GoPro pretty much invented the action-camera market by selling people a tiny, easy-to-use video camera and encouraging them to record their wildest adventures.
Even the name, GoPro Hero, reeked of excitement. It was as if the whole world was waiting for somebody to come up with the idea, and when they did, kaboom!
Take a look at YouTube and you’ll find GoPro footage of pretty much everything.
No, strike the “pretty much” – if it hasn’t been filmed on a GoPro, it doesn’t exist.
Scuba-divers were among the early adopters. True, the early GoPros weren’t that great as diving cameras; they delivered much better footage above water than they did in the oggin, unless you were prepared to shell out on lights and filters and generally compromise the whole tiny and unobtrusive thing.
However, divers didn’t worry about that and just got on with filming everything they dived, GoPro in one hand and torch in the other.
GoPros were soon almost as common on dive-boats as regulators.
Today there are dozens of GoPro rivals on the market at all sorts of prices. A quick Internet search brought up full-HD action cameras selling for a fiver, which is just ridiculous, plenty of GoPro rip-offs complete with 30m dive-housing at anywhere between £25 and £75, serious branded competitors hovering around £200 or so and the diver-developed Paralenz at £465.
Simple question, then. Given such a crowded and varied marketplace, is GoPro still out in front with its latest iteration, the Hero 8?
Only one way to find out, and my thanks to Dave from Ocean Leisure for supplying a review sample for me to take diving.
The GoPro Hero 8 looks impressive as soon as it’s sitting in your hand. It’s small, yet feels surprisingly solid and meaty, built to last, with a soft coating, smooth finish and rounded corners.
It isn’t very heavy, just 120g or so, and it’ll drop easily into your BC pocket, but it does feel like a serious piece of kit. Pick one up in a shop and you’ll immediately understand that you’re getting something for your money.
The front of the camera features the lens and an information display screen that will tell you basic stuff such as battery life and recording time left.
GoPro Hero 8 battery, microSD card and battery charger connection (left) and mode and power button set flush to the body of the camera.
The power and mode button sits flush with the left side of the camera, as seen from the rear, and the shutter button is on the right side of the top plate.
Pretty much the entire rear surface is taken up by a colour monitor screen/ viewfinder. Physical controls are limited to the two buttons, with the touch-sensitive rear screen intended to be how the user sets up and adjusts the camera.
As supplied, the Hero 8 is claimed to be waterproof, rated to 10m depth, and features a pair of foldable fingers under the base. Folded away, these sit in a shaped recess, so the bottom of the camera is flat and it will stand easily on any surface. Pulled down, they form the near-universal GoPro action-camera mount, and will let you to use the Hero 8 with any GoPro mounts you might have.
The combination of the two makes the camera very tempting for multi-purpose use, above and under water, and means you don’t need an extra mounting frame, as on other cameras.
The whole right side of the Hero 8 is a sealed, watertight door, released by pulling down on a tab at its base and lifting up the full panel, which is removable.
Under the door is the battery, micro-SD card slot and a port for charging the battery. GoPro provides the charger cable, which has a standard phone-charger or computer-port USB at one end and the appropriate plug to fit the camera at the other, and is as serious a piece of kit as the camera. The camera end isn’t a standard USB, so you’ll need to carry the GoPro cord if you’re travelling.
Charging took a little over an hour from flat and the camera will record continuously for around 100 minutes on the standard battery, with files limited to around 20 minutes each to make subsequent editing less of a trauma.
Spare batteries and stand-alone chargers are available, and if you’re doing more than one dive per day are probably worthwhile but, given the one-hour charging time, by no means essential.
Battery charged, I proceeded to set the camera up ready for use – and ran headlong into the first of the two things about the GoPro I didn’t like.
I’ve already mentioned the rear touch-screen, which is first rate as a viewfinder. Large, tack-sharp and colourful, it’s simply lovely to look at.
It works well as a touch-screen, too, being very responsive and easy to use, but it wasn’t intuitive and I found myself changing settings I didn’t want to alter, and then struggling to change them back.
I did get used to it after a few tries but, and this is important, it wouldn’t put me off buying a Hero 8.
Settings screen for custom modes.
The thing is, the camera offers a huge range of settings accessed by a range of swipes and screen selections.
Some of the swipes are obvious, some much less so, requiring you to swipe down from the top edge, for example, but once you have the camera set up as you like it, you can store all the adjustments and then apply them with a single swipe through your list of pre-set modes.
There are four pre-named selections available, which you can alter to your taste, and you can add additional presets using the custom function if that isn’t enough. Or I could just use the GoPro app and set the camera up from my phone. Duh!