Cannoning a Hero Fly on the Wheel

Cannoning the Hero Fly on the Wheel.
After having lost video footage three times on different occasions, in each one of my three GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition cams, and each time on a different memory card, I finally contacted what, erm, GoPro boasts as its, cough, «customer service». This «service» is absolutely sure that either (1) I am at fault or (2) my memory cards. With clear signs of having lost any sense of reason at GoPro I took finally their trademark advice seriously and have «go(ne) pro». So I got myself a shiny new FullHD video cannon, so to speak...

Worn Fake Memory Cards ... Seriously?

At first, GoPro «customer service» contended that I must have bought fake, non-genuine memory cards. They had to retreat their unfounded contention within few hours as they got clear statement that my SanDisk memory cards are genuine, as was to be expected (thanks SanDisk!). But at least there are probably two more respectable specialized dealers that may wish GoPro the best on their trip to Hell. My respect, GoPro. You did an excellent job!

Next, GoPro alleged that my memory cards must be worn out. After all, it cannot be any other reason, right? Referring to my diving and flight log books I actually can assure that the cards were used at most on twenty occasions. SanDisk memory cards worn out after twenty shooting sessions? GoPro «customer service», you're kidding, right? But even as this is obviously a false assertion, GoPro still sticks to it.

So I'm taking GoPro serious this time and am now go(ing) pro, at least in direction. Judging from their behavior, GoPro has lost any credibility for me.

Bringing a New Video Cannon to the Field

After some research I finally settled for a FullHD video camera mady be Canon: the LEGRIA/VIXIA HF G30. To my knowledge, the LEGRIA brand is used throughout Europe, while the VIXIA brand is used in other regions of the world. An important factor of my decision was that the HF G30 not only comes with remarkable optics but also access to white balance. And from my HD Hero experience I know that I only a (almost) dead white balancer is a good one. But it might be that my view is strongly influenced by the broken WB of the Heros. So I'm looking forward with great interest how the HF G30 performs under water.

Also of high importance: ikelite manufactures a diving housing for the LEGRIA/VIXIA HF G30 and this housing provides access to the white balance controls. I quickly learned that this is a non-standard feature.

The HF G30 weights in at enormous almost one kilograms ... so it's no wonder this cam is sold by a company aptly named Canon. Of course, I earned a lot of pun from my friends.

A real heavyweight: Canon LEGRIA (VIXIA) HF G30

Admittedly, the LEGRIA/VIXIA HF G30 surely is of another gauge when compared to GoPro's matchboxes. Thinking of the match monopoly in Germany, at its end there was only grove left in the matchboxes. Other than that, comparing the HF G30 and HD Hero 3 Black Edition clearly gets into the «Cannons and Flies» department.

Anyway, the HF G30 comes with a lot of buttons to be pressed, sort of «I'm feeling lucky» variant of Google. When using the dive housing, only a subset of the buttons will still be accessible. While this is a little bit unfortunate, there are definitely several important options still available ... even more so in comparison to my HD matchboxes.

Fortunately, the G30 doesn't erase all its configuration memory when pressing the shutter button too early after switching on the cam. Also, the G30 doesn't throw you out of its well-organized menus whenever you press the menu or shutter buttons more than once every five seconds ... as the matchboxes do on a regular basis, making any reconfiguration a pain. Especially when under water on a dive. This GoPro firmware bug is still present after several HD Hero 3 firmware updates, and GoPro is well aware of it.

Go figure: the HF G30 is been sold for roughly a year now, and yet Canon has published recently another firmware update, just two months ago. Maybe part of reason could be that the HF G30 is actually the consumer variant of the XA25 and XA20 professional video cams. All three Canon models share the same firmware and basic hardware platform but differ in their profession add-ons, such as XLR inputs and infrared light. So there is probably more care spent on these three product variants.
Update: Canon just published another firmware update for the HF G30 in May 2014 fixing some bugs. So Canon cares. Way to go, GoPro. Don't know where the Pro came into the brand though.
Compare this with the third generation matchboxes that got their final update 9 months ago, and GoPro in the meantime threw the next generation on the floor. So, instead of fixing severe bugs, such as bricking the file system on memory cards, they are turning away and going for the next cam generation. While I never had data losses before the last firmware update, since then I get them. After three times of bricked file systems, I'm fed up with GoPro. I've had enough of this «company».

Interestingly, it's all my fault according to GoPro: I'm too stupid to operate the cam and my memory cards are worn out. Sure. No, I'm not making this up. This is exactly how GoPro is treating its customers. So, let's turn to one of the longer-standing video cam companies Canon surely is a renowned one of.

Cannon Food

It comes as no surprise that the HF G30 smoothly runs on my SanDisk Extreme microSD cards (using an SD card adapter). And this despite the GoPro Company of Truth insisting that my cards are worn out. Go figure, this Canon prosumer cam runs on worn-out memory cards. And pigs actually do fly. In GoPro's «customer service». But when the Hero 15+ comes out, there will be no problems after all, as you may only use GoPro's own special class H memory cards. No more class 10/U1 cards.

There's yet another twist in this story: surely with a grain of irony, I can now use my class 10 SD SanDisk Extreme memory cards that I had lying around for years. They are barely worn, by the way. And yes, I know something of Flash memory cells; at least to the extend that I have understanding of why and how memory cells degrade over time and usage.

