Gear Review

GoPro HERO5 Black

GoPro HERO5 BlackSure there’s a newer version of GoPro’s Hero camera – the HERO6, but the HERO5 was brand-spankin’ new to us before the newer version was released last fall (GoPro does follow an annual Apple-product-release-like schedule, therefore reviews like this are less timely considering it takes some time to actual field-test and then edit).

For us, and most people really, we don’t upgrade every year. Case in point: We were upgrading from a HERO2 to a HERO5, and that’s no small change because there’s a huge difference with such a jump between generations of this popular camera. So keep in mind that while some of the things I love, and am excited about with this version, well, they’ve already been around in previous GoPro releases.

Let’s be real, these cameras are A) not cheap to buy nor B) do they really require an upgrade every year. But I did finally bite the bullet because it was overdue. The picture needed to be upgraded and most important – the separate waterproof casing on the HERO2 was clumsy and affected the sound and picture. So I took advantage of my REI kickback as well as the Spring sale to get a good price on it, but of course, as I’ll outline below, there are additional things you’ll need to purchase to be fully-equipped – or re-equipped in our case.

The short of it: Overall, I’m very pleased, especially with the picture which is the most important thing. Beyond it being waterproof and not having to be waterproofed with an additional case, the other “selling points” are very much non-selling points to how I personally use this camera, but they will certainly be attractive to others (specifically being able to edit on the fly – for those that must upload their latest experience within moments of experiencing them – and some other superfluous things that I’ll get to in a second).

But let’s start with how GoPro explains the HERO5:

“HERO5 Black is a balance of performance and convenience thanks to its 4K video, voice control, easy-to-use touch display and waterproof design. HERO5 Black makes it easy with its one-button simplicity, convenient touch display and ready-to-go waterproof design. Smooth, stabilized video, crystal-clear audio, and pro-quality photo capture combine with voice control and GPS to make HERO5 Black the most impressive GoPro ever. And when it’s time to edit and share, HERO5 Black automatically uploads footage to your GoPro Plus cloud account to provide easy access on any device. Then, create amazing videos automatically with Quick, the GoPro mobile editing app. Your life as you’ve never seen it-HERO5 Black.”

What We Like:
First, the resolution. It’s 4k. It’s huge and pretty. And if you watch any of our videos prior to 2017 and then compare them to our 2018 videos, there’s a distinct difference – it’s much improved. While shooting 4k is a wonderful upgrade, as one would expect, it taxes the battery as well as the space on your SD card, so I don’t for longer trips.

Second (and again), it’s waterproof! – super important for what we do. Now, it’s still an electronic device so no matter how “waterproof” I’m told something is, there’s still going to be doubts (I mean Apple does say the iPhone is “water-resistant” and not “waterproof” for a reason). But GoPro says this camera is waterproof “without a housing up to 33 ft”- which I guess is cool… but if we’re ever that deep underwater, we’re probably goners anyway.

As a result of not requiring a waterproof case, the picture isn’t hindered by an extra layer of plastic, meaning the audio is also improved. It really was the biggest benefit of upgrading. I can’t underscore enough (wait, yes I can…) how awesome it is that I no longer have to worry or quickly fumble around to put the camera in a completely water-tight case before I hit whitewater. Obviously, there have been times where we don’t know what’s around the corner, so having an expensive (and naked) camera on my deck was unnerving and stressful.

Third, the touchscreen. The HERO2 had no touchscreen. In fact, the only screen you had needed to be purchased separately and it was only to view, not for touch interactions. But the HERO5 is all-in-one, and the touchscreen and menu are from completely different worlds. The touch controls make the whole process slicker, much more intuitive and much easier to change settings while on the move.

No longer is it a guessing game like it was with the HERO2’s totally not-user friendly design which made quick-decisions nearly impossible and often maddening. The HERO5 is the experience you’d expect with electronics in this price-point nowadays. And I like the fact that I can experiment with various settings – including not just the arced wide lens setting but linear, medium, superview/superwide views, etc. There’s just more to control and it’s more fun to be able to control it quicker.

Also, it’s pretty nice to be able to not only preview my videos instantly from “the field”, but it’s super convenient to ditch unusuable footage with a simple gesture. The fact that I can even trim my footage is a nice upgrade too, so long as there’s enough battery to do so.

