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Gear

    Best POV Action Camera Shootout: 6 Challengers Reviewed

    We have a newer and more comprehensive action camera shootout available.
    We set out with 6 of the most popular models of action cameras in an all-out camera review. Our desire was to uncover the answer to the question "What is the best POV camera on the market?", and at the same time determine the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras being reviewed. The overall performance results were a little surprising to us... Could the GoPro be dethroned?
    It’s the “Me” generation, and modern action cameras provide transparent windows into the very lifestyles of these individuals. “Check out what I’m doing” seems to be the prevalent theme. Quite a few electronics manufacturers have recognized the vast market for small HD cams. As a result, action cameras have undergone a tremendous shift from the low-resolution bullet cameras of 5 years ago. Today, we have POV cameras that shoot 24p, 4k resolutions, p120 frame rates for overcrank/super slow motion, and a whole lot more.
    Setting out to find the best action cam, I assembled a collection of mounting points onto my Bonehead Flattop Pro camera helmet. This skydiving helmet is perfect for testing cams in the most demanding situations. On this helmet I have mounted:
    Sony HDR AS15 (3 ea) GoPro Hero 2 (3 ea) Replay XD (3 ea) JVC Adixxion (1 ea) Drift Innovations HD (1 ea) Contour Roam2 (1 ea) It’s a total of 12 cameras on top, plus one wrist-mounted for documentation.
    When possible, each of the action cameras are tested in one of three modes:
    1920x1080p30 (Full HD/30 progressive frames per second) 1280x720p60 (HD/60 progressive frames per second) 1280x720p120 (HD/ 120 progressive frames per second) In this comparison, the following criteria shall be observed:
    Overall quality in identical lighting conditions Quality in low light Audio quality Features/flexibility Ease of use/setup/ out-of-box experience Slow motion/over-crank quality Third party support Codec/post production And off we go…
    Overall Quality
    This is the most subjective conversation of the lot. Rather than shooting charts, I chose to shoot actual subjects/scenes. Subjectively speaking, the Sony HDR AS15 is the best of the group in the most common 1920x1080p30 modes. Colors are natural, whites are white, blacks are black, and the gamut is smooth. There is no banding from the codec, and the dynamic range is broad.

    Watch this video full
    screen for best comparison. The GoPro Hero2 produces a warmer overall image and it appears warm, but balanced when viewed alone. Standing next to the AS15, however, the Hero2 image reveals itself to be softer and less contrasted, with colors that selectively pop and/or are over saturated due to the more limited dynamic range. In the below image, note that clouds appear as ‘industrial haze’ vs being white. However, some people do prefer a more warm color to neutral/proper white balance. White balance is as much an aesthetic preference as it is a standard. My eye (and post workflow) prefers neutral colors. *
    Low Light
    Next, low light tests are performed. The purpose of this test is to see how well each camera performs in low light conditions. Typically, small format cameras are very challenged in low-light scenes, due to the small image sensors filled with high pixel values. Many sports activities take place early morning/late afternoon, or inside cramped quarters.
      Low light scenes are where the Exmor processor (used in the Sony HDR AS15) outshines all others. Although the images have a blue cast, color tone is closer to the ‘eye-view’ of the scene. The 1280x720p60 modes in the GoPro Hero 2 and the Sony HDR AS15 proved to yield the best overall images for clarity, smooth motion, and exposure, but they display quite different in presentation.
    Among these cameras, it’s interesting to see the differing methods used for handling the range of white to black: blooming whites to light the scene or reducing whites to balance the color. Although the Drift HD has less noise than other images, it also is the least useful image overall in how little information is contained in the frames. The Sony AS15 shows more noise than the GoPro Hero2 in p120 modes, yet also has more of a useful image. The gain can be brought up in post on the Hero2 (I did look at this), and the noise becomes about equal. However, the AS15 also offers better clarity, sharper edges, and smoother contrasts.
    Audio Quality
    Sound reproduction is an important part of the video experience. Audio was tested both with and without waterproof housings on relevant cameras. This is a no-brainer. Waterproof box or not, the Sony HDR AS15 wins the audio test quite handily. With a stereo mic and 16bit audio, the AS15 trumps all the competitors in every way. Adding the waterproof box to the Hero2 or Contour Roam renders them nearly useless. Drift, JVC, Contour+ and RePlayXD all are water resistant to shallow depths, and do not need housings. Therefore audio quality outside an external housing was superior to the Hero2 in all examples.
    As you can tell from the helmet setup pictures, we tested one GoPro and one Sony inside their housings, but without their respective front lens assemblies. This was not only to match up lenses, but to also give each action camera the best audio opportunity possible. Audio is a somewhat important part of action sports, and isn’t forgotten by most of the manufacturers. Sony, GoPro, Drift,Replay, Contour+ all allow for external microphones to be connected. It is important to note that the Sony HDR AS15 offers no audio in p60 or p120 modes.
    Features/Flexibility
    This is incredibly subjective, as one person’s pleasure is another person?s pain. In my view, this is where everything outside of image quality becomes part of the purchase decision. I reviewed what I like/don’t like/found missing in each of the cameras. This section has no specific rhyme nor reason; it’s merely my personal impressions of the camcorders themselves, without looking at the packaging or image quality. It was easy to compare image quality, as all of the cameras use the .mp4 codec, packaged in a variety of containers such as .mov and .mp4. Bitrates are similar on all of the cameras, so the real variations come in the imagers, lenses, and usability.
    Lenses are varied from 115 degrees to 180 degrees on these cameras. Some have selectable Field of View, and where possible, I selected as close to 120 degrees FOV as possible to best service the similarities in the test. Only Sony and JVC offer stabilizers, so the stabilizers were disabled for most of these tests. In the ATV stabilizer tests, Sony HDR AS15 performed significantly better than the JVC Adixxion.
    RePlay XD


    I LOVE the simplicity of this camera. One button powers up the camera, it vibrates and provides LED feedback for record, pause, and battery level information. It is water resistant, and can be stashed almost anywhere due to its tubular aircraft aluminum form. RePlay offers several mounting options, including swivel/ball head mounts made from aluminum billet. Quite simply put, it’s a tough camera. RePlay offers a mounting ring that allows for wide angle lenses to be attached to the camera. Since the lens is only 61 degrees in width, it is substantially tighter than any of its competitors, and a wide angle adapter will be necessary in some situations. The lens rotates, allowing for side or flat-mount surfaces. This camera is a staple in the NASCAR circuit, and it’s easy to see why. It also offers HDMI output for live previewing or uncompressed output to a Ninja or similar device. The HDMI output can feed an wireless HDMI system for broadcasting over a remote area. Additionally, RePlay offers a waterproof cable connection for underwater HDMI use, perfect for placing the camera under water while monitoring or recording above water.
    For advanced users, the RePlay XD has certain settings that may be modified in a Notepad application (one that is .txt only). This allows users to customize the camera.
    Out of the box, this camera is ready to roll including a MicroSD
    card.
    Battery life is approximately 2 hours in 1080 mode.
    RePlay also provides users with a very nice Cordura case for storage.
    The camera cannot free-stand due to the round body; a beanbag with weight is the only way this camera can sit on its own. Fortunately, the RePlay comes with several plastic stick-on mounts. This camera uses a proprietary mount system, but in reality any conduit mount/tiedown works nicely.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    JVC Adixxion


    I was excited to check out this camera because JVC brings great things to the table. They mark the second professional camera company joining the HD POV fray, which makes it clear that POV is a strong bet in broadcast B-roll cameras. The form factor is nice, and I love the standard ¼ camera thread provided on two sides for side or top mounting on a helmet, roll bar, fuselage, or whatever. The camera is easy to operate, using two buttons for control. Menus are easy to navigate, and users may configure vertical or horizontal positions. JVC also has wifi available on the camera, and can stream live to UStream directly from the camera without a PC. Also there are Android and iPhone apps available for external camera control/linking. JVC uses WiVideo to configure the camera. I could not get the app to function with the camera on my laptop, tablet nor two cell phones. The camera locked up and required battery removal on multiple attempts to configure the wireless setup (ver 0483). It does upload directly to UStream without any difficulty.
    Otherwise, users will need to install an SD card (purchased separately) and the device is ready to roll. My test unit was charged to approximately 10% of life.
    A beautiful feature on this camera is the electronic stabilization mode. It smoothes out images very nicely (yes, this works for skydiving, as it is EIS). The image quality does suffer with the stabilizer engaged.
    Battery life is approx 110 mins in 1080 mode.
    I found the camera buttons clunky, and the mounts that come with the camera had several of us scratching our heads, wondering “WTH were they thinking?”. Perhaps because of the standard thread mount, JVC felt that creative mounting solutions should come from the user? The camera comes with a plastic ball swivel stick-on mount that cannot be trusted in any sort of medium impact activity. The Addixxion will easily snap out of the ball swivel. It also comes with a rubber mount to go on an elastic goggle headband such as ski goggles, similar to the “jockstrap” mount that is available for the GoPro.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Contour


    Contour really stepped their game up with the + model, offering Bluetooth
    control of the camera and preview over a cell phone or tablet (low framerate).
    Similar to the RePlay, Contour thoughtfully provides a MicroSD card in the box
    (why doesn’t everyone do this?)
    The camera features a GPS receiver that embeds the GPS signal in the video stream. Some users may find great benefit in this feature. It’s fun to open the GPS data in GoogleEarth, playback the waypoints while watching earth, and re-live the experience. GoogleEarth may be screencapped for additional (and interesting) B-Roll footage.
    Recording can be enabled simply by sliding the locking record switch forward. The camera automatically goes into record mode, so there’s no clumsy fumbling with small buttons that one sometimes cannot see due to mounting systems.
    The Contour+ does have some external controls for features such as white balance (accessed via cell or tablet device over BlueTooth. Video may be streamed over HDMI, as with most of the other cameras.
    Out of the box, this action camera is ready to roll including a MicroSD card BlueTooth preview and control is a nice addition, although it was very choppy and slow on my Samsung Galaxy SIII phone and Galaxy Tab2.
    Battery life is approximately 90 minutes of continuous record in 1080 mode.
    The form factor is very well thought-out for most applications; however, the proprietary mount system is a personal dislike. The camera cannot freestand due to the rounded bottom. A mount, housing, or similar device is required to use this system. Mounting the camera on a tripod requires additional adapters not easily found due to limited distribution. Contour is the only camera that comes with a tether in case the camera is knocked free from its mount. While this may be desirable in some sports, in skydiving, BASE jumping, or paragliding, it is not a wanted feature.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Drift HD


