As new combinations of features and functions for photography and videography emerge for sale, there is an urge to upgrade or add to one’s collection of gear; the so-called “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” (G.A.S.). Skillful traders will know when to sell the older gear to make room for the newer thing. However, more often the trusted and familiar old gear works well, so the photographer holds on to it. The result is more and more pieces of equipment cluttering one’s life. Even if the old piece is functional, having too many devices is redundant. On the other hand, at some point there is no resale value; and to discard during the annual “electronic waste” collection seems a terrible crime, too.
Bearing in mind the G.A.S. tendency, and the above lifecycle of camera technology, I began my search for something capable of recording video by using an external mic. While the built-in ones work well enough in controlled conditions (little noise, no wind, source nearby), in order to boost the viewer’s audio experience and thus simulate the immersive presence of a subject that is possible with high quality sound, I began to look at devices that can capture sound through an external microphone. Wired ones are cheaper than the wireless ones, in most cases. And since my habits are for light-weight and low-maintenance simplicity, and my ambitions are for short video stories or vignettes of 10 minutes of shorter, a major criterion was form-factor; something compact but still able to use an external mic and record HD video. Inexpensive is another consideration that fits into a limited spending appetite.
Eventhough the pocket camcorder I have will record HD (720 pixels), there is no external mic option. Just about equally as portable are the action cameras from GoPro (since 2002) and more recently from the drone maker, DJI. Among the stock of GoPros is the model from 2016, relatively cheap now that newer versions are sold. With an adapter sold separately the Hero5 will allow wired or wireless mics to provide the audio track. So that satisfies the original motivation for buying still another camera. But by the way this tiny, ruggedized, and water-resistant wonder comes with many magical powers that set it apart from the other cameras that I rotate between (very often snapshots on cellphone, occasional photowalks with APS-C mirrorless camera, or enthusiast pocket-sized camera). In no particular order, this GoPro can do: time-lapse (and night timelapse), slow-motion (8x frame rate for 30 fps x8 = 240 fps), underwater (10 meters), voice-commands for things like switch modes (photo, video, timelapse) and shoot or record or start/stop. The ability to mount the diminutive device onto wrist, helmet, hood of car, handlebar, surfboard, dog’s back, and so on will particularly differentiate it from ordinary camera; hence the “action camera” category or “point of view lens.” But even for less exciting interview or documentary work, in well-lit and typical recording spaces the gadget should do well.
Whether it is a new car, some nifty kitchen gadget, or workshop power tool, there is a honeymoon time when the new owner is charmed and tries all of the possible applications of the thing that come to mind. Later it might languish as the next new thing comes along. But at least in the beginning it is possible to think of things to try outside of the previous habits and range of subjects. The same is true of this video (and photo and timelapse) camera: having a new device makes it possible to consider one’s world with new eyes, imagining ways to put the thing to use and looking for subjects to express that were not possible before: it is a solution in search of a problem. In this way the connection of seeing and thinking is directly connected.