Last weekend I had a great time taking the new GoPro HD Hero2 for a spin and running it through its paces. This compact sports camera may be small in features but it is certainly HUGE on fun and opens your mind to a multitude of creative ways it can be used. Note that I’ve not used the original HD Hero and I have nothing to compare this experience to, other than what I’ve read and heard from colleagues about their joys and frustrations in the past. But what I can share with you is my experience with the new HD Hero2 – from the excitement of opening up the box to the enjoyment of washing off the mud.
(If you’re looking for the technical specs and my overview of pros/cons, then please see the last page of this review)
The GoPro HD Hero2 is the same size as its predecessor but packed with new features and power
Since I’ve never seen a GoPro HD Hero in person (only in photos and videos online), I was still a bit shocked at just how small this camera is! Reminiscent of a 1950s spy camera, the HD Hero2 is just slightly wider than an iPhone, even inside of its waterproof housing.
“Objects in person are smaller than they appear”
The kit I received to review was the GoPro HD Hero2 Outdoor Edition Professional kit with an additional Suction Cup for mounting on an automobile. The kit came with various self-adhesive mounting clips for flat and curved surfaces, as well as two different kinds of helmet straps. The suction cup is solid and well-built. It’s compact, yet proportionate for this size of camera.
The GoPro HD Hero2 Outdoor Edition Professional Kit and the Suction Cup accessory
The HD Hero2 Outdoor Edition and the suction cup accessory arrived on Friday. Luckily for me, we got our first heavy rain here in Southern California in months and that means mud puddles! I love to take my FJ through the deep muddy waters whenever I get a chance. So I got up early on Saturday morning excited to head out to a place that I know always gets some deep muddy water. Fortunately it’s just along the side of the road so it’s easy to access and I won’t be stranded if I get stuck.
Plays Well In Mud
I got to my location and attached the Hero2 to my passenger side door behind the front wheel well, where I know it will get a good blasting of mud and water. Per the suggested instructions, I applied some Rain-X on the case lens to repel water quickly. I start with a normal 30fps, 1080p setting and the POV at 127º. I also flipped the orientation 180º since the camera was mounted upside-down.
The HD Hero2 attached to the side of my FJ just before the first “Mud Dive”
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After my first pass through the muddy water, I wiped off the lens and then switched to the 170º POV and took another pass. A third pass was shot at the 120fps mode which automatically sets the camera to the 170º POV and the video dimensions to 848×480.
Cleaning off the HD Hero2 between takes with a douse of water
After I was done, I rinsed off the case and mount with some clean water before I removed it from the truck and then wiped it clean. I was eager to get home and check out my footage. This is where it would have been ideal to have an LCD BacPac™ ($79.99) so I could preview my shots as I set them up or play them back afterward. See the video below for the edited results of these three passes, including the Slo-Mo of the 120fps shot.
Check out the video of my results – and wait for the Slo Mo at the end!
Creative POV Cam
Later in the day the sun came out and I was on to my next planned adventure with the HD Hero2. Since I’m not a surfer, skydiver, scuba diver, motocross racer or any other daredevil sport enthusiast, I have to be creative as to where I might send the camera on its next mission… what POV might be interesting to record and how can I capitalize on the size and agility that this camera has? I look at the dog. She’s been begging me for two days to take her on a walk. Time to put her to work!
Since I have the Outdoor Edition kit, which comes with a bunch of different mounts and straps but nothing that easily attaches to a dog collar, I used the Vented Helmet Strap mount and some gaffers tape and Voilå! The PD (Production Dog) is now our DP!
K9 Production Unit
After about an hour of “exploring” the neighborhood, we came back to see what she captured. In hindsight, I wish that I had put more of a harness strap on her to lessen the “swinging” effect from her movements, but seeing her big tongue hang down into the frame makes it all worthwhile! 🙂
From the Dog’s POV (gotta love that big ol’ tongue!)
So I’m hearing that the HD Hero2 is supposed to be much better than its predecessor in low light conditions with the f/2.8 lens, so I try running it “naked” (without the plastic housing) near our fireplace in hopes of capturing some flames at high speed and slow them down. I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed a bit at the results, as the colors are way off, noisy and the high-contrast of the fire and the surroundings just blew out any chance of a decent clip. I’m still going to try more low-light shots in the future and see what the threshold of acceptability will be.
