30 April 2009

GoPro HERO 5 Wrist Camera Review

I've been using my GoPro Digital HERO 5 "Wrist HERO" for about 6 weeks now, and am glad that I upgraded from the first generation of this waterproof surf camera. The major flaw in the earlier version was that it failed badly at its primary function; it took lousy pictures, as I ranted here. The 5 megapixel Wrist HERO makes a big leap forward in picture quality, and also adds numerous features, including video.

The new HERO 5 continues to suffer from a few of the earlier flaws, such as washout when shooting in the general direction of the sun or an area of water reflecting sunlight. So far I haven't noticed the HERO 5 draining power as quickly as the first gen, but I took the company's advice to use lithium batteries in the cold NorCal water. There is still a lag time, both in starting up and in activating the shutter, which has led me to take accidental videos (by pressing the "on/mode" button twice because it didn't appear to be on but was, thus switching to video mode), and to miss shots or capture my face against the sky, looking at the camera. Although the features, quality and capability have expanded, the external design remains the same. The tiny black icons on the low-contrast screen are hard to make out and the controls and strap can be a bit difficult to use while wearing 2-3mm gloves.

The HERO 5's built-in memory needs to be supplemented for video use or heavy photography, and the upper limit is a low 2 GB, although GoPro's website promises more in the future. Movement of the camera can cause interesting distortion of the subject matter, like this:
Another drawback is that all photos transfer over to a computer with a hardcoded date of January 1, 1970 - what is that, the birthday of GoPro's founder?

All of these are relatively minor concerns, and hopefully GoPro will remedy them in the next release. For its main purpose, taking on-the-water photos and video, the HERO 5 does a pretty good job. Right now I've got the default setting on 3-shot photo burst, but since I've recently added an SD memory card, I'll be taking more video soon. Here's an early attempt, and my first upload to Vimeo:

Can you match the photo with the camera?Taken with GoPro HERO, GoPro HERO 5, and Canon PowerShot SD1000.


  1. What a great post! Thank you for doing this. I love your photo comparisons at the end. I have been wanting one, and I appreciate this knowledge you passed on.

  2. Thanks, glad you found it useful!

  3. Yeah great review, thanks for the comparison shots. I've been using the first gen for almost a year, and while I've gotten some good shots, it's definitely hit or miss, especially with the backlit shots. Sounds like its time for me to upgrade...have you considered the board mounted wide angle gopro?

  4. I considered both the board- and helmet-mounted HEROs, but decided to stick with the wrist cam. I know people with both, and have seen some cool videos like this from a board-mount and this from a helmet-mount. But I shortboard most of the time, and I think the cams are better suited for longboarding. There could be issues with duckdiving: possibly hitting my face on a board-mount, and added drag with a helmet-mount when I already sometimes have trouble getting deep enough. I also don't like the loss of control with either mounting scheme. The fixed viewpoint of the board-mount is a big drawback. Most people seem to aim it back at themselves, but I want to record what I'm seeing, not be the main focus myself. Facing the cam away would still limit the user's control of the shot to wherever the nose of the board was pointing. With the helmet-mount, I could never be sure just what I was recording, and it would be next to impossible to adjust the camera controls to, for example, change from photos to video.

    In sum, to keep maximum flexibility and control and minimize interference with my surfing experience, I thought the wrist cam was the best choice.