GoPro Hero 5 Black: First Impressions

I really love point of view (POV) cameras. As an adventurer, there are many times when a lugging around and shooting with big DSLR camera isn’t practical but I still want to be able to share my experience with others. Small, wearable action cameras make shooting on the go much easier and allow you to focus on your adventure and capture images at the same time.

GoPro has been a leader in consumer priced wearable action POV cameras since they became a thing. I was so psyched with the concept that I bought an early generation GoPro back when they first hit the market, but I ended up rarely using it. The first GoPro cameras were not user friendly – switching settings on the camera was not intuitive at all – and the image quality left much to be desired. With each new model GoPro made changes to the camera menus, settings, and operating systems as well as improvements in performance, and they started to become more popular with professional and amateur athletes, photographers, and filmmakers but I still refused to upgrade.

For a GoPro to be useful to me as a professional shooter, I really wanted the ability to shoot RAW photos not just JPEGs. Enter the GoPro Hero 5 Black with RAW still photo capability. Recently introduced, this camera finally had everything I wanted in a wearable POV model – ease of use, small size and low profile, a variety of mounting options, waterproof, and RAW shooting capabilities. I’ve now owned one for about 24 hours and can say this camera is truly night and day from my first GoPro. I can easily see this becoming an essential part of my regular kit as a photographer and everyday excursions as an outdoors enthusiast.

Here are my first impressions:

Image Quality – So much better. The GoPro Hero 5 Black handles high contrast and backlit scenarios much better than my first GoPro, as one would expect. Details are sharp, colors are accurate, and both shadows and highlights are nicely rendered. The camera does a good job of balancing details in light and dark areas while still producing an image with natural appearing contrast and saturation.

RAW Files – The Hero 5 Black produces JPEG files with sidecar .GPR files. Originally I thought the Raw files would be .DNG (Adobe Digital Negative) but it turns out the .GPR files are an extension of the .DNG format. You’ll need the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open and process these files – I had to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Creative Cloud – or you can download GoPro Studio for free. Viewed in Lightroom, the .GPR files are ok. Compared to the native jpegs from the camera, the .GPR files are more saturated and have funky color vignetting caused the exagerated wide angle perspective of the lens – the edges of the frame are not only darker, but bluer in color. This was very evident in the photos I took of white snow – the jpegs did a better job of representing the snow as an even white color across the entire frame. Colors of the jpeg also appeared more neutral and natural – flesh tones and the magenta fleece I was wearing appeared a little greener compared to the RAW file. After tweaking sharpness and noise/masking levels in Lightroom, it was possible to get more fine detail in the RAW file. One nice thing is that the GoPro creates both a full size jpeg file and .GPR file when writing images to the memory card, so you have access to both. The jpegs straight from the camera are honestly quite good, but it’s nice to have access to a file with greater editing latitude. It is also important to note that RAW files are NOT created when the camera is in burst mode – something I didn’t realize until after my test run yesterday – and there are a few other scenarios where GoPro RAW doesn’t work, explained on GoPro’s website. Overall, I think the RAW files are slightly disappointing when viewed with the default settings in Lightroom, but things like color rendering and light falloff should be easy to fix in future software updates and better profile settings from Adobe. For the company’s first foray into RAW the quality is acceptable, and the fact that you get high quality jpeg images alongside the RAW files is a big plus. You can definitely take good images with this camera!

Menu Navigation and Settings – The Hero 5 is easy to use, something you could not say about GoPro’s first POV cameras. When you first start up the camera, there is a tour that explains how to do most things, and nearly everything on the camera is controled by two buttons and an LCD touch screen. Changing from photo to video mode is easy and adjusting important features like resolution and frame rate is simple and intuitive. The menus are well organized and make sense and give access to the most important things without being cluttered and confusing. The LCD provides a very clear image and appears to be high quality. The touch screen is responsive.

Voice Control – This feature is AWESOME. I haven’t exactly nailed the commands yet – I tended to make them overly complicated and said things like “GoPro Capture Still Photo” which is not a recognized command whereas “GoPro Take a Photo” is. Even so, it worked most of the time, and it’s possible that nearly all the times it didn’t were because of user error. The ability to take completely hands free photos is a game changer, especially when paired with a number of GoPro’s wearable mounts. I can think of so many scenarios where this is helpful – when paddling a kayak or helping your kid pizza down a ski slope. If you set beeps to on, you can tell if the GoPro heard you even if you aren’t looking at it thanks to audible cues.