The HD Hero2 isn’t the best solution for low-light with high-contrast, such as fire and direct bright lights
More Animal Humiliation…
After a full day of shooting, editing and experimenting, I think of yet another victim… er… subject that I can attach the HD Hero2 to – our horse! I’ve seen a couple “horse cams” out there on YouTube so I thought I’d give it a try for myself. Equipped again with the Vented Helmet strap, I attached the strap and mount to each side of our horse’s halter, with the base resting against her forehead securely and then clipped on the camera. I must say she was extremely patient for me, being a young horse still, and the results as you can see below are okay, but obviously not the most secure way to fasten the camera. As she put her head down the weight of the camera would make it flip forward, but showing her nose was half the fun! I’ll be working on a better solution for securing the camera to her head and another for attaching to her chest in the future.
Video of the “Horse Cam”
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120fps to Slo Mo
Back at home I was inspired by the 120fps mode to try something that used the high-speed capabilities along with the low-light to create a Slo Mo effect of pouring liquid into a glass. While I didn’t really take time to set up a proper studio setup to stage/light this experiment professionally, I tossed up some portable lights behind a portable silk and added a single softbox to a white glossy surface and rigged up a micro-dolly. Since I wanted a low-profile view of the glass, I decided to use the HD Hero2 “naked” and attach it to the smallest portable dolly system I could get my hands on. 🙂
HD Hero2 “Micro-Dolly” (sorry, not available though the GoPro store)
One thing I wish the HD Hero2 had was a way to mount the camera when not inside its case for using indoors or when hooked up to a monitor/external mics, etc. One fix for this might be to get a second case and use a Dremel to remove slots and access points (rendering it non-water/dust proof of course). [*NOTE: After publishing this review the author discovered there is an HD Skeleton Housing available on the GoPro web site for $39.99 which solves this issue!] But as I did a few test shots and repositioned my “dolly” and played with the timing of my move, I finally got the look I was going for. I can see how the addition of the LCD back would be extremely helpful in these types of shots – something I’m definitely going to invest in soon! Below is the result I got, with an added vignette layer in Premiere Pro and played back at 20fps.
Simple setup for Slo Mo studio-style shots
While it’s not really broadcast-quality HD in this resolution, you can get some pretty cool effects for web videos. You have to get too close to the object for it to be really clear (minimum focal distance for the f/2.8 fixed focus lens not documented) and at the POV angle of 170º forces you to get in tight.
Time-Lapse Image Sequences
My last test was to play with the Time-Lapse image sequences, which was really easy to set-up. (I still don’t understand why a simple clock feature can’t be built-in to higher-end DSLRs, but that’s a topic for another post). I went to an early morning local networking meeting in our small town today and took the HD Hero2 along to set up to shoot @5-second intervals. I let it run for about an hour and edited it to play back @24fps. It just worked simply and as expected. I can’t wait to try this with some outdoor nature settings and busy cityscapes too!
Time-Lapse shot indoors can make covering an event fun!
I did some other tests with still images, both indoors and outdoors with mixed results. In low light, it’s nearly impossible to get a good handheld still image. The lag time alone makes this camera not suitable and without having the LCD back you’re always “guessing” on what’s in the shot as well. Outdoors in good sunlight you can get decent wide-angle hand-held shots if timing isn’t important (static landscapes for instance). But being such a wide-angle lens, you’re going to get some pretty intense burn-out and lens flares if you’re 90º or less from the sun. The images below are both approximately 90º from the sun @2pm (unprocessed except for resizing for this blog).
Hand-held still images may have light and timing issues
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While we’re on the topic of the lens, I noticed something I hadn’t read or heard of before, the optical effect of the lens OVER the lens that is attached to the waterproof housing. I was wondering why my “naked” shots seemed so much more extreme of a wide angle over those shots when the camera is inside of its case. It appears that it’s due to the lens covering built into the case, which adds a slight magnification (like wearing +1.0 reading glasses). This is undocumented in any of the specs I could find from GoPro, but worth mentioning in my opinion. Below is a visual comparison of both inside the case and “naked” taken with the exact same settings and same camera location on a fixed object.
