The frame-up job: Modding third-party GoPro accessories

We’ll drill down into the problem, then let you know.

Aftermarket: the blessing and the curse

For nearly any device you own, third-party accessories are widely available. Today we’re taking a quick look at a third-party GoPro frame mount that saved us more than 60% over the OEM offering, but with a tradeoff: we soon found it required modding to work correctly. Fortunately, we’ve got tools, and we’re going to show you what we were up against. Following this brief article, we have a brief (no, really!) YouTube feature showing the actual modding process on the workbench. Scroll directly to the end if you prefer the magic of cinema.

Typical layout of the un-accessorized Hero 5 Black (and successor Hero 2018).

Why the price difference? Margins are thin on big-ticket items, so accessory mark-ups are the lifeblood of retail. Ready to buy that $400 flatscreen TV?  BestBuy (or Walmart, or Target) makes maybe a percent or so of profit on a good day, because they know you’ll price shop that expensive purchase down to the last portrait of Lincoln. Need an HDMI cable that connects said TV to your 7-channel receiver?  That will be $35, please. Everyone knows the cable is wildly overpriced, but if you want to use that new TV today, you pay it. And if the reseller is really lucky, you’ll also buy the extended warranty. (But don’t.)

Enter the Internet, which has cut most of the profit out of accessory purchases. Nobody buying online pays $35 for any consumer-grade cable If they have the patience to wait for a shipment from Amazon or Monoprice. But, third party vendors don’t always get it right, especially where gray-market, Chinese direct-import kit is involved. We’ve covered some of the worst-case scenarios before, and commented indirectly on the risks elsewhere.

Today we’re not endangering life and limb, but we will discover that this particular product design overlooked a couple small but important details.

The princely sum & the pauper’s wallet

For our ongoing YouTube video features, we have been trying to boost production quality on the visual side, while being mindful of things like, for example, an ongoing household budget. The effort recently included GoPro upgrades. Gone is the Hero 3 Black. It was useful, but designed in an age when every feature was a snap-on option, and it had short battery life and a very slow USB interface. (The nieces and nephews should be strapping it to their bicycles shortly, if they haven’t already.) We replaced it with a trio of lightly-used Hero 5 Black units.

Welcoming the triplets into the family.

Why the 5 and not the new 8? Simple: it meets our needs and costs much less, so with a bit of savvy eBay shopping we got three units for about the price of a single Hero 8. The Hero 5 is a relatively modern camcorder design supporting a whole bevy of resolutions up to 4k/30, and quite a few more framerate and perspective options at lesser resolutions.

Next, there are the accessories. These units shipped with only a waterproof acrylic case, and we don’t need the water resistance or the extra reflections across the lens, so we set those aside for now. But an unclothed GoPro doesn’t do much unless you want to hand-carry or park it on a table. So you might be looking to buy GoPro’s “The Frame” mount: US $30, please. Fortunately, there are extensive third-party options for these models. If you don’t mind losing the magic “GoPro” logo and attached licensing fees, there are products nearly equivalent to OE in both materials and build quality.

Here’s the problem: that magic word “nearly.”

Killing Eve’s audio quality

Our day job occasionally puts us in the position of inspecting electrical power facilities and equipment. Photos are invaluable, especially when revising a report or punch list the next day. Since electrical equipment often has a rows of repeating junction boxes or terminal blocks, it’s easy to get lost, or to take a few images out of sequence on the camera roll. It’s also easy to forget or overlook general details in the vicinity. So, one of our favorite uses for an action camera is to wear it around the jobsite during an inspection, and refer to the video later for context when reviewing other notes and photos.

A bit of unlicensed surgery.

We recently did that with one of the Hero 5s while narrating some of the findings, and then discovered afterward that the sound was badly muffled. A GoPro isn’t a professional microphone, of course, but the loss of nearly all high frequency content means it can’t be recovered in post production editing. A follow-up inspection revealed a plausible culprit: our aftermarket frame mount was obstructing two of the unit’s three microphones.

What to do next?  Break out a few tools, of course.  We had three frames needing an identical set of mods, and that was an excuse for a quick episode of…Workshop Quick Takes!

Until next time, then.


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Aaron Vienot

Engineer by day, hobbyist by night, occasional contributor, and full-time wise guy.

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8 months ago

It’s always satisfying seeing an ‘electrical’ guy using ‘mechanical’ tools.

Aaron Vienot
8 months ago

In my case I believe the expression is “jack of all trades, master of none” 🙂

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