Just launched globally, the GoPro Hero 7 Black (SGD 595) has seen the largest leap in features and performance since the HD GoPro, or so the folks at GoPro claim. On the outside, the GoPro Hero 7 Black isn’t much different from the Hero 6 Black released exactly a year ago. But within, GoPro has squeezed in a revolutionary stabilisation feature called HyperSmooth, an electronic solution that promises gimbal-like stabilisation without any mechanical or moving parts.
I have always been cynical about electronic image stabilisation (EIS). The old-tech juice that preceded optical image stabilisation (OIS) was used mainly on compact systems like mobile phones until superior, more natural-looking optical image stabilisation technology had progressed enough to be implemented on such a small scale. So, with a fair measure of cynicism, I unboxed the Hero 7 Black.
Not much needs to be said about the Hero 7 Black. It’s black, and if you want other colours, you could opt for a silicone case, or get the silver (SGD 440) and white (SGD 295) versions that have more modest features for the mid- and entry-level markets. Against the new Hero 7 Black, the Hero 6 Black from last year looks decidedly grey, but that’s all cosmetic.
The build is exactly the same. With the same soft-touch coating applied to a metallic chassis, the Hero 7 Black feels solid and hefty. Button placement is the exactly the same, as are the I/O and door placement.
This means mounts and other attachments from your Hero 6 Black will all be compatible with the Hero 7 Black.
What’s new is the user interface, which GoPro says is much more user-friendly, and is based on the operation of a smartphone. However, the firmware update for compatible models will come soon, so this alone isn’t reason enough to upgrade.
Apart from very similar form factors, both generations of cameras have the same GP1 processor at its core. Both are, too, capable of shooting 4K footage at 60fps, which allows for high-resolution slow-motion footage. Like its predecessor, at 1080p, the Hero 7 Black can shoot 240fps footage for ultra slow motion (8x).
The main difference between the two generations of cameras is the implementation of HyperSmooth EIS. In our use, it does live up to GoPro’s audacious claims that it delivers “gimbal-like” performance – I had brought along the DJI Osmo 2 mobile gimbal for comparison.
At a 16:9 widescreen crop, HyperSmooth stabilisation is available at all resolutions including 4K 60fps but is unavailable at higher frame rates 120fps (standard, Hero 6-style stabilisation) and 240fps (no stabilisation at all).
However, at a more traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, the GoPro Hero 7 Black only offers HyperSmooth at 2.7K 60fps and under. 4K 30 footage is not stabilised at all, and 4K 24fps will only be stabilised to Hero 6 levels.
Battery life is noticeably improved from the GoPro Hero 6 Black, with about 40% battery consumption after an hour of filming at 4K 30fps. A small interchangeable battery means you can carry plenty of extras to last a long trip if need be. Otherwise, the USB-C port located under a waterproof flap also allows users to charge it with a power bank on the go.
Power consumption while idling is significant, however, with the camera getting physically warm even with the screen deactivated in standby mode.
Powering on and off the Hero 7 Black takes a few seconds, requiring a long press on the power button on the side. With a beep, the screen turns on with the image from the camera displayed, but it takes another second or two before users are able to access the interface on the touch screen. This can prove frustrating when trying to capture a decisive moment.
The Hero 7, however, makes up for it with a quick-access mode by long-pressing the shutter button. This allows users to immediately capture the scene in front of them, but at the expense of choosing photo/video options.
The touch screen itself is a tremendous improvement from the Hero 6 series of cameras. From outset, a horizontal left-and-right swipe switches between time-lapse modes, video modes and stills camera mode. tapping on circles and lozenges in any of the modes enables users to switch settings like the timer, shooting mode, field of view, Protune, and different video resolution and frame rate parameters.
With the GoPro app, users are also able to transfer footage to their mobile devices as it is being shot.
Performance: Image Quality
The GoPro Hero 7 Black excels in terms of image quality, especially when compared to the previous iterations of the Hero in the last few years.
For stills, users are able to choose capture images without the characteristic field curvature characteristic of the GoPro’s ultra wide angle lens. Once users get used to the unique perspective afforded by the GoPro, they would be able to achieve captivating and powerful images.
Image quality is much better than the Hero 5, but is comparable to the Hero 6. Colours look different, though details are noticeably better-defined. Lens flare is also well-controlled despite additional glass layers protecting the glass elements of the lens. It is worth noting that the GoPro Hero 7 family of action cameras are waterproof up to 10M underwater, and they retain waterproofing to around 3M even without the protective lens filter.