Notice the significant difference between the HD Hero2 inside the case (top) and “naked” (bottom)
One thing to note, especially when mounting on your car or truck, is that the vibrations set up through the mount to the camera will cause some distortions around the edges and make the vehicle panels appear to “warp” and wiggle. This is especially noticeable when playing back your 120fps footage in Slo Mo (see the Muddy Water video on the first page). However, this isn’t a complaint, because that is the result of using a super wide lens and not a defect or quality issue. This little camera does what it can do very well – and surprisingly even some things it wasn’t intended to do.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I was curious how to attach the camera to something when not in the case. My solution was to use gaffer’s tape but that’s not optimal for all the obvious reasons. And you can’t use Velcro or anything that would interfere with proper fitment inside the case, nor would it be very stable either. So I figured it would be best to use it inside the case most of the time. Also, there is no generic method of mounting the camera to any tripod or hot shoe connection, outside of using one of the provided adhesive-backed clips to a quick-release plate, as I did in the images below. This worked great since I have plenty of these to spare for my Bogen tripod, so this will be a permanent plate just for use with the HD Hero2.
Using the provided self-adhesive clips attached to a tripod quick-release plate
New Features and My Final Impression:
List of the HD Hero2 New Features:
• Professional 11MP Sensor
?• 2x Faster Image Processor
?• 2x Sharper Glass Lens ?
• Professional Low Light Performance ?
• Full 170º, Medium 127º, *Narrow 90º FOV in 1080p and 720p Video ?
• 120 fps WVGA, 60 fps 720p, 48 fps 960p, 30 fps 1080p Video
?• Full 170º and Medium 127o FOV Photos ?
• (10) 11MP Photos Per Second Burst ?
• (1) 11MP Photo Every 0.5 Sec Timelapse Mode ?
• 3.5mm External Stereo Microphone Input ?
• Simple Language-based User Interface ?
• Compatible with Wi-Fi BacPacTM and Wi-Fi Remote™
*Note: Although the marketing info says that the Narrow 90º POV is selectable in both 1080P and 720P modes, I’ve only found that to be the case for ONLY the 1080P 30 mode in test shoots, but it’s not even mentioned in their documentation/manuals. The only time that 127º is available for video is the 1080P mode as well. All other video modes use the 170º wide angle only. 90º POV is not listed anywhere else in the user manual. (which is fine because it’s a digital zoom/crop from the center of the lens and is really noisy in my opinion).
While some of the noted and marketed features are vague (terms like “professional”, “faster” and “sharper”), the actual specs listed on their site state f/2.8 Fixed Focus Glass Lens; 1/2.3″ CMOS Image Sensor and .84 V/lux-sec Light Sensitivity. Also, it states that up to 32GB SDHC cards (Class 4 or higher) can be used but I popped-in my Ultra 64GB SD card and it worked fine. It might max out on writing up to 32GB, I’m not sure, but as far as functionality – it worked!
All of the specs and feature information are available on GoPro’s web site, so it’s not necessary to repost all their features and marketing info again here, but here are the links to compare the New with the Original HD Hero:
From all that I’ve read about the original HD Hero, I’m quite glad for the improvements in the HD Hero2, including the 4 Recording LEDs on all 4 sides, the easy to navigate LCD screen and the enhanced optics and expanded recording options, POV angles and resolutions. It made this first-time user’s experience much easier to dive right in and was an extremely intuitive camera to get to know and use right away.
Overall, I think the GoPro HD Hero2 not only lives up to all the marketing hype it gets, but exceeds it for being an ultra-compact, waterproof, shockproof micro-camera package that retails for $299 per kit. I’m already looking forward to checking out the LCD BacPac™ and Wi-Fi BacPac™w/Remote very soon. This isn’t just a toy for rich kids to throw around, nor is it a replacement for any other HD digital video or still camera you may own — but the HD Hero2 has a specific purpose in your videographer’s tool kit for capturing awesome action shots… AND your imagination!
Links to other GoPro articles in this series:
Jeff Foster is a published author of several how-to books and training videos in the motion graphics, animation and video production industries and is an award-winning video producer and artist. Visit his web site to learn more about his training methods, tips & tricks at PixelPainter.com