Now that I’ve got more and more into heading to the track, I had to make one of the (many) mandatory additions to my tool kit: an action camera.  I own a very old bullet camera setup that I used to use to record flight video, putting together some motivational “hooah” videos for the unit.  It worked fairly well, keeping in mind this was well before GoPro existed.  On the downside, it was standard definition and required an external recorder, which meant toting around a pair of old Canon video cameras I picked up off of eBay.  Fast forward to today, and everybody at the track has a GoPro (or Racecam or Contour or SmartyCam.)  They make for a good tool to see where you need to improve, how mistakes unfolded, and just plain bragging rights (usually for the folks captured passing me.)

I did a bit of researching and settled on the GoPro Hero 3 Black.  It was (and still is at the time of this post) the top of the line action camera.  Highest resolution, fastest frame rates, WIFI, yada yada, so on and so forth.  Sony also recently released a very tempting camera, and Contour (or whatever they are calling themselves now) was also keeping their products competitive.  I went with the GoPro not only based on the positive reviews of its video quality, but more so because it is by far and away the most popular camera.  I reckoned this would mean more support from fellow users, easier time getting assistance out in the field, and more accessories.  I was right and all that turned out to be very true.

Unfortunately, the first Hero 3 I received failed to update its firmware.  I got a continuous over-temp warning, then the camera would automatically shut down.  I went through the GoPro customer support, who tried to walk me through several work-arounds, all of which failed, including beta versions of the firmware.  Fortunately the seller I purchased from offered to take it back and send me out another one.  Thankfully this version powered up correctly and took the update like it should.  So I finally got the opportunity to test it out.

I knew I had to do something about the wind noise.  So you would think placing the camera inside would cure this issue… nope.  In fact it introduces a whole other issue: rattling/popping/crackling!  I thought maybe my second Hero3 was also dysfunctional, but a quick Google search revealed that it was a very common issue, especially when using the on-board microphone in an automotive environment. 

The common solutions appears to be just circumventing the on-board microphone and going to an external.  I searched around for what others were using, and I ran across the Polar Pro Filters microphone (more on that later).  It was reasonably priced, or so I thought, so I gave it a try.  I picked up the GoPro USB-to-3.5mm Stereo adapter (necessary with the Hero3) and male to female extension cord from Walmart.  You can’t simply plug the microphone adapter into the camera, since the water-proof case has no provision for access.  I could purchase another $50 Skeleton Case, which has multiple access points, or just simply Dremel out the access I required.  I opted to use the case I already had, I don’t intend to do any water sports recording, at least not anytime soon.  Simple enough job to do, and provides for a tight fit.

Below you can see the hole I cut to allow the microphone adapter to plug into the mini-USB port.  On the back of the case (the door) I added a zip-tie anchor, adhered using 3M trim-tape.  This allows me to secure the mic adapter without it flopping around.

Hole cut in side of caseZip-tie attachment

I used another zip-tie anchor on the license plate of my M Coupe to attach the microphone to.  The stereo extension cord was plenty long enough to stretch between the camera and rear hatch area.  I few tactically placed zip-ties and painters tape kept everything secured.  You can see the setup in the four photos below.

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The audio quality was immensely improved over the internal GoPro microphone.  Wind noise was drastically cut, as was the crackling and popping.  The downside: I was picking up a lot of subsonic noise from the exhaust.  The quad Supersprint exhaust and headers make for a very deep throb, which overwhelms the microphone.  Playback on a phone or laptop and you probably wouldn’t notice this.  But play back on a real stereo and be prepared for blown subwoofers.  

I started looking for ways around this, such as higher end microphones.  This led me to the Sony  ECM DS70P (they can be had for $45 on Amazon) which in turn led me to numerous posts about cheap Chinese knock-offs of this microphone, and in turn Polar Pro’s use of these knock-offs.  I examined my Polar Pro microphone closer, discovering it had already cracked after one use.  I cut away the wind-blocker to see what I had, sure enough it was a Chinese copy.  They look very similar, but the quality is not there.  These copies can be found for under $10 online, yet Polar Pro is charging $40 (or $20 without the wind-blocker.)  The photos below show a comparison of the Sony (left) and the Polar Pro Chinese copy (right.)  Notice they removed the word “Sony” yet it is cast into the plastic in the back.

 Sony vs Polar ProSony vs Polar Pro 2

I simply placed the wind-blocker from the Polar Pro onto the new Sony microphone, securing it with hot-glue just like it was before.  I haven’t had an opportunity to test the new Sony microphone, but I’ll be sure to update this post with my impressions.

Of course you also need a place to put all this fancy equipment, so I naturally started looking for a Pelican case.  Nearly every tool or test set I work with comes with a customized Pelican case, and while expensive, they are worth it.  I found an eBay seller who offers cases customized with cutouts for single cams, two cams, two layers, etc.  Prices were competitive, and he offers several different colors.  I’m able to fit two cameras (one for now), two suction mounts, batteries, chargers, remotes, microphones, cables, even my Qstarz BT-Q818XT Bluetooth GPS.

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I still have quite a bit of tinkering left to really dial in the “right” setup, to include settings on the camera and post-capture video processing.