Zeal Optics Interview with HELISKI.com
Goggles with built-in camera – brilliant! ZEAL Optics HD Camera Goggles are one of the coolest things any gear manufacturer has ever sent me. It’s GoPro without the camera on your head. HELISKI.com talked with Mike Lewis of Zeal. The directions include “IMPORTANT: ALWAYS HAVE FUN.” So, have fun!
ZEAL: We started making these a few years ago, and are working with a proprietary electronics supplier. Fast forward to today, and we’re actually launching the HD2, the new version of this for next season. It’s drastically slimmed down and has WiFi capability so you can share directly to your social channels.
TJ: Oh man, you mean the one you sent me is old school?
ZEAL: …next year. We’ll get you sorted out!
TJ: Cool. I think it’s awesome. I’ll tell you, I’ve always felt like the GoPro was such a funky form factor. You know, it’s just totally awkward. Guys put them on top of their helmet and they’re always hitting them on the top of the chopper or they’re poking the guy in the butt who’s in front of them getting in the chopper with it. It’s hitting trees and stuff. So, in fact, I asked the GoPro guys, “How come we don’t have a more sleek, you know, a better form factor?” And I suppose the answer is they’ve got a super-wide-angle lens?
ZEAL: We both capture about 170 degrees. Check out our promo video
TJ: It’s incredible. You know, I started a company in 1995, iMoveInc.com, which does panorama video. You can ‘walk-through’ a space in 3D. It used a fisheye lens that captures 220 degrees. Two images are seamed together for an entire spherical view…..but I digress.
How long is the battery life?
ZEAL: Currently, it’s about three hours of run time and, you know, that’s the size of the SD card that’s in there as well. If you’re turning it off, you can run it for an entire day around it.
TJ: If you’re skiing for three hours in a day, that’s a pretty good day.
ZEAL: Without a doubt! Turn it off at lunch breaks, hot toddies, you know…
TJ: But heli-skiing, even when your ride up is short, you know…
ZEAL: The ride up is cool footage too!
TJ: Yeah, no kidding! And, you know, heli-skiing, it’s always a bonus to get to sit up front in the chopper.…like on the ride home you could just say, “Oh, I got my camera. Let me sit up there.”
TJ: Tell me about your partnership with Kingfisher Heliskiing.
ZEAL: We’re really excited to be working with those guys this year. Guests can demo the goggles,y film their exploits and madness, and then send then Kingfisher sends the SD cards to us. Zeal makes a custom edit of the day, so similar to like when you go skydiving and you get that video coverage.
We’ve also outfitted all the guides with HD Cameras so guests can get a video of themselves skiing!
TJ: No kidding. Has anybody from Zeal been up there yet?
ZEAL: We haven’t yet. The snow’s just starting to get good. We’re in the midst of trade show season, and so waiting to get through that and then hoping to make the trip up there, shoot some material for next year’s catalog, commercials, ads and stuff around that.
TJ: So what are the big advantages compared to schlepping a GoPro?
ZEAL: First and foremost is the fact that you don’t have to worry about a mount-you always have one if you’re bringing your face with you…. With the GoPro, the mounts they use have a tiny piece of foam that is used to dampen the camera, which is basically your stabilizer. With the camera goggle, all the foam on your face becomes a stabilizer so you get a much stiller, the calmer image around it.
TJ: Yeah. Also, you think about the moment arm of something on top of your head, a little bit of movement in your face moves that camera a whole bunch further.
ZEAL: Exactly, that pendulum effect. In fact with the HD, that gets fully negated. And we’re talking about true point of view, it’s truly seeing what you’re seeing.
TJ: The pendulum effect, eh?
ZEAL: Exactly. And you know exactly when and what you’re recording—you can see it right in your in-goggle viewfinder.
TJ: Yeah. Check out this video of snowboarding on Thompson Pass near Valdez Alaska with Alaska Snowboard Guides
ZEAL: And from a cost standpoint, we come in at the same price as the Hero 3 Black Edition…
TJ: And you get a pair of goggles!
ZEAL: Yeah, you get a top-of-the-line pair of goggles with it, you get an 8gb SD card with it, and you’re ready to go out of the box.
