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Leica m9

Why I won’t be buying a Leica M/M10/type 240

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It’s hard to believe that’s it’s coming up 4 years since I have had my M9 but time flies and now Leica have brought out the M9’s successor, the M or as most people are calling it, the M type 240 or even the M10. It’s all a bit confusing. Leica always go their own way and I’m glad they do or the M9 would never have been made! However I do feel like they have shot themselves in the foot by simply calling it the M. It’s never easy to understand the thinking behind these things but you can be sure of one thing, if Leica chose it there will be a good reason behind it.

The name thing could turn out to be a very clever move. Consider this: The M 240 is surely the last evolution of the M3 which first came out in the 1950s because there is no where else to go with it. The screen is as big as it can be. The viewfinder now has led frame lines. Any big changes they make will turn the M into something else. So with this in mind Leica can upgrade the M 240 without needing to introduce a new model in the future. The sensor could be upgraded and with firmware updates the M 240 can be kept fully modern. If this is the case, I like it. We live in such a disposable world these days that it is a nice thought that one could buy the M 240 and keep it for decades while never losing out on the latest technology.

When the M 240 was first mentioned I was excited. It sounded perfect. Like Leica had taken all the things that annoyed M9 owners and fixed the lot but I suspect I was just being swept along by the positive reviews and comments. Unlike many others I quite liked the idea of being able to do video and to use R lenses but now that the novelty has worn off I am not so sure.

To work out whether or not I was being objective I went back to the reason why I love my M9. I love it because it is full frame and compact. The M 240 is 10% bigger and 10% heavier. That might not sound a lot but I consider the M9 to be at the limit of what constitutes a light and compact camera so that extra 10% in size and weight will be noticed by me. It is a real shame that Leica have not tried to reduce the size of the M 240. Every evolution of the M seems to be bigger than the last. Just hold an M6 in your hands and then handle an M 240 and you will realise just how much bigger and heavier the Ms are getting.

My original idea was to buy an M 240 and put the 21mm 3.4 on it. That way I can use the extra ISO ability to compensate for the lenses lack of speed. I would keep the 50mm 1.4 lux for the M9. I wouldn’t have to change lenses and that would keep dust off the sensor. But the reality is that I would never use my M9 again as my most used lens is the 21mm. So if I wanted two lenses I’d have to carry two bodies. That’s just silly. For me, the whole point of an M camera is that it is compact enough to be carried on my person at all times. (here’s how I carry my M9) I have another small pouch that carries one lens and it goes on the same belt as the camera.

All this talk of high ISO seems to me to be rather pointless. How quickly we have all forgotten how we would be happy with a film of 100 ASA with no chance to change it yet now even the M9 can take perfectly good pictures at 1000 ISO, already three stops better than we were used to. But the bottom line is that photography is about light. If the light is so poor that you need 3200 ISO then chances of getting a good picture are slim anyway. Maybe many use the extra ISO to allow a faster shutter speed but that has rarely bothered me with an M camera as a steady hand can easily allow shots taken at 1/15”. What I am saying is that I think the extra ISO is overrated and not reason enough to buy the M 240.

The new M is weatherproof. Well, from what I have experienced and heard from others the M9 had no problem being outdoors in the wet (within reason obviously) and after all Leica have long said that their cameras will work in any conceivable situation that you find yourself in so a bit of dampness has never been a problem and it is rare that I find myself taking pictures in the rain so again, this is something that is nice to know but has yet to be a problem for me with the M9.

The video option is certainly intriguing but again reality steps in. For much much less than a M 240 and lenses there are a lot of purpose built cameras that can do much better than the Leica. Many of which have image stabilisation and other clever features like zooms. Of course one could use the R adapter and use it to make video but for that kind of money it would be possible to buy some really choice video equipment.

The R adapter is another feature that seems helpful but that would mean having the lenses in the first place or buying them if you don’t. More expense and for me, the simpler the camera and the fewer the lenses the better. Anything that stops you taking pictures should be avoided.

