you will find the physical light head, two lithium-ion type batteries (think older Sony camcorder batteries), a dual battery charger, swivel head mounting adapter, barn door with diffusion filter, carrying case, AC & DC adapter, UK- and EU-style plug adapters and a little manual. I let the batteries charge overnight, put them both on the back of the light and began lighting my wife’s bows and bowties.

I immediately noticed some lines on my wife’s pictures; it looked like something out of “Stranger Things” was going on. So I quickly ran out of the house… well, maybe not, but we added the diffusion and noticed a drastic diminishment of the line pattern. Later when we created the DIY lightbox with some tissue paper as diffusion we noticed the light pattern disappeared. We played around with the rotary knob that let us smoothly change the color temperature from a warm 3200 degrees Kelvin up to a cool 5600 degrees Kelvin, and the flicker-free LED brightness that goes from 10% up to 100%. Other than that the Polaroid light was an awesome way to add a level of professionalism to our iPhone footage and stills for $160.

There are a few other versions of this light offered by Polaroid, like one with an LCD monitor on the back to see the exact color temperature and battery-life left but you also pay an extra $20. There are a few versions under the $160 price tag, but a dual-battery operated light is really key when doing a lot of work without the want or need to stop a shoot and swap out batteries. I do wish I had two more lights to create a three-point lighting set-up!

Summing Up
In the end, I was really impressed with both of Polaroid’s products that I was testing, the Polaroid 350 LED light and the Polaroid Electronic GoPro 3-way Stabilizer. I was even more impressed with the prices!

The stabilizer really adds a smooth high-level production value to the GoPro. It is simple to set up, easy to use and with practice you will get some amazing GoPro shots. The Polaroid 350 LED light with variable color temperature and brightness along with dual battery ports really makes a shot jump off the screen. If you’ve never used external lighting in your shots before, now is the time.

Pick yourself up a Polaroid 350 LED Light — it is a portable, dimmable and lightweight LED powered light that will relieve the strain on your camera and give you more flexibility in post production (your colorist will thank you).

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Quick Chat: East Coast Digital’s Stina Hamlin on VR ‘Cardboard City’

New York City-based East Coast Digital believes in VR and has set up its studio and staff to be able to handle virtual reality projects. In fact, they recently provided editorial, 3D animation, color correction and audio post on the 60-second VR short Cardboard City, co-winner of the Samsung Gear Indie VR Filmmaker Contest. The short premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. You can check it out here.

Cardboard City, directed by Double Eye Productions’ Kiira Benzing, takes viewers inside the studio of Brooklyn-based stop-motion animator Danielle Ash, who has built a cardboard world inside her studio. There is a pickle vendor, a bakery and a neighborhood bar, all of which can be seen while riding a cardboard roller coaster.

East Coast Digital‘s Stina Hamlin was post producer on the project. We reached out to her to find out more about this project and how the VR workflow differs from the traditional production and post workflow.

Stina Hamlin

How did this project come about?
The project came about organically after being introduced to director Kiira Benzing by narrative designer Eulani Labay. We were all looking to get our first VR project under our belt.  In order to understand the post process involved, I thought it was vital to be involved in a project from the inception, through the production stage and throughout post.  I was seeking projects and people to team up with, and after I met Kiira this amazing team came together.

What direction did you get?
We were given the understanding of the viewer experience that the film should evoke and were asked to be responsible for the technical side of things on set and in editorial.

So you were you on set?
Yes, we were definitely on set. That was an important piece of the puzzle. We were able to consult on what we could do in color and we were able to determine file management and labeling of takes to make it easier to deal with when back in the edit room. Also, we were able to do a couple of stitches at the beginning of the day to determine best camera positioning, etc.

How does your workflow differ from a traditional project to a VR project?
A VR project is different because we are syncing and concerned with seven-plus cameras at a time. The file management has to be very detailed and the stitching process is tedious and uses new software that all editors are getting up to speed with.

Monitoring the cameras on set is tricky, so being able to stitch on set to make sure the look is true to the vision was huge.  That is something that doesn’t happen in the traditional workflow… the post team is definitely not on set.

Cardboard City

Can you elaborate on some of the challenges of VR in general and those you encountered on this project?
The challenges are dealing with multiple cameras and cards, battery or power, and media for every shot from every camera. Syncing the cameras properly in the field and in post can be problematic, and the file management has to uber-detailed.  Then there’s the stitching… there are different software options, no one is a master yet. It is tedious work, and all of this has to get done before you can even edit the clips together in a sequence.

Our project also used stop-motion animation, so we had the artist featured in our film experimenting with us on how to pull that off.  That was really fun and it turned out great!  I heard someone say recently at the Real Screen conference that you have to unlearn everything that you have learned about making a film.  It is a completely different way to tell a story in production and post.

What was your workflow like?
As I mentioned before, I thought that it was vital to be on set to help with media management and “shot looks” using only natural light and organically placed light in preparation for color. We were also able to stitch on set to get a sense of each set-up, which really helped the director and artist see their story and creatively do their job. We then had a better sense of managing the media and understanding how the takes were marked.

Once back in the edit room we used Adobe Premiere to clean up each take and sync each clip for each camera.  We then brought only those clips into the stitching software — Autopano and Giga software from Kolor.com — to stitch and clean up each scene. We rendered out each scene into a self contained QuickTime for color. We colored in DaVinci Resolve and edited the scenes together using Premiere.

What about the audio? 
We recorded nothing on location. All of the sound was designed in post using the mix from the animated short film Pickles for Nickels that was playing on the wall, in addition to the subway and roller coaster sound effects.

What tools were used on set?
We used GoPro Hero 4s with firmware 3.0 and shot in log, 2.7k/30fps. iPads and iPhones were used to wirelessly monitor the rig, which was challenging. We used a laptop with AutoPano and Giga software to stitch on set. This is the same software we used in the edit bay.

What’s next?
We are collaborating once more with Kiira Benzing on the follow-up to Cardboard City. It’s a full-fledged 360 VR short film. The sequel will be even more technically advanced and create additional possibilities for interaction with the user.