GoPro HERO6 Black vs HERO5 Black: Photo Modes

The HERO6 has a new processor and promises improved image quality over its predecessor, the HERO5 Black. Here are some side-by-side comparisons.

The GoPro HERO6 Black has a new processor developed in-house and promises improved image quality over its predecessor, the HERO5 Black. Since I use GoPros quite a lot for still photos in addition to their video capabilities, I thought it worth making some side-by-side comparisons of the results from their photo modes.

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For the most part, the photo capabilities of the HERO6 Black and HERO5 Black are very similar. They both have 12MP sensors that produce images that are 4000 x 3000 pixels with an aspect ratio of 4:3. Both have the same lens that, by default, produces that distinctive super-wide fisheye look. With both, you can choose to shoot in GoPro’s own RAW file format, GPR, or in JPG (RAW isn’t available in all modes).

This comparison focuses specifically on their photo modes. I also have a more general overview comparing the HERO6 Black with the HERO5 Black.

To test whether there was any improvement in the new camera, I mounted a HERO6 Black next to a HERO5 Black in a dual frame and used a Smart Remote to shoot photos on both simultaneously. Here are the results.

Regular Photos

The results from the regular still photos mode are quite similar between the models. The HERO6 Black tends to produce less contrasty (i.e. less punchy) images that pay dividends in better detail from shadows to mids to highlights. The improvements aren’t revolutionary, but they are there.

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Image Size

The size of the photos is the same between the two models. They both create 12MP photos that measure 4000 pixels by 3000 pixels.

In many of GoPro’s previous models, you had the option of creating smaller images of, say 7 MP. The main reason for doing that is to save on space on the memory card, which mostly comes into play with things like burst mode and timelapse.

The HERO6 Black has done away with that option. The images are now 12MP, with no option to choose a smaller size.

Zoom

The HERO6 Black has a new Zoom function in the photo mode. But it’s less useful than it sounds. It’s not an optical zoom. That is, the zooming isn’t something that’s done by the lens. Instead, it’s a digital zoom that’s functionally equivalent to cropping. The images still come out at 4000 x 3000 pixels, but there’s no more detail than you’d get by standard cropping.

Here’s an example:

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And here’s another:

[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff”  label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”Standard (without zoom)” label_two=”Zoomed in to maximum”]


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Frankly, I’m not convinced this is a useful feature. It amounts to a new way to do what was the Narrow FOV on the HERO5 Black, a setting that has been removed in the new model. The zoom makes more sense in the video mode where it’s less trivial to do cropping and trimming.

Fields of View

GoPros are known for their super-wide fisheye look. But the HERO5 models added a new Linear FOV that reduces the lens distortion–those curved horizons and slanted angles. It’s a view that’s especially useful when shooting aerial shots from drones.

The HERO6 Black still has the Linear FOV, but they’ve done away with the Medium and Narrow FOV options. So you can choose the default Wide FOV or the Linear FOV. If you find you miss the Narrow FOV, take a look at the new zoom option (see above), which accomplishes much the same thing.

Protune

The Protune options are mostly identical. You can still do things like set an exposure compensation (plus or minus up to 2 stops), select a color mode, limit the automatic ISO range, and choose how aggressively to apply sharpening.

A minor difference is that you can now choose up to ISO 3200 rather than being limited to ISO 1600.

HDR vs. WDR

The HERO5 Black introduced a new photo mode to recover detail from shadows and highlights, called WDR for wide dynamic range. The HERO6 Black takes that a step further by replacing WDR with a more traditionally named HDR, or high dynamic range.

The HDR mode is quite a bit more aggressive than WDR and recovers more detail in shadows and highlights. But while the results don’t get as garish as some HDR photography notoriously can, it’s still not going to be to everyone’s taste, especially the extra saturation it can introduce. Then again, the odd color shifts of the WDR mode have never been to my taste either.

When using HDR (and WDR, for that matter), you’re limited to producing JPG files; RAW doesn’t work in these modes and will be automatically disabled when you turn on HDR. That’s because it’s creating a composite image in camera.

Here are some examples comparing HDR photos shot with a HERO6 Black side-by-side with ones taken in WDR mode with a HERO5 Black.

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[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff”  label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”HERO6 Black HDR” label_two=”HERO5 Black WDR”]

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[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff”  label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”HERO6 Black HDR” label_two=”HERO5 Black WDR”]

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[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff”  label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”HERO6 Black HDR” label_two=”HERO5 Black WDR”]


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ISO 3200

The HERO6 Black extends the ISO range up to 3200 (from 1600 in the HERO5 Black). The image quality is still a bit mediocre at high ISOs. A big part of the problem is that these cameras use a very small sensor. High-ISO shooting is probably also not the core target use for GoPro users, so the development team are likely focusing their efforts elsewhere.

Here are some examples at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200.

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Burst Mode

The burst modes between the models are mostly identical. There’s one exception, however: the HERO6 Black adds a new Burst Mode: Auto mode. The instruction manual doesn’t explain very well what this does. It’s a 30 images in 1 second mode that falls back to fewer images if it needs a slower shutter speed to properly expose the images. I’ve written up a fuller explanation and posted some examples separately.