Smartphone Apps – I downloaded all of the apps GoPro makes to my iPhone, but so far have only tested the Capture app. Setting it up with my camera was pretty easy. I synced the two via Wifi. The camera is also supposed to sync via BlueTooth but every time I connected to the camera I had to use the Wifi connection, which mean I could not connect to both my camera and internet at the same time – I’ll have to play around with it more to see if that can be fixed. When I was connected, it was easy to see the camera’s view on my phone, and I could also go through and look at all of the media I took and download photos or videos directly to my phone. This made sharing snapshots on social media a breeze – once I switched my Wifi connection back to the internet. I didn’t try using the app to shoot and control the camera out in the field because my iPhone’s battery life drains quickly in cold temperatures, so I only used the app briefly when I returned home to share a snap to Instagram.

Birthday play day! #goprohero5

A post shared by Kari Post (@karipost) on

Battery Life and Performance – My camera shipped with a battery about 15% full, which died pretty quickly upon me fiddling around with it, but I was very excited and probably fiddling a lot! It comes with a USB charging cord and you have to charge the battery in camera (unless you get a supplementary charging port from GoPro). The media I read said it would take 2 hours to charge plugged into a wall and 4 hours plugged into a computer – I plugged mine into a wall and had a full charge within 1 1/2 hours. After about an hour of use, worn on a chest mount in temperatures right around freezing with the GPS on the entire time, I had about 55% of my battery life left. I wasn’t recording the entire time but did take a fair number of stills, bursts, and some video. Because so many factors affect battery life, including environmental factors, recording mode, and other things it’s impossible to say how long the battery will last in “normal” conditions. To better understand the many factors that affect battery performance and anticipated battery length in different recording scenarios, check out GoPro’s website.

I’ve only taken the camera out on one trip, a hike through the snow covered woods with my dog, and tried a limited number of settings during that time, but so far I really am enjoying the new GoPro. I look forward to using it more and can definitely see it becoming my “have everywhere” camera. It makes a great portable pockable point-and-shoot to complement my iPhone, and the fact that it shoots RAW will give me added opportunities to shoot professional quality work with a tiny, easy to use camera that I can have on me at all times.

My First Outing with the Wolfjaw 16L: A Review of Brooklyn Outfitters’ Super Sweet Daypack

An iPhone photo of my Brooklyn Outfitters Wolfjaw 16L pack atop West Rattlesnake mountain, overlooking Squam Lake in New Hampshire's Lake's Region.

This is a minimalist’s pack. If that’s a problem for you, get over it. You’ll love this pack anyway.

I’m a photographer, backpacker, naturalist, guide, and overall adventure enthusiast. I’m not a gear junkie, but I like good gear, and if I can’t find a use for something, it doesn’t get used, end of story. I’ve tried and tested enough packs to know which ones I like and which I’m happy to give back or retire to my closet until I can hand them off to a new owner. There are a treasured few I keep, and the Brooklyn Outfitters Wolfjaw 16L is going to be one of them.

To be honest, I didn’t really need another pack when my BKO Wolfjaw arrived in the mail, but I was excited to test it out just the same. I finally got a chance to do so a few days ago and after putting the bag through the paces in one of my favorite outdoor playgrounds, New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, I can say this pack is here to stay.

Straight out of the box this pack is, dare I say it, pretty. The craftsmanship is top notch; the pack is simply designed, but expertly constructed, and the materials look as if they are built to last. Unlike many lightweight bags made of thin and fragile materials, this one seems durable enough to withstand some serious bushwhacking, rock scrambling, and other less tame pursuits unscathed. Since all of Brooklyn Outfitters’ packs and gear come with a lifetime guarantee, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the pack survives all the torture I’m bound to put in through, but it’s nice to know that a company stands behind its products, and I can rest assured that this pack won’t fail on me in the middle of a summit attempt or halfway through a tough day of hiking.

