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GoPro Helmet Hero Wide - Freeride and downhill biking

Review by Lee Lau (lau@shawcable for comments or please comment here on the article). Other product reviews are here


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**PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE REVIEWS THE "WIDE" GoPro. This is a very different, and much improved unit, then the GoPro "Standard" - which was the non-wide angle camera.

Purpose of this Article**

I am new to videos, only having started shooting and editing videos this year. I have no aspirations to produce professional quality videos - my efforts are limited to short snippets uploaded to the web via Vimeo. During the ski season I became interested in point-of-view (POV) videos after having seen some fine efforts from a friend who, among other things, skied off the iconic Vancouver mountain landmarks known as the Lions. Up till my recent interest in POV videos, I had been shooting videos with a Canon G10, then with a Panasonic Lumix FX-35. I started researching POV cameras. I wanted something simple, that could be operated without many controls, without wires and that was robust. Because I didn't know whether my interest in videos (or specifically POV videos) would be enduring or fleeting, I didn't want to invest a lot of money in a system.

Ultimately I settled on a GoPro Helmet Hero Wide, in large part due to a breathtakingly thorough review by Brian Mullins at MTBR.com (other very thorough articles and reviews are listed below). When I started using the GoPro I realized that it was a very customizable system that invited lots of tinkering with different customized mounts and setups. I looked for help in setup and tinkering and didn't find much information. Although there are many reviews of the GoPro many are either superficially banal with a paucity of information about setup and/or real-life use or are targeted at other sports or activities. Many of the biking oriented reviews are geared to tips for cross-country flat trails (the camera orientation of the GoPro is crucial to taking decent video).

The purpose of this article therefor is not to duplicate the technical information available on the GoPro site or to discuss how to operate this wonderful little camera. There are already resources on the web discussing these topics and I point to that further in the article. The purpose is to point out some quirks of the GoPro Hero Wide camera and to detail some personal setups that I found worked for steep trails

Other noteworthy reviews

At the outset, after digging through the chaff of the Internet, these are useful GoPro-related articles as of this date. The articles cited below supplement this review



Author in Lilloett trails filming with the GoPro using a reverse Chesty mount ~ photo Tyler Wilkes



Overview & stream of consciousness comments

1. Form factor and portability

As previously stated the GoPro is small. It's also light. If you wear it on your head or on a helmet you'll notice it for a bit of time but you will get used to it quickly. You'll soon learn to duck under branches. Even if you do hit branches or fall on your head (I did this skiing not biking), that waterproof case is tough and you'd be hard-pressed to break the camera.

The GoPro comes with several kits with different mounts and straps you can use to customize the way in which you wear the camera and thus, shoot video. I found that the Helmet Hero kit (quoted price USD 190) was useful for biking. I also wanted the Chest Mount harness (quoted price USD $ 40) as I wanted to use the camera for skiing and for windsurfing and surf-kayaking and would be moving the camera around between different pieces of sporting equipment, helmets and other miscellany. The GoPro has several mounts which you can stick on various surfaces (eg a bike suspension fork, ski topsheets, the tip of a surfboard, the mast of a windsurfer) but, anticipating that I would want to be able to move mounts around, I hoped that the Chesty would give me the most flexiblity. This turned out to be correct and the Chesty is a must-have, not only for biking but for other sports (more on its uses later).


GoPro camera body; the "standard" mount which comes with the "Helmet" kit; the "chesty" mount which comes with the Chesty kit; and the waterproof to 100 ft housing which comes with all cameras


2. Useability

You can operate the GoPro with light gloves. Heavy gloves (like the kind you wear skiing or riding in winter) won't work. There are only two buttons to push - one button turns it on and off. The other button starts and stops recording. There's a blinking red LED which tells you whether or not the camera is on. A LCD screen displays some information. It really couldn't get any simpler. Simple is good.

You don't have a display to show recording output, or lasers to indicate where the camera is pointed. Undoubtedly all that would add weight and cost. As I said, simple is good.

 

3. Manual

The manual could use some work. It does the job in explaining basic operation of the camera but does miss some important points. Some of these points and/or troubleshooting tips are on the GoPro site itself. I've identified some basic operator errors of which you should be aware in the next entry. To be clear, these are just mistakes I made after reading the manual carefully. This does mean that these are my fault. They also do mean that, in my opinion these are mistakes you, the gentle reader, could also easily make.

Possible issues and fixes

As I said earlier, first read the manual then read the Troubleshooting tips and FAQ if you have issues. Here are undocumented issues I encountered

3.1 Insert USB card so it is flush with the camera body

The GoPro Wide uses a SD card as a recording device. I inserted the SD card so it was sticking out of the camera. It takes a bit more pressure to insert the card so it's flush with the camera. Not wanting to break anything delicate, I didn't insert the card far enough. A long fingernail or a blunt object will do the trick. Getting the SD card out is the process in reverse - ie pressure the card so it clicks and comes out. Here is the email in this regard from the very attentive, patient and responsive GoPro support:

Is the camera powering off when inserted in the case? Are you unable to power it back on when in the case?