This brings me on to one of the main reasons why I won’t be buying an M 240. It takes almost two seconds to boot up. This is ridiculous. The M9 boots up in a flash and can take pics almost immediately. If you want to miss the moment get a camera that doesn’t boot up immediately. I know because the Digiliux 2 I had was the same and it was extremely annoying. For this kind of money this is very poor.

Then there’s the max shutter speed of just 60 seconds. This is useless. Even the M9 can manage 4 minutes and often that is not enough either but it’s a lot better than 60 seconds. I love taking long exposures at night so with the M 240 I won’t be able to. Like the time it takes to boot up, it’s another situation where the M 240 has gone backwards.

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With a maximum 60 second exposure time, shots like this with lines made by the movement of the stars will no longer be possible.

Personally I care nothing for the bigger screen or live view. These are just toys which distract you from taking pictures. With decades of practice I can focus an M while another photographer is still deciding what kind of auto focus would be best for the situation. If Leica removed the screen and the menu I would be quite pleased especially if it meant they could reduce the size and weight back down to M6 levels. (here’s an article about a Leica M with simple features and if the comments are anything to go by, I’m certainly not alone in liking this idea.

Everyone is going on about the new menu. Well I never had any problem with the old one. I mostly set the camera once and never touch it again. I used to use the profiles when I first got the M9 and was forever using the wrong profile. It’s just too easy to forget to return the settings after use so an improved menu is of no gain to me.

More battery capacity? This has never been an issue for me in the past and if I thought I might be taking hundreds of pictures I could just take along a spare battery. And that leads me on to yet another reason why I won’t be buying an M 240. Yet another set of batteries, cables and chargers!!! ( Here’s a suggestion for an emergency battery on the M9)

And lastly, I really don’t like the look of the M 240. I love the way the M9 is cut away at the outside by the viewfinder, although it doesn’t reduce the dimensions particularly it does make the camera look better balanced and smaller. The new M 240 is not as good looking as the M9 and the new bigger central red dot is just showing off.

Now I don’t know about you lot but I wouldn’t consider that I take a lot of pictures, maybe 4000 shots a year but even that makes for a hell of a lot of storage. To keep back ups and back ups of back ups means a lot of hard drives. Even bigger files means even more storage issues. I have managed to make amazing prints over a metre wide from the M9 so there is really no need for anything bigger. I tend not to crop so there’s little advantage for me with bigger files. 

Conclusion

Although the M 240 has bigger files and higher ISOs it is bigger and heavier, takes longer to boot up and can only manage a 60 second exposure. The screen is bigger and it costs more. The M9 was a fantastic camera when it was launched and it remains capable of taking amazing images. It is a classic. I’m not convinced that the M 240 offers big enough improvements over the M9 to justify buying one. Sorry Leica but here’s one Leica fan that won’t be buying your latest offering.

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Uncategorized

Toshiba C650 1CP laptop review

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Oh dear. What a disaster. I know it wasn’t expensive but that’s no excuse to make something so awful. My previous laptop was a Toshiba and that was very well made and reliable so I stayed loyal to Toshiba in the misguided belief that their newer computers would retain all that I liked about Toshiba. Sadly I was to be disappointed.

First, the good stuff. It booted fast and worked quite well as a computer (when it wasn’t crashing that is). Battery life was good. That’s about it actually.

This laptop looks cheap in it’s patterned plastic attire. That is because it is. There is no LED to see when the hard drive is busy, you just have to trust it is working. The on off switch is temperamental and sometimes wouldn’t allow the computer to boot up at all. Constant hard pressing usually did the trick.

The worst fault is it’s propensity to crash. The Blue Screen of Death is something you had better get used to if you’re using this computer. Sometimes just putting in a USB memory stick or an SD card is enough to set it off. It really hates my wireless adapter.

