GoPro Hero 2 First Impressions

After thinking about getting one for quite a while, I finally bought myself a GoPro Hero 2 camera. For those not familiar, the Hero 2 is often described as a ‘sports camera’, or a ‘point of view’ camera in that it’s a rugged design, comes with a durable waterproof casing, and is designed to be bolted to things, stuck to helmets, surf boards and such, to get closer to the action. It’s also different from a point n click in so far as it has a wide angle fixed lens (f2.8) thus no zoom, and is designed to be modular, allowing users to add to it as needed.

For example, I invested in the LCD bacpac (add-ons are usually suffixed with ‘~pac’ in the GoPro world) so I could view video as I go, set a shot up, or review the footage. The screen uses battery though, so I set mine to power down after 60 seconds, or you can just detach it after you think you’ve got the shot set up properly, reducing the weight, which is likely a key factor if you’re mounting it to a helmet or some other item where you want the least weight on you can get, and since you can’t see the LCD, there’s not much loss!

The accessories like the LCD also come with their own range of covers to attach to the supplied waterproof casing, so the whole unit profile is kept to a minimum but still waterproof. Some of the covers are also open to allow better airflow and mic sensitivity when you don’t need total waterproofing. My usage scenarios as really for my motorbike trips (on the bike or helmet), my bicycle runs, for the snowboarding and ski trips, and for down by the beach or swimming to get some more footage of the kids where I wouldn’t be able to take the point n click, which not only lacks a waterproof case, but is a bit unwieldy.

First off I tried some of the modes out; I wont go through all of them, but the ones I played with were the 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @ 60 fps, and 848*480 @ 120 fps all at the wide 170deg. field of view setting. The 1080p/30 looked fantastic, though this is the first camera I’ve had which supports it, and has a solid frame rate. The 720p/60 I think is where I’ll spend most time – it gave a smooth, slightly slow motion effect, and a solid picture even when moving. The 848*480@120 (WVGA) is good for when you really want some slow motion, which I tried out by running the shower at putting the GoPro in it’s casing on the floor, and seeing the droplets hit.One note for this is that it requires good lighting.

Overall, I really like the video performance – it’s h.264, and for me slots straight into iMovie, though GoPro do provide a basic editor called CineForm which isn’t bad at all for a free download, and allows you to convert the videos to other formats. Audio isn’t bad from the built in mic, but it’s very much secondary I suspect, though you can plug a mic in if you like.

The Hero2 also does stills at 5 or 11MP, and supports time lapse, and timed photos, which look very decent also. I put in a 32GB SDHC Class 10 which cost me less than 3,000yen, and complies with all of GoPro’s requirements for running 10fps still bursts, which are also useful. I bought the ‘Outdoor kit‘ which comes with a lot of ways to attach the GoPro, including to handlebars, but have a look at the motorsports or surf kits if that’s more your thing.

Unlike the original GoPro Hero cameras, this has a more detailed front facing LCD which makes changing modes and settings much easier than its predecessor’s by the sounds of it, and has small LEDs on most sides so you can see it’s still recording. Another nice fringe benefit is that it charges from a mini USB connector, which is something I wish more cameras did!

I actually picked mine up on a business trip to New York, as the JP distributor’s price was 31,500yen after taxes, and I could get it for 25,000yen in the States – I think that’s a fairly generous mark-up given the exchange rate to be honest. Here’s a quick sample of some footage I shot straight off the handlebars of my motorbike. You’ll notice there’s a slight ‘fish eye lens’ look about it, which is due to the lens type. It’s rendered out at 720p/30 though there’s some loss of quality due to Vimeo’s encode and adding the player, here in SD, so it looks even better if you go to Vimeo to see the high definition version :[Update: April 2012 – I paid up for Vimeo Plus so this can be viewed in HD from here – at least until April 2013!]

Overall then my first impression is that this is a quality product – image and audio is well above what I expected, and the build quality is very decent, so I’m looking for this to take some abuse and still get me some footage I just wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

If you want to see what the GoPro cameras are really capable of, search for ‘GoPro’ on Vimeo.