6 essential tips for starting out with a GoPro Hero2

“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” Four months younger.

Four months into life with the GoPro Hero2, there’s a bunch of things I wish I knew when I started.  Overall, I love the camera – it’s lightweight, waterproof, good quality and a great value.  But I’ve lost some good video because of stupid mistakes, and I’m hoping by imparting some of this hard-earned wisdom on other GoPro enthusiasts, I can save them some trouble.

If you have any additional tips, I’d love to hear ’em.

1) It’s a really wide angle lens

The obvious hurdle with the stock version of the GoPro Hero 2 is the lack of a screen on which to view the video you’ve just captured.  There are plenty of reasons why the GoPro doesn’t have one, and it really doesn’t need one.  But if you’re used to any other camera on the market, it’s a bit of an adjustment to move to a camera without any sort of viewfinder.

My first time out with the camera, most of my footage was unusable.  There were all sorts of things I was unaware of, and without a way to instantly review the footage I had captured, I returned home with a few minutes of interesting video and an hour of my knuckles.  The GoPro has a very small body but a very wide angle lens, which means that it can be tricky to hold the camera in your hand without your hand sneaking into the frame.

Once you’re aware of the problem (which is likely after your first use), it’s easier to avoid.  Both other things help.  Mounting the camera on a small handle can you maneuver and stabilize, and it keeps your hand away from the lens.

My knuckle (bottom right) ruined this shot at Fanning Springs

2) Apply Rain-X

The first time you set out on a kayak, or surfboard, or SUP, or strap on your snorkel mask, you’ll think you’re on your way to some great water footage.  But here’s the scoop:  If you’re going to be in and out of the water, or if there’s a chance that water will be splashing on the camera, you’re in for trouble.  Water droplets will land on your camera and bead up on the curved class that shields the lens, ruining your shot.

Small water droplets are killing this shot – notice all the blurry areas

It’s not a design flaw with the camera; it’s a design flaw with the laws of nature.  One misplaced droplet will make for blurry, unusable video.

But here’s the solution:  Rain-X.  Rain-X is a wax for glass.  Used mostly on car windshields, it makes water bead up and roll off.  I regularly rub this onto my GoPro case, let it dry and rub it off.  Now, when I unsubmerge my camera, the water slides right off, and my video is crystal clear.  It also helps with splashing.  If I have my camera mounted to the front of the kayak, I no longer have to worry about errant drips and drops.

3) Condensation can spoil a video

During the relentlessly muggy Florida summers, moisture trapped inside your waterproof case will condensate on the protective bubble in front of the lens.  If you’re not paying close attention, you likely won’t notice this until you get home and watch the video, and your video looks like a lost river scene from The Mist.

The Mist vs. GoPro condensation (Photo thanks to imdb.com)

There’s only one true solution to this irritating problem: Buy anti-fog inserts.  A pack of inserts costs about $15, but they are reusable.  Once they are wet, you can dry them in an oven to “reset” them before your next use.

I’ve read about people collecting silica packets from the shoe store and dumping the silica beads into the camera case, but I can’t seem to figure out how they’d fit.  My GoPro case fits highlight around the camera – I can’t see any way to get beads in there.

The poor man’s solution to the problem is to carry along a hand towel, wiping out the case every so often.  But this is impractical, frustrating and a little too living-on-the-edge for me.  I try not to take the camera out of the case while I’m in the kayak, for obvious reasons.

Unlike the water droplets on the outside, this problem is a design flaw.  Much of the condensation is due to the heat generated by the camera itself, which, while filming, turns the inside of the camera case into a tiny, air-tight sweat lodge.  So, even if your GoPro isn’t sitting in direct sunlight, the camera’s internal heat will still cause you problems.

3 and 4) Make sure your setup will float; ALSO, any tapping on the case is magnified dramatically

This is a problem I brought on myself, but it’s something we’ll all have to deal with.  After forking over the money for the camera, a huge SD card and an additional mount, I was over the thrill of spending money.  So, I wasn’t smiling when I realized that the neither the camera nor the waterproof case are buoyant.  If you want to film from a kayak, that’s a problem.

GoPro sells a “Floaty Backdoor” for $15 plus shipping.  That’s one way to go (and a good way, as long as you don’t use the suction cup mount, which is too heavy and will sink your camera even with the floaty).  But I elected to go with a floaty wristband, which I loop through the hing of the case.  I like it for two reasons.  1) It was really cheap; and 2) I could easily take it off without opening up the case.

go-pro-homemade-hand-strap

But here’s what I learned:  The small plastic bead on my floaty wrist band repeatedly and gently tapped against the case while I was filming.  The tapping wasn’t audible in real life, but when I played back the video, BANG BANG BANG BANG!

Any tapping against the case, regardless of how quiet or well-intentioned, results in deafeningly loud booms and bangs on the camera’s audio recording.  The audio with the waterproof housing on isn’t great to begin with (Granted, it’s good for a waterproof camera), but it’s rendered completely unusable if you make a mistake like I did.

So, think about the sanctity of your camera – don’t let anything bang, tap or otherwise disturb its delicate sensibilities while filming.

5) An old broom handle can give you tremendous flexibility

My GoPro came with an assortment of mounts – a headstrap, a helmet strap, and a few small sticky mounts.  The only other mount that I’ve purchased is the bicycle mount, which is basically a a clamp that can tighten down around any relatively thin pole, including, but not limited to, a bike frame.

Now, when I set out on an adventure, I bring an old broom handle with me.  Yeah, it’s another thing to carry, but I use it for more than just filming.  On the kayak, I use it to help navigate the tight mangrove corridors.  When I’m hiking flat ground, it becomes a nice walking stick.

But when I want to film, I can use the bike mount to attach the camera to the end of the pole and give my shots an entirely new perspective.

With the camera on the end of the pole, I can stick the broom handle in the fishing pole holder on my kayak and get a bird’s eye view of the kayak (and film myself, by myself).

GoPro on pole mount (bike mount), in the rear fishing pole holder of my kayak

I’ve even used my pole mount to get close to things I would normally shy away from.  Check out this mangrove snake, which I photographed from the comfort of my kayak, several feet away:

Using the bike mount on a broom handle to get close to this mangrove snake

6) Invest in a second battery

For the size and price, the battery of the GoPro is great.  I get about 1 1/2 hours of filming time on a full charge, which, for a camera that I can tuck in my back pocket, isn’t half bad.  But when I’m out on the water and my battery dies, there’s obviously no way to charge.  I’m forced to remember my trip through memory only – and let’s face it, that doesn’t cut it in 2012.

Also, and this could be specific to my GoPro, but on its very first charge, the battery only lasted a 1/2 hour or so.  I was really worried.  I contacted the customer service folks at GoPro and they encouraged me to charge it again.  I did, and it was a little better (maybe 45 minutes).  I called GoPro again, and after apologizing, they sent me a brand new battery.  I’ve been charging and using, charging and using, charging and using my original battery, and it now has about the same battery life as my “good” battery.

I was frustrated that I lost out on some good footage on those first two trips, but I now have a backup battery and full faith in the team at the GoPro headquarters.

Enter to win GoPro’s “Everything We Make” contest

If you’re still not on the GoPro bandwagon, a good way to start is by entering the current GoPro giveaway.  Every day, they give away, to one super lucky person, the entire GoPro product line – the camera, the floaty back door, all the mounts, everything.  I’m 0-73 so far, but who’s to say it won’t be you?

Enter at http://gopro.com/daily-giveaway/

If you win, please send me the LCD BacPac, which lets  you watch video on the camera!

And lastly, this is not a product review, but if it were, the GoPro Hero2 HD would get a 4.9/5 stars from me.  The .1 deduction is for the condensation troubles.  But for a $300 camera that does stills, slow motion, HD video and is waterproof, it can’t be beat!

If you have any tips to share (with me or the rest of the world), leave them in the comments section!

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Comments

  1. Sweet, great tips! If you have moistre trapped inside it will help if you release the cap (you have to open it up) let the air dry the box, and after this the lens will not condensate anymore “mostly”.

    • Yeah, very true. One of the problems with central Florida, though, is that it is so humid that air “drying” actually makes everything even more moist. I am able to air dry when I’ve been elsewhere, and that’s been a great solution.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Love using my gopro! I got the dive housing and using this underwater really makes for a sharper video than the standard waterproof case. I want to say be careful the lens cover on the case can scratch easily, if this happens just buy the lens replacement kit only $20

  3. You can buy an LCD screen add on as well. I’ve got used to using it though with a screen. I wish there was a way to delete bad footage out in the field though so I don’t have to sort through it on the computer.

    • Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I’m getting much better at getting consistently good footage, but it would be nice to not have to bring it all home and upload it before deleting shots I know I’m not going to use.

  4. Nicholas Burton says:

    Where did you get your floaty wrist band?

  5. Great tips guys. Nothing worse then getting home after an adventure and reviewing the video to find out the lens was foggy. The inserts pretty much take care of that issue completely.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Stakeout poles are a must for anyone interested in kayak fishing, snorkeling or photography.  This one would also make for a great extension for a GoPro camera. […]

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