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GoPro Hero 2 Lightning Review: Best Sports Cam Ever?

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We loved our GoPro HD Hero. It was simply the sweetest wearable action camera we'd seen... until now. The brand spankin' new Hero 2 isn't dramatically different, they just made everything a lot better. I may never take it off.


Video shot with the HD Hero looked good. This looks way better. They put a fancy new sensor in there and it really delivers. Colors were way more vibrant and realistic, details were sharper, and brightness and contrast are much more balanced. The older Hero had a tendency to be washed out and blown out; that doesn't happen anymore (see first water shots in the video). You can also now get a full 170 degree field of view while shooting 1080p, and it has more options for frame-rates and sizes. It can shoot stills at 11 megapixels vs 5 megapixels on the Hero 1, and it can process images much faster, meaning you can take a time-lapse with one shot every half-second, or you can shoot 10-shot-per-second bursts.


The Hero's UI has been refined, making it much easier to set up. It's actual words on the little screen now, not incomprehensible abbreviations. There are now 4 LEDs that blink while you're recording, so you know you're rolling no matter which way it's facing. The Hero 2 has added a mini HDMI out and some built-in Wi-Fi awesomeness. GoPro's upcoming Wi-Fi BacPac will allow for remote control and realtime streaming from the Hero 2, which is pretty sweet. Lastly, the Hero 2 is the exact same size/shape/configuration as the Hero 1, meaning all of your Hero 1 accessories will fit just fine, including the LCD BacPac which allows you to line up your shots and play them back. And yes, it still comes with its housing that makes it waterproof to 180 feet.

No Like

The Hero 2 performs poorly in nighttime settings, as you can see in the night-biking shots at the end of the comparison video. Yes, it makes the images brighter than the Contour ROAM it was next to, but it brings in a ton of noise and graininess to do it. Also, while the UI is extremely improved over its last iteration, that's not saying a ton. Navigating through the settings is still a slow, unwieldy process. Also, the buttons can be stiff, which sometimes makes turning it on/off tougher.


Oww my ears! At the default setting the Hero 2 is super loud. I had to turn it down 4-7db in the video because it was peaking like crazy. There's a setting for wind-reduction which I haven't messed with yet, but it seems to me that the default should have a bit less gain. Also, while it's great that there's a mounting system for virtually every application you can think of, it's worth noting that setting these up is not always easy and intuitive. To mount it to my handle bars I would have had to put a strange 90-degree extender on it that would have made it extremely unstable. Instead I opted to hang it upside down from a bar-end, which wasn't ideal.


Should I Buy It?

Bottom line: this thing is killer. While I still want to do some more testing to be sure, if I had to pick one from all the sports cams currently on the market, I'd grab this one. The images it takes are great. It's not just HD-sized, it actually looks HD. I like the Contour ROAM a lot, but the Hero 2 has more options and the image quality simply wins. I really didn't like how the Hero 2 looked on my night-ride, but you're more likely to using it during daylight hours, anyway. I expect to see a lot these nestled under "Holiday Flora" come December (how's that for non-denominational?). You can get the Surf Edition, Outdoor Edition, or Motorsports Edition, all of which are available now for $299. [GoPro]


Notes on the Comparison Video:
-There are great waves and great surfers in Hawaii, and there are great trails and great mountain bikers in Colorado. I'm a blogger and I live in Brooklyn. Working with what I've got here.
-This video is compressed somewhat, but if you watch it at 1080p it'll give you a pretty good idea of how they compare.
-In the biking shots with the ROAM you'll notice that the vibration makes the screen look almost liquid, where as the Heroes managed it pretty well. It's possible that this is because of the way the ROAM was mounted (a special rubber strap), or maybe the Heros just absorb shock better.
-I haven't yet received my surf kit for the ROAM so I had to leave it out of the water test.
-The night shots were filmed on two separate nights. The ROAM had the disadvantage of it being slightly rainy, but for my money it still looks better. The Hero 2 may be brighter, but the image looks terrible.

UPDATE: If you want to see what the Hero 2 is really capable of, here is GoPro's official promo video. Not surprisingly, it is much, much cooler than mine.

You can keep up with Brent Rose, the author of this post, on Google+ or Twitter.