The screen, although bright is an awful colour and very tiring to look at for some reason. I tried to adjust it but nothing I did made much difference. The reds are RED, it’s just hideous. The screen also lacks detail. At first you think it’s not bad but then looking at pictures with dark areas you can see clumps of pixelated areas which look like JPG artefacts but are not. Looking at the same image on another screen reveals plenty of detail and no clumping or artefacts at all. Nasty.

This laptop is flimsy. The screen broke when the lid was opened and flexed slightly. So now it is useless. The mouse is horrible and most often just doesn’t work. You move your fingers over the pad but the cursor doesn’t move. It’s really frustrating. No amount of adjustment could stop this happening. Incidentally, I have never before had this problem on any laptop so it’s not me giving out heebie Jeebie vibes.

The position of the track pad is not good. The whole thing is too far to the left, I suppose so that the number pad could be placed on the right. Personally I found the number pad completely unnecessary and totally annoying but that is not really the fault of the computer. I suppose people want a number pad these days even if it means squishing up the rest of the keyboard to fit it in.

The right hand side of the track pad has a built in scrolling device but because the track pad is so badly positioned I found myself operating it all the time by accident. There was no option to turn it off.

There are only two USB ports which is simply not enough and the volume control is operated by the use of the function and F keys which is annoying if the room is dark and the volume needs turning down quickly.

The biggest surprise was when I went to complain to Toshiba. Their website had broken links which made it impossible to contact customer support. So instead I emailed every one of the email addresses on the site I could find and eventually someone wrote to me. They told me that they had nothing to do with problems with their computers, I had to speak to the shop where I bought it.

This is ridiculous. For a start, what if I was in another country and the shop I bought it from did not have a shop in the country I was in? Worse is that I don’t see how Toshiba can ever hope to improve their products if they are not seeing the problems of their customers. Worst of all though is that it is a complete cop out. I will never buy anything from a manufacturer who won’t stand by their product. Quite clearly Toshiba are not interested in their customers or what they have to say. All they want is your money.

On their site, you can read their big words about social and corporate responsibility but it’s clearly just nonsense. Anyone who can make such a cheap and nasty computer cannot claim to be offering something sustainable. It is made to be used briefly and thrown away. I got 4 months out of mine. Not really very good for the planet. I have had to buy another computer to replace it. Not very sustainable is it?

Committed to People, Committed to the future. Toshiba

That is what it proudly claims on its site but their refusal to take responsibility for its products makes a farce of their first statement and the fact that they even sell such a cheap, nasty and flimsy computer in the first place makes a mockery of their second statement. You can learn a lot by trying to contact a company’s customer service. I learned that Toshiba don’t stand by their products and are not interested in my comments about their products either. I won’t be buying from them again.

Categories
boats

Force 10 two burner gas cooker. Long term review

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Still looking good after 6 years of constant use. Oven door cleverly stows under the cooker. This is the American version which is slightly larger than the European version.

This cooker comes as standard equipment on the Pacific Seacraft Dana 24. It’s an expensive bit of kit this costing about £1200 which is a lot for a stove but if you live aboard and care about cooking then it’s money well spent.

The two burner model comes in two sizes, an American version which is a couple of inches wider and more voluminous that the European version. The Dana is an American boat so has the larger cooker fitted. Normally one does not associate looks with a cooker but it must be said that the Force 10 looks the part with it’s brushed stainless finish. It’s obviously well built. Looks are important because we live with it. The Dana is not so big that it can afford to have a separate galley so we’re never more than a feet away from it. It takes up a lot of space in the galley so I’m glad that I don’t mind it’s presence.

The oven door has a double glass window in it and an elegant curved teak wood handle. (note that most websites are using a very old picture of the Force ten. It used to have a straight handle. The curved one gives more room for your hand to get behind it without burning yourself). Lift the handle to open the door and it cunningly slides under the cooker leaving only a few inches protruding so that it’s out of harms way. It also leaves the stove more or less level on it’s gimbals. Clever, a really nice feature.