The Wolfjaw comes in two colors and one color scheme; black with red accents or red with black accents. My bag is “Midnight Black” and the bit of red on it gives it just enough pizazz to make me feel hip wearing it. I know that sounds pretty shallow, but when you are in the woods, sweating, swatting flies, and stinking like a horse’s rear end, anything that makes you feel less uncivilized is welcome. The black does blend in way more than red, so if you aren’t worried about misplacing your pack in the trunk of your car or tucked away in the woods, and want something discreet but still stylish, go with black. The red color on the other hand, is super flashy. It looks awesome in photographs, stands out against just about any landscape, wilderness or urban, and won’t get so easily lost when you place it down to use nature’s facilities. Wearing it, you will also look like you are ready to rescue your fellow adventurers and provide medical assistance at any time; the color is called “Ski Patrol Red” for a reason. Fortunately, the black accents keep the bag from being obnoxious and instead, make it the perfect accessory for completing that “bomber in the backcountry” look of all those attractive and fit hikers you see gracing the cover of Backpacker magazine.

As handsome as the Wolfjaw is, looks would mean nothing if this pack didn’t perform and it does. My first test of the Wolfjaw was on a short hike up East Rattlesnake Mountain, which overlooks Squam Lake in New Hampshire. I had hiked the trail up once before, and knew the view at the top was impressive, so I loaded my pack up with some camera gear, a DSLR and two lenses plus filters, extra memory, and a spare battery, a rain jacket, map, and headlamp, my iPhone and sunglasses, and my tripod. Because the pack is a simple by design, there aren’t a ton of places to put so much gear, but I found it easy to place my smaller items (map, phone, headlamp, and sunglasses) in the zippered outer pocket, and stuff my extra camera equipment in a Clik Elite Camera Capsule zippered pouch inside the main compartment along with my rain jacket. I used the compression straps on the outside of the pack to attach my tripod, and carried my camera with one lens attached on a neck strap slung over my head and one shoulder, and my water bottle in hand.

The compression straps on this pack are really well designed and work exactly like compression straps should. Because they wrap all the way around the pack, they actually compress the bag evenly when tightened, and its possible to carry a load hug snug against your body, for maximum balance and comfort. On many bags, I’ve found the compression straps only tighten the sides of the bag, as opposed to the entire girth of the bag, and I think the method that BKO uses on the Wolfjaw is far superior.

The bag also has an extensive daisy chain of webbing running the length of it, punctuated by a single ice axe loop at the bottom. The daisy chain provides a number of attachment points for extra gear, so you have options, even with the bag’s minimalist design. I didn’t have to use any on my hike up the Rattlesnakes, but I could see myself clipping on rope, climbing shoes, or any number of other accessories onto this pack in future use.

The hike up East Rattlesnake is only about 0.7 miles from the trailhead up to the overlook, but the trail gains about 700 feet in that short time, traversing a number of switchbacks. The mosquitoes were out in droves, and they magnified in intensity any time I stopped, so I beelined it to the overlook quickly, burning through some calories on the way up. The Wolfjaw handled beautifully. It hugged my body without feeling too tight, and perhaps because of the frameless design, I had less problems with my shirt riding up in the back than I do with other compact daypacks. There is some padding on the back on the Wolfjaw, but nothing designed to aid ventilation, yet I found my back to be no more sweaty than with any other pack.

Lightly padded shoulder straps, with webbing for attaching accessories, balance the weight of the pack’s contents easily. A sternum strap and waist strap, each made of webbing with a sturdy no-slip buckle, hold the bag securely to the body. A loop at the top of the pack makes it easy to hang, and the roll top closure provides secure protection with easy access to the bag’s contents.

The Wolfjaw does have a hydration sleeve, which I could have used instead of carrying a water bottle. I forgot to pack a bladder though, and upon investigating the bag, I can’t figure out where the hose is supposed to exit the pack. Because the Wolfjaw has a roll-top closure, like a dry bag, feeding the hose up through the top of the bag does not seem practical, but neither does cutting a port for it in the side of this water resistant bag design. There is also a little clip inside the bag above the zippered pocket where the hydration sleeve is, and I have no idea what this is for. If I had to pick one thing to complain about in regards to the Wolfjaw, it would be this whole hydration sleeve system thing. Mostly, because I’m sure it makes sense to the guys who designed it, but I don’t get it!

The top of this part of the bag also felt stiff on the back of my neck, but only when I first put it on, and only for the first time I wore it each day. Within a minute of having the bag on, I couldn’t detect the stiffness at all, and the bag felt super comfy.

