This tiny, tough camcorder is part of the current explosion in wearable technology. The GoPro Hero is so tiny that you can wear it on your head, a belt, a chest strap, your bike handlebars – just about anywhere. I have seen young children swimming in the ocean while wearing GoPro camcorders.
Nowadays, according to Forbes, 71% of 16-to-24 year olds want wearable tech. And most people over 24, too. If you keep your eyes open, you will see GoPro cameras wherever you go!
I can actually remember the beginning of wearable technology. It was far from mainstream back then. I was one of the first geeks to walk around with a giant Casio calculator watch weighing down my wrist, back in the 80s. I loved that thing. Even though it made people look at me funny.
The explosion in wearable technology is part of the growth of ubiquitous computing – wearable technology makes it easier to interweave technology into our everyday lives, making technology pervasive (and hopefully reducing friction between us and the world of technology). And just plain making life more fun, for those of us who love technology! Other examples are the explosion in fitness bands, such as the bestselling Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity Band, which many people are crazy about.
Sousveillance – Bringing the Camera Down to Human Level
Wearable cameras are part of a phenomenon that researcher Steve Mann calls sousveillance. In surveillance, the camera is the eye in the sky, watching from above (from the French word sur for “above”). In sousveillance, the camera is worn on the body. The French word sous means below, and the idea in sousveillance is that the camera is bought down to human level. This picture was drawn by Steve Mann’s six-year-old son, and shows the concept of sousveillance brilliantly.
Whatever you call it, I love this camcorder. I have carried a camera around with me since I was a kid, and I have always particularly liked video. Over the years I have had lots of different camcorders, but this one is by far the best – and the smallest (and the toughest). I love videos because they give you a fun way of recording memories, and you can also use them creatively to make movies.
Of course, apart from being a fun way of recording memories and making creative movies, sousveillance has all kinds of practical advantages. I have written elsewhere about how helmet cams enable cyclists to prove how they were attacked or endangered.
Similarly, Maggie’s son, Noel, drives a 75-feet-long 18-wheeler, and has quite a few adventures in it. He has a Garmin dash camera (Garmin Dash Cam TM 20 Standalone Driving Recorder) on his dashboard at all times, recording everything continuously. Just the other day it saved him from serious financial liability, because the footage proved that his sudden stop (which damaged his freight) was caused by the bad driving of a truck driver in front of him.
The GoPro Hero is the toughest camera I have ever owned – making it the ideal camcorder for athletes and active people.
My Rugged GoPro Hero Survived a Fall from the 10th Floor onto Concrete
The video below shows how I brilliantly managed to drop my brand new GoPro Hero from our 10th floor balcony. I did not have the helmet strap securely tightened, so the camera just fell right off and plummeted all the way down. It landed on a concrete deck, where it bounced a couple of times and then rolled. In real time the entire event took just three seconds, so I slowed the video right down to show the footage the camera recorded on the way down. The video when it is rolling after hitting the deck is my favorite. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to fall from the 10th floor, this will give you some idea – and hopefully, put you right off!
The amazing thing about this is that my GoPro Hero survived the fall! It was still filming when I got downstairs a couple of minutes later. I was almost afraid to look at it, expecting it to be in several pieces – but it was just fine (a little cosmetic damage, but nothing that damaged its function in any way). I took it straight back upstairs to check, and sure enough, it was working just fine. I can still hardly believe it. Just after that event, while I was figuring out how to stick it down on my helmet with the supplied adhesive mount (thinking that would be safer than the strap), I dropped it again – but I didn’t even flinch as it bounced off my hardwood floor.
I will certainly not worry in the future about my GoPro hero falling off my bike!
On the other hand, I am going to be a lot more careful with how I secure the helmet strap.
Apart from being so tough, the GoPro Hero is without a doubt the most awesome product I have ever reviewed. I can hardly believe I got this helmet cam / camcorder for just $130 from Amazon. It is my best deal of the year, if not the best deal of my entire life to date. I am certain that this camcorder is going to transform my future cycling videos. It captures stills and videos in wide-angle HD – what more could I want? I love this tiny camcorder.
GoPro Hero – Are the Extravagant Claims about Video Quality Justified?
Before I used my GoPro Hero, I thought GoPro’s claims were really extravagant: they promised stunning video quality, super view (the world’s most immersive field of view); and auto low light (the camera automatically adjusts frame rates for optimal low-light performance). I have had problems with alternating high and low light before – such as when taking videos while cycling on single track through forests. I thought, for a video camera that costs $130, I will have to see it to believe it.
As it turned out, I did see it, and I do believe it.
When I watched the first video I took with my GoPro Hero, I just about drove Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist (Maggie) crazy – saying over and over again, “Oh my gosh, this is AWESOME!” But really, I couldn’t help it: the video quality is so good, it seems to me to be almost better than reality. The video shows a beautiful, wide-angle, completely immersive, very clear, bright picture. I saw all kinds of things in the video that I didn’t notice when I was there in real life. It was like reliving the bike ride, only better! This is, without a doubt, by far the best camcorder/helmet cam I have ever had. It completely lives up to GoPro’s extravagant claims – which turn out not to be extravagant at all.