Is the Photo Image Quality of the HERO6 Black Better than the HERO5 Black?

Yes, although the differences aren’t huge.

Overall, the image quality of photos with the HERO6 Black have improvements in several respects over the HERO5 Black. The improvements are subtle, and if you look at the photos apart, it’s hard to spot much difference. But when you put them side by side, it’s easier to see that while the improvements are relatively subtle, they do amount to significant improvements nonetheless.

More GoPro Tips & Tricks:

This post was last modified on October 1, 2019 11:57 am

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  • My thoughts:

    I was shooting video yesterday with the 2.7K on 60 FPS with the GoPro Hero 6 and when I was editing with Shotcut (free version) I just selected the "Capture Frame" command in the menu when I found something I liked. The images came out looking pretty nice, they're not something you'd present in an art show, but if you just want to share some photos over social media- they have all the quality you could desire.

    If you are trying to capture high res 'super shots', you'd probably do well to have a dedicated camera. The GoPro is a tool in a photographers bag, not a end-all/be-all photography wonder camera. It excels at capturing action, since it is an "Action Camera." Anyways, I enjoyed the article. Thanks for the write-up!

  • The major deal-breaker for me and many other divers, bikers, pilots, drivers is that Hero6 dropped the Video+Photo mode from Hero6 (presumably because the feature is patented by Ambarella)
    GoPro support arrogantly suggested that "You don't need it because 4K video still capture is better".
    First, 4K video capture will produce 8MB pics vs 12MB, which is a big difference in quality.
    Second, in most cases 4K capture is not needed or desired - 1080p is perfectly fine for most long duration actions where battery life, overheating and file size are much more important, especially if the camera can not be easily manipulated (underwater, planes, cars, bikes, etc)
    Third - who wants to spend hours in post-processing on a computer, generating video capture stills, as opposed to quickly viewing readily available still photos and immediately posting them?
    This is a first time since Hero3 I did not upgrade and do not plan to upgrade to the next model.

  • David,

    Awesome reviews and info across the board.

    Question. I have slowly but surely moved to capturing mostly stills on my GoPro 3+ (long overdue for an upgrade). I was disappointed to see that the GoPro 6 black remains at only 12 MP (same as the 3+ Black).

    I have been searching for an action camera that will surpass 12 MP (sony, nikon, etc.). However, only a few have a higher mega pixel rate and one of those has the 360 degree camera I'm not looking for (expensive and will not use). I've also run into research issues where the megapixels are lower, but the processor is higher than the GoPro 6.

    I wanted to get your feedback on what action camera you may believe would be best for capturing stills (sony rxo, garmin virb, nikon keymission 360, sjcam m20). Or at this point, would a screen shot from 4k 60 fps high res be even better than photo mode?

    Still a GoPro fan at heart, but I need better resolution.

    Austin
    GoPro 3+ [typical setting: time lapse 1 second].
    Uses: skydive, mountain bike, water ski, snow ski.

    • I'm with you on that. As much as I love using GoPros to capture stills, I really wish they'd put some resources into improving the stills quality (including, especially, the low-light performance). I don't have a good answer yet because I've been a little disappointed by all the ones I've tried. The one I have high hopes for and am testing over the next few weeks (specifically for stills quality) is the Sony RX0, but I don't have anything to report on that just yet.

  • I recently upgraded from a hero 4 to 6 and the time it takes to process a single photo seems long to me. The time it takes between snapping the photo and the camera writing it to SD seems to be on par with the 4’s performance, if not even a little longer. Seems to be about a second overall and that’s with HDR turned off (takes even longer understandably so when on). Im curious to hear if your delay / process time for individual photos is similar?

    • There are lots of things I like about using GoPros for still photos, but that sluggishness is one of my least favorite things. But it's not just you--it is something that just takes far longer than it feels like it should, especially since the camera is obviously capable of doing it all much quicker, as you can see if you put it in timelapse photo mode with a 0.5s interval. The HERO5 Black is basically the same in this respect, and I've tried it with a range of the fastest microSD cards. Even with the fastest cards in, it's still frustratingly slow, and it's even slower when shooting RAW. I don't have a magic fix or inside information as to why it's like that--I can only speculate that it's just not a high priority for the development team.

  • If shooting 90% Time Lapse would the Hero 5 be a better Purchase??
    I believe that the Hero 6 has most of it's improvements in Video Mode??
    Is this current

    • Right, there's very little difference in their timelapse functionality. There are some relatively minor things--for timelapse photos, there's a slight improvement in image quality, and with Protune on you can up the ISO to 3200 rather than 1600. But overall there's really not much difference when using for timelapse. Both can shoot timelapse video, timelapse photos, and nightlapse. Both have the same interval options. Both can shoot timelapse photos in RAW mode so long as the interval is 5 seconds or above. There is one minor feature the HERO5 Black has that the HERO6 Black doesn't--in timelapse photo mode you can choose the wide dynamic range for JPGs; the HERO6 Black does have a better HDR mode for still photos, but for now that's not available for shooting timelapse. But that's probably not a widely used feature anyway.

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