    This camera wasn’t originally on my list of cameras to test, as it has always seemed like a toy camera company to me (I had one of their original SD cameras and found it wanting). However, pressure from several friends around the world caused me to re-think my position.
    The RF remote control is cool. It lets the user configure the camera(s) for remote start/stop, and it can sync multiple cameras. With a rotatable lens, the camera may be placed at any angle. One can monitor over a streaming HDMI output, or use a built-in preview screen that may be powered down to save on battery life (this is a big plus in this camera). The packaging is pretty nice too , acting as a case for the gear. Only RePlay and Drift offer a package to store the camera when not in use; I like this feature.
    The rotatable lens isn’t without flaws. In vertical mode the angular distortion all but renders this camera useless, due to the already-challenged quality of image.
    With a battery life of only 45 minutes in 1080 mode, this is not a camera for lengthy shooting. Drift does offer an extended life battery… you’ll want it if this is the camera you choose to purchase.
    The Drift comes with a pair of stick-on mounts, a strap mount, and the remote control. The remote is necessary in gloved environments: the big buttons are easy to hit, while the camera’s tiny buttons are easy to miss even when not wearing gloves. The Drift HD can free-stand without any assistance, and the standard ¼ camera thread on the camera body makes it easy to mount on a tripod.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Sony HDR AS15


    The HDR AS15 is one of the newest camera choices, and it’s Sony’s first foray into this market. The switchable FOV from 120 to 170 is terrific. I’m a bigger fan of the narrower views as they don’t distort the image, and provide a closer to ‘natural’ image. The glass lens is a Zeiss, and it does not disappoint. Coupled with the Exmor sensor/imager, it is a beautiful combination. A one-button camera-on/record enable feature makes this identical to the Contour+ for speed to record.
    Out of the box, this camera is ready to roll, minus a needed MicroSD card (purchased separately).
    The AS15 offers wireless control and camera setup. Connecting to my Galaxy SIII, Tab2 10.5, and iPhone 4s was simple and painless. Each camera has a control code printed on a sticker. I don’t care for this; Sony should provide more than one sticker, or better yet, print the code inside each camera. If the code is lost, it’s not easy reconnecting without linking via USB to discover the password. Using wireless for constant monitoring cuts the battery life by around 25%. The wireless is challenged in a way, as only one unit may be controlled at a time. Had Sony used a different network scheme, multiple cameras could have been controlled from a cell or tablet device. Hopefully they’ll look into this with future updates. Operating the camera is easy: the two menu buttons are simple and the menu flow is logical.
    The electronic stabilization system is standard Sony sweet smoothness, and no one can really compare with what Sony has given users of stabilization modes. Sony uses the CyberShot batteries, both standard and extended life. The camera comes with two battery trays. This is a benefit, as batteries may be found at any Walmart, Best Buy, or other big-box store.
    Sony’s mounting system is the most robust of all the various camcorders; a standard ¼ camera thread in the bottom of the waterproof housing is easy to mount. Compared with the non-precision plastic mounts offered by GoPro, JVC, Drift, and RePlay, the massive ABS plastic mounts provided by Sony are rock solid and will not chatter in even the most extreme vibrating environments. Outside the box, the camera doesn’t mount well to anything without some sort of other mount assist. The camera cannot free-stand because of its rounded bottom. Additionally, the external mic connector and HDMI connector are in the bottom of the camera. Sony has a box with LCD monitor available for the camera, making it more bulky, but also utilizes this accessory port on the bottom of the camcorder. With the LCD/box option, the AS15 may be easily mounted on a tripod or other mounting system.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    GoPro Hero2


    This is the camera that changed up the world of action sport photography, and which has been the longest running action sports camera in the market, now in its third version.
    GoPro comes out of the box with a squarish form-factor, sharing the ‘box’ format with the Drift and JVC cameras as opposed to the longer, more slim stylings of the RePlay XD, Contour, and Sony camcorders.
    The 170 degree lens may be switched to a 127 FOV (used for most of these tests) via menu settings.
    The menus are the most challenging aspect of using this camera; alternating between the power/function button and the shutter/select button can become confusing, even for the most seasoned user. I have around 20 of these cameras, and still sometimes have to go all the way through the menu cycle to reach the desired setting. Out of the box this camera is almost ready to roll, coming with a partially charged battery, 2 mounts, and a waterproof box (SD Card not included).
    GoPro offers a WiFi backpack system for 99.00, but I could not get it to work with my cell phone. The remote start/stop switch worked properly. The remote system may be paired with multiple GoPro’s for simultaneous start/stop.
    GoPro uses a proprietary mounting system, but this is of little consequence. One can go to Walmart or other big-box store and purchase additional and widely varied mounts. GoPro offers far more mounting options than any of the competition. At first glance, this is very nice of them; however, they need to offer a wide variety of mounts simply because they are proprietary. To mount a GoPro on a tripod, for example, will cost another 10.00 just for the adapter to mate its proprietary mount with a standard ¼ camera receiver.
    Click Here to See Pricing, Ratings, and Reviews on Amazon.com
    Overcrank/Slow-Motion Modes
    Overcrank/Slow motion not only allows for better viewing of very fast action, it also adds drama and lends a sense of timelessness to fast and exciting scenes. All of the cameras in this shootout offer a p60 mode in 1280x720 mode.
    Only the Sony HDR AS15 and the GoPro Hero 2 offer p120 modes.
    Sony records p120 in a true 1280x720 mode. GoPro Hero2 records a resolution of 848x480 when in p120 mode.
    One frustration with GoPro: they pack the frames, so the NLE doesn’t see the native stream. Sony flags (and plays back over HDMI) the proper slow motion/overcranked content. There is a benefit to the non-standard method GoPro uses, as it allows for real-time playback “on the set,” although editors will have to manage the timeshift in post.


    In this video, both p60 and
    p120 modes can be compared in well-lit conditions.

    In this video, both p60 and
    p120 modes can be compared in very dark conditions.

    In this p120 scene, the
    image goes from brightly backlit to exposure-compensated. I appreciate that the
    camera does not bloom nor pop when the exposure shifts. “Rugged-ness”
    Ok, this wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s well worth mentioning. Riding on ATV’s with these little cameras made it obvious that people are going to break them if they put the camera into harm’s way.
    RePLAY XD easily walks away with this; you can stand on them, drive a car over them, drop them from great heights (I dropped one from several hundred feet), and they’ll come right back asking for more. The JVC is well-built too; JVC claims they can be dropped from 6’ and survive, but frankly speaking, any of these cameras can survive a 6’ drop, so that’s somewhat of a chuckle for a marketing bullet point.
    In their external cases, the GoPro and Sony are both very tough. The lens is the weakest point on any of these cameras, which again is a nod to RePlay, as they have a replaceable cover over the lens while keeping a virtually indestructible low profile. Out of the box, the Sony is perhaps the most fragile, with the GoPro and Drift HD being in the same categories.
    Third Party Support
    This category easily belongs to GoPro. They’ve been in the market longer than anyone, and until the announcement of the GoPro Hero3, the form factor hasn’t changed, allowing third party vendors to build custom-molded helmets, aluminum billet mounts, custom-colored housings, and even camera controls. That being said, Sony, RePlay, and Contour all offer additional mounts, housings, LCD displays, cabling systems, remotes, and other accessories. Additionally, Sony, JVC, and Drift all offer standard threads which eliminates the need for a large portion of the third-party tools built for GoPro cameras.
    Codec/Post Production
    All of the action cameras in the shootout are using the h.264 codec (AVC) packaged in one of two containers. Apple users of Mountain Lion OS are able to directly stream video from all the cameras on their machines. Windows users who run Windows XP or newer will have no difficulty playing back footage from these cameras. The Galaxy Tab2 has no problems playing back the files directly from the cameras or cards in a card reader with no transfer of data.
    For editing, all Windows applications will natively edit the files without difficulty. Users of Adobe Premiere CS5.5 or newer can edit native files on their Mac, but users of FCPX and FCP Studio7 will need to log/import the files and convert them to AIC or ProRes. This is one place where the shootout yielded a surprise; I’d expected Sony to use the superior AVCHD codec vs using AVC. The HDR AS15 is mainstreamed by using the AVC codec, which puts Sony squarely in the middle of a group where they could’ve had a significant advantage over the competition. To sum up this segment: none of the cameras have an advantage over the others in post, with the exception of the GoPro H2 with the ProTune upgrade installed (the 35mbps rate may have some transcode advantages in post, depending on the subject).
    SUMMARY
    With all features, shapes, sizes, and mounts aside, it boils down to two main challenges for the best action camera: image quality and ease of use. In all image-related aspects of this shootout, the Sony HDR AS15 easily offers a superior image quality over all competitors. For low-light, brightly lit, and overcrank modes both bright and dark, all members of my team and I selected the Sony AS15 footage. In blind tests with others, they selected the AS15 as best of all images.
    In 1080p30 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS 15
    GoPro Hero2
    RePlay XD
    In 720p60 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero2 (this is GoPro’s best mode, IMO)
    RePlay XD
    In 720p120 mode, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero 2
    In low-light environments, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS15
    GoPro Hero2(p60mode)
    Contour+ (p60 mode)
    For color accuracy, my preferences (in order)
    Sony HDR AS 15
    GoPro Hero2
    RePlay XD
    (It was a difficult choice between the RePlay XD and the JVC Adixxion when the subject was well-lit/sunlighted subjects, with the JVC lens protector removed. The RePlay’s sharper edges gave it the advantage).
    GoPro, Replay, Sony, and JVC offer white balance settings either through menus or through .txt-based edits of the camera’s operation set up. All of these tweaks were avoided; every camera was “out of the box” for best/most fair comparison.
    Images from the JVC and the Drift HD are simply too soft for any sort of professional use. Removing the JVC lens protector (not recommended) somewhat improves the image.
    Overall, most every one of the cameras offers features, form, or function that other cameras do not have; particularly when looking at factors outside of image quality. For me, the final image quality matters most of all, and it’s the aspect we tested most thoroughly in this shootout.
    Keep your focus tight,
    dse
    Joel Hindman, Darren Burke, Andreea Olea, Tom van Dyck, Karl Gulledge, John
    Hamilton, Chris Warnock, Lob Lobjoit, Sydney Owen-Williams, Skydive Elsinore
    contributed to this article.
    About The Author

    DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy winning productions. Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others. Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He is active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.
    Editors Note: We are aware that the above review lacks the competition of the GoPro HD Hero 3, which was released shortly after we completed the review. We are as interested as you are to see how the HD Hero 3 compares to the other action cams reviewed in this article, in particular the Sony AS15 and we aim to bring you the answer to that question in the near future.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Best Action Camera 2014 - Ultimate POV Camera Shootout

    Action cameras aren’t merely changing the production world, they have become a staple of the production world. Getting the inside shot is simple with POV cameras and the number of choices in this niche world is broad and perhaps daunting. Action cameras are inexpensive and provide a simple means of additional camera angles to any production.
    In this review, I’m going to tackle all of the “name-brand” cameras available out there. This article will not provide the answer to “which camera should I buy?” The range of criteria is so broad that the question is beyond the scope of a single review. This review will provide information about which action-camera is best suited for specific criteria and provide information that may help you make informed purchasing decisions.
    I’ve gathered what I believe to be the most viable options for most “extreme” sport enthusiasts for shooting broadcast-quality video. During this review, each camera is set to 1920x1080, 30fps (except where otherwise noted).
    The criteria for inclusion:
    Price point (150.00-400.00 USD)
    Bit-rate (16Mbps or higher)
    Codec (must be non-proprietary) The selectees:
    GoPro 3+ ($399.00)
    GoPro 3 Black ($349.00)
    Sony AS100 ($299.00)
    Sony AS30 ($299.00) JVC Adixxion ($299.00)
    Midland XTC400 ($249.00)
    Polaroid XS100 ($169.00)
    ReplayXD Mini ($199.00) Liquid Ego ($179.00)
    Drift Ghost S ($399.00) Scoring Procedure
    With the criteria determined, particpants selected, I created a scoring sheet that could be used as a reference throughout the process. The goal is to be as objective as possible in a subjective conversation.
    A panel was selected, four people who would review images from the cameras and choose the best image when image quality was relevant. Other factors such as battery life, wireless functionality/reliability, audio features/quality are objective. Scores are based on how these functions are implemented and may be relied upon.

