GoPro makes several small-format action cameras that are relatively inexpensive and extremely high quality. A lot of people that I know choose to go this route when buying their first camera over a traditional DSLR, and I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ll be comparing the with the stats of the Hero 6 since it was just released at the time of writing this.
TLDR: The Gopro Hero 6 Black is a great starter camera.
GoPro cameras run around $400-700 compared to a traditional DSLR which will cost around $700 for entry level, and $3,000 for the industry standard 5DMK3. I talk a bit more about entry-level DSLRs here if you want to read more. Another bonus is that the accessories are a bit cheaper than the gear marketed to pro photographers.
The GoPro Hero 6 Black weighs 117g, that’s slightly more than the weight of an apple. To put that into perspective, my DSLR, the Canon 1DXMK2 weighs about 1530 grams for just the body. Add an average lens for another 826 grams and you’ve got 2,356g (5.19 lbs). Your average newborn is 3250 grams (7.16 lbs)
This might not seem like it matters that much, but hike up the 12,000 steps in Fushimi Inari Taisha or partake in a little mountaineering in the alps and you’ll see what I mean. Trying to hold a heavy camera steady for a low-light or video shot becomes significantly more difficult the heavier it is if you’re trying to freehand it.
Photo vs Video
When picking your entry-level camera, you’ll want to decide wether you plan to shoot video or still shots (probably both). The GoPro really shines when it comes to high quality video at a low price.
Sensor Size & Megapixels
The GoPro Hero 6 Black can shoot a 12MP still, but megapixels are only one element that affect overall photo quality. A DSLR is somewhere between 10-20MP, but the big differentiator here is the sensor size. The larger the sensor size, the better the camera will perform in low-light, as well as less noise will appear in photos. Cameras with sensors that are smaller than the typical 35mm film size have a smaller field of view when used with a lens of the same focal length. This is because angle of view is a function of both focal length and the sensor or film size used.
FOV (Field OF View)
The GoPro has an extremely wide field of view from the fisheye lens. You'll notice distortion on the horizon or any straight lines in the shot. A fisheye lens renders straight lines which don't run through the center of the frame as curved (though lines running through the center remain straight). Objects at the edges of the frame are not stretched, but they are distorted. This fisheye effect can be corrected by changing the shooting mode to linear FOV in the GoPro. The in-camera correction however reduces the overall quality because it does a digital zoom. Personally, I prefer to shoot in super wide FOV and highest quality possible and then do lens corrections in post.
DSLR FOV is going to be affected by the sensor size and the lens you are using. Unless you have a fisheye lens on the body it likely will be significantly narrower than the GoPro.
GoPro has published a focal depth equivalent for the different shooting modes. Wide is 17.2mm, Medium is 21.9mm, and Narrow is 34.4mm. Below is a table of the vertical, horizontal and diagonal field of view measured in degrees for each of the shooting modes.
|V.FOV deg||H.FOV deg||Diag. FOV deg|
4 x 3 W
|4 x 3 M||72.2||94.4||115.7|
|4 x 3 N||49.1||64.6||79.7|
|16 x 9 W||69.5||118.2||133.6|
|16 x 9 M||55||94.4||107.1|
|16 x 9 N||37.2||64.4||73.6|
Resolution & Frames Per Second
The Hero 6 Black is capable of some pretty incredible frame rates, 60fps at 4k, 120fps at 2.7k, 240fps at 1080p. The Canon 1DXMK2 can shoot 60 fps at 4k, 120fps at 1080p. The Sony A7SII can shoot 120fps at 1080p. You would be hard pressed to find many entry level DSLRs that will shoot video above 30fps.
Entry level cameras can generally shoot video at 30 frames per second or 24fps because we associate that rate with movies and the ‘cinematic look’. higher frame rates can make people uncomfortable when they are so used to a lower frame rate. In the case of the GoPro and footage usually shot with a GoPro, you’ll probably want to capture slow motion, which requires a much higher frame-rate. To get buttery-smooth slow motion you need to shoot at a high frame rate and then instruct your editing software to interpret that footage at the normal 30 or so frames per second. One thing that you’ll notice about the higher frame rate is that the shutter speed has to be significantly high to capture this and that will usually reduce the amount of light in your shots, so having a large sensor or open aperture helps here. The GoPro has a feature called auto low light that you’ll want to disable. When the camera determines that there isn’t enough light available, it will reduce the frames per second in the recording to expose them better. This will result in a choppy looking clip when you go to slow it down in post.
Another great thing about the GoPro is that you can very easily shoot a time lapse out of the box and have the footage automatically prepared for you in-camera. The older versions of this feature used to take all of the photos at the interval you set and then later you had to stitch them together. Now you can select time lapse video as an option and the camera will do all of the stitching for you. Time lapse mode contains three capture modes: Time Lapse Video, Time Lapse Photo, and Night Lapse Photo. Each capture mode has its own settings. Time Lapse Video lets you capture a time lapse event and immediately view or share it as a video. Time Lapse Photo captures a series of photos at specified intervals. Night Lapse Photo captures a series of photos at set intervals when there is minimal light. The shutter remains open longer to let in more light in dark environments.
If you don't want to mess with a intervalometer or stitching the photos together yourself, I'd recommend going the GoPro route.
Most DSLRs will be weather sealed at best. The Hero 6 Black is waterproof to 33ft (10m) without a housing. With the optional dive housing accessory it becomes waterproof to 197’ (60m) and significantly more durable. The housing also has the added bonus of dampening wind noise at speeds over 100 mph.
The standard microphones in a DSLR or GoPro tend to be pretty low quality, so don't expect much out of those. Always better to upgrade the mic when shooting video with sound. And yes, the GoPro can be expanded with an external mic!
The GoPro automatically switches between recording in stereo and filtering wind noise to achieve the best audio balance though, which is a step up from most DSLRs.
Advanced Modes/Settings (Low-Light mode, Pro-tune, RAW format, WDR)
GoPro offers a lot of advanced modes and settings that allow you to make fine-tuning adjustments to settings like ISO, white balance, shutter speed, exposure control and more. I find that GoPro shots tend to be a run-and-gun sort of situation, so you'll end up spending a lot less time setting up the shots, because you need to just be there at the right moment rather than worry about the ISO, but if you really want to, you absolutely can make those micro-adjustments. I usually have most of these advanced features set to auto or off and try to shoot in wide-angle, flat color, and RAW format. Then I'll make any adjustments that I need to in Adobe Lightroom. The only time I've had trouble with this method is when I accidently blow out the highlights in a dark environment.
Ultimately I think the GoPro is an incredible tool for any photographer. Before I could afford my SLR I bought a GoPro. It served me well in the early days, and it serves me well today. What are your thoughts on the GoPro? Drop me a comment below!
Sources & Further reading: