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I got my GoPro HERO 5 Black last year, just before we left for our three weeks in Africa. I wasn’t really into vlogging or travel videos at the time, but I figured I would have to start doing that eventually. And what better time to start taking footage than on the vast grasslands of Africa! If course, I could’ve taken the footage with my DLSR camera (and I did take some), but that would’ve been cumbersome, especially with a massive 100-400mm zoom lens mounted.
Aside: If you’re wondering why I keep mentioning the colour of the camera, it’s that ‘Black’ isn’t the colour, it’s the model. There’s a GoPro HERO 5 Session that’s a completely different model. And the ‘Black’ isn’t even black, it’s grey. Yes, it’s confusing.
The GoPro HERO 5 Black wasn’t the cheapest option on the market by far, with lots of companies making cheaper versions. But GoPro created the first action camera, so I figured they had a head start in terms of quality and reliability. And after a year of travelling with this fun little action camera, I’d say it’s definitely been worth it. Here’s a review, focusing mainly on the features I use the most.
After a year of travelling with this fun little action camera, I’d say it’s definitely been worth it.
Disclaimer: I haven’t edited any of the pictures or videos (except for the video compilation above) beyond cropping them and adding my logo.
First impressions of the GoPro HERO 5 Black
When I started unpacking the camera, I was struck by a few things. One was that the packing, while quite cool-looking, was a bit superfluous. The camera was actually stuck on top of the box, and the box itself contained a battery, a USB cable, a flat adhesive mount and a curved adhesive mount. There was no memory card included, which was a bit disappointing. I had to buy a special high-speed card separately.
I’d never used an action camera before, so I was quite excited to try it out.
I had never used an action camera before, and I was quite excited to try it out. I went through the simple in-built instructions and then starting experimenting. The touch screen, Bluetooth and wireless connectivity, and voice control were all quite exciting, and the time-lapse mode and high-quality video were great. But there were a few other things that I noticed quite quickly.
One was that the in-built video stabilization worked quite well, as long as I wasn’t walking around. But walking with the camera in hand meant that there was a noticeable wobble in the video with every step (I later realized that using a chest harness or a head mount fixes this to a large extent). Another was that even basic stabilization and low-light compensation aren’t available when you set the video to 4K quality. And that high-quality video really fills up your memory card fast! Lastly, the battery life was a little disappointing (though I later realized that I usually don’t shoot continuous video for more than a few minutes at a time, so two hours of battery life goes a long way).
I realized that using a chest harness was an easy way to fix the wobble that creeps into hand-held videos.
I was a little sad, because I guess I expected everything to be perfect right from the start. But as with lots of gadgets, I figured out that you need to learn how to use action cameras before you get good results. And once I really started using my GoPro HERO 5 Black, I got used to its quirks quite quickly, and then the results were pretty good!
Aside: To make sure I got the most out of my camera during our epic adventure in Africa adventure, I also got me an extra memory card, another battery, and an external charger. I also got a hand-held camera stabilizer (read my review of the Moza Air-Cross stabilizer), because I realized we’d be bumping around on the road quite a bit, and I didn’t want wobbly footage.
Also read: Review: Tamron 18-400 mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens
Using the GoPro HERO 5 Black while travelling
To be honest, I didn’t really practice using the camera before we left, and I only learned on the ground, so to speak. It took some getting used to, especially the extremely wide angle of the lens. But now, after a year of travelling with it, I’ve gotten used to it. And it’s pretty awesome!
There are a few things that I really like about the GoPro HERO 5 Black. It takes great underwater footage, which, for me, outweighs all the negatives combined! It also takes some great footage and pictures in uniform bright light, which worked great in Africa and on our motorcycle tour through Rajasthan. I’ve even shot straight into the sun, and the camera automatically adjusted for great results.
The camera takes great underwater footage, which outweighs all the negatives for me!
