“You should do more video!”
We know, we know. We should do more video. We should be doing more with this storytelling medium.
But here’s the thing: creating videos can be a really time consuming. It’s not just capturing the footage or being comfortable on camera — that’s usually the easiest part. Instead, it’s what to do with ALL that footage and how to assemble it in a way that doesn’t leave you tearing your hair out and staring at your laptop cursing at complicated video editing software for hours on end. In fact, we actually have gigabytes of video footage on our external hard drives that remains in that “one day it would be cool to make a video with this” category.
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If you take a look at our video page or YouTube channel you’ll see that we used to do videos a lot in the early days. That was when we had a super simple Windows movie editor and Dan was a champ at churning out short, fun videos from our time in Southeast and Central Asia.
So why do we not do more video now? A confluence of reasons:
2) Ease of Shooting: If it’s difficult or time-consuming to set up a camera for the shoot, the less likely we actually think to take it with us and use it.
3) Too much footage and an inefficient way to select and tag best clips: Sadly, most of the video footage we’ve shot, whether on a DSLR, pocket camera or iPhone is just sitting on an external hard drive.
4) Too long to edit: While we don’t need perfection, we do want a video to look good and be fun. And we want to be able to produce it pretty quickly. Otherwise, the video just won’t get made…or will take months to do so when the excitement of the moment has passed.
Some of you might be thinking that perhaps we are a bit finicky and high maintenance. Perhaps. But, I bet we aren’t alone, particularly in the category of travelers don’t post more videos or share more video footage real time from their travels with friends and family.
So when TomTom contacted us to take a look at its new action camera, the Bandit, and explained why it was designed the way it was — to not only take great video footage, but to make it easy and fast for people to create and share videos right from their smartphone — we were curious. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks testing it to see not only the quality of the footage, but also how it addresses some of the issues above. Our goal: that more of the video footage we take might actually see the light of day instead of collecting digital dust on a hard drive.
Before the details of our review, a video we created with the TomTom Bandit.
As some of you know, we love exploring Berlin on bicycle. To us, it’s an essential approach to experiencing the city. Why? Cycling helps conquer the sheer size (Berlin is over 345 square miles / 895 square kilometers!) and diversity of the city. On any given day riding around Berlin on bicycle you might feel as though you’ve traveled to several cities, for each neighborhood (kiez in Berlin-speak) exhibits a different feel from the other, particularly because of its post-war history as a divided city. Add to that huge swathes of parks, lakes, rivers, forests – and more bridges than Venice. Not to mention, there are reminders of Berlin’s history everywhere, from World War II to the Berlin Wall. Cycling Berlin is at turns refreshing and sobering, for it helps lay bare the city's endless cycle of creation, destruction and rebirth.
To share a little bit of why we love exploring Berlin by bicycle we attached the TomTom Bandit to one of our bicycles for the day and rode out to some of our favorite spots in the city — some well known, some not so well known. Here’s a glimpse of what we saw.
Note: No laptop was used in the making of this video. We captured all the footage with the TomTom Bandit action camera, and performed the review and editing using and an iPhone 6, and the TomTom Bandit and iMovie apps. More details on this below.
So, how did the TomTom Bandit hold up against our four objectives listed above?
Gear: Size and Functionality
In the size and weight category, the Bandit does pretty well. The actual device is small, light and fits easily in a coat pocket. Since it’s easy to transfer video files from the camera to your smartphone by syncing the two devices and using the app, you don’t need to carry any additional cords.
As we mounted the Bandit on our bicycles where we knew we’d be in a lot of wind we always kept the tiny deadcat wind muff (the funny thing that looks like a little gray beard) on the camera for all of the shooting we did. As we reviewed the footage, we were impressed how the setup reduced wind noise.
In terms of price, the TomTom Bandit is in a similar range as its main competitor, the GoPro Hero4, with the Basic Pack selling at $399 and the Premium Pack (including accessories like the waterproof lens, bike mount, 360-degree pitch mount, remote control, etc.) selling at $499.
One thing that surprised us, in a good way, was that there was no need for an additional battery charger as the battery pulls out from the camera unit and plugs directly into a USB port (works well with the Belkin multi-plug surge protector that we carry with us).
A note on battery life: The battery is supposed to last for about three hours of continual shooting (at 1080p30), but if you’re syncing the camera with your phone a lot as we did — either for the viewfinder, editing or transferring files — then this will drain the battery faster. Bring a Mophie or similar USB battery pack with you so that you can recharge if you need it on the road.
This is a feature I grew to appreciate more and more, especially when I shot footage from the bicycle mount. Essentially, the camera rotates or swivels from side to side atop its own mount. This meant that I could easily straighten out the horizon in my shot just by twist-rotating the camera from side to side until I found the proper angle instead of having to adjust anything on the bicycle mount itself.
The folks at TomTom are pretty smart here. They understand that the number of GoPro mounts and gadgets on the market is obviously vast. So, instead of creating a ton of proprietary mount kit pieces (although the Premium Pack includes a bike mount and 360-pitch mount), they provide a GoPro adapter with camera's standard kit. This means you can use the Bandit with any GoPro mount or accessory – as we did.
For those interested: we used this mount kit, one that proved a great buy.
Waterproof to 50 meters
The camera is water resistant (splash proof) out of the box so you don't have to worry about freak storm when you're out shooting. However, if you wish to make it waterproof (e.g, to take it diving), you can buy the inexpensive TomTom Bandit Waterproof Lens Cover that will allow you to take it up to a depth of 50 meters. Sadly, we did not have an opportunity to test this as scuba diving options in Berlin in November are rather limited.
