Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Dutch Raceboarding Team

In December, a lot of racing teams head to the glaciers to get in extra practice before the snow starts falling at lower altitudes. I met some lovely raceboarder women at Hintertux, who (if I remember right) were from a Dutch snowboarding team. Here’s the best footage:

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Watch the video in HD on YouTube.

This was my second attempt at getting on-slope footage; the camera is now top-mounted to avoid neck strain from side-mounting. You can probably guess I was playing with the camera settings and stabilizing software. From this footage I learned that I need a faster shutter, at least 1/250 but more likely 1/500.

The combo of AviSynth, VirtualDub, and Deshaker to process the raw video is fantastic for the moving-camera scenes! I’m still loving the Canon HF200. You can read more about that in my previous helmetcam post.

The next videos I post will be even better, as I’ve added a ring sight to the camera rig now. However, I only have a minute or so of useable footage so far. Any raceboarders out there who want to volunteer as a film subject?

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 6:24 pm.


Snowboarding Helmetcam: First Test!

I shot footage of some friends skiing and snowboarding at Hintertux in November. Finally, I’ve found time to stabilize the video files and edit everything. At some points, it looks almost as good as a steadycam would be. A few shots are not so stable; the first few (when it was cloudy/dark) were harder to stabilize. Here it is:

YouTube Preview Image

Watch “Testing the Helmetcam” in HD on YouTube.

A few notes for the videographers out there. Optical stabilization sucks in high-G environments. In skydiving, and apparently snowboarding, it can make your footage even more shaky/unviewable than having no stabilization at all. This is due to the mechanically controlled optical element bouncing around in the lens at high-G.

Also, in these vibration-heavy environments you need a fast shutter speed. Otherwise you get strange moments (like you see in my video) where the scene seems to pop in and out of focus: these are heavy camera shocks blurring the motion!

To make the videos stable, I used Virtualdub (open source) with the Deshaker plugin (open source). It was a huge effort to set up and learn, and I’d only recommend it to fellow computer geeks.

For the next shoots, I’m going to use a shutter speed no less than 1/250th. I also have a skydiving ring sight on the helmet now, so I can keep the subject centered in the frame.

Camera: Canon Vixia HF200. Shot in 1920x1080PF. Editing software: Pinnacle Studio 14. It is a royal pain working with full HD files, even on a 3-core 2.something.GHz system. The high-quality deshaking method I’ve figured out takes 30-45min per minute of video. But the results are pretty!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 12:47 pm.


First tracks of the season at Hintertux Glacier!

Snow fell in Munich in mid-October this year. Now the glaciers are open, and my favorite Austrian glacier ski resort has excellent conditions: Hintertux glacier! The resort is only a 2h drive from Munich in good weather/traffic conditions. Austria cleans the roads quite well, so is even possible to reach if it has recently snowed (though the final bit of road is a bit steep and windy; you could take a bus for the last several km if nervous about this).

There are three sections at Hintertux:

  • Top 1/3 = down to Tuxer Fernerhaus
  • Middle 1/3 = down to Sommerbergalm
  • Bottom 1/3 = Talabfahrt (exit to valley)

When I was first at Hintertuxer Gletscher this year in mid-October for 2 days, only the top 1/3 down to Tuxer Fernerhaus was open. This includes the glacier section that’s open 365 days a year, right near the top.  This past weekend (Nov. 7th), the next 1/3 was also open down to Sommerbergalm, although it was a bit icy with thin cover in parts.  Let’s see how it is this weekend, as I plan on going again.

Here’s a view of the slope on the back side, the “Schlegeis Gletscher” area:

Schlegeis Gletscher view

This slope on the back usually gets bumped up rather quickly, but is great snowboarding if you are there early(or on a quiet day…).

Here’s a view from the exit of Gletscherbus 3, the cable car that takes you to the very top at 3,250m (10,660′):

View from Gletscherbus 3 exit

For those who read the earlier post about pictures of my snowboards, I’ve now tried out the Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162… this board rocks.  It holds well on ice and carves like the piece of fine engineering it is.  I have yet to test it head-to-head against my F2 Speedster SL 158, but my impression is that the Virus board suits me better.  My sliced fingertip can also testify to the sharpness of the Virus factory edge… watch out!

