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A small camera that fits in: Portability for athletes


The GoPro is an extremely small (6 cm x 4.5 cm x 3 cm) and light (94 grams) camera whose lens, sensor, memory card and microphone are all enclosed in a tough outer case. It was invented by a surfer who wished to record his exploits without being hampered by a camera. Thanks to its easy handling, it quickly became popular not only with its target market—athletes—but also with travellers and filmmakers!

Refer to the “Additional resources” section to see a glossary of technical terms.


The GoPro and sports

The GoPro was not the first wearable compact, easy-to-use camera, nor was it the last! Many other models soon followed. As with all “action cameras,” its primary function is to serve as the extension of a body in motion and to record athletes’ exploits without getting in the way. It can be mounted on the body using accessories suited to different sports and activities. 

There is no need for athletes to frame and focus their shots; the camera simply needs to be mounted on the body and it will record whatever is in front of it, even in extreme conditions. And thanks to its large storage capacity, it can record long sequences without interruption.

The points of view it provides convey its proximity to the body, while the action shots it records amplify the athlete’s movements, allowing viewers to experience them as well.

A few videos shot with the GoPro


Workout at Laurier Park
Cinémathèque québécoise
A runner works out at Laurier Park in Montréal on a beautiful fall afternoon. He records his activity using a GoPro HERO7 Silver. At first, the camera is mounted on his chest with a harness; it is subsequently mounted on his forehead.

Arguably the most famous of “action cameras,” the GoPro is designed to be an extension of a moving body and to record the athlete’s acrobatics without hinering his or her movements. It attaches to the body with the help of accessories adapted to the athlete’s needs and the sport itself.


Bike ride
Cinémathèque québécoise
A cyclist goes for a ride around Montréal. At first, he records his bike ride using a GoPro HERO 7 Silver mounted to his chest with a harness; he later mounts it to the front of his helmet.


Winter workout
Cinémathèque québécoise
A man enjoys a snowy winter run in a park.

The origins of an invention

The development of the GoPro represents another step in the miniaturization of digital cameras. This ongoing process began 30 years ago, when manufacturers began searching for ways to create compact digital cameras. Several models were developed and the gradual transition toward digital photography began. For example, in the 1990s, many filmmakers used mini camcorders.

The movie director poses for a self-portrait. She is holding her digital camera in her right hand and looking through the viewfinder

Still frame from the 2000 film The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda. The director films herself holding her MiniDV.
© Ciné-Tamaris

A man is holding a small Sony camera. With his eye on the viewfinder, he holds the camera in his two hands. The camera is approximately one and a half times the length of his hands.

Photograph of a man using a SONY MiniDV Handycam digital camera.
Nabukodinosaure CC BY-SA 4.0

For a long time, filmmakers searched for ways to bring cameras as close to operators’ bodies as possible, to allow viewers to share and experience their activities. Many cameras that were not designed to be worn the body were therefore equipped with accessories that allowed them to be used as extensions of the body. Before the GoPro, many athletes searched for ingenious ways to strap video and film cameras to their bodies. Skydiver André Suire and his helmet camera are a good example of this. Nevertheless, these heavy devices were not very practical.

 Shoulder shot of a skydiver wearing a helmet equipped with two cameras.

Anon. 1963. “Letters .” American Cinematographer, vol. 44, p. 692. Skydiver André Suire with two cameras fitted to his helmet.
Public domain

Video archive of a 5,000-metre freefall skydive in 1961. The electronic camera designed for this feat was used a bodycam. The dive was broadcast on television.

The GoPro narrows the distance between the camera and the athlete’s body. Amateur surfer Nick Woodman, the creator of the GoPro, wanted a camera he could use while surfing. In 2002, he founded his company in the U.S.

Close-up of a man’s arm with a small camera strapped to the wrist.

The very first GoPro camera, the GP HERO, with its wrist strap. This camera was equipped with a viewfinder to frame shots. Viewfinders were later replaced by screens.
© Philippe Bédard


The first 35 mm photographic camera developed by Woodman had a production cost of $3 USD and sold for $30. However, it didn’t quite meet his needs. He went on to develop a new version that could record video, did not have a viewfinder and could be mounted anywhere on the body. The GoPro company logo features a row of four squares that represent the four main uses of these cameras. The first square, on the left, denotes extreme land-based sports like motocross and cycling. The second square from the left symbolizes surfing. The third, darker square refers to underwater sports and the white square on the right represents winter sports.

