January 24, 2012 - I hadn't been surfing for a week, kept out by a nice series of wet, nearshore storms that dumped over four inches of needed rain in our area. The storm swell that pushed in overhead surf was slowly fading, but it was still showing 10 ft. at 12 seconds WNW early this morning. Even though the tide was pushing towards being too high, I could still get a few waves, and finally field test the new GoPro Hero 2 Surf I purchased from Amazon a week ago.
My Olympus Stylus Tough died it's final death and the extended warranty expired. I've had it three years, it's old technology and I planned to replace it as soon as it died anyway. The Kodak Playsport Zx3, which is my front line water camera, may now become my backup water cam if the GoPro camera works out. My biggest concern was whether or not the GoPro could be used like I use my Playsport, i.e. looped around my neck and tucked into my front zip wetsuit. Second biggest concern was field of vision. The GoPro Hero 2 has the capability of videoing with a 127 degree field of view (1080-30 fps setting ONLY) and the 170 degree field. There is no zoom, so 170 degrees is too wide angle to get any kind of a decent look at the surfers surfing. In the video embedded here, the first clip and the water shots are the GoPro, the rest of the video is my land based Canon SX40 (850mm zoom) bridge camera, which shoots still and video images.
I was pleased that the GoPro did in fact tuck into the flap of my front zip wetsuit, exactly like the Kodak Playsport. Even though the GoPro is much thicker, it fits, and it's not terribly uncomfortable. I can pull it out to shoot fairly quickly and even though there is no video screen or viewfinder, results are satisfactory just by pointing it at the subject. Retrieving and stowing either camera is about the same. There is no image stabilization with the GoPro which is too bad. The IS feature of the Zx3 is limited. (The Kodak Zx5, the next generation Playsport has IS, but serious water tight door issues which makes it a no buy.) You can judge for yourself as to image quality and stability by watching the video.
The GoPro Hero 2 is expensive. I paid a little over $300 for the camera. The Kodak Playsport Zx3 is a bargain at a bit more than one-third the GoPro price and is probably my choice for best overall hobbyist waterproof video camera. I've never really like the GoPro wide angle (170 degree) field of vision for most surfing videos except when utilized in the barrel. That is a unique view that only a wide angle can appreciate. But it is a specialty shot for a certain purpose and used indiscriminately is boring and unrealistic. To me, the best surfing films/videos/stills are those that look like what you see with your own eyes. We don't see in wide angle vision. Therefore, the 127 degree field of view is a real plus which does approximate one's natural vision. But is it worth owning (almost) three brand new Playsports?
The Zx3 has a zoom feature, the main drawback of which is the poor focus (especially in low light) when you zoom in on your subject. Secondly, it is often quite difficult to keep the subject in frame while standing on my board when zoomed in from the wider angle start up setting. The GoPro has no zoom, but with the previous statement that may be a moot point for in water shooting.
The GoPro gives me more flexibility in that I can attach it to my board. The GP Surf comes with two adhesive (stick down) camera mounts which could be placed on nose and tail. The camera can be mounted and aimed forwards or backwards, and adjusted up or down as desired on each mount. As previously stated, this camera mount "view" has limited appeal to me. I hesitate to use it becasue if I return the camera I need to send all the parts back and removing a mount from my board would no doubt destroy it. Turning the camera on and off while mounted on the board takes time and can't be done quickly so getting that shot you want would either be impossible or would require you to leave the camera turned on all or most of the time. Therefore spontaneity would be lost and editing a continuous, one-hour long plus video clip is tedious and time consuming.
Quality wise it would seem that the GoPro is far superior. Placing the small camera inside it's own custom made water proof housing seems to me to be nearly bomb proof. I've already had my Playsport in for warranty repair twice and haven't owned it for a year yet. But this was more or less planned. I figured that this inexpensive water proof camera wasn't really going to last long and that I would replace it after the warranty expired. I would then get the benefit of whatever technology upgrade Kodak put into the camera. This still seems like a good idea to me, the wild card now being Kodak's recent declaration of bankruptcy. I don't know how this will play out for this series of cameras, or if they will even continue it.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each camera. As of this writing, I'm not convinced that the GoPro is worth the price for what I would be getting. If you have a minute, and an opinion, let me know what you think.