GoPro hero hd TWO!?!. 
The DEEPish review. 11/24/11 Updated

Now that the HERO 2 IS OUT, THE ORIGINAL HERO HAS DROPPED IN PRICE BY sixty BUCKS. Which is for you? 

IN SHORT, THE GPH2 IS BETTER IN many WAYs, TAKES THE SAME ARRAY OF ACCESSORIES, DELIVERS new image formats, WEIGHS THE SAME, OCCUPIES THE SAME AMOUNT OF PHYSICAL SPACE AND COSTS THE SAME THAT THE HERO 1 ORIGINALLY SOLD FOR. 

what’s the catch THIS TIME? Or is there one?

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Sports Photographers: Rejoice.


A prime piece of your documentation hardware has just matured a bit, making your life a little easier. The HERO 2 fits all your old cases, uses all your old cords, mounts, monitors and accessories, and it takes pictures with the same 170° and 127° fields of view.


Then it adds a few things.


Improvements


The internal computer is 200% of the GPH1’s. One mode shoots 120 fps! The lens is “2X Sharper Glass.” LED lights show on front, top, bottom and back.


The published description of this is “LED Lights on All Sides, Viewable from any Angle” but the two surfaces that actually don’t have an LED are the actual sides.


Oh, you copy writers!


But wait, there’s more.


Menu System


The biggest new thing is the way the menu works. What used to be arcane codes for different modes are now a bit more like plain speech. You set things like HD modes, angles of view and frames per second by accessing menus that make more intuitive sense because choices are spelled out (no more r2). Still, it takes a lot of presses to pass through a large number of seldom-used options in order to make the settings you really wanted.


If you are familiar with how the GPH1 (its inevitable new nickname) sets up, you already know 60% of the GPH2. A lot has changed, but the basic two-button control confusion is still on board. Every option, every new setting is made by pressing the top and front buttons in the right order.


At one point in the menu system, you have the option of accessing “more” choices, a deeper menu branch that includes trashing shots, switching among NTSC and PAL based frame rates (60 Hz vs. 50 Hz bases). In order to get to this More branch, you must press no fewer than eight times on two different buttons, and your chances of doing that exactly right the first time is close to zero. It takes a lot of practice to overcome the enigmatic series of button presses required to make changes.


Once you get the hang of it, you will probably have a 70%+ success rate of going right where you want, but if you’re away from the camera a week or two, it’s back to square two where the learning curve shows up in mid stride. Advice: Persist. You’ll get it in a moment or three.


GoPro Hero 3 Menu Of The Future? (A moment of editorializing.)


It would have been better for the menu to have presented you with three branches as Option Number One: Movies (99.999% of this device’s use is making video), Stills (0.001% of its use) and More (those rare changes).


When you’re making changes to Movies, it’s all about image size, frame rate, angle of view and playback. When you’re in Stills, it’s all about image size, frame interval (time lapse), sequential shooting, self-timer and reviewing.


These lists reflect a close match to the order of priorities, too. But in the GPH2 you must wade through Still settings of multi-shot, intervalometer, self-timer and playback BEFORE you ever get to the “Tools” page where you can begin to change your video settings of image size / frame rate and angle of view.


After making the change to your video setting, in order to get back into the main menu gracefully, you must press the front button eight (!) more times, then the top button once to start shooting.


Oh, you software writers!


Tip: Cycling the camera OFF then back ON after achieving a setting change is often easier than exiting the menu system gracefully with more button presses.


Rolling Video


Press the front button and it winks and beeps three times, entering its last setup mode. Everything is as you left it. If you’re shooting video—and most do—a big movie camera icon shows for a second, then a detail screen appears showing what that setup consists of. This is the part that is much more intuitive than it was on the original Hero.


Now you press the top button—the go switch and shutter releaseand LEDs show up on the top, bottom, front and back of the camera. If you add the live monitor, it obscures the back LED, but the picture shows a red Recording icon.


To view what you’ve just shot—an immensely vital function for every digital camera owner—you must enter into an obscure set of button presses to access playback mode, then further button combinations to turn the camera off. In some playback modes, the “to turn the camera off, hold the front button for two seconds” flat doesn’t do it.


It could have been a simple set of button operations. Two quick presses of the monitor button, say. But no.


Bad software writer. Bad!