    For this shootout I mounted 17 action cameras on a single helmet, then took it skydiving, snorkeling, zip-lining, bob-sleighing and motorcycling to enable accurate side-by-side comparisons of each camera. For example in the battery life test, the Liquid Ego went for nearly 5 hours of record time, blowing through a few cards, while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3 Black barely reached 50 minutes of record time. The Liquid Ego nets a score of “5” while the Garmin VIRB and GoPro 3+Black earn a score of 2. The Sony AS series weighed in at just over 2.75 hours earning a score of “4”. Had it not been for the curve-altering record times of the Liquid Ego, the Midland and Polaroid cameras, Sony’s AS100 would have won this category. Regardless, with a linear scoring value of 0-5, the weighting may seem unbalanced from time to time. Please note that the score card contains two scores; one based exclusively on image quality, and the other score relevant to the overall product experience.
    Most of the cameras have tweaks and settings that allow them to be the best they can for specific situations. Rather than setting each camera to its best settings, all cameras were used exactly as they come out of the box. In other words, once the box was opened the battery was charged, a card inserted into the camera and formatted, it was put to the test.
    Sony, GoPro, and ReplayXD all have internal tweaks accessible via either proprietary software or .txt files. Each allow for an optimized image even though I’ve avoided using any of these optimizations.
    After all the results were in and the panel gave their feedback, here's what the final result looked like. I sorted the score sheet below by total score but you can click on any header to sort the table by that column and see how the different cameras compared in any specific test. I discuss each test area in detail below.
    Score Sheet
    Image Quality
    Winner in Image Quality - Sony AS100V
    The subject of image quality is subjective. The four panelists had to choose from a variety of videos (a few of which are linked in this article). Factors involved in the comparison are dynamic range (darkest to the brightest representation of image content), saturation, color accuracy, codec compression/banding/pixelation, motion management, and frame to frame blurring.

    Watch the Wingsuit Exit Video For example, in the image above, the center top allows for the lake in the background to be seen, while also allowing for the darker interior and tires of the aircraft to hold details. There are no blowouts of the highlights, and the reds, greys, whites, and orange colors are all accurate to original. Watch the YouTube-linked video at the 4K resolution on YouTube for the best experience and ability to determine which image you find best. Each camera is displayed at approximately 720p.
    You’ll likely want to turn off your audio as there is no usable audio content.
     

    Watch the Zipline Video  
    Watch the Bobsled Video In the above test, one of the cameras failed due to (I believe) card error. The high motion, high contrast, light and dark areas for exposure testing provides for a terrific challenge. Even in the still framegrabs, the torture is evident in blur, color, and compression artifacting.
     

    Watch Wingsuit Overhead Video The complexity of the ground coupled with the high motion makes for a good test of contrasts and detail management in moving platforms. Note that the majority of the cameas are set to an FOV of 120 degrees, as that’s how they come out of the box. A couple cameras are 170 degrees.
    All panelists unanimously chose this action camera over all others in all resolutions and framerates. The GoPro 3+ came in second. The Sony AS30 takes third prize, and an honorable mention goes to the Drift Ghost S. In well-lit situations, the Midland and Garmin VIRB cameras really surprised me too, but at 35Mbps (this camera also does 50Mbps in XAVC-S mode, not used in this shootout), the Sony AS100 sweeps the image quality score.
    Battery Life
    Winner in Battery Life - Liquid Ego
    This was a stunner. I left all the cameras running/recording and went to dinner. Battery life would be lessened by movement, but the bigger point was how long the cameras could record. In most cases, the camera battery died prior to the card being filled (I used 16 GB cards for this test). The Liquid Ego kept running and running, filling a 16 and then 8 GB card before finally dying at just under 5 hours in 1080 mode. Wifi was disabled (all wifi was disabled for most tests).
    This is one of the least expensive cameras in the shootout; it has some shortcomings, yet one major bonus is that this camera, removed from its own mounting clip, can be fitted to GoPro mounting systems. Brilliant move on the part of Liquid!
    What I didn’t like about this camera are the number of button presses to record in 720-30p or 60p without wireless enabled. However, shooting in 1080 mode is as simple as turning it on and hitting record.
    When in the waterproof case, it’s impossible to see the LCD display. For budget users, this is an easy camera to like.
    Profile
    Winner of the Action Camera Profile Category - ReplayXD Mini 1080
    At slightly larger diameter than a nickel this camera is rock-solid, doesn’t need stabilization, and blew my mind when I found I could drive a car over it. So small to present less of a snag hazard for skydivers, this tiny marvel is also perfect for UAV/Drones, hiding on cars (ReplayXD is the camera most used in professional auto-racing) and so small it can even be placed upright under a skateboard. It’s tiny and weighs virtually nothing. The camera also offers a threaded head so that lens adapters may be used for either lenses or filters for better image. This is tremendously valuable for outside photography, where an ND filter will immediately remove the heavy contrast and juddered playback, while reducing jello-cam (rolling shutter) issues. JVC, Polaroid, and Garmin all have the ability to come in fairly high in this conversation except their mounting systems are not only flimsy, they’re high profile and a snag hazard. Using these cameras without their manufacturer-issued mounts will provide a very low platform and a much more stable image.
    Testing Locations
    The waters of Ocho Rios Jamaica, Mystic Mountain for snorkeling, bobsled, and zipline testing
    Lake Elsinore California for skydive tests
    Virgin River Gorge for road/motorcycle testing
    Toronto, Ontario for slow motion and other comparisons Although durability wasn’t a measured factor in this shootout, ReplayXD would easily win the durability category (comparing cameras out of their waterproof box). There simply isn’t a tougher camera on the market. Other features I like; the camera offers up timecode for professionals, external audio inputs and user-controllable image quality (Saturation, Exposure, Audio Gain, Sharpness, etc).
    Wifi
    Winner of the Wifi Category - Sony AS100 and Liquid Ego
    This was a tougher call. Other than the Replay Mini, all of the POV cameras offer wifi control or connectivity to a mobile device. I tested the systems on a Samsung GalaxyIII cell and Samsung Galaxy Tab2 tablet. All devices connected successfully. All devices allow for some level of “streaming preview.” Some devices such as the JVC Adixxion allow for streaming directly to UStream if the user has an account and is fortunate enough to be very close to a WAP. Streaming for preview is a serious drain on battery life, rarely works in a moving environment, and is overall somewhat useless beyond setting up a camera angle or adjusting settings (in this writer’s view). Sony’s Play Memories application was difficult to use on their early AS15 models but on the AS100 they’ve gotten it right. It’s install and done. The same can be said for the Liquid Ego. JVC’s Adixxion was a bit of a struggle but it did work once all the paths were traveled properly.
    The same can be said for the Garmin VIRB, the Polaroid X, and the Midland XTC. GoPro was also reasonably easy to set up so saying that the Sony and Liquid win this category is essentially a small thing. In the end, these two were simply easier/faster to set up than the others by a small margin of time and/or frustration. It should be mentioned that the JVC Adixxion was the most difficult to set up. They use a broader-scope application called WiVideo, designed to work with a host of action cameras.
    Wet Use
    Winner of the Wet Use Category - Three Way Tie Between GoPro3+, Sony AS100 and Drift Ghost S
    What made the difference in this category is “how deep can they go and how easy are they to operate under water?” I did not take the action cameras to their rated depths and I am relying on the manufacturers for accurate information on how deep these POV cameras can go. With that said the Replay Mini, Garmin VIRB, Ghost S, Polaroid XS, do not require water housings.