Once I reached the overlook, I started snapping photos almost immediately, first with my camera, then with my phone, then with my camera again. I also grabbed my rain jacket out of the bag and put it on, despite the fact that I was warm, because the constant assault from the biting mosquitoes was a bit more than I could bear at the moment. After resting at the overlook for a bit, I decided I had enough time to try for the adjacent peak, West Rattlesnake, and still make it back in time to the East Rattlesnake overlook in time for sunset in case the views over there weren’t as good.

The Wolfjaw is made of a durable, lightweight, water resistant Cordura material. It means water doesn’t get in very easily, but it also doesn’t get out easily either, a thought that occurred to me when I put my now sweaty rain jacket back in its place inside the pack. Overall though, I think the extra protection the material provides makes me feel more comfortable using this pack in challenging weather conditions than some of my more breathable bags.

As I scrambled over to West Rattlesnake, I found myself thinking, “Wow, I really like this pack.” Usually, I avoid frameless packs whenever carrying camera gear because I find them uncomfortable with camera equipment, but the Wolfjaw changed this for me. It felt light and moved with me, and carried all my necessary gear (probably about 15 lbs in total) easily and comfortably. I enjoyed the freedom of not feeling weighed down, something I love when I hike without a pack at all, while still being able to shoot, something I often miss when I go camera less into the backcountry. Now, I can have the best of both worlds.

The 0.8 miles between East and West Rattlesnake went quickly, and when I reached the overlook on the western mountain, I was instantly glad I decided to push further. The view was outstanding, and from a photographic standpoint, almost overwhelming. So many viewpoints, with rock faces, gnarled and twisted pine trees, and stunted shrubs, all overlooking beautiful Squam Lake, surrounded by mountains and dotted with islands rising from the water, created opportunities for multiple compositions, and I bounced back and forth on the mountain, leaping up and down boulders, and winding my way in and out of paths, shooting multiple angles. The pack’s compact design forced me to stay very organized, and made going from one location to another easy. I liked it so much I even bothered to snap a few shots of my new pack enjoying the view.

After the sun settled behind the mountains, I began my trip back to my camp in the fading light. The mosquitoes had stopped biting and the hike back was pleasant. Despite the late hour and having a few miles already under my feet, I felt alive with the energy and excitement of my amazing sunset hike with an awesome new pack.

For the hiker who wants to carry just what they need and nothing more, the Wolfjaw 16L is the perfect companion. All too many people often venture out into unfamiliar territory poorly prepared, so the Wolfjaw’s simplistic design is perfect for those who would prefer to be carrying nothing at all. There is more than enough space inside for rain gear, safety equipment, food and water, and the bag’s lightweight, comfortable design makes it seem as if you are hardly carrying anything at all.

Purists too, will appreciate the pack’s no-frills design and excellent quality. It doesn’t have anything it doesn’t need (except for maybe that pesky inner clip near the hydration sleeve) and it really doesn’t need anything it doesn’t have. One small change I’d like to see considered on future iterations of the pack is an integrated whistle in the pack’s sternum strap buckle. Ultralight and minimalist hikers love gear that is multipurpose, and adding a built-in whistle to a buckle that already exists will ensure that those going light don’t skimp on safety.

I’m already looking forward to my next adventure with this pack, which is conveniently, tomorrow. The Wolfjaw and I will be trekking up the Hancocks with my friend Brett who is more than halfway towards conquering all forty-eight 4000+ foot peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. He’s also a blogger, naturalist, biologist, and serious outdoor enthusiast, so my original plan was to have him test out the pack for a second opinion. However, I like the Wolfjaw so much, I might have to reconsider and keep it all to myself!

To learn more about Brooklyn Outfitters and to purchase the Wolfjaw pack, visit their website at www.brooklynoutfitters.com. Brooklyn Outfitters offers guided outdoor trips to various destinations throughout the northeast, catering to the weekend warriors of New York City. They also sell 100% USA made, hand-sewn packs, such as the Wolfjaw 16L and its bigger sibling, the Wolfjaw 34L.

Also, check out The New England Nature Blog, where Brett writes about, you guessed it, the nature, ecology, and wild places of New England. His writing is really fun, and I always learn something new when I visit, so be sure to stop by.