Image Sizes


Still image modes tell the tale dictated by the new 11 megapixel image chip. It creates a maximum image with 3840 x 2880 pixels. An 8 MP setting delivers 3200 x 2400 images, and a 5 MP setting creates stills that are 2592 x 1944 pixels.


Oddly, the only way to see these measurements is to shoot pictures at the various sizes, put them into your computer and read out how big they are in pixels. Nothing in any of the literature or press releases about the GPH2 mentions image sizes by pixel dimensions. GoPro apparently doesn’t think in pixels.


Still images are broken out in a different way. You get an 11 MP (3840 x 2880 pixels) with a full 170° fisheye. The 8 MP option is a direct pixel map of the center 3200 x 2400 pixels, so it only sees 127° of the lens’s coverage. When you select 5 MP as an image size, there are two options, Wide and Medium, both of which are down-sampled from the 11 MP pixel map or the 8 MP pixel map and output as a 2592 x 1944 image.


Intervalometer


You can shoot time lapse in any still image size with intervals of 0.5, 1.0, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds between frames. Setting it up is as easy  as Video or Stills (or as difficult, if you catch my drift).


Intervalometer files are just a stream of stills. You setup the still image size you want, then the intervalometer collects them for you. You’ll need something like QuickTime Pro ($30 for Mac or Win) to pull them into a movie stream, but that only takes a few moments.


Major Tip: shoot more than you need. If clouds look best at 4 seconds per interval (and many do), then shoot at 2 second intervals. You can always speed things up in editing, whereas stretching them out is not as smooth.


Tip 2: If you’re confident of your coverage, shoot for HD using the 5 MP Wide or Medium setting. It’s fabulously sharp and 35% larger than full HD 1080p frames. That suggests you have room to pull off a bit of Ken Burns movement with zero image compromise.


Cluster Burst


Sometimes (meanin very, very, very rarely) you want to shoot a bunch of stills real quick. The Hero 2 lets you set a rapid-fire still mode that takes up to 10 shots in one second. We expect that 90% of all Hero 2’s sold will use this option less than five times, but it’s there if you wish. It would be great if you could get into modes like this as quick as a wink, but the personality of the device is not targeted toward the intuitive.


Hero cameras is more about precision and minimalism than fast operation and intuitive control. In its way, it’s rather the opposite of an iPhone or iPad camera setup. Some future models may incorporate a permanent OLED monitor with touch controls and fast, intuitive setups, but for now, there’s precision.


There just isn’t room on the physical camera for the array of buttons and dials you find on pocket cameras and HDSLRs. GoPro makes a sports/documentation cameras with extras like the rapid 10 shots. They’re supposed to be used in a different way from other kinds of video and still cameras, and they fit their niche quite well. In doing so, they require operators to invest hours and hours of practice, learning how to make the camera do what you want, when you want.


Video Options


You can capture video in NTSC and PAL frame-rates. In the US, we use a 30, 60, 120 fps frame rate system carried over from the days of NTSC television and its compatibility with our 60 Hz AC power system. Most of the world uses the PAL frame rates of 25, 50, 100 fps that is a leftover from PAL/SECAM broadcast television and 50 Hz powerlines. You can shoot either, but to the eyes of many, the NTSC rates appear a noticeable bit smoother. On the Internet, it’s virtually moot. Computers play everything.


In the NTSC realm, video modes are now WVGA (848 x 480) @ 60 fps, WVGA @ 120 fps, 720p30, 720p60, 960p30 (960 x 1280 @ 30 fps), 960p48 and 1080p30. None of them shoot 24 fps directly, but you could easily pick that out of the 960p48 setting in editing if it were critical to do so.


When PAL settings are the regime, you get WVGA @ 50 fps, WVGA @ 100 fps, 720p25, 720p50, 960p25, 960p50 and 1080p25.


The same image sizes that are in the original Hero are in the Hero 2. New in the 2 are WVGA, the 1080p Wide and 1080p Narrow options. Artifacts seen in the original Hero at 720p settings are gone (see review of that model below).


As you can tell in the test video below, color, tonality, shadow and highlight detail is remarkably good—in this kind of light. As a practical matter, we prefer to shoot in 1080p30 Medium and Wide, then process scenes with our image-straightening Photoshop process (not done in the clip below).


