A Relaxing Trip to Wisconsin (with Cameras!)

Last week, the girlfriend and I took our Quarantine Roadshow to a tiny Wisconsin cabin we found on Airbnb. Our goal was to mix up the routine for a few days, do some hiking, experience some nature, and find a way to enjoy our now-traditional Autumn adventure despite the best efforts of a pandemic.

I won't go into all the details of the trip, but I do want to talk about my attempts to shoot video along the way.

Every shot was taken on one of four devices: a Pixel 4XL phone, my GoPro Fusion MAX camera, a DJI Mavic 2 drone, and my BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4k.

I had no preconceived plans for shooting. No storyboards. No thematic ideas. This was purely a fun trip I thought might result in a delightful retrospective, and I love playing with cameras. Of course, based on past experience, there was a good chance the cameras would never leave their bag.

Once we arrived at the cabin, the ideas solidified a bit. Hiking shots were a necessity. Establishing shots of the cabin were a no-brainer. And I shoot interview style clips almost every day with no real expectation of using them, so that was easy. Listen: if I don't shoot videos of myself, who will?

As for which cameras worked best with which shots?

Nearly all the locked off shots around the cabin are from the BlackMagic camera. It's the newest addition to my collection, and this was my first time experimenting with it. I used a somewhat inexpensive Canon 16-35mm photo lens. I bought it years ago, and it was more expensive than I could afford at the time, but I like this camera so much I may splurge for a cinema lens.

The footage is fantastic. So much detail. Shooting in RAW gives me more post-production control than my skills warrant. Seriously. I need to take some color correction classes, because such skills might actually make a difference now. When compressed and pushed to YouTube at 1080, there are minimal compression artifacts, even with movement. I'm enamored with the camera's massive LCD, especially when paired with the focus assist highlighting. In the past, on tiny viewfinders, I'd regularly get home to find shots that had appeared to be in focus on the viewfinder were painfully blurry on a larger screen. Didn't happen once on this trip.

Overall, I have nothing but great things to say about the BlackMagic camera.

Then there are the others... Sigh.

The Pixel 4 performs admirably. The larger back lens shoots well enough, and the stabilization is great. Hiking shots in the forest remain relatively stable. The selfie-camera used for interview shots behaves as one might expect a low megapixel camera to perform. Grainy. Pixelated. What can you do? It's a phone, and high-movement, low-light, selfie lens video is never spectacular.

The drone excelled, as always. How else can you snag such gorgeous shots above the trees? I didn't use any filters, and the skies were boring gray blobs of lifeless highlights, but that's not the drone's fault.

Alas, it is at the GoPro MAX where I direct my harshest disappointment. I've used it many times now in action situations. Riding my bike. Navigating a trail on a OneWheel. Here, walking through a forest. I'm routinely disappointed by the output. Compression artifacts abound.

The camera performs well enough when locked off. There are one or two examples in the video above. But this is a GoPro. It's an action camera. An action brand. Shouldn't it perform best in action scenarios?

Every shot with movement or high-details (like tree leaves) produced blurriness and artifacts. Detail of any sort kicks the camera's ass. Why? I don't get it. This is the camera's main function. And I don't know where the problem lies. When I watch the footage in the GoPro app, it looks decent. Where is the added compression happening? Is it when I export from 360 to 16x9? And why does YouTube make it worse?

It's possible to take some truly unique shots on the GoPro MAX. 360 degree capabilities simplify 16x9 framing, which is useful while you're busy adventuring. I want to use it all the time, but the output is lacking, and I don't know why.

To be fair, it's possible I'm at fault. Maybe my settings are wrong. Maybe there's a way to optimize the footage. I've researched. Tried flattening the color profile, reducing the sharpness. Nothing works. It's incredibly frustrating. Maybe the camera needs larger sensors. Maybe i'm positioning it poorly for my desired shots, leaving seams or lens warping where least desirable. I don't know. But it's aggravating.

And that's my rundown.

Overall, it was a delightful, relaxing trip. I had a chance to play with my toys. And the result is a lovely video. Win win win.

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