Is the Olfi One.Five Camera Better Than a GoPro?

It’s easy to understand how I wound up with an Olfi One.Five camera: I like sticking it to The Man. I have never owned a Gibson guitar or Marshall amp — Carvin guitars and Fryette amps for me, thanks. And no "Trekalized" bikes for me, either -- when I worked at a bike shop and Santa Cruz came on the scene, I yapped at the owners about the then-emerging brand until they became a dealer and that’s what I’ve preferred since. I also love laughing at MacBook sheep from behind the screen of my Linux-based laptop.

Olfi One.Five
A screen shot from the Olfi One.Five.

And let’s face it: GoPro is The Man when it comes to action sports cameras. It’s the one brand you know even if you don’t know anything else about action sports cameras. I’ve been using an older Hero model for years, and time has taken its toll. When I started looking for a new action sports camera, I started looking for GoPro alternatives to assuage my iconoclastic buying habits.

That led me to the $150 US Olfi One.Five. I now have enough time using the Olfi One.Five to assess whether it’s a potential GoPro killer – and whether you should by the upstart or simply stick with the man. My aim is mainly to make more and better mountain bike videos, along with fun silly stuff like sledding, skiing and other crazy stuff that crosses my mind.

Camera Test: The Olfi One.Five from Justin Schmid on Vimeo.

Olfi One.Five by the Numbers

On paper, the Olfi slaughters my old GoPro. It has 4k video, wifi controls, an LCD screen and a very solid protective enclosure; it also includes a slick carrying case. It’s also inexpensive at about $150 – you have to fork over a lot more for a GoPro with the same features.

Compare all this to the 720 resolution of my old GoPro. That thing doesn’t have wifi, and the enclosure is frankly on the shitty side. It’s also about twice the heft of the Olfi.

Olfi One.Five
The Olfi One-Five, ready for action.

Here’s a dose of reality, though: 4K is nice, but I — and most other action camera users — make videos for YouTube. The Olfi wifi controls are so wonky that I quit trying to use them. The LCD screen shortens the battery life dramatically.

The Olfi One.Five produces decent video at 1080 resolution, though. That enclosure is also a beauty. It stays in one piece, so you won’t lose bits of it. The mountain parts are also compatible with GoPro accessories, which is great if you have a drawer full of them.

The form factor is idiosyncratic: It’s a rectangle like GoPro, but mounted vertically instead of horizontally. I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I’d rather have the mounting parts on top of the camera so it can dangle below the mount. But that would make the controls harder to reach.

Olfi One.Five
A sharp screen grab from the Olfi One.Five. And yes, this is Arizona!

Care and Feeding of the Olfi One.Five

The Olfi One.Five also has some annoying habits. Its battery life seems to drain just sitting there: I’d charge it immediately after a ride. I’d come back a few days later, head out to the trail, turn the camera on and it would have 25 percent battery life (and yes, I checked immediately after charging to make sure it was fully charged).

I also had problems with the date – I set it, and it seemed to reset to factory defaults a few weeks later. There were also incidents where I thought it was recording video – right down to the flashing red lights – and I’d go home, plug it into the computer and find absolutely nada. It failed to record, and I just don’t know why.

I leave open the possibility of some sort of user error – still, I have never had a single problem with my old GoPro Hero. It simply works when called upon, end of story.

Olfi One.Five
Taking a look at the Olfi One.Five from a different angle.

Here’s another advantage for GoPro -- its GoPro Studio editing software. It’s free, and does a really nice job for basic movie making. Unfortunately, it only plays nice with GoPro footage. The Olfi One.Five footage wouldn’t import. Being able to use GoPro Studio is a nice little advantage.

Where the Olfi One.Five excels is in a few little extras: The package includes a nice carrying case complete with high-density foam that features cutouts for the various pieces.

The protective plastic case that protects the Olfi One.Five from on-the-job damage is also far superior to the GoPro case: It snaps shut with a reassuring sound, and it’s all one piece (I’ve lost pieces of the closing mechanism on my old GoPro).

Verdict on the Olfi One.Five

Look, I don’t hate the Olfi One.Five. But I wouldn’t buy one again. I’d find an entry-level GoPro (and no, I wouldn’t miss the LCD screen one bit – it’s entirely possible to frame a good shot without it) for about the same price and call it good. My old GoPro sets a precedent for reliability, even if diving into its options is a bit clunky because it lacks an LCD screen.

But I rarely adjust that stuff anyway. The advantages of the One.Five just don’t overcome what GoPro offers, especially from ease of use and editing (which is the most-laborious part of the process for me).

I hate to say this, but sometimes The Man is The Man for a reason. And Olfi is in no danger of taking GoPro’s place.

Think your company’s action camera can beat the Olfi One.Five and the GoPro? Let’s talk!


Lightning Over Scottsdale

I don’t usually do photo-only posts. But I snapped a nice shot from the nighttime storm that rolled into Phoenix. I’m not sure if this is actually a monsoon storm or not … but hey, call it what you will. It’s something besides hot, dry and sunny. This shot of lightning over Scottsdale is probably my best storm shot so far.

Lightning Scottsdale Arizona (Photo by Justin Schmid. Commercial use without permission is not allowed.)

And look! Here’s some slow-motion video of the lightning over Scottsdale to go along with the still. The photo came from my Pentax K-50. The video is from my GoPro … the original Hero, not any of the fancy new ones!


Review: Fotodiox Aftermarket GoPro Mounts

aftermarket GoPro mounts
Some of the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox.

I’ve been on the hunt for aftermarket GoPro mounts. Every few months, I break one of the stock plastic mounts that come with the Helmet Hero cameras. I have a grab bag of spares, so it’s not the biggest deal.