If so, it could be that you are not inserting the SD card in far enough for it to properly lock into place. You really need to use your fingernail to push the card in past flush until you hear a clicking sound. Here is a quick instructional on correct insertion and removal of the card:

You want to look at the camera with the lens facing up and 'HERO' logo on the bottom right...

Insert the memory card with the metal contacts going into the slot first and facing up at you. In other words the SD card label should be upside down when you insert it this way. You need to push the card in past flush to have the spring mechanism lock the card into place.

To get the card out of the slot, push the card in past flush and then the spring mechanism will release it. You will hear a click when the card locks into place or is released from the slot.

 

3.2 Delete all files and format card

As a closet computer nerd, I'm embarrassed that I made this mistake but I've found that others have done the same thing so it's time to confess. After you delete files off the SD Card either make sure the trash bin on your desktop is dumped or that you format the card. Mac and Linux fans I know you are the elite so you are on your own. Excrutiatingly patient mail from GoPro reproduced below:

It sounds like you don't have all of the memory available on the card which is why recording is being stopped.

Sometimes mystery data can be taking up space on the SD cards while still registering 0 files, so please check under properties (PC) or disk utilities (mac) to see how much memory is available. If there is not enough available memory, you will need to reformat the card in order to free up the space.

If you are using a Mac to download and delete files, make sure you delete the files from the memory card AND the trash can before you disconnect the camera from the computer. If you do not do a complete delete, then the card will show ‘0' files but the space will not actually be cleared. Again, you will need to reformat the card if it was not fully cleared.

3.3 Hard reboot of camera

Sometimes, the GoPro won't turn off and stop recording even though you have lots of memory. I don't know why. It's an electronics device and I'm not about to disassemble it and find out. The fix is easy; just take it out of the casing and pop out the batteries. Then put the batteries back in and turn it on. Voila.


Optional Seatpost/Handlebar/Stem mount ($20 USD). This can also be mounted on the stem. Bigger diameter tubes on bikes means that the 35mm bolts supplied aren't long enough. I found that longer 50mm bolts did the trick - ask for metric - replacements at a hardware store in size M5 x 8 x 50. The longer and shorter OE bolts are pictured above


4. Markings

Despite its ease of use there is a learning curve with the GoPro and hopefully this article will reduce the time of that curve. The issue is that it's not possible to check video results without downloading results back to a computer and viewing same. Since most of us don't pack a mobile video viewing device on our bike rides this might mean that you have unuseable video of the sky, or someone's back tire but no face or of one's own crotch. It takes some time to figure out how to orient the GoPro. Once you figure that out you have to remember the orientation. There are no markings on the various GoPro mounts. You could score the mount with a knife but putting in markings would be a simple fix.

5. Battery life

In summer temperatures using NiMH batteries charged on a TENERGY smart charger I got 2.2 - 2.5 hours of battery runtime out of the camera. Battery life wasn't as good when temperatures are cold and some reviewers who provided data on a MTBR thread with some real-life examples of battery life discussion related battery lives of 10 minutes in 20 degree F temps. As another data point, other people in that same thread agreed on the 2 hours or greater battery life with some confirming that the GoPro recommendation of (relatively pricy) Lithium Ion batteries for even longer life had merit.

One other user of the GoPro has been able to use the camera for 30 minutes (could possibly have been longer but he turned it off) in 20 degree F temperatures by placing a hand-warming packet to the underside of the housing. See picture below.



Hand-warmer attached to GoPro housing for cold weather use ~ photo "Cytoe"


6. Storage

As previously stated the GoPro uses SD cards to store data. While GoPro recommends using a 2GB card, they are to be shortly (I don't know the date yet) releasing a firmware upgrade that will allow one to use a 4GB SDHC card and later a 8GB card. I've received and used the firmware and it works fine for 4GB and even 8GB cards. With the price of cards dropping all the time you might as well buy and use a 8GB card and stay ahead of the curve. A 2GB card will store about 54 minutes of video - double that for a 4B card and double that again for a 8 GB card.

 

7. Video quality

Turning now to possibly the most important quality of the GoPro, its video output is good. Video quality itself is acceptable. In particular, the GoPro's output suffers in low light (despite the f2.8 lens), and in mixed light and shadow where the video output's white balance tends to be blown out. Video itself tends to be quite pixelated especially so in low or mixed light situations. "Video is recorded at 512x384 at 30 frames per second" per specifications; expect TV output to be mediocre. However, video quality uploaded to the web to be shared remotely is more then adequate for my (admittedly moderate) standards.