    Watch Underwater Video After spending 3 hours in the water with the action cameras, water was no issue for any of the cameras. GoPro and Sony both include the waterproof housing in the purchase price. Garmin, Midland, Liquid, and even ReplayXD (for depths greater than 12’) all require the purchase of a waterproof housing for wet use. For underwater image quality, Sony AS100 and Drift Ghost S provide the most accurate image, yet the GoPro has a slightly smoother color saturation that is pleasing to the eye. For reasons I could not figure out, the Sony AS30 fogged in the lens. This didn’t happen with the AS100 and more curious, it didn’t happen with the hand-held AS15 I was using to document the event. The fogging didn’t affect the image much, but it was there. What I liked most about the AS100 is that the LCD panel is large and it was easy to see what was going on with the camera while under water.
    Audio
    Winner of the Audio Category - Sony AS100
    With external microphone-in that requires no adapters, AGC, and high-end audio converters, this camera offers wonderful compressed audio, equal to the audio recording capability of significantly more expensive cameras. The Sony AS30 also offers external audio inputs, but is a bit less flexible, as the audio input is hidden under the connection cover.
    ReplayXD also offers external microphone input as does the GoPro 3+ but both require larger, more bulky adapters that cost more dollars. ReplayXD offers a user-controlled gain function which is a real benefit to professionals needing nat audio from locations and in loud environments (such as auto races or helicopter skins). However, the Sony AS100 offers not only the external microphone input on the bottom of the action camera (obviously cannot be used in the water housing), but a higher grade of DAC (Digital Audio Converter) than its categorical counterparts.
    Ease of Use
    Winner of the Ease of Use Category - No Clear Winner
    Most of the cameras offer a one-button on/record feature. Out of the box the Sony series, Polaroid, Midland, Garmin, and ReplayXD cameras offer a one-button record feature. GoPro offers one button record as a menu feature, and the Drift can be programmed to loop and record when turned on for ease of use. However, out of the box there are several that are easy to use as point and press action camcorders and so there is no clear winner.
    If menus are the measure then the Drift Ghost S, the Garmin VIRB, and the JVC Adixxion win for graphic interface. Sony AS series win for clear instruction and ease of navigation. The GoPro wins for sheer depth of options. I’m not a fan of some of the GoPro surface options that make the menus long and kludgy to navigate. Curiously enough, ReplayXD has no menu; all controls are done in a .txt file set on a phone, tablet, or computer. However, their menu options go deeper and are more relevant to picture quality than any other POV camera available.
    Mounts
    Winner of the Mounts Category - Replay XD Mini
    Although the (likely obvious) winner for mounts would be GoPro, it actually isn’t. On sheer numbers of achievable angles and mounting systems, REPLAYXD Mini takes the prize with GoPro following a close second. There is a reason there are so many mounting kit options for some of the cameras out there; their factory mounts are terrible.
    Many of the parts and pieces available for various POV cameras are designed to compensate for the initial weaknesses of the mounting system. Mounting systems matter far more than most users of action cams realize. If the mount is not 100% solid then the image will be unstable and aside from needing stabilization in post (which affects image quality), the image will likely incur ‘jello-cam’ also known as “rolling shutter,” which cannot be repaired.
    In this video, both are out-of-the-box mounting systems. Note the difference in stability. A rock solid mount needs no stabilization work in post. Choosing the right mount system is important. A weak mount will be buffeted by the wind, bounced around by roads, surf, or the turbulence that affects a UAV camera platform.
    Internal stabilization is a tremendous benefit if it is done well. The Sony AS100 has a tremendous stabilization system (Sony has long been famous for their BOSS camera stabilization) matched by no other low-cost camera whether a POV/Action camera or a larger palm-corder category camera.
    This stabilization system makes the AS100 superior for use on a UAV platform, as it is not susceptible to jello cam, is very light weight, and allows for long battery life. Matched with a two or three-point gimbal flawless smooth video is possible for very little cost on a drone system.
    JVC and Garmin VIRB ELITE offer stabilization, but at a tremendous cost of resolution and color saturation.
    Slow-Motion/Overcrank
    Winner of the Slow-Motion/Overcrank Category - Sony AS100
    It’s no surprise that the newer Sony AS100 wins in this category. Only Sony and GoPro offer high framerates of 120 or 240 frames per second, so only the Sony AS100 and the GoPro 3+ were tested for these features. Most every action sport benefits from slow motion, so with the ability of the Sony AS100 to sync up to five cameras with one button push, it makes for a wonderful mix of slow motion and normal motion possibilities.
    GoPro 3+ shoots 240fps with a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels and Sony shoots at 800x480 pixels. The Sony has been cropped to match the GoPro3+. Both cameras would benefit in their “pro modes” where GoPro offers up to 35Mbps and Sony AS100 offers 50Mbps in the semi-professional XAVC-S mode. However, since these tests are entirely “out of the box,” it was not appropriate to compare the slow motion at anything but the stock settings.
    Low Light
    Winner of the Low Light Category - Tie Between Sony AS100V and GoPro3+
    This is a challenging category for most of these cameras. All of them have very small imagers and lenses that shoot at a very high resolution. Packing so many pixels onto very small surfaces means very little light can get into the individual pixel sensors and therefore, noise is usually part and parcel of for each of these POV cameras.
    GoPro offers the smoother color representation with slightly more noise. Sony is brighter with less noise, but a blue cast is apparent in both Sony cameras. The additional information in the 50Mbps file allows for a cleaner color correction, yet the smoother color in the GoPro 3+ means less need for color correction. Pushing the color in the GoPro3+ at 35Mbps brings up the noise pretty quickly, so if matching cameras is part of the workflow, beware that matching higher grade formats might be difficult. It’s a choice between removing blueish casting or a fair amount of noise reduction processing in the professional environment. On a personal note, I’d prefer to remove/reduce the blue cast.

    Watch the Low Light The table cloth in this image is purple, not black. The GoPro3+ (lower right) is smoother in its dynamic range but less accurate than the Sony AS100V (upper left). The GoPro Black at 16Mbps is quite noisy, while the Sony AS30 is clean, but also displaying a blueish cast.
    Extra Features
    Winner of the Extra Featured Category - Garmin Virb
    This category is easily earned by the GARMIN VIRB. With a cyclometer, heart rate monitor, GPS, ANT+™ wireless control (a wide range of remote and input possibilities), accelerometer, barometer, and a “skiing” mode that is a huge benefit to action sports enthusiasts, this camera is packed with features. In Skiiing mode, the camera knows when you’re engaged in your activity or not. It will stop recording when you’ve landed, stopped moving, etc. Unfortunately for skydivers, the camera senses aircraft movement as “sporting movement so in this mode, it will record the climb to altitude. For mountain-cyclists, this is a great feature. However, it’s also a battery-eater. Sony AS100 and GoPro 3+ also offer a plethora of features that advanced users will appreciate, such as higher framerates, controllable scenes, FOV adjustments, 24p, and other video-related features. Both Sony AS100 and ReplayXD Mini offer Timecode for multiple camera sync, logging, or reference video.
    Professional Codecs/Bitrates
    Winner of the Professional Codecs/Bitrates Category - Sony AS100V
    Both Sony AS100V and the GoPro 3+(Black) offer users higher bitrates and professional codecs for critical functions that will benefit the editing process during post production. Only these two cameras offer these features and although the unique features go beyond the scope of this review, I feel it’s worth of demonstrating what the differences look like. Not all video editing systems can manage these codecs. Professional video software has the necessary decoders yet even casual users can find free decoders on the GoPro and Sony websites. Apple FinalCut has issues with both the XAVC and Cineform codecs without downloading the decoder but again, every pro-level application can decode/read files generated by these cameras.
    Why would one want a higher bitrate, more robust codec? If color correction or compositing are to be employed to process the footage captured by these action cameras, it’s a good idea to have as much information in the file as possible. A higher bitrate provides more “bits” that the NLE can push around, and still retain quality.

    Watch the Codec Test Video This image is raw, no processes added. Keep in mind that when shooting high bitrates the camera is shooting flat, no internal color processing. In the upper right is a GoPro Black shooting standard bitrate. In the lower left, I’ve set the Sony AS 30 to “Neutral” so that there is no color processing. Pay attention to detail rather than color range. This is an overcast day, so there is no blue in the sky. In the next image, I’ll oversaturate and over luminate the image to better demonstrate how far the footage can be processed without falling apart.
    Here, an HSL filter has been applied. Note that the Sony AS100V in the upper left, and the GoPro 3+ in the lower right, best hold together. As subjective as this conversation is, most would agree that the AS100V at 50Mbps holds together better than its counterparts, although the GoPro 3+ at 35Mbps is very impressive. This is a very important consideration for professional users.
    To access high bitrates with the Sony AS100V action camera, a 64GB SDXC card is required. Smaller cards use the FAT format while the larger 64GB card uses EXFAT. EXFAT is necessary to access the PRO mode in the AS100V. The manual does not clearly state this, so beware. It actually took two calls to Sony technical support to realize this. Their own technical support team didn’t know the answer, probably due to the newness of the camera model.
    See the 4K video for more content and comparison.
    In Summary
    All in all, each of the action camera/POV camera products tested in this shootout did very, very, well and far exceeded the quality of cameras only one generation past. This shootout truly came down to a select few cameras though, and any one of the top five are excellent choices depending on requirements for form factor, image quality, post-production requirements, and high framerates.
    Not unexpectedly, the scoring fell very close to the price points of the cameras. Only the ReplayXD Mini was the surprise. Ultimately, it came down to a few things, all of them feature-related as opposed to picture quality related. Truly, there are so many offerings overall, it’s impossible to suggest that any one camera is significantly better than the others for overall use. My personal preferences come down to the Sony AS100V, it’s been called the “GoPro-killer” by many reviewers, but there is a reason everyone compares themselves to GoPro cameras; GoPro is a damn fine product. I don’t care for the GoPro manufacturer mounts, and mount stability is a very large factor in action sports, motor sports, and high-impact situations. The Garmin VIRB took me by surprise; the camera is the heaviest of the lot and has a terrible mount. It would be a terrific camera for most users if the mount was as stable as the camera itself. It truly feels like manufacturers pay almost no attention to the stability of the mounting system, and it’s for this reason that I didn’t use most of the manufacturer mounts (I was doing them a favor while also watching out for my own safety).
    Mounts aside, battery life aside, the VIRB is an exciting newcomer to the mix of cameras. Midland’s new XTC 400 really threw me for a loop, as the camera feels/looks cheap. Again, they have a horrid mount that is even more flimsy than GoPro’s mount. Yet the picture quality, price point, and ease of use make the Midland a wonderful choice for the budget-conscious sport shooter. Finally, Liquid’s EGO really is a delight. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to use when in the water housing, and it has a mount identical to GoPro, but it looks like a Minion. How can one just simply not LOVE a Minion? The record time makes this an all-day camera and given that it shares mount points with GoPro, a whole world of mounts are available for this fun little camera at the lowest price point in the mix (it barely made the review criteria).
    Final Standings:
    Sony AS100 74 GoPro Hero 3+ 60 ReplayXD Mini 1080 58 Sony AS30 53 Garmin VIRB 52.5 GoPro 3 Black 51 Drift Ghost S 49 JVC Adixxion 45 Midland XTC400 41 Liquid Ego 34 Polaroid XS100 34 All The Test Videos:
    Motocycle / Road
    Motocycle / Road
    Underwater Snorkel
    Underwater Snorkel II
    Underwater Snorkel III Wingsuit Overhead
    Wingsuit Exit
    Zipline
    Zipline II
    Bobsled Slow Motion
    Codec Test
    Low Light
    This Week in Photo    
    1st Runner Up
    GoPro Hero 3+
    $399.99

    More Information
    Winner
    Sony AS100
    $299.99

    More Information 2nd Runner Up
    Replay XD Mini
    $199.99

    More Information    
    New Action Camera Releases
    - Sony HDR-AZ1VR (Release Date: October 2014)

    - GoPro Hero 4 (Release Date: October 2014)
     
    About The Author

    Douglas Spotted Eagle (D29060) is a videographer/producer living between the world of professional production and skydiving. With more than 5000 skydives and 300 film/television productions, he loves playing with cameras and things that go fast. He is the managing producer and instructional designer at VASST, who will be releasing “ActionCam ClipFix,” an NLE plugin product designed for POV camera shooters. Thanks to Max at Mystic Mountain, John/Karl/Steve/Kenn/Ziggy at Skydive Elsinore, Pepper at Jamaica Snorkel, the Arizona Highway Patrol, Dropzone.com, Adam, Roger, and Nashie who helped make this review happen as smoothly has herding lenses can be. No animals alive or simulated were harmed in the production of this shootout/review.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Digital or Analog Altimeter