Here’s a short video I took of the Seaside Bike Route with my GoPro Hero. You can read a full guide to the awesome Seaside Bike Route here.
The GoPro Hero is Excellent Value for Money
I wanted a GoPro for a long time, but I wasn’t going to pay high-end prices. Then GoPro bought out the GoPro Hero, a bare bones version of their excellent camcorder, offering a simple little camera for a low price – but which just happens to take world-class videos. It’s a stripped-down version of the Hero3 White Edition (which goes for around $250), and is capable of recording at 1080 p at 30 fps, and 720 p at 60 fps.
The GoPro Hero camcorder gives awesome video power to those who cannot afford (or don’t choose to pay for) the more expensive models in the GoPro lineup of premier wearable cameras. The GoPro Hero model has been trimmed down to the essentials, enabling a price point that I found too good to resist – just $130 from Amazon. That’s just a mind-blowing price for this kind of technology.
Necessary Accessories for the GoPro Hero
You will also have to buy a microSD card. I strongly recommend getting one of the better brand names, such as Lexar or Kington. And buy as much storage capacity as you can – 32 GB is best (and is also the maximum size the GoPro Hero can use). Do not cheap out on the card! I can’t tell you how many times I have been all excited to take a look at some of the great video footage I have just captured – only to find that the memory card had run out of space just before something awesome happened!
Which reminds me – with this camcorder you know when it has stopped filming, because it gives three very loud beeps to warn you. I really like that. If you don’t like that, you can go into stealth mode, turning the sound down or off. You can also turn off the red flashing light.
Out the Box with GoPro Hero
Out the box you get the camera, which is integrated into its waterproof housing; a built-in battery (that cannot be removed); a quick release buckle; two adhesive mounts (one flat and one curved); standard and skeleton backdoors; and a USB cable for charging. It’s the same USB cable used to charge Garmin Edge bike computers, which is a bonus for me, as I always have one of those cables lying around. It makes life a lot simpler when your various chargers are compatible.
The GoPro Hero camcorder comes with two adhesive strips to secure the camera to a helmet. At first I thought this meant you would have to get the angle right the first time, which would be pretty much impossible. However, once I experimented with it, I realized that the quick release buckle is fully adjustable, so it works out fine. Just make sure you get the adhesive mount dead center on your helmet, and pretty much in the right position. Then you can fine-tune with the quick release buckle.
I also ordered a head strap and a chest strap for my GoPro Hero. With the chest strap the video will include the handlebars of the bike, which I think will be cool. I haven’t tried it yet, but will report back when I do.
Technical Specs of the GoPro Hero
Specs of the camcorder include:
5 MP photo capture, with ability to do bursts of 5 MP @ 5 fps (10 photos in 2 seconds)
Ultra-wide angle glass lens
Stunning Video Quality: 1080 p 30 fps and 720 p 60 fps video
Durable – designed to withstand extreme environments and conditions (and falls)
Waterproof to 131 feet (40 m)
Compatible with all GoPro Mounts: 60+ mounts and accessories.
Free software: GoPro Connect and Go Pro Studio – import, view, clip, convert and share your content
External Memory: Supports microSD cards up to 32GB (class 10 or UHS-1 required) – Sold Separately
The GoPro Hero is a tiny little thing that fits in your hand, and weighs in at just 110 grams/3.9 oz.
The GoPro Hero is Waterproof
This GoPro Hero camcorder is claimed to be waterproof to 131 feet (40 m). That’s got to be waterproof enough for almost anyone. I have never been deeper than 100 feet underwater and I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the experience. It felt crazy to have that much water above me.
But the fact that it is waterproof is huge for me. I can’t wait to take it snorkeling or scuba diving. Or maybe just catch a few waves while wearing it. Of course, Maggie finds it mortifying when I walk around with a camera on my head, but she is just going to have to live with it. Also, once I get my chest mount, I will be able to strap it to my body less conspicuously. I think that would work really well for activities like surfing, skiing and hiking.
Software for the GoPro Hero
The GoPro has two sets of free software: GoPro Connect and GoPro Studio.
You can download the GoPro App and software for mobile, desktop or web. This enables you to view videos and photos on any device; import, edit and share content. Oddly, I could not download the software on Firefox, but it downloaded easily on Safari.
Once you download and launch GoPro Studio, you can quickly view your clips, trim them, and queue them up for conversion into the video format of your choice for further editing. It defaults to a format that uploads easily into my Premiere Pro.
I like that GoPro Studio lets you choose to delete clips form the card as you import them – this helps keep the card tidy.
I did find that one does not even need the GoPro Connect – the videos import easily to both Mac and Windows, with no conversion problems. This is in stunning contrast to many former battles I have waged with camcorders, Codec and conversion. However, GoPro Studio makes it easy to convert .mov video to .mp4 video. This is a good thing because .mov is proprietary Apple software, developed for QuickTime. MP4 was developed as an industry standard across all platforms.
