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Digital HERO 3 camera review

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A camera is a requisite piece of equipment for me on any outdoor adventure. But my main shooter, a big Canon digital SLR, while good at soaking in scenes, is a huge pain to haul down the trail.

A new product, the Digital HERO 3 from GoPro (www.goprocamera.com), was created to take the hassle out of capturing Kodak moments in times of high action.

Essentially a large wristwatch-type device, the $139.99 camera straps on via a neoprene-and-Velcro bracelet, ready to flip up and shoot from the hip, er, wrist, at all times.

It’s housed in a waterproof case that’s good to 100 feet under the sea. The polycarbonate housing doubles as an impact-resistant protector of the teeny digital camera inside.

Digital HERO 3 from GoPro

Photographically, the GoPro Digital HERO 3 captures 3-megapixel images that print out clean. Blow them up to 5 × 8-inch photos or bigger and you’re still fine most of the time.

The little camera — which measures about 1.25 × 1.75 × 2.6 inches — shoots video at VGA resolution and with audio, making the footage instantly ready for YouTube and other computer applications. Or, it views fine on a regular TV.

In my tests, photos and video came out surprisingly clean and clear. I’m used to a professional-strength SLR camera, so initially the GoPro seemed like a toy.

But after a surfing session earlier this month, I became more of an ardent believer in GoPro’s concept. The camera is always there, ready to shoot, and with just two buttons — one for power and mode, one for the shutter — it’s easy to use even in times of great physical output.

The theory is: Hook this camera to your wrist and go surfing, or B.A.S.E. jumping, or skiing, or whatever, and the little shooter is ready to fire off and capture the moment, no fuss of having to dig a camera out of your pack or pocket, and no worries about damaging the unit, as it’s in a strong, waterproof case.

The Digital HERO 3 comes with 16 megabytes of onboard memory, which is enough for just 40 photos or 20 seconds of video. It accepts SD Flash cards, however, letting you up the storage to 2 gigabytes, which equals more than 2,500 photos saved or up to 54 minutes of continuous video.

To be sure, I sacrifice image quality when I leave my Canon camera behind in favor of the GoPro. But GoPro’s images are not bad. They’re good, in fact, totally fine and pretty enough for email, web posting, or printing out for an album.

Plus there’s the video option.

Finally — and this is a clincher — I get shots with the GoPro that cannot feasibly be obtained with a regular camera. I’ve used the GoPro kayaking. I can ski off a cliff and record video or (maybe) snap a shot in mid air. That kind of crazy thing. Indeed, all those things I’ve really always wanted to capture, but never before could.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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