Getting to Hintertux

  • If going by car, you will need to get a Vignette – the Austrian highway toll sticker which you put in the upper left corner of the windshield.  10 days costs a bit over 7 Euro, though you can also get a 2-month-pass or 1-year-pass if you’ll be skiing very often.
  • Hintertux on the map: it’s basically at the end of the road running through Zillertal / Mayrhofen.  Exit from the A12 is Wiesing.
  • If you want a fantastic restaurant after your day on the slopes, I recommend the Alte Hütte in Madseit, at the Alpinhotel Berghaus (Madseit 711, A-6294).  The grillteller with 3 kinds of meat, browned potato wedges, and all-you-can-eat salad bar really hits the spot.
  • Lodging: I can highly recommend this Pension (Bed & Breakfast) right across from the Alte Hütte: Mehlerhof has a very rustic look, but well-equipped and quite new interiors.
  • Weather warning: if it’s cold and snowing in Tirol, Hintertux will have some of the worst weather in the Alps.  High winds, whiteout conditions, and fog/clouds on the slopes.  So be aware: if the weather is poor, this resort may be your worst choice.  This snow forecast website has excellent data for Hintertux by altitude.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 11:36 am.


Kreativ Blogger Award

I was recently honored that fellow writer and blogger Wendy Morrell chose me in her “top 7” for the Kreativ Blogger Award. Thanks, Wendy — I’d put your blog on my list too, if you hadn’t already won! So, here I am to pass on the honor to seven blogs I often read. But first, the RULES for those winners who choose to pass on the award:

1. Copy and paste the picture to your own blog.
2. Thank the person who gave you the award and post a link to their blog.
3. Write 7 things about yourself we do not know.
4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award.
5. Link to those 7 other bloggers.
6. Notify your 7 bloggers.

As this is a travel & photo blog, I’ll show seven things about myself pictorially…

I skydive, though it’s been a while since my last jump. This balloon jump at the World Freefall Convention was a memorable one.

Balloon Jump at WFFC

Snowboarding is high in my winter priorities. Soelden, Austria rocks.

Snowboarding at Soelden, Austria

I’ve eaten ants in Suzhou, China. Yes, on purpose. In fact it was my suggestion…

Dave eating ants in Suzhou, China

I have a brother. Here we are in Joshua Tree, CA.

Brothers in Joshua Tree, California

Sometimes I play bass guitar, and I’ve been known to sing. Skydive Orange, VA. Dedicated to my late friend Chris Santiago, the guitar player with the ‘fro on the right.

Electric Bacon at Skydive Orange

Once I was confused for Jose Cuervo, on Oct. 31st in Richmond, VA.

Jose Cuervo

Weilheim, a town in Bavaria, hosts my favorite disc golf course in the world.

Disc Golf at Weilheim, Bayern

Now, for my recommendations, in roughly alphabetical order.  Just a short sentence about each:

  • Christina at An American Expat in Deutschland has great photos and weekly German recipes… mmm!
  • The infamous Headbang8 at Deutschland Über Elvis makes me laugh with every post, though there is a strict no-meme policy, as I recently read…
  • Ian and Wendy are globe-trotters whose travels I one day hope to equal
  • Jul at This non-American Life peppers in a lot of variety and humor into her expat blog
  • Melissa’s Bookshelf hosts a variety of great book reviews and giveaways, and gives equal treatment to Print-On-Demand authors (which I really appreciate!)
  • Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy is an excellent book review blog that’s rife with German sayings as of late
  • Regensblog with Cliff and Sarah has excellent travel articles, links to cheap travel deals, and tasty recipes

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 2:03 pm.


Snowboarding Helmetcam

The helmet camera has been upgraded with insulating Neoprene and a stereo Rode Videomic! The microphone has a “dead kitten” windscreen (no, I’m not making that up) which will hopefully cut out most of the wind noise and give me usable sound while on the slopes.