Tip: As you shoot in 1080p Narrow, the result is almost—but not quite—like a too-barrel-distorted wide zoom setting. You may be able to use this in an edit without any correction desired.


1080p Narrow results are a too crispy (last example in the Vimeo video below), and fine detail shows a bit of fixed-moiré artifacting from some unknown processing step. To make it match better with shots made in other settings, consider adding a 0.5-pixel blur to see if that helps. In virtually all action shots, this small attribute will likely be invisible.




Here’s an informal sample of the various frame sizes, all cut together in a 1080p edit, displayed at 720p on Vimeo (click).


New Angle


New in the GPH2 are the angle of view settings. In 1080p30/25 you have the choice of Wide, Medium and Narrow fields of view. Narrow is the central chunk of the 11 megapixel sensor, lifting off the middle 1080 x 1920 pixels of the chip. It’s still a rather generous wide view that shows about 75° of diagonal coverage.


GoPro refers to this as a 90° setting, but it’s not quite that wide. An honest 75°.


Oh, those copy writers!


Narrow is a direct lift off the chip’s central patch of sensors. It appears a little crispier than the Medium and Wide options, being a pixel-direct frame. Of the three settings, it’s the one that looks least fisheye-curvilinear, although you still see curves from straight-line subjects at the edges of the frame. Fine visual detail can show a small amount of moiré-like contour artifacts, but this is invisible in all other video frame sizes and options.


When the Medium, 127° option is chosen, a larger, central patch is accessed electronically from the image chip, then scaling that to a 1080p30/25 video stream. At the  Wide, 170° setting, the entire width of the image chip is polled to make the widest fisheye frames. This image shows off the improved lens, revealing tighter edge detail and the Hero 2’s best image.


We are already adapting our Photoshop Fisheye Image Flattening software for the GoPro Hero 2’s images. Soon you will be able to use both Standard Photoshop plus QuickTime Pro and/or Photoshop Extended to turn GoPro Hero 2 images into straight-line, rectilinear wide-angle images, just the way we have with shots from the original Hero camera. Here’s a sample of that (click):




And here’s what that idea looks like through the 1080p Wide and Medium settings of the Hero 2 (click the pic):





Children of Lesser Frames


This trick of scanning off different chunks of the image chip works well and gets quite good results from the dense, 11 megapixel sensor.


In 960p25/30/48/50, 720p25/30/50/60 and WVGA50/60/100/120 modes, your only angle of view choice is Wide, meaning 170° coverage lifted from the full width of the image chip.


WVGA-Wide Video Graphics Array


Let’s all get confused! VGA is the cryptic term for standard-definition TV pictures made out of square pixels. Maybe you never knew, but TV used to employ non-square pixels—720 of them down each scan line and 486 and a half (!) vertically. Digital fixed that. Sort of.


VGA was a term invented to express computer-like, square pixel, 640 x 480 images. W-VGA means a wide version with 848 x 480 pixels, fitting into 16:9 frames—almost. If it were perfect 16:9, it would be 848 x 477 pixels. Or perhaps 480 by 853.333 pixels. Or maybe 486 by 864 pixels as a throwback to the original NTSC spec.


Oh, those technical standards writers!


WVGA frames are 848 x 480 pixels. That’s almost exactly 2/3 of the 720p frame’s width, meaning you will need to enlarge these frames to 150.09433...% of their original size in a 720p edit. To expand them up to fit in a 1080p edit, you will enlarge them to 226.415+%. But sometimes you just gotta get that shot at 120 fps, and here is where WVGA shines:


Sloooooow Mo


By adopting this smaller WVGA frame, GoPro has given us a Major Tool for slow motion shooting. Video will easily accept playback at half-speed from 30/25 fps material, and most viewers won’t see the slightly steppy result. All that makes its way through their eye-brain system is the interesting effect of slowed time.


When you shoot at 120 fps, then slow THAT down to 15 frames per second, you’ve achieved a good-looking, viewer-comfortable 800% (!) stretch in time. Slowed to 30 fps, it’s a 400% time-stretch. Processed in Twixtor or Final Cut Motion, you can easily produce 2000% time expansions.


Tip: Subjects against featureless skies, snow and water accept slow-mo processing best.


Negatoids


After shooting in a wider variety of situations and environments, I feel compelled to report a number of negative attributes. Primarily, the exposures from typical scenes are quite frequently over-exposed and the skip-line image construction processing leads to very frequent moiré effects—even on single shallow-angle lines of detail. These two phenomena show up more frequently in outdoor shots with our sample unit.


Exposures too often leave sky or light subjects bleached to the max. You would think that an averaging meter would tend to see all that brightness and reduce exposure in compensation, but no. And there is no such thing as adjusting exposure with the GoPros. You can’t test, then adjust. Fortunately programs like Irudis Tonalizer (FCP and Motion) can usually help. Thankfully the Hero 2 has nice, gradual highlight roll-off.


Fine detail moiré shows mostly during low-action shots when the camera is moving or panning slowly. When frame-to-frame differences are stronger—as during high-action clips—you wouldn’t notice the effect.




Overexposure 1





Overexposure 2



Contrast-line artifacting is higher than we saw on the Hero 1, as well. You see this as a dark line surrounding a bright subject, or a trapped outline inside a dark subject against a bright background. It’s likely the product of a stage in processing that adds an enhancement step to make the images seem sharper.




Contrast-line, over-enhancement example 1 at 1:1 reproduction from 1080p.

The bird’s breast and the bait tray details give it away.





Contrast-line, over-enhancement example 2 at 1:1 reproduction from 1080p.

Bright lines surround dark details. The opposite effect shows in crowd features.

Note the wavy look of the shallow-angle railing. That’s from skip-line chip scanning schemes.


Ahem.


Professional editors are going to see GPH2 shots and sometimes often wince. THEY want to control sharpening, and they don’t want the camera to add too much to start with. It’s that old “Law Of The Haircut” showing its face again.


Simply stated, once cut, you can’t un-cut it. Once too much sharpening or too high an exposure is present, say good bye to all-you-have-to-do-is fix it in post.


Well, that’s not exactly true. The Hero 2 catches outdoor overexposures with enough residual sky detail for a good grading program to recover. Here’s one, now: Tonalizer@ from Irudis® is a brand-new tool for Apple FCP video edit and Motion effects programs that can fix many overexposures if they have any tonality at all. A quick scene (click it):






Perhaps the over-exposure effect we’re seeing can be tuned out of future samples. The GPH2 is about 1/2 to 2/3 stop too bright, depending on conditions, or perhaps they can tweak the exposure meter coverage or its analytics?


As in: The upper 30% is probably sky. The bottom 30% is probably ground cover. Deal with it. Nikon does. Canon does. Panasonic does. Olympus does. Sony does. You can, too.


Our review unit seems adjusted for shooting in snow, where the bright white would cause the camera to drop exposure farther than in our more-typical scenes. It would be nice to have an EV +/- adjustment option on board. Or a Dim/Contrasty/Normal/Beach/Snow selector.


Surely over-enhancement plays havoc with the skip-line image construction of video frames, and for that there is no quick fix. See the Hero 1 review, below, for some enlightenment of how this artifact comes into view.


Of all the 1080p modes, the Narrow angle setting shows the least skip-line artifacting. Most likely because it is a direct lift of the central 1920 x 1080 pixels of the center of the chip. But that mode has other problems; noise, even in the brightest light. Potentially caused by that overly-agressive “sharpening” stage.


Can these sorts of things be fixed with a firmware update? Dunno. But I’m putting off buying a GoPro Hero 2 until they show me that either this individual camera was manufactured wrong or that they’ve addressed these serious issues. Your decisions may vary.




Interior mixed lighting (1080p frame).


Having said all this, we shot the LA Car Show with the Hero 2 on a Steadicam Smoothee, and under indoor lighting we experienced the overexposure or moiré effects less strongly. We see them, but not as prominently. The constantly moving camera masked problems well, and isn’t that the reason GoPro cameras exist?: Action.


Note to GoPro: Let the cameraman decide how much “sharpening” and exposure tweaking to add to the images. If our unit is typical, your idea of the right settings need more work.


Bottom Line


+ The $299 GoPro Hero 2 is a large improvement on the original Hero (which has dropped $60 in MSRP). Its more-informational LCD, added LEDs, accessory-accommodating identical form factor, improved video options and 120 fps capture are all going to be received with open arms. It is a supremely capable camera for action POV shots. It’s not your replacement HD camera for more general shooting.


+ Here’s GoPro’s promo video on the Hero 2. Click and enjoy:




- While its menu system is improved, it’s still more difficult to work through than it could/should be, even with the current limited button layout. Practice, practice, practice. Since stills can be shot with MUCH BETTER pocket cameras (virtually anything over $100) we would wish GoPro to optimize future versions to concentrate on video.


Note to GoPro: Once and for all: It’s a video camera. Hide everything for still images in a deep, distant corner of the menu system.


- Exposure, sharpening and skip-line image lifting are problematic, but not in most action shots. Surely the GoPro is not your first choice for general HD shooting, and as a still camera, it’s virtually a total dud.


Note that the “Narrow” setting in 1080p is not even mentioned in the camera manual, being a feature that may have been introduced after the manual was produced. Huh. You will find it revealed on the GoPro Website.




From early 2011:

GoPro hero hd.

The DEEP review.


You gotta be kidding me. an HD camcorder for 300 small ones that dives underwater 60 meters, mounts to a windshield and sees everything in front of it?


what’s the catch?




Sports photography and video is all about what’s going on. It’s not like ordinary news or drama photography but they all overlap.


GoPro’s Hero camera series are designed to focus more on sports POV shooting more than general use. There are some things you need to know.




GoPro Hero HD. What it is.


How about a high quality, fisheye lensed HD camcorder that rocks and rolls without smashing into the rocks while rolling?


The GoPro Hero HD recorder is tiny, high quality and clever. It packs an army of features into a tee-weensie footprint and comes with enough mounts and options to let you fit it to almost any situation that could use a wide point-of-view shot. Racing, skydiving, surfboarding and reality TV have all used these to show you near impossible shots. You can pick one of these up for very few bucks.


Image Chip.


The image chip is a 3:4 aspect, 2592 x 1944 pixels, equal to 5 megapixels. It shoots stills, movies and time-lapse sequences, but most use it for its HD video clips.


Light and affordable by most.


Weighing a total of just 98.3 grams including SD card and battery, the Hero fluffs up to 128.3 g with its snap on 2” monitor. That little gizmo will cost you an extra $80, but it’s well worth it for setting up shots and is essential for shooting hand-held. More about that in a moment. For the metric-challenged, 128.3 g = 4.5 oz. Three shots of Jack Daniels, not including the glass.


You can buy the camera “naked” (their term for without housing, costing $260), but nearly everybody gets it with the low-cost, waterproof, clear plastic case. More than an underwater housing (180 feet / 60 meters), its a dust and crash-proof ruggedized container that only adds $10 to $30 to the price of the naked camera. A surfing kit with camera, case and stick-on mount costs just $270. The Helmet Hero kit includes accessories to attach the camera to your person, and a Racing Hero kit includes mounts for your machine.


These fuller kits of mounts and housing backs that lets you attach the Hero to helmets, windows, surfboards, clean surfaces and structural elements while accommodating any combination of BacPak™ accessories and each costs only $300. We recommend that you obtain yours in one of the full $300 packages. You’re welcome.


After market adapters provide mounts, housings and adapters to an even wider range of applications, but the ones in the kits are what you need 90% of the time.


Hero’s on-board battery is a 3.7V, 1100mAh Li-ion that recharges from your computer’s USB port or from any USB power tap. That port and cable is also how you transfer images and clips into your computer, and the Hero end of the cable is the standard Mini USB plug.


Interface and Setup Menus.


Although the setup interface may be engineer-friendly, it is definitely user-hostile. Once you work with it for an hour or two, the interface becomes fairly logical, but a small LCD window with a 3-place numeric display is all you get to make settings. It makes some letter-like symbols such as A, L, F, P, H, E, S, U, r, b, t, y, d, o and n, so you can try to decide what dAt, ALL, LSt, and oSF are trying to communicate, but it is rough. The HD Hero is not a camera you can buy for your vacation and come up to speed during the flight to Hong Kong. You’ll need to work with it in play mode for several weeks before its arcane ins and outs become part of you.


Within its operating system, there are a bunch of setup options, from day/date (dAt) to whether video output has icon graphics superimposed on it or not (oSO or oSF). At least 23 different pseudo alpha or number codes to sort through or decipher. If you ever see one that says “SoS” it means the current file is in mid-corruption. Pressing any camera button will cause the file to become repaired. A message, “HOt” means you’ve overheated; chill. “bLO” and “bLF” set the blinking tally light during shooting. Remembering these takes experience, and getting any of them wrong could be fatal to your shot.


