PEOPLE WHO FREE-FALL off Swiss mountains, those who kayak over waterfalls, base-jumpers, par-kouristes, ski-jumpers; we’ve all been able to vicariously share in their crazy exploits on YouTube, thanks to a tiny camera that stands up to the rough and tumble of extreme activities. It’s called the GoPro Hero.
At the diving trade show DEMA in the States last year, the GoPro booth had queues of people every day waiting to buy the newly released GoPro Hero HD2. Naturally, I saw the potential for strapping a little camera on while diving and posting the results for all to admire, and an example was duly sent to me.
The improvements over the original include an easy-to-use LCD interface, an updated sharper lens, and support of SD cards up to 32GB.
Alas, the first thing I discovered was that all my footage was not sharp, because the hostile-environment housing for the GoPro had a tiny dome-port and the camera was obviously unable to focus on the virtual image that it provided under water.
There were underwater housings produced by independent manufacturers (at some cost) but I knew that GoPro had this underwater problem in its sights, and had seen its underwater housing at the same trade show. Finally, one fell into my possession.
The GoPro HD2 camera is so small that a man could easily conceal one in the palm of his hand. It’s a cube about 6 x 4 x 3cm, and fits into a little plastic housing defined by its glass front port in the underwater version.
I soon installed the battery, which is charged through the same USB cable that you use to download the recorded material, and the 16GB SDHC card was slotted in.
There are only a couple of buttons to press, but along with the USB2 port there’s an HDMI port and a larger Hero port, together with a 3.5mm external microphone port that is not really relevant for underwater use.
Recently, I’ve seen several divers going in with nothing more than a little GoPro in its original housing grasped in their hands, but so far I’ve avoided having to watch their fuzzy, wobbly, blue footage.
Could I do better?

The Camera
The GoPro has a glass f/2.8 lens combined with a 2/3in CMOS sensor and shoots at 30 frames/sec in high-definition, with a choice of three qualities and three fields-of-view. I chose to use the middle 127° setting. It can also be used in old-fashioned standard resolution.
It stores what it has shot on an SDHC card up to 32GB. With a 16GB card it can record two or three hours of HD video, according to the quality selected. It records sound, too, but that’s not too relevant to a diver’s requirements.
The camera comes with a lithium-ion battery that is charged via a USB cable, also supplied, and a fully charged battery is good for 180 minutes of recording time. It takes one to two hours to fully charge.
The GoPro HD2 shoots in MP4 format for video or jpegs of up to 11MP according to choice, and can be downloaded onto a PC with Windows Vista, 7 and later, or a Mac with at least OS 10.5.

Accessories
Besides the camera, the kit includes a waterproof housing (the one not suitable for sharp pictures under water) a skeleton back door for use when recording sound, and assorted mounting hardware, including a vented helmet-strap, a head-strap, a three-way pivoting arm and four assorted surface-
adhesive mounts for fixing the camera to suitable surfaces.
The underwater housing has a flat glass front and is rated to 60m deep, but comes as an optional extra.

Underwater Housing
This looks superficially like the waterproof housing, except that it has a large flat port added to the front.
This will narrow the angle of view under water by about a third, but at least it will be sharply focused.
The back is closed with a cam-lock onto a fat gasket-type seal. As the GoPro is so inexpensive, it soon reaches the point at which it’s not worth as much as the images you have expensively collected on it.
The worry is less that you might flood the camera, more that you might lose the recorded material on the memory card.
That’s where I suggest that the Samsung Plus Extreme speed SDHC card comes in.
Samsung claims that this is waterproof as well as being shock-proof and magnet-proof. These cards are available in 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32GB sizes, and are fully HD-compliant.

Mounting
I looked at the various camera-mounting options supplied, including chest-straps (not really suitable for diving), head-straps (surely they’re joking) and many self-adhesive mounting points.
What I really wanted was some way of fixing it to the 1in standard mounting point on the top of my regular big still camera housing.
This way I could at least be sure that it would be steady during the times I was otherwise taking photographs. A steady camera position is the secret to making watchable videos.
Strangely, the guys at GoPro could not supply something I thought was an industry standard, so I had to improvise, attaching the GoPro in its little plastic box to the GoPro tripod mount, and then using a 1in ball mount/tripod screw borrowed from a Subtronic flashgun.
I then used a conventional knuckle joint to attach it to a convenient ball joint on top of my own housing. I intended to shoot some live action while I was shooting stills.

Setting Up
The set-up is via a mode and select sequence, but I warn you that the associated LCD is not
for those with poor eyesight.
I employed the services of my 15-year-old daughter, who couldn’t see the screen clearly either, and we decided that the two-button setting-up routine was unspeakably irritating.
We set it up for one-button-mode use. In other words, when I pressed either button the camera started recording, and when I pressed it again, it stopped. Simple!
I chose video as opposed to stills, and Photo-burst mode, which takes 10 pictures in a second, and I settled on the chosen resolution and angle of view (wide-screen), time lapse or self-timer. After recording, the LCD shows the number of video clips stored on the SDHC memory card.

Conclusion
Don’t expect a two-hour feature film that Spielberg might have directed to drop out of the back of a GoPro HD2. This is a camera for shooting video clips – the YouTube equivalent of the snapshot, only it’s a moving image.
It’s a camera for recording a short event, rather than a sequence of events joined together later to represent an event that never actually happened – which is to say, a film.
Try showing your friends a lot of this footage and they’re suddenly going to remember that they should be doing something elsewhere, like worming the dog or draining their radiators.
The GoPro’s great success has lain with short unbroken-point-of-view recordings of people doing something that didn’t take long – like jumping off a church steeple or surviving a motorbike ride at 140mph along the Watford by-pass.
No one wants to watch 60 minutes of a dive when little happened, however proud you are of your footage. This unit is for “watch what happened” rather than “watch my movie”.
By the way, the addition of some bright underwater lights will introduce some colour, rather than the monochrome world we otherwise encounter down there.

COMPARABLE VIDEO CAMERAS TO CONSIDER:
CamOne Infinity, £208
Contour GPS POV, £300

SPECS
PRICE Camera & accessories £299, underwater housing £50, Samsung Waterproof SDHC card £21 (typical price)
BATTERY Lithium-ion
DEPTH RATING 60m
VIDEO FORMAT MP4
DOWNLOAD TO PC or Mac
CONTACT www.gopro.com
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