It's amazing to think the name "GoPro" has become a household name. From gas stations to electronic stores to the far reaches of where we choose to travel, you can find, purchase, and put a high definition video camera on your head and show the world what you see. By mass producing sport cameras, GoPro has revolutionized how we choose to share the world around us, and as a result, it's blossomed into one of the most popular camera brands on the market.
And in that time, there's been quite the transition from that HD Hero camera I first bought way back in 2012. Take a look at some photos I have from that first generation HD sport camera:
About 1 year after it's first HD camera release, GoPro released the Hero2, upping the video resolution and frame rate capabilities along with a small bump in cost. Nevertheless, there were still no cameras on the market to match its features and still maintain its price point.
But it's been a slippery slope upward from there. True to its form, each subsequent release of new GoPro cameras has told that same story- pushing the limits on both quality and maximum consumer price point. By the time the latest camera, the HD Hero 6 was released, the camera had settled into a purgatory: steep price compared to other sport cameras in the now saturated market, but not quite the full functionality professionals call for. It's unclear if this new camera is a wholesome family camera for eveyone, or if it's the low-cost solution to the budding professional (Our specialty around these parts...).
Let's take a look at the features packed into this little car payment, and what making an investment in this camera means for personal and professional videography.
The Hero 6 (Black edition) meets the market standard for resolution: full 4K video at 60 frames per second. Subsequent lower resolutions bump up the frame rates, meaning unlike previous models you get to have your cake and eat it too: normal HD resolution shoots in 240 frames per second.
One word of warning though: maximizing resolution and/or frame rate doesn't leave the exposure much room to play. Low light can sometimes get grainy and noisy much faster than a less bargained competitor camera.
For the Hobbyists
4K is the highest resolution you could ask for in a camera, especially at a price point like this. Most screens short of a large flatscreen or a movie theater-sized project can't even differentiate between 4K and 1080p, so at this point in the world 4K is usually overkill. The high frame rate in the lower resolutions (1080p at 240fps) can turn any shot into an awesome instant replay at 1/8 the normal speed.
For the Videographers
Having both 4K and high frame rate is a godsend in the editing room, it turns any clip from the GoPro into elastic. Clips can be stretched to suit any editing needs. The combined powers of the in-camera stabilization and double resolution framing that can be cropped in, perfect composition and stable shots even without gimbal assistance are all but guaranteed.
Since the beginning of the possibilities of HD video recording, GoPro has focused primarily on video, with photography placed to the side when possible. That turned around when the HD Hero 5 Black and Hero 6 Black started touting 12MP sensors, which, while not going to make the front page of Time Magazine, will capture a wide angle of the world around you in powerful color. The Hero 6 boasts some additional bells and whistles, offering shooting in .RAW uncompressed images and an HDR feature.
The Hero 6 did lose one photo feature from it's predecessors though: it can no longer do photo and video at the same time. This means you have to choose wisely how you want to capture your moment, and if you are a frequent visitor under the sea like I am changing between modes or re-capturing a moment can be impossible.
For the Hobbyists
HDR, or "High Dynamic Range" finally solves the problems of backlighting, dark shadows or bright brights (Mitch explains it way better than me in his blog post here), which means images off the GoPro can better than any other sport camera on the market. The large sensor makes for great colors and contrast, making any wide shot full of color without the editing hassle. Keep in mind this is still a wide angle high action sports camera, so any kind of portraiture or close ups isn't really an option.
For the Photographer
The ability to shoot .RAW files finally places GoPro cameras in the league of professional cameras. The already powerful sensor in the camera pulls in rich colors and behaves well in low light. Additionally, the camera offers a new feature for the GoPro: manual exposure control! Shutter speed and aperature can be each adjusted on cue or left in automatic, but either way this is a new level of flexibility that allows for any photographer to use this camera as an easily portable part of their own arsenal.
Check out some of these photos using some of the GoPro's .RAW feature (and some photoshop magic):
This has been the big stink of GoPros through the years, just about anytime someone picks up a GoPro it would require a lengthy explanation of how two buttons and a small screen gave you all the interfacing you needed. GoPro quickly sought to improve this with an LCD screen add on, a third button, wireless connectivity to an app, and finally a in camera touch screen.
The latest line of cameras has rescinded the front button, returning to a two button interface but relying on touch screen controls for the now advanced modifications that can be made for shooting. The small screen is employs swiping system that separately access files, change global settings, and change settings for the current shooting mode. For fat fingers like me a swiping system is much appreciated for finding my way through the navigation screen, but I am missing having everything in one places in a "settings" area, now having to check to places to make sure the camera is adjusted properly.
In the field
So action camera, how does it hold up in the action? The camera alone is pretty impressive, now waterproof to 30 feet with no housing and scratch resistant glass protecting a crystal clear lens. Battery life, a consistent problem for the GoPro (and most sport cameras) still struggles, as I watched a fully charged battery drop to 0 after 13 seconds of filming on a cold ski day.
Keeping it in a sealed protective housing is just about the only way to combat this, and I can't say it helps much.
To go to the other end of the spectrum, GoPro has really come to hit a big problem with their cameras in the water. Because of the screen navigation design, when in its waterproof housing the settings of each shooting mode cannot be adjusted. Whatever setting you decided you were going to want at the beginning of an hour long scuba dive will be the only setting you are going to get. With the double whammy of losing the Photo+video capture (which really was just pulling frames from the video anyway...), you can be really limited on what you can capture at once.
Another big selling point for the GoPro cameras is the accessory abilities. GoPros have revolutionized the market and now pieces and features for GoPros and GoPro camera rigs are as standard as camera conventions from the film era. Lights, color filters, tripods, stabilizer rigs, the cameras are so normal part of market that companies can invest in products and accessories fit for your camera. In the specialized world of action and sports cameras, this saves headaches time and time again to get the exact shot you want.
I can't make up your mind for you, you know who you are. But here's the takeaway:
This camera will have everything you want and more. The rich colors, the incredible range of use, and an easy to use screen means that this camera blows other action cameras (even other GoPros) out of the water. Battery life in the cold is an issue, but an issue not solved on other cameras either. The sensors on these cameras have finally gotten powerful enough that this really is a camera to point, shoot, and enjoy.
The question for the average camera user, then, is not will it do what I need it to, but whether you need it to do what you want to do. Some of the defining features that set this camera apart are .RAW photo format, manual exposure, and ultra high resolution. Most of these things will make no difference if you aren't interested in editing or post-production of your videos. But if you decide to spring for that high price point you won't be disappointed.
GoPro has made the leap of faith by adding features for professional users, and the added access to accessories that can enhance photo and video quality to capture just about any precise shot that you can think of.
The basic build serves the same purpose as previous models: a wide angle camera that is portable and can go anywhere from the bottom of the sea to the top of a mountain. The latest model brings the caliber needed for a professional to turn their head stabilizing capabilities and high frame rates for a price point of a decent lens. The post-production possibilities mean that footage can work seamlessly into other works, making this the most powerful camera you can fit into your pocket. The two button system is hurtful here though, settings can be difficult to quickly change, not to mention inaccessable once the waterproof case is shut.
This is just scratching the surface on this camera. Have any thoughts you want to share about GoPro's work? Let us know on instagram @mountainsandmaritime, and check out our store where photographers are offering photos that you can buy and send all the proceeds to charity!
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