    Altimaster Galaxy We all know there are some hot debates in our sport: RSL or no RSL, AAD dependency, and exit separation are well-known dead horses. Another topic certainly worthy of discussion is the choice between analog and digital altimeter displays. Asking that question will yield a variety of opinions (no surprise there) and will likely be inconclusive.
    First, a clarification: this discussion revolves around the altimeter display, not the underlying hardware. Altimeters with mechanical internal aneroid capsules have analog displays; those with electronic pressure sensors can have either a digital or analog display. Now that we have cleared that up...
    Analog dial faces of all types commonly have numerical graduations and colored segments to indicate the status of what is being measured. Alti-2’s Altimaster Galaxy, for example, is first graduated in thousand foot increments starting at the 12 o’clock position (zero). There are yellow and red caution zones placed at commonly used altitudes to provide a visual warning at a glance. Digital displays, like Alti-2’s N3, provide a numerical altitude reference. N3 provides a three-digit decimal altitude in free fall and four digits under canopy. So – which is better? It really boils down to three things: familiarity, specific application, and personal preference.
    Many skydivers stick to what they learned to use as students. Later in their skydiving career they may choose to “re-train” that familiarity and transition to a digital display. I did so myself when Neptune hit the market nearly ten years ago and have been a huge digital display fan since then.
    Application brings a different frame of reference entirely. Let’s take a look at two commonly used analog dials, starting with the temperature gauge in your automobile. My dear old Dad taught me to look at my gauges periodically like a pilot does cross-checks. A quick glance at the temperature gauge should show the pointer dwelling just slightly left of center, or about 40% of its travel. I have no earthly idea what specific numerical data that conveys – I glance at the gauge, my brain processes the placement of the needle based upon my training, and I know that I am good to go! Now consider the gauge on a fire extinguisher which contains a small green segment and a large red segment. A quick glance reveals the pointer dwelling in the green or the red – good or no good. In both of these cases, an analog display is preferable to the way I do business.


    Altimaster N3 What about skydiving? From day one we are asked to apply specific action to specific performance altitudes. As an AFF Student, we may be taught to recognize 5,500 feet on our altimeter to trigger a critical action: wave off and pull. It can be argued that the direct conveyance of that numerical data from a digital display eliminates the need for the brain to convert the pointer’s indication on an analog dial face into numbers for an action to be triggered. If an AFF Student recognizes 5,500 feet on his digital display, it directly sends him into action.
    Then there is personal preference. Electronic altimeters with a digital display often have other features like logbooks, timers, and the like that take more time to learn. Some skydivers just love the simplicity of turning a knob to zero the pointer and off they go.
    Mechanical/analog altimeters are usually more economical for skydivers on a budget. Electronic devices require power from replaceable or rechargeable batteries; mechanical devices do not. There are several other advantages and disadvantages regarding the mechanism which can also drive personal preference. Factor in accuracy, calibration requirements, form factor, mounting options, ability to read altitude in low-light or darkness, waterproofing, convertibility between visual and audible, and others – the decision becomes more complicated.
    So, if you are in the market for an altimeter, or are thinking about switching from analog to digital, I suggest you try them both. Put your trusty Altimaster II in your helmet bag and borrow an N3 from a friend or even your local gear store. Make a few jumps reading digitally conveyed numerical altitude and see what you think! In the meantime, I will be thinking about what advances in technology might be on the event horizon.
    Arrive safely,

    slotperfect
    John Hawke (slotperfect) is General Manager of Alti-2, Inc. in DeLand, Florida, USA

    By admin, in Gear,

    GoPro Hero 3 - Firmware Update and Stability Issues

    After a hyped release and what looked on paper to be an outstanding action camera, the GoPro Hero 3 has come under all kinds of scrutiny since its release late last year. While there appears to be a large number of users who are happy with their purchase, there is also a fair sized pool of users who are not happy with their product.
    A page on the Gethypoxic website dedicated to listing each of the GoPro Hero 3's issues, as well as potential workarounds has seen comments from a vast amount of users who feel as though their purchase of the Hero 3 was a mistake, many of whom recommend that those with GoPro Hero 2s avoid the upgrade to the Hero 3, citing that the GoPro Hero 2 offers a more stable and in turn, better user experience. One user who claims to have more than 20 years of software experience, suggests that the Hero 3 was rushed out too quickly in order to meet seasonal demands. He goes on to cite the need for an 'out of the box' update requirement.
    The Issues
    One of the more noted problems with the GoPro Hero 3, is the lack of continuous exposure adjustment when using the 'Photo Every Second' mode, which takes a still photo every second. The Hero 3 Black will set the exposure when it is turned on and fail to then adjust to allow for still images to be properly exposed, should one move from a dark to a light environment. Instead the exposure is locked to the automatic exposure setting based on the lighting when the camera is first turned on. Of course this means that skydivers, who will be exiting into much lighter conditions, will almost always end up with washed out images. This renders the 'Photo Every Second' mode virtually useless to skydivers. One would have to start the camera once one had already exited, a less than desirable action to have to do.
    The GoPro Hero 3 has also been known to turn off at unexpected times, often during connection to a television display or when using the USB cable to download. The cause for these shutdowns are not known, but there is the assumption that it may be related to an overheating problem.
    There have been many accounts of cameras freezing or locking up during filming.
    Several other small and more isolated issues also exist with the GoPro Hero 3 range.
    A number of other issues were present at the time of the camera's release, though updates released by GoPro since then have managed to fix many of them. Is it all a bit late though?
    With the current action camera market seemingly exploding, steps such as releasing a camera before sufficient testing can prove dangerous. One thing that has to go to GoPro is that they are generally quite quick to release updates to fix certain issues. We are however surprised that the exposure issue, which proves to render an entire feature useless for a certain market - has not yet been fixed.
    Good News
    The good news for GoPro fans or those with the Hero 3 that are still encountering the exposure lock issue, is that GoPro have responded to the bug, which as it turns out - isn't a bug at all.
    A forum user posted the following response from GoPro regarding this issue:
    "Sorry about the problems with exposure locking in the two shortest time lapse intervals. Would you believe that was intended as a feature and it's not a bug? My understanding is that some folks in the skydiving community asked for it, but since then we've heard lots of complaints from other skydivers, so we've asked the engineering folks to make it an option you can turn on or off.
    For now be aware that in the two shortest time lapse modes, 0.5 and 1.0 seconds, the exposure will latch on to the values encountered at the first frame. For time lapse intervals of 2.0 seconds and longer each frame will be imaged using auto exposure.

    Remember that if auto-exposure results in flickering you can improve and smooth out the assembled video by invoking the De-flicker filter from the Advanced Settings menu of our free Cineform Studio software.
    Keep an eye on the forums and check in to the firmware update page every few weeks for when the update hits.

    Thank you so much for your feedback."
    GOPRO HERO 3 Black Firmware revision 02.37
    While the above quote seemed to suggest that there would be a fix for the exposure lock in the latest firmware upgrade, it seems that the new GoPro Hero 3 Black upgrade did not contain a fix to the problem. Rumours are now that the adjustment of the exposure lock issue will happen with the next update. The fact that GoPro are aware of this issue and seemingly aiming to solve it, it is a fair assumption that it won't be long before they release a new upgrade that will take care of this. As for now though, there's a lot of frustrated skydivers who were hoping that this new update would solve some of their problems.
    While GoPro do not have the changelog available on their site yet for the new firmware update, the following changelog has been published elsewhere.
    HERO3: Black Edition
    Current firmware version: HD3.03.02.37

    Wi-Fi version: 3.4.2.9

    Release date: 04/03/2012
    Feature Enhancements:

    FW version # is now visible on upon startup.

    Narrow FOV 1080p30/1080p60 (Protune)

    Narrow FOV 720p60 (Protune)

    Medium FOV 720p60 (Protune)

    Default start-up mode is now 960p48
    At this point it seems to be a wait and see scenario with regards to the fixing of many of the Hero 3's bugs, but we have no doubts that GoPro are working hard to solve these issues and that sooner rather than later, we'll see these issues being addressed in coming updates.
    Do you own a GoPro Hero 3? Comment below and share your experience with using this camera.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Safety in the Sky: A Skydiver’s Defense

    The world of skydiving offers those who choose to take the leap of faith a rush like non-other. The sport has grown far beyond anything its pioneers could have ever imagined. This growth has raised the demand for the establishment of advanced safety protocols in drop zones around the world. Container systems, main and reserve parachutes and basic safety procedures have all made this sport safer for all its users. One particular invention however, stands out above the rest and it is the automatic activation device or AAD for short.
    An AAD is a small, technically advanced device which activates a cutter that severs the reserve closing loop when the user is falling at or greater than a predetermined speed (roughly 78 MPH) and at or lower than a predetermined altitude (roughly 750 feet AGL). The device is equipped with a small computer designed to compute the skydiver’s speed of travel by using the surrounding air pressure. AADs have been common to skydivers for decades but recent years have brought about amazing change to this industry.
    CYPRES and Vigil AADs have become two of the leading manufacturers of AADs in recent years. When turned on, the AADs computer chip uses an advanced pressure monitoring system to determine a skydiver’s altitude and fall rate. If a skydiver passes the predetermined altitude at a faster than predetermined fall rate, the system sends a signal to a small cutter built into the parachute’s container. Once activated the cutter severs the reserve line retaining pin, causing the reserve chute to immediately deploy. Essentially, both CYPRES and Vigil AADs are meant to perform in very similar ways. Historically, each company has built and fine-tuned their respective devices to fit various disciplines in the sport.
    Cypres 2 AAD CYPRES which is short for Cybernetic Parachute Release System was developed by AirTec, a German company founded in 1990. Company founder Helmut Cloth decided to replace the old and faulty technology for opening devices of the time with a more reliable device. The result was revolutionary: the first CYPRES was ready in 1991 and became the first electronic opening device in the skydiving world. Shortly after hitting the market the CYPRES AAD sales grew to nearly 5,000 units per year. Developers continued working hard on making sure all the feedback from its users was implemented into their new products. In a little over a decade, CYPRES AAD sales rocketed to over 80,000 units. Airtec saw the overwhelming demand for their product and in 2007 developed the CYPRES 2. Within two years the CYPRES 2 broke the magic barrier of 50,000 units sold. The successes and reliability of the CYPRES 1 and 2 were celebrated throughout drop zones worldwide in 2011 during CYPRES’ 20 year anniversary. Since then the company has continued to provide a great piece of equipment with the backing of thousands of saved lives all over the world (CYPRES, 2014).
    The Vigil AAD shares many similarities to its competitor and was also designed to add a wider range of safety measures for skydivers. Nearly a decade after CYPRES’ great successes, Vigil was introduced. Immediately after being marketed the Vigil began flying off the shelves in record numbers. Designed by the Belgium company Advanced Aerospace Designs in 1999, the Vigil AAD system offered its users unique patented features. Features such as: a patented cutter device (circular knife) that cuts the reserve loop twice, water resistant technology, and a multimode option which allows for three different modes: PRO – STUDENT – TANDEM, all make the Vigil unique. These features make the Vigil a highly sought after piece of equipment for skydivers of all disciplines but even more so by drop zone management staff wanting to use one AAD for multiple modes of operations. In addition to calculating a skydiver’s rate of travel by using the surrounding air pressure, Vigil also uses an additional activation technique. Once the door opens and you leave the airplane, the Vigil AAD will calculate the time left over before reaching the activation altitude (Vigil, 2014). Since its appearance, the Vigil has sold upwards of 70,000 units and continues to increase sales annually.
    Vigil AAD Aside from their successes, the overarching factor in this equation is the consumer, as is in any supply-demand industry. The initial cost of purchasing an AAD unit is about the same, approximately $1,400. Many consumers view this as a steep price to pay especially when also calculating the maintenance costs throughout the lifecycle of an AAD. The additional cost of ownership includes battery replacement and scheduled maintenance, which calculates to be roughly $75 per year. The Vigil AAD claims to have a 20 year lifespan with no mandatory service requirements. The CYPRES AAD, however, is said to have a 12.5 year life expectancy with required maintenance at the four and eight year marks after activation. Many skydivers take these two factors well into consideration before committing to any purchase.
    Thankfully the CYPRES and Vigil AADs are readily available to ship to locations worldwide. The ease and effortlessness involved with purchasing an AAD makes it very convenient for anyone in the market for one. The decision of which one is the better choice is strictly up to the buyer’s personal preference and skill level. Both CYPRES and Vigil have been tried and proven over many years and thousands of documented lives saved. All in all, the sport is lucky that jumpers have a good choice of automatic activation devices. Few jumpers wore them before they came to their present level of accuracy and reliability, and members of the gray-haired set who still remember friends they lost when no-pulls/low-pulls dominated the fatality reports will mostly agree that the added cost of skydiving due to AADs has been worth it (Parachutist, 2010).
    Thanks for reading,
    Blue Skies!

