GoPro Helmet HERO Wide Video Camera Review

by Brian Mullin on December 8, 2008

What is a Hero?
A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.

Description
Originally released in 2006, the HERO cameras are a line patented by GoPro, a northern California-based team of inventors and athletes dedicated to making it easy to use a camera during favorite activities. The HERO camera line incorporates a small digital camera enclosed in a waterproof housing unit, and the camera can take still or video pictures. The HERO comes in a variety of versions such as the Helmet HERO, the Motorsports HERO, the Surf HERO, and the Digital HERO, the core differences are the mounting options included in each package.

The Hero comes in a cool box with a clear plastic top that shows off the camera in it’s housing. Getting everything apart reminded me of trying to open a puzzle box, pulling the cover art off carefully so I did not tear it, and then pulling the tape off that holds the plastic top onto the main parts box.

GoPro’s HERO video camera’s latest incarnation is the Wide angle version, which has a whopping 170 degree of viewing and 5 megapixel sensor. Can we say WIDE?

Big bottom
Big bottom
Talk about bum cakes
My girl’s got ’em
Big bottom, drive me out of my mind
How can I leave this behind?


HERO camera

The camera itself has only two buttons, an indicator light, and a small LCD screen that shows information relating to battery, mode, and status. The camera uses 2 AAA batteries which comprise a third of the weight of this tiny and light unit. It comes with a simple 1 page instruction manual written in 5 languages.

“Whoa, lady, I only speak two languages, English and bad English.”


HERO camera mounted on helmet strap

I have been testing the Helmet HERO Wide for the couple of months, and I am very satisfied with the product. This is a helmet mounted system in which the camera is enclosed in a polycarbonate housing, and the housing attaches to the helmet through a quick-release mount. The kit includes an unvented helmet strap (a.k.a the jock strap), stick on mounts, and a side arm swivel. The mounts allow attachment to bikes, cars, kayaks, helmets and more. You can purchase additional more specific adapters for motorsports, surfing, and other sports uses. I tested an optional adapter that allows connection to a seatpost or handlebar.


Camera with housing opened

Mounting the unit to the frame allows interesting shots such as showing how a fork reacts to varying terrain that it encounters. I have also been testing their brand new chest mounted accessory, apply named the ‘Chesty’.

She’s a brick house
Mighty might just lettin’ it all hang out
She’s a brick house
The lady’s stacked and that’s a fact,
ain’t holding nothing back.

Using the easy to mount helmet strap, the housing unit has a fantastic quick snap in facility that is a dream to attach to the helmet strap mount. All that are required is a quick backwards push of the buckle onto any of the mounts, and the housing is installed. I have noticed that when I had the camera housing unit inserted into any of the mounts it seems a bit sloppy. I am not sure if the sloppiness causes any picture degradation?


Quick release buckle

Set-Up
I needed a few experimental video sessions to get the camera angle set properly. You want a tad of the front wheel in the shot with an occasional glimpse of the handlebars, and not to much of the distant trail. To adjust the camera angle, a firm push will usually rotate the housing, else you can loosen the swivel bolt, and adjust as needed. It might be nice to have some markings or indentations on the swivels so that you could replicate the same settings if you ever change or adjust an angle. If you attach the unit elsewhere you will need to adjust the camera angle to gather the shots that you might want. When using the additional mounts that have more swivels I found it difficult to get enough torque on the tightening bolts to keep the unit from moving around while riding.

Optional seatpost mount

You can turn the camera upside down, and then using the settings on the camera, record that footage downside up. I of course made a test once doing just that, and forgot to set it back to the normal mode so all my video was upside down!


Frame mount

Optional handlebar mount

Testing and Usage
A difficult issue is that since the camera doesn’t have an onscreen video monitor you cannot examine your footage until you get back to a computer or another video monitor interface.

At first, I noticed the extra weight on my head when I installed it, but after a while I no longer noticed it was there. The weight is comparable to a small bike light, although you can sometimes feel the extra height flopping around on your helmet, and you do need to be careful of trees, just duck when needed.

Weight statistics (for helmet mount only):
Helmet strap – 28g
Housing – 81.7g
Camera – 51.5g
SD card – 1.7g
Batteries – 25.2g
Total – 188.1g or 6.63oz or .41lbs

One of the issues I have is the short battery life. I bought a set of AAA 1000 mAh batteries along with a charger to alleviate the issue. I went through a lot of Lithium batteries, which are not cheap, before I decided to go to the Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable battery route. The unit will eat normal alkaline batteries extremely fast, and still eats through Ni-MH, and Lithium, albeit at a much slower rate. I have been getting just a tad over 2 hours of burn time from my Ni-MH 1000 mAh batteries.

The camera is turned on by pressing the power/mode button on the front of the camera. Once the camera is on you can keep pressing the same button, and select different modes depending on the camera activity that you wish to perform. When the video icon is seen on the LCD status screen, you then press the shutter button on the top of the camera, and a red indicator light on the front of the camera, and in the viewfinder starts to flash to inform you that it’s running. Hit the shutter button to stop the video, and to turn the camera off just hold the power/mode button for a few seconds. All buttons function from the housing unit. The unit beeps when doing some functions, but if you are outside, or when it’s in the housing, the sounds are too subdued to hear very well.


