I spent a week in New Orleans with a GoPro Hero 7 as my only camera
For a week in New Orleans, Louisiana, I carried a GoPro Hero 7 Black as my only camera. I had recently tested the GoPro and came away fairly impressed with the results. With a trip coming up, it seemed like a good way to really put it through its paces even further. Plus, a place like New Orleans would have plenty of exotic places to snap a few memories from a gator-filled swamp to an old river plantation.
To be fair, I had my phone camera along with me, but I left my phone in my pocket. The exception to that rule was when I used my phone as a viewfinder for the GoPro – the irony was not lost on me. Overall, I came away impressed with what the GoPro was capable of, even if some of the shots I took turned out less than ideal.
For those of you not familiar with the GoPro Hero 7, it is an action cam which means it small, durable, and designed to be strapped to a helmet and forgotten about. There is a single button on top to capture photos or start video, depending on what mode the camera is in. The camera can capture super smooth 4K video and 12 MP photos. A word about the stabilization – GoPro calls it “hypersmooth,” and that is on point.
The camera takes photos and video with an incredibly large depth of field, so things stay in focus regardless of distance from the camera. Keep in mind, this is an action camera. It is designed to strap onto your head or your shoulder and just record while you do incredible things. You do not have time to worry about focus when you are going off a ski jump, or surfing, or anything else that GoPro owners half my age do. Along with focus, an action camera is built to be durable and tough – much tougher than a glass-sandwich smartphone. Which brings me to my next point.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and I certainly agree with that. The GoPro is so small and compact it easily fits into my front pocket when not in use so it qualifies for that rule. It also lives up to the second, less common rule: the best camera is the one you do not give a crap about. And that becomes evident when you put yourself in precarious positions trying to take a photo.
Driving across a bridge at high speed, or even zipping along in a swamp on a fan boat are circumstances that can be fairly hazardous for a smartphone. The idea of whipping out your phone and grabbing a video might give you pause. The GoPro is an action cam that has survived falls from an airplane. It can handle a little tumble onto the highway, or into the bottom of a boat.
What I most enjoyed was how easy it was to snap shots quickly, and then get back to the task at hand. In cases like the swamp boat, it was simply a matter of holding up the camera. The small profile of the camera also ensured that people behind me were not distracted by the viewfinder. The single button on the GoPro made the device super easy to operate, and the touch screen on the back allowed me to review photos to make sure I got the shot I was looking for.
The GoPro performed very well under most conditions – daylight, overcast, night time. The GoPro was perfectly capable of capturing a postcard shot of Jackson Park or the DeStrehan Plantation. However is was equally of falling out of focus in some shots, regardless of the depth of field.
One other quirk with the camera deals in the extremes. The extreme white of a statue wipes out all detail from a phone. Similarly, lights in a darkened area do the same. When shooting in an area with both extremes – light and dark, details get lost in the shadows as well. It is certainly not ideal, but it is also not incredibly surprising either.
Many shots come out quite clear and picturesque, particularly those showing a bright shy in the background. The colors in such shots are accurate and quite striking. My favorite shots involve the sky in some way, either a distant shot of Jackson Park or the plantation with the sky above in a gorgeous blue frame.
I am not sure the GoPro did a better job than my smartphone would have. If I had a flagship phone, like a Pixel 3, Galaxy S10, or iPhone XS, I doubt the GoPro could have matched the quality. But it certainly did as adequate a job as any lower tier phone, like a OnePlus or the Blackberry I carried with me. Plus, it costs less than the phone, at roughly $350 or so, and if it got lost or stolen, I would not be losing everything – just my camera. It is a trade I would happily make if I had to.
Below is the full gallery of images I captured. You can click here for a drive folder with the full resolution photos and videos.
Should you take a GoPro with you on vacation? You could certainly do worse. And there are definite benefits to having a GoPro in your pocket as opposed to a smartphone. As for me, this was definitely an experiment I would repeat.