Monday, January 17, 2011

GoPro Hero HD Review
GoPro Hero HD - reviewed by

As a kayak fisherman, I’ve tested my share of waterproof cameras and video recorders over the past three years.  From Olympus’s line of waterproof digital point-and-shoots to Kodak’s PlaySport model (which looks more like a cell phone than a high definition recorder), I have become quite familiar with the ins-and-outs of waterproof offerings in the sub-$300 segment.   Like most consumers looking for a marine camera, my needs started off rather basic.  Affordability, ease of use, good picture quality, multiple mounting options and decent battery life rounded off the list of prerequisites.  The more I began to use these cameras on the water, the more my needs began to grow.  Self portrait timers became increasingly important for me in the kayak, which transitioned into a desire for a wireless remote.  Battery life became a pertinent issue with the models that I owned.  After purchasing the GoPro Hero HD about 2 months ago, I now realize how far ahead of the competition this unit is in the waterproof HD video market.  While I have yet to find one camera that “does it all”, when it comes to HD Video and exceptional battery life in a waterproof package, this camera delivers.

GoPro takes a very unique approach in its design.  At first glance, the Hero HD offers no real “wow” factor at all.  The first thing you will notice is it is small, very small.  Even when the camera is outfitted with its waterproof housing, it is about the size of a jar of baby food.  Speaking of GoPro’s waterproof capabilities, most cameras in this price range are rated to depths of less than 10 feet.  Even the highest end models max out at a depth of 30 feet.  GoPro’s camera is rated to 180 feet.  While my prescribed use will never come close to meeting these limits, this specification speaks volumes about the durability of the design.

Photo Credit: Paul Davis

The engineers built the GoPro to perform exceedingly well at a few major tasks instead of offering every option under the sun.  There is no LCD viewing screen on the back of the camera and only two buttons control all functions.  There is no zoom option, flash or any moving parts for that matter.  The lack of these features actually helps to make this camera perfect for its intended use – recording high quality HD video.  After a short (and necessary) session with the instruction it was quite easy to figure out how to use the multiple video and camera settings.

The full list of the technical specs can be found on GoPro’s website, but I want to touch on some of the highlights.  In addition to multiple formats of HD video (including 720p in 30 or 60 frames per second and 1080p) this camera is also capable of taking 5mp digital stills.  It is equipped with a wide angle lens that delivers an intriguing and useful “fisheye” effect for my application.  This design is perfect for kayak fishermen or other sports enthusiasts who want to capture a wide angle view of their experience while keeping the camera within reach.  

Various settings enable the user to create spectacular time lapse photo sessions while the lack of moving parts inside the camera make the GoPro Hero HD a strong contender for those of us who are less than gentle on our equipment.  Battery life is exceptional; the supplied rechargeable pack delivers well over 2 hours of recording time on just one charge.  This is field tested actual record time, not just manufacturer claims.

Did I mention the mounting options?!  The model I purchased was the GoPro Hero HD motorsports edition which comes supplied with so many interchangeable mounting parts, this camera can be affixed to just about anything.  From secure helmet mounts, flush mounts, rounded mounts and even a super strong, clamp-action suction cup arm that is designed for mounting to the outside of a racecar, there is a mount for about every application you can dream up.  The only thing I believe that GoPro left out in the included array of accessories was a tripod mount.  Thankfully it can be purchased separately for $8.  This accessory allows users to mount the camera to a tripod, monopod or anything with a protruding 1/4" diameter, 20 threads per inch bolt - perfect for DIY users like myself.

The one shortfall of this camera is sound quality – it certainly leaves something to be desired when mounted in the full waterproof housing.  Voices tend to sound “tinny” and somewhat muffled.  Any slight bump of the camera or mounting post is quite noticeable as well.  Nevertheless, the other strengths make up for these downfalls.  To be honest with you, I don't know how it would be possible to get better sound while maintaining the durable, watertight casing.  A cheap way to fix the sound issue is to purchase a digital MP3 voice recorder and add a lapel microphone.  The audio can easily be synced up to the recorded video during the editing process.

The GoPro Hero HD is a hands down winner and its no-nonsense design has proven to deliver professional looking video yet to be duplicated by any competitor in this price range.  The fisheye lens creates a dramatic effect in both video format and with photographs.  Unmatched battery life coupled with the standard SD card recording platform allow the user to just leave the camera rolling.  I highly recommend this camera and continue to find new uses for it on and off the water.

By Paul Davis

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Demo Video Clip from GoPro

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