While army of GoPro fans await for the arrival of a new GoPro’s Hero 5 camera, I went ahead and did something quite funky.
No I did not wrote a fake article by posting “leaked” images of the Hero 5 online. (Although these days that works quite well for crappy mass media).
If you are a regular reader, you know me better than that.
Long story short – I was so intrigued by it, that I went ahead and bought one on eBay (got it brand-new from this seller).
Am I out of my mind? Why I paid over 50$ for a camera which can’t record videos and uses a 35mm film to create still images?
Except for the fact that it was the first ever GoPro, Hero 35mm is interesting because of how it was invented, made, priced and sold. More importantly, the true significance of it is not a technology, craftsmanship or a photo quality it had.
The true importance of Hero 35mm is the story behind it.
Unlike technology, telling good stories never gets old. So for a change, I want to tell you a story.
Nick Woodman – The GoPro guy.
Once upon a time, there was a a young entrepreneur called Nicholas Nick Woodman.
Like 99% of entrepreneurial souls out there, his obsession was to create the next big thing. But there was a tiny problem. He had a motivation, but lacked the idea.
With an unsuccessful business attempt after the graduation behind him, Nick was depressed.
“I actually was pretty depressed when I graduated from college.. I was literary depressed for like 6 months.. I woke up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon…lying on a couch, looking up on ceiling thinking “What am I gonna do?” (source)
He finally decided that there is no point in sitting around doing nothing. Nick needed a change. A fresh start. The only way out of of terrible everyday mundane was to do something he loved. He had a huge passion for surfing.
Here is how he described how he felt while surfing in the ocean.
I was leaving the world I knew behind, leaving everybody I knew behind and going to a place where nobody knew I was going, doing my own thing.
The idea was to go to a trip through the Indonesian and Australian coast with friends and have fun. Fresh air and new environment should be the spark to get his creative juices flowing.
The inspiration he was desperately looking for, came before he even left.
Being a profound surfer, Woodman wanted to capture photos of while riding waves. While packing for the trip, he realized that cameras he had were complicated and hard to operate while in the open sea.
That’s why Nick wanted to create a mount which would allow him to attach a non-reusable waterproof camera onto his wrist. That one-time use camera was perfect, since it was waterproof, cheap and light-weight. It would allow him to take photos while doing sports. However, it was impossible to mount a such cam onto a wrist.
It’s all about the strap
So to recap, Nick wanted to have a camera around his writs which he can use quickly while breaking waves.
Camera required some sort of a strap that would hold it tight. Strap had to be flexible and easy to operate in extreme situations and allow smooth camera usage. Unfortunately no such products existed at the time.
He kept trying until he managed to create a reliable DIY strap that was able to hold the camera. And that is when his aha moment came.
These strap can be patented and sold.
God knows how many surfers out there want to have this exact setup.
Picture below depicts his first prototype. Initial idea was to create a wrist strap which can easily fit other cameras on top of it.
This is a very important moment for an entire story. Most people believe that GoPro started out by making cameras right away. But that is not true. Their first product was a cinch strap, later named “Ultimate Camera Strap“. He borrowed his mother’s sewing machine and started making straps. At that point he founded Woodman Labs, which later became – GoPro.
“If I didn’t follow my passion for surfing, I would’ve never had the idea for GoPro”
How strap became a camera?
Later on, Nick realized that the strap was not the only problem. Bigger problem was the camera. The recording device had to be rigid and compact, but also waterproof and easy to carry around during rigorous activities like surfing.
Another issue issue was that even when he managed to mount a camera onto a strap, camera would break down. He tried numerous models, but either they were heavy, they leaked or felt apart.
It took him almost two years of going through different camera trade shows, to finally find a compatible camera. It was an analog 35mm camera made by Chinese manufacturer. Camera was cheap enough, durable and lightweight. But even that one required modifications. Problem was a language barrier. These guys barely knew few words of English.
In one interview Woodman described his difficulties while negotiating with the factory based in Shenzhen, China.
“I actually did the deal without ever meeting the company. It was all email. I had one phone call where we could barely understand each other because of language barrier.” (source)
Eventually, he wired them 5000$ for a mold creation. Company from Shenzhen proved to be legit and that is how in 2004, Hero 35mm was born. Product was on sale between 2004-2006. It’s retail price was around 20$. What is interesting is that camera itself without accessories costs only 3$ to produce in China.
Even though Hero 35mm was not the next big thing for GoPro founder, it was the camera that paved a way for a multi-billion dollar industry. It is where it all started. Without the Ultimate Strap and 35mm analog camera, GoPro would never exist.