Camera, and housing on quick release buckle

It’s sometimes easy to not realize you did not put it into a video mode before riding down the trail, there were more than a few times I thought I was doing a video capture of a 30 minute ride, and later found out I had not much of anything. After some trials and errors, I got used to the buttons and screen. I always make sure I am in the video mode, and that it’s running, and that the batteries have enough power. I still make mistakes and end up thinking I am running a video and find out, I took a single picture instead. The information icons on the camera screen are small, but are easily understood after you have read through the instruction manual. The screen information appears upside down since it was meant to be read in that manner, such as when using it with a wrist mount, so it takes some getting used to reading it properly.


LCD showing 8 shots, video mode, battery level, and SD card

The camera can capture up to 56 minutes (verified) of video at 30 frames-per-second using an optional 2GB SD card. It can also be used as a camera and can take up to 1945 pictures using the SD card. It can take photos in single, burst (3 shots in single sequence) or timed (every 2 or 5 seconds) modes. The camera comes with 16MB of internal memory which is not enough for any useful length of video, so a SD card is a requirement. I used a beta patch of GoPro’s newer firmware, and I got 1 hour 50 minutes on a 4GB SDHC card, which is a welcome addition to the camera. In the future, there may be a firmware update for 8GB SDHC cards, but battery life will be a limiting factor. NOTE: new firmware for the HERO camera’s should be out soon.

I found that it was best to always carry an extra set of batteries and an extra SD card. On long rides or when you are taking longer video’s it’s nice to swap out SD cards so you don’t miss any action. I also suggest a swap out of fresh batteries at the same time.


Camera showing SD card slot

Another strange issue I noticed is that sometimes when the camera rolls around and gets the Sun directly I get a small black spot, almost like there is a large spec of dirt on the lens. The issue has to do with the CMOS sensor in the camera, and that the Sun’s brightness is outside it’s dynamic range, the camera’s exposure keeps it composure, and it does not complete wash out the scene.

Download and Viewing
To download or view the video’s you will need a PC or Mac. Just take the camera out of the housing, and connect the mini USB to the camera, and then the other end of the connector to the computers USB port. The unit will appear as a Removable Disk, just navigate down to the appropriate directory (example: F:Removable DiskDCIM100GOPRO) and either download or view the video straight from the camera. You can also remove the SD card, and use a SD card reader or other appropriate device, and bypass the camera as the downloading interface. The video’s are in a AVI format (MJPEG), and you can use them as is or edit them in your favorite video editing software.I have been using Cyberlink’s PowerDirector 7 with good results. For some strange reason, the dates of the AVI’s appear as 1/1/2098? Watching the video’s on a PC was a pleasant surprise, there was only a tad of graininess and pixelation when blown up to a full screen mode. Still pictures are stored in the JPEG format.

You can also view video’s directly from the camera on a TV using the RCA to mini USB cable. You use the camera’s buttons to tab through, and start each of the video’s stored on the camera’s memory. The controls are very rudimentary, but they do work. For a small video camera watching the video on my large 57 inch TV was tolerable, the pixelation, and grain were more pronounced with a bit of aliasing. It might be nice if it was recorded in widescreen instead of 4:3, as that seems to be the future trend of video.

Audio
Since the unit is enclosed tightly in a waterproof polycarbonate housing unit the sound is somewhat subdued and only the louder sounds seem to get recorded at higher volumes. Therefore, the tires, frame and forks getting banged around get picked up, but you are not going to hear low level noise. Since most of us are going to add audio information, such as a soundtrack, at a later point in time it’s not a big issue. Audio is recorded in Mono at 8Khz.

Miscellaneous
The camera’s lens is somewhat fragile so it’s a good thing it’s enclosed in the polycarbonate housing, which is how it was meant to be used. I did use the camera outside the housing doing some video’s of various bike products. The camera was easy to use, and hold, and the sound that was recorded was much better since it had no housing to muffle the volume. If you are carrying the camera outside it’s housing make sure that you use a soft bag since the protruding wide angle lens could be susceptible to damage.

With regards to use as your normal still camera, the optical quality as not as good as your normal point and shoot camera, megapixel count is not all that make a better quality picture. For rough, and tumble shots on the bike and other sports it will be fine, but I still bring my small Sony to capture still shots.

I have been getting a lot of questions and comments on this product, more so than anything else I have been testing. With the unit stuck up on your head it can easily be seen so hikers, and bikers, tend to start up a conversation on the camera.


Helmet Wide HERO kit

Parts included in the Helmet HERO Wide kit: a camera, housing, 2 curved stick on mounts, 1 flat stick on mount, USB/RCA to mini USB cable, 2 quick release buckles, vented helmet strap, headlamp strap, instruction manual, extra stick-on, and a side arm swivel.

