Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GoPro or Go Home–HD Hero 2 Review (Motorsports Edition) UPDATED: 2-27-2012

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition
GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition
Shown above at near actual size outside
of its waterproof case (shown behind it)

My love of cars is what got me into film photography in 1984, and to this day my passion for all cool things on wheels still trumps all of my many passions. As a big fan of Formula 1 racing, when I saw advertisements for the GoPro camera show up a few years ago I was intrigued, but my expectations were low. As a result I never bothered to get one – even for review. However, when one of my friends showed his GoPro video on Facebook it got my attention – especially since it was taken with the original GoPro and it looked so good.

This prompted me to contact my friends at B&H to see if I could finally review one these gadgets. They agreed, so when it arrived I was bubbling with excitement. However, when I took it out of the case I thought – hum, this looks like a piece of junk that you’d get off eBay. It was a low tech camera in bad need of more buttons and it just didn’t impress me. As a result, I wasn’t expecting very good results, and the horrible Northwest winter wasn’t given me a chance to take it out for a proper test. This weekend the great weather arrived, so I decided to have some fun taking it out mounted to a Porsche 911 C4s Cabriolet and a Lotus Exige for a little mountain road spin.

Here’s one of the few time lapse shots I managed to snag before the sun went down, but I thought it was a great one:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Country Road Time Lapse Fun
Mouse over to see the in-camera JPEG original
Mouse out to see my edit of the file

After I got home and files started to come off the SD cards, I quickly realized that what this camera lacks in features it makes up for in quality. I was very happy with the results as you’ll see later in this review.

What’s Included in the Motorsports Edition

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition

I’ve got to say that the GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition comes in one of the most impressive boxes I’ve seen to date. It’s a big plexiglass box with a shiny black surface that makes you think – wow, this is cool. Of course, I wish they would have tossed it in a cheap box and put a few more buttons on the camera – but more on that later. Here’s what’s included:

  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Waterproof Quick-Release Housing
  • Assorted Mounting Hardware
  • USB Charging Cable
  • 3 x Curved Adhesive Mounts
  • 2 x Flat Adhesive Mounts
  • J-Hook
  • Suction Cup Mount
  • 3-Way Pivot Arm
  • 1-Year Limited Warranty

In layman’s terms, that’s everything (yes, really it is everything) you need to go out and start getting some cool videos or photos with it mounted to your car. I was skeptical at first. The directions didn’t inspire confidence when it said that the suction cup should be mounted 24 hours in advance in room temperature conditions! Fortunately in my testing it worked okay in cool conditions (50’s Fahrenheit) and mounted seconds before driving off with it. Not once did the suction cup even come close to coming off (in fact, sometimes it was tricky to remove), so I think this is pretty much the lawyers warning versus the real performance possibilities.


Everything you need is really included

Since I was reviewing this unit I passed on the adhesive mounts and elected to go for the suction cup mount. I tried it on glass, steel, aluminum and fiberglass and it worked like a champ on all of them. Even on curved surfaces it seemed to have a death grip needed for the twisty mountain roads.

The only thing I think was missing was perhaps one more mounting gizmo that would allow me to do the wheel shot shown above in landscape mode so I could do video. Instead, I could only do that one in portrait which is why I chose to do a time lapse. I’m sure this gizmo exists and it might even have been in my kit, but I just didn’t see how to get that configuration. As you’ll see in the videos below, I had what I needed to get the video shots I think most people want to accomplish.

Using the GoPro HD Hero 2

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition

As I mentioned earlier, the GoPro HD Hero 2  comes in a fancy box which I think is their way of overcompensating for the cheapo first impression the HD Hero 2 gives. However, this is a powerful little camera with a pretty reasonable lens – especially for this price point! I found that in practice the only thing this gizmo lacked was more buttons. It’s two buttons are so overloaded that it can be maddening at times, but I think this was done to minimize the failure points when using the waterproof housing buttons. Perhaps that is true, but honestly I’d rather more buttons with only one or two accessible via this way. In fact, the #1 button missing is the OFF button!

In fact, I think the #1 video most people will make on their GoPro is one like this:


GoPro Button Press Fail

This is shot of me trying to go through the menus to change a setting, but accidentally hitting the wrong button and recording myself fumbling around. I got a bunch of those which are funny at first, but it gets old pretty fast.

