Oh, the things people do with their GoPros.
Users have strapped the small cameras to themselves and then cliff-dived into the abyss. They've attached them to their pets, bikes and cars. And they've shot them into the air, dropped them in the ocean, and sent them flying everywhere in between.
All those happy customers have helped make this an awesome year so far for GoPro, the San Mateo-based startup whose high-definition, built-for-action personal cameras are changing the way the world does photography. The company picked up its first tech Emmy last week. Its latest camera, the Hero3+, continues to get rave reviews. And its Facebook page has received more than 7 million likes and counting.
"It's pretty amazing how much change we've seen around here since we moved over from Half Moon Bay," said GoPro's senior production artist, Abe Kislevitz, employee No. 29 on a staff now approaching 700 people. He recalls the days back at the oceanside perch where surfer dude-cum-Forbes billionaire CEO Nick Woodman first ran the GoPro show, "and when we weren't working we'd be out surfing every day."
Its affordable cameras and accessories are making even novices feel like action-film impresarios. Strapping the lightweight and rugged palm-sized cameras onto everything from wild lions to sky divers to world-class snowboarders, the GoPro has become the darling of the daredevil set. And with as little as $200 and an openness to let your imagination run wild, anyone can join in.
We asked Kislevitz to demonstrate five cool things you can do with a GoPro.
Bursting out all over
Scooping up two handfuls of equipment from the hilltop headquarter's storage room ("For GoPro lovers, this room is heaven," he tells us), Kislevitz takes us outside to the adjacent College of San Mateo's football field. With its jaw-dropping bay views as a backdrop, he demonstrates the camera's burst mode, where holding down the shutter button lets you snap up to 30 photos in a single burst.
"And since the camera's equipped with Wi-Fi, I can link it to my iPhone and use that as my remote control," he says, placing the camera on the ground and then jumping high above it while squeezing his iPhone trigger. The result: 30 crystal-clear distinct frames of his airborne body with the morning sun beaming behind him. "This way, I can pick and choose the one frame that best captures me in the air and the sun together."
Kislevitz has used the burst mode while skiing down a mountainside, the camera looking back at him from the end of a pole and the Hero's small remote control in his other hand. The feature's also great for capturing a child blowing out birthday candles or jumping into a swimming pool, says GoPro spokeswoman Kelly Baker, who joined us for the demo. "And it's great because you can pick that one picture out of 30 that holds the most magical moment of all."
Smile: You're in training!
The GoPro's ideal for helping athletes and sports enthusiasts of all proficiency levels do what they do even better. Kislevitz says both the burst mode and the slow-motion video feature, which captures 120 frames per second, makes personal training more personal than ever before.
Surf champion "Kelly Slater wore the camera on the front of his board" for the prestigious 2013 Pipeline Masters, said Kislevitz. "And then in his video posted on YouTube, he analyzed his own performance riding the wave. Here he is, the greatest surfer of all time, and he's watching himself and pointing out things he should have done better.''
Up, up and away
OK, so this cool thing requires an investment of several hundred dollars for a personal drone. But once you've bought your DJI Phantom Quadcopter with the GoPro mount, you're in business, says Kislevitz as he used the Phantom's remote control to send the drone high above the football field. With a pivotal support called a gimbal keeping the drone and camera steady, and a tilt feature that allows the camera to pan in different directions, "we're getting beautiful ultra-HD video from the air.
"This technology lets us photograph places that in the past you'd need a helicopter or a zip line or a huge crane to get a camera even close to,'' he says. "In Chile, we used the drone and the camera at 16,000 feet for a skiing video that would have been nearly impossible to photograph in the past."
Now any properly equipped GoPro photographer can take to the air.
One of the unique things about GoPro is the creative user community that's mushroomed around the company and its products ever since it started selling cameras about ten years ago. "We held a GoPro summer camp at Whistler last year for kids as young as 12," Kislevitz says. "They started doing things like hitting the burst-mode switch and then throwing the camera in the air, so you could see all these pictures taken going up and then coming back down, which is something you can't do with any other camera."
With GoPro's developers constantly pushing the envelope with new accessories, such as a ski-helmet-mounted rotating bar with two cameras attached, and a Hero mounted on a Styrofoam wing with a propeller that they sent flying off a golf-course tee and then landed by remote control on the green. The video gives a golf-ball's-eye view of the world as the camera slides toward the hole.
Messing with Time
One of the GoPro's most popular and dazzling features is its ability to do time-lapse photography. Kislevitz explains how the Hero can be programmed to take a steady sequence of photos over time, with as few as one snap every minute. Then, using GoPro's free Studio editing software on a computer, the photos can be stitched together and then slowed down or sped up for different effects.
"We've seen people do two-week road trips, where they'll use a suction cup to attach the camera to the dash and capture a time-lapse view of the road."
That, Baker says, "can elevate the traditional family road trip to a whole new level."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689; follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.