Why FPV pilots favor GoPro

GoPro HERO10 FPV pilots

GoPro recently announced its HERO10 Black, the most powerful camera the company has yet to produce. With a new processor and twice the frame rates, action vloggers, hobbyists, and FPV pilots have been snapping them up. While there are some worthy competitors out there, we’re going to look at why GoPro is the camera of choice for most in the First-Person-View drone crowd.

There’s really no question that – just as DJI dominates the drone world – GoPro dominates the action camera scene. The question we wanted to answer is what makes these so popular in the FPV drone world, especially when there are some great competitors out there (which we’ll note later on).

For GoPro, we took our questions to two excellent pilots we know well, and whose work we really admire: Nikolay Anishchenko and Eric Bell.

First, Nikolay makes the case for GoPro

We’ve written about Nikolay’s incredible work more than once. We like to showcase him when we get a chance because a) he’s got insane piloting skills, and b) he only started flying FPV in early 2020, after 60 hours on the simulator. Dunno about you, but I find this incredibly inspiring. It just goes to show that if you’re truly committed and willing to really put everything into your passion, the results can be astonishing. Here’s Niko, in a profile shot used for his FPV FILMZ company. I told Niko the other day he’ll soon be in the realm of very well-known FPV pilots – and I genuinely believe that.

You’ll see why shortly.

This guy? An *amazing* pilot

Nikolay has made a particular name for himself by filming aerobatic sports – though he’s recently been expanding his repertoire with fashion and other commercial gigs. But his aerobatic work is insanely good: He follows crewed aircraft, paragliders, BASE jumpers – even wing-suit flyers. There is such control in his flights; he knows exactly where he needs to be to safely get the best angle. And clearly, his subjects trust Niko’s work.

Niko owns three GoPro HERO10 Black cameras…

You’ll get a good taste of his skills with with this incredible shoot. FYI, Nikolay is flying a GoPro Hero10 on a new high-speed quad he’s designed and built in conjunction with Zach Carrizales, listed as lead engineer on the FPV Filmz site. They’re hoping to commercialize the frame sometime in December. I predict there will be significant demand.

Why is GoPro your choice for FPV?

Let’s find out, using a Q&A format.

Q: What do you fly with for a camera on your quad rigs?

GoPro HERO9 until the HERO10 came out; I bought three HERO10s. The only HERO9s I’m keeping are the naked ones.

Q: There are competitors out there. Why do you think GoPro has emerged as the camera of choice?

Stabilization. I think it’s safe to say that most FPV pilots use ReelSteady to stabilize footage. ReelSteady is only compatible with GoPro. I have tried the Insta360 and it’s great, it’s just not as smooth as ReelSteady. Once you get into cine-lifters, you can throw on Black Magic cameras, Freefly Waves, or Komodos. But the main thing holding me back from those heavier rigs is the lack of easy and effective stabilization options, high price point, and increased risk. I’m more comfortable flying around extreme sports athletes with a GoPro, therefore I can get much closer to them than if I was flying a 25 pound monster of a drone. So stabilization and small size/weight.

Q: Are there some features on the HERO10 that appeal to you? What are they, and why do they appeal?

Absolutely. In order to utilize ReelSteady, you need to film in 4:3 aspect ratio. The HERO9 settings maxed out at 4K30 with a 4:3 aspect ratio. With the HERO10, you can film 5.3K30 and 4K60 at 4:3 aspect ratio. That’s a huge difference. Not only is my resolution better, but also my frame rate. So I can finally get ReelSteadied 4K shots in slow motion. You can probably tell by now that stabilization is super important to me, haha.

Some pilots miss the old HERO Session form factor…

Q: Do you miss the Session form factor? Should GoPro bring it back, or offer a naked version (a la Insta360)?

I never used the Session. My first GoPro was a HERO8 (GoPro Amazon link). Stability-wise and for better aerodynamics at higher speeds, it’s best if the lens is centered like with the Session. But, I also like having a screen so I can quickly adjust settings. It would be great if we got the best of both worlds, a centered lens plus a screen in the back. I’m purely a cinematic pilot and don’t mind the extra weight of current GoPros, for me what matters most is image quality. I would say freestyle FPV pilots don’t mind the image quality as much as they value weight, compactness, and durability. So I think they would definitely like the Session form factor to make a return. Naked GoPros are awesome because they’re ridiculously light, but they take time to disassemble and you lose out on the warranty – so it would be nice if GoPro produced naked GoPros themselves.

Speaking of naked GoPros, here’s a clip Niko shot with a naked GoPro in a small CineWhoop rig. Check out the proximity he can safely achieve with the model:

And one more Niko Hero10 video to wow you…

Niko recently dropped another vid that really showcases his skills – and that great quality of the GoPro HERO10 Black (Amazon affiliate link): Flying in close proximity to a helicopter. Amazing video quality, rivalled only by the incredible piloting.

Don’t try this with a crewed aircraft, ever. Leave it to pros like Niko, working with people he knows well.

Now, it’s Eric Bell’s turn

I first met Eric when we worked together at a Canadian drone startup. He was an amazing pilot and builder, who picked up a lot of his skills from mutual pal David Klein, who runs RotorGeeks – one of the very first dedicated online stores devoted to First Person View drone flights.