    By EMarte21, in Gear,

    Apache Wingsuit Modifications

    8 February 2013 - Editors Note:

    After this article was published, TonySuit released a Service Bulletin regarding the Rebel and Apache Wingsuit that addresses the concerns raised below. If you use the Apache or Rebel for skydiving, TonySuits offers a free modification that will relocate your harness and emergency handles to the outside of the suit. See the image below. Download the full Service Bulletin.
    Wingsuiting is a new discipline that is ever-changing in terms of equipment, general DZ knowledge, and practices within the discipline. This can lead to a great deal of confusion about what is what, and how the equipment operates.
    One such example is the Apache series wingsuit, manufactured by Tonysuits Inc. This series of wingsuit is advertised as "for BASE jumping"and as the "biggest wingsuit in the world", the manufacturer "observed that placing the parachute harness inside the suit improved performance by reducing drag." This wingsuit places all components of the main lift web (MLW) inside the wingsuit, making the chest strap invisible, and leaving handles inaccessible unless modifications are made to the suit, parachute system/rig, or both.
    The manufacturer’s website also indicates:
    NOTE: This suit is for BASE jumping only. Having the harness inside the suit excludes it from being used for skydiving. Expert wingsuit skydivers could choose to modify the Apache to mount the emergency handles on to the suit itself under the guidance of a qualified rigger but TonySuits does NOT recommend any modifications!
    The process of jumping this system in the skydiving environment requires one of three actions;
    Rig Hidden In The Wingsuit
    The first option is to do nothing and jump the suit as it is with the rig entirely hidden within the wingsuit system as seen in this image below. Handles are entirely covered, and inaccessible without first unzipping the wingsuit. This is a legal means of jumping the wingsuit/rig system. Whether it is an ideal or safe method is determined by a pilot or S&TA.;
    The above method is not addressed in the FARs nor PIA Technical Documents. Various DPRE’s (Designated Parachute Rigger/Examiners) commented "No one at the PIA or FAA level ever anticipated we’d have jumpers covering handles with a jumpsuit; we now need to address this topic."
    Emergency procedures in this system:

    Unzip wingsuit.
    Crossdraw handles (Left hand to cutaway release, right hand to reserve ripcord). The "fully covered handles" method may be the only method not addressed in a FAR or PIA Technical Document, yet this method fails to take into account situations such as:
    Aircraft emergency requiring instant access to a reserve handle
    Missing hackey/handle, requiring a straight-to-reserve deployment
    Pilot Chute in Tow
    Hard pull
    Canopy collision requiring a cutaway
    High ground winds, where a cutaway is necessary
    Adding "Chicken Handles"
    Another method has been to put "chicken handles" on the wingsuit, essentially Rapide links attached to the cutaway release and reserve ripcord system. This changes the angle of cable travel (inducing a double 90 degree bend in the relevant cable) significantly increasing pull force.
    TSO (Technical Standards Order, administered by the FAA) requires that pull force be not greater than 22lbs of pull. In testing, the cutaway release required approx 45lbs of pull force, and the reserve system would not release with 60lbs of pull force applied (this was the limit of the scale used for the pull test.
    The "Chicken Handle" system was discussed with several rig manufacturers, Technical Chairs, former Technical Chairs, Rigging Chairs, and former Rigging Chairs of PIA. All agree this system is a violation of manufacturer TSO as expressed in FAR 65.111, and PIA TS 135 4.3.3 Table 2.

    In order to legally use this deployment system, the system must be tested and certified according to FAA TSO specification as set forth by the PIA. The definition of testing for certification requires:
    "4.3.3 HUMAN FACTORS AND ACTUATION FORCE TESTS:

    An anthropometrically diverse group of individuals (consisting of a representative group of no less than 3 males and 3 females) from the intended user group shall be employed for all human factors tests in 4.3.3. All individuals shall be able to operate the subject device without any undue difficulty. Table 2 lists the required test conditions and number of tests for each particular component. Additional information for the component tests is listed below.
    TESTS: Under normal design operating conditions, all devices tested under this paragraph shall result in a positive and quick operation of the device within the following load range applied to the handle:
    (a) a load applied at the handle of not less than 5 lbf (22.2 N), applied in the direction giving the lowest pull force,
    (b) a load applied at the handle of not more than 22 lbf (97.9 N), applied in the direction of
    normal design operation,
    (c) for chest type parachute assemblies, the maximum pull force shall be 15 lbf (66.7 N),
    (d) the primary actuation device shall be tested in accordance with Table 2,
    (e) the emergency/reserve drogue release (if used) shall be tested in accordance with Table 2."
    Table 2 includes standing, hanging in harness etc.
    The above system was never tested prior to being put into the marketplace. The challenges with this system were discovered in the field, as seen in the video link below.
    Pull tests were performed at various angles and configurations, with a Master Rigger in attendance.
    As of March 2012, the manufacturer has recommended that skydivers immediately discontinue use of this system.
    Moving Handles from the Rig to the Wingsuit
    A third modification requires moving handles from the parachute rig system and relocating them to the wingsuit body via the use of Velcro. The rig is then connected to the wingsuit via ties/cords that are tied above and below the cheststrap/handles of the rig.
    Due to pull forces and the random/chaotic nature of a deployment, this system has suffered multiple two-out scenarios across the country. Multiple dropzones have banned this wingsuit system from being jumped from their aircraft.

    Tony Uragallo of TonySuits has responded to concerns, saying: "I am changing the Apache system to be similar to the Squirrel suit system." Squirrel suits have found a novel way of dealing with these risks by adding zippers that allows the rig to worn inside the suit (for BASE jumping) as well as outside the suit, with handles fully exposed. (for skydiving)
    The vast majority of skydivers often don't give much thought to TSO's or FARs, and most have likely have never heard of PIA TS 135. These are the "rules of the road" for parachute gear in the skydiving world. These rules regulations and laws are there to protect skydivers from unsafe practices equipment, to provide standards of performance, and the safe operation of a dropzone and to prevent problems within the skydiving and non-skydiving community through standardized rules, laws and industry practices.
    The FARs put aircraft pilots directly in the crosshairs when a problem occurs; this is why skydivers must demonstrate repacks when visiting a dropzone, for example. Should any incident occur, it falls on the pilot-in-command. Yet most aircraft pilots are unaware of what is or isn’t legal, as the dropzone assumes responsibility for equipment being legal and reserves in-date.
    In this instance, a wingsuit designed specifically for BASE being used in the skydiving environment and requiring modifications to a rig or the rig operation is a violation of TSO and by extension, the FARs. This creates a legal headache for dropzone operators, S&TA;’s, rig manufacturers, and other skydivers on the lookout for standard equipment.
    Wingsuits designed for BASE jumping are exciting, fun, and provide an added edge of adrenaline. Some skydivers may take the approach of "So what? It's an individual choice." Any reasonable jumper, base or skydiver, will conclude that skydiving is a different environment than BASE (which has no rules). In the skydiving environment, the manufacturers assure the FAA and the DZO that gear meets safety standards via the TSO certification. DZO's in turn, assure the pilot that equipment being used in the skydiving environment is legal, in-date, and approved. As skydivers, we assure each other's safety by using equipment that is legal, safe, and approved for the activity.
    If you are considering jumping any product that may involve relocating handles or other modifications, first contact the manufacturer of the harness to verify the legality of doing so - and check with your DZO or S&TA; for any local policy.

