If you live in the northern part of the US, you know that the summer driving season isn’t all that long. Combine that with a serious lack of available track time, and a “home movie” of your time behind the wheel is just what you’ll need to pass the hours until next season. But that means you’re going to have to begin shooting now.
With so many options out there, what’s the best video setup for your car?
My first choice was a GoPro Hero 6 Black. I bought it in 2019 from Amazon right after GoPro released the Hero 7. I got the Hero 6 because it was about $100 less than the Hero 7 and it shoots the same 4K UHD (ultra-high-definition) video at 60 fps (frames per second). That speed is ideal for doing an analysis of your line going through Big Bend or the left-hander at Lime Rock Park (my home track) but obviously, it works equally well everywhere else. Although to be fair, you’re also going to need some specialized software to see some performance metrics. Look for that in an upcoming column.
The Hero 7 and the Hero 8 received progressively better image stabilization software and to my mind, the question was ‘is it noticeably better?’ That depends on your definition of “noticeably.” If you’re on the road or at an AutoX course, you probably won’t notice the difference. If you’re continually hitting the rumble strips on the track, you might see some vibration on the video. Take that into consideration when you make your choice. The biggest physical difference on the Hero 8 is that the mounting plates are part of the camera. That makes an external case unnecessary.
The GoPro Hero 9 Black – my latest camera – is a whole different animal. To start with, it comes with mounts that fold up flat. The camera shoots 5K video – which is stunning – and can shoot from 30 to 240 frames per second. You can use the camera to shoot video, still photos, and time-lapse photos. Each of those has several preset options. For Video, the options are (standard, activity, cinematic, and slo-mo); for photos, the options are photo (wide), Live Burst (wide) iBurst (auto wide). And in Slo-Mo, your options are time warp, time-lapse and night lapse. But the coolest part feature is that you edit those or you can create your own presents. Need a slower frame rate? Easy. Special white balance modes? Yup, you can do that too. Oh, and you want the image to track the horizon or stay fixed. Everything is adjustable.
Pro tip: Get the optional Media Mod for your GoPro 9 when you place your order. The media mod comes with a built-in directional mic with a foam wind suppression cover on the front, and on the backside, you’ll find a 3.5mm mic port, an HDMI-out and a USB 3 port under waterproof flaps, as well as two cold-shoe mounts. And the entire packing is built to be tough and weather-resistant. Easily worth the few extra bucks it’ll cost you.
Decide what you want to shoot first and then buy your mounts. A camera mounted to the top of your windshield inside the car will give you a different viewpoint than one suction-cupped to the top of the dashboard. A camera mounted to the hood or attached to your tow hook (see below) will be much closer to the road and will give you another view entirely. If you want some cool interior shots, you can mount your camera to your roll bar or style hoops for an over-the-shoulder view, or you can suction cup one to the inside of the windshield on the passenger’s side and point it back to you as the driver. Just like real estate, it’s location, location, location.
Once you’ve picked out where you want to shoot from, it’s time to pick your mounts. Your GoPro comes with sturdy plastic housing and some basic adhesive mounts, but you’re going to want more than that. I wanted the flexibility of being able to take videos of myself while I am driving, as well as videos of the road (ahead and behind me). That [mostly] meant I needed a mounting system with a removable suction cup base. These are my basic options:
I started out with 6-inch gooseneck-style mount. The one I picked out from Joby has a 2 ½” suction cup on one end and a hot shoe-style mount on the other. My thinking was that I could stick the suction cup anywhere on the car (front window, hood, fender, door, or rear deck) and bend the neck into any position I wanted. And I could, but there was a hitch. While the suction cup never budged, if the road surface was too uneven, the gooseneck had just enough flex in it that the camera jumped. A SteadyCam it is not. That won’t be as much of a problem with later GoPro cameras as they have much better image stabilization capabilities.
Mount number two (which I got from Sublimeware) has a larger 3″ suction cup base and a removable 3” hard plastic arm. The arm has zero give in it – once you lock it into place, it stays there. That eliminates the bouncing video problem. But after a day at the track, I realized it still wasn’t quite right. Although there were several adjustment points (and with some additional fittings it could be positioned into almost any position), it still wasn’t as flexible in terms of camera angles as the gooseneck mount. Plus, all those additional fittings to make the camera angles possible extended the length of the arm. I needed something with the flexibility of a gooseneck and the stability of a hard plastic arm. I needed a Super Knuckle.
Because I like to take my car to the track for autocross and HPDE days, I have a roll bar installed behind the seats. Obviously, the chief function of a roll bar is to keep you from getting your head crushed in the event that your car flips over but the side benefit is that they make excellent mounting points for your camera. The one I got is from GoPro and is adjustable to fit just about any size of tubing. Keep in mind that it may or may not work if you have a padded roll bar.
Pro tip: Connect your smartphone to the GoPro’s built-in WiFi network. That way, you can preview what the image will look like when you adjust the camera position – something that’s not easily accomplished when you have a two-seater and the roll bar is behind you. And, you can turn the camera off and on from the car while you’re inside behind the wheel.