First Impressions

For my first attempts to shot video with my new cannon I went again to the fine place of Castle Wolfstein. Yes, it really is named this way. Actually, only some remains of this former castle are left nowadays and are getting preserved by some good souls. The place has some nice perspective over the region and the castle remains are interesting in themselves. While I mostly had no luck this day as the sky was mostly overcast, in the end I got my five minutes of beauty. When sun came through the clouds just about sunset. And this is what my Canon HF G30 captured on its worn-out memory cards...

Sunset over the City of Neumark/Oberpf.

In the photo above, you can clearly see the streaks caused by my worn-out SanDisk Extremes. If this is what this causes, can I have please lots more of these SanDisk memory cards?

Castle Wolfstein, overlooking the City of Neumarkt.

Both stills have directly been taken from the HF G30 footage, which was filmed at 35 MBit/s, in the camera itself. While I tried the Sunset program, I later switched it off as it did too much good, at least when filming with the sunset light. The HF G30 has no separate photo capabilities, as its video sensor has been optimized for FullHD only and does not feature significantly higher pixel counts. Of course, the HF G30 is geared towards filming FullHD video and not shooting high-resolution photos.

Gone Pro

When plugging two (worn-out) SD memory cards into the slots of the HF G30, then the camera on demand switches from one to the other memory card during filming as soon as the first card becomes full. And then there's another mode available, probably in memory of GoPro: in this mode, the HF G30 writes the same video to both memory cards simultaneously ... to be on the safe side when using fake, worn-out memory cards.

The G30 films in FullHD (1920×1080) at either 25p or 50p (progressive) frames per second. There are more bitrates than the 35 MBit/s mentioned above, such as 24 MBit/s and some others. The storage container is either MP4 or AVCHD. My Samsung Note 10.1 2014 plays back the 35 MBit/s 50p footage without any hickup. In contrast, my Samsung LCD TV doesn't like any 50p footage, unless it gets fed it through HDMI.

While camera optics are not perfect, they are surely a fine piece of work: a real, optical 20× zoom, at very fine f/1.8 to f/2.8. The 35mm equivalent focal length goes from roughly 28mm up to slightly more than 570mm. Of course, you'll hit the limits of the optical and sensor system from time to time, as this is no magic camera. Of because it is...?

After three years of matchbox video the HF G30 is a giant leap forward. If I just think of the many things in 1080p Protune HD Hero 3 footage that did not belong there, the fuzzy optics becoming visible when Protune is on, and so on ... what blatant difference.

A blatant difference, especially when GoPro rants on 30% better optics. Probably GoPro will boast itself excessively again for the Hero 4 when they will make their optics of PET instead of bottle bottoms and so they were able to make the Hero 4 30% lighter...

The same reference point at 1× and 20× optical zoom.

I did all my shooting without any tripod. The integrated image stabilization of the HF G30 does a decent job. It really comes to my rescue when zooming in to the distance. I'm really eager to see how the image stabilization performs on under water scenery. My first above-water experience is already watering my mouth...

Next, there now are real batteries: the standard battery the HF G30 comes with runs for approximately one-and-a-half up to two hours of intensive filming. This standard LiPo battery comes at a capacity of 1700 mAh. I immediately ordered a bigger backup battery with my camera. At 2700 mAh, continous shooting for three to four hours is in reach. So I can keep the dive housing shut in between dives during the day. The only downside are charging times, better not telling anyone about them...

Typical memory card eraser compared to cannon food.

Original Canon batteries and chargers are expensive. But when put in perspective with my matchbox equipment, then it isn't expensive anymore. In fact, it may even be slightly cheaper.

UW Filming: Not So Much Choice 

Pixel peepers will be disappointed by the HF G30. For instance, Panasonic's three chipers will be better and cheaper. And the Sonys have higher resolution sensors and are also cheaper. Well, that doesn't get me an underwater camera. What good is a otherwise impressive video camera for if I can't get a diving housing for it? Erm, no diving housing you ask? Really?


I had to cross out several interesting FullHD cameras from my list simply because there are no dive housing available for them. In contrast to photo cameras, for which you can almost get any dive housing, underwater video is a niche. For instance, you don't find any ikelite dive housings for recent Panasonic video cameras. The exception are the low-end action cameras that got their fair share. It will be interesting to see to what extend more ambitious filmers like me will upgrade over time.

Another real show stopper are cameras that come either with only automatic white balance control or where the white balance cannot be controlled through the dive housing. More than often, the culprits here are the touch displays. For instance, this kicked the smaller and cheaper (yet powerful) Canon cams off my list, as it did with the Sonys.

Waiting for the Kraken...

Of course, the ikelite dive housing for my HF G30 is already ordered. I'm really eager to use my G30 under water. After I got some experience with the Canon under water I will report back here. It surely will be interesting...

I have to admit that stepping up two cam classes or so surely is interesting. There are so many UW photographers, but UW videographers are a rare sight. At least with real video camera equipment. And please don't compare shooting a few seconds clip using a photo cam with real video cam equipment. Otherwise you will be punished with eternal matchbox filming on worn-out fake microSD memory cards and a firmware constantly resetting itself and bricking the filesystem. But no sunsets, I promise. Only fires and flames.