BG: Before GoPro

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JOEL WILLIAMS [email protected]

Right now, you can go onto YouTube and watch famed Formula One driver Lucas di Grassi clip a GoPro into a commercially available mount and race around the track. In the ’60s, however, things were a little different. To get first-person race footage, Jackie Stewart had to strap an entire rotary lens camera to one side of his helmet and a sizeable battery pack to the other.

The helmet cameras of the past were bulky, crude, unwieldly, and improvised with whatever was available. Perhaps the most sophisticated setups belonged to skydivers, who appear to be among the first to take on first-person film. According to Parachutist magazine, Bob Sinclair furnished a custom-built gyro-stabilized setup to film for Ripcord, a 1961 TV show about skydiving crime fighters.

In 1986, AVS transmitted video through portable microwave from Dick Garcia’s helmet. Courtesy of Wikipedia/CC SA/3.0/VideoJoe.

In 1986, AVS transmitted video through portable microwave from Dick Garcia’s helmet. Courtesy of Wikipedia/CC SA/3.0/VideoJoe.

In the late ’80s, helmet-mounted cameras gained a bit more traction. According to the Video & Filmmaker website, a company called Aerial Video Systems (AVS) created a rig for motocross rider Dick Garcia for the 1986 Nissan USGP 500 World Championship.

The setup transmitted the video signal via portable microwave to the ABC broadcast truck, where it was edited into the live broadcast. AVS used a Canon Ci-10. The picture, by today’s standards, left a lot to be desired. But in 1986, the Ci-10’s 0.38-MP CCD sensor was a marvel, sweetened by the camera’s compact size (about the size of a pack of cigarettes, according to The New York Times) and its acceptance of any C-mount lens.

The following year saw the production of The Great Mountain Biking Video by Mark Schulze. Wanting to get a first- person view of what a mountain biker sees on the trail, Schulze strapped an RCA VHS camcorder to a motorcycle helmet and connected it to a full-size VCR in his backpack, which was connected to a power supply. Mind you, The Great Mountain Biking Video predates mountain bike suspensions.

In 1992, the helmet camera appeared in the World League of American Football. According to a fan-run site documenting the now-defunct league’s history, AVS and the USA Network partnered to create the Helmet-Cam, which was about the size of a tube of lipstick and integrated, along with a transmission antenna, into the helmet. Due to a hefty $20,000 price tag and an up-close-and-personal view of the violence that makes American football what it is, the Helmet-Cam was scrapped.

About 13 years later, in 2005, the GoPro made its first appearance live on QVC. The HERO1 was a still camera and took any 35-mm film. Since then, the GoPro has become the go-to action cam for athletes, motorcyclists, musicians, and hobbyists. The HERO7 Black, the present flagship, features a 12-MP CMOS sensor capable of 4K video at 60 fps with onboard image stabilization software, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for easy live broadcast and backup. It fits in the palm of the hand.

Published: August 2019
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