    By admin, in Gear,

    Top 5 RSL myths

    I keep seeing the same arguments made against RSL's, over and over. Many of them are just myths, word-of-mouth anecdotal stories passed down for so long that their original meaning has gotten lost. I figured I would list them here:
    1. You should get stable before you open your reserve, and so you should disconnect your RSL.
    First off, you should _not_ be stable face-to-earth when you open your reserve. The Racer manual spells this out explicitly - you should be head-high if possible to ensure a cleaner reserve deployment. Fortunately, you are head high the instant you cut away from your main, and that is the point at which an RSL will open your reserve.
    Secondly, there are two universal truths in skydiving - you won't do it if you don't practice it, and you _will_ do what you trained to do. If you practice "cutting away and getting stable" you _will_ do that in the air, even if you someday cut away at 500 feet. If you do that, the only thing that will save your life will be your RSL.
    Finally, before you decide that it's a good idea to cut away and then get stable, I'd recommend you do an intentional cutaway from a rapidly spinning canopy and see how long it takes. (Hint - it does not take just a second or two.)
    2. You only need an RSL if you're going to forget to pull your reserve.
    Rick Horn, one of the three people in the US who trains all AFF-JM's, once needed his RSL due to rig distortion. He could not find his reserve handle. If you are more current at cutaways than a man who teaches them every month, and have more jumps than him (6000?) that might be a valid point, but I think few people are.
    3. If you cut away on the ground on a windy day and you have an RSL, your reserve will inflate.
    Simply not true. Try it next time you need a repack - go outside in the wind and pull your reserve handle. The PC will come out, the freebag may fall on the ground - and that's it. Unless you have decided to jump in a hurricane, even 25kts of wind (way more than most people will jump in) won't inflate a reserve.
    Of course, you can disconnect your RSL once under canopy to prevent the reserve from opening at all if you have to cut away on the ground. That's a convenience issue, not a safety one.
    4. You can practice cutting away on the ground, so how hard can it be?
    RSL's are not for normal cutaways. They are for madly spinning mals where you can barely see one of your handles. They are for mals while wearing a wingsuit, where you have fabric flying in your face and you can barely see. They are for cutaways at 600 feet when someone sets up a hook right into your canopy and destroys it. These are the situations where RSL's save lives.
    If you will never be in such a situation, great. But I have discovered that those situations find you, rather than the other way around.
    5. You have to "fall away" from your main to guarantee you won't entangle with it.
    Simply untrue. I've watched an awful lot of rig testing, and the physics just doesn't let that happen. Even in a malfunctioning canopy, the forces work to separate the main and the jumper/reserve.
    And if you postulate a bizarre scenario where the reserve PC can somehow entangle with the main? The reserve will simply open faster.
    All that being said, there are still reasons not to use an RSL. We disconnected all our tandem RSL's a while back because there had been some problems with broken risers, and that's a risk when you use a one-sided RSL. If you're doing something bizarre (like jumping a 46 sq ft canopy and opening at 5000 feet) an RSL will probably not help you much, and if you're doing intentional cutaways or CRW, it makes sense to simplify your gear and be able to fall away from something before you open your reserve. But for a lot of people it makes sense.
    Personally, I recommend everyone use one until they get to 200 jumps and/or have their first cutaway from a spinner. At that point they will have the experience to make a good judgement on their own.
    -bill von

    By admin, in Gear,

    Do Skydivers Care About Safety

    Image by Russell M. Webb If I've learned one thing in my 35 years in the sport, it's that it is very difficult to get most skydivers interested in safety. Years ago, when it became obvious that my hand deploy pilot chute and 3-ring release made it possible to deploy a malfunction, and then breakaway from it, 500 feet faster than the existing internal pilot chutes and Capewell canopy releases allowed, a lot of jumpers simply started deploying their mains 500 feet lower. Utterly negating the increase in safety these systems offered.
    Even today, most jumpers think that because all gear has a TSO tag on it, one piece of gear is as safe as another. Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over safety every time. Here are just a few examples of what I mean, starting in the '60's, right up to the present day.
    The army found out that if you put 2 foot band of fine netting around the skirt of a round parachute, you eliminate the most common deployment malfunction, the partial inversion. The trick worked so well that airborne troop static line malfunctions went from 1 in 250 to 1 in 250,000. WOW! So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume.
    Believe it or not, there is a similar, thought not nearly as drastic, choice jumpers are making when they buy a square reserve today. Let me explain. The first square canopies came without sliders, so they had to be built tough. This meant, among other things, that there was tape running spanwise (from right to left) between the line attachment points. With the advent of the slider and softer opening canopies, some companies began leaving the spanwise reinforcing tapes out of their square reserves. Why? Because they cost less to build, and (you guessed it) they packed smaller. This proved to be a wise choice, (at least in the marketing department) because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume. While reserves without spandwise tapes are fine in most situations, as we have seen recently, they tend to fall apart when skydivers push the envelope. (ie. big people on tiny canopies, going head down at high altitudes.) Safety doesn't seem to be any larger a consideration than it was when they passed up anti-inversion netted round reserves in the '60's.
    Standard size (large) 3-ring release systems have never given a solo jumper any problem. They ALWAYS release easily and NEVER break. However, mini 3-rings look neater, so that's all people will buy. No matter all the reports of hard or impossible breakaways or broken risers. Don't get me wrong, Properly made, and maintained, mini 3-ring release systems will handle anything even the newest ZP canopy with microlines can dish out. Unfortunately, because they are now being pushed right to their design limit, they must be made EXACTLY right. And a lot of manufacturers either can't or won't. On the other hand, a large 3-ring system has so much mechanical advantage, that even a poorly made system will still work just fine. But then fashion is much more important than safety, isn't it?
    Spectra (or micro-line) is strong and tiny, so it reduces both pack volume and drag , which means you get a smaller rig and a faster canopy. Unfortunately, It has a couple of "design characteristics" (this is manufacturer talk for "problems") It is very slippery (less friction to slow the slider), and stretches less than stainless steel. This is why it hurt people and broke so many mini risers when it was first introduced. Now, I must say that the canopy manufacturers did a wonderful job handling these "characteristics" by designing new canopies that opened much slower than their predecessors. However, the fact still remains, that if you do have a rare fast opening on a microlined canopy, Spectra (or Vectran) will transmit that force to you (and your rig) much, much faster, resulting in an opening shock up to 300% higher than if you have Dacron lines. (It's sort of like doing a bungee jump with a stainless steel cable. At the bottom of your fall, your body applies the same force to the steel cable as it would to a rubber bungee cord, but because steel doesn't stretch, your legs tears off.)
    So why would I have a fast opening? Well for one thing, you, or your packer might forget to "uncollapse" your collapsible slider. BAM! Or perhaps you're zipping along head down at 160 mph with a rig that wasn't designed for it, and you experience an accidental container opening. BAM again. The point is this: If you want to push the envelope, and get all the enjoyment this sport has to offer, and do it "safely", you need to make careful choices in the gear you jump. If you weigh 200 lbs. and do a lot of head down, perhaps you really shouldn't be using a reserve without spanwise reinforcement, mini 3-rings, or a canopy with micro lines.
    No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed.
    ~ Bill Booth

    By admin, in Gear,

    6 Ways to Be Less Dumb When You Buy Used Skydiving Gear

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Paul Iglin has been brokering used skydiving gear for more than a decade. He’s seen it all.
    He has definitely seen your kind before, and wants you to know a few things about the buying process, so you don’t make the same mistakes he’s seen over – and over – and over. I asked him what people need to know about buying used skydiving gear when they begin the process, and he had plenty of sage advice to share. Here’s what he has to say about it.
    1. Curb your enthusiasm.
    “Your job as a buyer is to get the right gear at the right time and at the right point in your skydiving career. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
    Every once in a while I have had people contact me who have not actually started skydiving yet. It is very rare, but it happens. They are clueless – and they are dangerous to themselves from a financial standpoint, because they have no idea what they’re buying. I tell them to go to somebody else; I won’t sell them gear. Before you start shopping for gear, you need to know what you are shopping for. So, if you don’t: Stop right there.
    Good shape, good brand, good used gear at the right price: Make no mistake; that’s hard to find. In skydiving gear, the supply-and-demand curve is really messed up. There’s very little supply and very high demand.
    It’s also seasonal. Come March and April, everybody rushes to find gear, and then demand stays strong all the way through end of the season around September. Try to shop outside that time frame if you can.”
    2. Don’t trust your friends.
    “Man, people get their advice from some terrible sources. A lot of the time, they’ll just go to their friends. But when you’re a new jumper, most likely your friends are also newer jumpers who basically don’t know jack****. Their understanding is very, very narrow; they have blinders on. Like: they bought themselves a brand-new Infinity rig with a brand-new Optimum with a brand-new Sabre 2, and it works for them, so that’s what they tell their friends to get.
    Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the gear they’re recommending is the worst. It just means that these people don’t have a statistically relevant sample, so their opinion doesn’t really count for anything. And they always tell whoever’s asking that ‘this is the best,’ as opposed to making the correct statement: ‘This is the one I have, and it works well for me.’”
    3. Do your homework.
    “All of this ties into the fact that people often just don’t do proper research. How do you do proper research? Well, whenever people ask me this question, I tell them this: Look at the gear as tier A, B and C as far as manufacturers, quality and pricing. I’m going to go ahead and throw some manufacturers’ names out there. You have your tier-A manufacturers: your Vectors; your Javelins; your Mirages; your Infinities. All those guys have been around for a long time. There are no questions about quality. They are very reputable. All the options are available.
    Then you have your tier-Bs: Icons, Wings, Perigees, whatever Dolphin became and a whole lot of other brands that are either obscure or very localized to another continent or a particular country. Avoid the latter if you’re a new jumper, because you don’t know what the **** you’re doing.
    You may have somebody try to sell you another brand that’s technically TSO’d, but you’re really going to suffer when you try to resell. You’ll have a hard time finding replacement parts if you are outside of the country of manufacture – and you’re going to get killed on shipping, and support is going to be pretty crappy. Be aware.
    Your can ask any rigger what the tier-C manufacturer is. They’ll tell you.”
    4. Make peace with your pants size.
    “One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is being a over-optimistic about their weight. It happens a lot, because it’s usually people who are just slightly overweight that make the biggest mistakes. For example: a 5’10”, 180-pound person says, ‘I am going to be exiting at 210 pounds, so I should get a 210, But I’m going to work out and lose weight, so I’m going to go with a 190.’
    I immediately tell them not to shop for the future. You shop for right now. If you need a 210 based on your current body weight, for chrissakes get a 210. Because in my experience -- and this is 15 years of skydiving speaking -- it is very unlikely that you will actually get to that goal weight. Sorry. It is possible, sure, but nobody has ever gotten hurt because their canopy was bigger rather than smaller. Don’t be stupid about it.”
    5. Then add to that number. More than you think.
    “The other problem that I see a lot of people early on in their careers -- and a lot of times even as they become experienced skydivers with a couple of hundred jumps -- is that people don’t account for exit weight. People add a couple of pounds and call it a day, and that’s completely wrong.
    You step out of the shower, and that’s your body weight. Then you put on your clothes. You put on your boots. You put on your rig. You put on your helmet and whatever suit you wear and your cameras and whatever else you’re jumping with. Then you step on the scale, and that’s your exit weight. You know all that already.
    Even knowing that, a lot of people don’t bother with the scale and egregiously underestimate what their rig weighs. A lot of people estimate 15 pounds for gear. Seriously?! What the **** are you talking about? You are going to put on 10 pounds just of clothing and boots alone. Then a canopy weighs about eight pounds. Your container weighs 8-12 pounds, depending on the amount of hardware. Your reserve? About six pounds. Your AAD, even, weighs six ounces. Your jumpsuit is going to add another couple of pounds. None of that stuff is magically
    weightless.
    Add 30 pounds for your gear. Maybe more. Don’t underestimate! You’re only hurting yourself.”
    6. Consult the chart.
    “The loading chart that I share with my customers – Brian Germain’s chart -- is the easiest one that I think is out there. I’m not necessarily saying it is the best one; I just think it’s the easiest to grasp. What he says is this: If you have 100 jumps or less, you should load one-to-one or less. For every 100 jumps, increase your wing loading by .1. That means that if you have 300 jumps, there is no reason you shouldn’t be jumping the 1.3 wing loading.
    Of course, you have caveats. People who jump at high-altitude dropzones and people who jump in very windy areas will need to choose different gear than people who jump at sea level, and so on and so forth. If you live in Colorado, you should probably jump a bigger canopy, because the air is thinner. If you jump where it’s really, really windy, you may get away with a slightly smaller canopy because you really do need the speed.
    Also, keep your head.
    “If you get a 170, you weigh 210 pounds and you’re 50 jumps into the sport, you are not doing anybody any favors. You may survive. You may not. But I certainly won’t be the person selling you a 170-square-foot canopy.”
    In general, please: Don’t go into it blind. Ask very experienced people for advice. And if you come to me as a buyer, expect me to tell it like it is. Because I will.”

