Hannah from Maia Media checks out the latest and arguably best in digital HD action cams.
Thinking of filming your own adventures and sharing them on YouTube or Vimeo? There's never been a better time to do it, but where do you start? Here's our video expert, Hannah Taylor, from Maia Media with a detailed review of the latest development from GoPro, the HD HERO2. Over to you, Hannah...
The action camera market is getting busier and there are some great products out there. I’m on a mission to find out which provides the best all round package for your money. Check out my review of the Swann HD camera for example - coming soon.Action Camera Review: GoPro HERO 2
I’ve been using the GoPro HERO Original since summer of 2011 and have had a lot of fun with it biking in the Alps, paddling in Sweden and messing about on the trails at home. It’s allowed some great shots without the worry of smashing up the DSLR. It’s even got me all excited about DIY and we made a cable cam using the GoPro HERO which became GoPro’s official video of the day back in March.
The GoPro Scene
As one of the first action cameras on the scene the GoPro HD cameras receive a lot of love from their very strong fan base. GoPro users are swapping tips, sharing videos and helping each other out like no other action camera community. But how does the recently released GoPro HD HERO2 really compare to other action cameras on the market?
At £299.99 the HERO2 isn’t the cheapest action camera option but the it does come in three different packages, the Surf, the Outdoor, and the Motorsports editions. They all cost the same but each one comes with sport-specific accessories.
The Motorsport comes with a suction cup mount, the Surf with board mounts with keeper leashes and the Outdoor with helmet and head mounts. I was sent the surf edition which suited me fine as I have a lot of the other mounts already.
The surf edition kit includes: HD HERO2 Camera, battery, USB cable, surf HERO mount, FCS plug mount, floaty backdoor, waterproof housing, non-waterproof wrist mount compatible housing back, 4 assorted adhesive mounts.
What's New With The HERO2
Ok so what’s new in the HERO2 compared to the original HERO? Billed as ‘2x more powerful in every way’ they certainly promoting it as a major overhaul of it’ predecessor the HD HERO Original. On first inspection it’s the same square little camera with the same buttons and the same mounting options. What seems to have changed is what’s inside the little box.
The HERO Original is fairly simple to use however I found it essential to carry the instruction book around as I don’t have a photographic memory and the 3 digit code menu system is a touch confusing to say the least.
The new unit has a vastly improved front LCD screen and a more intuitive menu system. Being an itinerant fiddler I pressed a few buttons and found the new menu system a breeze. It’s very intuitive, particularly if you’ve used one before, and you can now understand what you’re changing rather than having to refer to the decoding book, I mean instruction book.
Little Things, Big Differences...
It’s the little things that make the difference with the new unit. A good example of this are the additional record indicating lights on the top, back and bottom of the camera so you can easily tell when it’s filming or not.
No more shots looking up your nose as you peer over the top of the camera to check the main on/off indicator. What a relief! Although if you use any of the backpack accessories you won’t be able to see the rear light.
Resolutions - For The Technically Minded
The GoPro HERO2 shoots video in all field of views (FOV) in both 1080p and 720p which is great. The full list of record rates and FOV’s are:
- 1080p: 1920×1080, 30FPS
- 960p: 1280×960, 48FPS + 30FPS
- 720p: 1280×720, 60FPS + 30FPS
- WVGA: 843x480, 60 FPS + 120FPS (Nice to have such a super slow motion option but remember it is only SD, not HD resolution)
I’ve played very little with the 960p format but it does provide a much bigger all round view. It’s something I will definitely play with a little more in the future but I’ve grown accustomed to liking my videos in 16:9 dimensions.
At the moment I tend to use 720p 60fps and often slow the footage down in post-production. It will be interesting to see a side-by-side comparison of the 960p 48fps vs 720 60fps. Something for a further test I guess.
World Turned Upside Down
Like it’s predecessor the HERO2 can be set to ‘Upside down mode’ which enables the camera to be positioned upside down but still record video the correct way up. I find this a super useful feature, which so far I haven't come across on any of the other action cameras. It’s a feature that really encourages imaginative and creative camera angles.
Take a look at the image of the camera on the chest mount at the top of the page and you'll notice that it's upside down.
Sound And Waterproof Backs
The sound-recording capability for such a little box is good but the HERO2 has upped it’s game by including a 3.5mm external stereo mic input option. If you need to contain the camera in its fully waterproof housing then sound recording will inevitably be reduced but one bonus of the GoPro (unlike the Swann Freestyle HD) is that regardless of which kit version you purchase you’ll always receive a waterproof and non-waterproof housing back.
Having options for both which are easy to swap over mean you can decide which factor is most important each time you film.
Video Quality Improved
After running some basic comparison video tests I discovered the HERO2 is a real improvement over the original in the image processing department as well as the user interface.
Check the video footage of the HERO Original Vs HERO2 V’s Swann Freestyle HD when we went biking in the woods for a clear indication of its improvement in clarity and sharpness of picture at www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg5uPyn_gRM.