TJ: These are nice goggles, too. Your President, John Sanchez, has worked for all kinds of interesting eyewear companies – Maui Jim Sunglasses, Ray-Ban, Bolle, Serengeti, Revo, Vogue, DKNY, Suncloud, Cebe, H2Optix, Bushnell.
ZEAL: He’s been in the industry since he was a very young kid growing up in San Antonio, Texas. He started out with Ray-Ban on the factory floor — packing boxes, shipping, and worked his way up from there. He’s been with a number of companies along the way and has made some amazing contacts. And that’s how we’ve been able to partner with groups with these amazing technologies.
TJ: And who else has he worked for? I forget now. His resume is pretty impressive.
ZEAL: Bolle, Serengeti, Suncloud, Ray-Ban, Maui Jim.
TJ: Yeah. So, some of the lesser known brands, than Zeal.
ZEAL: Yeah. I hadn’t heard of most of them.
TJ: How about distribution? Where do people get Zeal HD?
ZEAL: So any retailer that carries our goggles – you can go to Zeal Optics and find them through our retail locator. If there’s not one that’s convenient in your area, ask your favorite retailer why they don’t carry us, or you can purchase them on zealoptics.com.
TJ: I found out you can also pretend to be a blogger and get a free pair…..
ZEAL: [Laughs] Well, you’ve got an elaborate disguise going, so I figured it’s worth it.
TJ: Can you replace the lenses? Do they come in more than one color?
ZEAL: You can. We have four different options of lenses and these are all available in zealoptics.com or at our retail partners.
TJ: When did the company start?
ZEAL: We were founded actually in Moab in 1997 by a couple and they moved to Boulder a couple of years later. Maui Jim purchased us about two-and-a-half years ago, and since that time it’s been a full reset from product to branding to marketing and investing.
So it started off just being regular eyewear, just shades, and goggles?
ZEAL: Yep, and then we really started pushing the envelope from a technology standpoint, starting with the first GPS goggle called the Transcend, integrating RECON GPS technology.
TJ: Oh yeah.
ZEAL: Since we forged the wearable technology category in goggles, we’ve seen Smith and Oakley follow suit since.
TJ: Yeah, I saw Smith’s.
TJ: I’m surrounded by a variety of eyewear because I have prescription inserts for my goggles. Do you have a solution for that?
ZEAL: So in order to get the in-goggle viewfinder in there, that capacity has been enlarged. So there is a lot of space. I wear prescription glasses as well and I’ve used them in there.
TJ: You just put the goggles over your glasses?
ZEAL: Exactly. There’s plenty of volume in there for them. We’re also releasing a butterfly Rx insert for next season that will fit any prescription and any google frame!
TJ: So there’s a dude in Boulder who you may want to hook up with. His company is Aspen Eyewear. He’s an optician.
ZEAL: Yeah, I’ve seen them.
TJ: The guy’s name is Heinz, like the ketchup. He can get these little inserts, that work really well.
ZEAL: They don’t fog?
TJ: They do not fog really too much, and if they do you can yank them out, wipe them up, put them back in again. Real easy.
ZEAL: Slick, so it works on any frame, huh?
TJ: And it’s like 125 bucks. They’ll mail them to you. It’s phenomenal.
TJ: I also have a fancy pair of Smith’s, with the fan. They make a little deal that attaches to the frame. But it only attaches on one spot there. Very tenuous. And so you wouldn’t dare try to pull it out during a helicopter ride or wipe it off because you probably wouldn’t get it clicked back in there.
TJ: It’s just amazing, and I’ve been using the Aspen Eyewear inserts for years. And he is a friend of a friend. A buddy of mine who grew up in Boulder turned me onto him. You know, a grade school friend. Heinz. And you could reference Steve Weaver. That’s the guy he knows. He may not remember me.
ZEAL: Okay. Well, good.
TJ: I have a fancy pair of Smith’s. They make a little deal that attaches to the frame. But it only attaches on one spot there. Very tenuous. And so you wouldn’t dare try to pull it out during a helicopter ride or wipe it off because you probably wouldn’t get it clicked back in there.
TJ: Do the HD Goggles fit over helmets? Because they’re kind of bigger and I’ve…so I’ve whipped out my helmet and they fit just fine.
ZEAL: Yeah, without a doubt. The strap is ample for that, they even work great on moto and snowmobile helmets.
