Whether you’re into extreme sports or just hanging your GoPro from a quadcopter, odds are if you’re putting your camera in harm’s way you’ll eventually damage the lens. When this happened to me I contacted GoPro who politely informed me they offer neither camera repair nor replacement parts.
Finding A New Lens
Several YouTube videos and a few Google searches later I learned that: a) Replacing the lens was fairly easy and b) A genuine GoPro lens from a third party supplier was about $120 before shipping. Ouch! While it’s cool that swapping out the lens can definitely be a DIY project the cost seems a bit stiff especially considering the lens is small, mostly plastic, has few elements and no moving parts. The good news was that after a bit more research I discovered that fully compatible ‘workalike’ aftermarket lenses could be had on eBay for a fraction of the “genuine GoPro” cost and decided to order a couple for testing.
You know it’s time for a new lens when…
One reseller in Brooklyn, NY listed their lens as having a 170-degree FOV, while a reseller in Hong Kong listed theirs as having a 150-degree FOV. The lenses looked identical in their photos and I was curious about the different FOVs so I ordered one from each vendor for evaluation (the price difference between the two was only $5 and both provided free shipping.) 7 to 10 Days later I had both lenses in hand and it was obvious they were in fact, identical. As for the conflicting FOV, it turns out that both vendor’s descriptions were accurate: Depending upon what mode you’re shooting in the FOV can be either 170 degrees or 150 degrees so, yeah. Good to know.
As an aside, at the same time I ordered the lenses I also ordered a new faceplate and a new lens surround and gaskets for a combined cost of about $17. These would make the camera look brand-new and serve as cheap insurance in the event I caused any inadvertent damage during the repair (for reference the photo at the top of the page is my camera reassembled with the new components.)
On the mechanical side, the quality of the aftermarket lens and the original GoPro lens look to be on par with each other and I could find nothing to suggest one was superior to the other. Lens coatings, plastic used, and overall fit and finish appeared equally good. The only obvious differences are the IR-cut coating on the rear element of the replacement seems more aggressive while the original lens is slightly longer.
Original damaged lens (L) and the aftermarket replacement (R)
Because I no longer had a genuine GoPro lens at the time of this writing there was no way I could do proper comparison tests which means my opinion is entirely subjective and based upon empirical data. That said, I do have a fair amount of pre-disaster footage on hand to compare with and to my eye, and under the conditions I was filming, the images produced by the aftermarket lens appear to be reasonably good, possibly as good as a genuine GoPro lens. Visible distortion, aberrations, color fringing, contrast, and ‘crispness’ are all acceptable, especially for a lens costing less than $20.
You Be The Judge
This test video is from a time-lapse built from of 7MP JPEGs. Note that because I shoot mostly aerials with my HERO I set to the focus to infinity (the factory had focused the original lens somewhat closer than infinity.) The difference is slight, but by sacrificing ultra close focusing I get very crisp detail in distant objects.
|Watch the complete video|
- GoPro HERO 3+ Black Edition
- Aftermarket lens
- 7MP / WIDE
- Sharpness set to MED
- Color set to FLAT
- Color temperature set to 5500K
- Snake River ND4/CP filter
I can’t [and won’t] say the cheap aftermarket lens I tested is as good as the original but I will say that if your HERO needs a new lens and you’re on a tight budget then these are definitely worth a try.
Replacement Lens Resources
- “GoPro” workalike lens – 1 of 2 that I purchased off eBay
- “GoPro” workalike lens – 2 of 2 that I purchased off eBay
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