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GoPro MotorSports HD POV Camera Review






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Video Review of the GoPro MotorSports HD Camera


What is the GoPro HD?
GoPro is a company that makes what is often referred to as POV (point-of-view) video cameras. POV cameras are typically very compact in size, allowing users to capture video in places never before possible. The GoPRO HD is a high-definition version of the original GoPro, allowing videographers and even filmmakers to capture footage never before possible.

GoPro first announced the GoPro HD (high-definition) back in late 2009 and it was an instant hit among sports enthusiasts interested in \ capturing their adventures first-hand. Not only could you capture your point-of-view (POV) on camera in high-definition while skydiving, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, etc, the camera's wide-angle lens and small size made it simple to turn the camera around to actually record YOU in the video.

Last year I opted to review the ContourHD 1080p POV camera instead of the GoPro HD mainly due to it's rotating lens and twin laser beams that help users level and aim the camera without the aid of an LCD display, a feature that both of these cameras lacked. The reason I have now decided to review the GoPro HD was the recent release of their new LCD BacPac, which easily snaps on and off the back of the GoPro. This new and relatively low-cost LCD screen will transform the POV category, especially for more professional use, by allowing users to frame their shot exactly the way they want without having to trust luck. The LCD screen also adds other advantages to the GoPRO HD that I talk about below in the review.

Surf Hero, MotorSports Hero, Helmet Hero
The GoPro HD can be purchased naked (without mounts) or in kits (Surf Hero, MotorSports Hero, Helmet Hero) that include different mounts depending on your adventures. The model I chose to review was the GoPro MotorSports HD since it ships with a versatile suction-cup mount along with a variety of flat and curved adhesive mounts. Since this review of the GoPro HD is aimed at Indie and event filmmakers I felt that the suction cup mount would be the smartest and most used option for this review. The suction-cup mount allows the user to secure the GoPro to virtually any smooth surface, such as glass and metal, making it ideal for capturing moving shots from inside and outside a car or motorcycle. This makes it easy to get some visually interesting shots, without having to risk your heavier and more expensive cameras or life & limb.

Waterproof
Another feature that makes the GoPro HD so popular is that it ships with a waterproof housing. For filmmakers this means you can now get shots that you might not otherwise bother capturing due to concerns of moisture, dirt or salt. The camera itself is not waterproof, instead you place the camera into the housing which not only makes it watertight but also protects the cameras case and lens from scratches and other inevitable abuse. The GoPro HD also ships with a non-waterproof housing that has openings in the back of the housing to allow the microphone to hear more of what's going on outside the housing. The housing is waterproof to 180' (60m), although at that depth you may plan on having some underwater lights.

While on the subject of the microphone. I didn't do any real audio testing since my use for this product would be for the video and not the sound. However, I want to point out that GoPro has smartly placed the microphone on top of the camera to help reduce wind noise, especially when using the non-waterproof housing with it's open back design. When the camera is inside its waterproof housing the audio levels will be very muted since the microphone is basically sealed from the outside world. Again, I assume that many users of POV camera's are not making use of the audio from these cameras due to the positioning of the cameras and / or wind noise.

As mentioned above, the housings help to keep the camera itself in new condition, including the lens. If the housing gets so badly scratched or damaged that you need to replace it - you're out just $39 or so, instead of having to repair or replace your camera.

Note: Underwater housings need to be thoroughly cleaned before and after each use since the smallest spec of dirt or lint can allow moisture into the housing. GoPro has designed their waterproof housing with removable O-ring seals, making it easy to clean them.

The LCD BacPac
The recently released LCD BacPac is really the star of the show here and when added to the GoPro it truly makes the GoPro a must-have tool for the serious videographer or event filmmaker. The LCD BacPac features a 1.5" LCD screen, which is visible even in direct sunlight thanks to the anti-glare design. The LCD BacPac easily snaps on and off the GoPro and features its own power button. This power button makes it easy to turn the LCD off once you frame your shot - thus conserving your camera's battery.


