I recently strapped the GoPro Wide camera to my head for a rafting trip down the Poudre (pronounced poo-daredur) in Colorado.
My expectations were high for the 5MP sensor, 170-degree lens, and waterproof casing. In short, I was mostly stoked with the results. After the jump, check out my full review...
The image stabilization is particularly solid. The section of the Poudre we rafted boasted Class II and Class III rapids — not treacherous, but not a bath tub by any means. We faced crashes with other boats (see 00:04 and 00:26) and sometimes jarring waters (at 00:12, my wife's cousin dives back into the boat after we got pitched up against a boulder). But you wouldn't know it from my 30fps footage, which was more or less smoother than Lando Calrissian on a first date.
The waterproof casing is exactly that. Aside from splashes hitting the lens, the cam gets fully submerged at 00:23 (yes my legs are pale; yes I actually am wearing shorts). It's worth noting the cool water temp (high 40s, low 50s F) coupled with the air temp (80sF) resulted in some temporarily foggy footage, but everything warmed back up nicely and returned to normal, maybe 5 minutes later. (note: case is rated to 100 ft.)
Affixing the 4.9-ounce camera to the $15 helmet mount and strapping the whole kit and caboodle to my rafting helmet was a breeze.
I used a 2GB card, which was plenty of space for our 45-60-minute trip. Likewise, the 2 AAA's offered more than enough battery life. However, I didn't want one solid file of continuous footage to edit. So I spent the trip turning the cam off and on at what felt like key points. Not exactly easy when the camera is strapped to your head, but my wife's family (we were at a family reunion) were more than willing to say "no, the light's not on."
More of an issue with the camera that some people won't like is the lack of a display for playback. You have to accept you're flying blind with no way to quickly check what's in the frame, lighting, etc. A little disconcerting the first time you use the camera. Deciding how much to tilt the camera facing down felt like a crap shoot. And even as we went, I felt I was taking it on faith that it was even recording.
The lack of a display wasn't a huge deal, I found, after the fact. The wide lens is the key. When people are close up, you do get a little bit of a fisheye effect, but for stuff happening in the distance or, say, 2-5 feet from you, that lens is quite forgiving. As soon as I downloaded the footage to my laptop that evening, all of my in-laws gathered around and marveled at what we'd captured — especially the family members who weren't on the river with us.
The sound was mostly faint. So much so, I'm not even sure why there is a mic on this camera, to be honest.
In terms of lighting, I shot in some shade, mostly-sunny to overly-sunny conditions. Direct sun did cause a familiar "black spot miracle" (at 00:12). Not a problem and to be expected, but worth pointing out, especially if any of you are convinced it's a UFO or Jesus.
Overall, the camera was easy and fun to use. To my surprise, the notion of a helmet cam also caused a bit of a stir on the trip. None of the raft guides had seen the GoPro, so they had tons of questions. And more than one of the other rafters seemed jealous of our boat.
If you want to kick up your vacation and/or outdoor activities a notch, I highly recommend this camera. The base price is very reasonable, and they've got a range of different mounts, suction cups, arm bands, etc. I didn't experiment with the camera's still-pic mode, which captures single frames every 2- or 5- seconds, but I could definitely see that being a fun way to mix things up.
Lastly, if you're ever in Boulder, Estes Park or Fort Collins, Colorado, I recommend the rafting company we used, Rapid Transit Rafting. Note: We paid full price for all of our tickets — I'm just saying they were fun, safe, etc.
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