Yes, I look like a total idiot wearing this thing. It looks like I have a Don King bobble-head stuck on top of the helmet, pointy gray hair aimed forward.

I'm not sure I ever looked more silly.  Though hopefully no friends read this and feel the need to comment.

I'm not sure I ever looked more silly. Though hopefully no friends read this and feel the need to comment.

I have to say: Thanks to Mareike for the old wetsuit hoods that I sliced up to get this Neoprene! As she advised, Pattex Classic contact adhesive does an excellent job of bonding Neoprene. I also used it to glue the Velcro to the Neoprene (as the Velcro’s built-in adhesive tape wasn’t strong enough).

Front view of helmet camera setup

Front view of helmet camera setup

I mounted the Videomic (which has a standard flash accessory mount) by chopping up the top of an old camera, which I bought for €2 at Sauter camera shop in Munich.  I screwed the flash shoe of the old camera to the helmet, and used Loctite to make sure the screws stay tight.  To read more about the camera mounting bracket, please see my previous helmet camera post.

Angled view of helmet camera setup

Angled view of helmet camera setup

Now I have to see how the Canon HF200 battery does at low temperatures. Fortunately I did leave room inside the Neoprene sleeve for a hand warmer pack… and I have some! Thanks, Mom… although I doubt this was the use you intended when you gave them to me, hehe.

If all goes well I’ll have a chance to test this at the Hintertuxer Gletscher ski area this weekend. That is, if the snow stops falling for long enough. Stay tuned!

Posted 12 years, 7 months ago at 7:09 pm.


Snowboards 2009 Photo Shoot

Yesterday I talked with a friend about some Strobist stuff. I realized that I’ve hardly used my two off-camera flashes: a Vivitar 383 and a Nikon SB-600. Since I wanted some killer pics of my new Virus snowboard before I try some extreme carving with it, I thought this would be a good chance to play! The same techniques could be used for any shots, including travel photos if you choose to bring a bit of flash gear.

The flashes are to the top left and bottom right of the photo, with shoot-through umbrellas for soft light and less distinct shadows.

Santa Cruz 148, F2 Speedster SL 158, Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162

Santa Cruz 148, F2 Speedster SL 158, Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162

For the next photo I just added color gels to the flashes:

Red gel camera left, green gel camera right, shoot through umbrellas

Red gel camera left, green gel camera right, shoot through umbrellas

Now some solo photos, with no color gels. I also changed to the more focused reflective umbrellas here to get a better visual effect on the Virus’ nice carbon-fiber finish:

Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162 - beautiful carbon fiber top for extra torsional stiffness, and super-sexiness!

Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162 - beautiful carbon fiber top for extra torsional stiffness, and super-sexiness!

F2 Speedster SL 158 with Intec Titanium bindings - what a pretty board!

F2 Speedster SL 158 - what a pretty board!

Finally, here’s a setup shot so you can see where I put the umbrellas for the single-snowboard shots. I had to do a lot of adjusting for the Virus board to avoid that anything from the rear wall reflected in the mirror-like finish. I even closed blinds in another room and took some pictures off the wall! Ah, to have a studio…

Snowboard photo setup for single-board shots

Snowboard photo setup for single-board shots

Posted 12 years, 7 months ago at 12:25 am.

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Canon Helmet Video Camera

Recently I had the idea to make some snowboarding videos, which will catapult me into the realm of the super-rich when they sell like hotcakes all over the globe. I am so sure of success that I bought an HD digital video camera to make into a helmet cam. The Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder uses SD memory cards and will capture High-Def video in 1920x1080i (60i or 30p!).  And it has mechanical (optical) image stabilization!

Now, the challenge of sports video is to hold the camera while moving. You need your whole body for most sports, so the logical way is to mount the camera on a random body part that doesn’t move so much. (Hehe… I’m imagining a foot-mounted cam for running. That footage would make just about anyone hurl). Below is the bracket I made to mount the camera on a helmet that should also keep my head warm on the slopes:

Here's the bracket on my Nvertigo-X skydive hemet.

Here's the bracket on my Nvertigo-X skydive hemet.

