GoPro HD Hero2 Camcorder Review
Words aren't the best way to describe how the Hero2 "handles" as a camcorder. It's best to simply look at the photos to understand, as this is a camcorder that is unlike most other camcorders. It fits snugly into a provided waterproof housing, and from there it can connect to a variety of mounts, straps, and holders that make the camcorder wearable and makes hands-free recording possible. Yes, holding the camcorder in your hand and recording in that manner is possible, but why would you want to limit yourself like that? If you want to do handheld recording, just get one of the other ultracompact camcorders that are flooding the market these days, and most of them are cheaper than the GoPro Hero2 anyway.
GoPro designs its mounts and casings quite well. It was easy (but not too easy) to pop off the lock on the waterproof case and set the camcorder in place. After some time with the waterproof casing, we did notice the locking mechanism started to loosen a tiny bit, which is not a good sign, so the case needs to be treated with care if you want it to last.
We do love the snap-clip mount design on the base of the casing that allows you to switch what you're mounting the camcorder on in seconds. Just pop the clip out with your fingers and you can switch to another mount. With the "Outdoor Edition", which is the Hero2 package we reviewed, the camcorder comes with a reusable head mount that has two adjustable straps and an elastic band that fits around the top of your head. It kind of functions like a headlamp and it stays tighter if it's wrapped around a thin helmet (like a construction helmet), but we love the multiple uses that you can get out of this strap. Other mounts are stuck with adhesive on their base, which means once you stick them to a helmet or a surface, you basically can't move them.
Despite its flaws, the GoPro's handling and control system are designed far better than the company's most direct competitor—Contour. The Contour+, which we reviewed last year, showed off some alarmingly bad butt design and we had trouble getting many of the camcorder's features working. With the Contour+ you can't adjust controls on the fly, you need to do so by connecting the camcorder to a computer and using a special software. There is the really cool ability to link the camcorder to a SmartPhone and use a free app to adjust a few different record options, but our iPhone 3G had a terrible time connecting to the Contour+ via Bluetooth.
The GoPro Hero2's more traditional on-board control system is far more reliable. And the buttons, while nowhere near perfect, aren't all that bad. We especially like that the buttons are still accessible even when the camcorder is inside its waterproof housing (thanks to a cool exterior button pushing creation). You can also simplify the Hero2 by turning it to "one button mode", which makes the camcorder automatically start recording when it is turned on (and stop recording only when it is turned off). If you have no need to set any controls during your shoot, this is the easiest mode to use (and you can start recording without even looking at the camcorder to make sure you pressed the right combination of buttons).
The GoPro HD Hero2, in many ways, is the very definition of a portable camcorder. The actual camcorder itself is exceedingly small. In fact, it's not much bigger than the battery pack you get on most high-end consumer camcorders. So, size isn't really a factor with the Hero2 at all—it can go with you almost anywhere. With a weight of only 98g (3.5 ounces) including the battery pack, the Hero2 also won't bog you down one bit.
But unlike most ultracompact models, the Hero2 isn't meant to be slipped in and out of your pants pocket. It's meant to be strapped to your head while you go water skiing. And that brings up another concept of portability: the rugged design and waterproof factor of the Hero2. The waterproof casing that ships with the camcorder is easy to use, looks cool, and functions extremely well. It allows you to plunge to depths up to 197 feet. Contrast that with most waterproof camcorders, which can be taken to depths of 10 - 30 feet on average, and you're staring at a huge difference. The waterproof case does add bulk and weight to the overall package, but together the Hero2 and its case only weigh 188g (6.6 ounces), and that's not bad for a consumer camcorder.
GoPro's most direct competitor, the Contour camcorders, are almost equally as portable as the Hero2. Contour, however, charges an extra $40 bucks for its waterproof case (while GoPro includes one free with all Hero2 packages). We also give an advantage to GoPro with the design of its provided mounts and straps, which are more versatile and easier to use than Contour's.
The GoPro Hero2 lasted for a solid 139 minutes in our battery life test. That means the camcorder recorded continuously (in its Full HD mode) for 2 hours, 19 minutes. That's certainly not bad for a hands-free camcorder (nearly a half hour better than the Contour+), and it is good for an ultracompact camcorder in general (most stop after about two hours of straight recording). If the 2+ hour battery life isn't good enough for you... well, GoPro has another trick up its sleeve. For an extra $50 bucks you can buy an extra battery pack that straps right onto the back of the Hero2 to provide roughly double the battery life. The accessory, called the Battery BacPac, can also act as a charging station for the Hero2's supplied battery pack when it is not in use.
In Full HD record mode, the Hero2 has a clip limit of 34 minutes, 42 seconds. When a clip reaches that length, a new clip starts recording immediately (and there shouldn't be any gaps between the two clips). More on how we test battery life.
The Hero2's rechargeable battery pack fits into the back of the camcorder, behind the removable battery cover that takes up most of the back of the model. The battery can be tricky to remove, as there's no good grip or slot where you can get leverage to pull the battery free. The best method we found was to open the battery cover and gently knock the camcorder against our palm until the battery loosened. We could then free it from the constraints of the battery compartment with ease.
Charging the battery is done by leaving it in the camcorder and connecting the GoPro Hero2 to a USB power source (via the USB terminal). The power source could be a computer with a USB terminal or a USB power adapter that lets you plug right into a wall outlet.
Technically, the GoPro Hero2 does have an LCD, but the screen is only used for menu navigation and control selection—it does not provide a visual display for framing or viewing video content. The tiny LCD on the front of the camcorder simply tells you what mode you're working in, and by pressing the buttons on the front and top of the camcorder you can cycle through various settings and make changes to your recording options.
This leaves us with a daunting question—how in the world are you supposed to frame your shots if you can't see what they look like beforehand? Well, because of the Hero2's wide angle lens you don't really have to frame your shots that carefully. The view is so wide that it's fairly likely you're gonna capture interesting footage within the frame. If you're really concerned about getting the right shots, however, you can purchase the GoPro LCD BacPac, which straps to the back of the Hero2 (via the proprietary Hero Port) and functions as a normal screen for previewing or playing back content. The BacPac costs an extra $80 and we can't attest to how well it works because we didn't get one with our review unit.
Since the camcorder also has HDMI and AV outputs, you can also connect the Hero2 to a television to preview your content. Additionally, in March of 2012, GoPro has announced it will start selling a WiFi BacPac kit that will enable you to sync the Hero2 to a smartphone, tablet, or computer running a free GoPro App (for live streaming and remote operation). This is similar to the (somewhat finicky) system Contour has put in place on its hands-fee camcorders—you can read about Contour's LCD solution here.