GoPro HERO4 Black

What is the GoPro Hero4? Is it a camcorder? Is it a mirrorless camera? Is it a compact camera? Is it a 4K hybrid camera? Is it a fisheye lens? Well it's all of those. Ususally regarded as the creator of video footage for adventure sports, I was looking for a small, light, cheap camera with a wide-angle lens and I thought I'd try one of these. I'm glad I did.

The first thing that has to be said is that it's VERY small. Basically the size of a matchbox. There is no live view screen or viewfinder and that has to be achieved via a smartphone or tablet app. It has terrible battery life, the screen on the camera used for changing settings needs a magnifying glass, high ISO is terrible and it's completely unlike anything I've used before. But it takes some magic pictures. See samples HERE.

In terms of what the images look like, it's pretty much like the images created with a 15mm fisheye lens. At least that's what comes out of the camera. However, when I ran the lens profile in ACR, the distortion disappeared and the image actually got wider - see below. 

OOC jpg.

OOC jpg. run through ACR in Photoshop CS6

My final version after Photoshop editing

The camera can be set up to produce a very flat file, useful for video grading and the files 'scrub up' very well after some work in Photoshop. Great if you like superwide images. I'm actually amazed that I can get such distortion free images from the 'fisheyed' originals.

The lens is also very impressive for something this size. It's an f/2.8, 3mm, 170 degree view fixed focus lens. You can get all sorts of replacement and add on lenses, but I've got lots of alternatives for that.

What I wanted was a lens I sould take anywhere and use in conjunction with my other cameras and phones and that's exactly what I've got. As you can see from the top of the page, with various adapters I've put together (including the use of superglue!!) I can use it with everything I've got. I particularly like having it mounted on the hotshoe of my cameras. And I can also use it without bothering to connect it via wi-fi to see what's going on. It's so wide just pointing it in the right direction gets the shot. I used it one day with no viewing options at all and my compositions were just what I expected. 

All in all I think it's great. It's a genuine alternative to the somewhat heavy and expensive super wide lenses put out by the camera manufacturers. I only get 12MP's but that's fine for my stock photography work, After all I have 1000's of 12MP images taken with my m4/3 cameras sitting on websites and selling well. I can literally use it with anything and just take a super wide shot whenever I feel like it. I can also shoot 4K video and pick a stills from that. And as you can see from the samples I've posted it's capable of producing some very nice looking pictures. 

Now obviously this is just preparing the ground for when I base jump off Everest, go surfing in Hawaii and absail down the Empire State Building (if only!) and I haven't really explored the video possibilities yet, other then to see that the footage is top class. It's one of those bits of photographic gear that punches way above it's weight and though it may it seem initially that it's not a particularly useful still photography tool, for me it's exactly that. And in fact when I go out with it, I use it a lot more than I thought I would. It wil help me create some really interesting images and it's fun and simple to use (mostly! see below) I'm having to carry around three batteries and changing settings in bright sunlight with the tiny screen is almost impossible, but it is possible with the right setting up to get a lot out of it.

Finally I should mention if you are interested in one of these, the Windows and Android apps. for controlling the camera are awful. There are huge time lags on both and they keep crashing and loosing connection with the camera. That's why I've only pictured my iPad and iPod Touch above. The app works much better with Mac IOS and while it isn't perfect, the time lag is manageable and the app. is much more stable. In fact with the quality of the iPod screen, that combination is turning out to be my favourite.

So as time passes my 'work' cameras are getting smaller lighter and stranger, but the proof that I'm headed in the right direction is in the images I come up with. I like them very much and this whole smartphone / device way of creating images is spurring me on to come up with something different. It is a new kind of photography for me and I have to say I'm enjoying this whole different approach enormously. It's a long way from a Rollieflex twin lens medium-format film camera, but then it is 2015 after all.