Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: GoPro HD Hero 960 video camera

I've read all kinds of great things about GoPro's Hero cameras and I finally decided to get my own. In the short time I've had my Hero, I gotta say I'm a little disappointed. First, I'll explain a bit about the camera, then I'll get to my opinion.

I purchased my GoPro HD Hero 960 video camera from PointOfViewCameras online store. The 960 is a new model, essentially the same as the latest, greatest HD Hero 1080 model, but with a few features missing. This makes it about a hundred bucks cheaper. The video recording resolution is the main difference between them:

The expensive HD Hero 1080 can record in these modes:

    1080p: 1920x1080 pixels, 30 fps, 12  Mbit/s data rate
     960p:  1280x960  pixels, 30 fps, 10  Mbit/s data rate
     720p:  1280x720  pixels, 30 fps, 7.5 Mbit/s data rate
     720p:  1280x720  pixels, 60 fps, 15  Mbit/s data rate

while the cheaper HD Hero 960 records in these modes:

      960p:  1280x960  pixels, 30 fps, 10  Mbit/s data rate
      720p:  1280x720  pixels, 30 fps, 7.5 Mbit/s data rate
    WVGA:  848x480   pixels, 60 fps,  8   Mbit/s data rate

When comparing the 1080 model alongside the 960, they share the same wide angle lens (170 degree viewing angle), the same rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the same 5 MegaPixel still photos, yada, yada, yada. The 1080 model also has support for some yet-to-be-released accessories from GoPro that will clamp onto the back of the camera via the battery access door, including an LCD panel to show you what your recording and to review photos and videos, and an auxiliary battery pack. Basically, the 960 won't support these non-existent accessories.

I paid $179 plus the standard 13% taxes for the camera, and that included free ground shipping, which took about a week from Vancouver to Ottawa. Also included was a bonus 4GB SD memory card. It came with the standard selection of mounts.  See photo:

I'm rather disappointed with the mounts... that's one of the things people always rave about when it comes to GoPro cameras: the mounting options are supposed to be endless. Well, there maybe countless ways to mount the camera using the plastic parts supplied, but the mounts basically suck ass, in a really big way. They feel cheap and flimsy, you can't screw the little plastic knobs tight enough with your fingers to actually hold the camera securely (when mounted on the bike, my thumper's vibrations shake the damn camera all over the place, and if I loft the front tire in the air, the camera shakes violently upon landing).

With the sticky 3M two-way tape on the two supplied "adhesive mounts" you get only one chance. Stick them and leave them... they can't be moved again. I stuck the curved mount on the side of my gas tank but it vibrates all to Hell in that location. I would have stuck it on my helmet but I couldn't get it to fit the contour of my Shoei Hornet DS properly but I found the shape of my IMS gas tank to be quite close to the contour of the curved mount. So after having wasted the curved mount, I decided to think harder before wasting the flat adhesive mount and came up with this:

RAM mount for camcorder or camera.

I stuck the flat adhesive mount to a round camera RAM mount, and for added security, I ran a bead of silicone around the outside edge. I thought this mount would be the most secure... I clamped it onto the RAM ball mount I have on my handle bars (which I normally use for my Garmin Oregon GPS) but still, the damn camera vibrates all over the place. I'm not afraid of it falling off, it just annoys me to no end when I see the video shaking during play back. 

I even spent another $20 on my order to get a GoPro's own handle bar / seat post clamp mount... This cheap piece of crap is probably only worth $2 but some how they sell it for $20.  Again, it's cheap, flimsy plastic and it doesn't hold tight enough to handle the rough treatment it receives on the handlebars of a big thumper. A mountain bike maybe, but it can't take the vibes from my bike.

I have yet to try the head strap mount but I see no point. It's not meant to be worn over a motorcycle helmet so I really have no use for it. 

I have looked at the chest mount strap but at $50 I'm not about to get suckered into that. I've thrown good money after bad on other things before and I've learned my lesson. Remember that saying: "quit while you're ahead." 

On the positive side, the quality of the video is respectable. Not awesome, but not bad. 

Here's a sample. The higher the engine revs, the worse the camera shows the vibrations. This is using the $20 GoPro handlebar mount.

And here's a sample of the camera secured to the
handlebars with my RAM mount

Conclusion: While the camera itself seems to be a reasonable piece of gear for under $200, it's not worth shit if I can't figure out a way to mount it securely to my motorcycle. I've basically come up with 3 possible solutions:

1) dream up a mount that uses a rubber vibration damper (some type of rubber mount where it bolts/clamps onto the bike);

2) mount the camera on myself somehow because my body doesn't vibrate as much as the bike (I'm trying to buy another curved adhesive mount to try again on my other helmet but I'm not going to by a big bag of mounts). However, I'm really not interested in wearing the camera on my body or on my helmet -- I bought it to mount on my motorcycle;

3) sell the damn thing on eBay and find another camera solution.

Oh, before anyone asks if I used that silicone swimmer's nose-plug thing-a-ma-jig in the mount base, yes, I did. That thing isn't designed to absorb all the vibrations, rather, it's meant to stop the camera from wobbling around loosely in its mount. The problem I've seen is an issue that stems from the massive engine vibrations that big, single-cylinder thumpers are known for. If my bike had a sewing-machine-smooth inline-4 engine, then my impression of this camera would probably be very different.