By RYAN DIONNE
Pack a tiny digital-video camera in a watertight polycarbonate case, add mounts for helmets, bike handlebars, or a Velcro bracelet for your wrist, and you have the GoPro, a sports-oriented camera series from Woodman Labs in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The company’s latest model, the GoPro Helmet HERO Wide, is a 4.9-ounce camera that shoots video as well as 5-megapixel still photos. Its namesake 170-degree wide-angle lens captures video in a dramatic athlete’s-eye view of any action scene.
Still photography features include a three-frame burst mode; a mode that shoots a photo continuously every two or five seconds; and a self-timer for setting up solo shots.
The palm-size camera costs $189.99 at www.goprocamera.com. Add a 2-gigabyte SD card and you can capture hundreds of photos or up to 56 minutes of video at the standard 30 frames per second with sound.
In my tests over two months hiking, biking, and skiing with the camera, its performance was impressive overall. It is easy to use, and the resulting video — in the .avi format — uploads seamlessly for posting online. For the most part, the quality of the video is more than adequate for viewing on a computer screen or a TV.
Like other cameras from the company, the GoPro Helmet HERO Wide is waterproof to 100 feet. The polycarbonate case doubles as protection, keeping the tiny digital-video camera safe from bumps while you ski, surf, bike, or participate in any type of adventure sport.
An array of mounting options lets you hook the camera to your head, on bike handlebars, or to the bow of a kayak. The camera attaches to vented bike helmets via an included strap, or it comes with a handful of adhesive mounts for mating it to almost any type of helmet. Another option is to use the headlamp-style headband for a forehead mount position.
GoPro sells a variety of other mounts — from the aforementioned bike handlebar hookup to chest mounts to suction cups — which cost $20 to $40, depending on the kit.
Overall, I was happy with this camera. But while shooting stills and video on a test during a mountain bike ride in Arizona, I noted auto-exposure and auto-white-balance issues. With my back to the sun, the GoPro’s auto adjustments couldn’t keep up with the washed-out scene. It took a couple seconds to readjust in order to optimally capture the footage. But after it did, the footage was fine — at least until the next lighting change.
Another gripe: the camera’s alert beeps are too quiet. You can’t hear it beep when you’re riding, making it difficult to know when your storage card is full. I never heard the beeps while mountain biking, causing me to miss some footage.
Despite a few issues, the GoPro Helmet HERO Wide — which is one of the smallest, lightest models on the market — will impress in most situations. Unlike other video cameras I’ve tested, the footage isn’t choppy when viewed on a computer.
At 5 megapixels, the GoPro’s photos are high quality. A neat bonus trick: You can have the camera shoot a still every two or five seconds when you’re performing a task like setting up your tent. With some software to put it together, the result is a stop-animation video with hundreds of photos linked in a unique presentation onscreen.
The bottom line: This camera will do the job capturing great videos for YouTube or other venues where you want to share your action footage with the rest of the world.
—Contributor Ryan Dionne is based in Boulder, Colo. He writes a blog on the outdoors and gear at http://explore-it.blog.com