The GoPro HD Hero is a tiny, wearable 1080p camcorder and camera for outdoors types. You can buy it on its own or in different packages that include mounts for attaching it to a car, surfboard, helmet and so on. We tested out the GoPro HD Helmet Hero package, which is sensibly priced, at around £270.
We've seen small camcorders before. Mostly, though, they're little more than novelty items, designed to cost very little and deliver correspondingly cut-price performance. The Hero is completely different, though. It delivers 1080p video that's every bit as compelling and detailed as some of the stuff we've seen from other 'Full HD' domestic camcorders.
On the device itself, there are just a couple of buttons. One, on the front, both turns the camera on, and lets you access the various shooting modes and menu system. On the top of the camera, there's also a shutter trigger. Press that and the Hero starts recording either video, time-lapse photos or simply single 5-megapixel images.
A red LED and a small LCD screen on the front give you some information about the camera's operational status, allowing you to change settings and see which shooting mode you're in.
It's worth remembering that the camera doesn't offer a viewfinder or rear-mounted screen so that you can line your shots up just so. There are ways around this, using the company's new accessories, but it's worth bearing in mind that you may not always record what you expected to.
The camcorder in the HD Helmet Hero package is compatible with all other GoPro mounts, including ones that attach the device to a car, bike, surfboard, snowboard or around your chest.
Accessories increase the brilliance
Along with the HD Helmet Hero, GoPro also sent us two of its newest accessories. The first was the Battery BacPac. That package includes a spare battery, clip-on case and several additional plastic back covers for the waterproof housing that comes with the HD Helmet Hero.
By clipping the BacPac onto your Hero, you get extended battery life, as well as LED power indicators that give you a good idea of how much power you have left. The Battery BacPac costs around £50. If you just want a second battery, that will set you back about £20.
GoPro also sent us the brilliant LCD BacPac. It's a tiny LCD screen that clips onto the back of the Hero, making it much, much simpler to use the camera's menu system. On the downside, using it will drain the Hero's battery more quickly, and you can't use it at the same time as the Battery BacPac.
Like the Battery BacPac, the LCD kit comes with extra back covers for the Hero, to accommodate the device's increased girth when the accessory's attached. Several back covers are supplied, each with a different use. The LCD BacPac costs about £90. We think it's worth getting one.
When we installed the LCD screen, we found we had to update the camera's firmware. This may not happen to you if you buy a Helmet Hero now, but don't panic if it does -- updating the firmware is a simple process and a video on the GoPro site explains how to do it.
There's even a new 3D housing, the 3D Hero System, that holds two of the camcorders together to create a 3D image in post-production. While this £80 accessory won't appeal to all, we think it's impressive that GoPro is so focused on adding value to its range.
Optimise your video
The Hero has several shooting modes. When set to the UK system, you get 720p25, 720p50 and 1080p25 options. There's a WVGA mode too, so you can store loads of low-resolution video on your memory card. You can also take advantage of a 960p (1,280x960-pixel) mode. When you're on a surfboard or snowboard, you'll probably want to use the 960p mode -- it will let you capture a 'tall' image, so you'll get all the cool stuff in the frame.
The two 720p modes are also very useful. Footage shot at 720p25 is of a sufficiently high quality for most purposes, and will take up less space on your memory card than 1080p. More useful, though, is the 720p50 mode, which allows you to slow the video down in post-production -- very handy for dramatic slow-motion shots.
The HD Hero is at its best when used outside in good light. That's not a surprise, as it's designed to be used for extreme sports. The lack of comprehensive white balance means that images taken inside can have an orange tint to them. This can be corrected in post-production, though, and, with good internal light, you'll have no problem.
In low light, the picture quality becomes more sketchy, suffering from substantial grain. Again, this isn't a camcorder designed for use in such conditions. You should think twice before buying one for primarily low-light recording.
When used for its intended purpose, the HD Hero performs admirably. We love the clarity of its images, the incredible detail, and the stability of the picture. There are few camcorders of this price that can capture similarly vivid and detailed images.
The Hero's sound quality is okay in the right conditions. Audio is reasonably clear, even if the small microphone does, inevitably, favour high frequencies.
The problem is that the microphone often picks up handling noise. When the camera's on a proper mount, this isn't a problem but, if your hands come into contact with the case, you'll hear clicking and rumbling. Additionally, when you're using the waterproof case, audio can sound muted.
Basically, this camcorder's emphasis is on visuals. Use it as your family camcorder, and you'll be disappointed. Use it as a camcorder to go where others can't, and it will blow you away.
The GoPro HD Hero is so tiny that you'll want to take it everywhere with you, whether it's stuck on your head, the outside of your car, or on the nose of your surfboard. Most importantly, you'll get some incredible footage with it, even if its audio leaves something to be desired.
Edited by Charles Kloet