Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review - GoPro Hero 3 Camera

I picked up a Go Pro Hero recently. This camera appealed to me, as it has a better waterproof rating than the other cameras I have (usable to 30 feet, versus 5 or 10 feet for the others). It is a relatively simple camera, without a digital view screen and saving all pictures and videos onto a memory card, all in a waterproof box with buttons in the right places.

Summary - Pros
+ Inexpensive (under $150 at Amazon)
+ waterproof and rugged
+ Simple to use
+ Decent battery life
+ Good for basic action videos and photos which don't need high resolution
+ comfortable to wear

Summary - Cons
- no vibration stabilization
- no software to edit/trim videos
- Not high quality video
- microphone is muffled in the box
- helmet mount is expensive if bought separately

My comparison point for this camera is a Pentax Optio W20(though if you are looking for one of these, you may want to instead get the W30 version, which is newer and only a few bucks more than the W20). I have used the Pentax for both still pictures and video for a year or two now, and it does decently at both. But I have been worried about its waterproof qualities in some of the stuff I do (like snorkeling or if I get hit with a wave). The GoPro Hero3 intrigued me as a camera that many even work for some SCUBA diving.

Test - Video Comparison
To test the quality of this camera, I had the GoPro strapped on my wrist and held the Pentax in my hand. I turned them both on at pretty much the same time, holding both and taping the same thing. Started in the darkness of my garage, then stuck them outside in the bright sun, shook them a bit to see how they handled that, then back into the garage. Played back both videos on my computer to compare.

GoPro Digital Hero 3 Video Sample

Pentax Optio W20:

The result on the whole, the Pentax had better video quality. First, the Pentax has image stabilization, where the GoPro does not. And the Pentax tapes at 640x480 at 30fps, where the GoPro is only 512x384 at 30fps. Lastly, the Pentax seems to handle darkness better than the GoPro. But, the quality would be just fine for use on Youtube or similar.

As a plus for the GoPro over the Oregon Scientific ATC-2K, which I reviewed before, is that the GoPro has a optical viewfinder, so you can better aim the camera when holding in your hand for your pictures and videos. But it does not have a digital view screen, so you can't review your pictures/videos on the camera after you take them.

So you can make the comparison yourself, you can download the video clips in un-edited, native form.
- Pentax's Video file (12 Megabytes)
- GoPro Hero3 Video File (9 Megabytes)

Still Photos
I took both cameras up to the roof and took roughly the same picture with each.

GoPro Still:

Pentax Still:

In small picture size, they look about the same. About the only difference was the Pentax was better able to capture pictures in the dark areas.

But the GoPro Hero 3 is only a 3 megapixel camera, where the Pentax is a 7 megapixel camera (though the sample picture was taken in 5 megapixel mode, what I normally use). GoPro's pictures are fine for the web or viewing on a computer, but the resolution is a little low for trying to print.

My GoPro seems to have a small streak on the lens, which I will have to try to clean off. It does seem like it would have a greater chance of getting dirty, as there is both the lens of the camera the lens of the waterproof box which you need to keep clean.

So you can make the comparison yourself, you can download the still photos in un-edited, native form.
- Pentax's Still Picture (2 Megabytes)
- GoPro Hero3 Still Picture (0.5 Megabytes)

Test - Battery Life:
To test the battery life - I turned the camera on and started taping. My goal was to see which would run out first, the 2 gigabyte memory card or the rechargeable AAA (NiMH) batteries. The batteries were the first to die, after about 45 minutes of taping (where the 2 gig SD card can hold about 54 minutes). Perhaps if it was a fresh charge (these same batteries were used for the photos and other video clips used in this review), it may have gone the full 54 minutes, though I think they would still be short.

Last thoughts:
I would pay more for better video quality in the camera. Either a higher resolution, a faster saving speed (so it can get the 30 fps claimed), or some sort of shake stabilization would be good improvements and worth paying some more for. But for an inexpensive camera that is very waterproof, this is a great little camera.

Definitely get an SD card to go with it. Because the photos are small in size, you can probably get away with a smaller SD card (I used a 256mb card I had sitting around at first), unless you take a lot of video clips.

There are different models of the GoPro camera, such as the Helmet Hero and Motorsports Hero. They all use the same camera, but have different quick release attachment mounts so you can attach the camera to helmets, handlebars, flat surfaces, etc. I would be interested in the helmet mounts, but it is a $70 kit (where if I bought the Helmet Hero, it would have been only $30 additional over the price of the regular camera).


Sunday, April 13, 2008

3 cameras, 0 whale pictures

The gray whales are migrating north from Mexico to Alaska now. The waves were predicted to be low on Saturday, so it seemed like good conditions to go paddle and try to view some whales. So we launched early Saturday morning from Pigeon Point. We had 3 cameras with us, so we could hopefully get some good photos.

Shortly after launching, we did see a mother and calf. They would surface for air a few times, and then dive for a minute or two. It was a game to try to predict where they would surface next.

We followed them for a while. Some of the others thought they were going faster than they were, so lost track of them. Sylvia and I stayed back (or were just slower), and ended up being close to where they were, so had some decent views of them surfacing a a half dozen times or so.

Unfortunately, even with 3 cameras between the 2 of us, we got no good shots or video clips. The picture above, which Sylvia took, almost caught it - I marked the whale with a red arrow (that is me in the yellow boat to the right of the picture - yes I am holding my camera up and trying to take a photo, and no it didn't come out...).

We have gone whale watching before, and which I wrote about last year at this Blog post from watching gray whales in the same area and this post where we went to watch humpback whales in Monterey. Got better pictures both times.

Below are 2 photos from this trip last weekend that did come out. One shows me, and the other shows Sylvia and one of the other folks on the paddle with us.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh, the indignity!

This is not how a fine beverage like Guinness should be treated!