GoPro HD HERO2 – First Impressions

by Brian Mullin on October 24, 2011

GoPro released the new HD HERO2 on Monday, but I got to spend some quality time with the camera over the past couple weeks, and I am pretty impressed. The HD HERO2 has quite a few new features, the most prominent being the addition of an 11 megapixel sensor and a wholly upgraded user interface or menu system. There is a fine line between bumping up the pixel count (11MP) into an extremely small sensor size (.435 inch CMOS), in which the increased pixels per inch (PPI) or pixel density causes noise and loss of detail issues, but in this case, it seems to work just fine. The new 11MP sensor is also enhanced by the addition of a sharper glass lens, both of which result in better clarity and sharpness, and more vibrant and realistic colors.

Other new features: The slow mo 720p at 60 fps (frames per second) resolution, is now joined by 960p at 48 fps and WVGA at 120 fps. The photo section makes use of the 11MB sensor, and gets some fast-action setups of a .5 seconds time-lapse, and an ultra fast burst mode of 10 photos per second. To view on a big-screen TV, it gets a HDMI output, which really makes it handy for watching footage post shooting. The HD HERO2 is compatible with their expansion BacPac add-ons, including the upcoming Wi-Fi BacPac that will have remote management through a small wireless remote, and a smartphone/tablets/computers, and in addition will allow video streaming to devices. The sensor also gets better light sensitivity, bumping it down to .84 V/lux-sec.

The new GoProHD HERO2 retails for $299, and is available in three versions, the Outdoor, Motorsports and Surf.

HD HERO2
Note: The Camera is the same size and form factor as the current HD model, and so the housing, mount systems, and BakPak’s remain the same.

GoPro’s HD HERO2 is a POV (point of view) high-definition sports 11MP CMOS camera, that can take video and still shots. It can record video footage in 1080p, 960p, 720p and SD formats, and 11MP photos in several modes. It records data onto SDHC and SDXC cards (not included) up to 32GB in size, and is powered with an internal rechargeable battery that gives around 2.5 hours of recording time. The camera is encased within a plastic waterproof housing, that attaches to a plethora of mounting accessories, and can be mounted to a wide array of objects. The camera can be used for an assortment of outdoor activities, including motorsports, biking, kayaking, surfing, skiing, base jumping, etc.

Thoughts: It’s nice that camera body remains the same size, and that it can use the current parts (mounts, BacPak’s, etc.), so if you have old mounts from a previous version, you can still make use of them.

Video
New: The 1080p mode gets an ultra wide 170º and narrow 90º FOV, and the 960p gets a slow mo 48 fps, and the 720p gets a 127º and 90º FOV, while the WVGA gets 127º FOV and a slow mo 120 fps.

The HD HERO can shoot in High Definition, in four video resolutions. It can shoot in 1080p (widescreen) at 30fps, 960p (full frame) at 48 fps or 30 fps, 720p (widescreen) at either 30 fps or 60 fps, and SD at 120 fps or 60 fps. The 960p 48fps, 720p 60 fps and SD 120 fps allow for slow motion playback, which is pretty cool to watch, and does give a smoother stream. Each of the video resolutions are captured at different bit rates, which entails varying recording times and storage requirements, meaning greater resources are needed for the higher usage formats. The resolution settings are done within the camera’s menu system, which is managed by its two buttons. In fact, any of the programmable features and settings can be done through the menus, allowing in the field changes as required. The camera records in 2 viewing angles, unique to its video resolution, so 1080p is 170º, 127º or 90º, 920p is 170º, 720p is 170º, 127º or 90º, and SD is 170º or 120º. The default setting is 960p.

Thoughts: I have not played around very much with the new 1080p 170º and 90º FOV settings, but the 170º actually seemed to work decently, without too much jello vision. I am not sure if the new 11MB sensor helps with the issue, but I need some more testing to make any conclusions. My favorite new setting is the 960p 48 fps slow mo. I always have liked the tall view point that the 960 full frame provides, and the addition of the 48 fps really gives it s smoother look, with fewer transitions and choppiness. I still have the 1080p 90º FOV, and the 720p 127º FOV and 90º FOV to test, so I am looking forward to so more testing of those views.

Photos
New: It gets a new half second time lapse (.5 second), and the old 3 photos in 2 seconds burst mode, was changed to a fast 10 photos in 1 second.