The wide angle reduces the jitteriness sometimes associated with narrow angle field of view POV cameras. It would be nice to have image stabilization but jitteriness can also be reduced by simply getting used to consciously holding one's head (or chest) still while following a rider. Having said that, on rough or rooty technical trails it's going to be difficult to get a smooth video stream. Also a rider must be really close to you and even then they'll look like they're pretty far away - such are the attributes of a fisheye lens

Video below is an example of the GoPro's quality in mixed light. Both angles were with the Chesty mount. It was rendered in Quicktime at 640x480 @ 25 frames per second. Video size is approx 30mb for 3:01 length

Big Timber near Whistler Creekside speed run from Lee Lau on Vimeo.

 

Video below was encoded using the same settings but is mostly in brighter sunlight or under canopy without as much mixed sun and shade. Image quality is better. Video size is approx 43 mb at 4:12 length

Review of the 2009 Norco Fluid Two from Lee Lau on Vimeo.

 


 

8. Sound modification

Sound quality, or the lack thereof, is the achilles heel of the GoPro. There are two settings LO and HI. Even with the rubber gasket removed and a hole drilled in the housing, voices still end up sounding like Donald Duck and sounds are muted. That's the downside of a bombproof, well-sealed tight, camera-protective housing. Here is the advice from GoPro about how to drill out the housing from the MTBR Videos forum (I confirmed that GoPro endorses this mod). Picture below illustrates further.

On the LO setting you get nothing, and on the HI setting not much more inside the case.
My first step was to complain to the GoPro manufacturers who were very helpful. They first told me to try with the seal off which I did. This worked reasonably well on HI (still not much on LO) but gave a lot of wind noise and the volume was still quite low.

I posted my videos on YouTube and got the manufacturers to watch. The next thing they told me was that, as long as I'm not ever wanting to submerge, I could drill out the case with a small drill. But they told me specifically where to do this. It is in the back, top left where there is a circle moulded into the plastic case. This position is they say the best due to the location of the mic and the integrity of the case.

This worked much better, on HI (still no good on LO) but the recording sounded like the end of a tunnel. Next step I enlarged the hole to about an eighth of an inch. This was the best result yet. However, when the camera is turned so that the hole is not shielded from the wind, you get bad wind noise that overloads the camera electronics and sounds like really loud static. Next I tried some foam inside by the hole. Not much better but a slight improvement with the static. I reckon this is the best I'm going to get.

The next logical step is to make the hole bigger - say a quarter inch, and use the LO setting, but I haven't done that yet. (You can always tape up the hole if the sound gets too loud I figure, but these steps are not reversible )

Whatever you do, DON'T try to drill out a hole above the mic. As this is on the top, I guarantee you will get horrendous wind noise (if you ride fast) which will overload the electronics causing very bad static noise.



Seatpost mount and the location of the drilled hole


9. Recommended video editing tips

Finally, at the undoubted risk of exposing my ignorance and displaying my biases, I'll say a few words about videos. Here are some tips:

 


 

Most useful mounts

1. Chesty

I found the Chest Mount to be the most useful. It can be worn conventionally or worn in reverse. Either way it's a tough one to get right. Most first efforts are (in my opinion) aimed too low or move around too much. Personally I like this angle because it shows the front tire (unlike the stem or handlebard mount). I also like seeing the rider's arm movements and properly positioned you can see the rider's efforts on technical sections. Here are some tips on how to use the Chest Mount.

Tips when worn on the chest



Chesty. I taped some blue foamie under the plastic chest plate to help angle the camera so it tilted up a bit more


I wondered whether it would be possible to garage - engineer a chest mount out of webbing. It'd be difficult to do so as you would have to duplicate the camera chest plate mount pictured

Tips when using the reverse chesty.

This will only work on low profile packs. Packs with protruding bulges don't do very well with this mount as the camera will sit awry.

All you have to do is flip the Chesty over and wear it so the camera is pointing backwards. Since I'm almost always using a pack when free-riding or downhilling, I put the Chesty over the pack. I've found that the pack actually seems to absorb some vibration and impact so that the footage is relatively smooth. The fisheye wide-angle also amplifies the feeling of speed.

 



xx

Author in action on a 25 minute downhill trail using the GoPro on the Chesty mount worn reversed and over a pack ~ photo Tyler Wilkes

2. Helmet

Nothing screams "tourist" like wearing the GoPro on your head. Fashion observations aside, there's not much to say about this handy mount. It works best on XC style helmets or helmets with lots of vents as it has straps to attach to the bucket. For DH and Free ride trails you'll want the angle of the camera on the head to be essentiall the same as the reverse Chesty ie inclined about 5 to 10 degrees from perpendicular towards the back of your head. If you leave it perpendicular, you'll get entirely too much footage of your front tire.