Now there are other features that upgrade the whole GoPro experience if you wish to use them, though, for the most part, I won’t. Features like voice control, which (seriously) reponds to “that was sick” to edit points on the fly (we fundamentally won’t use a bro audio command like “that was sick” no matter how ill the moment was) or even the GPS features. Why wouldn’t we use the latter you ask? Because of the battery! That and many of the other features are great, but not when they hinder your basics.

Batteries are the most important thing in the world (well, specifically to an action camera). Wondering if/when the battery will run out just adds stress to the experience. Features are all great selling points to certain activities, but when we’re out on the water, I want to catch the whole trip and not wonder if my battery is draining too fast (which I do by habit). It makes the whole experience kinda crappy and there’s nothing worse than running out of battery during something special.

Wait, yes there is… running out of space on the SD card!

Now, the reality check…

With a move to the HERO5 from any generation before it, you’ve basically got to upgrade every other ancillary attachment. That means extra batteries ($), a bigger SD Card ($$), and probably one of these ($$$). So, you’ll be in for an extra hundred dollars or so.

The first “extra” is a given. You’ll need an extra battery. Maybe two. Maybe three – especially if you’re going to shoot in 4k. GoPro claims that the “battery can sustain 60-90 minutes of continuous 4K video recording” which unfortunately isn’t enough space for a 2-3 hour trip on the water. But regardless, you might as well start by buying the double-battery charger that also comes with a battery, because it just makes charging-life easier, and it’s slightly more economical than buying the charger and battery separately. For those shooting 1080p, the battery life is much better than the HERO2 was, lasting much longer.

As far as literally changing the camera’s batteries, it’s kind of annoying that you have to remove the entire case to change it (or to change SD cards, too). It can be clumsy mid-stream or mid-adventure. Also, they’re just physically weird. There’s a little tab you use to pull the battery from the camera and it just doesn’t jive with the camera-worth. It’s the flimsiest piece of plastic (tape-like, really) and it just feels like an afterthought and a cheap solution to a basic interaction with the camera.

Let’s move on… so, after the battery, the next “extra” thing you’ll need to buy is a wall charger. Why? Well, because when you’re not using the battery, you’re charging it – wherever (some campsite shelter) or whenever (between shuttles in the car). But the basic HERO5 package gives you everything you need, except the most important part – a wall or car charger. You get a usb-c to a usb cord which connects the camera to a computer, or usually a usb/wall charger, but the annoying part is that they don’t actually supply a usb plug for you to connect the camera to a standard outlet (or your car). No, you have to connect this to a laptop or something else – again, another fundamental disagreement – a digital camera needs to be charged and it should come with self-sustaining resources to do so. Given the cost, the fact that this does not come with an apparatus to charge it via an outlet is ridiculous.

Then there’s the SD card. Of course the camera requires a bigger card to write all that content a 4k camera would/could capture so this is a given, but this is also the fourth extra you’ll need to buy and it’s not cheap. GoPro recommends many options but read the reviews – cheap cards are just that – I’ve learned that lesson (they don’t write as fast and/or can be quirky).

So after the battery, battery charger, wall charger and SD card, you might actually need one more thing – a case for your GoPro – because either your old one won’t fit or you’re still going to hold onto that soon-to-be-vintage-camera and hope it sells on eBay as well as old iPods do.

Less important, but worthy of noting is that GoPro’s base package comes with few accessories and mounts. At the time I purchased this, there weren’t “packages” that offered head or chest or butt straps, but those options exist now (head/chest strap packages that is – are butt-straps even a thing?). So as expected, I had to buy another mount for my Joby GorillaPod (which is what I use to attach the camera to the kayak). So yeah, If you use a Joby, there’s another extra.

Real quickly, I’ll get off the hardware and touch on the HERO5 software. There’s one key feature which could be beneficial for some but not at all something I like for our purposes – that being the stabilization option. It basically gives a smoother “float” to the picture to compensate for any unexpected bumps and whatnot one might encounter.

