What’s the best way to relive your summer drives in the winter? Video!
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 GoPro setup for cars?
First step: Get a GoPro
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.
Second step: Pick your camera position
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.
Third Step: Camera mounts
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:
Inside the car
1. Gooseneck Mount
I started out with a 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.
2. Fixed Position Mount
Mount number two (which I got from Sublimeware) has a larger 3″ suction cup base and a removable 3” hard plastic arm. (There’s also the official GoPro mount.) 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.
3. Roll Bar Mount
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.
Outside the car mounts
1. The Super Knuckle Mount
What’s a Super Knuckle you ask? It’s a professional-grade mounting system with incredible flexibility. Designed by a company called Kupo, based in Elmsford, NY, the Super Knuckle system uses a ball and socket approach. They offer a wide variety of interchangeable parts that allow for 360-degree movement on both the x- and y-axis. In other words, there is no camera angle you can’t get.
For my needs, I selected 2 bases. For videos that require the camera to be mounted on the hood, a window, a door, the rear deck, or any other flat non-porous surface, I chose the Super Knuckle Suction cup base. I can also use this to shoot videos of myself while I’m driving, but the camera is positioned at eye level. Occasionally I want an “up” angle, and for those videos, I got a Super Knuckle Cup Holder mount.
Now you have to connect the camera housing to the mounts, and for that, you need a Super Knuckle GoPro mount.
The magic – what ties the system together – is the Super Knuckle joint itself. Insert the ball on either base into one end, and the ball on the GoPro into the other. Then you lightly tighten the screw. This allows you to bend the whole thing into the position you want. Tighten the screw all the way and you’re done.
One thing to note. Most racetracks won’t allow you on the track unless the camera is inside the vehicle. Cameras mounted outside the car with any kind of suction cup mount usually require a tether that prevents them from flying off and creating a debris problem on the track. Even then, they may say no. The only sure way to make sure your camera isn’t going anywhere is to attach it to the tow hook.
2. The Tow Hook Mount (hands-down best for outside the car)
Most people don’t realize it, but just about every modern car on the road (the ones with plastic bumpers) has a hole in the front or rear bumper where you can screw in a tow hook. Have a look at yours – I’ll bet there’s one there. You’re looking for a small, round, plastic cover (about the size of a 50-cent coin) that you can pop out with a screwdriver. Once it’s out, look inside and you’ll see a place to screw in a tow hook.
My current fun car is a 2006 Mazda Miata GT, and I found a tow hook mount that fits my car at Goodwin Racing. (My last car was a Porsche Boxster, and I got that one from Rennline.) You have to do a little digging on Google for yours. Just go online and do a search for “tow hook GoPro mount” and you’ll find what you need. Make sure you put in the make, model, and year of your car because the thread patterns and shaft lengths differ from vehicle to vehicle.
Fourth step: Supercharge the audio
The first thing you’re going to notice when you watch your video is the wind noise. If the camera is inside the car, it’s not too bad. But if the camera is outside the car, especially on the hood or the doors, it’s loud. And right after you notice the wind, you’re going to notice a lack of exhaust sounds on your video. That’s because the built-in GoGpro microphone is OK if you’re on your bike, hiking through the woods, or is strapped to your dog’s back, but it is useless when it comes to hearing you blip the throttle while running through the gears on a twisty road.
If you want to get really serious about your audio, then you’re going to want to hear some exhaust noise. That’s going to take an external microphone with a windscreen. If you’re using a GoPro 5/6/7/8 you’re also going to need an adapter and a long cable to do it. The GoPro 9/10 just needs the media mod. I picked a small Olympus stereo microphone. It tucks nicely into the small space between the license plate and the bumper directly above the exhaust.
Don’t forget to change your audio settings
You’re going to want to fine-tune the settings on the GoPro so that it separates the audio from the video tracks – something it doesn’t do by default.
This is one of the new settings that was introduced with the HERO5 Black. It allows you to create a separate audio track at a higher quality than the one embedded into the mp4 video file. In other words, it’s a standalone detached audio file. (Cool, right?)
The default is Off. There’s no separate audio file created, so you use the one embedded in the mp4 video file.
Low creates a separate WAV file and applies minimal processing and will often sound the worst straight out of the camera. It’s the closest to a true raw audio feed, so it’s a good option if you’re planning to work on the audio track in audio software or video editing software.
The Medium creates a separate WAV file. This setting’s behavior varies based on whether you have the Manual Audio Control setting on or off. If you have it set to either wind or stereo, it will respect that. If you have Manual Audio Control switched off, the Medium setting here will switch automatically between wind and stereo depending on which it calculates to give better results.
The High setting creates a separate WAV file and applies the maximum amount of in-camera processing on the audio, including automatic gain and AAC encoding.
You’re also going to want to download the GoPro app onto your phone. It works really well, allowing you to see the shot before you start recording, and to start/stop your camera remotely. That’s a really nice feature to have when you’re on pit lane and don’t want to have 5 minutes of waiting time on your video before you’re waved onto the track.
Get a fixed mount for your cellphone. There are a number of cellphone holders out there but if you’re going to use it during spirited driving, you want one that the cellphone won’t fall off of. For the Miata, I bought one from ILS in Germany. I didn’t like the mounts that stick on the dash or clip to the vents, and theirs was the best solution. For the Boxster, the best one I could find was from Rennline. Regardless, the viewing angles are infinitely adjustable and it holds the phone firmly in place. Your car will likely require a different mount but try and stay away from the vent clip-on styles. They just don’t do a great job of holding the phone in place.
Not many of us – myself included – are ever going to be world-class movie directors. Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and Spike Lee ain’t got nothin’ to worry about. But if you’re going to try, this equipment list will set you up to succeed.
My Perfect GoPro Car Setup Equipment List:
- GoPro Hero 9 Black Camera
- GoPro Hero 9 Media Mod
- Super Knuckle GoPro Mount
- Super Knuckle Car Cup Holder
- Super Knuckle 3” Suction Cup
- Super Knuckle
- Artman Protective Housing Case (for GoPro 5/6/7 only)
- Joby Gooseneck Mount
- GoPro Rollbar Mount
- GoPro Suction Cup Windshield Mount by SublimeWare
- UGREEN 15’ 3.5mm Male to Female Extension Stereo Audio Extension Cable
- Olympus ME-51S Stereo Microphone
- Rennline ExactFit Magnetic Phone Mount (Porsche Only)
- Cellet Car Cup Holder Phone Mount (Universal)