GoPro HD Hero – It Does Stills?

If you dont know what a GoPro camera is, you might possibly have a home underneath a boulder. To say that the GoPro has had a huge impact on broadcast TV would be a huge understatement. You will find the GoPro HD Hero on shows such as Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch, The Amazing Race, Auction Wars, and Whale Wars to name just a few. With their tiny size and 1080p video recording, they have had a huge impact in the world of video. What very few people know is that they also have some interesting still photo features.


GoPro Size Comparison

The GoPro HD Hero sports a 5 megapixel sensor mated to a super wide-angle lens with a fixed aperture of f/2.8. The lens also has a fixed focus so this isn’t really going to be a good replacement for a good point & shoot. The GoPro is designed to be used in situations that you wouldn’t put a regular camera. The camera body itself has no mounting points because it is generally used inside of the waterproof case that it comes with. There is also no viewfinder or LCD screen built-in as the camera is usually used unattended such as strapped to a motorcycle helmet or attached to the side of a car.

There are four still shooting settings that include:

  • Single shot
  • Three shot burst
  • Countdown timer
  • Timelapse mode

Camera Optics

  • Lens Type: Fixed Focus (2ft/.6m – ∞), glass
  • Aperture: f/2.8 (high performance in low-light situations)
  • Angle of View: 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, or 960p mode
  • Angle of View: 127º wide angle in 1080p mode

GoPro Left Side View

GoPro Right Side View

GoPro Rear View

The first three options are pretty basic but the Timelapse feature requires a bit of explanation. In the settings you first set the time interval between each shot. When you press the shutter to take a picture, the camera will keep firing shots off, pausing between each shot based on your setting, until you stop the process, the SD card becomes full, or the battery dies.

As I mentioned earlier, the GoPro HD Hero comes with a waterproof case that is rated for up to 60 meters. With this much protection, there aren’t many places that you can’t find a use for the GoPro.

The Bad News

Keep in mind that the GoPro is a specialty camera so while it excels in some areas, there are some gotchas to be aware of. I already mentioned the lack of a viewfinder although an optional one is available for $79. I highly recommend the viewfinder for navigating through the GoPro’s menus and for setting up shots. There is also no flash as the primary use is for shooting video. Out of the box there also isn’t any way to mount the camera to a tripod, for this you need an $8 tripod mount adapter.

There are only two buttons on the camera and a small LCD, combined they are used to change the plethora of setting options. Once you get the hang of it, changing the settings isn’t too difficult, but adding the LCDBak really makes using the GoPro much easier.

If you decide to buy a GoPro HD Hero you should start with a package containing a selection of mounting hardware such as the GoPro Motocycle Hero. The GoPro Motorcycle Hero will start you off with suction mount, helmet mount, and a handful of other parts. Add a bicycle mount and the tripod adapter and you will have a good starter kit.

Why use the GoPro for stills?

No viewfinder, no flash, tricky settings menus, so why would you want to use a GoPro for shooting stills? The main reason is that it is small and unobtrusive. You can easily put the camera in obscure locations and just let it shoot away. Think about putting the GoPro in the arch above a wedding ceremony for some unique angles. Your imagination is your only limitation as to what you can do.

But how good are the images?

The single most noticeable thing you will notice about the images is that the lens is a super wide-angle. I don’t mean just wide-angle, this is seriously a wide-angle, so wide that you get a bit of barrel distortion. Sometimes you want a mega wide-angle shot, other times you may not and you may need to do some lens correction on the images.

In the specs I mentioned that the camera has a fixed focus f/2.8 lens. An interesting note here is that Adobe Lightroom reports it as f/3.4. This is a pretty trivial difference, but something I would point out. Also, if you are looking at the EXIF data you will see that the shutter speed and ISO change from shot to shot. It appears that the GoPro tries to maintain a good exposure by adjusting the shutter speed as needed and then adjusting the ISO to keep the shutter speed from falling too low. Hopefully I can get some clarification on this from GoPro. A few other interesting tidbits are that Lightroom reports the focal length as 5mm (I did mention it was a WIDE angle).

Is a GoPro HD Hero right for you?

The GoPro HD Hero is more expensive than a good point & shoot camera and may even seem lighter on features. The important advantages have to do with the protective cover that waterproofs and protects the camera body from damage. The versatility of the mounting system allows you to use the camera in all kinds of unique situations from scuba diving to sky diving and pretty much anything in between.

These days I don’t leave my house without a GoPro HD Hero. From a quick snapshot when needed to recording the Camera Dojo GoCast series, the GoPro HD Hero is just fun. Sure, a focusable lens, adjustable focal length, and more control over exposure settings would be nice, having these limitations forces you to think about what you are shooting and how work with what you have.

In this post we have only talked about using the GoPro as a still camera, next week we will look at using the GoPro as a video camera.

Be sure and check out more information about GoPro and enter their daily contest for a chance to win everything they make.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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6 Responses

  1. This camera looks like a lot of fun. I like the idea of sprinkling a lot of them around a wedding reception just to see what you get.

    Since they're such wide angle cameras, if you have an interesting pic of a group of people, say at a specific table, can you fix the barrel distortion and crop the image and still come up with something worth printing? Any examples you can share?


    • kgarrison says:

      The problem with that idea is the lack of a flash. You would be better off buying $99 point and shoot cameras. I will try to post some more extreme examples with before and after lens correction.

  2. Stuart says:

    it seems like the camera has a good quality lens. As you said it lacks flash but it can still be good for some Pictorial on a good background. GoPro HD is too much expensive for me, though I want to try it some day.

  1. November 7, 2011

    […] The HD Hero is a great way to capture action sequences. It is small, easily placed anywhere, and for its output it is pretty darn cheap ($300 including one of the mounts), heck it even takes decent 5MP stills. […]

  2. February 4, 2012

    […] Re: Will a GoPro work? Originally Posted by Shortys think an HD Hero would take decent pics? No, HD cameras suck at taking good pictures. HD timelapse – How does the GoPro camera perform for photography? – Photography – Stack Exchange GoPro HD Hero – It Does Stills? | Camera Dojo – Take better pictures with our photography tuto… […]

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