Ease of Shooting: Using the App as Viewfinder and Control
To begin, there is some setup needed to download the TomTom Bandit app to your smartphone and sync it with the camera (via the camera’s Wi-Fi signal). The app serves as your viewfinder and camera control, as well as your editor later on.
At first it was a bit odd to use my iPhone as the camera’s viewfinder. This means looking down at my phone in one hand to see what the camera was seeing and adjusting the camera in the other until I got the angle I wanted. Then I could control all the settings from the iPhone via the app — take a single photo, adjust film speed and style (e.g., regular, time-lapse, slow), start shooting/stop shooting, etc. — so I never had to mess with touching the camera and possibly botching a shot I had carefully set up.
Once I got the hang of this I actually kind of liked this feature as seeing on my iPhone what the camera was shooting helped me think a bit more like a director in terms of angle, horizon, and composition. Another bonus I found: the TomTom Bandit is unobtrusive. When you control everything from your smartphone instead of touching the camera people often don’t realize you are filming. As a result, their behavior is more natural and laid back.
A few notes on using the TomTom Bandit app during filming: We did have some instances where the viewfinder in the app froze. Usually, the camera was still taking footage (indicated by two red dots blinking on the front and back of the camera) so I would restart the app, the viewfinder would reset, then pick up from where it was before.
Unsurprisingly, using the app a lot does drain your smartphone battery quickly. So I would often set up the shot that I wanted in the app, press “record” and then turn off my phone if it wasn’t necessary for me to live-view the rest of the footage I wanted to take. Of course, this also allowed me to focus better on steering my bicycle 🙂
The TomTom Bandit and its corresponding app were designed to help with the common problem of “too much footage paralysis.” It does this by making it easy to tag “highlights” — essentially short clips — that are collected in a special section of the app so you can easily find them, select the best ones and use them later in your final video compilation.
Highlights are collected in three ways:
Built into the camera are sensors that track speed, G-force, altitude and rotation. When you are filming the sensors will automatically mark when there is a dramatic increase and designate this as a highlight (usually 6 seconds). You’ll see these markers when you review the footage later in the app. Then, you can decide if you want to use these highlights for creating the final video.
I’m really looking forward to taking the camera with my on my next hang-gliding outing or windsurfing lessons and seeing what highlights emerge from the sensors.
Manually Highlighting During Filming
If you know something great is about to happen, you can manually highlight the film segment by pressing the red star button at the back of the camera, the highlight button in the viewfinder on the app, or the center of the remote control wristband. This will usually take a 6-10 second clip that you can review later in the highlights section of the app.
Manually Highlighting During Editing
When you review the footage on the app you can manually tag or highlight segments of footage by pressing the star in the top right when the phone is in landscape mode. This will usually take a 10-second clip.
At the end of reviewing video footage you should have a selection of short clips — some taken via the camera’s sensors and some highlighted manually — in the highlights section of the app. Then comes the editing.
Editing Ease and Speed
One of the selling points of this camera is that you can quickly make a video through the “Create a Story” section of the app by combining several “highlights” together. There are a couple of ways you can do this:
Shake to Create
The super quick and easy way to do this is to literally shake your phone back and forth while in the TomTom Bandit app. The app will select highlights from a decided period of time (e.g., that day, that month, etc.) and merge and transition them into one video. You can keep re-shaking your smartphone to see different combinations until you find the one you like best. (Check out this fun video that shows how even adventurous mountain goats can make videos with this shake feature.)
While this is a cool function and think it would work great in high-adrenaline circumstances (e.g., snowboarding, skydiving, etc.), we didn’t use this for the video above because we wanted more control in selecting and sequencing our highlights.
Create a Video with Selected Highlights
This is the option that we used for the scenes of Berlin in the video above. We went through all the highlights and selected around 10 of them. Then we went over to the “Create a Story” section and adjusted the sequence. If you like, you can add music (from your phone’s music library/iTunes) and then export a fun, short video.
Our Approach: TomTom Bandit App + iMovie App
In the end, we used a hybrid approach in our Berlin by Bike video where we created a clip of highlights from bicycle adventures using the TomTom Bandit app, downloaded it to the iPhone, and then edited it with the iMovie app. Then, we added the intro slide, the video of us talking, titles, music (part of the iMovie selection), and a closing slide. And voilà, that’s what you see above!
Why did we choose this hybrid approach? We wanted to add titles and captions so viewers would have context for the places in Berlin they were seeing. Additionally, we wanted to include our entire introduction that ended up longer than a 10-second highlight.
So while it took more time than if I had just used the TomTom Bandit app I was still quite pleased that I could create a video with all this functionality using ONLY my iPhone. Psychologically, not having to use the laptop somehow makes video creation seem more accessible.
Final Thoughts on the TomTom Bandit Action Camera
We had a lot of fun playing around with the TomTom Bandit action camera these last weeks. Not only is the footage high quality, bit it's size and functionality makes it extremely versatile and easy to use in so many different circumstances. Most importantly, the selling point for us compared to other action cameras on the market is that it is designed to help you find the best clips as “highlights” and create videos quickly. That means you can enjoy sharing them immediately instead of letting the footage collect digital dust until “some day when you have time.”
We certainly won’t promise you new videos every day (and do realize that you probably don’t want to see us all the time, either). However, testing the TomTom Bandit the last few weeks and finding a way to tag and organize clips has helped make the video production process less daunting and more enjoyable for us. This means that we can focus our energy instead on the fun bit of filming in inspiring contexts and locations – and challenge ourselves to do more with this storytelling medium.
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