I’ve experimented with it and while I like it sometimes, the majority of the time, I don’t. It’s just not great for what we do – kayaking. You can see the difference below in two videos shot with the HERO5. The first (Piscasaw Creek) is shot using the stabilization feature. While it does keep the picture smooth, it actually does a disservice to the paddle since the boat looks like it tracks badly. The second video from Robinson Creek was shot with stabilization off. You’ll see that it’s much more “attached” and “with” the boat, giving a more accurate feel for the paddle. Either way though, you can simply turn the feature on or off – you just have to figure out what you like for your activity.

Also, though there is some improvement in low-light, the GoPro still suffers in that department (though, to be fair, most digital cameras – video or otherwise, do too). But with paddling in and out of light through various environments as frequently as we do, the fragmentation can be quite noticeable at different resolutions.

Lastly, GoPro Cineform has been replaced by GoPro Quik, their new desktop software. I used it once to import video straight from the camera until I realized it’s much quicker to just pull it off the card and import it straight into Adobe Premiere. Quik is great for a user-friendly importing and editing experience, but not neccessary when you’re using Premiere.

The Final Word:
While this review does sound skewed towards the negative – I’m actually really happy with this camera – despite the annoyance of having to shell out for everything besides the camera – when I just bought an expensive camera... I’m just giving this an honest assessment from a paddler who records his canoe and kayak trips (a very niche sport that reaches a small audience, admittedly).

In my HERO2 review, I said “The wide-angle lens allows us to capture these rivers at a true-to-paddling angle, much like you’d experience while you’re sitting under the deck.” and that’s totally true. There’s something wonderful about the first-person experience the GoPro offers that no other camera does.

Sure, there are downsides to it but that’s the case with all other digital cameras – the biggest being the cost-of-entry and then all the accessories you didn’t know it required. Whether a first-timer or upgrader – it doesn’t matter, a GoPro purchase is a not a cheap investment or a quick-trigger decision, but once you have everything, you’re set (at least for a little while – as there will always be a better version).

Speaking of which, what’s the difference between the HERO5 and the next generation HERO6? Well, resolution for one, which may or may not matter depending on where you’re hosting your videos. Also, though the upgrades from the 5 to the 6 are small, the HERO6 now offers touch zoom and the capability to take HDR photos (both kinda negligent considering digital zoom can only get so good, and my phone/camera also takes HDR shots). One nice upside is that the batteries and SD cards for HERO5 are compatible with HERO6 – so that’ll save some money if you’re an annual upgrader, but who knows if the next release – the HERO7 (presumably) will be that accommodating?

When I’m at the point of needing to move on from the HERO5, here’s what I know I need: More sustainable battery life, zero quirks, an intuitive interface, and any extra bells-and-whistles are welcome, but they can’t degrade basic camera performance. And of course, it’s gotta be waterproof (up to 3′ is fine for our purposes).

There are cheaper cameras that can give us 4k recording with no need to re-purchase batteries, clamps, etc., every time we upgrade. Surely, we’ll consider GoPro when we’re done with this one, but we’ll certainly broaden our considered set too.

Milespaddled.com Videos Shot With The HERO5 Black:
We shot both of these videos in early 2017. The use of stabilization is notable – take a look (adjust to 1440p minimum for the best picture).

With Stabilization: Note how the camera swings – making it look like the boat doesn’t track well.

Without Stabilization: The camera moves with the boat – it feels like it’s attached to the boat (which it is). I quite prefer this for our purposes.

Photo Gallery:

GoPro HERO5 Black

The basic HERO5 bundle comes equipped with:
1 HERO5 Black Camera
1 Camera Frame
1 Rechargeable Battery
1 Curved Surface Adhesive Mount
1 Flat Surface Adhesive Mount
1 Mounting Buckle
1 USB-C Cable

Recommended Additional Accessories:
GoPro Rechargeable Battery (and/or)
GoPro Dual Battery Charger + Battery
64GB MicroSDXC Card

Joby Gorillapod Hybrid
GoPro Tripod Mount
Carrying Case

Key Info:
Manufacturer: GoPro
Dimensions: 1.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches
Weight: 4.2 ounces
Megapixels: 12 / 30 fps Burst
Resolution: 4K30 / 2.7K60 / 1440p80 / 1080p120 / 960p120 / 720p240
Features: The HERO5 is waterproof down to 33ft, it’s voice-controlled, has video stabilization, built-in Wi-Fi and bluetooth technology with GPS data overlay.

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