Just a few days ago, GoPro announced the latest version of its iconic Hero action camera. No doubt, the new Hero 12 will turn heads but also receive criticism on the internet for a perceived lack of new features. Time for me to add my 2 cents again. However, I do not want to comment on the outstanding video quality but rather on its ability to capture photos. As I have written before on this blog, the GoPro is not only a great video device but also a very capable photo camera. But as any photographer can attest, the camera itself does not take splendid photos. It’s the person behind it. And this is even more true for the GoPro which requires a little more care when used. If you are considering to get a GoPro for capturing your daily life, go ahead and read this post.
GoPro as a Photo Camera
The GoPro has been my most used camera over the past ten years. I literally carry it with me everywhere. It joins me on morning runs, bike rides, hikes and vacations. The form factor and its rugged design make it a perfect companion (See this hike in Las Vegas). Heck, you can even take it swimming and diving (up to 10 m/ 33ft) without worrying about anything.
Looks can deceive – despite its tiny size, the GoPro packs a punch when it comes to photos: the current version (GoPro Hero 11 – Aug 2023) is able to produce a whopping 27 megapixel photos. And you can also grab frames out of a video with up to 24 megapixels. This is a cool way to get some action shots (or video & photos at the same time) – more about that later. Picture quality is seriously not a problem or a hurdle.
Why not use you smart phone, instead? The answer for me is clear: The GoPro is smaller, waterproof & extremely robust. Plus you have all kinds of mounts that allow you to capture angles that no phone or other camera can. But getting great results requires you to consider a few things.
This is not a surprise to any photographer, but I find it is even more so critical for the GoPro: Choose the right light. Don’t expect this tiny camera to delivery amazing results in low light. Search for bright scenes and ideally blue skies, instead. Not sure what it is, but GoPro just seems to have a sparkle when it’s nice. There are days when I step outside and just know that today is a ‘GoPro day’. As with any other camera, early/ late sun make a huge difference. You can get some decent results in bad & low light but this is not what the camera is designed for.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the GoPro has a fish-eye lens, i.e. you have a very wide field of view. If you want to take a photo of a sweeping landscape, this can be advantageous. It’s also great for action because you can cover a wide area and don’t have to worry about missing your subject. But be aware of the fish-eye effect. Objects in the middle are exaggerated and the area around it stretches in a globe. You need to learn how to control this and use it to your advantage. Watching your camera angle when you take a landscape photo is critical for example. The tilt makes a huge difference. My suggestion to people who purchase a GoPro for the first time is to spend some time getting this right. Also, choose your subjects carefully.
Quik App & Lenses
Speaking of the fish eye effect – the GoPro app Quik is a must have. If you have one of the latest GoPros, you can upload your photos and let the software correct the fish eye effect. GoPro calls this feature ‘Digital Lens’. It’s actually really useful. Play with this feature and try it on different photographs.
One area where the GoPro does really well is water. Depending on where you are, you can catch some amazing colours and scenes. One of my favourite family photos ever was actually captured with the GoPro Hero 4. It’s different and captures the special atmosphere in a sea cave off the coast of Malta that day.
GoPro is best known for its capabilities to capture amazing action videos. But what about photos? Same – you can get some surprisingly cool results. Best of all, there are three different ways to capture your adventures: – regular photo, – photo burst, – capture from a video. The last option is by far my favourite. It works in the following way: take a video of your desired scene. Upload the video into the Quik app, scan through it and let the app ‘take a photo’ of your desired moments. If you happen to have the currently latest version (Hero 11), you will be rewarded with 24 megapixel images. It’s easy to do. Just make sure you have enough available light or the photos will turn out blurry.
Last but not least, I highly recommend shooting in RAW. Over the years, the quality of these files has gotten really good. You can recover a decent amount of highlights and shadows. Combine that with some noise reduction & sharpening and you can develop some gorgeous photos.
The GoPro is a super cool camera that I would not want to miss. If you spend some time learning how to best use it, you can get some outstanding and often fun results.
The gallery below only contains photos taken with the GoPro Hero 11 during the last 11 months. You can see other photos in the GoPro portfolio.