TJ: And I was going to ask you about vibration dampening. Is there any built into the software of the camera to do dampening or is it just mechanical?
ZEAL: There isn’t. Primarily we rely on the google foram for dampening. I found that it’s much more still than any other point-of-view camera I’ve reviewed. And I did a number of camera tests and this was a big part of the reason that I joined the company after seeing the possibilities around this thing.
TJ: Oh, it seemed, you know, it was 70 degrees when I was walking my dog, and it got kind of warm. So I’m wondering, is that an undocumented feature …. it’s actually a face warmer?
TJ: [Laughs] Well, you know, it would fog less if it stayed warm, right?
ZEAL: Right. You know, I haven’t really thought about that…
TJ: Yeah. In software, we always said, “if you can’t fix it, feature it.”
ZEAL: Right, exactly. I will have to put that in the catalog….
TJ: The other thing I’m really into is I have been using Smith’s with a fan built in, because I got the multi-lenses in there. Maybe that’s why mine doesn’t fog. You might be able to take the exhaust, you know, put in a tiny cooling fan and make the exhaust go into the goggles, and that way you have a clearing function.
TJ: Yeah. You know, I used to build tiny little computers (Poqet, now Fujitsu) and the heat was always a big challenge.
ZEAL: Right. Yeah, it definitely is.
TJ: What’s the best software to edit with? Because I don’t do a lot of videos. You know, once I get it on—I’ve got a Mac—what should I use?
ZEAL: iMovie is going to be the simplest and your Mac comes with that.
TJ: I’ve kind of outsmarted myself with mine. I set it so that the display goes off after I take 10 seconds…
TJ: …but now I can’t navigate around before the screen goes blank. What button should I push to make the screen come back on again?
ZEAL: It should be the bottom one. If you click on that twice and then you run through the menu on there, there is a Support Guide for this google camera on our site.
TJ: Okay, I’ll check it out.
ZEAL: That’ll run you through the menu and you’ll know what to do.
TJ: Oh, and I was reading the directions again and laughing. The last bullet point says in capital letters, “IMPORTANT: ALWAYS HAVE FUN.” [Laughs]
ZEAL: [Laughs] Obviously. That’s our mantra here.
TJ: That just kills me.
ZEAL: End of the day, we’re all about enhancing outdoor experiences. And to truly be a quality piece of technology, you need to forget you have it on. You need to be able to get out there and have a great time with it, seamlessly capture and augment the adventure and be able to re-live those memories with friends, make them jealous!
ZEAL: Exactly. It’s interesting; a lot of people are using these for more than just a toy really. It’s a tool for snow professionals.
TJ: Hey, I videoed walking my dog the other day. It’s riveting.
ZEAL: Exactly. [Laughs] it’s pretty amazing, huh?
TJ: And you know, I’ve gotten a million hits so far.
ZEAL: No way.
TJ: [Laughs] Yeah, no way.
TJ: How about lawyers? Because it seems like…
ZEAL: You know, that’s not a bad idea.
TJ: Ambulance chasers. You know, I did…working on another company that does vehicle tracking and one of the trends there is to have these cameras in trucks that essentially record everything all the time. Can’t imagine a truck driver wearing goggles but there’s a pony in there somewhere, I’m sure.
ZEAL: And cops putting them in their cars and wearing cameras now.
TJ: Wow. That’s cool, and I would think for avalanche control it would also be really cool to have a video record of any slides that the guys see. Or video the cutting a block out for testing.
ZEAL: You know, a lot of ski patrollers are doing things similar for alterations, or when people are injured, to make sure that they’re following protocol, and yeah, historically we’d only put them in goggles.
ZEAL: But the technology has so many other applications. We’re working on a few other projects, like football helmets.
ZEAL: How cool would that be to be switching from the quarterback’s point of view to the wide receiver’s?
TJ: Oh. And how about the referee hitting playback?
TJ: And saying, “Oh, his foot was out.”
ZEAL: Right, it’s a good point.
TJ: Right. No charge for that idea.
ZEAL: Thanks. [Laughs]
ZEAL: So how did you get this idea to launch this company, HELISKI.com?
TJ: You know, I was sitting in a lodge in the middle of nowhere, that was really a glorified gas station, and we had a down day and I just said to the woman across from me, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to somebody who’d been to these places before you spend a thousand, 1500 bucks a day?”