The oven itself is a box within a box so that it is insulated. The oven is thermostatically controlled. The flame is at the bottom and a metal plate is fitted just above it to deflect and spread the heat evenly. It works well. The grill is ceramic and quite excellent once warmed up. The oven door needs to be kept open when grilling. It can be left ajar or it can be stowed under the cooker.

The two hobs are different sizes and they both work very well with good clean regular blue flame and have excellent adjustment. All the burners on the Force 10 have flame failure devices and each burner has an automatic spark to illuminate it. In principal lighting any part of the cooker is a one handed operation.

The stove grate is made from solid stainless bar welded into a very strong support for any weight of saucepans and their contents. The whole grate lifts on hinges for easy access for cleaning the top of the cooker. The stove was supplied with one pair of pan clamps.

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The grate is made from substantial rod and apart from changing colour with the heat is excellent and are so designed that even a small Italian espresso Coffee machine can fit on it. Often this is not the case.

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The grate hinges up for easy access. The Force 10 is an easy stove to keep clean. It’s 6 years old and still looking good.

The Force 10 gimbals on narrow stainless brackets. The stove can be locked in place with two bolts, one on either side above the oven door.

There are a few issues of course and this stove could certainly benefit from a few improvements but overall it is an excellent cooker. It is now 6 years old, is used more than once every single day and has proven efficient and reliable. We are very happy with it. It is a well made quality product and that in itself is rare enough these days!

 

What’s wrong with it?

I suppose the worst, or perhaps the most potentially dangerous problem are the gimbals. Considering that this not unsubstantial cooker rests on them I do feel they could be a bit chunkier and I also feel that the locking tabs which are supposed to stop the stove flying across the cabin in the event of a knock down are a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’ and really does need to be improved. But worse than this perhaps is the fact that the thin gimbals cut into the bolts on the stove. It’s a slow process but after 5 years of use the bolts which must be about 1/2” in diameter are almost sawn half way through! They are turned regularly to spread the wear but soon they will need to be replaced. Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to expect to have to change a couple of inexpensive bolts every 5 years or so.

I’m not alone thinking that these brackets are not suitable. Here’s an article about one sailor who had new and more substantial brackets made. This is much more like it.

The supplied pan clamps are straight but personally I feel that they would be more useful if they had a bit of shape because it only holds the pans in one direction where as with a kink the pan is properly held no matter what the stove is doing. I had a mate make up a second pair with a kink in them. They work much better. I suppose they are straight as they are cheaper to make like this. Normally the pan clamps would clamp to the sides of the grate but our stove is such a tight fit that we can’t use them like this so are forced to attach them to the front of the stove. There’s no problem doing it this way except that the screws in the clamps leave marks on the stainless that normally wouldn’t be seen.

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The standard pan clamp, as supplied with the Force 10. Being straight means that the pan can move about.

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These are the pan clamps I had made up. They work much better and hold the pan no matter what the stove is doing.

The sparking system doesn’t always work and needs careful adjustment. The hob burners have switches behind the knobs that operate the spark when you push the knob in. I’ve had to take these switches apart a few times now and slightly bend the contacts to keep them sparking. The spark for  the oven has a more intelligent system, using a micro switch which is much easier to adjust.

If the problem is not with the switch it’s possible that the knob is touching the stove before operating the switch. The cure here is simple, remove the knob and stuff a small bit of paper into the hole at the back. This will allow the knob to operate the switch before it bottoms out on the front of the stove.

The spark is created from one AA battery which lives under the stove on the right hand side. Getting the battery in and out can be a bit tricky but one battery will last a good 6 months so it’s not something that needs to be done too often.

The grill element is a ceramic plaque and it needs a little while to warm up and become efficient. During use the stove gets very hot and even changes shape considerably. Force 10 suggest not using the grill for more than 20 minutes at a time. The heat comes out of the grill and makes the knobs very hot indeed. It’s not ideal but a small price to pay for such a good grill. The grill plaque could be larger as it is too small to even toast two pieces of bread side by side but it is at least economical on gas being smaller.

