BBC cameraman Sam Beattie uses the GoPro for a news feature on smartphones apps

Guest post by Sam Beattie:

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I work for the BBC in Shanghai and our bosses in London requested a story on China and its smartphone App industry. We needed lots of close ups of smart phone screens to show apps in action, so we decided to go with POV stylized story telling, and use my battered GoPro Hero HD to get close ups throughout the piece.

All of the footage in this story is filmed on setting 5, which is 1080p. GoPro says this is a 127 degree field of view, while other lower quality settings have 170 degrees. Although this setting is not as wide I prefer it, as it allows me to crop in a little if I want without losing too much quality.

The GoPro rigged to an smartphone with a magic arm

For the opening sequence on Shanghai’s Bund, I used every magic arm I had, and with the sticky pad mount I got the GoPro about 3 inches away from the phone. These sticky pads are reusable to a degree. I gently pry them off after each use and replace the red plastic to cover the pad.
The adhesion must be getting less each time but I’ve pulled it on and off several times and it still holds.  We filmed this in the late afternoon, and despite turning the phone’s brightness all the way up, it wasn’t really bright enough for the GoPro to pick up. That said, it was the background we really wanted anyway, and with good light, the GoPro produces a good quality picture.

For the shots in the cafe with low light, the camera struggles, and produces quite a grainy image. But surprisingly, I had the GoPro not even an inch from the phone’s screen, and was surprised at how sharp the keyboard looked. I constantly battle with my EX1, which has a minimum focus distance of 3 feet.

Cafe shots were in low light

For the piece to camera we did three takes: one with the GoPro filming the screen, one under the phone filming the correspondent’s face, and finally, removing the GoPro from the phone, and filming straight with a Sony EX1. The EX1 recorded the audio for all three takes and I synced it later.  It was really important to deliver the script lines with the exact same body movements on the exact same words for it to cut, and the reporter managed it pretty well.

The end result

It was a rainy day, so I had to have him walk under the shop’s awning.  I was a bit worried about how the automatic exposure would do, but despite the mixed light the GoPro did well enough for what I wanted.

My original GoPro is already two years old and having seen the newer Hero HD2 being used by some of my colleagues, I know that one has much better low light capabilities. I will have to get one to see what other upgrades it has to the original model.

For me the GoPro is a must-have bit of kit, which I take on every shoot. There is a risk of going overboard with it, and ending up with a gimmicky-looking package, but I think they can help give a visually boring story a bit of a lift.

Sam Beattie is the BBC Shanghai Bureau’s shoot/edit cameraman.
 He has been living and working in China for the past eight years and can be followed on Twitter @twit_sbeattie and on Weibo 张善谋Sam.

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