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.
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.