The oven takes a long time to warm up and doesn’t get much hotter than about 220 degrees no matter how long you let it warm up. This could be a problem with the thermostat but it’s always been like this despite attempts at adjustment. In reality it gets hot enough to cook most things. The heat is even in the oven and it works very well. There is one tray which has three positions which are well placed.

The Force 10 is made from stainless steel and the panels are generally riveted together. This is fine for making a good strong stove but makes taking it apart for cleaning a bit annoying. After 5 years of use I see that the glass in the oven doors could do with cleaning between the two layers but with out drilling out the rivets and dismantling the door, I can’t get at them to do this.

There is no light in the oven so if you want to know how your roast is doing you have to use a torch to see. This would be no problem normally as we keep any number of torches around the galley area but the problem is that the door handle is in the way! The trick is to operate the handle without opening the door. This gives just enough space to look in and see how the roast is doing.

We use the Force 10 cooker every day and it has been excellent. As mentioned, it could be better in some ways but the bottom line is that it continues to work as well as the day we bought it and with a little effort cleans up like new. Over the years I have had and used a number of other cookers but not one of them comes close to the Force 10 in usability or quality.

Conclusion:

If you can afford it and have the space for it, I believe it’s the best marine stove money can buy. In the long term it might well work out cheaper. I have had cheaper stoves before but they rarely lasted more than 5 years before needing replacement. The Force 10 will last decades so will eventually work out to be the best option. I really am very happy and proud to own such a top quality and classy cooker. Expensive but very good value.

Categories
Leica m9

Plustek 7400 film scanner review

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Beautiful old Alfa shot with Leica M3 and Tmax 100 asa film. Scanned with Plustek 7400 film scanner.

Recently I was going through some old B&W prints and I realised that I had taken some really great pictures over the years so I decided that the time had come to scan the negs and really organise my archive. In over 30 years of taking pictures it amounts to thousands of images. It’s actually a massive task but it’s not going to get done by itself. So I decided to buy a scanner and get on with it.

My idea was to scan all my negs at the highest res possible rather than just scan images when I needed. This way I can chuck out the original negs and simplify my life. Most people would keep them but I live on a small boat and simply don’t have the space to keep them. There’s always the risk that they would get damaged anyway in the damp environment.

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I did some research and in the end found the Plustek 7400 35mm film scanner. It cost a bit over £200 and comes with carriers for 6 negs or 4 slides. It also comes with Silver Fast scanning software. The unit itself is not too big and has a reassuring weight to it. In use it is quiet but the carrier does not advance automatically so you have to scan one image at a time. The 7400 has the latest LED technology which means better quicker scans and with no warm up time.

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At this point I have to mention the software Silver Fast. I’m afraid I find this clunky, untidy and frankly crap. It’s awful to use, over complicated with a very unhelpful ‘help’ guide. Not only that but try and do ANYTHING while it’s scanning and you will crash the program. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but having crashed once, the scanner is no longer recognised and the only solution is a computer re-boot. I did some research on some forums and discovered that I am not alone. I am on Windows 7 and maybe this has something to do with it. Personally I think not. I think that Silver Fast is a piss poor bit of software. There are other scanning programs I could buy but I only plan on scanning my negs once and then I am done so I will live with it as at the very least, it does allow me to scan.

Rant over, let’s scan. Because I am only scanning once I decided to scan at the max resolution of 7200 dpi. In reality this means 10,000 px wide scans in B&W which end up about 25 meg each. I tried saving files as Tiffs but the file size was massive and I could not see any difference at all between the Jpg and the Tiff. All my scans are now done as max quality JPGs. I found that the images could be adjusted for exposure, contrast etc just as well from a JPG as they could from a Tiff. So as far as I could tell there was no advantage to scanning and saving as a Tiff.

The B&W scans are excellent as you can see from the first pic on this post. I only scan once for each image but you can have multiple passes if you want but obviously this slows down the process massively and to be honest, I couldn’t see the difference. One pass at max res with the image saved as a uncompressed JPG is good enough for my purposes. Each scan takes about 2 to 3 minutes which isn’t too bad. I try not to think about the thousands of negs still ahead of me!