These issues aside everything was fairly well documented (not outstanding, but good enough) so I was able to figure out how to get this gizmo going. It’s pretty much fully automatic so you just pick your resolution, field of view and recording type (video, stills time lapse, etc…) and you are good to go. There’s a lot of little options for things like date and time and the all-important flip ( so you can video with the camera upside down), but nothing fancy here. In fact, one noticeable omission was a manual exposure mode so you can do a slow shutter speed shot to get awesome car images like Clint Clemens is famous for.

I should point out that I just used random SD cards I had – including one that was about three years old (so it isn’t super fast), and all just worked – no issues.

Videos

Gripes aside, the proof is in the pudding, so I put this gadget to the test to see what I could get. While YouTube doesn’t do the videos justice, I was pretty pleased with the results.

Be sure to the videos at 100% (which means no full-screen if you are on a display that can do greater than 1280x960). Keep in mind that no laws were broken in the making of these videos. Instead we simply used creative angles and low gears (to get loud engine revs) to make the videos slightly more exciting. Of course, this is no Hollywood production, so for most they may be as exciting as someone else play a video game, but trust me – you’ll love your own videos as much as the videos of the baby! ;-)

Here’s a video of a Lotus Exige driving downhill on a twisty country road. This video was shot at 1920x1080 at the maximum field of view for that resolution. The lead car is a 911 with the camera mounted to the top of the back bumper: 


Play in HD

This was good, but as you can see the daytime running lights of the Lotus kinda ruin it. In addition, the wide field of view means you want your follow car to be very close. Lesson learned, so in this one we try to get a little closer (about 1 car length) with no headlights on. This time I also tried using the 1280x960 resolution for a larger field of view:


Play in HD

You won’t be seeing me up for an Academy Award for these videos, but overall I thought the quality was decent. There are some popping sounds from rocks hitting the case, and the engine sounds are muffled because I used the waterproof door instead of the skeleton door (due to heavy dust from winter road sanding). Audio is definitely the weakness even with the skeleton door, and carful attention and some rubbery bits might be useful in getting the best results out of your audio if you care about that. In fact, external audio is probably best.

Conclusion

Overall I was happy with the exposure, dynamic range, and white balance of this camera – especially at this price point. It is a nice all-in-one solution that is a great value and fun. Given how much it would cost to do this in a DIY project, it is totally worth the price!

One tough part of using this device is its lack of an LCD. This means it is like the old days when shooting film where you can’t see results until later. If you are serious then you’ll want to bring a fast laptop (ideally with an SSD drive ) and an equally fast card reader so you can proof your results in the field. Personally though I just winged it and had fun, and that was good enough for me.

I wish it had more features (i.e., raw file support) and discrete buttons (or even better – a remote). Of course if it did it would probably cost more than I’d be willing to risk. It’d suck to lose this camera in an accident, but at $299.99 it’s cheap enough that I’d probably be more interested in seeing what it recorded before it died than I would about replacing it.

UPDATE

Shortly after I released this article people started send me all sorts of cool links. The best ones were about the cool accessories that I think will excite you as much as it does me! Click here to learn about the new remote coming this spring, and here's a link to the $80 LCD panel. I guess you can have everything! I love it!

I love this gadget and would highly recommend it to adrenaline junkies! In fact, I’m actually going to buy one myself!

Click here to see or buy the GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition on B&H. If you aren’t into motorsports, then click here to see other options.

Disclaimer

B&H provided me with a unit to test. I had so much fun that I’m considering purchasing it. I may also get a commission if you make a purchase using links in this article.

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3 comments:

Timothy Lusk said...

Great review, Ron. I agree about the features of the GoPro. I wish it had a remote as well, and some other features that you'd find on other video recorders. But the durability is awesome, and I can't complain about the quality...

I was sort of hoping to see the video from the fender view-point though. :-( Oh well...

Dave said...

I have a couple of GoPro's. I love them for their size & versatility. So many different places to mount the camera for interesting perspectives. Helmet, chest, on the end of a pole, dashboard, etc. Although I understand what Ron's saying about the "cheap" factor - it's designed for extreme ruggedness. I mount mine to my snowboard and bomb down the hill, or we mount it to our mountain bikes during downhill races. IMO, awesome all around.

Ron Martinsen said...

Yeah, I wish I had too. The short story is that I could only mount the camera in the portrait orientation for the wheel which doesn't work for video. I could have tried a different location, but by the time I thought of this the sun went down. I barely got any time lapse photos (as you can see from the original).


People have sent me info on its forthcoming remote and LCD, so I'll have an update.

Ron