The GoPro Hero 9 is an awesome camera for FPV, but it’s heavy! By taking it apart and remove the unnecessary bits, you can reduce the weight from 158g to under 20g, even a small FPV drone can carry the decased Hero9. In this tutorial I documented some useful tips and tricks on building a naked GoPro Hero 9.
Warning: This project is for advanced users only, if you choose to follow instructions in this post, do so at your own risk.
Why Naked GoPro?
The GoPro is simply too heavy for a lot of small FPV drones.
By stripping down the GoPro you can get the weight down significantly. To take videos, all you really need are the motherboard and lens module. However, by doing this you also remove all the protection and it becomes extremely fragile, so don’t expect it to last in crashes.
Hero 9 vs Older GoPro
The GoPro Hero 9 was just released in 2020, and it’s currently going for $399 on Amazon. It’s a lot more expensive than the older Hero 6 and Hero 8.
Advantages of GoPro Hero 9:
- Superior image quality
- You can check exposure (camera live view) from the front screen, which is extremely useful if you often change camera settings such as shutter speed and ND filters
- Going forward, Hero 6 and 8 cameras and spare parts will slowly dry up
If you are a professional cinematographer, the Hero 9 is the obvious choice. For hobbyists, the Hero8 or even Hero 6 are more than enough in my opinion.
If you prefer to use the older GoPro, here are my tutorials:
Why no Hero 7? Well, it basically uses the same hardware as the Hero 6 (so image quality is similar). Yes the Hero 7 has built-in Hypersmooth stabilization, but we all prefer Reelsteady GO as the result is better, and the Hero 7 doesn’t support it well, therefore it’s generally not recommended.
Disassembling GoPro Hero 9
I have a disassemble tutorial coming soon, stay tuned.
Before taking the GoPro Hero 9 apart, you should do the following:
- I strongly recommend installing GoPro Labs, so you can change camera settings by simply scanning QR codes, more info here
- Pair GoPro to the GoPro APP on your phone over WiFi
- Write down WiFi network name and password
- Change WiFi band to 2.4GHz, because 5.8Ghz might interfere with video signal
- Change camera settings to your preference
- f you prefer to use Reelsteady, turn off In-camera stabilization (Hypersmooth)
- GPS OFF
- Auto-rotation UP
Once you finished the tear down, you should test it by connecting the lens module, touch screen and buttons to the logic board. The camera can be powered via the USB module, then hold down power button to see if the GoPro powers on, is there image showing on the screen? Finally try recording to see if it functions normally.
All works? Congrats! You just made yourself a naked GoPro!
Use this diagram at your own risk, it’s for my own reference only.
Motherboard front close up:
Make sure you connect the touch screen this way, if you reverse the connection you could potentially fry the GoPro.
Note that there’s only one connector for the touch screen on the main board, but there’re two connectors on the touch screen. The original GoPro 9 uses a ribbon cable that split the connector into two, and you will need it to connect the touch screen.
The GoPro Hero 9 motherboard takes 5V input. When the camera is turned on and in idle, it draws about 0.5A current (2.6W). When it’s recording (2.7K 60FPS), it draws about 0.95A (4.7W). When measurements were taken, front screen was attached but the back touch screen was not.
It’s much easier to just use a BEC board that comes with a naked GoPro case, but some prefer to use an external BEC as it’s more reliable and robust against voltage spikes that can fry the GoPro.
Another popular option is to use one of these USB Power Plugs. It connects to the LiPo’s balance lead and powers the GoPro via USB-C. It works for Hero 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Purchase USB-C Power Plug here:
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-4329
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-utox
- Banggood: https://oscarliang.com/product-n5j6
Now let’s talk about cases and BEC boards.
Cases and BEC Board
Dedicated BEC boards are voltage regulator designed just for the naked GoPro. They are plug and play, even have built-in buttons and status LED, making it really easy and simple to use. They also design cases around the specific BEC board to provide protection.