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Here’s a crop showing the zoom at 50% of the scanned image and below is a 100% version.

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A lot depends of the quality of your negs of course. Many of my shots were taken with all sorts of cameras and often in low light with fast film so there is not much quality there to start with. I could probably get away with scanning at a lower res but at least if I scan at the highest res possible I can always lower the quality later. When you come across a good neg, well exposed and developed the quality of the scan is excellent. Each individual piece of grain is visible. It’s really quite impressive.

Dust and scratches can be a problem that will really depend on how well your negs were stored. I always used the waxed paper neg holders and so long as they don’t get wet they seem to do the least damage to negs. My negs get handled a lot and so many of them had some dust marks and sometimes the odd scratch. I have decided not to get too anal about this. I think one could drive one’s self completely mad by worrying about every tiny bit of dust. I started to de dust one photo of my mate Tom but it got completely out of hand when I started to remove bits of dust that were actually stuck to his clothing!

Most of my negs were not too bad and I found the best way to remove dust is in Lightroom. Zoom in to 1:3 and use the navigator on the left to make sure to cover the whole image. It can be a bit of work but it’s not too bad thanks to Lightroom’s excellent dust removing tool. It takes a bit of practice but once learned is pretty quick.

Silver Fast offers some dust removing options but I didn’t like the look of the image after it had been worked on, it seemed to lose a lot of sharpness. Also it tripled the time to scan so I made the decision to repair the images post scanning. I found a clever though simple free program made by Polaroid. It’s easy to use yet surprisingly effective. There was a certain amount of messing about with the settings but there are not that many so it didn’t take long to discover what worked best. I had a lot of trouble finding it but in the end I found it here. I don’t know how long this bizarre link will remain but it’s worth a try. I had great trouble locating it. It works as a stand alone program or as a Photoshop plug in.

As yet I have not tried to scan any slides or colour negs, for now I’m just really happy to see some old B&W images again. Like seeing old mates again. I’ll post a review of the scanner with colour images as soon as I get a chance.

Conclusion: An excellent and easy to use scanner. Superb quality and pretty quiet. Only let down by the Silver Fast software it comes with.

Categories
Videos

Go Pro HD Hero video camera review

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GoPro HD Hero in camera mode. File size for each picture is nearly 2 meg. Quite a lot of distortion here but the camera was only about 50cm away.

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GoPro HD Hero a 100% crop of the photo above. Click on the images to see them bigger. Not bad for such a small package. These images are completely untouched and straight out of the camera.

 

When it comes to images, I am much more a ‘stills’ man. There’s something magical about capturing a fraction of time. That said, sometimes it’s nice to have a movie to watch. I used to have this function on my old Leica Digilux 2 and did use it from time to time. The resolution wasn’t very good and I couldn’t film on the boat when it was rough which was when I really wanted to.

Then I discovered the GoPro HD Hero video camera. It almost seemed too good to be true, here was a high res video camera that could film for over two hours and was only about 300€. If that was all it would be good value but this camera is also very small, just a couple of inches long. The HD Hero also comes with a waterproof housing that allows filming right down to 60 metres! I’m no diver but it does mean that I will be able to use it in the roughest and wettest conditions at sea and it’s reassuring to know that it will still be working on the sea bed if I lose it overboard!

It all seems very nicely put together and clever. When filming, the lens gives a choice of two wide angle views, either 127 degrees or a massive 170. It has an aperture of 2.8 so works even in low light situations. It acts as a hard drive when plugged into a computer so there’s no special software or drivers needed.

The interface is a bit awkward but when there are only two buttons to press for all the functions, this is not surprising. Like most things once you get the hang of it, it gets easier to use. Luckily most of the default settings are logical so there’s not much to do to get it working.

