The GoPro Hero is my favourite sports cam. Cheap, impossibly rugged, with endless mounts for cars, bikes, helmets, chests, surfboards and snowboards. The new HD version does HD, 60fps and recharges. I love it even more now.
Kinda Like the Old One
The GoPro Hero HD is squarely based off the old model. It has the same mounting system, case, physical shape and user interface. In fact, it’s so similar that I suggest you read the original short review I did and then come back here for the low down on what makes this one better. Here’s the link. Or you could just take these basic points as a foundation.
• Awesome mounts for everything.
• Meant to be semi cheap so you don’t sweat it, yet capable.
• It has a 170-degree field of vision and the case makes it waterproof to 30m. Very rugged.
• Two buttons for controlling the basic UI. Shoot, toggle modes. The UI is so rudimentary you’ll often forget how to use it, but all you need to do is turn it on and shoot.
• There’s no native LCD for viewing replays.
• It’s not tiny.
The Video is Now HD
Instead of the paltry 512×384, the $US270 camera with surf mount has several modes, most HD. On the higher frame per second mode, which was silky smooth when played back normally, there are standard definition resolutions of 848×480 or HD 720p/1280×720. Both are 16:9 ratio, which is recommended only for motorsports or other activities where you’re not trying to catch yourself in frame standing up. The 60fps modes are noticeably smoother in normal playback but they’re meant to also look better if you slow down the frame rate playback for slow motion in your favourite video editor. The grain was noticeably worse when using 60fps indoors, but it’s not a deal breaker. At 30fps, there are modes for 720p again, but also 1280×960 which is 4:3 high def. That’s the default and I used that for surfing. The 1080p mode is 16:9, and 30fps but limits the field of vision from 170 to 127 degrees. Again, the 16:9 modes are used less than you’d expect in sports shots. There’s also a centre-weighted mode for exposing the road when shooting from inside a car, and it leaves the dashboard underexposed properly.
The bottom line is that this new camera is in HD. That’s the big improvement
This is a still of the movie at full res, not the actual 5MP stills.
First, watch the movies the guys at the company produced here. Then watch my shitty one filled with shitty surfing. Colours were a little washy/green but the ocean and the sky together, with the lens collecting droplets, well, that isn’t an ideal situation. Watch it for yourself and form your own conclusions, but note the reflections off the water which will inform you of pretty decent autoexposure and sharpness. It’s a vast improvement over other sports cams and the standard def version. Oh, a little thing held over from the last generation that isn’t a ding or a plus: the 170-degree angle is great for reducing apparent vibration and for making sure what you want in shot is in the frame, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making things like waves and jumps and other otherwise impressive looking things seem smaller.
The 51 minutes of video I took were 4.6GB big in the standard 4:3 ratio 1280×960 video. That was enough res for me to enjoy it on the screen. Here’s what Justin at GoPro told me the camera would store, which is a little more generous than what I found but still in the same ballpark.
Average recording times:
1080p: 12 min/GB
960p: 14 min/GB
720p: 16min/GB @30fps; 11 min/GB @ 60fps
GoPro recommended you use fast SDHC cards to save battery life, and on a 32GB card you can get almost six hours of recordings, although you’d be constrained by battery life. Oh one annoyance — every time you clear the card, the files are named from 001, 002, again. So if you copy them over to the same location, they’ll ask you if you want to overwrite. I wish the camera kept its file name numbers in series.
The other big change is that instead of being powered by a pair of AAAs, GoPro jammed a 1100mAh, 3.7-volt battery in the case. I did not do a full run-down test, but shooting 51 minutes of video didn’t reduce the charge even one notch; GoPro estimates you can get 2.5 hours of battery life from the camera in normal climates, regardless of the definition of video you’re shooting. The old model died quickly in the cold if you weren’t using rechargeables but this camera’s housing retains a bit more heat making it better for colder weather. You charge it by USB. Unfortunately you can’t charge it while doing a USB transfer yet. They hope to fix this with a firmware update later.
Sound quality during dry sports is aided by an open back housing door. But even with the closed door during surfing, the sound was fine. A benefit of the closed housing door is that wind noise is nil.
I didn’t test stills in this mode, but GoPro claims the 5-megapixel shots are better due to better processing. There are several still modes, as before: Single shot, triple shot that takes three shots over two seconds and a time lapse mode that can be set to record a shot every two, five, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. And a 10-second delay timer. For me, this is not why you get a sports camera.
The Surf Mount, in Particular
It’s 3M double sticky and it seems to hold up just fine. You clean your board of wax and then use a bit of rubbing alcohol to apply it. Let it settle overnight. To get it off (permanently) you use a hair dryer, which sounds a bit scary when it comes to something nice and fibreglass, but what do I know? (That’s why I put this one on a pop out longboard.
Another big but so far not useful thing on the new camera is the expansion port. They plan on offering a bigger back door for the case so you can fit in an external LCD screen for replays or an extra battery pack. I like the idea. I’m thinking they could probably go ahead and work on making the camera smaller even if it costs a bit more, in the next generation, though. I like GoPro enough to use it, even though gadgets on the mountain or in the surf piss me off by way of distraction. Now that they’ve got mounts, higher resolutions and battery endurance covered, I think making it even smaller is the next step to making it more enjoyable.