So, can you zoom in on a GoPro? The short answer is yes. But as with most things in photography, there's more to it. That's because GoPro only gives you digital zoom – not the more powerful optical zoom that you're probably looking for.
Wouldn't it be great to have a waterproof, shockproof, lightweight action camera with optical zoom? Unfortuanately, the last feature remains pending. But GoPro does offer a type of zoom. Here's what you need to know.
Can GoPro Zoom?
Yes, you can zoom in on your GoPro camera. The zoom is digital – you'll use the touch screen to zoom in. This will allow you to enlarge distant objects – and it might help in some settings.
The lens that ships with your camera doesn't have the capability to zoom (or to increase the actual image size while maintaining image quality). See below for an explantion of the difference between optical and digital zoom.
5 GoPro Cameras with Digital Zoom
So while GoPro doesn't offer any camera with optical zoom, there are five GoPro models with digital zoom.
Why don't GoPro cameras have zoom?
To keep the camera small and light, GoPro cameras don't have the capability to actually zoom. The purpose of these action camera is to be portable and super easy to use.
If GoPro were to add optical zoom capability to their cameras, it would produce a number of problems. Here are a few:
- Increased weight and size. A zoomable lens will make the camera thicker and heavier.
- Decreased durability. Optical zoom lenses are mechanical. They need to physically move in/out to decrease/increase image zoom. They probably wouldn't respond well to the abuse that a typical GoPro camera receives. Once the battery and sd card are loaded, GoPro cameras have no mechanical function – its all digital.
- Increased cost. There is no question that optical zoom would increase the price of an already expensive camera.
- Increased complexity. An optical zoom setting will make it harder for users to setup and shoot. It requires more decisions and it wouldn't be able to be changed on the fly – at least in most settings.
What's the Difference Between Digital and Optical Zoom?
Beginner photographers often get these two zoom options confused. Here are the basic differences.
- Digital Zoom: Software based. This crops the image after it has been captured. It is an artificial zoom – because it only gives the appearance of a zoomed image by cropping the image. This is done in-camera with software.
- Optical Zoom: Lens based. This enlarges your image by using the cameras lens. By zooming in with your lens, you are actually capturing a more detailed image.
Optical zoom is preferred for a quality image. To attain an optical zoom with your GoPro, you'll need an add-on zoom lens. See more below.
When Should I Use GoPro Digital Zoom?
Digital zoom has its place, even on a GoPro.
Here are a couple of settings where it might make sense to use digital zoom:
- If you're shooting a stationary setting from a tripod, but can't get any closer.
- If you want to shoot a quick clip or photo and then publish right away.
- If you just want to shoot some quick b-roll – and image quality isn't the priority.
But there are other times that you should avoid shooting with digital zoom:
- If the footage matters and you don't want to risk needing to shoot it again. Digital zoom can make it hard to locate your subject.
- If your subject is moving.
- If you have time to edit your footage after the shoot.
For most situations, instead of shooting with digital zoom enabled, I recommend shooting at the widest FOV available.
It's easy to edit the photos and footage afterward to isolate the important components. But if you've set the digital zoom, you might end up missing the primary subject.
Remember that digital zoom doesn't make better footage – it just captures less.
Is FOV Adjustment a Digital Zoom?
Good question. If you reduce the field of view, does this equate to a digital zoom? Here's the best answer I could find on this topic.
According to DesignNomad, on Reddit:
“FOV adjustment is NOT just digital zoom. There IS a benefit to filming in a different FOV versus cropping in post.
“Cameras capture raw data and before it becomes a viewable file on your card, it is processed. When a full resolution wide FOV shot is taken with a GoPro, it takes significantly more data information, then processes and compresses it down into the .jpg or .gpr you find on your card. If you then crop that down to a narrower FOV, you can't regain any of the image data from the raw capture.
“However, if you shoot in narrow, the camera only uses the middle of the sensor to gather the raw information. That raw information is then processed down with much higher fidelity than the previously illustrated manual crop.”
GoPro Zoom Lenses
After a lot of research, I haven't found any add-on lenses for GoPro cameras.
What I did find is a couple of companies (Peau Productions and Back Bone) that offer to modify your camera. They have an external frame or exchangeable, internal lenses. Probably not the best option – but if you have your heart set on it, it looks like there is a way.
Should you use a zoom lens for your GoPro?
If you're asking me, no, I don't think you should buy a zoom lens for your GoPro. Remember that GoPro is an action camera.
I guess you need to consider what you need it for. If you want it for the novelty and to help you justify the purchase, maybe. Or if you want to travel light with just one camera, it might work in certain situations.
But, if you want to shoot quality footage, you should probably just buy another camera. If there was a simple way to add a zoom lens to a GoPro, you can be sure that GoPro (and a dozen other companies) would have already made one.
Even a basic camera (like this Canon PowerShot) has a solid 40x optical zoom and shoots in 4K. It's easier and better than modifying your action camera. Plus now you'll have two cameras – perfect for b-roll footage.
Have you used the digital zoom feature in your GoPro? Let me know if you have any tips or tricks. Also, if you know of a good zoom lens please share it below. I would love to give it a try.