Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Read before buying GoPro Camera!

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In past few months I’ve seen lots of interest in GoPro, with many friends contemplating buying one. Earlier it was available only on Amazon.in or on GoPro.com global website with international courier charges [My Experience and Comparison here]. But of late, GoPro models can be seen listed on Snapdeal and Flipkart as well. If you are also thinking of buying one, you should be aware of below aspects

1 No service centres or sales office for GoPro in India: GoPro has no support centres in India. Should the camera stop working, there aren’t any shops who can fix it. Some elements like lens kit etc can be bought online and you can replace them watching DIY videos on youtube, but beyond that, if it fails it fails. Go get a new one. (Technically you can claim warranty, but with GoPro not having any presence in India, the cost and effort involved in coordinating the warranty replacement with their US office over email might make it unviable. There is a company called Steriovision, who seem to be running a facebookpage called GoPro India, I don't know if they are authorized franchise or how credible they are. Their MRP is similar to what it cost me to get from US- Price in USD+ shipment expense+Customs duty, apparently their distributors take care of shipping it back to US in case of warranty- haven't tried or verified this.)

Below: GoPro India MRP list, taken from a facebook page, GoPro India

2.  Default battery is not enough. You should budget another 6000 Rs to buy a second battery and charger. Else it won’t last even half a day and you’ll be disappointed. With 2 batteries and heavily rationed usage, I manage to use it from morning to evening.

3. You will shoot GBs and GBs of videos, but you will not have time to process all of that. Soon you will run out of space in hard disc to store and run out of patience to process all the videos. Before investing 40k, ensure that you have a decent configuration computer that can handle heavy duty video processing, as well as time and patience to work on video editing.

4 Gopro is NOT a replacement for DSLR. GoPro’s colour compensation is poor, there is a small lag in video capture, doesn’t have any settings that come in a DSLR. Only when there’s enough sunlight, GoPro photo quality is at par with DSLR. In the evening, early morning, indoors, under clouds or in night, the quality of GoPro photo/video is not at its best. So most of the times you will need regular DSLR to take decent pictures. GoPro is useful when your hands are not free for clicking, or when you want to insert camera in water or to get some wide angle photos and videos in addition to what you've shot using DSLR. Check the photo of Mysore palace at night- first one clicked in Nikon 5100, second one with GoPro Hero3 Black edition.

5. Default set of mounts are almost useless. Accessories are equally expensive: I had bought a 3 way mount along with the camera- one of its hinges has broken now, within 3 months of usage. If one more hinge breaks, this mount will be rendered useless. The fate of USD70+shipping+customs 3 way mount now depends on INR 5 FeviKwik. Other accessories like Suction Mount etc are not easily available in India. I've written a mail to GoPro support on this, waiting for a response.

6. One GoPro camera may not be enough: Most of the awesome photos that we see online are often shot with multiple goPros. Shooting everything from just one perspective will be boring, so many use two or more action cameras to get multiple views, which are mixed to create videos from different perspective. At times additional devices like drones are used for aerial shots (drones cost 50k onwards on their own) or a support vehicle/team helps getting additional shots. We ordinary travelers may not be able to afford all of these, so our output will be limited to what we can shoot in one GoPro.

The GoPro craze will die out soon. As of now only few people own it, hence there’s some curiosity and excitement around this. Another year down the line, expect every other person to own an action camera. Then you won’t get any status hike for having a GoPro. Don’t buy it because you feel it is cool. Buy it if you have enough usage for it. You can rent it from agencies like Tapprs for a day and check if it works out for you.
SJ4000 (left) vs GoPro Hero3
As the idea of small action cameras is gaining popularity, you might also wish to wait and watch few more months for more options. Already there’re some cheap rivals like SJ4000 (read comparison here), HTC has tried its version of action camera called RE and as demand increases, expect more manufacturers to try their hands on these kind of cameras.[Read more on Techpp.com]

Deepak Majipatil has suggested another option: Shimano

I am not saying Don't buy a GoPro. I am just advising that you factor the above before making final decision.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Feedback: Travelparkz Mysore, Reliable taxi operator

My uncle used to book most of his taxi needs with TravelParkz Mysore. When I needed a car for rent in Mysore, first thing that came to my mind was Travelparkz. I called them on phone and booking was instantly created and confirmed.