The HD HERO can shoot still photos in either a manual or automatic mode. In the manual mode, it can be set to shoot either a single or ten in a sequence of photos, and even has a 10-second timer if desired. The automatic mode allows photos to be taken every X number of seconds, where X is .5, 2 , 10, 30 or 60-second intervals.

Thoughts: The new 11MB sensor gives some really nice pictures, with a lot of clarity and sharpness, and might make me use the photo feature more often. The ability to be able to do some sports specific action shots with the new .5 second time-lapse, and ultra fast 10 shot burst, should provide for some interesting, but I didn’t have a subject to test out the scenario.

Camera Operation
New: The modal beeps are much louder, and there are four visual led lights (top, bottom, rear and front) for better indication of camera recording.

The camera is operated using the power/mode (located on front) button, and the shutter/select (located on top) button. Once the desired camera options are set using its deep menu system (viewed from the LCD status screen), a simple push of the shutter button stops and starts the camera’s recording operation. The camera’s settings are accessed through a combination of the two buttons, using the menu system as a visual aid. To turn on the camera, just push the front power button, and it announces itself with three beeps. After choosing the video resolution, you push the shutter button to start the recording. The camera beeps once, and the indicator light begins to blink. To stop the recording, push the shutter button, and it beeps three times, and the light stops blinking. The camera was problematic in that I am not sure what it is up to without taking it off my head, and looking at the indicator light or the status screen. Cameras with a more mechanical on/off lever alleviate that issue. Another point of contention is that is sort of hard to know what you are capturing on the unit, so you have to use the alignment of the camera body itself to know what it is shooting, or use the optional LCB BacPak (or the new Wi-Fi system).

Thoughts: I love the uber loud new beeps, as it really makes it easy in typical outdoor conditions (noisy) to hear what the camera is doing. I am looking forward to having the Wi-Fi BacPak, since the current system to check what you’re capturing is a pain, and problematic, especially when using a helmet mount.

User Interface/LCD Status Screen
New: Simpler language-based interface

The new UI menu system is worlds ahead of its predecessor, and the old cryptic mode and status icons have given way to an intuitive and easy to understand the setup. When I first got the unit it had no manual, yet I could poke my way through the menu hierarchy, and choose the proper video resolution and get the date setup. The LCD screen is where you see the current status, such as the battery level, video resolution setting, shooting mode (photo, video, triple shot, timer), picture or video count, etc. As you go through the menu system, using the power/mode and shutter/select buttons, various icons, numbers and language are highlighted on the LCD screen, allowing multiple camera options to be set.

In the above photo, the upper left hand screen shows video camera mode, wide-angle field of view, 960p video resolution with 48 fps, and the battery charge (bar graph and time left). The upper right-hand side is what is seen when choosing the video resolution, the choices on the screen are 960p/30 fps, 960p/48 fps and 1080p/30 fps.

Thoughts: The new UI is really nice, and makes it easy to make changes without having to resort to the user manual. It’s still a bit cumbersome, and isn’t quite up to the UIs of normal cameras, but it’s a grand sweeping change from the previous cryptic interface. I think what you see on the main screen when not in the menu system is the handiest, and provides very useful information, such as an actual numeric video mode value and it’s fps, along with a useful remaining battery count.

Expansion Port/BacPak’s
New: The new Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote will allow remote control and live streaming to smartphones, tablets and computers.

The back of the camera has an expansion port, that will allow optional expansion packs (called BakPac) to be connected. The current BakPac’s list is an LCD screen (to view videos/pictures), and a battery extender. The BakPac’s will come with an expanded back door, so that the fatter camera (camera with attached BakPac) will fit inside the waterproof housing. The Wi-Fi BacPac will enable long range video remote control via the Wi-Fi Remote or a smartphone, tablet or computer running the GoPro Wi-Fi App. The waterproof and durable Wi-Fi Remote enables complete control of up to 50 HD HERO2 cameras at a time (wow), so some pretty wild multiple camera setups could be done. It will allow live video streaming and remote control, through smart-devices, computers, and the Web or a mobile hotspot. The original HD HERO is compatible with the Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote, but only for remote control functionality. The Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote should be released sometime later this year.

Thoughts: I am looking forward to trying out the new Wi-Fi stuff, mostly for the live streaming to a smartphone, which will greatly aid controlling what the camera is capturing.