The LCD BacPac allows you to playback your videos and stills and also features a built-in speaker. The LCD BacPac fits into current HD Hero and HD Wrist housings when used with the included LCD backdoors. Four 'extended' backdoors are included, two waterproof doors for use with the HD Hero and HD Wrist housings and two non-waterproof doors for the same housings.

The LCD BacPac also makes it easier to change settings of the GoPro camera. Without the LCD BacPac users are forced to use the camera's front LCD data display to change settings while out in the field, but the one and two letter abbreviations make it difficult to remember what settings they go to. For example, if the display shows "r1" then the camera will be set to "Wide-Angle Standard Definition mode." Not all that intuitive.

Just look at the list of cryptic messages you would have to remember in order to set the camera while out in the field. Then take a look at the thumbnails below this list to see how easy it is when you use the LCD BacPac.

  • r1 = WVGA (848x480, Wide-Angle Standard Definition 16:9)
  • r2 = 720p (1280x720, 30fps
  • r3 = 720p (1280x720, 60fps)
  • r4 = 960p (1280x960, 30fps, 4:3 aspect ratio
  • r5 = 1080p (1920x1080, 30fps, 16:9
  • Cnt = Center Weighted average metering
  • SPt = Spot Metering
  • F= Video Mode (F stands for "filming")
  • P = Photo Mode (Single Shot)
  • 3 = Photo Mode (Triple Shot)
  • PES (Photo Mode, Time-Lapse / Interval Recording)
    • P2 = Shoots ever 2 seconds
    • P5 = Shoots ever 5 seconds
    • P10 = Shoots ever 10 seconds
    • P30 = Shoots ever 30 seconds
    • P60 = Shoots ever 60 seconds
  • UP (Save photos & videos right side up
  • UPd (Save photos and videos upside down - for use when the camera is upside down)
  • bLO = LED blinking turned on
  • bLF = LED blinking turned off
  • bPO = Beeping sound turned ON
  • bPF = Beeping sound turned OFF
  • nSC = Sets camera to NTSC TV compatibility
  • PAL = Sets camera to PAL TV compatibility
  • LSt = Delete last file saved to camera
  • LSt (blinking) = Delete Image YES/NO
  • ALL - Delete all files and FORMAT SD card
  • ALL (Blinking): FORMAT the SD Card YES/NO
  • OFF = Camera must be manually turned off
  • 60 = Auto shutoff after 60 seconds of non recording
  • 120 = Auto shutoff after 120 seconds of non recording
  • 300 = Auto shutoff after 300 seconds of non recording
  • dAt = Set Data / Time
  • Y09-Y30 = Toggle Year
  • 01-12 = Toggle Month
  • d01-d31= Toggle Day
  • H00-H23 = Toggle Hour
  • 00-59 = Toggle Minute
Now see how easy it is to understand the settings of the camera when using the on-screen menu on the LCD BacPac.

Changing settings on the camera remains the same as it would be without the LCD BacPac - using the front power button to go to the next menu option and the top shutter button to change the options. The addition of the LCD display just makes it a breeze to know what settings you're actually changing.

Stills & Time-lapse Capture
While most will use the GoPro HD for capturing HD video, users shouldn't overlook the ability to take 5-Megapixel stills, especially for time-lapse photography. Time-lapse photography is the process of automatically taking still pictures at short intervals in order to condense time. Sure, you could always record 30 minutes of video with the goal of speeding it up in post, but capturing stills at intervals will not only use up less space on the memory card, it will also give you a starting resolution of 5k. Despite how low resolution a 5-megapixel camera seems to be for still images, HD Video is less than 2-megapixels (1920x1080). By putting together a 5-megapixel time-lapse you then have 'extra resolution' that can be used to crop / zoom in tighter as the animation is rendered.

