Armor Plated Helmet Cam Captures Jackass Antics

Product: Helmet Cam

Manufacturer: GoPro

Wired Rating: 8

The problem with doing something epic stupid is that often it’s hard to document without destroying your camera.

For all you Jackass acolytes there’s the GoPro HD Hero, a small wearable camera with a rugged waterproof housing designed to be used in extreme (to the max!) situations. We wore it while mountain biking and swimming in San Francisco Bay, and found it comfortable, easy to use and damn near indestructible. What’s more, despite dunking it underwater, hurling it onto the concrete and dropping it from 25 feet, we couldn’t kill the little bastard.

Key to the Hero’s go-anywhere gusto is that you can afix it to almost any surface. Included are mounts suitable for flat, curved and oddly shaped surfaces (like a bike helmet). We also tried out a headstrap mount (sold separately). This is pretty much the dorkiest thing you can put on your body aside from a Boy Scout uniform, and we’re also pretty sure that it doubles as a chastity belt.

The camera’s interface is dead simple, if exceptionally bare bones, with a mere two buttons that navigate all settings, shoot and power up or down. It shoots both video and 5-megapixel stills, with five video modes ranging from WVGA to 1080p. Swapping between various modes on the fly is easy, but only after repeated button presses. Essentially, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it model. At 6 ounces, it’s more or less unnoticeable when mounted on your person — even atop your head but still simple to manipulate while hurtling down the side of a hill, even with gloves on.

As every barfly knows, being easy is no substitute for good looks. Thankfully, our 1080p footage appeared fantastic on a 39-inch HDTV. Colors are natural and vivid, while the camera’s picture quality when moving from low to bright light has the ease of an ACE cinematographer. Often, smallish helmet-mounted “action” camcorders can have a stuttered effect that looks almost like stop-motion video. Yet the Hero looked great in motion, shooting smooth, fluid video with no Fantastic Mr. Fox effect. (We did notice some artifacts and blurring at the edges when moving at high speed.) Photos also looked great, although the wide-angle fisheye effect has us taking it out of the protective case for some snaps.

If there’s a major con to the HD Hero, it’s that you never know what you actually shot until you get home. It lacks both a viewfinder and LCD screen, and we repeatedly angled it lower than intended and recorded footage of the ground below instead of horizon ahead. Even knowing if you are recording is tricky. The camcorder beeps and a light flashes when you take a photo or shoot video. But if you’re flying downhill on your mountain bike, or hurling across the water on a surfboard, those cues are useless. For on-the-go use, the camera sorely needs a constant recording indicator.

In an almost ironic positive note, the camera looks like a cheapo chunk of gray-market garbage; it’s not going to draw unwanted attention if you plan on taking it somewhere dangerous, like Somalia or San Francisco’s Tenderloin. In short, if the best camera is the one you always have with you, this may well take the title, as you’ll be prone to carry it anywhere without fear.

WIRED Ugly camera, pretty pictures. Shoots fantastic HD video at breakneck speed. Ships with enough mounts to start a very tiny Canadian police force. So small and lightweight we initially mistook it for a Sarah Palin speech. Includes both waterproof and standard housing. Exceptionally rugged — we tried to get all Jason Voorhees on its ass and the thing would not die.

TIRED No viewfinder or display for setting up or verifying shots. No shooting indicator light. Fisheye effect on photos gets old faster than leftover tuna salad.

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