Nearly every photographer has one or wants to buy one, a GoPro. But is a GoPro good enough for an advanced photographer? Is the 400 $ investment worth it?
The short answer is no. A GoPro is a nice toy but not good enough for an advanced photographer. This does not mean you cannot make nice photos but you can get better cameras for less money. If you need some more pros and cons or an argument to justify the investment to your wife read the article
The GoPro is a video camera. If you are looking for a video camera the GoPro is a really good option. Especially the new GoPro 7 Black with build in video stabilization is really great. I often use my GoPro to make short travel videos to get another memory than just still images. GoPro does also a good job when it comes to the video editing. The apps on mobile devices and desktop makes it easy, even for beginners, to edit videos. With your GoPro Account you can also get access to a stock music platform.
A good video function unfortunately does not make a good photo camera. To change to the photo mode, you have to push a button a few times and I often push it too often. The camera is not ready when you need it fast. The shutter button is a bit hard to push. When you make a video, you can cut out the shake part, if you take a photo you eventually ruin the composition.
The typical GoPro look is a wide-angle look. The GoPros have a build in wide angle lens that means you cannot change the lens. You can change the field of view in the software. This will not affect the image resolution but you still shoot through a wide-angle lens. You get a kind of zoom. This is not comparable to a camera with an optical zoom but it is still better than on some smartphones with a digital zoom where the resolution decreases. I often take the GoPro with me when my main camera is a compact camera. The GoPro is good for wide-angle photography that you could not do with a compact camera.
Now some technical details to the GoPro lens. It is hard to find solid information about the GoPro and I cannot guarantee that this information is correct for every GoPro. The aperture for the GoPro is f2.8 and the focal length is 2.92 mm. The sensor is a 1/2.3” (6.17×4.55mm) sensor which gives a focal length multiplier of 5.64. Compared to a full frame camera the GoPro has an aperture of f15.8 and a focal length of 16.5 mm.
The wide angle can be a limitation. You have to know how to photograph with a wide-angle lens. You can read more about this in this article. Generally, it means the closer the better. Things that are more than three meters away will be really small in the image. A good thing is, that you do not have focusing problems. With an aperture of f15.8 everything will be in focus.
The image quality of the GoPro is somewhere between a smartphone and a good compact camera. You get a better image quality than from most of the smartphones but the quality is not as good as on a good compact camera. Caused by the wide-angle lens you have lens distortion in the images. This can be nice if you like the typical GoPro look but, in most cases, it is a minus point.
A good feature that makes the GoPro more attractive for advanced photographers is that the GoPro can shoot RAW images. This makes it easier to post process the images. If you buy a GoPro of the newest generation (7) only the Black can shoot raw. The RAW format is a GoPro self-developed format based on the Adobe DNG. Lightroom does recognize the GoPro RAW images.
The small sensor size can cause some problems in the image quality. Especially in low light situations where you have to push the ISO, the pictures get noisy and not sharp. You have to keep in mind that you are photographing around f15.8. The GoPro is not made for photography in difficult light situations. If you are photographing during the day or at sunset or sunrise you will not have any problems.
Compared to the photo quality the video quality of the GoPro is really good. The GoPro is made for video and does produce a great video quality, even if you do not know anything about video.
One of the biggest advantages of the GoPro is the small size. You have good wide-angle camera with a really small size that fits in every pocket. This makes the GoPro to a good camera for travel. You can also make more creative pictures because the GoPro fits in small holes like a hole on a golf course or a small hole at the beach. Because the GoPro is so small and light you can attach it nearly everywhere like on a motorbike or on a surfboard. You have many possibilities for creative pictures.
Action cameras and GoPros has become really popular in the last years. Caused by the popularity you can get a lot of additional gear. Because the GoPro is the most popular action cam you can get especially for GoPros a lot of different gear. From floating handles over chest mounts and dome ports for half underwater photos, you can get everything. You can buy additional gear originals from GoPro or you can buy third party gear which is much cheaper. The offer on amazon is endless.
GoPro has its own apps, to control the camera or to cut videos. This is the big difference to other action camera manufacturers. You get similar functions and quality from other brands or China copies but the difference to an original GoPro are the Apps that GoPro provide. You have an app where you can control the camera from your smartphone with Bluetooth and W-Lan. This gives you more possibilities to be creative and you have more control when you are shooting remote.
If you need some arguments to buy a GoPro maybe this give you some help.
If you got traveling and you want to go light, the GoPro is a good and versatile camera. You can put it nearly in every pocket and you have it ready when you want to take a video.
If you want to get started in underwater photography the GoPro is a good option. The newer GoPros are water proof down to 10m (33 ft). If you go snorkeling or want to take some fun pictures in the water, the GoPro is a good camera. For diving you will need an additional housing that waterproofs you GoPro down to 60m (196 ft).
Additional wide angle
The GoPro is nice when you want to have an additional wide-angle camera. In some situation a smartphone or compact camera is not handy when you want to photograph something, especially if you are used to use wide angle lenses. A GoPro can be a nice addition.
The GoPro is a perfect time laps camera. You can place it somewhere connect an external power source and put in a big memory card. You can make really long time laps videos with a GoPro and the setup is super easy. You can choose between different speeds and the GoPro puts everything together in a video. I know a photographer who sets up on every wedding reception a GoPro time laps and gives the video as a surprise.
To give you a bit more information and help you with your decision to buy or not to buy I will share with you some of my personal experiences. I have a GoPro 5 black since 2016. I like my GoPro very much. Because I can take it everywhere in my pocket I got some nice creative pictures that I would not have got with another camera. I use the GoPro often to make some moving images when I am traveling, so I have some moving memories and not only still images. I made some good experience with the GoPro App to cut short videos for Instagram. I also use the GoPro to experiment. The camera is as good as indestructible. I use it in extreme situations where I would not risk the life of my DSLR. I made the experience that I am more creative with the GoPro because I do not think this is a real camera and I have to be serious. The GoPro is also a perfect selfie camera for me. With the wide angle I can see a lot from the things around me.
But I also made some negative experience with the GoPro. The GoPro is hard to use if you want to do other things than filming. The screen is very small and hard to use especially if you have bigger fingers. When you want to switch from video mode to photo mode you can have a hard time. You can use the voice control, but I think it is stupid to yell at a camera when there are other people around you. I also have sometimes problems with a slight color cast, especially when I take photos in RAW and the light is not so good. Finally, I think the GoPro is too expansive for what it is. I got mine as a Christmas present, because I would rather spend the money on other, more useful gear.
Do I need a GoPro?
As you may noticed in the last phrase I do not thing a photographer needs a GoPro. The still image quality is not good enough for an advanced photographer and there are other limitations. You should rather spend the money for something else.