I finally jumped on the HD bandwagon and bought myself a Hero2 HD digital camera by GoPro. These little beauties have been around for quite a while now so hearing about them isn't exactly news. But since I finally got around to purchasing one for myself and it happens to be that the Hero2 is the biggest leap in performance that they've given these cameras since their launch, I figured I would put in my 2 cents worth.
For the past few years I've been dealing with low definition video for the purposes of chronicling my dives and spearfishing ventures. I started with a Canon Elph that would only shoot 320x240 video. Hardly viewable even on SD televisions, but for webcasting it would suffice and I only had to purchase the case for shooting underwater so the price was right. I used that setup for a couple of years until I found a case for the Nikon L16's that my kids had gotten for Christmas one year (these doubled my resolution capability to 640x480). Once again, all I had to do was purchase the case, so the price was right. Since both of these cameras were relatively aged by the time I used them for this, the cases only cost me around $120.00 each.
But I tired of the size and bulk of the cameras and the hassle of dealing with batteries that would die too soon (alkalines for the Nikons) or would just stop holding a charge for any extended period of time (the Canon battery packs) so last year I decided I would gift myself (that's right "gift" not give) a GoPro for my birthday. I ordered the motorsports edition becuase I wanted to be able to mount the camera on the console or windshield of my boat to get some perspectives I hadn't been able to shoot before with my older hardware. The new Hero2 arrived and I immediately started playing with every setting the device had to offer.
What a great variety of features and modes this camera offers. The short list is as follows:
- Video modes of: 1080p, 960p, 720p and 480
- Framerates of 30, 48, 60 and 120 fps (depending on video resolution)
Waterproof (to 160') clear lexan case with additional skeleton rear door for letting in sound when you need it
11 megapixel digital stills (which are good for the following...)
- Timelapse capabilities with adjustable delays from 2s to 60 minutes
- Burst shooting at 10fps!
You can setup real time savers like:
- Select your power up mode for the camera. This let's you pick what mode the camera will be in every time you power it up, which can help you save time when you need it in a hurry.
- Set a mode they call "1 button" that let's the camera automatically start in the mode you selected for power up as soon as you turn it on. So if you power up in video mode, it automatically starts recording. No need to mess with a shutter release or check to see if you remembered to start recording!
There are also new operational enhancements like a display that has icons to let you know what mode you're in instead of the old cryptic "R" modes display that made you remember what mode each code stood for. Another very handy feature is the addition of indicator LED's on almost every side of the camera (at least every side I care about) let's you know at a quick glance if the camera is recording without having to turn the camera to look at the camera which invariable led to the gratuitous face shot when you did so. All this and I haven't even mentioned all the technical advancements that make this camera literally twice the camera of the original Hero. 60fps shooting in 720p mode lets you produce slo-mo scenes as good as anything you'll see on Monday Night Football.
The only issue with the Hero2 (which has also existed for every version to date) is the flaw that creates fuzzy video underwater. The fisheye lens on the underwater case is great for getting that extra wide angle when you're shooting hidef video, and above water the video result is crystal clear and sharp. Unfortunately, these cameras have a fixed focus lens which means it can't adjust the focus since the lens doesn't move. Normally this isn't an issue, as a matter of fact it's usually a benefit since the camera doesn't need extra hardware to move lenses or waste time with out of focus shots while the lens gets into position. However, when the case gets in the water, it's another story entirely.
You see the problem is that when the water is in contact with the surface of the lens underwater, it creates an additional refraction or magnification that the lens can't adjust for since it's a fixed focus lens. The result is underwater video that is less than perfectly focused. The idea behind the solution is actually very simple... replace the curved lens with a flat lens that eliminates the fisheye effect and makes the underwater video as crystal clear as your above water shots. There are a number of solutions available to resolve this issue, all the way from home made epoxy filled solutions up to professionally manufactured modified cases that are not only depth tested to even greater depths than the original case, but also have the capability of accepting color correction filters that ultimately make your underwater video almost production quality. I made my choice but will keep this spearview to the GoPro Hero2 and review the case I purchased in another article soon.
In the end, I can't say enough great things about this device and when you realize that you're getting production quality video at bargain basement prices, you'd be a fool not to shell out the money if you're interested in shooting action video of any kind (not just underwater). When you think about it, this camera costs just a little more than a consumer digital camera (none of which take full 1080 video for the price) and you get so much more for the money. Just check out the resulting video and judge for yourself. You'll have to forgive the condensatoin manifestation on the filter in the middle of the underwater shots (a problem I have since resolved very simply) but on the whole, the video quality is incredible by comparison to all my previous videos. I love this thing! One last piece of advice would be to make sure your software is up to the challenge of working with the large files and high framerate of the video created by the Hero2. There are a number of packages out there that don't cost ridiculous amounts of money that are up to the task. Among the ones I thought were worth looking into for the job are Cyberlink's PowerDirector, Sony's Vegas Movie Studio HD (or Vegas Pro if you can afford it and have the willingness to learn advanced techniques).