The GoPro HD Hero might have been superseded by an even more sophisticated sibling but remains a superb multi sports camera. It's great for capturing a favourite ride, touring in exotic locations or more serious campaigning or documentary work thanks to high spec and superb build quality.
Opening the box, there are several instruction booklets, USB, AV connectors and various mount adaptors - I stuck with the standard elasticated neoprene head mount, since it latches on to road, mountain bike and even skate lids.
Styling is decidedly Fisher Price, but build and handling more than compensate for this. Encased within the high quality plastic, we have a single, wide-angle f/2.8 fixed focus lens.
A small LCD screen allows configurations to be adjusted in situ. These include still/movie, resolution quality, while logging the number of files recorded to SD card, battery level etc. Toggling the power button beneath the display changes this while depressing the top-mount shutter locks the choice.
There's a quick reference resolution chart printed on the case to help you pick the right camera setting, but it'll take you a while to remember what all the different setting options mean and while you're learning it's useful to have a print-out of them for reference.
Even with the camera switched off, I noted a difference in the way drivers behaved around me, most giving a little more passing room or right of way. Since it's only mountable via its waterproof case (you can use it handheld without) you don't have to worry about the weather either, like you would with a smaller non-sealed camera. People use these cameras for surfing videos; a bit of rain on the commute isn't going to faze it.
Thoughtfully there's an audible bleep when the card is full to capacity or its lithium-ion battery is out of juice. GoPro quote a two and a half hour life from a full charge, which proved to be just about spot on. After that it'll need to feed from a USB port/mains adapter. A 16GB memory card gives just over two hours of footage, so a 32GB one would be a sound investment for regular reportage work.
The image quality is remarkably high, even in 5 megapixel still photography mode. Despite some very obvious barrel distortion, I used the test camera in one-touch, 1280x960 a lot, since it captures so much more than either 1080 or 720p modes. Reviewed on a large screen HD television, levels of detail and colours appear extremely natural. The camera copes very well when shooting into the sun and deals very well with transitions from light to shade too. It's pretty good at night too. With 60fps available in 720p mode and below, you can get decent slow-motion footage too.
Downsides? well, with no LCD screen you're a bit in the dark about exactly what you're shooting. The lens is super-wide and captures a lot of your point of view, but even so it takes a bit of trial and error to get the camera pointing exactly where you want it.
Audio capture is poor by camcorder standards, especially wearing a fully sealed back plate but that's hardly a deal-breaker in my book given the neature of the footage you'll be capturing. There's various after-market handlebar mounts available; we used one from another camera with the same mounting system and it was a godsend, since while the helmet mount is ultra-secure its weight became irritating after 90 minutes or so. You do notice more vibration in the footage when the camera's attached to the bike though. Oh, and remember to set the camera to 'up' otherwise you'll be reviewing footage upside down!
With a little practice, it's easy to see why this helmet cam is revered.
road.cc test report
Make and model: GoPro HD Hero helmet camera
Size tested: n/a
"GoPro's HD Helmet HERO is the world's highest performance wearable 1080p HD video and still photo camera. Professional quality 1080p / 960p / 720p HD resolutions record at 30 and 60 frames per second (60 fps in 720p). Record up to 2.5 hours on a single charge and up to 9 hours total on a 32GB SD card (not included). Helmet camera mount options include a headlamp style head strap that you can quickly share with your friends, a lace-through strap-mount for vented helmets, two curved and two flat adhesive mounts for attaching to gear, vehicles or whatever else moves you". Certainly versatile, delightful to use with very high build and image quality but comparison with its Mk II sibling would be interesting.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
*1 HD HERO Camera (5 megapixel)
*1 Rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
*1 Waterproof Quick-Release Housing (197'/60 m)
*1 Headlamp-Style Head Strap
*1 Vented Helmet Strap
*2 Curved, 3M™ Adhesive Mounts
*2 Flat, 3M Adhesive Mounts
*1 Three-Way Pivoting Side Arm Assembly
*2 Quick-Release Buckles
*1 USB Cable
*1 Component Video (HDTV) Cable
*1 Composite Video + Audio Out Cable
Generally very comfortable to wear but I'm glad someone's introduced a handlebar mount since its relatively modest weight begins to grate.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Hero HD might have an even more evolved sibling to compete with but the image quality is generally superb at speed, over rough ground and in all weathers. Audio quality isn't quite on the same par as a camcorder, especially wearing its weatherproof back but adequate nonetheless.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Build and image quality.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing in particular but would like to see a handlebar mount as standard equipment.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
Age: 38 Height: 1m 81 Weight: 70 kilos
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)