The quality of low-light images is decent, which made for a nice night time time-lapse video (which takes photos at intervals and stitches them together into a super fast-forward video) of us walking through Jaipur’s old city. I also really like the fact that I can switch between video and photo based on how long I press the shutter button. Very convenient! It’s also very nice to be able to save clips and stills from longer videos on the camera itself, without having to first download everything onto a computer.
On the other hand, there are some areas in which I wish it would perform a little better, like the low-light video and digital stabilization. Also, while it seems to even out extreme contrasts well in photographs, it doesn’t do it as well in videos.
…and the unnecessary. Maybe.
I’ve also realized that there are some features that I use more than others, and some that I don’t use at all. For example, I don’t use the voice control feature because it just feels weird talking a camera, especially with people around! And I don’t use the higher video quality settings because they take up too much memory (and I’m paranoid about running out of memory at the wrong moment).
I don’t use the voice control feature, because I feel weird talking to a camera, especially when there are people around!
I don’t often taken photos either, because I’ve realized I prefer to take captures of the video in-camera instead so I don’t miss anything (and because I find the video quality is usually better). And even though you can use the Quik app to quickly create short edited videos on your phone, downloading footage and creating videos take way too much memory and processing power for my liking. But everyone’s preferences are different, of course.
So here, in my experience, are the main positives and negatives of the GoPro HERO 5 Black.
Also read: Jaipur: Our motorcycle tour kicks off
Major pros and cons of the GoPro HERO 5 Black
- Great high-quality video of up to 4K. You can even shoot 240 FPS at 720 if you want to slow it down later.
- Automatic focus, colour correction and lighting compensation in most modes.
- Interesting time-lapse and ‘night-lapse’ video options
- Options to trim videos, and save clips and stills in the camera itself
- Option to set field of view for photographs (i.e. wide, linear, narrow, etc.)
- Good 12 megapixels still photographs in JPEG format, and RAW format available in wide field of view setting
- Great compensation for extreme contrasts in still pictures
- Time-lapse photo mode, to take photographs at regular intervals
- Takes great underwater footage, and waterproof up to 10m without needing an extra cover
- Can quickly switch between video and time-lapse photo modes using the shutter button
- Touch screen and voice control
- Basic electronic video stabilization that smooths out minor jerks and wobbles
- Bluetooth and wireless connectivity to download footage or control the camera via its app
- Low-light video and image stabilization (especially while walking) could be better
- Extreme contrasts aren’t corrected well during video recording
- Battery life isn’t great (lasts about two hours while shooting continuous video)
- Specialized memory card/s need to be bought separately
- The low-light compensation option isn’t available at 4K video quality
- The options for quick recording modes using the shutter button can’t be changed
- GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi drain battery life, and turning them on and off is cumbersome
The bottom line
While the image stabilization and low-light video capabilities of the GoPro HERO 5 Black could be better (and definitely seem better in the HERO 7), with a little external stabilizing help, it still takes great footage in decent light and underwater. And even though it’s more expensive than action cameras by other brands, its build quality and sturdiness are undeniable. Overall, this little action camera is great fun to use, especially if you’d rather not pay extra for more advanced models.
In all honesty, though, I’ve heard that the HERO 7 addresses most of the issues I’ve mentioned for the HERO 5. So if you don’t mind spending a little extra, you might want to get that one instead (though I haven’t tested it out myself).
Useful accessories I got for my GoPro
In case you’re wondering how I took the videos while on my bike… First, I tried strapping my GoPro Hero 5 Black onto my helmet’s face guard with a few of these useful extra-long Velcro-type straps, but that threw my helmet’s balance off. So I alternated between strapping it onto my chest with an elastic chest harness, and mounting it on my bike’s crash guard with a handlebar mount. I used a protective case too, and strapped it in place, just in case.
Because the battery doesn’t last too long on a single charge, I had to take an extra battery along, and an external charger. I used these high-performance microSDXC memory cards to make sure I didn’t run out of storage for my hours and hours of footage (Tip: You can use them for your phone too, and they come with an adapter to fit DSLRs and card readers).