Modes and Gotchas.


Still, time-lapse and movie modes are all in there, but you really have to become hip to how the engineering team was thinking in order to get the Hero to do what you want. There are a few gratuitous features, like self-timer and three-shot mode. Some of your settings evaporate into default values if you change the Hero’s battery. Like time/date or the subject-distracting tally light that makes everybody and every wild animal stare right into the lens inapropriately. Grr.


If you forget to reset these in the complex and opaque menu setting system after every battery change, your shots will be taken date-stamped January 1, 2009. Double Grr.


FAQs.


1080p30, 720p60, 720p30, 480p60 movies in 16:9 format are selectable plus a large 960p30 movie format delivering 960 x 1280 pixel frames. Those frame rates are for NTSC mode and 50/25 frames per second variations are available for PAL productions. Movie files max out at 3.8 GB, meaning that your longest 1080p30 scene is limited to recording for 34 minutes. The capacity of a typical 16 GB SD card is about 2:10:00.


Battery life for the little 1100mAh unit is about  2.5 hours of recording. For an extra $20 you can buy another battery, but a better way to approach power is by obtaining the $50 Battery BacPak™. It lets you charge one while using the other, and it comes with its own cell. It also attaches to the back of the Hero, doubling recording time. When you add the LCD BacPak™ (the monitor), record life drops by an hour, but the Hero is kind to your data, consuming only 112 MB/minute in the largest HD mode and 115 MB/minute in 720p60 mode.


The fixed-focus fisheye lens of the Hero delivers a 170° or 127° diagonal field of view, depending on which HD setting is used. The narrower (but still exceedingly wide) option is only available in 1080p30, and the 170° option is available for all other settings including stills and time-lapse frames. The optic is sharp at both angles of view with only the tiniest of sharpness fall off at 170° in the extreme corners.


Others have claimed that depth of field is 8 inches (200mm) to infinity, but our tests show a different result. We see excellent sharpness in still images starting at about 5 inches (225mm) from the naked optic, and that’s for the largest stills. Depth of field with all video modes is from 100 mm (4 inches) to infinity, even under minimum light. Since there is no active iris in the lens, this relationship is always the case.


Image Quality


In terms of per-pixel image performance and sharpness, the 1080p30 image is the best. It’s tack-sharp over the entire field and is clean to the maximum in contrasty boundaries. It is a higher definition video frame than we have seen from every HDSLR made by Canon, Nikon, Panasonic or Sony. At least as far as sharpness is concerned.


You can easily blow this HD image up in editing with impunity. If you’re editing in 720p, you can crop a 1280 x 720 pixel image out of its center and gain a zoom with 2/3 of the fisheye effect (about 84°) which may intercut with material from rectilinear sources better.


That was the Good News. There is a bit of Bad News. Keep reading.


Exposure Control.


Exposure settings always float. Meaning that you can NOT lock exposure and have the entire scene stay constant over time. Nor can you reduce or inflate the amount of light entering the camera as an adjustment factor. You can choose Center Weighted or Spot Meter as the pattern that drives exposure, but in practice, you will obtain a high number of shots that have poor exposure by being too bright, but which contain great shadow exposure.


White Balance Control.


White balance is continuous and slow to change, causing images to look correct in most light. We found that if you intentionally point the Hero towards a white reference sheet in the lighting you wish to use —AS— you power up the camera, it takes that to be the starting color balance, saving you from waiting for the Hero to catch up. The entire set of instructions fails to use the term “white balance” or “color balance” or even “color temperature” anywhere in the document. You can download a set in English here and if you find even the word “color’ within it, tell me.


Pixelation.


In 720p30, 720p60 and 960p30 HD formats, the per-pixel performance is still looks quite sharp, but antialiasing along high-contrast contours will assume a steppy look most pronounced along the edges of shallow-angle horizontal detail.
You see this on subjects like telephone wires or contrasty edges of architectural features.


On magnification, it looks like two adjacent lines of image are appropriately antialiased to each other, then a larger jump to the next pair of horizontal lines appears.


