Who is it for
Most reviews and comments that I’ve read about GoPro HD Hero focus on action sports, whether it be mountain biking, parachuting, surfing or skiing. The camera is great for these sports, but I’ve also found it to be excellent for more relaxed activities such as snorkeling, playing with the kids in the water or at the beach.
There are a lot of applications if you just think about it. Such as mounting it on a RC car or helicopter, or on a regular car or motorcycle using the available suction cup mount, or mounting a heavy weight on it and lowering it with a rope into a pond or river full of fish. I’ve even seen the camera being used on the escape elevator they used to save the miners in Chile.
The applications for this camera are almost endless. So, the camera is suitable for everyone who wants to capture some kind of activity where you need a light wide angle camera that can handle sand, dirt, mud or water.
Resolution and angle
GoPro HD Hero is a lightweight (167 gram with housing) fixed focus wide angle video camera which films at a resolution of up to 1080p. Worth to mention is that the angle of view at 1080p is only 127 degrees, while at 960p and 720p the angle of view is 170 degrees. Maybe it doesn’t sound that much, but it really is when you watch the movie. I prefer an angle of 170 degree since shaking is less visible with an extreme wide angle than a more narrow one. Fast-moving action is also cooler to watch with a wide angle. Further, since the camera doesn’t have a screen it’s easier to capture what you want in a wide angle mode. You can connect the camera to a monitor to see what you are filming, but most of the time that is unpractical. Another option is to use an Eye-Fi memory card and send the pictures or movie to your iPhone or other device. Lastly, GoPro has recently annonced that they are selling an attachable screen called BacPac. The extra weight the screen adds is not something you want on your helmet, but for most other places I guess it doesn’t matter.
At the 1080p mode the highest frame rate is 30 frames pr second, while if you reduce it to 720p you’ll get 60 frames pr second. I usually put it on 720p with 60 frames/sec, which will give you 4 hours and 21 minutes of video with a 32 Gb memory card. That is plenty enough considering that the battery only last for about 2.5 hours of recording (hint: you SHOULD have an extra battery if your out on whole day trips). Usually you won’t be needing 60 frames pr second, but with a good program to edit your movie it is not a problem to convert the video to 30 frames pr second. The additional frames pr second you’ve recorded come in handy when you want to show off your large drops or tricks without having to adjust the settings on the camera.
Mounts and shaking
There are a lot of mounts available, such as a helmet mount, arm wrist mount, chest mount, handlebar mount, surf board mount and so on. The challenge is not to find the right mount, but where to put it. When you’re out in the woods with your mountain bike and you’re flying along a rocky trail, it is going to be a lot of shaking caused by rocks and roots, but also from rapid movements of the handlebar. In such cases it might be better to mount it elsewhere than on the handlebar. Maybe on the helmet or on the chest, or attach it to the seatpost and film your friend behind you (or your own ass). Be aware that mounting it closer to the ground makes it look like you’re going faster than higher up, which of course is cooler.
There are a lot of home made DiY steadicams described on the net, both with GoPro HD Hero and other cameras. If you are using the camera while running along someone this might be a good idea, but to me a steadicam seems impractical while doing mountain biking or any other activity where you’re using both hands.
The camera is waterproof up to 60 meters. I’ve been to 38 meters, and that was really deep and dark . So if you’re going deep sea diving be sure to bring some serious lights for the camera. However, under water the picture gets a little bit out of focus since water refract light differently than air. At the time of writing GoPro is working on an optional lens which should fix this.
Audio is not GoPro HD Hero strongest asset. The sound you capture using the waterproof housing is really crappy, buy I guess that is the price you have to pay when you enclose the microphone inside a polycarbonate shell. You can change the back of the housing to a lid with large openings. This helps a little bit, but you shouldn’t use this lid in instances when you can get water, dust or mud into the camera.
The camera can also take 5 MP photos, which of course is a nice resolution but nothing more. You can program the camera to take pictures at certain frequencies. If you’re doing motion capture photography of things that move slowly I guess that is cool.
The list of reasons to buy the GoPro HD Hero is extensive.
First of all, it is a lightweight high definition video camera which you can use everywhere you want without considering if it’s wet or dirty. And if you are unlucky and damage the housing you can buy a replacement for less than US$ 40.
Secondly, there are a lot of mounting possibilities. GoPro has produced several specialised mounts, but if you can’t find the right one it is always possible to combine one of the self adhesive mounts with the thing you want to put it on.
Finally, it is really cool to be able to record whatever you are doing with a camera that cost less than US$ 300, when the same would have shrunk your wallet several times more only a few years ago.
An obvious lack with this camera is that it has no screen. Sure one can argue that a screen takes up a lot of space and might weigh a little, but it is none the less often darn difficult to get the camera angle just right when fumbling around without eyes. Thankfully, GoPro has recently announced that they are selling an optional screen which can be attached on the behind of the camera.
As mentioned above the audio really sucks. This is how it is when the camera is stuck inside a thick housing. It helps a little to change out the back lid with an open one, but not that much. The best tips is actually to search your music library and find some that are suitable to put on top of the video and mute the camera audio.
One annoying thing that appears from time to time, are vertical purple lines. These only appear occasionally when the camera is directed towards the sun. I’ve asked GoPro about this, and they responded that the purple lines are the digital version of sun flare. That is of course an oversimplification, since it does not happen with most other digital cameras. The real reason is probably that the specific sensor in GoPro HD Hero does not handle direct sun at a particularly impressive way, and it certainly does not look beautiful when it happens.
Another small but irritating problem, is the weak lock this is used to secure the back lid to the rest of the housing. In my case the lock broke after only a couple of months of normal use. The plastic material was torn in the middle. According to GoPro this can happen if the back lid is not pressed shut by hand before pressing the lock in place. Kudos to GoPro for at least sending me a replacement lock without too much hassle.
Love it or hate it
Love it, but not unconditionally due to some annoying qualities.
Where to buy?
I usually buy my gear at Chain Reaction Cycles or eBay, but I’m often surprised by the speed and the price of local shops. If you want to find the cheapest prices – type “GoPro” in the search field below: