Some of the longer readers will remember the old “Photo School” section of first WhereNextPhotography.com and then RossFairgrieve.com. Sadly, that is no more but it will be back in action in a few weeks. You might also remember that I did a video tutorial on the best modes or settings to use on the GoPro HD Hero; a tiny little, almost bullet-proof camera that’s designed principally for fixing to yourself and then doing things that you mum would have told you not to. No, NOT those things (you filthy minded little bu…) I’m talking about jumping off of stuff and sliding down things. GoPro’s own promo video gives a pretty damn good indication of the sort of thing I’m talking about.
Anyway, that video looks great right? Getting your GoPro videos to look that good relies on two things:
So, a while back, I made a little video tutorial about when to use the GoPro HD Hero’s different settings. For those that missed it, here’s that original video tutorial (my God this is going to look boring if you just watched the video above!!):
So, almost as soon as that tutorial had finished uploading tut t’interweb, GoPro released the HD Hero2. This is a quite a bit better for a lot of reasons and is about to become a LOT better still. GoPro are releasing a firmware update in the summer which, amongst other things, is going to triple the data rate (make the footage 3 times less compressed) which should do great things for image quality. What makes it even better is that the firmware upgrade is going to be free! Go GoPro!
As such, a lot of people have contacted me asking what the best settings for the GoPro HD Hero2 video camera are. I’ve been planning to make another video tutorial about this for ages and it will be coming very soon but, until then, I decided to share an email reply that I sent to somebody who posed just that question to give you a hint of what’s to come. So, without further ado:
I just watched your video on the settings for the gopro. I just bought the hero2 and was hoping you had a video for it also. Do you have one yet? I am leaving for vacation next week to Africa and would like some suggestions as to settings. I have never used the gopro and would like to get the best pictures and video I can for my trip. Hoping to do some cage shark diving to try out the underwater features. We plan on a Safari and some mountain biking also. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.
Thanks for getting in touch. I haven’t yet done a video for the Hero2 but I have been meaning to for ages. Unfortunately my website got hacked and deleted recently so I’ve been frantically trying to sort that out!
Anyway, the settings aren’t actually hugely different in the Hero2, they’re just named a bit more sensibly. You basically have two decisions:
1) Do you need slow motion?
2) How wide do you want to go?
If the answer to question 1 is “yes” then your best bet is probably “720-60″ mode. This shoots at 1280×720 resolution at 60 frames per second. This can then be slowed down to 30 frames per second (or even a bit slower) on the computer to give nice smooth slow motion. There is also a “WVGA-120″ mode which shoots at an even higher frame rate of 120 frames per second so it can effectively be slowed down twice as much. If SUPER slow motion is a priority, this is an option but the image quality is a lot worse than the 720-60 setting so I’d probably stick with 720-60. If you DON’T need slow motion, the best setting for our quality is “1080-30″ by quite a long way. This shoots at a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Because the frame rate is lower, it can’t really be slowed down. Slowing down 30 frames per second footage by 50% for example will give playback at 15fps which will look pretty jerky. The quality, however, is really, really good- much better than the already pretty good 720-60.
So that’s question 1 answered: if you need slow-mo, go for 720-60, otherwise go for 1080-30. On to question 2: how wide to you want to go?
If you’ve gone for 1080-30, you have a choose between three “angles or view” – wide, medium and narrow. Unless you really don’t want the ultra-wide “fisheye” effect, I’d stick to the “wide” mode in almost all cases. The wider angle of view fits more in, reduces the effect of camera shake and is MUCH better in low light than the narrower angles of view. Do bear in mind though, that the wide setting is VERY wide. You have to get way closer to things than you expect. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t use the wide setting if you’re trying to film lions on your safari! The 720-60 mode only has the option of WIDE so your choice is pretty easy there!
I’m really jealous of your cage diving! Are you off to Gansbaai? I actually studied oceanography at university so that’s always been on my list of do-before-you-die trips! The WIDE setting is great for underwater filming as it exaggerates perspective making the visibility seem much better. If the shark is right up at the cage, you shouldn’t have a problem with it seeming too far away (!) but if it’s a little way off, you might find that they seem MILES away in the footage so switching to MEDIUM might help there.
There’s actually one more consideration given that you’re going to take your GoPro underwater. Unfortunately the standard GoPro housing makes a bit of a mess of underwater footage. I took mine out for a day’s skin-diving in Vietnam and the video that I got was pretty much unusable. The standard housing with the domed front is great for use in air but, for use underwater, you really need a flat port in front of the lens or everything will be out of focus.
There are a couple of companies that make these. I bought one of THESE from Eye of Mine but THIS, from BlurFix, is probably what I’d buy now as you can get colour-correction filters for it. Take a look at THIS VIDEO and you’ll see how much of a difference the flat lens makes (fiddle with the little icons in the bottom-right corner to get it to 720p and fullscreen to really see the difference). If you do decide to pick up a BlurFix, I’d go for the option that says “Add a Spare Case” as, unlike the Eye of Mine housing, the BlurFix is just a part that screws onto your existing GoPro housing, not a whole new housing. The flat lens is great for underwater but not so good for above water (rain drops stick to it and things like that) and you really don’t want to have to take the housing to bits every time you move from underwater to above water!
The good news is that, for mountain biking, you don’t need to worry about any of that stuff. Pop the GoPro in your normal housing (though the CHEST HARNESS is great for anything on a bike), slap it on 720-60 for slow-mo or 1080-30-WIDE for maximum quality at normal speed and you’re good to go!
I hope that helps and have a great trip!
I hope that lot gives you a good starting point until the video tutorial, which will give a FULL run-down of the settings, is ready. Let me know if you’re keen on learning more about getting the most out of your GoPro. If there’s enough interest, I’ll start a whole tutorial section on things like choosing the best mounting options, doing timelapses with a GoPro HD Hero and the best way to use and view your GoPro footage once it’s onto your computer.