Video examples
This is a composite video of various helmet mounted shots:

Mountain biking – Pueblo South Shore Trails from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

This is a short composite video showing various mounting options, it includes a frame, handlebar, seatpost, and helmet mount shots (there is a bit of aliasing on the seatpost shot from the video editing software):

GoPro Hero Test Video’s – Monument Preserve, CO from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

Big thanks to Julie Evans of Verde PR and the GoPro staff (especially Justin Wilkenfeld) for letting me do a review of their fine product!

Bottom Line:
This is a fine lightweight video camera for various sports specific uses. It can mount to your helmet, a bike frame, a kayak, a car, etc. It’s light, easy to use, can take the abuse laid out by an outdoor activity, and it’s waterproof. Using a 2GB SD card you can get 56 minutes of video time which is adequate for most activities, and newer firmware will allow 1 hour and 50 minutes using a 4GB SDHC card. I really have to say that the quick attachment system to the helmet is remarkable, I wish all bike light manufacturers went with this as a standard! I have some quibbles with it getting an occasional sunspot when directly looking at the Sun, and it would be nice to have some sort of counter so you know how much video time you have used. This unit is not recommended for a professional videographer since the video quality is lackluster when comparing to the upper echelon of video cameras. This camera is going to be mainly used for video’s that are used on blogs, and various video upload sites such as YouTube, and Vimeo, so video quality is not a primary constraint. I can recommend the GoPro Helmet HERO Wide video camera package for taking video’s while biking and many other outdoor activities. I am hooked, and I am already playing with video editing and becoming a consummate neophyte videographer.

Strengths:
-Uses ordinary SD cards.
-Light.
-Ease of use.
-Multiple options and placements using various attachments methods.
-Great protection case and very abuse proof.
-Excellent quick attachment system (bike light companies take note).
-Waterproof to 100 feet.
-No cables needed while filming.

Weaknesses:
-Drains batteries quickly.
-Upside down LCD information is annoying.
-Needs counter on the camera screen for time of video usage.
-Sun spots when the camera is directly in sun.
-The Wide angle can give a bit of vertigo when viewing video’s.
-Just decent video quality, it’s not a Professional POV camera.
-When using multiple swivels it’s hard to keep the unit from moving.
-No video screen for viewing.
-Short 56 minute recording time (fixed by newer firmware-1hr 50min)

Value Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

GoPro HERO Specs:
Sensor – 5 megapixel (2592 x 1944)
Lens – Glass f2.8, 170 diagonal FOV (field of view)
Exposure – Auto

Internal Memory – 16MB, expandable to 2GB SD
Video – 512 x 384 (56mins on 2GB SD)
PC Connector – mini USB to USB/RCA cable
Power – 2xAAA batteries
Operating System – Win ME/2000/XP/Vista and MacOS 9.1/10.2+
Camera Size – 1.25 x 1.75 x 2.3 in
Warranty – 1 year

Detailed stats:
56 minutes of 512×384 video with sound at 30fps on a 2GB SD card
3x sequence still photo burst
Auto “Photo Every 2 or 5 seconds” mode – 1945 in 2 sec mode on 2GB SD card
Adjustable sound recording levels
Waterproof 100′

Pricing:
Helmet Hero Wide MSRP $189.99
Optional seatpost mount (Ride Hero) MSRP – $19.99

GoPro Website: http://www.goprocamera.com/

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew January 5, 2009 at 4:05 am

Thanks for the great review. Does the Hero Wide cam have a 1/4″-20 screw mount (standard for tripods) ?

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet January 5, 2009 at 5:20 am

I am not aware of any standard tripod mount for the HERO. You might be able to rig something up with the many attachments and/or mounts.

Reply

dave January 7, 2009 at 12:59 am

where did you get the firmware update, its not on the gopro website

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet January 7, 2009 at 10:30 pm

NOTE: new firmware for the HERO camera’s should be out soon.

Reply

Adrian February 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

February- Still no firmware update???

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet February 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I have pinged GoPro for an additional update.

Someone just got an email from them that stated:

“We’re still working on the firmware upgrade for the 5mp HERO cameras to support the 4GB SD cards and hope to have it available for download from our website within the next month. You can go to our website and sign up for our newsletter to be notified when it is released. Right now the camera is limited to saving a 2GB file, so if using a higher capacity card and you don’t stop video recording before 56 minutes (2GB) then all will be lost.

We’re not sure yet if we’ll be able to do a firmware upgrade to be able to save files over 4GB.

Let us know if you have any further questions.

Reply

Rajesh March 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

I used the Go Pro Hero helmet mounted cam for by bike rides. It recorded just the first few minutes properly, after which it would stop recording after every two seconds or so. The batteries were fully charged NiMH. Wonder how it would ever come close to recording a full hour using the 2 GB SD card! Anyone has a clue? Would be grateful

Reply

Rins March 28, 2009 at 8:04 am

I was just wondering, i read somewhere you use a beta version of the firmware upgrade. Is there any way for me to get that beta version?

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet March 31, 2009 at 3:27 am

Sorry, but that was proprietary software that I am not at liberty to release.

Reply

Rins April 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm

there is also no way for me to buy that software? it just sounds odd that they do have a working beta version but say they are not sure whether they are going to release a full update

Reply

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