But I really want to some tougher aftermarket GoPro mounts, preferably made from aluminum. I’ve found a few over the past year, and I recently thought I’d hit the jackpot when I ran across Fotodiox. The company has a laundry list of aftermarket GoPro parts, including aluminum extender arms. I ordered enough of its GoTough accessories to help me get creative with camera angles.

Now, Fotodiox doesn’t have a compact handlebar mount – so I stuck with using my K-Edge GO BIG (I’m tempted to say the K-EDGE stuff is overpriced. There’s just one little thing, though: It’s never, ever failed me.) mount for the handlebar and suspension fork.

What I’m about to tell you about the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox pains me. I don’t want to say it because the Fotodiox crew is friendly on social media and ships promptly when you place an order.

But holy cow, I broke one of the GoTough extender arms within 30 seconds of riding on my local trail. On a hardtail singlespeed with a short-travel, lightweight, cross-country suspension fork. Less than 30 seconds.

The guy in American Pie lasted longer.

aftermarket gopro mounts
Broken already – the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts.

And I feel a bit bad hanging Fotodiox out to dry in these terms. But as friendly as they are on social media, they dropped the ball when I sent an email on May 13 outlining the problems I had with their GoTough extenders. I sent the same info to them via their email form, too. If a company doesn’t at least say "Hey, we got your message" after a few days, my goodwill melts. And I tried to be nice about it (see text of the letter).

So, why did the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts blow up?

Each GoTough arm is made from at least two pieces of aluminum – I’m guessing it’s cast since I don’t see the telltale signs of CNC machining. The pieces are held together with either two or four tiny machine screws.

I noticed problems from the moment I test-mounted some the GoTough extenders. There was wiggle in all of them; I found the screws when I started looking for the source of the play. I then tightened all the screws with small screwdrivers.

It seemed OK, so I went for a ride. I figured a milk run to a trail nearby would provide an adequate test. Everything was fine as I rode to the trail. It all went to hell when I went off-road.

The Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts have other problems, too.

There’s a lot of space between the "knuckles" that connect the GoTough extensions to each other. This means I had to tighten the pieces so much that the aluminum crimped noticeably. If they were each as little as a quarter of a millimeter thicker, Fotodiox might solve this problem.

As for the other problem -- the extenders need to be one piece. Screwing them together is screwing them up. They won’t be able to withstand the pounding of mountain bike or extreme sports with such small-diameter screws with just about two millimeters of metal to bit into. It just won’t work.

I’ll update when/if Fotodiox responds to my email. I hope they have some ideas.

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5 Tips to Make a Mountain Bike Video That Doesn’t Suck

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
My bike, ready to roll video at Pima & Dynamite.

Someone just posted a 17-minute mountain bike video on YouTube. It’s a painful slog through a trail – one camera angle The.Whole.Damn.Time. This sucks. And there is entirely too much of this visual colon exam brand of suck on YouTube, Vimeo and the rest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m no film maker. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can tell you how to make a mountain bike video that doesn’t suck.

Tell a Story
Are you making a video just because you bought a GoPro Helmet Hero? Woah. Slow your roll. Think. Would you watch a movie because Sam Raimi or Quentin Tarantino just bought a new camera? Even if the answer is "maybe," you didn’t direct Army of Darkness or Pulp Fiction.

So before you pop that camera into a helmet mount, think. What about your ride could be interesting? First time on a particular trail? Your longest ride ever? A really cool race? Did your favorite trail just get a maintenance facelift?

Find the story … and tell it.

I'm ready for my close up.
I’m ready for my close up.

Vary Your Camera Angles
The video I mentioned above? One single solitary view: straight ahead. What a god-awful snoozefest. Whether the terrain is forest, desert, tundra or sewer tunnels, one viewpoint makes for dullness.

What can you do? Well, here are some of my go-to angles:
-Handlebar, facing straight. I always show a little front tire for perspective.
-Handlebar, facing to the side and showing hand and brake lever.
-Handlebar, pointing down to show the fork. Great for technical bits.
-Handlebar, facing rider. Always good to get a person.
-Seatpost facing rear. Awesome for passing people!
-Seatpost facing front. Definitely shakes things up.
-Have a friend with a helmet cam. Mo’ angles, mo’ riders, mo’ fun!

If you whine "But that’s a lot of work during a ride, and I don’t want to hold anyone up" -- then don’t make your movie during that ride. Go with some people who don’t care (every movie needs stars) about some delays. Yeah, it takes some time to move the camera around. Or you can have a bike with SRAM 9.0 instead of XO and maybe an X-Fusion fork instead of a Fox – that way, you can afford three Helmet Hero cameras and not have to switch so much!

Keep Each Bit Short
I rarely show one clip for longer than 10 seconds. I keep most clips at 3-6 seconds. I also try to vary the camera angle every 3 clips or so. This keeps it all from getting monotonous.

Just forkin' around.
Just forkin’ around.

Font Something Once in Awhile
Flash some text on the screen. It can be something informative, funny, insulting, whatever. It’s just a nice way to add something extra to the story you’re telling.

Shorter is Better
If you are guilty of making a 15-minute mountain bike movie with a helmet cam, do me a favor: Invite a bunch of random people over. Sit them down and make them watch your opus. Within 60 seconds, people will be playing "Words with Friends" on their smart phones, squirming in their seat and looking for rafters in your ceiling so they can hang themselves by their belt.

But if you apply all the rest of these tips and jam it into a sub-5-minute package, they’ll ask when the sequel is coming out.

Have you seen an amateur mountain bike video that you love? Link to it in the comments!

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