Conclusions
The new 11MB sensor and sharper lens take the new GoPro HD HERO2 out in front of the pack of the POV sports cameras, and upgrading their UI, adding some new FOVs and slow motion settings really make the unit a sweet unit. Once the Wi-Fi system (BacPak and Remote) is available, I think it will complete the package, and I am looking forward to seeing how it works? I really liked the increased clarity and vivid colors from the new sensor, and the new 960p 48fps was my favorite resolution mode. Although they added better light sensitivity, it still isn’t the best, and there is no option to allow for light based tweaks in the UI.

GoPro has a great new camera on their hands with the HERO 2!

Pros

  • 11MB sensor
  • Image and color quality
  • Upgraded User-Interface
  • Sharper lens
  • Louder beeps
  • HDMI output
  • SDXC compatable
  • Wi-Fi BacPac’s (late Winter release)
  • 960p has 48fps
  • Mounts

Cons

  • Low light performance is improved but still medicore
  • UI is greatly improved, but still a bit slow and cumbersome
  • Stiff buttons
  • Without optional Wi-Fi or LCD BacPac’s, difficult to position what camera is capturing

GoPro HD HERO2 Specs:

What’s Included:

  • 1 HD HERO2 Camera (11 megapixel)
  • 1 Rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
  • 1 Waterproof Quick-Release Housing (180’/60 m)
  • 1 Headlamp-Style Head Strap
  • 1 Vented Helmet Strap
  • 2 Curved, 3M™ Adhesive Mounts
  • 2 Flat, 3M Adhesive Mounts
  • 1 Three-Way Pivoting Side Arm Assembly
  • 2 Quick-Release Buckles
  • 1 USB Cable
  • 1 Mini-HDMI cable
  • Warranty: One Year

Tech Specs:

Camera Optics

  • Lens Type: Fixed Focus (2ft/.6m – ∞), glass
  • Aperture: f/2.8 (high performance in low-light situations)
  • Angle of View: 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, 960p, or 1080p mode
  • Angle of View: 127º medium angle in 1080p mode, 720p and WVGA (future firmware)
  • Angle of View: 90º medium angle in 1080p mode, 720p (future firmware)

Video

  • 1080p = 1920×1080 pixels (16:9), 30 fps
  • 960p = 1280×960 pixels (4:3), 48 & 30 fps
  • 720p = 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 60 & 30 fps
  • WVGA = 848×480 pixels (16:9), 120 & 60 fps
  • Sensor Type: 1/2.3″ HD CMOS
  • Light Sensitivity: Super low-light sensitivity (>.84 V/lux-sec)
  • Video Format: H.264 compression, saved as Windows- & Mac-compatible MPEG4 (.mp4) file
  • Exposure Control: Auto with user selectable center weighted average and spot metering settings
  • White Balance: Auto

Audio

  • Microphone: Built-in, mono with AGC (automatic gain control)
  • Audio Format: 48 kHz, AAC audio compression
  • Stereo external microphone (optional)

Photo

  • Resolution: 11 & 5 megapixel
  • Capture Modes: Single shot, photo every .5, 1, 2, 10, 30 or 60 secs.; 10 photo burst; self-timer

Storage

  • Memory: SD card, up to 32GB capacity (SDHC), up to 1TB (SDXC)
  • Average recording times (using 32GB SD card): 1080p (30 fps): 4hr, 960p (30 fps): 6hr, 720p (60 fps): 4hr, WVGA (120 fps): 4.5hr

Camera Connectors & Cables

  • PC Connection: USB 2.0 (data connection and battery charging)
  • HDMI: mini-HDMI to HDMI cable
  • PC Compatibility: Windows Vista 7; Mac OS® X 10.5 and later

Power & Battery

  • Battery Type: Rechargeable 1100 mAh lithium-ion
  • Battery Life: Approx. 2.5 hrs
  • Charging: via USB to computer or optional power adapter
  • Charge Time: 80% capacity after 1 hour with optional power adapter; or 2 hours with a computer’s USB port

Waterproof Camera Housing

  • Depth Rating: Up to 180 feet / 60 meters
  • Construction: Polycarbonate and stainless steel
  • Hardware: Stainless steel

Size & Weight

  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.6” x 2.4” x 1.2” (42mm x 60mm x 30mm)
  • Weight: ??oz (??g) incl. battery, ??oz (???g) incl. housing

Optional Accessories

  • Additional Rechargable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Full Line of Mounting Accessories

Optional Expansion BakPacs

  • LCD BakPac for on-camera preview and playback
  • Endurance Battery BakPac for double battery life
  • Wi-Fi BacPac
  • Wi-Fi Remote
  • More Bakpacs and expansion devices coming soon

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