At first, we thought this was caused by dropping a single “scan line” of image in a “display two; drop one...” cadence. Later we realized it’s a stronger artifact than that. The full image chip has 2592 pixels wide and that means 1440 of its horizontal rows make up the 16:9 height of the video frames. Since 720p is the desired result, the quick, easy (and technically possible) way to generate them is to throw out HALF of all of them. So the steppyness is really the result of “keep two-discard two...” as the camera makes each 720p frame. To our eyes, it fairly leaped off the screen in slow moving material and repeating architectural detail, but was invisible in helmet-cam-like shots.


Have people noticed this phenomenon? Apparently not. We haven’t been able to find a single other reviewer of the Hero camera who spotted and mentioned this antialiasing pattern or showed an awareness of skip-line HD image chip scanning. Shallow-angle horizontal contours look exactly like they would if every other pair of scan lines were simply deleted from a pixel map. All vertical shallow-angle contours look fine. The phenomenon is limited to horizontal image lines only. The photos show what it looks like under 500% magnification.


Keep in mind that this pertains strictly to 720p and 960p files. Natural subjects and fast-moving events all tend to mask the artifact, but there is a major remedy. Don’t shoot 720p or 960p unless you need slow motion, are shooting constant high velocity action or need the larger pixel map for post production.


On the good side, the 1080p image is pixel-perfect in every frame with no aliasing artifacts at all. In some regards, it is a superior image to most cameras. We rarely ever use 720p and nearly always as 720p60 for its slow-motion possibilities.


Something’s Fisheye.


The fisheye image is, ahem, a different type of compromise. You may accept it in a surfboard or ski-helmet shot, but it takes the Hero out of being a handy small wide angle camcorder for general dramatic production in which all other shots are non-fisheye bulging. But with image quality that good, many will want to.


The 1080p30/25 settings deliver a 127° (corner to corner) cropped fisheye as in the upper image. All other modes deliver a 170° fisheye with extreme coverage, as below.


Thank goodness that it is what optical designers call an “equisolid” design, meaning that it’s the projection of a virtual solid sphere, and that every meridian increment across its equator stands for the same number of degrees in the original view.


Equisolid examples in HDSLRs include the Nikkor 10.5mm full frame fisheye. A 10.5mm Nikkor fisheye with a Nikon D90 (the least-expensive body that functions with that lens) will set you back about $1680 and HD video shot with it won’t be as good as with the HD Hero by a wide margin. I’m just saying.


Fish Fix.


Can you do anything to remedy that fisheye warp in movie clips? It’s coming soon.


We have produced a fisheye-elimination process for Photoshop CS5 Extended that will tuck a 1080p30/25 image back into shape as a rectilinear image that looks like it was shot with a prime lens.


The Fisheye process in Final Cut is dramatically horrible and other utilities we’ve seen appear to deliver distorted final results. Our goal was to produce an uncompromising image.


With this process, still in development, image quality is maintained within 1% of the original detail level while the fisheye stops giving you the stinkeye.


As of 5/8/11 it has grown to produce 1080p video (30 fps or 25 fps for NTSC or PAL based originals). See for yourself:


100% crops from image center:




100% crops showing the upper right corner:




[ A package of utilities is being prepared as Scripts and Script/Action combinations for use in Photoshop Extended CS5 and above. Available soon! ]


Editing Possibilities.


If you are preparing a 1080p edit that can accept the fisheye result, the per-pixel performance of the Hero is high enough to take about 7% enlargements without calling attention to the magnification in the eyes of experienced viewers. In shots destined for the general public, you can probably get away with 10-15% enlargements without raising eyebrows.


The production note here is “avoid the near hemispherical super fisheye coverage of 720p shooting and go for the superior 1080p image.” Additionally, with a 7% enlargement, you will be able to re-level images shot slightly tilted and the off-screen pixels won’t be missed.


Stills and Time-Lapse.


Still photos are 5.03 MP, making images that are 2592 x 1944 pixels large. It’s a pixel-perfect 174° fisheye (corner to corner) that is slightly wider than the 720p movie image, due to its 3:4 aspect. A full-bleed letter-page sized print will display with well over 200 ppi. Big enough for a full page photo in Sports Illustrated where the dot screen itself is only about 180 dpi.


