I recently used a GoPro camera for the first time: the GoPro HD Hero 2 (Outdoor Edition) during a two week visit to Breckenridge. This isn’t a review of the camera’s image quality. There are plenty of reviews out there, plus, I don’t have access to any of the competing cameras (e.g. the latest from Contour) so it would be difficult to rate the GoPro’s relative performance. All I’ll say on the quality side of things is that I’m very impressed.
This is a review of how I used the camera. I had a specific goal with the GoPro, but wasn’t totally sure it would pan out. Read on for my thoughts…
My GoPro goal: a camera that doesn’t get in the way
I really like to film my snowboarding – but I don’t like lugging a bag around. In the past, riding with a video camera has always been an annoyance, a compromise. In our group, more often than not I’m the person carrying the camera when it’s not in use.
The GoPro presented the opportunity to have a camera that’s small enough to be put in the pocket and forgotten about. The type of camera that you can take up every day, but not be bothered if you don’t use it. So, I got rid of my old miniDV camcorder and put my faith in the GoPro…
Was it “invisible”?
At first I was actually disappointed. Without thinking about it too much, I had assumed that I’d carry the GoPro naked in my pocket – without the plastic housing. Once I unpacked it though, I quickly changed my mind.
- I wanted to protect that lens. It looked vulnerable, and putting it in the housing would provide complete protection
- Waterproof. The housing is completely waterproof, so using that makes dropping the camera in snow a non-factor
The housing is much safer and more practical – but using it does make the GoPro quite a bit bigger, more bulky…
Result? That said, the camera is still small, relative to other camera options, and also very light. After riding with it for a few days, I came to the conclusion that it passed the test. It’s small enough to put in your pocket and forget about. Just what I wanted.
Caution: one point worth mentioning here is that if you use it in this way, it can be easy to accidentally turn the camera on/off. The buttons on the housing are designed to be easy to press – and they are – you can operate the camera with snowboard gloves on. But it does make it easy to “press” them when it’s in your pocket. Depending on which pocket you use, things like bending over to do your bindings can result in a press.
The workaround? I just checked the camera at the top and bottom of each run…
Filming technique: hold with hand
The other thing that I had planned before buying the GoPro was to film with it “hand-held”. I’ve seen many people using poles and I can see the advantages of that setup. In fact, I’d be confident saying that a pole is a better way to film with the GoPro…
But I wanted portability. A pole doesn’t fit in your pocket so well.
Result? Holding it worked just fine. I wanted the camera to film another rider, “follow cam” style; I didn’t want to be the subject myself. It worked great. Yes, a pole would be better still for filming another rider, but hand-held worked just fine.
Caution: be wary of gloves. You can operate the buttons on the GoPro easily with gloves on. If you’re holding it and filming, be careful not to obscure the view of the lens – especially at the widest angle. It’s do-able, just get your fingers in the right place. Most days I carried a much thinner, pipe glove, for use with the GoPro…
I played around filming myself with the GoPro: both in some deep snow and in the park, or jibbing around. I got one or two “interesting” shots, but nothing more than that.
For riding pow, you need a pole. I tried holding the GoPro with my back arm, covering my direction of travel. It kinda got in the way; I spent more time thinking about holding it up high and pointing forwards. It didn’t really work. If you want the camera pointing back at you, catching your face shots – you definitely need a pole.
For park riding, you can probably get away with hand-held rather than pole-held. Like I said, I got one or two interesting shots. They’d definitely be better if I would just go bigger. But that’s got nothing to do with the camera! If you want an idea of this, check out that sick footage from Tim Humphreys… he might be holding that? If not, it’s a short pole, or maybe the wrist strap? So good!
I opted to film everything in 1080 mode. With the GoPro HD Hero 2, 1080 mode brings with it the choice between narrow, medium and wide lens-angle options. I thought that this flexibility might be useful – particularly the medium option might be good if you’re following someone and not super-close.
What you can’t do at 1080 is up the frame rate from 30fps to 60fps… 60fps is better for super slow-mo. However, I decided that I don’t go big enough to warrant slowing things down so don’t often use slow-motion when editing.
Result? The medium option worked out well on and around the piste. It didn’t make a huge difference, but it did provide a slightly longer effective-filming range.
Playback on an old computer? If you have an old computer/laptop, be sure to use GoPro’s CineForm Studio software. It really helps with looking at your clips. You can also use that software to help with the editing – there’s more information here.
Storage. I ordered a 32GB card (Class 6 – worked fine) along with a 16GB backup. I used less than 8GB, so I didn’t have to mess on deleting from the card while I was away. Obviously this is totally dependent on how much filming you do. According to GoPro, a 32GB card should give you around 4 hours of record time at 1080p / 30fps. I’d say my usage was inline with that – although maybe I would have gotten a little more…
Battery. I also ordered a spare battery – but didn’t even take it out of the packet. With use on and off through the day, one battery was easily enough. The only time it almost ran out was when I accidentally turned it on and left it that way for a while. I did get some advice that the battery would last for around 3 to 3.5 hours with constant use. I didn’t ever use it as constantly as that.
LCD BacPac. I thought long and hard about whether or not to get the LCD BacPac. Originally, I had hoped that in addition to allowing you to view your clips, it would also allow you more control with deleting clips. It doesn’t do the latter.
To me, the benefit of being able to watch your clips when you’re out and about, is that you can check what you’re filming. Make sure that you’re framing the shot well and not cutting off half of your buddy as he stomps his trick for the first time…
You might also remove the need to take a laptop/iPad with you – but I’m not sure that screen is big enough to get a good look at your shots. I still think you need to get the video off the GoPro to do that.
The main downside for me with the LCD BacPac is that it makes the whole unit bigger; something I didn’t want. Given that I was taking a laptop with me (so had a means to view clips at the end of the day) – I made the decision that with a minimal amount of trial and error, I’d be able to film effectively with the GoPro.
Result? This turned out to be true. Reflecting on the whole use – I don’t think that I need the LCD BacPac. Personally, this was a good choice.
Overall: pretty awesome!
Ditching the miniDV camcorder was a good move for me. The GoPro produces great quality video and it’s super portable. Hand-held works just fine; if I add a pole for use in certain situations, it will become more versatile still.
Check here for all you GoPro camera needs.
Take a look here, for the new GoPro HERO3 Silver Edition.
Check out this post for an edit of my footage from 2011/2012 season, all filmed with the GoPro.