Your appreciation of what can be done with modern equipment will get a boost.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online since 1983

GoPro photo
Courtesy of Robert C. Fasoldt

This GoPro photo hints at the incredible depth of field of GoPro photos along with their eerie, flawless wide angle views. My brother Bob took this shot of his daughter-in-law and grandchildren on vacation in North Carolina.

$129 GoPro camera: Super in every way except price

January 18, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, The Post-Standard

One of the most fascinating cameras you can buy is the GoPro.

You've probably seen videos on YouTube or Facebook taken by GoPros. Daring photographers (and sometimes just kids with daring aspirations) strap a GoPro to their bikes or skateboards -- or even to their helmets when they jump off cliffs -- and capture scenes you and I would never experience in real life.

GoPros have three big advantages over regular cameras:

1. They're very light (3 ounces for the cheapest GoPro). That means they can strapped to shoes, glued to the side of a helmet, carried aloft by an 18-inch amateur rocket or ferried above your neighborhood by a $200 4-rotor drone.

2. They have super-wide-angle lenses with minimal "fish eye" distortion and perfect aim -- because they take in almost the entire hemisphere. You don't have to aim them a GoPro; you simply make sure it's pointed in the same direction you're looking. Shots from balloons and drones are ridiculously easy: You let the camera point down, and it will show everything below in a huge radius. Astronauts never had it so simple.

3. They're unfazed by bright lights shining into a scene. This is an unexpected bonus for new GoPro owners. In every other camera I've ever seen, panning into a spotlight or any other super-bright light like the sun washes out most of the picture. The GoPro magically maintains proper exposure on other areas of the scene when one part is overexposed.

I had never bought a GoPro, despite these attractions, because I figured they cost too much. Each time I watched any of the breathtaking GoPro videos, dollar signs flashed on the screen; a camera like that would run about $4,000. Or so I thought.

Then my brother Bob, always on the lookout for bargains, spotted the GoPro Hero. It was $129. There are better GoPros and, of course, they're more expensive, running from $199 to $499 (see them at www.shop.gopro.com). But the plain jane Hero -- the model without a number, for some reason -- is a spectacular performer at an astonishing price.

It takes HD video and 5 megapixel stills and has that unflappable exposure control. Best of all, it's got a lens that should teach Hollywood a lesson. (Your friends will find excuses to drop over every couple of days just to see your latest super-wide photos.) It's even waterproof, as if the GoPro folks ran out of ideas and decided to add something you seldom find on even megabuck cameras.

Stills taken by the Hero are sharp and perfectly developed, and of course they have that incredible all-around coverage provided by the lens. Videos are even better, without jitter or softness.

A downside: You wouldn't dare set it down on windy days. It's almost weightless, so be careful of strong gusts. Another minus: It's so small you could lose it in your sock drawer. Keep it in a case.

More seriously, the only possible drawback is the fixed lens -- no zoom, no telephoto, no focus control. But you won't miss what you don't need. Focus is a thing of the past when your camera is sharp all the way from a fly on the lens to the boundary of the sky.

I seldom say this, but I'll go all the way this time: You owe it to yourself to try the GoPro Hero. Your pictures will never be the same, and your appreciation of what can be done with modern equipment will get a boost you'll never forget.