Without getting into a long tutorial, the basics are this: Have the camera snap as many pictures as you'll think you'll need for your time-lapse video sequence. If you would like to have an opening time-lapse that lasts 6 seconds and you're video will be played back at 24fps, you'll need (24x6) 144 frames. Now determine the interval that the camera should record at. The GoPro HD gives you the option of 2,5,10, 30 or 60 seconds. Shorter intervals usually have a smoother look to them, but a lot will depend on how fast the subject is moving or changing. A flower blooming over a 6 hour period? Maybe you just need 1 picture every minute. Shooting a time-lapse of your mountain bike ride then most likely you'll need a shorter interval between shots. The other factor you need to consider is the amount of time you actually have to capture the sequence. If the camera takes a still picture every 2-seconds, that's 30 pictures every minute. You'll get to the needed 144 frames in about 4.5 minutes. Of course, if you choose the 10 second interval then only 6 pictures will be captured each minute making it take over 20 minutes to capture a similar sequence.

Once the camera is done capturing the images needed for the time-lapse sequence you can then import the images into a video editing program and have them assembled into a time-lapse video. There are free applications that can do this as well. MPEG StreamClip for PC and MAC or Time Lapse Assembler for Mac are just two that come to mind.

Here is a quick time-lapse that I shot using the GoPro HD mounted to the outside of my car, suctioned to the sunroof. The GoPro snapped 414 frames at either 1 or 2-second intervals (can't remember now), while I drove onto and down the highway. I made use of the fact that each still frame is 5-megapixels to create a zoom out effect when converting this to video. Since HD video is only 2-Megapixels I had an extra 3MP to play with.

Image / Video Quality
Let's face it, the lens on POV cameras are tiny, so while the camera does capture 1920 x 1080 (1080p) video and 2592 x 1944 stills (5-Megapixel) the image quality isn't going to match what you would get from a camcorder or still camera with larger sensors and larger, better quality lenses. That's not to say that video quality from the camera isn't good, it is. It just doesn't handle contrast extremes and is slower when adjusting for constantly changing exposure levels. The GoPro cameras also need a sunlight for clean images. Even cloudy days will increase noise levels, and shooting at night should just not be done.

POV cameras are not designed to be used in place of a traditional camcorder anyway, their purpose is to capture video in places you normally wouldn't or couldn't place an traditionally larger camcorder. In fact, the lens on the GoPro HD provides a much wider field of view than camcorders, offering 127° angle of view when shooting at 1080p and an ultra-wide 170° view when shooting at 960p[*] or 720p. The rugged housings included with the GoPro HD also provide extra security as well as underwater and splash capability, making it an ideal camera to capture underwater video or a day at the beach. Want to capture your off-road adventures? The mud won't harm the GoPro, so mount it on the truck and start the engines. Surfing or Kayaking? The GoPro can capture your ride like never before. Same goes for biking, cycling, mountain climbing, skiing (snow and water), hang gliding, and skydiving. Tom Guilmette, of TomGuilmette.com even attached one to a bunch of helium balloons to capture some unique footage. He calls it "Skyfishing."

* 960p is a 4:3 version of 720p

Keep in mind that the GoPro HD uses a CMOS image sensor, as do virtually all of today's camcorders. CMOS sensors are very susceptible to video wobble or 'jello' effect when jarred or panned quickly. You can see this in the "Sample Footage" video I included in this review. Look for the scene where the camera is mounted to the side of a NYC yellow cab. When the motorcycle rider rolls down the back of the cab you'll notice the picture wobbles as the back wheel of the bike hits the trunk.

Recording
The GoPro HD accepts Secure Digital (SD) and Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) up to 32GB in size. The camera can record at full 1080p @ 30 frames-per-second (fps) or at 720p up to 60 fps. Recording at 60fps helps to smooth out video just a bit compared to 30fps and is also the mode used when you want smooth slow-motion playback. 60fps captures twice the amount of frames per second compared to TV (which is 30fps). If the video you captured at 60 frames per second were played back at 30fps playback will take twice as long, providing smooth slow-motion. In comparison, if you recorded video at 30fps and wanted to slow down the playback by 50% you would actually only be seeing 15 frames each second, which is why this method isn't as smooth looking.

