Thursday, April 15, 2010

Run video: University of Arizona Mall Loop

(picture, courtesy of Luise Betterton)

Some runs are just flat out gorgeous with spectacular scenery, exotic locations or weather. Running outdoors becomes a little easier. Time passes a little faster than on most daily runs, not to mention treadmill workouts.

I've been searching for some way to retain those moments, so I've been interested in capturing video footage of my favorite runs.

The main problem is that it's rather difficult to run and carry a video camera at the same time. Running requires coordination, and the counterbalanced swinging of arms. With a video camera, attention is diverted from the mechanics of running, and additional unsecured weight is likely throw a runner off his/her stride. And even if I could pull off pointing a video camera while running, the footage is likely to be unusably jerky.

Solutions include driving the course or mounting the camera on a bicycle, since vehicles have air-filled tires and in some cases, suspension, that would mitigate against bumps. But it's not always possible to drive the same course, and especially when one is traveling, limited time and opportunity may preclude revisiting the same location.

(I've attempted to film a course while holding the camera in one hand while riding a bicycle. But I wasn't so happy with the results, see my youtube video Along the Corniche in Doha, Qatar here.)

With another trip to exotic Doha on the horizon, I decided to pick up a GoPro HD Hero video camera (pictured above). It is designed for the action video market and thus is available with a large variety of mounting options. The chest harness is what got me thinking it might just work for running. It's waterproof (well, at least sweat resistant) and very small and lightweight. Also it comes equipped with a wide angle lens, another essential feature. It doesn't have image stabilization, but iMovie 9 can import and apply post-hoc stabilization at the cost of a slightly narrower angle of view.

I decided to test it back home in Arizona first. Here is a one minute (accelerated) video of my first test run around the Mall at the University of Arizona's main campus. (The loop is 1.3 miles long, so it actually took me 9'55" to run.)

(Direct link here.)

As you can see, despite the HD (High Definition) label, the quality is definitely not as good as my HD cameras. And the glare from the sun on the return part of the loop is a big problem with the wide angle lens. Another unanticipated problem is that chest-mounting means that the arms intrude into the video frame. I will test head mounting next.

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