    By nettenette, in Gear,

    The RSL and Skyhook Debate

    Image by Mike Barta So…you just crushed an 8-way angle jump, stacked tight and flying fast. Damn that feels good. Or maybe it was a Sunday night sunset BFR with all the sky-fam that stuck around till the very end of another awesome weekend at the dropzone. Perfect! Or maybe you’re six jumps into a busy day, flying camera for tandems, and you’ve just finished break-off and are watching that giant tandem wing smack open as you sink away. Whichever it is, if what happens next involves a turbulent mess of canopy flapping and flailing above you, or spinning-you-up violently beneath it, its decision time…and fast.
    But, if you’re anything like me, and find that in that moment your brain is still rapidly processing the various factors in play (as opposed to immediately switching into survival mode and initiating an instinctual, muscle-memory-based set of EPs), it’s possible that one of your first thoughts will be “is my RSL connected”? And, if so, “if I chop this, is my reserve headed directly into this bag of shit as it deploys”?
    I’ve only personally dealt with this scenario twice. The most recent occurred under a rapidly spinning mal while wearing a (small-ish) wingsuit and flying what most would consider an inappropriate canopy for wingsuit skydiving (my bad, I know). And while my canopy choice may have been shameful, I’m not ashamed to say that this experience had my heart rate pounding…but not because of the malfunction. And not even because of the violent spinning and inevitable disorientation. I quickly realized that I hadn’t disconnected my RSL – which I typically do when flying my wingsuit – and was afraid that if I employed my standard emergency procedures my main and my reserve were about to get really friendly with one-another.
    Luckily, that didn’t happen, and I lived to fly another day (under a much safer and more suitable wing I might add). However, since that experience, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the use of RSLs and Skyhooks with jumpers of all ages and disciplines, wherever I fly. And while there is no debate that both RSL and Skyhook technology save invaluable time and altitude in many malfunction situations – and there is ample data available to prove just that – their use remains a polarizing issue, with certain skydiving disciplines disproportionately biased for, or against, the use of these now-standard safety features.
    If you don’t believe me (or perhaps had never given it much thought) take a look around the next time you’re at a big dz and take note of who’s using RSLs and who isn’t…and what type of flying it seems like they’re doing. You may be surprised at what you observe. Or, if you’re even braver, try bringing it up around the campfire or at the bar after a few post-jump beverages. Warning: be prepared for the shit-storm you may have just lit.
    At any rate, to better present both sides of this debate, I asked a few friends to share their views and their own reasoning as to why they choose to use, or shun, RSLs and Skyhooks. What follows is a series of brief quotes and explanations from these conversations.
    Justin Price – Justin is a PD Factory Team member, a Flight 1 instructor, and a world-class canopy pilot who competes at the pinnacle of the sport.
    JP: “I think the Skyhook and RSL are great backup devices for the everyday skydiver. However, if you are jumping a highly loaded canopy (2.8 range or higher) having a skyhook could lead to some unforeseen malfunctions. I don't believe the manufacturers have done any real testing with canopies loaded this much having spinning malfunctions with the Skyhook. I have seen 1 skyhook reserve deployment from a spinning canopy loaded around 3.0 where an entanglement could be present.”

    Image by Mike McGowen Think about the configuration of a skyhook deployment, you have the malfunctioning canopy at the apex attached to the bridle with a free bag, still with the locking stows, on one side of the bridle and the spring loaded pilot chute on the other side. Now as the spinning main is deploying the system there seems to be the possibility of the main spinning violently enough to have the reserve pilot chute wrap underneath the free bag trapping the locking stow from coming out. So until some real testing has been done proving that this is not possible I’m not going to be the first skydiver to have that malfunction while doing hop n pops or if jumping something loaded that high.”
    Sandy Grillet – Sandy is a very prominent sales rep for UPT, who’s also recognized to be among the best belly organizers in the biz. He has decades in the sport and his skydiving resume speaks for itself.
    Sandy: “OK - in the last 5 years I lost two really good friends because they had the same thoughts as you. One of them had a spinner out of control and before he could get cutaway hit another jumper under canopy. He ended up cutting away still high enough to get a reserve but not high enough to reactivate his AAD. He pulled just high enough to go-in at line stretch. We believe the body-to-body collision under canopy dazed him enough to slow his reflexes on both the cutaway and the reserve pull.

    Image by Henrik Csuri The sad thing is that he and I had an hour long conversation about Skyhooks and RSLs 10 days before. The guy he hit was another friend of ours and he is convinced a Skyhook would have saved him. I've lost a lot of friends over the years but that one was tough to wrap my mind around.
    I truly believe that if more people understood the physics behind what happens during normal cutaways without RSLs - cutaways with normal RSLs and then cutaways with Skyhooks - everyone would use them. As you said, it’s personal preference. I would be happy to have another conversation with you to give my perspective of the physics.”
    Scotty Bob – Scotty likely needs very little introduction. His exploits in wingsuit BASE are accessible and heavily viewed online by skydivers, BASE jumpers, and whuffos alike. And his current involvement with wingsuit skydive coaching (both as a load organizer, private coach, and now most recently with Squirrel’s ‘Next Level’ program) has him bouncing from one dz to the next – along with his crew of usual suspects – to help raise the next generation of little birdies right.

    Image by Dan Dupuis Scotty: “They are a great idea, and have definitely added to the safety net, especially for younger jumpers. That being said, their use should not be mandatory due to the ever changing aspects of our sport. The option to be in direct control of one’s emergency procedures from start to finish should be in the hands of each individual jumper, not a blanket rule.

    I currently do not use an RSL. I want to activate my reserve opening with my reserve handle. Just a personal preference.”
    Anthony TJ Landgren – TJ is an all-around badass. There is very little at which he doesn’t excel in the worlds of canopy sport and body-flight. He’s an OG swooper, a wingsuit ninja, an elite tunnel coach, and now a highly sought-after XRW guru.
    TJ: “Over the years a lot of people asked me would I, or have I ever, jumped with an RSL? My answer is yes I have jumped an RSL, but only for 1000 jumps or so. I had an RSL back when I jumped a Sabre. I was told that RSLs are great when you are new in the sport and as an extra safety precaution.
    Once I started jumping a Stiletto, I was told they can cause more harm than good. Stilettos were the first fully elliptical canopy and they were awesome. The only problem was that if you got line twist it was a bitch to get out of them because the canopy will dive and pick up more speed. I had a really low chop when I had 2000 jumps on a stiletto 135, I was spinning hard once I cut away I needed to get away from the canopy and open my reserve. I was so happy not to have an RSL because two weeks prior to that my friend Cris cut away a stiletto 150 with an RSL and he had 4 line twist on his reserve and barely time to get out of his reserve line twist before hitting the ground. That's when I knew I would never use an RSL ever again.

    Image by Raymond Adams I believe in pulling a bit higher so that I have more time to deal with a malfunctioning parachute. I feel RSLs and Skyhooks give people false security in pulling low, which I try to avoid. I was told that when dealing with a malfunction: check your altitude, deal with the situation, and always have hard deck that you know you can't fix this malfunctioning parachute and it's time to get rid of it.
    I have 16 cutaways in over 26,000 jumps and 1 was an RSL save (not by choice).
    I Believe people that have over 1000 jumps or jump a high performance canopy should really think about whether an RSL is going to help, or if it will only make things worse. I hope this help you to make an educated decision about RSLs and Skyhooks.”
    Will McCarthy – Will is the closest thing here to an “average” skydiver. Although, having grown up on a dz, and grown into the DZO of my favorite dropzone in Canada (Skydive Gananoque), he’s been around the sport long enough to know and have seen a thing or two. Most days, Will is hucking drogues and/or flying camera, but he’s done it all over the years – from AFFI, to belly big-ways, to wingsuit, to CRW and swooping.
    Will: “As a DZO and our S&TA;, my reply is always, it depends. For people learning to skydive, including tandem students, I think they're a great legal out, as in "we use every piece of safety equipment available". And if you're going to use an RSL, spend the extra money and get a MARD/Skyhook. For experienced skydivers, I personally feel that the use of an RSL or MARD/Skyhook system unintentionally promotes complacency.

    Image by Justin Dempsey The number of times I've personally seen an incorrectly routed/assembled RSL leads me to believe that the complacency is getting worse. People are afraid of doing anything to their gear, (assembly or even packing it, in a lot of cases) and a blind faith in the technology increases the risk that when something outside a "normal" malfunction occurs, it won't be handled correctly.
    I don't use one unless I'm jumping a tandem rig. But we also don't allow them to be used on paid camera slots or CRW jumps, either.”
    My final thoughts on this reflect much of what was said above. Both of my rigs have an RSL because I like to have the option of using it for specific types of jumping. While I hate to admit it, there are certain jumps where I know that I’m going to be pulling lower than usual – flying my tracking suit solo on a hop-and-pop is one such example. And in situations like that, where I’m under a Sabre 150 and feel pretty confident that it’s not gonna spin-up-on-me or toss-me-around violently, I like the comfort of knowing that if I do have to chop, my RSL will likely save me some valuable altitude. However, when I slap on the big wingsuit, I feel far less comfortable having the RSL connected. In that instance, I make sure to disconnect it and secure it (safely and correctly) to the cable housing. Also, as TJ similarly pointed out, I’ll be deliberately pulling higher on big wingsuit flights so that I have ample altitude to deal with, and separate myself from, any malfunctions that might arise.
    Hopefully reading this will have given you cause to consider where you’re at in your own jumping – taking into account an honest self-assessment of your level of skills and experience – but also your specific discipline(s) of choice and, thus, what makes the most sense for you. To borrow a mantra from wingsuit BASE, a safe-bet for many styles of jumping is fly fast and pull high. If you can abide by those two tenets, regardless of your choice as to whether or not to use an RSL, you’ll be all-the-better for it.
    Stay safe folks.

    By admin, in Gear,

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