How much video can fit on a memory card? A lot depends on the subject matter of what you're recording, but here are the numbers that GoPro has published based on 32GB of storage.

  • 1080p (30 fps): 4h 21m
  • 960p (30 fps): 5h 26m
  • 720p (60 fps): 4h 21
  • 720p (30 fps): 8h 09m
  • WVGA (60 fps): 8h 09m
In my testing at 1080p I got almost identical numbers. I was able to capture 35 minutes per 4GB Memory, which equates to 4 hours, 19 minutes. So I have to reason to question the other results.

USB, HDMI, and Audio out Ports
Captured stills and video can be transferred to your computer via USB port or by removing the memory card and inserting it into a card reader for your computer. While connected to a USB port that camera will also recharge the included Lithium-Ion battery in approximately 2 hours. The battery is rated to last 2.5 hours, less in cold weather.

The camera also sports an HDMI output and includes an HDMI to Component video cable in the box. A 3.5mm audio output jack allows you to connect headphones during playback or to connect the sound to your stereo system for direct playback from the camera.

What's included
Included are mounts for two helmets and three vehicles, as well as a suction cup for maximum versatility and convenience. Also included is a 1100mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts for up to 2.5 hours of constant recording. With optional accessories, you can also plug the camera into a wall outlet, cigarette lighter, or with any USB-compatible power adapter, wire it directly to your vehicle's electrical system. The battery will charge while you record.

Conclusion
I highly recommend the GoPro HD to any outdoor enthusiast that would like to capture their adventures without fear of ruining their camera. If you plan to use the GoPro for shots that can't easily be redone, by all means get the $79 LCD BacPack. It allows you to get it right the first time. The LCD is easily visible outdoors and allows you to frame your shot and check exposure before hitting record. You can just power the LCD off while your recording so battery drain is kept to a minimum.

The camera is small, but not so small that it's hard to operate. It's not a beautiful looking camera and in the future it would be nice to see a more ergonomic version of the GoPro, as the box-like design seems a bit outdated and counter productive when trying to cut through wind, but in use the camera does the job and does it well.

The protective underwater housing and non-waterproof housings that are included are perfect in design. The camera fits in easily and the housings quickly snap open / closed and will protect the camera from the abuse that you'll ultimately want to subject the camera too, in order to capture those special moments. I would love to see future housings with a built-in 1/4-20 tripod mount, instead of having to purchase an add-on mount for that.

If you're an event videographer or filmmaker, the GoPro HD will help you capture scenes from a different perspective. Shooting a bride prep? Place the GoPro in the make-up artist's toolbox to capture her hand reaching in for a brush. Doing a story on a restaurant owner? While you're filming in the kitchen, place the GoPro near the cutting board, aimed up toward the subject, in order to give a POV most users never see. There's a saying "If you want to show me something different show it to me differently." This is the biggest reason to get a GoPro HD - to show us the world from a different perspective. Embrace it's size, it's ruggedness, and experiment.

One Last Comment / Suggestion / Tip
I do want to mention that the best use for a POV camera is to mount it in a place where movement will be smooth. I see way too many POV videos where the camera is mounted to the handle bar of a bike or helmet of a rider, and the video is so shaky that it makes you sick watching it. Trust me when I say that the only person who wants to watch your shaky mountain bike trail ride is you. One thing you should do is EDIT your final videos. Even shaky mountain bike videos have their smooth moments. Take these smooth portions of your video and edit them together into a piece that others will enjoy watching.

Here is some additional video shot with the GoPro HD.

Where to Purchase
We are an affiliate of B&H Photo, which means if you click through to their store from our website and purchase something we'll get a small commission on the sale. This helps to support our site while you shop. B&H is always aggressively priced, has great customer service, and fast shipping times.

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