Review: River Rafting w/the GoPro HERO

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…

Music:

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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10 Responses to Review: River Rafting w/the GoPro HERO

  1. gastronaut says:

    I’ve been looking for a waterproof cam to take kayaking and rafting, but unfortunately very few of the options I’ve looked at were adequately durable. I just ebayed an underwater housing for my point & shoot that I decided wouldn’t cut it because it lacked a lens port cap and an on/off button shield. In silty water, a lens port cap is critical- otherwise the lens port will just get scratched up when you wipe the water off of it.
    This one looks like decent bang for the buck, especially since it appears you can use it as a point & shoot when it’s in the housing. However, I can tell you right now that the high-profile helmet mount would not survive one kayak roll in the low & bony water you’re running.
    It would be a similar problem with snowboarding and mountain biking- I’m great at not hitting my head on tree limbs, but any dorky gadgets glued to the top of my head will be on their own.

  2. Ashlea says:

    The correct pronunciation is POO-DER… and technically the name is Cache la Poudre River, although most people do just call it the Poudre. Interesting note: the name was given by French trappers and translates to something like “hidden powder” because they had to bury their gunpowder so it wouldn’t be rendered useless by snow.

    Sorry, I just had to point out because I’m from Fort Collins and spend a lot of my summer in that canyon. :)

  3. tallpat says:

    Somewhat off-topic, but were those Chaco Sandals I saw underwater there? By far the best pair of sandals I’ve ever owned for sure. Mine have lasted a full 10 years now, and this includes many, many hikes/camping trips/river explorations…

  4. Steven Leckart says:

    @Tallpat:

    Yep, good eye. This was the first time I wore my Chacos in ~9 years; the last being the summer I camped and hiked Kauai.

  5. Steven Leckart says:

    @rickmccl:

    To my knowledge the mic was on the standard setting. Will double check and report back, if not.

  6. Hans says:

    I’ve got two of these camera so I can film two angles at once. I use them mostly for cycling. The case is fairly solid and has withstood some solid wacks on tree limbs. The resolution is fine for online posts or downloads to the iPhone. But at 512×384 it’s rather lacking for full screen or projected playback.

    Here’s a clip I captured on one of my rides. Well, not a real action shot except by the snake:

    http://www.hanskellner.com/archives/2009/06/02/marin_gopher_snake_video.html

    Also, keep an eye out for the HD version of the camera which is rumored to be out soon.

  7. tallpat says:

    Awesome! Back to the topic on hand. I have been considering buying a(nother) video cam for my snowboarding adventures. I have one of the original Flip cams, but every video I’ve taken with it causes nausea upon playback. The images are just too jumpy. For the price, it seems this would be an ideal replacement. I wonder how well this cam works in the consistently cloudy Pacific Northwest… Would it be able to differentiate between the grey sky and the white snow? All of the videos on the GoPro site appear to have be taken on brightly lit bluebird days. Of course, this might be a moot point, as sometimes even I have difficulty with the snow/sky contrast when I’m seeing things “live”.

  8. Chris H says:

    @Gastronaut
    I’ve had decent results with an Ixus 55 chest mounted kayaking class 3,
    though they do suffer from recoding for youtube (it shoots MJPEG).
    http://www.youtube.com/ChrisHodgesUK You’re right about the risk of scratching
    the lens window, but I’ve found wiping the lens to be a bad idea anyway,
    as splashes are less intrusive than smears on the video. The screen and
    ability to shoot reasonable stills of someone playing give it an edge
    over helmet cams, and it’s well protected.

  9. Rickmccl says:

    I was intrigued, and followed on to research at the manufacturer. They say the sound recording level has two settings, one is much lower and intended for motorsports environments. Could this have affected your footage?

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