GoPro hasn't had the easiest time of late, but the company had shaped up and now looks like it's on track to getting back where it wants to be.
It's three-pronged attack on the action camera market has allowed it to offer a Hero for everyone, be they just after something relatively basic, decidedly accomplished, or something in between. And with its fresh Hero7 Black flagship model, it provides a significant boost to the camera's video stabilization technology, arguably one of the most critical features.
- 4K video to 60p
- HyperSmooth stabilisation
While some may be disappointed to know that many of the core specs are essentially carbon copied from the Hero6 Black, GoPro’s thinking for this new model is clearly less about boosting frame rates and packing more pixels, and more about improving the actual experience of using the device.
This means the camera still incorporates the same 12MP sensor and the same wide-angle lens, for example, and the top video specs of 4K at 60fps and Full HD to a maximum 240fps for 8x slowed-down footage are also unchanged. The myriad of additional sweeteners on top of this, however, make this a significantly more powerful camera than before.
The most significant of these is HyperSmooth, a form of video stabilisation that GoPro ranks as being the equivalent to using a gimbal. A combination of hardware and software, rather than simply an upgraded optical stabilisation system, this was developed in response to user feedback – indeed, this was apparently the number one request – and it presents a clear advantage for anyone who may find using a gimbal for their chosen thrill inconvenient.
GoPro isn’t shy about its capabilities, going as far as claiming that its the best in-camera video stabilisation system not just of any action camera, but of any camera. On top of that, the means of its operation are said to have no additional penalty on battery life.
Unlike the Hero6 Black, which only allows regular stabilisation to be applied to 30fps when shooting in 4K, HyperSmooth can be used even when capturing 60fps footage at full resolution (though not at 4:3). The only other time you can’t call upon it is when capturing Full HD footage at 240fps and 120fps footage, although standard standard stabilisation is available at the latter frame rate.
TimeWarp video is a further new feature, one that combines the idea of regular frame-by-frame time-lapse shooting (which you can still do separately) with HyperSmooth – essentially, a stabilised hyperlapse. In essence, it allows you to capture time-lapse footage with the freedom to move the camera at all times. That’s right: time-lapse footage without a tripod, and whatever movement you want.
Voice Control is once again on hand, recognising 12 separate commands such as “GoPro take a photo” and "GoPro start video recording”, which, between them, cover all the main tasks.
Audio performance has also been revamped on the Hero7 Black. GoPro has expanded dynamic range, providing more natural bass tones and brighter mids, and has also redesigned the microphone membrane to eliminate the vibrations that might be picked up, all the while ensuring it can capture more subtle sounds than before.
Easier to take photos
Another new option is SuperPhoto, something akin to a scene-intelligent auto option on a more conventional camera, which automates a handful of helpful features that you may not think to enable when capturing photos.
So, instead of calling on HDR when shooting scenes with a wide dynamic range, it will do it for you if you want it to. Similarly, it will deploy multi-frame noise reduction for low-light scenes, if it feels the need to do so.
For the benefit of those who do want intervene and get creative, ProTune will give you freedom to adjust things like exposure compensation, white balance, ISO range, sharpness and so on. You can capture raw images in addition to JPEGs, and also shoots bursts of images at a maximum 30fps, telling the camera how many images over how long a duration you want it to capture.
The GoPro Hero7 Black also becomes the first Hero model with the capability to live-stream built right into it. This works with Facebook right now, but is set to shortly work with YouTube ad other channels too.
Build quality and handling
- Similar design to HERO6
- Waterproof down to 10m/33ft
- Improved UI with portrait orientation
The GoPro Hero7 Black offers the same kind of rugged and largely rubbered body as the Hero6 Black, although the sides of the devices are now just as smooth as the front, rather than ridged. This also means the previous two-tone look is now gone, but you’ll likely have the GoPro in a case of some kind, so this makes very little difference in use.
Build quality feels just as solid as the Hero6 Black. The two doors to the battery/card and USB/HDMI compartments can be a little fiddly to open, though the design is necessary to ensure waterproofing. Without a housing the camera can travel 10m/33ft safely underwater (just as before), although you can go even deeper with the optional Super Suit.
A small plastic frame that wraps around the GoPro Hero7 Black and clips into place is provided as standard, and this can be mounted on an adhesive stand to keep the camera in place, in addition to many other mounts for helmets, handlebars and more. First-time users are likely to be cautious and find some of this fiddly, as everything is necessarily tight so that it all stays in place when you’re using it in the kinds of expected conditions, but you soon become used to how rough you need to be with it.
Turn the Hero7 Black on and you can see just how much GoPro has changed things around. The UI has been refreshed, with key information such as current frame rate and resolution condensed into a smaller space, and green icons to show battery life and remaining cards space now easier to see against brighter subjects than the previous white ones.
It's also more smartphone like in operation, with simple directional swipes to access different modes, captured footage/images and more. You can still alternate between shooting modes with a press of the Mode button on the side, but you can also swipe to do the same.
The UI also now adapts to portrait orientation when you have the camera positioned this way, which makes it easier to operate. You can disable it if you think this will be more of a nuisance than a help, but it doesn't seem to be so sensitive enough to warrant the average user needing to do this.
The touchscreen bears the same 2-inch dimensions as before, and on the whole it’s generally responsive, but it occasionally fails to respond to touch, and on such a small display it can be annoying to have to jab the same function a few times.
