As you've probably noticed by now we don't appear to be getting much of a summer this year in Britain; instead we're getting a monsoon season, apparently caused by a rogue jet stream, which has resulted in virtually non-stop rain for most of the past two months. However, we can’t let a little thing like a two-month-long downpour prevent us from going out and getting some fresh (if slightly damp) air. Personally, I’ve bought myself a sea kayak; I figure if I’m already in the water and wearing a wetsuit it doesn’t really matter how much it rains.
Despite the recent weather, outdoor sports such as kayaking, surfing, mountain-biking and climbing are becoming increasingly popular. They’re a great way to combine some much-needed exercise with a bit of fun and excitement, but one thing that all these sports have in common is that they’re not very hospitable to most normal cameras. If you want to record your adventures you’ll need a camera designed to survive the same conditions you’re putting yourself through, and one of the most popular choices for this is the GoPro. A quick search of YouTube will discover hundreds of videos shot on these rugged little cameras, strapped to bike handlebars or helmets, mounted on surfboards and kayaks, and stuck to the outside of racing cars and even aircraft. There are two models to choose from. The original version is the GoPro HD Hero, but for even better results, there is now the GoPro HD Hero2, which offers greater versatility and more features.
The secret of the GoPro’s success is the versatility of its modular mounting system. The HD Hero2 is available in three basic packages; the Outdoor Edition, which includes helmet mounting straps and accessories; the Motorsports Edition, which includes a powerful suction mount suitable for attaching to vehicles, and the Surf Edition shown here, which includes a replacement back with added buoyancy and a selection of adhesive mounts designed for attaching the camera to surfboards and boats. All three kits include the standard waterproof case, a robustly constructed polycarbonate box with a strong pressure latch, which is rated for depths up to 60 metres. As well as these kits there is a wide range of specialised mounting devices available, such as a bicycle handlebar mount or a chest harness.
There are many other accessories too, including an innovative modular back system that can add an LCD monitor, an extended battery or a particularly clever Wi-Fi remote control system, which allows the camera to be controlled and settings to be adjusted either from a dedicated remote control or via a smartphone app. Other accessories include a specialised dive housing with an anti-vignetting lens, and a bizarre 3D system, which features a special case that mounts two GoPro cameras side-by-side to provide binocular parallax.
The core device is of course the HD Hero2 camera itself, which is a small and relatively unassuming flat-sided silver plastic box. At first glance, it does look a bit primitive, like a toy camera for toddlers, but looks can be deceptive. The front panel is the most interesting, featuring an ultra-wide-angle, fixed-aperture, fixed-focus lens, a small LCD data display and the on/off button, as well as a large red LED to let you know when it’s recording. One side features the USB video out and external microphone sockets, the other the SD card slot and Mini-HDMI socket, while the rear has an accessory socket for the various optional backs. Out of its waterproof case, the camera is very light and compact, weighing 100g and measuring 60 x 42 x 38mm. The case does add some bulk as you can see in the accompanying pictures, and also bumps that weight up to 213g, not an inconsiderable mass if you’ve got it strapped to your bike helmet.
I was sent the Surf Edition kit for review, which includes a range of mounting options for attaching the camera to surfboards, kayaks and other watercraft. These mainly consist of double-sided foam pads with extremely strong adhesive, so be careful what you attach them to because they’re hard to shift once stuck, and anything made of foam or softer plastic could be damaged in the process. The kit includes a range of plastic mounting plates, with concave ones to fit onto curved surfaces, as well as flat ones. The camera case has a hinged arm that clips securely into the mounting plate. I used the largest mounting pad on the front of my kayak, and once I’d slotted the camera into place it was extremely secure; I was able to lift the front end of the kayak up by the camera mount.
Using the GoPro is pretty straightforward, and the interface is certainly a big improvement over the rather fiddly operation of previous models. It does have a number of options, with 170, 127 and 90-degree field-of-view in 1080p full HD, as well as the ability to capture time-lapse and still images. The camera operation is fully automatic; you just set it recording and then get on with your activity. It beeps quite loudly when you start recording and has a bright LED on the front so you know it’s working.
There’s no way to view the results until you download it onto a PC, but the results I obtained were excellent, with good exposure, excellent colour saturation and a nice sharp picture. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sound quality; the Hero2 has two built-in microphones, but the waterproof case muffles all external sound very thoroughly, recording only the rattles and bangs transmitted through the case and mount. There is an option to use an external microphone, but not with the waterproof case, so you have to decide between sound quality or waterproof protection; you can’t have both. This is probably why most people dub music over their surfing videos.
Another drawback to the Hero2 is its very restricted battery life. The manufacturer claims two-and-a-half hours of recording time, and the camera does have a built-in battery warmer to maximise its duration, but in actual use I found the battery was nearly exhausted in only about an hour and a half. If you’re planning to use the Hero2 on a long trip you’ll need to invest in a few spare batteries. Fortunately, the battery does charge quickly, taking only about two hours on a powered USB connection.
If you’re into outdoor sports and activities of any description, then the GoPro camera system provides an accessible and reasonably cheap way to record and share your exploits. The camera produces extremely high quality video under all circumstances, and the incredibly versatile mounting system lets you attach it to all kinds of outdoor and sporting equipment. The limited battery life is a disadvantage though, especially on longer trips.
Note: Thanks to Action Cameras for supplying the review sample.
Manufacturer and Model
GoPro HD Hero2
11-megapixel 1/2.3in CMOS
1,920 x 1,080 video, 11MP still
Field of view
170, 127, and 90-degree
Single, 10-shot burst, time-lapse 2/sec
Memory card slot
Dimensions (W x H x D)
60 x 42 x 38mm
Weight (body only)
100g (213g inc. case)
Waterproof case, flotation back, mounts, cables