A really clever thing that the GoPro Hero does is slice the videos into segments that are 17 minutes 33 seconds. You can take video continuously, but the camcorder will quietly stop and start again at the 17 minutes 33 seconds point. This is good because the videos don’t become so big that they cannot be copied of easily managed. They are all 1.99 GB in size.
Manuals for the GoPro Hero
There is a minimal startup manual in the box, and the usual 20 pages of safety warnings in 20 different languages that nobody ever actually reads. I find that a bit sad, actually, as someone who has been a publisher for my entire career. The safety warning document is an awesome document in publishing terms, 4 columns on an enormous sheet of paper, and including languages that are challenging to typeset, like Japanese, and two different kinds of Chinese. In view of all the work that went into it I decided to read it. I wish I hadn’t, because I learned that you cannot microwave the camera. Now how am I going to defrost it if it ever gets frozen? On the other hand, I also learned that my eyes are still capable of reading 8 pt type, so that was reassuring. In any event, you can download the full manual online.
The full manual is pretty short, as the camcorder is really very simple to operate (it only has two buttons!).
The camera has five modes:
- Time lapse (a series of photos at half-second intervals)
User-friendly modes include QuikCapture, which lets you power on the camera and start recording with the press of a single button, and Burst Photo, which captures fast-action sequences at up to 5 frames per second. Be careful with that one – as with iPhones, you can accidentally take a lot more photos than you intended. On the other hand, GoPro Connect makes it easy to delete them.
I do love the QuikCapture though – for a cyclist, it means if you suddenly need to film something dramatic or interesting on the road, you can start video recording very easily, with one hand.
Operation of the GoPro Hero
This is really simple. Switch it on by pressing the big Power/Mode button on the front of the camera. Then repeatedly press the same button to select the mode you want. The window that tells you what mode it is in is (of course) very small, and I find that I have to be in bright light to see it. On the other hand, when it switches on it defaults to Video mode, which is the one I usually want, so I don’t need to see it.
I do like that this camcorder works as a camera as well. This will save me from looking like an uber geek with a camera on my head and another one slung around my neck. (Although it remains to be seen if the quality of the pictures will match my Lumix DMC-TS5, reviewed here – my other waterproof camera, and the one I use for most of my blog photos.)
Things about the GoPro Hero that are Less than Perfect
(I love this camcorder so much I could not bring myself to call this section “Problems” or “Faults.”)
Some people complain because the camera is permanently in its polycarbonate housing. However, for me this was a plus – if it had not been in its polycarbonate housing it would never have survived plummeting from my 10th story balcony.
The battery is built-in, so you have to plug the whole camera in to charge it, and you cannot carry a spare battery (which sounds like a great idea, but is in practice something I never remember to do with any of my cameras). In any event, you are limited to about 2.5 hours of filming before you need to plug in again. On the plus side, when it runs out of battery charge, it gives three loud beeps, so at least you know it has stopped recording.
There are limited shooting options – but there are enough for me.
The Mini-USB doesn’t support an external microphone cable.
It does not have a remote control. So you have to reach up to switch it on, if it’s on your helmet. However, it does have QuikCapture, which lets you start recording with one firm touch of the top button.
It does not have a Micro-HDMI port and the GoPro accessory port. The former lets you playback directly from the camera to a display or HDTV, which I would never do, anyway. But without the accessory port, there’s no way to add Wi-Fi, an LCD or an extra battery with GoPro’s BacPac modules.
Of these drawbacks, the only one I care about is the lack of Wi-Fi. On the more expensive GoPros, you can use Wi-Fi to view what you are shooting in real time on your smart phone. I would love to be able to use the GoPro app to frame the picture on my iPhone. For me that has always been the biggest challenge with helmet cams. Sometimes I have thought I was getting great footage, only to get home and find I had twenty minutes of intensely boring views of the pavement, or of the clouds (or of the entire world seen sideways, as if I was seriously drunk or lopsided). I have got it right on this camcorder, but it took me quite a lot of trial and error.
If I had known that you can frame the picture on your smart phone with the higher end GoPro cameras, I would have been hugely tempted to spend the extra money. In fact, as my GoPro Hero was falling from the 10th floor, one of the thoughts in my head was whether my next GoPro should be one of the higher end ones, such as the Hero3 White Edition. Of course, the main thought in my head was unprintable in a family blog.
This GoPro Hero is almost like a teaser to get you to buy a higher end GoPro. But if you can resist the temptation, the GoPro Hero is great value for money. For my needs, this camera will do the trick, and for a price I can live with. It produces awesome videos for just $130 – much better than comparable video cameras at this price point.
Bottom Line on the GoPro Hero Camcorder
I love this camcorder and would recommend it to any athlete who wants a lightweight, cheap, apparently indestructible helmet cam – and also any active person who wants to capture the moment on film with a camcorder – on dry land or in the water. If you decide to buy one, please click through my links, so that I get a small commission, which goes a little way towards paying for my time (think of it as buying me a coffee!). Buy it now – you cannot go wrong! (But if you don’t like it – Amazon will take it back, and pay the shipping.)
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