There are some situations where you might want to get the files off a GoPro's memory card without touching the camera. I run into this issue when I use GoPros among a suite of cameras for capturing long-term time-lapse for commercial clients. In these shoots, which can last anywhere from weeks to months, I don't want the camera to move even a little bit, and the cameras are usually mounted in hard-to-access places up high. With the extra wide-angle lens of GoPros, even the tiniest movement creates issues with the smoothness of the time-lapse. And anything that involves taking the camera out of the housing involves a very strong risk of slight misalignment. You might into a similar need if you're shooting wildlife, for example, when going near the camera might scare the animals.
So, ideally, I want to download the images from the memory card and wipe the memory card clean without touching the camera at all.
There are two ways I've used successfully to do this. Both of these allow you to get the images off the card and then format it to free the card's space up, all without touching the camera at all.
Option 1: Wirelessly, Using the GoPro Mobile App
Use the GoPro mobile app to download the images and then use it to format the card. The advantage of this method is that there's no special setup or modification needed. Since power isn't an issue, you don't have to factor in the extra battery drain from leaving the wifi on.
- No special equipment or modification needed.
- Works well when the camera is mounted in difficult-to-reach places (but still within normal range of the camera's wireless signal).
- You'll need enough space on your phone (or tablet) to store the downloaded images or connect an external drive to your phone.
- Won't work underwater, because the wireless signal can't pass through any significant amount of water (here's a more detailed explanation). For those situations, option 2 is a better option.
Option 2A: Custom-made Housing with USB Cable and Quik Desktop App
Another option is to enable wired access by jury-rigging a housing that allows for the USB cable to stay connected on the camera's end. You can then connect a laptop to the USB cable and use the desktop version of the Quik app to import the photos to your laptop or an external drive connected to it.
While there's no "format" function in Quik, you can go into Quik > Camera Settings and check the box for "Automatically delete files from camera after importing."
The challenge with this option is sealing each end of the cable from water leaking. I've done it successfully by drilling a hole in the side of a standard waterproof housing, attaching the cable, and then using silicon sealant around the opening. I've found it to work well for above-water outdoor use against the elements like rain and snow, but I'd be pretty hesitant to take it underwater like that.
If the camera is mounted somewhere fairly inaccessible, you can use a long USB cable--but if it's exposed to the elements make sure to protect the bare end from water as well.
- Inexpensive and customizable to your needs.
- Works with nearly all GoPro models (you'll need an additional external housing for some models).
- You'll need confidence in your DIY skills.
- Housing isn't any good for normal use afterwards.
- Quality control (especially against leaks) is entirely up to you.
Tip: If you're using one of the newer GoPro models that uses USB-C, you'll find that long USB-C cables can be hard to find and expensive. It's easier to find a long standard USB cable and use an adapter on the end, but there are three things to watch for: quality control on the inexpensive adapters isn't always good; it introduces another potential point of failure; and the extra bulk of the adapter can introduce challenges to making the cable fit through the housing.
Option 2B: Off-the-Shelf WiFi/Bluetooth Extension Cable
A variation on these is a hybrid option that combines wireless access to the GoPro with a wired extension cable. It's a commercially available option put together by the folks at CamDo. Their solution is designed for underwater use but works equally well in the elements above water if you need to extend the range of the wireless signal and don't want the hassle of setting up some kind of wireless relay or booster.
This option comes with a few advantages:
- As a professional manufactured option, the overall construction quality is higher than many DIY solutions.
- The cable itself is also ruggedized, which adds extra protection against the elements and reduces the risk of a potential weak link in the cable's shielding.
- You can use the mobile wireless app rather than being restricted by the limitations of the wired connection to a computer.
- It's more expensive.
- Currently only available with housings that fit the HERO3, HERO3+, and HERO4--so it won't work with the HERO5 Black, HERO6 Black, HERO (2018), or any of the Session models.
You can find it here with various lengths of cables from 12 through 300 feet, starting at $179.
Tip: If you want to try your hand at a DIY version, here's a guide.
Common GoPro Questions
Here are some common questions I get from GoPro users.
How to Maximize a GoPro's battery life
There are several factors that influence how long the GoPro's battery life lasts. Among them include what mode you're recording in (4K uses more power than 1080p30, for instance), the health of the battery, and even the environmental temperature (lithium batteries don't perform well in very cold temperatures). But there are some things you can do to maximize battery life. Not every GoPro has all of these features, but start with these:
- Minimize use of the back screen
- Turn off wireless
- Turn off voice commands
- Turn off GPS
- Turn off Protune
- Use QuickCapture mode
Is it normal for GoPro cameras to get hot?
Yes. Depending on the model and the shooting mode you're using, it's normal for GoPros to get quite warm while shooting. They can get hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch. It's especially noticeable when shooting high-resolution and high-framerate video. Some newer models have an overheating protection mechanism that will shut the camera down if it gets too hot. I have more details on GoPros getting hot, here.
How can I control a GoPro remotely?
GoPro makes a range of wireless remote controls. They don't all work with all GoPros--for example, the HERO (2018) isn't compatible with this type of remote control. Many of the newer models also work with the GoPro mobile app. Not every model can be controlled remotely, but most of the newer models have wireless compatibility that can be used for at least some methods of remote control.
Can you take pictures with a GoPro?
If you've been using a GoPro for a while, this might seem pretty obvious, but if you've never used one, it's not quite so self-evident. GoPros are best known for dramatic action videos, but they can most certainly take still photos too. In fact, they can be a very interesting alternative to a traditional camera so long as you work within its limitations. I have more more details here.
Do GoPro wireless controls work underwater?
No. You can't use the mobile app or a wireless remote control if the camera is fully submerged in water. They will normally work just fine in rain and spray--just not submerged. I have a more detailed explanation here.
Do GoPro touchscreens work underwater?
No. If they're just wet above water, they can work to some extent, although often less reliably. But the touchscreens won't work underwater.