There is a small LCD screen on the front for the menus and settings but there is no screen or viewfinder. Luckily the super wide view means that setting the camera up just ‘by eye’ works fine. GoPro are talking about a screen that can be snapped onto the back of the camera but it is not available yet.

Enough about the technical stuff, if you want to know about that kind of thing, visit their site. I’m going to discuss stuff that you won’t find there.

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The quality of this little camera is very good. The lens is sharp and not too distorted considering the massive viewing angle. For the price, I doubt you can do better. It seems like very good value to me.

It has some nice features and can be used as a 5 mega pixel camera too. You can also program it to take photos automatically starting from 2 secs interval. This means that you can create some quite funky time lapse stuff or capture the moment without even having to think about the camera. If you take 1000 pictures, for sure a few of them will be excellent.

It takes surprisingly good, detailed and sharp pictures as you can see from the examples. My only quibble is that it is hard to know exactly when it takes the picture as there is a delay of at least a second between pressing the button and the picture being captured. I confirmed this by photographing the sweeping second hand of a clock. The instructions are vague but basically the camera makes a beep when you press the shutter then a second later it beeps again and the red light flashes on the front of the camera. This is when the actual picture is taken. This is fine once you’re aware of it and in any case most people wouldn’t be using it as a single shot camera anyway.

It is also necessary to hold the camera very steady or you can get camera shake but perhaps this is the reason behind the delay as it gives you a chance to steady the camera for when the shutter releases. A solution is to put the camera on auto shoot every two seconds and just keep snapping away that way you don’t even have to press the shutter to take a picture.

Personally I would like to see a wireless remote control shutter release. It’s true that the camera can record for hours but who wants to trawl through gigabytes of film looking for the right moment. This would be an excellent option. The red light flashes on the front of the camera when filming so you could easily see that the shutter has been released. Hurry up GoPro!

The exposure is generally good with two options, a centre weighted and a spot measurement. It handles shooting into the sun extremely well and has a nice lens flare that does not intrude but rather enhances the images.

I wasn’t that impressed with the quality of the sound when I used it on the front of the motorbike but I’m sure this could be improved by trying different placements. Under normal circumstances the sound is very good and clear but susceptible to wind noise. Placed in the case with the open back stops this but does muffle the sound a bit. A good future modification for the HD Hero would be a microphone jack so the camera could be placed for best view and the mic placed for best sound.

There are three versions but they all use the exact same camera and waterproof case, the difference is in the mounting options depending on how you want to use it. I chose the motorsport version and also bought the bracket that allows it to be fitted to a bicycle seat or handlebars. This will be perfect when I come to attach it to the boat.

So now for the things that could be improved.

The camera arrives packaged in a transparent plastic case which no doubt makes it look more attractive on the shelf in the shop but I would have been more than happy had it come wrapped in newspaper. I do not know why manufacturers have to use so much packaging. Maybe they should market one for the shops and a ‘less packaging’ version for Internet sales.

The lenses on the case can be easily changed and it costs about 20€ for a kit containing two spares. However it’s a shame that the HD Hero doesn’t have a lens cap for either the camera or the case and without a soft case to keep it in it’s likely to get scratched and because the case lens is so close to the camera lens and because the lens is so wide and has such amazing depth of field, it seems likely that a scratch will be noticeable on the finished result.

Despite the many brackets and extensions I have it is still far from ideal. What is really needed is a ball and socket end like you get on a tripod as this would allow much better and faster adjustment to get the camera level.

The plastic brackets are tightened by thumb screws but they need to be tighter than they can be done up by hand or they slip. The screws do have a Phillips head so they can be tightened more with a screwdriver but that means you need to have one handy.

The thumb screws do not hold the screws and they have a tendency to fall out and consequently are not long enough to catch the nut on the other side of the bracket. There are small mouldings that are supposed to jam the bolt into the thumb screws but they don’t work.

