G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some Overhead Surf Plus the GoPro Hero 2 and Canon SX40

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.


  1. srfnff--

    That was a great video. I like the new camera and music you used. How about some feedback on your new SIMSUP and how it worked in the larger winter surf you guys had last week? Really enjoyed the video! Thanks

  2. First of all, didn't think you could still find your way to the west side...but it did look like there were some fun waves. In terms of the GoPro, I think you will find that the video quality is superior, and that it's a lot of fun to just turn on and film, not worrying too much about individual shots. I really like the shot every second mode, perhaps the best way to capture a great photo without a lot of fuss. As you know, the GoPro is best at filming yourself, and I think the paddle mount is best for that. I've yet to stick it to my board, but if you do, buy or make a bright colored float for the camera in case the worst happens. Also, for hand held photography, I did just get the accessory LCD viewer, and it really works well. In terms of durability, as long as you take care of the gaskets on the housing (just keep them clean) it won't flood like any of the others. I have absolutely thrashed mine and it stays dry no matter what. Rig up a paddle mount (I made mine from the original packaging) and you can feed me some footage for my current film project. I need more surfers in it!

    I also have the headstrap mount that works great for snowboarding, and will probably be neat to take on a downwinder.

  3. I've been meaning to get in touch with you re a GoPro conversation. The GoPro package I bought includes a "float" attached to a changeable back cover, very slick. Expect an email soon.

  4. For capturing others I would say the Kodak playsport is superior in terms of simple point and shoot as well as picking up audio. Audio with the GoPro is horrible. The paddle mount is ok but sifting through 20 minutes of dizzying paddle shots to find the 3 second gem is painful. I'm tired of shooting myself so will set my GoPro I to 127 degree mode and start shooting others from now on. Would be interested in getting something like the Kodak playsport, has anyone heard anything about the Pentax Optio WG-1 or the Canon Powershot D-20.

  5. Here's an update...Dana, your GoPro 1 may not have the 127 degree setting. If not, you're stuck with the super wide angle 170 degree view which is OK for paddle shots and board mount shots but horrible for shooting others. I'm totally in your corner re editing out all the superfluous non-surfing shots that come about when just leaving the camera running. I think the only alternative is turning off the camera for the paddle back out or long lulls or that kind of thing but one is still looking at lots of editing time which is a complete time vacuum.

    The GoPro waterproof housing almost completely blocks any sound. My camera came with an alternative housing door which allows sound in, but water too. So you can't use it in the water but you could use it for land based vid with audio. (There is a third housing door included which has an orange float glued on which gives an extra measure of safety when using the cam from the paddle or board mount.)

    My general conclusion about these small cams re "waterproofness" is that if they don't have their own dedicated waterproof housing like the GoPro series, they will ALL exceptions. If you get something other than the GoPro get an extended warranty and expect to use it.

    Finally, Kodak (the inventor of the hand held consumer camera) has gone bankrupt. I recently read that part of their reorganization includes the fact that they are no longer going to be in the digital camera (still and video) business. At some point soon there will be no more Playsports made by Kodak. I have no idea if they will sell the licenses to other companies or if all the Kodak digitals are pau, but there you have it. I picked up a Playsport Zx5 from Amazon as a backup for the GoPro2 which I will now be keeping, as well as the Zx3 which will fail sooner than later seeing as how it's been in for repairs twice within the last year.