A smiling man stands in front of a BBC building. He is showing a GoPro camera to the photographer.

Photograph of Nick Woodman in 2014 holding a GoPro camera.
cellanr – CC BY-SA 2.0


The first digital GoPro was launched in 2005. In 2020, the GoPro HERO7 Silver sold for about $270 CAD.

This tough, compact action camera is equipped with rugged waterproof housing. It can be mounted on helmets, surfboards and hockey sticks, as well as on chests and almost any other part of the body. Most models feature wide-angle lenses, offering a wide field of view and infinity focus. They include electronic features such as video stabilization software.

The GoPro meets three major needs for recording a body in motion: It is compact, lightweight and easy to operate.


GoPro technical data sheet

The following specifications apply to the GoPro HERO7 Silver, which is the mid-range model of the seventh-generation GoPro. Its simple functions make it accessible to amateur users.


6 x 4,5 x 3 cm
94 grams
Frame rate
30 or 60 frames per second

Components and accessories

LCD screen
The LCD screen has several functions. It is used to navigate the camera’s menus and settings, as well as to display remaining memory card and battery capacity. It is used for viewing recorded videos, and because the camera does not have a viewfinder, it also serves as a monitor.
The lens, sensor, memory card and microphone are all enclosed in a tough outer case.
Ultra wide-angle fisheye lens
The ultra wide-angle lens produces strong visual distortion of anything that is not in the centre of the frame. It also captures vast panoramic views.
Integrated battery
The battery has a run time of up to 107 minutes, depending on settings such as resolution, fast motion, slow motion and options used (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), as well as ambient temperature.
Memory card
A Micro SD card with a storage capacity of up to 128 GB. These cards can store up to four hours of footage, making it possible to film long sequences.
Vertical mounting buckle and thumb screw
The vertical mounting buckle is used to attach the GoPro to the harness. It has a slightly curved shape, and its angle can be further adjusted once it is mounted on the harness. The thumb screw ensures the camera and its case do not fall off.
The dual-microphone system is integrated into the body of the camera, offering advanced wind noise reduction.
Voice command
When voice commands such as “GoPro, take a photo” or “GoPro, start recording” are uttered, a sound signal confirms that the function has been activated.


10-megapixel image sensor
With wide dynamic range, burst function and scheduled capture modes.
Three available resolutions
1) 4K at 30 frames per second (4:3 ratio). 2) 1440p at 30 or 60 frames per second (4:3 ratio). 3) 1080p at 30 or 60 frames per second (16:9 ratio)
Time lapse and 2x slo-mo
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
With the popularity of Youtube, camera connectivity is a major selling point. The company’s 2017 slogan was, “Live the moment. Capture the moment. Share the moment.”
Equipped with GPS and accelerometers, the GoPro can instantly display speed, distance travelled and acceleration.
GoPro apps
The GoPro camera can be paired with mobile applications and editing software and offers unlimited cloud storage.
Cutting-edge sensors and algorithms
Captures smooth, detailed video, no matter the activity.
Digital zoom that can be used while recording.
Compatible with over 30 accessories, including mounts for handlebars, surfboards, helmets, tripods, cars, torsos, heads and even dogs.
The GoPro is waterproof to 10 metres and resistant to sea water, dust, snow, mud and sand

Operation and handling

The GoPro’s portability and easy functionality provide its users with the freedom and independence they seek.

Before beginning to shoot, the camera’s settings can be adjusted to optimize its performance (for example, sharpness and frame rate). Athletes can select the accessories that suit their needs. 

The chest mount harness is one of the many hands-free accessories developed and patented by GoPro since 2004 to attach the camera easily and securely to an athlete’s body. There is little risk of the camera falling off or breaking.

A mannequin wears a GoPro mounted on a harness at chest level.

Photograph of a GoPro HERO7 Silver on a chest mount harness.