So how is the GoPro HERO2 generating these improvements? The answer lies in a couple of key changes inside the box. The image processing speed has doubled and the light sensitivity has also been improved.
Coupled together you get a much crisper sharper video and better reaction to light changes. Interestingly the CMOS sensor is actually slightly smaller but billed as ‘high quality’. Looks like smaller is sometimes better!
Like most people in the UK I’m obsessed with the weather because lets face it the British climate can be very unpredictable. In the morning it can be sunny and by the afternoon it’s dull and over clouded and I’m left dreaming of Californian blue skies.
Sadly for GoPro HERO2 users the cameras relative inability to deal with low light is a continuing problem. If you’re out in less than perfect conditions the video can quickly look murky and noisy. This is hugely disappointing particularly when you compare it to the stunning images and video it can produce when the environment is well lit.
That said low light seems to be the achilles heel of all action cameras and for me the HERO2’s performance is still one of the best in the bunch.
For those who enjoy stills you’re going to see a marked improvement as the HERO2 jumps to a whopping 11 megapixel sensor. To give you a comparison the original GoPro HERO was only 5 megapixels and the Swann Freestyle HD is 8 megapixel.
The sensor along with other improvements (such as the sharper glass lens) mean you can get a burst of 10 photo’s per second (burst mode) or a shot every ½ second (time-lapse mode), and the photo’s are incredibly crisp and clear if the lights right. The improvements to the cameras photo capability certainly makes it more of a go to product if you’re out and about and want to get shots of you and your friends.
I set up a short test of the timelapse feature for the first time. I recorded the images at the maximum 11mp and took one image every 10 seconds. If you’re keen to make your own time-lapses or even use the camera’s photography mode in general I would highly recommend purchasing the LCD bacpac (which isn’t cheap at £79.99) but will help to frame your shots. If creating a time-lapse remember to turn the LCD screen off once it’s set up to save your battery power.
a short time-lapse video I took to show how the feature works in practice, neat huh?
Specification difference between the HD HERO ORIGINAL and HD HERO 2
- HD HERO Original : Lens Sharp
HD HERO2: Lens 2 X Sharper
- HD HERO Original : 1/2.5″ CMOS
HD HERO2: 1/2.3” CMOS
- HD HERO Original: 3 photos in 1 sec
HD HERO2: 10 photos in 1 sec
- HD HERO Original : Light Sensitivity 1.4 V/lux-sec
HD HERO2: Light Sensitivity 0.84 V/lux-sec
- HERO Original: 5MP photos
HD HERO2: 11MP photo
- HD HERO Original: 127º wide angle in 1080p mode
HD HERO2: 170º Wide FOV in 1080p mode
- HERO Original: 960p = 1280×960, 30 FPS
HD HERO2: 960p = 1280×960, 48FPS
- HD HERO Original: 960p = 848×480, 60 FPS
HD HERO2: WVGA: 848×480, 120FPS
- HD HERO Original: 3 digit code menu system (difficult to use & remember)
HD HERO2: language based menu system (easy to use)
GoPro has a number of accessories that can be purchased as extras which are compatible with both the HERO Original and HERO2. It’s possible to spend a small fortune on the accessories but not all of them will be relevant to all users.
For me it is GoPro’s continual investment in developing mounts, accessories and features that improve the camera's versatility which pulls me towards their brand. Your imagination becomes the limiting factor.
Useful additional products worthy of a mention include:
- The Wi-Fi BacPac and Wi-Fi long range remote control which can connect to a smartphone or tablet running a free GoPro app enabling complete control of multiple cameras.
- The LCD BacPac which is a detachable LCD screen
- Tripod mount for attaching your GoPro camera to a standard tripod.
- Chest mount or ‘chesty’ makes it easy to capture immersive video and photo footage from your chest.
- Floaty backdoor enables your camera to float in water.
- Vastly improved operating menu system which is relatively easy to use (although not the easiest of all the action cameras).
- Vast array of accessories and mounts available within the kits and to purchase additionally.
- Excellent photo resoloution.
- Great time-lapse functionality. One 11MP photo can be taken every 0.5 seconds in time-lapse mode.
- Good audio recording with additional 3.5mm external stereo mic input option.
- All the field of view options ( 170º, 127º, 90º) in both 1080p and 720p video.
- Low light remains an issue for the GoPro HERO2 (although low light performance is improved a little from the HERO Original.
- No easy way to line up your shot without purchasing the LCD bacpac.
- No flat optics on the waterproof housing which can cause blurring underwater.
I enjoyed testing the GoPro HERO2 and it would be my first choice action camera to take along on my next adventure. In terms of performance the camera is very good. It’s comparable to other action cameras on the market but manages to provide the highest quality video with the most versatile mounts and accessories.
That said it still hasn’t managed to conquer the low light Achilles heel of all action cameras although there is a marked improvement on its predecessor.
Written by: Hannah Taylor of Maia Media a small indie media production company that specializes in outdoor adventures, action sports, travel and socio-environmental issues. You can keep up to date with Maia Media on Facebook on Vimeo and on twitter.