The waterproof case is very nicely made but there’s a lot of force on the catch when it is closed. How the plastic will stand up to these forces in the fullness of time is anyone’s guess. The good news is that a whole new case is about 40€ so it’s not the end of the world. The force is required to ensure a completely water tight fit. The lens sheds water beautifully so I suspect it has been treated with something.

The camera is guaranteed for a year but NOT if it gets water in it! That does mean that if the housing leaks you haven’t got a leg to stand on. This is a shame and doesn’t really instil much confidence in the housing. The housing also lacks a place to attach a lanyard. I would have thought a way of tying it on would be a wise precaution should it come unstuck for one reason or another.

Another niggle is the upside down option. It doesn’t exist! Soon it will be available as a firmware upgrade but who knows when that will be. It is supposed to allow you to fit the camera upside down so that when you play back the film it will be the right way up on your screen.

Not having this feature is particularly annoying as the case mount is on the bottom so if you want to hang the camera under something you need to link up all the little extensions to make it work. The whole process would be much better and simpler if it could be simply hung upside down. Adding lots of extensions together does not lead to a very stiff support and the camera, although small, has some weight to it and bounces up and down in use. This can be cured by tying the supports down with bits of string and wedging pieces of rubber in where possible thought it’s not very elegant.

UPDATE DEC 2010: The upside down version is now available as a firmware update. Excellent and very helpful.

It is very important to make sure the camera is mounted so it cannot move about. If you don’t do this the image seems to wobble. It’s not terribly distracting but it would be better if it didn’t do it.

The motorsport kit has an excellent suction cap attachment allowing for a quick set up, at least on a car or a motorbike tank. It also comes with some self adhesive quick release pads that you can stick wherever you want. They use VHB from 3M which is an unbelievable product and sticks like the proverbial. There’s no chance these will come unstuck. The problem here is that although the brackets click into place very securely there is still play. GoPro do supply a small rubber clip that fits to it but this does not stop the play particularly although it does stop the clip coming undone accidentally.

Also available soon is a bigger battery and a screen for framing and viewing movies and I hope it won’t be long before they are available. It in no way detracts from the cameras performance so it’s not really a problem. What is a problem is that you need 3.5 gig of Ram to get clean and smooth playback on your computer. Films will play back on less but the image is jumpy and amateurish. The size of the films is pretty big so make sure you’ve got plenty of processing power or anything you do to them will take ages.

The HD Hero produces Mpeg 4 videos so that they can be played back on numerous players. If you want to manipulate the films, add titles, crop etc then you’ll need a program to do it with. They recommend Windows Movie Maker but you’ll need a new codec or something if you want to import films direct from the camera. It all seems ridiculously over complicated to me.

If you have it, you can open the films in Quick Time and if you have upgraded to their ‘Pro’ version you can do basic work, such as cropping, on the movie from here. Then when you are happy with it, you can convert it to an AVI and import it into WMM for the final touches. I have found that a program called MP4cam2Avi did a very quick and tidy AVI conversion unlike the export I tried from Quick Time.

It would be nice if GoPro offered their own program like WMM that would allow the ability to do more than the fairly limited functions that WMM offers.

One last thing. You’ll need an SD card. Anything from 2 to 32 gig and not forgetting plenty of storage space for your films too. Ten minutes of filming could be one gig alone. If you use it a lot you’ll soon fill up your hard drive!

All in all I think this is a fabulous bit of kit. It’s simple and has it’s faults but it is capable of taking wonderful images, that and it’s very reasonable price make this a must have for the adventurous and the imaginative alike.

Here are some samples of videos from the GoPro HD Hero:

Some sailing footage taken above and below the water of a Pacific Seacraft Dana 24

Tear along the dotted line. A ten minute burn through the lovely French countryside on a Ducati Monster M900.

Sailing the world’s lightest nesting dinghy. A short film of the Stasha dinghy sailing in a breeze.

A short sailing film of some classic yachts in Cannes.

Suction cup mounting on petrol tank test. A short test with the HD Hero mounted on the tank with sound, not music.

Order HD Helmet HERO at GoPro.com