This post shares my personal experience with Travelparkz, should be helpful if you're looking for a taxi operator in Mysore.
Travelparkz mysore reportedly have a fleet of over 200 cars, of different types. For a 5 seater like Verito, charges are Rs 9 per km and for Innova/Xylo, Rs 12/km. This is slightly expensive than lesser known operator, but you may not mind this premium in exchange for prompt, reliable service and relatively new cars.

My experience was pretty smooth. Cab arrived on time, was relatively new and very clean. They are driven at modest speed ("Customers should be able to sleep peacefully" is their Mantra), though it meant they took time to catch up with me.

Driver Jagadeesh was pretty good. I drove the scorpio up the Chembra peak in Wayanad, Jagadeesh caught up with his Verito and reached the top, negotiating few bad stretches skilfully. Though he expressed concern that he doesn't want to climb any more peaks next day.

However, one and only concern/complaint I have about them is the interstate permit. I was told Kerala permit will cost Rs 500. At the Kerala border, I was also in queue with the cab driver (usually RTO officials won't let civilians come near the counter and insist only drivers should come-this is of convenience to both them and the driver as there's no one to witness how much exactly exchanged hands. While at the queue, I was told first time entry of a vehicle will be charged extra, second time less etc. All these gyan was proved false. At the counter, Travelparkz 5 seater verito which has already done few trips to Wayanad was charged Rs 200, and my 7 seater self drive scorpio, its first time entry into the state, was also charged Rs 200. Later while settling the bill, driver tried to count Rs 500 as the permit fee, claiming they charge a standard fee for this because they would have paid more for first time visit etc. I countered that these charges will be paid at actuals and for first time visit also I was charged Rs 200. After some hesitation the driver collected this amount at actual. For other customers they would have simply pocketed Rs 300 extra. [Read more about my earlier post on interstate taxi permit mafia]

Also the bill didn't mention the exact amount. When asked, he wrote on top of it and gave.

After returning from 2 day trip to Wayanad, our driver was immediately asked to leave for another trip from their office it seems, without even giving him one night rest. I think this is bad practice from the company. This is common practice during festive season when demand is high. But such continuous driving can result in accidents. Ask them to send a fresh driver if you're booking for long drive. Check if your driver had enough rest when reports. If he appears tired, delay your departure by a few hours and ask the driver to sleep for sometime, this is in your own safety interest.
Verdict: You can book with them, but be careful about interstate permit and bill aspects.

Offroad Part 2: Mud Bogging-Thars and Jeeps negotiating mud

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Mud blogging... sorry bogging was the second challenge at the Terrariders Offroad Adventure I got to experience last Saturday near Pavanjur. [Read Part 1 here]

After clearing the first obstacle, a rock, our convoy headed to second. This one was to cross a stretch of pit covered with muddy water. It wasn't deep enough to sink the suvs and just appeared superficial. As Arka explained what to do, one of the participant promptly asked- "in this situation, who has better advantage? one who crosses first or one who crosses last?"  There was no clear answer to this. Both first and last car crossing the mud path has advantages as well as disadvantages.

As I understand, one who goes first gets the advantage of undisturbed terrain and if he is skilled enough can sail through easily. However, those who go behind gain some benefits too- by observing the vehicle ahead, they can identify spots which may be deeper or having possibility of wheel digging deeper and try to avoid such spots. Also the bed could get hardened a bit after multiple vehicles crossing over it. But on the other hand, if initial vehicles had lots of wheelspin digging deeper and deeper into the mud, vehicles behind will have tougher time negotiating them.

Swamy was the first to cross the mud in his Thar and he did it successfully. Other vehicles followed suit. Few drove in reverse too. Participants were encouraged to try negotiating it in 2 wheel drive itself and engage 4WD only if required.

Watch the video below to witness second part of the offroad for beginners challenge.

Almost all the drivers did well in this round. Even regular street tyres did just well. I feel it wasn't challenging enough. After driving around in straight lines, drivers drove around in a zig zag manner and had fun.

 Nishchal's Mahindra in a faceoff with a Thar...
Once you see your 4x4 get dirty, you feel a sense of fulfillment. These vehicles are meant for purposes like this and using them for just the city drive won't make them justice. The Thars and other SUVs are capable of negotiating muddy stretches much more serious than what we'd tried. The drivers now got their basics right and will feel confident encountering tougher terrains.