I have tried using the helmet mount in reverse without much success. Footage was mostly of my pack. It would work if I wasn't riding with a pack but I have yet to experiment with that.



Helmet mount showing the plastic mount which snaps into place so you easily remove the GoPro


Helmet mount attached to a helmet

3. Seatpost (also stem)

I didn't find the seatpost mount to be overly useful. In freeride and downhill applications where the rider is constantly sliding backwards and the seatpost is usually dropped it produced entirely too many engaging crotch pictures. However, it would be useful in flatter trails and certainly on climbs.

I experimented with a few stem and handlebar videos. I didn't like the footage all that much and felt that it was isolated from the rider.

I did try a bit of an experiment where I mounted the GoPro on a stem and flipped the camera so it caught the rider's expressions and movements as they went down the trail. It's good for a few shots here and there but I personally wouldn't want more then a few snippets of video with this perspective.




Seatpost mount - this was erroneously mounted on the downtube too close to the rear linkage which resulted in my breaking the mount


Rider - facing stem mount - Flip it over if you want the camera facing forwards

4. Reverse Headband

The GoPro comes with this rather fetching headband. I couldn't see much use for it in biking but will use it for skiing. However, I got an idea for use from "tep" at mtbr who said " ...the helmet I use is a Bell X-Ray, which is kind of flat on the back part of the helmet where the rear vents are, so I used the "headlamp" stlye head strap that came with the camera and had it facing backwards. I don't know if this would work with all helmets, but on mine it sits at just the right angle, and is really quite stable. I also like that it doesn't look "down" onto the person behind me, but more on the same plane as the rider."

Tep's video indeed does show that this works and works quite well. I've experimented with various mounting positions and have concluded that the best way to have this mounted would be for the strap to be under the visor (or the helmet brim if you don't have a visor) and the camera perched on the rear of the helmet. The camera angle won't work if you have a pack but if you're riding without a pack then this would be a very good way to use the headband other then dress up on Look Like A60's Hippy day.



GoPro Headband which comes with all GoPros


Reverse mounted on a helmet


 

Other useful mounting positions

GoPro itself has recognized that hobbyists and tinkerers will want to figure out different ways of mounting the camera on a bike. There's quite an active MTBR forum (Videos) which has an active active t hread - where users discuss various video camera options. GoPro discussions are plentiful. Here are two customized mounts which I found to be particularly useful for freeride/downhill applications. Keep checking in on this thread to see other ideas.

Anthonyi modified the mounting plate supplied with the headband and came up with a secure attachment which can mount to any backpack. Clearly this has real utility for bikers who use packs or for any sports where a pack is used. the key will be to ensure that the pack does not move.

Per anthony "I actually had to modify my first mount to the Camelbak a bit. I now use 2 medium wire-ties, and 2 small ties, attached directly to the main Camelbak strap, and looped through each side slot. I have one strap around the top, and one around the bottom.

The tips I can think of are:
1. Don't place the wire-ties between the camera and the mount, as the camera needs to be as close to the bracket as possible. Ties need to go behind the bracket, and around the strap.
2. The camera needs to be placed high on your chest, or it will point down too much (like my video). Of course you can also flip the camera upside down if your camera points down too much, but I think it may bounce more.
"



Packstrap mount by "anthonyi" ~ photo Anthonyi


For those who do not want the added expense of the "Chesty" mount - "bri" modified the headband mount by adding webbing and/or velcro so that one can wear it around the chest. I can see possibilities for adding additional webbing or elastic to add vertical straps so this mount will be even more secured for those fast bumpy trails



Custom chesty by "bri" ~ photo Bri

Bryguy came up with a mount that has a real cool look and feel for full-face helmets - in his own words: "it's pretty simple though. Just take the over-the-top part of the headband mount off, and strap it around the helmet. I put a piece of old tube behind the plate to keep it from sliding, and added the angle bracket for a bit more adjustment range.

It bounces around a little, but it still quite stable considering. You can also flip it around without changing the mount to get a face-shot (like in my video).". Here's his video



Full - face mount by BryGuy17 ~ photo BryGuy



GoPro Good

 

GoPro Bad

 

The Bottom Line:

If you want a POV camera that won't break the bank, that takes video that you can share with people on the web, that is simple yet tough - then get the GoPro. Soon you'll be joining the legions of people annoying their friends and family with home movies. If you want high- quality video with any kind of sound then this is not the camera for you.

The GoPro is intended to fit the budget POV niche and does so very well and has remarkable value for dollar.



Modifications of the Chest Mount so it can accept a tripod mount


Front

Rear with split straps and D-ring

Buckle on rear for adjustment

Side mod of headband strap


Home made chest mount from headband moun

 

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