If you haven’t been to his site before, check it out. There’s nothing in it for us here except Karma; David is just so knowledgeable and respected in this field. Plus, his store has amazing inventory and support. Really nice guy, too.

Eric Bell on set with a very serious FPV unit. That’s a massive light on a crane in the background…

Eric’s skills impressed when we first met. And Eric has gone on to not only pro quad flights and high-level builds, but also operating CineLift rigs on high-budget productions. Check out the reel from Drone Boy – there’s a lot of Eric’s work in here:

What does Eric think of using GoPros for FPV quad flights?

Well, we put a different series of questions to Eric, and here they are:

Q: When you need to fly a small action cam at Drone Boy, what do you use and why?

The camera we’re flying at Drone Boy is GoPro HERO9. It’s literally the best action camera you can get for the size (ed note: Except for the HERO10). A lot of people in the industry know it, it has a lot of reputation behind it, and it produces one of the best images you can get out of a camera for its size. There are a lot of competitors that try to match the quality of the GoPro but nobody’s done it in the action camera scene.

Q: What about directors?

Director generally don’t want GoPros (for cinematic productions). But if they have to have an action camera, GoPro is the name they know and the name they trust. And when they hand the footage off to post-production people, they have tools for it. The main reason we use it on smaller rigs is because it is the best camera you can get for the size. 

Q: What do you fly with on your own FPV quad flights?

I stopped buying at the HERO8. I have two HERO8 units, but also have access to Tom’s (Drone Boy CEO Tom Comet) HERO9s. If I need to capture something for myself the HERO8 is fine for me: 4K, 60 fps hyper-smooth. But with the HERO9 and HERO10 they’ve changed the sensor. I’m now looking at the HERO10. It’s got 4K 120 fps, which is crazy.

Q: What about your other FPV pals? What do they prefer for action cameras?

For the first long while, people would buy budget cameras if they didn’t want to spend $400 on a GoPro. Things like the Runcam 3 (there’s now a Runcam 5). There have been so many action cameras, and I think GoPro outperformed the Osmo a few years ago. I’d say 80% of the people I know fly GoPro.

Q: What about crashes? How durable have you found the GoPro?

It depends. I smashed a HERO9 myself not too long ago. It was a fairly hard crash, and it was dead – as in dead. But I think they’re as durable as they need to be. If they had to overbuild them they’d be too heavy and cost too much. I think there’s a deal (with a GoPro subscription) where you can get two replacements a year for $100 apiece. So if you smash, they’ll give you a new one at a really deep discount. Which is exactly what I did. 

(Details on the GoPro subscription terms can be found here.)

Q: What about the HERO10: Any features that really grab your attention?

First of all, even more than the 5.3K 60 fps – which is awesome – the 4K 120 is even cooler. That’s 4X slo-mo on 4K, which is twice what you had on the HERO8 and HERO9, which is insane. And you can can do 2.7K 240 fps, which is 8X slo mo. If you want to shoot something… it’s going to look so cool. Imagine a GoPro HERO11, 12 13 – we’re going to get, like, 12x slo-mo in 5K. So it’s really good that they’re upping the frame rates. I almost never shoot anything in 24 fps.

The competition?

Are there some other worthy competitors when it comes to 4K resolution? Absolutely. A number of FPV pilots fly the Insta360 ONE R. With an add-on twin lens module (and the right type of drone frame), this modular camera allows you to capture 360° footage. We’ve written about the ONE R before here.

One of the other main contenders here, especially for stripped down CineWhoops, is the SMO 4K. It’s basically a naked ONE R, and weighs in at just 30 grams. If you don’t feel like tearing down a GoPro, you can’t beat the weight, or the $239.99 price.

Of course, a lot of people are awaiting the imminent release of DJI’s new Action 2 camera. It’s also a modular design, capable of 16:9 4K at a rumoured 120 FPS. That product will be released later in the week, and its modular design may well appeal to some FPV pilots looking to fly a smaller package. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

DroneDJ’s Take

There’s no question that GoPro makes tremendous action cameras. We don’t know the exact numbers, but it’s safe to say GoPro owns the lion’s share of the action camera market. That market, if you’re curious, was valued at $2.1 billion globally in 2019. GoPro has also been in this game a long time, having produced its first camera back in September 2004 (I still have a HERO2 in the closet).

With accomplished pilots like Nikolay Anishchenko and Eric Bell flying GoPros, you really can’t go wrong with a HERO9 or HERO10 Black (Amazon affiliate links to the GoPro store). Of course, if you don’t feel like paying the extra coin for a quality camera only to tear it apart (and void your warranty), there are other options. The SMO 4K, at $239.99 seems like a good bet for that use-case. And, of course, we’ll be interested to see the capabilities of the DJI Action 2 later this week. It looks, at least based on leaks, like it has a lot going for it that might appeal to FPV pilots.

A final word to GoPro: When the Karma drone was released (relax, we won’t go there), it did have an innovative feature: a removable gimbal that could be used for hand-holding a GoPro for stabilized footage. We’ve love to see GoPro bring back an updated version of that device.

In fact, we’ve asked a few GoPro users – and they all said they’d buy one.

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