By Chris A.
Image ©Court Leve
Recently I photographed a wedding at a beautiful, historic New England church. While the setting was perfect for romantic, sophisticated wedding images, I found myself faced with two church rules about photography inside the building. First, strobes were not permitted (which isn't uncommon), but the second and most disconcerting was that I was restricted to photographing the ceremony from the balcony only. This was apparently so my presence wouldn't distract the participants and guests during the wedding ceremony. Not being able to shoot from the main floor of the church was frustrating. Typically, I carefully, quietly, and discreetly move all around the wedding venue to get a variety of angles and perspectives. But not that day.
It was there, stuck in the balcony, when I wished I had my GoPro HD Hero2 camera with me.
The GoPro HD Hero2 has taken the video world by storm. From the X-Games, pro sports and Olympics, to television shows and rock n roll concerts, clever and creative applications for this diminutive professional video camera seem endless. But the Hero2’s video prowess is only half of the story as the pocket-size powerhouse offers versatile still photo capabilities as well.
As a still camera, the Hero2 is a well thought out, auto-mode point and shoot, offering minimal setting options for photographers. However, the lack of a pure manual mode shouldn’t dissuade a creative photographer from seriously considering adding one of these amazing cameras to their image-creating arsenal. While designed primarily for shooting video of action sports, put all of the HD Hero2 capabilities into the hands of an innovative professional photographer, and opportunities to capture amazing, dynamic images are sure to follow.
It’s all about taking advantage of this camera’s small size and gigantic imaging and video capabilities. It’s tiny, weighing in at less than half a pound. Its physical dimensions are 1.6 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches, and it comes in a waterproof, removable, clear polycarbonate armored casing. That makes it a pretty tough camera that can take some serious punishment and come out alive and well. With a variety of mounts and accessories, photographers can mount the little cameras almost anywhere.
Because it’s so small you can place it in locations and do things with it that you can’t (or wouldn’t) do with your expensive SLR. The HD Hero2 sports a fixed f/2.8 aperture lens, giving the camera a better than normal low-light capability. When shooting stills, the Hero2 has two field of view options: wide, a full 170-degree perspective that has a fisheye appearance, and medium at 127 degrees, which reduces the amount of lens distortion. In video mode you also get a 90-degree field of view. Unlike a professional digital SLR, there is no shutter sound when the GoPro fires. The finished product is a comfortable 11- megapixel JPG file.
When it comes to shooting options, The HD Hero2 offers a variety of capture modes that should satisfy most photographers. The modes include single-image, a burst mode that fires 10 images in one second, and a powerful time lapse mode where the camera can be set to user-specified timed images, firing as frequently as every half-second.
As with any automatic camera, the better the light, the better your images will be. Despite some of the camera’s setting limitations, the GoPro HD Hero2’s overall potential trumps its weaknesses. This tiny camera can be a versatile problem solver. With its amazing capture modes and technological wizardry it hands you some enormous capability. Now, upping the ante considerably is GoPro's newest accessory, the Wi-Fi BacPac. This accessory now gives a photographer the ability to control up to 50 of these remarkable cameras wirelessly and remotely.
For wedding photographers, a GoPro coupled with the remote Wi-Fi controller means you can preposition these cameras and fire planned shots, silently and remotely with minimum fuss. You can even shoot video too if you need it. With foresight, this could have been a solution for my balcony-only New England wedding dilemma. I could have easily pre-positioned one or more HD Hero2s down front and would have caught perspectives impossible to achieve from the balcony. Nikon D3 quality? No, of course not. But I would have gotten nice, interesting creative photos that any couple would enjoy in their wedding book or album.
To be fair, until you actually hold one of these little cameras in your hand and examine real output, it's difficult to grasp all the creative opportunities they offer. Its not just another camera. With a GoPro you can ignite your imagination and stretch the bounds of photography. In both the still image mode and video mode, it’s a dynamite piece of gear that’s easy to work.
The GoPro HD Hero2 retails at $299 and comes with the armored shell, battery, and some mounting hardware, but you'll need several accessories to save time and help you get the shots. It doesn’t have a viewfinder or LCD display, so you can either purchase a digital back (LCD BacPac, $79.99) to be able to compose and set up your shots, or you can use the brand new GoPro app (free) with the Wi-Fi BacPac ($99.99, includes remote) to compose and control your camera settings with an iPhone or iPad (Android app is coming). You will need to buy a media card because the GoPro does not come with one. Buy the largest size, fastest access card you can afford, and if you plan to shoot video or use the time-lapse feature you'll want to invest in a Class 10 speed SD Card. In addition, think about picking up additional batteries and a plug-in charger to give you longer life and more options. In total, expect to spend a few hundred dollars in accessories to get your GoPro configured for optimal use.