GoPro and Hyperlapse Technology

14 September 2014 02:00 PM CDT

A lil essay about two things I love - GoPro cameras and time lapse movies.

I’ve found that making time lapse movies is one of the best uses of my GoPro camera. The functionality is built in, the free GoPro Studio software easily accommodates movie making, and the device has an array of mounts that make framing the perfect shot easy. I’ve made time lapse movies from inside movie cars, from my bicycle handlebars, from an ATV, and from numerous stationary and stable surfaces. Most of my friends expect to see my GoPro if we’re out doing something interesting. And odds are, I’m going to make a time lapse of something. I just got back from a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and I made a time lapse of the drive from Knoxville to Asheville.

One of the biggest challenges of making time lapse movies comes when you want to make a time lapse while the camera is in motion. This is referred to as hyper lapse. Time lapse = camera is stationary while taking pictures. Hyper lapse = camera is in motion while taking pictures. The challenge is in balancing and stabilizing the camera so that you don’t have a crazy jittery and bouncy time lapse movie when you stitch all of your images together. The end result is often far from smooth.

A couple of weeks ago I read a research report from a lab at Microsoft Research. They had been investigating ways of smoothing out hyper lapse movies. Their entire focus was in the post processing phase of the time lapse creation. Meaning, they took all of the images and then tried to smooth the movie with software. Final Cut Pro also offers this kind of functionality. You can ask the software to stabilize a shot. However, this often takes a tremendous amount of processing power as the computer has to analyze each individual frame of the movie (and movies are anywhere from 24 to 120 frames per second these days). So stabilizing a 2 minute clip often takes a long time. The Microsoft research I read was simply trying to find a better stabilization algorithm.

Enter Instagram. A week or so ago Instagram released an app called … drum roll … Hyperlapse. And all it does is facilitate the creation of hyper lapse movies. The app is super simple to use. You open it up and start recording. When you’re done recording it instantly stabilizes your clip and lets you pick a playback speed. On the surface it doesn’t really appear all that amazing or magical. But it is. The good people at Instagram realized that they couldn’t rely on the processing power of the phone to stabilize a shot. So they had to figure out an alternative solution. And what they discovered is that you can take the data streams coming from several of the phones internal sensors, and then use all that data to stabilize the clip. The phone comes with a built in gyroscope and compass. It always knows the pitch, yaw, and roll of the device (the position of the phone relative to x, y, and z axes). With that data, and a clever algorithm, you can easily (or more appropriately, more efficiently) stabilize a clip. It is truly a remarkable accomplishment.

All of that to say, keep your eyes on GoPro. Lots and lots of people use GoPro cameras to make time lapse movies. People choose GoPro cameras because they help amateurs look like professionals. Think you’re an awesome snowboarder? Well, strap a GoPro on your board and another on your helmet and now you’re an awesome snowboarder. The same goes for skiers, surfers, mountain bikers, you name it. The goal of the company has been to make anyone feel empowered through the use of the GoPro camera. The camera itself, and the movie making capability it provides, offers anyone the opportunity to be a professional. Or to at least look like one. But what GoPro needs now is more sensors. They need to start shoving sensors in their cameras. With a compass and a gyroscope the camera can start gathering data about the cameras position. And with that data a user can make their shots look even more incredible. Which is exactly what GoPro wants to do for their customers. If the GoPro Studio video editing software could take the camera sensor data, as well as the video footage and photographs, a user can be even more empowered when making a movie of their day at the beach. Or their time lapse footage of their mountain bike ride.

GoPro is a smart and nimble company. I fully expect them to start offering these kinds of products to their customers. So, GoPro, are you listening? As a loyal customer from day one (yes, I still own my original GoPro Hero), I want more sensors in a future generation camera. I want to be able to use my GoPro to make hyper lapse movies. I look forward to seeing a promo clip for a future generation device highlighting that functionality.