In 2006 company launched the (eBay link) Digital Hero. It could capture 10 seconds of video and had no sound. Later models improved to incredible matters. Digital Hero was the big thing, but that would never be possible with an Ultimate Strap and 35mm analog camera.
So why a Go-Pro?
There is an interesting story behind why Nick named his product a Go Pro.
“GoPro was just supposed to be a company that made wrist cameras for surfers. When trying to come up with an idea for the company name I asked myself, “What do my friends and I all want to do most?” And the answer was “Go pro…we all want to be pro surfers.”
As I thought about it more I realized that GoPro was a great name in that it meant “attack it full on” no matter what your passion or interest is…get after it and live life to the fullest.” (source)
That is quite brief story on how this camera was created. In case you are still reading this, let’s now open the box and see how the camera works.
GoPro Hero 35mm overview
Camera arrives in thin plastic box. What blew my mind was that a guy appearing on a packing is Nick Woodman himself. On the front side you can see Nick smiling wearing a hat, holding the camera. There are also two more images, but I am unsure if that is him or a model, but something tells me that’s “the mad billionaire” as people call him today.
His photo also appears on the back side of the camera, depicting Nick in a winter suit holding a camera with his gloves.
“Finally! Now you can surf, snorkel, ski, hike or bike wearing a camera that makes it easy to get photos of the action while enjoying the action” (text on a box)
GoPro Fun Facts
Here are some fun facts about the first GoPro :
- Nick Woodman himself appears as a model on camera box and a manual.
- First GoPro was an analog camera which required 35mm film.
- Cam could only capture still images, but not the video.
- Its operation was mechanical, so it required no batteries.
- The retail price was around 20$.
- The web address for their first website was GoProCamera.com, which now redirects to GoPro.com
- GoPro Hero 35mm was waterproof up to 15′ (4.5m) when in water housing.
- Camera arrived with pre-loaded 24 exposures 400 ASA film (1 roll captures 24 photos).
- You could use both black and white film with it.
What’s inside the box?
Hero package includes:
- Reusable 35mm camera
- Preloaded 400 ISO film
- Polycarbonate waterhousing
- The Ultimate Strap (TM)
- Ski Glove adapter lash
- 2x manual on English and French.
How it works?
My interest in photography and gear started in digital era. I do remember my dad taking shoots with analog camera back in the days, but to tell you the truth I never used an analog camera. When I asked my father to show me how to put a film inside a camera he laughed.
Son, you have 20 digital cameras around the house, but you do not know to insert or rewind a film? Jesus, these today’s kids know nothing.
The next few minutes he talked about how old days were awesome and yadda yadda yadda, but eventually explained me everything. Yea, my dad is awesome.
So for all those “today’s kids” I decided to write how GoPro Hero 35mm operates. To be honest, process is no different compared to any other analog. But, I thought it might be fun.
Once you open the box, camera is inside the waterproof housing. Case has 2 closure buckles on the bottom and the side that you must lift in order to pull the analog camera out. Camera weights around with housing and without it.
It has no batteries and operates like a mechanical device. It has a 28mm focus free lens on the front, a view finder and a film compartment at the back. On top of the camera there is a shutter button and a film rewinder.
Camera comes with a pre-loaded 400 ISO film inside.
In order to take a photo, you just need to click onto a shutter on top. But here is the trick. When you want to take another image, you need to rewind the film by rolling the wheel on the right side. Once you can’t rewind it anymore, that means that it’s time for a new photo. And you can do that 24 times (24 photos). Once you are done, you need to rewind the entire film in clockwise direction by lifting the rewind wheel on the top.
I have scanned the two page manual, so if you want to find out more, you can download Hero 35mm manual here. Manal itself is quite cool, so you maybe want to have it just as a collectible piece or whatever.
For better understating of the entire operation, you can watch a video I made, or just watch GoPro CEO explaining it.
I hope that you understand that the whole point of me showing of this camera is not to show its awesome capabilities. I wanted to tell you a story about idea, pursuing dreams and entrepreneurship.
My main goal was to write an article and pay tribute to the camera which made it all happen. There was not much information on this particular model online, I just wanted to write something that can stay on the web hopefully in years to come.
If this story, inspired you in any way to go out there and pursue your dreams, then it was well worth the 36$+17$ shipping to Europe. It certainly inspired me.
If you liked the story, please share it with your friends.
Thanks for reading. Be a hero in whatever inspires you.