Standby for part 3

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Terratigers Offroad Adventure near Chennai-Part1

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When I learnt from Srini about an offroad event happening near Chennai, I pinged the organizer to check if I can join to observe. Kind person that he was, Mr Arka Dutta facilitated my joining the event.  Vishnu, one of the organizers picked me up in his monster ford endeavor and we headed towards a village 80kms from Chennai. During the journey I got some insights into the Palar challenge and Rain forest challenge. We also picked up Srini on the way. [Some early pictures of the event here]

Vishnu told me that many SUV owners are afraid of trying offroading, fearing the possible damage to their pricy vehicles. By subjecting his SUV to extreme advetures, he is aiming to prove a point that SUVs are extremely capable and can negotiate tough obstacles without damaging themselves. While modifications do help, even stock versions are fairly capable. You can drive out a 4x4 SUV straight from showroom to an offroad adventure. Once you learn the capabilities of your vehicle and how to negotiate it in various terrains, the probability of damage starts to drop.

To all the SUV owners out there- if you've bought a 30 lakh SUV paying 1 lakh in insurance every year and using it only for office commute, get out and get dirty. Explore the true potential of your beasts.

Vishnu also said Mahindra Thar has changed 4x4 scene dramatically. [Mahindra Thar Review & Photoshoot ] It is affordable and can be used for offroad without any modifications. Earlier finding a mechanic who can fix/maintain a 4x4 system in a jeep was a challenge- not many people knew whom to approach for such things. Now it can be maintained by a Mahindra showroom.

Terra tigers, headed by Mr Arka (Arkaprava Datta)  have been conducting offroad events for over 10 years now. They frequently conduct events wherein jeep and SUV owners can register and learn offroading.  We assembled at a farm near Pavanjur (Marg Tapovan is somewhere nearby). We saw this aged military truck, which I am told still works. It had too many gear levers- one of which is to operate the winch, which in this vehicle is powered by the engine, unlike battery operated ones in other cars. Mr Arka is reportedly trying to rebuild it. Best wishes to him.

As suspected, most of the participants arrived in their Mahindra Thar 4x4. For many this was the first offroad experience. Soon Mr Arka arrived and the briefing session started. Apparently few new owners didn't knew much about the 4x4 lever in their Thar. The sales person at the showroom never briefed these customers about the 4x4 system properly. "Put it in this place and it will go forward" is what they were told, after defaulting the lever in 2H mode. Arka gave some briefing about the 4H and 4L positions. Another important aspect before offroading is to have a spare key ready. Particularly in an open jeep and while in the woods, if they key is lost it will be a nightmare. Old jeeps can be jumpstarted, but new Mahindra Thar is not that easy to start without a key.

Terratigers team knows the Palar riverbed extensively and they know their way around in the area. Soon we left the farm and started in a convoy to our first obstacle, which was a rock. Mangalore boy Nischal Salian, who is an experienced offroader did the demonstration for the benefit of the audience, by climbing on the rock and getting off it without a scratch. Spotters took positions to guide the drivers and one by one jeep drivers negotiated the rocks. Many got minor scratch on the rear bumper and leaf-spring while trying to get off the rock. I sat inside a Thar as passenger and shot the experience onboard. I was tempted to ask one of them if I can try the same in their jeep, but held back my temptation. Unlike a rented car, this is someone else's personal car- even if they let me drive it reluctantly, it is a bigger risk if the vehicle suffers any damage while in my command. There were no limits to the number of attempts one could try, which is a good thing with Terratigers. One of the main risk in situations like this is the risk of toppling over. Again the mantra of "be as slow as possible, but retain as much speed as necessary" came into effect. Spotters would advise the driver on the right path and to proceed or not and drivers need to follow the instructions. For few who were driving a bit fast, Arka intervened and either advised them to drive carefully or took the driver's seat and demonstrated the right way of handling the obstacle.


Do watch the video below:

Read part 2 here, where the Thars and Jeeps indulge in mud bogging. Standby for Part 3 for rest of the obstacles

Friday, October 17, 2014

Karlad Lake, Wayanad

We took a diversion and went to Karlad lake, Wayanad out of curiosity. Karlad lake is not one of the well known places of interest in Wayanad and is often skipped by many. Since it was 2 kms off the Kalpetta-Manathavadi main road (that's what the board said, actual distance is little more) we went there to check it out.

Karlad lake is large enough to have a quick visit, but as such there aren't any facilities/attractions and the lake isn't maintained well. So if you skip it, you won't miss much. Compared to say Pookud lake, this one is larger, isolated and will suit solitude seekers well.

Some photos and map for reference.

Roads are good. Map below.