A mannequin wears a camera mounting strap. The GoPro is mounted at forehead level.

Photograph of a GoPro HERO7 Silver attached to a head strap.

Once the camera is mounted,  it can be controlled by voice command. The athlete does not need to make any adjustments to the camera while it is recording. Photography skills are not required; however, it is important to consider the types of movements that will be done, in order to select the accessories that will capture the best point of view.

Athletes can view the recorded images on the GoPro’s touch screen, edit them using the GoPro app and upload them to social media in an optimized format to share with their online networks. 

The GoPro can therefore be used by a single person from start to finish—from preparation to internet sharing.

Who uses the GoPro?

The initial target market for this camera was sports-minded photography aficionados. Later, it was expanded to include amateurs and adventurous tourists in search of extraordinary landscapes. 

To impress potential users, the brand’s advertising videos for models such as the GoPro HERO 7 feature travellers and extreme sports enthusiasts. These advertisements are meant to demonstrate the possible uses of the camera. However, they are produced by professionals using extensive equipment and are edited in post-production. The amateur users they target actually have very little chance of achieving similar results.

When the GoPro became available, extreme sports communities fully adopted the technology, and their members began to upload videos and photos to social media at an incredible pace. By serving as an extension of the body, the camera contributes to the athlete’s performance. Because it is close to the body rather than the eye, it records the athlete’s breathing and movements.

By serving as an extension of the body part upon which it is mounted, the GoPro can provide surprising footage. It is quite unusual to see the world from foot level or wrist height!

When the camera is mounted on a body part (hand, leg, head, torso, etc.), the movements of the entire body are seen from its unique point of view. This alters their appearance, making them look strange.

(Bédard 2021, online).

For example, in this promotional video entitled Sensation, four points of view can be seen via GoPros mounted on the limbs of a hip-hop dancer. Cameras are mounted on his left arm, his chest, his left leg and the bottom of his right foot.

Low-angle photo of a man on a surfboard. The GoPro distorts the length of his arms.

Still frame of a surfer. The GoPro films from a low angle and the wave appears to curve upward toward the sky.

A pair of skis takes up three-quarters of the frame. The snow appears to be striated, giving the impression of fast movement. The camera is very close to the ground.

Still frame of a skier. The GoPro is mounted at ankle level. The film is experienced from very low to the ground.

The front end of a kayak is visible, as are the kayaker’s arms and legs. She is in the middle of a brown river. A mountain can be seen in the distance.

Still frame of a kayaker, taken with a GoPro. The camera appears to be mounted at chest level.

A person rides a skateboard. She is holding a GoPro in her right hand. Her legs and shadow can be seen.

Still frame of a skateboarder, taken with a GoPro. The skateboarder appears to be holding the camera in her hand.
© Planinc

A cyclist is beside her bicycle. Only her hands and the handlebars are visible. Her shadow stretches out in front of her on a dirt road. To the right and left of the road are farmers’ fields.

Still frame of a cyclist. The GoPro is mounted at chest level.

The GoPro appeals to more than just the sports community. It has attracted a variety of users. Since the launch of the first GoPro in 2005, 26 million units have been sold. Its relatively affordable price has made it accessible to a broad range of users.

Professional filmmakers also use these small cameras to film dangerous scenes, for example when there is a risk of the camera being broken.

The GoPro is popular with documentary filmmakers and ethnologists, who recognize that its small size and easy handling make it an unintimidating and accessible tool.

The GoPro appeals to a wide range of users and its versatility allows them to adapt it to their needs.

Additional resources

This motion picture glossary will help you better understand some of the terminology used.

Are you the inquisitive type? Would you like to learn more about GoPro and the athletes who use it? The following website will provide you with additional information.


Bédard, Philippe (Dir.). 2021. “Caméra d’action.” Encyclopédie raisonnée des techniques du cinéma. Under the direction d’André Gaudreault, Laurent Le Forestier and Gilles Mouëllic.

Bégin, Richard. 2016. “GoPro: Augmented Bodies, Somatic Images.” Screens: From Materiality to Spectatorship – A Historical and Theoretical Reassessment. Under the direction of Dominique Chateau and José Moure. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

GoPro website


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