Review: GoPro HD HERO2

Cameras Pro Reviews

Test image courtesy of Ralph Altmann

After using the camera, you become spoiled by the 11MP sensor and sharper lens, and in comparison to all other manufacturers, the footage has better clarity, colors and sharpness. Suddenly, the competitors seem antiquated, and the word that comes to mind is vividness. It’s like cleaning the dirty windshield of your car, and everything just pops out in a razor like contrast. Sometimes when bumping up the pixel count into an extremely small sensor, the increased pixels per inch (PPI) or pixel density can cause noise and loss of detail issues, and the sharpness drops off, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the HERO2. The sensor is also much better at lower light conditions than its predecessor and the competition, although the camera still has no features to change the internal lightning settings, for more extreme low-light conditions. It did well in bright light conditions, and never seemed to wash out, keeping a nice uniform contrast level. Like many of the CMOS sensors, straight-on sun will cause some vertical colored bands and flares. Pixelation was great, with a mild amount of aliasing, and some slight edge artifacts. The framing was smooth, but heavy shocks, and vibrations caused distortion. Although the colors were pleasant, they were sometimes overly warm, and the reds and yellows were especially more vibrant than real.

The improved 11MP sensor and lens also gives some really nice photos, and I started to use the photo features more often. You can switch the photo mode to the lower 8MP and 5MP settings, which do have different FOV’s (8 is 127º, 5 is 170º or 127º) , but you miss out on the stunning pictures at the highest setting.

The 1080p video footage had less jellovision and shakiness than earlier models, but I still don’t like its results when recording in average mountain biking conditions and terrain, even when wearing a sturdier helmet. The new 127º and 90º FOV options for the 1080p offers decreased fisheye and side distortions(default is 170º), but it seems to drop some clarity. When it was static or mounted as solid as possible it offered excellent FOV and clarity, but that just wasn’t feasible for average riding.

Rattlesnake Trail – GoPro HERO2 1080p

My favorite setting was the full frame 960p 48 fps resolution, as the tall viewpoint captures more of the trail, and the addition of the 48 fps really gives it a smoother look, with fewer transitions and choppiness. My secondary pick is the widescreen 720p at 60fps, which depending on the terrain and trail, offers more peripheral visibility and a panoramic field of view. I did most of my testing with 720p 60fps since it was the easiest resolution to use to test against the competition, such as the Drift HD, Replay XD, Contour+. The camera didn’t seem to do quite as well as it’s predecessor in mixed light, where the unit was going in and out of bright light to shade, although it was more than adequate, but had too much wash outs.

Blackjack Trail – GoPro HERO2 960p 48fps: Mixed Light Test

When I used the camera in the low light of late afternoon and evening, it really captured the nuances of the terrain, without any dark dropouts. This characteristic was a real highlight for me, as I ride lots of heavily wooded trails and during near dusk conditions, and dislikes coming home and finding that I captured poor footage. Once it starts to get much darker out, the lack of adjustability for lighting conditions can cause issues, since there aren’t any capabilities to change the contrast or exposure settings, but I rarely shoot in those conditions, so it was a minor issue.

Hooters Canyon – GoPro HERO2 960p 48fps: Low Light Test

Broken Hip Trail – HERO2 960p 48fps: Different vantage points

I liked the handlebars or the helmet mounts myself, which worked the best for my riding style, and also gathered footage that I preferred. With the vast assortment of mounts, you can come up with some unique footage and viewing angles, and perspectives, which make for more pleasurable and interesting videos (meaning less boring). The Chesty harness certainly adds flavor to footage, and I did use it on occasion for variety. I have become quite lazy after countless hours of recording video footage, and I’m not as industrious and inquisitive as I once was in taking and getting unique and varying perspectives. Consider my default helmet approach as plain Jane, lacking ingenuity, but at least conveying the camera’s capabilities and the trails that I am riding technicality and beauty.

I loved the loud new beeps, as it really makes it easy in typical outdoor conditions (noisy) to hear what the camera is doing. Along with the louder beeps, the additional recording LEDs greatly benefits the form factor of the camera, making it much easier to know its status. I am looking forward to having the Wi-Fi BacPak, since the current system to check what you’re capturing is a pain (using the LCD or aiming the housing), and problematic, especially when using a helmet mount. In addition, it will allow camera configurations changes to be accomplished using a smart phone, instead of the camera menu. The menu system is much improved, but it is still convoluted and much too linear for quick changes, especially to switch resolutions, but at least the main mode screens offer excellent information, so you know the exact resolution, FOV, battery and SD card resources. The battery warmer on the unit was an extremely useful feature, as it kept the battery from prematurely fading on cold days, and I greatly appreciated it this winter when it didn’t die on me during the middle of a long ride.

I still found myself accidentally taking photos instead of videos sometimes, as the camera would roll over to that mode. It would happen when I either left the menu system after making changes, or when I turned the camera on and the buttons caused things to get out of sequence, and was quite annoying.

Using the HDMI connection, you can stream live or record video to a display (TV) or external capture device. It was nice to be able to watch previously recorded footage on a big-screen TV, seeing things with exceptional clarity, spaciousness and sharpness.

About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on the trail.

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  • Francis says:

    I’ve been using the Hero 2 a lot lately. I think it’s the best in the POV category cause the quality is awesome and the selection of mounts is second to none. But it’s not perfect. Here’s my pros and cons.

    - impeccable video quality
    - ruggedness, durability and versatility of mounts
    - chest mount design is worth noting

    - way too expensive
    - no screen and have no idea where it’s aimed
    - user interface is still bad. It took me 10 rides to be confident that it’s turned on.
    - battery life is so short. it seems battery life is wasted as it is always heating itself
    - construction and button feel is very far below regular ‘camera’ or ‘phone’ quality.

  • Donny says:

    Excellent write-up and videos!

  • russ says:

    Thanks for the review! Is it best for the battery to be topped of with a charge after each use even if it won’t be used again for more than a week?

    • Brian Mullin says:

      Russ: It depends on how long you go between periods of usage. If it ends up being a couple of weeks, then top it off, otherwise it should be fine. And as I mentioned, get a spare battery and carry it with you!

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