In anticipation of having some summer fun, I broke down and bought a GoPro HERO2. I've had a few days to play with it, and I'm finding it to actually be much more generally useful than what you might think based on the hype. From the ads, you might get the impression that the Gopro seems perfectly targeted for Red Bull swigging millenials performing daring acts while blasting riffing electric guitars in their earbuds. I'm actually finding there are some very nice uses for those of us who've started to be concerned that perhaps our bones won't knit as fast as they used to.
The camera itself is very minimalistic. It's a grey rectangular box with a lens sticking out one side. That's pretty much it. The interface consists of exactly two buttons and a small LCD. With such a basic interface, selecting modes is is somewhat reminiscent programming my families first VCR. That's especially the case when you set the time. Fortunately the functions are kept blessedly minimalistic too, so I think I'll screw up my pictures and movies a lot less than I managed to foobar my Star Trek recordings. (Damn you WPIX. If MLB is going to run over 85% of the time, maybe you should be budgeting more time!)
There are a wide variety of mounting accessories available for the camera. These can be bought separately, although you get a nice selection with the camera. There are three packages available, aimed at motor sports, general outdoor activities and water sports. All the packages include a waterproof housing spec'd for 60 meters, well below where a sane recreational diver would want to go. The camera fits snugly into housing, creating what is essentially a monolithic electro-optical brick. No wonder it's so rugged.
The housing has a proprietary mount that fits with the numerous accessories. If you think you might be mounting the camera on more traditional hardware, there is a 1/4-20 adapter available for all of 8 bucks, which I sprung for immediately. It made mounting it on my $14 monopod/walking stick trivial, which meant that the camera was always handy on our father-and-son hike.
As you can probably see, the camera has a fisheye lens. The native resolution is 11 megapixels, which I find to be plenty. There's a high depth of field and no adjustment, so I doubt you'll want to use this in low light conditions. I have a DSLR and have been eyeing wide angle lenses for a while. After seeing the pictures this camera takes, I don't think I'll be needing one now. I consider that niche filled for my purposes.
Anticipating some fun at the beach this summer, I went with the water sports package, which included an incredibly geeky-looking head band, four adhesive-backed surfboard (anywhere, really) mounts, and a general purpose strap-on mount. In a pleasant surprise, the piece of plastic used to hold that camera in the retail packaging turned out to be another mount, suitable for placing the camera on a table or other reasonably flat surface. A nice feature of GoPro's mounting system is that it lets you adjust the tilt and then crank down on a screw and lock it in.
While the camera may seem perfect for the X-games crowd, the designers clearly put a lot of thought into maximizing the use cases. For one, there's a nifty intervalometer feature. I've played some with time lapse photography, thanks to the CHDK firmware jailbreak available for some Canon cameras, but this is the first camera with the functionality turned on out of the box. I can't wait to play with it for that, but I've already used it in another way. PP and I set up a Lego-based chipmunk intelligence test. (We gave him some freebies since he wasn't doing so well.)
Now a motion activated feature would be ideal (you listening GoPro?), but this was a close second. Thanks to cheap, but large SD cards, I could just take a picture every 2 seconds for an hour or so. Once I'd imported them, it was pretty quick work to bulk-delete the blocks of images with nothing in them. If I'm doing it a lot, I'll have to write a perl script to do it for me.
There's no shortage of video modes on this thing. You can go up to 1080p at 30 frames/s. If you're willing to drop down to 720p, you can go up to 60 frames/s. With a little post processing you have yourself some slight slow motion effect. What you don't see in some of the ad copy is that there's and even faster setting. You can back the resolution down to something they call WVGA (basically a widescreen version of standard def) that can gather images at up to 120 frames a second. Taking that down to 24 in post processing gives a nice artistic effect. Combined with the goofy head mount, I could capture video not possible with any other camera I've ever own and guaranteed to make me get all misty if I watch it the day Little Man goes off to college.
I should mention there's also a mode that, to me, falls right between still and video. You can take a burst of 10 images in one second. That's 10 frames a second for 1 second, but at the full 11 megapixels. The obvious use case is catching that one-off stunt when timing is critical, but I bet we'll also see some amazing animated gifs coming out of the sequence.
This is one of those devices that makes me so happy to be living in the 21st century. It's going to keep me busy for some time trying to come up with creative uses for this new technology. Watch this space.
If you're thinking of taking the plung, consider going through our Amazon store so we can buy more toys and keep the cycle going.