Currently there is only one brand that makes case and BEC board for the naked GoPro Hero 9.
- BEC Board: https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_9JHJuo
- Hero9 Case: https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_9hIRXe
How to use Naked GoPro Hero 9
Choosing Micro SD Cards
If you record in 2.7K 60FPS, 64GB cards are generally enough. For example, a 3-minute flight results in a 1.4GB file, so a 64GB SD card should be able to handle at least 2 hours of recording. See my SD card recommendations.
Make sure to save recording before unplugging battery. If you power down the GoPro without saving, the video file will be corrupted and you might lose the footage.
GoPro Camera Settings
Changing Camera Settings
You cannot change camera settings with the front screen, it’s only for checking exposure and settings.
To change camera settings, you can use one of the following methods:
- Attach the back touch screen
- Use GoPro APP. Note that GoPro has since removed Protune feature from the APP, so you can no longer change certain camera settings such as shutter speed. You can however try installing APK of the older version
- Install GoPro Labs and use QR codes to change settings
GoPro Labs gives your camera the ability to scan QR codes and register camera settings.
This is super convenient as you can now change most settings without even touching a button on the camera. Settings include WiFi connection, video resolution, frame rate, shutter speed, ISO, White balance etc.
Note that in order to install GoPro Labs, you need to update the firmware on your camera, which requires the original battery to be connected. Therefore it’s best if you install it before decasing.
Check out how to install it here: https://community.gopro.com/
When you face the GoPro to the QR code, the camera LED will keep flashing twice rapidly, indicating it’s detecting a QR code and applying settings. The blinking will not stop until you move the camera away from the QR code. It can be picky about how far away the QR code is from the camera, so if it’s not working, try moving it closer or further away until you find the optimal distance.
GoPro Lab WiFi Hack
One useful application of GoPro Labs is the “WiFi Hack”. Simply scan the below QR code and connect your GoPro to the APP on WiFi. It’s useful say if you have a broken back screen to check password. You need GoPro Labs installed on the camera for this to work!
Here’s how (works on the Hero 8, but I have not tested it on the 9):
- Turn on Bluetooth on your phone
- Open the GoPro Quik App on your phone and be ready to click on the search/add/connect to GoPro icon
- Keep your GoPro pointing at the below QR Code at the optimal distance for recognition until the next step
- Press the MODE button 3 times
- On the GoPro APP, click on the search/add/connect to a GoPro icon, that’s it
It’s not uncommon that those tiny SMD resistors and capacitors fall off the PCB in a hard crash.
Silicon conformal coating is a good way to improve water resistance on exposed PCB, as well as to protect those tiny surface mount components from falling off as it acts like glue basically. However, do not coat the connectors or you could risk causing permanent damage!
Recordings Stop Randomly
The first thing to check is your SD card speed. You need ideally U3 cards for reliable performance, or select a lower bitrate/resolution in the camera if you have slower cards. See my recommendations for SD cards.
Camera overheating can also cause recording to stop intermittently. One fix is to put heatsinks on the processor chip.
If you want to use a heatsink, you can either attach it to the processor, or the large copper pad on the back of the board. It’s directly behind the CPU so it should work well. Use strong thermally conductive adhesive, or a loose heatsink can cause electrical short on the PCB.
Solder a piece of wire to the WiFi antenna pad, this will extend your WiFi range as well as reducing heat that build up in the main board. Since we are using 2.4GHz for WiFi, the length of the wire should be around 31mm (see article for reason). If you use coax wire which has shielding, you should solder the shielding to a ground pad on the board.
Currently there’s not many spare parts available (July 2021), but I will keep an eye on it and update the list.
Front color screen: https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_AB0Ses
Prepare for the Worst
Building a naked GoPro is surely fun and rewarding but also extremely risky, so prepare for the worst if you decide to do it. A stripped down GoPro is extremely flimsy and fragile. There’s currently no spare parts available for sale, if you damage anything you are looking at replacing the whole Gopro 9 camera.