Voice Commands are largely unchanged from before, although you can now say ‘GoPro Capture’ and the camera will start recording or take a photo, depending on what mode you’re in. It will even respond to you saying ‘That was sick’ with a Hi-light, but if you’re not a teenager, you can simply say GoPro Hi-light’ to perform the same action. Or, as it happens, 'oh shit'.
The camera generally responds well to a range of voice commands, although as you can probably imagine it’s not quite 100% reliable, and sometimes these need to be repeated a few times. It would also be good to add your own commands, which is one area we can see this evolving, although pretty much all key functions are covered already.
Video and photo quality
On top of its various fancy video tricks, the camera is capable of outputting 12MP images, both in raw or JPEG flavours. And while the GoPro Hero7 Black may have a tiny 1/2.3in sensor, image quality itself is very good.
In good light, details are nice and crisp, and sharpness extends very well to the peripheries and corners of the frame. Close scrutiny shows images to have the same kind of character as those from smartphones than compact cameras – there’s clearly a fair bit of processing going on to eek out the best from the camera – but results are perfectly respectable for such a camera.
To be able to get such a wide angle of view on the GoPro Hero7 Black, the lens is uncorrected for its distortion in its default Wide setting, so anything with linear details – particularly close-up subjects – will appear with the kind of distortion that many associate with GoPro cameras. Less good if you want to go out and shoot some architecture, but potentially very useful if you want to pretend you're in a lo-fi Busta Rhymes video.
You can, however, switch to the Linear mode to capture images with corrected distortion, though obviously at the slight expensive of field of view. Or, you can use the GoPro Hero7 Black's Touch Zoom for a narrower field of view, although this acts like a digital zoom, maintaining output at 12MP, which degrades quality. An option to simply cut down resolution to compensate for however far you zoom would be welcome.
The SuperPhoto option, which captures images with an additional 1.5-2 seconds per photo, has a noticeable effect on images, effectively regaining a little highlight detail that’s otherwise lost and lifting shadows a touch. The resulting images show less contrast because of it, but for any more critical captures this can always be tweaked later on. The process can lead to minor white balance shifts, though (below), which is one thing to watch out for if mixing images captured both ways in a given situation.
While it’s possible to regain a little highlight detail from raw files and polish these images up, raw files from a camera with such a small sensor only ever achieve so much. They’re nowhere near as malleable as those from other types of camera, but for archiving you may want to capture Raws.
The Hero6 Black already had an effective video stabilisation system, and if your main sporting activities involve you moving relatively steadily then you may have found this to be good enough. The new HyperSmooth system on the GoPro Hero7 Black is clearly a step up, though, and it really shows its mettle when you're running, biking or travelling in any way down rough terrain. You can see just how well it works in the videos below, the first at 4K and the second at 1080p.
The TimeWarp feature essentially results in a stabilised hyperlapse video, which you can capture either handled or with the device mounted on a moving vehicle. You can set the factor by which it's slowed, which is useful as very fast moving action may pass by too quickly if you have it set to the maximum 30x speed increase. Fortunately, the GoPro Hero7 Black lets you know how much footage will result at the settings you've chosen, and the timer that displays during recording keeps you posted on this too.
The feature is great when mounted to something that's moving, but the ace card is that it's completely usable handheld. It works particularly well when both you and something in the scene is moving at the same time, such as the clouds in the below footage.
You can capture Full HD footage at up to 240fps, which can be slowed by a factor of 8x to 30fps. Sound is also recorded at the same time, but while footage can be played back in slow-motion on the device itself, it's not possible to output this in slow-motion without going through Quik or other software first.
Editing and apps
- QuikStories enabled
- Auto backup with 250GB cloud space (with subscription)
- Better compatibility with Instagram
The GoPro Hero7 Black is compatible with the iOS and Android GoPro and Quik apps, and this lets you do whole load of things other thank simply transfer images to your phone.
You can set this to auto upload images to your device, and those with a GoPro Plus subscription have 250GB of cloud storage space to fill. Instagram users, in addition to having an easier time capturing portrait-orientation images, can also add their footage and images straight into Stories, and you can pimp your captures with music, effects and GPS stickers as you see fit.
We didn't have access to an app that supported the GoPro Hero7 Black during our time with it, so we're yet to see whether there have been any improvements to the speed of wireless transfer from the camera. Given how long it can take to ping over 4K and high-frame-rate footage over a wireless connection, this is is one area where improvements would be very welcome.
We've had the GoPro Hero7 Black for a few weeks now, and while we feel we have a very good idea of its capabilities, it's been subject to a number of firmware updates in this time (and another is promised shortly). We expect some of the camera's kinks, such as its reluctance to turn on or off at times, to be ironed out once final firmware is with us. The same applies to the app, which is still in beta. We'll update this with our findings once we can do so.
So what can we conclude so far? The inclusion of the very effective HyperSmooth stabilization is significant, and makes the GoPro Hero7 Black far better suited for bumpier adventures than before – and the fact that the camera is no more expensive because of it is something for which GoPro deserves praise. While the company may have been undercut from a number of corners, the effectiveness of this system goes a long way to justify that more premium price tag.
The new TimeWarp feature, which makes use of this, is a whole lot of fun to play with too, and image quality remains solid. The refreshed UI on the and portrait options makes the GoPro Hero7 Black easier and more convenient to use than before, and the fact that the camera remains compatible with a wealth of accessories is also very welcome.
In the absence of any major flaws, it's really just a case of polishing up some of the existing features and functionality. Better recognition of voice commands a Touch Zoom option that doesn't scale images up to 12MP would be welcome, but these are and are minor issues. It would have also ben nice to see battery life extended too.