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket (made of aluminum L-channel) to the helmet. The screw sticking up is going into the position-lock hole on the bottom of the camera. The cutout in the back is for the battery release switch. Don’t forget Loctite so those screws can’t vibrate out!

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket.  And Loctite!

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket. And Loctite!

Next I covered most of the exposed aluminum with gaffer’s tape, the best tape ever made. It’s like duct tape on crack. It unsticks easily, can be re-used, tears perfectly straight (and effortlessly)… if you never used it, I recommend to order some from B&H Photo or any camera place. Finally, I put a piece of velcro around the camera (through its hand-strap) as a safety in case the mounting screw were to come undone.

Here you can see the Canon Vixia mounted on the helmet.

Here you can see the Canon Vixia mounted on the helmet.

Sure, you could argue that the chin cup makes you look silly when wearing a helmet like this (as someone pointed out to me). But you need strong support to hold the camera on the side (or top) of your head, and a chin cup is the best way. One note: this setup wouldn’t be ideal for skydiving unless you add a bracket to protect the back of the camera from riser strike. The start/stop record button (right on the back, sticking out) would probably get smacked by a riser on almost every opening.

Front view of the final product.

Front view of the final product.

If you want to see video taken with the Canon Vixia HF200 helmet-cam after I’ve put it to the test, just subscribe using the orange RSS or E-mail links on the left sidebar! First use may be on the side of a cliff at the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain), weather permitting.

Video tips:

  • PC — So far I’ve found that you need a very fast PC to edit 1920×1080 video. I have a AMD Phenom II X3 (the three-core system — for my ex-Qimonda friends, I guess they’re “leftovers” where one core of a quad-core chip didn’t pass the testing!). Editing some short videos it works OK, e.g. 3 minutes of video takes ~10 minutes to render.
  • Progressive scan — Use the camera’s progressive feature to avoid most interlacing issues. Computers and many new flat TV’s display in progressive, and if the software doesn’t deinterlace properly you get weird line artifacts with fast motion. In PF30 mode, the camera captures the frame all at once, then displays the 2 parts of the image (“even” and “odd” lines) in successive frames of the 60i (interlaced) stream. This is a way to use 60i hardware to record a 30p progressive image.
  • Cold weather — When using this in the cold, the battery is going to die FAST. I’m going to make a thick neoprene shell to wrap around it, and will use handwarmer packs to keep the camera and battery warm (so the recording time will be longer and less error-prone).
  • Wide Angle Lens — For most sports where you use a POV (Point Of View) camera, you’ll want a wider angle than what the stock lens provides. This camera accepts 37mm lenses, and I have a wide angle Kenko lens for it (the black attachment on the front). I have a fisheye lens too, but that’s a bit much for most applications.
  • Screen corners — The camcorder screen doesn’t show 100% of the image, so you can’t see the very edges. This is a problem with a wide or fisheye lenses at widest zoom. I never realized on the cam that I could see the UV filter edge in the corners when using my standard wide lens! Filter now removed. However, I saw that in the camera’s media folder, the thumbnail of the video does display the full size including corners, if you need to check this in the field.
  • Shutter speed — High shutter speed definitely gives an appearance of jerkiness, I believe because there is no motion blur within the frame. A bit of motion blur seems to help the eye interpret the scene as moving! So I will have to experiment with this in snowboarding or Ultimate Frisbee, using 1/500s for some shots and lower shutter speeds for others. Very slow shutter speed (like 1/30s) is too blurred, though.
  • Camera motion — Don’t move the camera too fast. The background just doesn’t look good when the whole scene is moving fast! It might be OK only if (e.g.) a snowboarder was very close to the camera, and you move with him, thereby making him not only the focus but the largest screen area as well. I will experiment this winter!

If you’re interested to buy the Canon Vixia HF200, please use the link below and support a freelance author (hehe).  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the HF200. It’s an upgrade of the old HF100 and brother to the HF20 (which has built-in flash memory at a steep add-on price). Avoid Hard Disk based recorders for sports, where shocks may stop the disk drive.

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Posted 12 years, 8 months ago at 12:12 pm.


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