TJ: And so from there I got the idea, “Sure, let’s review the different heli-skiing outfits and give people a clue.” So my first site was called HeliSkiing Review and it’s still around, and the idea is actually users going on and sharing their experiences.
Now when people want to go heli-skiing, they get a hold of me and we talk through how many days they want to go, and how much time or money they can spend, how many people, what’s important to them and the trip, when can they go, etc. And then I help them narrow down the choices and hook them up with the places that I think are best.
ZEAL: That’s not a bad gig.
TJ: Yeah, it’s really fun, and I get to go a couple of times a year. Yeah, so I try to get to two or three places and my goal was to hit all of them, if my knees, hold up. I’m trying to get 40 different places under my belt.
TJ: Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. Life’s hard.
TJ: Yeah, my buddies are always on me because I don’t really ride lifts anymore, but I’m a lot older than you, so…
TJ: Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you want to add?
ZEAL: I’m really excited about that partnership with Kingfisher Heliskiing. I think that it has the opportunity to bring something to a heli-ski operation and to the experience for customers that they never had before. It’s a way to remember what occurred, what went down there, you know, we’ve all become so used to this instant gratification and sharing, oversharing, but you know, truly sharing an experience with your loved ones, with your friends in a way that you would never before have been able to capture unless you had a production team working with you, and I think that adds so much value to what those guys are doing up there and I hope to see that expand throughout the industry.
TJ: That’s amazing. Well, I’m happy to hook you up with the other operators if you want to…need anybody, just let me know.
ZEAL: You know, we’re kind of working out the bugs with Kingfisher Heliskiing right now. And we’re working with a cat operation here in Colorado now as well.
TJ: Which one?
ZEAL: It’s called Powder Addiction
TJ: Because I know the guys who own Steamboat Powdercats. They’re good guys.
ZEAL: I hear that’s a cool operation
TJ: Yeah. It’s cool. I’ve been heli-skiing with them a couple of times.
ZEAL: Oh, sick. And definitely, you know, once we get that fine-tuned in the coming years, I think it’s something that could be a great addition to any heliski operation.
TJ: So you guys are actually going to edit the video for Kingfisher guests, and then give it to them as a going-away gift?
ZEAL: Exactly. So we’ll send it out about five days afterward to all of the clients, and groups will get the same edit. So say you and I go together, you know, there’ll be a feature around us. We’ll have some canned B roll from Kingfisher, and then it’s everything that we get provided from their guide’s point of view, as well as those guys, they’ll get to see themselves skiing, as well as our own point of view.
TJ: I know a heli-skiing operator who used to do that. You know, it’s quite a bit of work, but the same idea. There’s some canned footage and they mix it in with your own footage, but from your POV that’s awesome.
ZEAL: Yeah, and we’ve got a guy that does this for us and has a quick turnaround time and is very good.
TJ: Yeah. And, you know, it’s one of those things where I’ve always felt like, “God, if other people could only see how cool this is,” and now it’s really an opportunity to show them.
ZEAL: Right. That’s a big part of Kingfisher excitement around it as well, is just how much more they can permeate the market and be telling their stories from other people’s point of view versus them just talking about how good it is.
TJ: I want to switch heli-ski gears and ask you about another market. What about porn?
ZEAL: You know, definitely have thought of it. If they pick this up, then we’re gold. Might need some different mounts, but…
TJ: Well, you know, GoPro makes a little thing that attaches to a ski pole or shovel handle…… I’m sure you can adapt that.
ZEAL: Right. [Laughs] We’ll let them have that one.
TJ: Anything else?
ZEAL: You know, something we’re using in social media around this is #truepointofview. We feel that having the ultimate experience from the skier, writer or whatever, you’re doing is actually “true point of view.”
We’ve got another site called ZealHD.com. It’s kind of a community and sharing site for people that have these goggles. You can put them up there, with categories, and we run contests throughout the season on there as well. So, fun way to get on there and build this community.
TJ: Yeah, and maybe have a section for heli-skiing and we can point to that.
ZEAL: I love it. You know, there’s one called Powder Day, so let’s expand that.
TJ: Yes! Alright, it’s been fun, Mike. Thanks a lot for your time.
ZEAL: Yeah, for sure. Take care, TJ
TJ: Alright, cheers.