Time-lapse clips can be created with an internal intervalometer. You can collect shots every 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. Our recommendation: Even for clouds—generally shot at 4 or 5 seconds per interval—shoot at the 2 sec interval. You can always speed it up in editing, but you can’t slow it down when you use a too-large interval. Some edit programs let you ramp the playback up and down, so the 2 sec general rule gives you more options for editing.


Since shots for time-lapse are simply saved as stills, the Hero doesn’t make them into a movie, internally. You’ll need a program in your computer to do that. Suggestion: Apple’s $30 QuickTime Pro.


We would hope that future firmware or GoPro cameras would allow more flexible intervalometer settings. A series like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 15, 20, 30, 40, 60 would be better for those who want greater time-lapse precision. Tune it in editing. Every still image eats only about 2 MB of data space, so if you’re shooting with a small 8 GB card, you’ll be able to collect a mere 4000 shots. At 24 frames per second, that would play for 2 minutes 46 seconds. At 30 frames per second, it would last 2:13:10. In your entire life, have you ever watched a single time-lapse shot that long? I didn’t think so.


Still, the GoPro Hero HD would be my first choice for a cross-country driving time-lapse.


Transferring files into your computer via USB is doable. Another way to accomplish this is by removing the SD card and using a USB card reader to offload the files. Neither way is particularly speedy, but Hero images can take a modest amount of post production grading without revealing their humble origins.


Pluses and minuses.


  1. BulletIn naked mode, the Hero delivers flawless fisheye HD images. These 127° super wide-angle images are among the best ever produced by a single-chip imager.


  1. BulletThe exposure system gently transitions to cover exposure differences and never calls attention to itself.


  1. BulletFull corner to corner 170° fisheye coverage is available at all non-1080p settings, and one of those is 720p60 which facilitates better slow motion filming.


  1. BulletThe waterproof housing doubles as a crash housing and becomes the primary means of mounting the Hero on all sorts of things.


  1. BulletIncluded in the $300 Helmet Hero kit are a wide variety of straps, stick-on mounts, tripod screw mount, angle-locking hinges, and ways to attach the camera to virtually anything.


  1. BulletTo GoPro’s credit, their accessories and replacement parts are all exceptionally reasonably priced. These cameras are designed to be put in harm’s way, and fixing them if harm shows up is kind to your wallet.


  1. BulletUnfortunately, the dome cover that protects the camera’s lens has a mild magnification factor, and that causes slight diffused unsharpness.


  1. BulletAll forms of recording at non-1080p30 are disrupted by the aliasing flaw that discards the equivalent of one third of the scan lines making up the image. This phenomenon shows up only on shallow horizontal line contours as a stepped edge, but given the type of subject matter most frequently captured with a Hero camera, you may never actually notice this effect in a shot. Both the fisheye lens and fast-changing environmental subject matter tend to mask the artifact.


  1. BulletOur own fisheye-straightening Photoshop Actions are working for us on Hero 1080p shots as I write this. Due to the slight magnification of the lens dome, I had to make them in two versions, one for the naked camera, and one for the housed camera. They completely flatten the 127° fisheye image, but the resulting angle of view is “only” about 84°, meaning that it falls into the range of “super wide-angle” instead of its former “hyper wide-angle.” Sharpness is retained overall, mainly due to the fact that the resulting image is 720p, having been shrunk down during straightening. There are no stepped edges to shallow-angle contours in the final results.


At the NAB Show in Las Vegas in April, 2011, Tiffen Steadicam showed the prototype of the GoPro mount for the Steadicam Smoothee, a light-weight neutral-balance stabilization device built using the principles inherent in their Steadicam rigs for movie and video cameras. Where those devices can cost up to $65,000, this hand-held Smoothee is only about $180 and is easy to fly. With the Hero on board, shots take on a hovering, gliding aspect you could never achieve any other way.


Bottom Line.


The GoPro Hero HD is one of those products that has its flaws, but is still an undeniable masterpiece.


The price is right, the thought behind it is clever, the shots it makes are like no others, and with a little poking and prodding, it can be used to capture shots that even GoPro didn’t anticipate.


GoPro Helmet Hero HD or GoPro Motorsports Hero HD (pictured) kit: Now just $239.


GoPro 2-inch LCD monitor: $79.


Steadicam® Smoothee™ for GoPro with monitor BacPak2: $180.

(Now available.)


Fish Fix Software (subject to change): $30 est.


Full rig: $500.


Results: Priceless.

 
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