Testing GoPro 4 in Low Light

Testing the GoPro 4 in Venice

A project needs documentation. Since this task is not my favorite part of work I was looking for a simple point and shoot kind of solution with video capability. Ok, slightly extreme video capability was a major must. In the end I opted for a GoPro.

As a first step I headed out for challenging it with difficult situations. First observations after a few test snapshots in a totally non-scientific testing:

  • The GoPro is the first thing ever I needed the instructions for getting it out of the sales box (no joke!). Also the mountings and arms to be attached are far from “natural” handling.
  • General handling for shooting the GoPro is not terribly bad but also not really convenient. In lack of a display you have to always connect it wireless with the mobile phone to get a rough idea about what the framing will be. But even then there is no good preview in photo mode. In low light situations it’s more a guess, trial and error. Hope to never run out of batteries. Maybe I have to shoot blind in future (now it’s a joke).
  • Metering of the GoPro seems a bit special, no matter whether opting for spot metering or not. I never had to compensate exposure up and down so much in standard situations with any other camera. But well, that’s not a big deal, just a bit more work.
  • Image qality in daylight is reasonably fine when used as a photo camera (not best print quality, more than sufficient for display on screen)
  • Working with a fixed focus camera requires a bit of practice. The wide angle helps in increasing sharpness all over the image. But no focusing capability is definitely special.
  • A fixed aperture of 2.8 is interesting. I haven’t yet managed to create really planned blurry background even though having such a wide aperture only. A tiny sensor and the extreme wide angle lens ensure maximum sharpness all over.

Finally I wanted to see how far I can go in low light. (Some of my tour clients will remember this spot and capture). The Bridge of sighs I decided to be a good place for testing the GoPro low light performance. The place is pretty dark all around, though having high contrast within the spotlighted bridge. See the featured image.

Fixed focus, fixed aperture setting, shutter speed automatically chosen by the camera – even worse than shooting in automatic mode of a classic camera. Or said in other words: as simple as you can go.

Back to the main question. How far could I push to the extremes in low light? Unfortunately not far at all!

Image quality of the GoPro in challenging light situations is ……. ahm ……. well ……. let’s kindly say there is some room for further improvement. Limiting the ISO settings down to 400 maximum did not help much. Not even going down to ISO 100, which actually I do not understand yet. With this step at least I would have expected a much cleaner file. More testing needed.

Partly the bad low light image quality can be fixed in post processing. But that always is a compromise. And with the GoPro output on top we are forced to work with jpegs. (If somebody of you knows how to shoot RAW with this camera withot hacking the software I’d be happy you let me know).

As long as shooting in daytime image quality is reasonably fine. In in low light situations the GoPro on the other hand does not feel very comfortable. Don’t expect a file you will print.

On the pro side the GoPro is very difficult to destroy, it is extremely versatile in water, heat, cold or whatever. The GoPro is tiny and lightweight and has dozens of gadgets for mounting and shooting. Especially for kind of adventure project documentation snippets it is a fantastic tool. Just low light shooting should not be the main task – or better it should be avoided.

It’s all about choosing the right tool for a specific task. On top the camera definitely is fun and encouraging for pushing creativity. Time to practice a bit for learning how to trick the camera do exactly what I want it to do even though not having any choice on the main important settings.

Settings of the featured image: Tripod, ISO 400, Protune On, EV -2, resolution 7MP wide (cropped in post). The camera decided to shoot 1/5 sec with its fixed aperture of f2.8. A minimum of noise reduction and sharpening was applied in camera but done in Lightroom 5 instead.



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Emotions and senses vanish.

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Arved Gintenreiter Limited
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Cameras, lenses, and accessories are tools for creating visions, not more and not less. Each tool has pros and cons in handling and capabilities, each has its raison d’être for different projects. The following selection simply reflects personal preferences for my photographic workflow, style, and philosophy.

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