The camera is also smarter, automatically correcting for colour by recognising the scene with a set of algorithms on board. This means there is no more need to get purpose-made colour filters for underwater use – something essential with previous iterations of the GoPro.
The new processor is also able to recognise subjects in the frame, optimising settings and colours to fit skin tones or environmental colours.
GoPro’s Hero line of cameras have never been good in low-light scenarios. Testing it at night, we were able to obtain excellent images with the right settings. Of course, with video, things would look very, very different.
Having 4K 60fps in such a small form factor is tremendous for content creators and vloggers. In the more cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio, users are able to get HyperSmooth video stabilisation at 4K60.
The new Hero 7 Black now also allows for native vertical shooting in portrait orientation. This means users can capture footage in whichever orientation their GoPro is held, without the need to flip the recording in post. The vertical aspect ratio, especially in 16:9, is a great option for Instagram stories, IGTV and Snapchat.
Both orientations (and square format video) is supported on GoPro’s Quik video editing application, which makes it a breeze for users to create an engaging video for immediate sharing. I, however, encountered some issues with the Quik app on iOS, but it’s a free application anyway, and I tried it on the iPhone Xs Max with the new A12 Bionic chip, which had only been out for a couple of days then.
HyperSmooth also created new opportunities for GoPro in terms of timelapse modes. By intelligently smoothing out video (which results in a 10% crop on existing footage), the algorithm also drops anomalies in frame composition to provide a super-smooth gimbal-like viewing experience.
Able to be sped up to 30x speed, the new TimeWarp mode allows users to condense a long journey into a super-fast, super-stable video snippet. This is perfect for transitions and even for b-roll, enabling videographers to establish the shot on the fly.
For reference, hyperlapse recording usually takes meticulous effort with plenty of equipment involved: a regular-sized camera, monopod to ensure the camera is held at the same perspective, and some form of measure to ensure each exposure takes place at regular intervals. The GoPro Hero 7 Black does it all, without any additional equipment.
I took the Hero 7 Black without any accessories on a run. Held at arms length ahead of me, the footage surprised everyone when they learnt I hadn’t used a gimbal, had held it bare in my outstretched hand, and was running full tilt. Now, that is incredible.
The Live functionality is limited to Facebook at present, but it works well. I was able to stream to my personal page by tethering the Hero 7 Black to my phone’s WiFi hotspot. This, however, resulted in a lag of about 10-20s between recording and displaying, as I was monitoring the feed with the Facebook creator app on my phone.
We would be steaming footage live on the VR Zone Facebook page with the GoPro Hero 7 Black in due course. Support for live streaming on other platforms like YouTube, Instagram Live and Vimeo should be added soon.
The specifications and feature set on the GoPro Hero 7 Black is simply outstanding, but it comes at a cost. At close to SGD 595 (USD 399/EUR 429), the GoPro Hero 7 Black is not exactly an everyday purchase for most individuals.
Who is it for, then? Adventurers and thrill-seekers would likely have previous iterations of the Hero action camera. The real value in the Hero 7 Black is its ability to deliver professional-grade footage, both in terms of image quality and stabilisation. The added feature of TimeWarp makes for a brilliant videography trick that would help in telling stories, especially with today’s more snappy, fast-paced style of edits.
Faced with several years of declining performance, GoPro has been expanding marketing toward a more general use case: think parents capturing important milestones in their baby’s life, an office desk-diver popping a GoPro Hero into his helmet on the motorbike commute home, or a trail running wanting to share his experience with his friends.
With the astounding image quality, ease of putting together footage on the GoPro Quik application, and the revolutionary HyperSmooth video stabilisation, the GoPro Hero 7 Black is worth consideration, no matter who you are or what you do.
From its present position of decline, GoPro’s HyperSmooth video stabilisation feature is its best chance at a comeback. Gimbals cost upwards of SGD 200, and having such a powerful, self-contained tool to ensure visually-appealing video is worth a whole lot more, too. The GoPro Hero 7 Black, though not cheap by most standards, is a convincing package that is worth its weight in MSRP.
It’s not a perfect camera, and it’s not their fault. Images have strong field curvature by lens design, and the ultra wide angle perspective isn’t for everyone. The start-up time is slightly infuriating, and the inputs aren’t the fastest in terms of response. Battery life drains considerably when idling, and the body heats up significantly under sustained heavy use especially in warm climes.
But that being said, for a compact, durable, self-contained video and stills solution, the Hero 7 Black is nothing short of an engineering (and computing) marvel. Stay tuned for our video montage and review.