GoPro Hero7 Black
Words & Photos by Chili Dog
I had a brief moment of nostalgia when I first opened my new GoPro Hero7 Black. Do you remember your first GoPro? How times have changed from that first little, grey action cam. I vividly remember filming entire days only to find out all my settings were wrong or the camera had been pointing the wrong way the whole time. We’ve been using a Hero5 for the last few years along with a gimbal to get stabilized riding footage for the site. It delivers amazing footage, but is problematic and I’ve long wished for a better option than wearing the “big stick” on my chest. When we got an email from GoPro that they wanted to invite us down to their offices to check out the latest Hero7, I jumped at the chance. Oh and they even brought long time athlete Darren Berrecloth.
If you currently have a GoPro 5 and older, the new 7 Black will feel like a completely new camera. If you own a 6 Black, the 7 will feel more like an incremental change, with some key new features. The Hero7 retains the same image sensor as the 6 and keeps the same form factor. It has the ability to shoot 12 megapixel images, and shoots up to 4k video at 60fps. For the slow-mo dorks, 120fps is available at 2k and 250 fps is available at 1080. The camera is still waterproof without a case to 30 feet, and has a new, updated mic for better audio. The 7 Black we tested also retains the replaceable battery.
The Hero7 also has the new SuperPhoto mode, which lets the camera use its built in intelligence to automatically detect when to use HDR mode and get better exposure across an entire image of shadows and hi-lights. The 7 also sports live stream capabilities. As of right now the Instagram API doesn’t play well with others so that isn’t included, but live streaming on other platforms works.
Where the Hero7 Black really blows the others away is the camera’s internal smarts. The internal memory is doubled from the 6, but what you’re really interested in is the image stabilization. The Hero 7 Black delivers gimbal-like smoothness via software smarts – not optical stabilization. When you film, the camera goes and “floats” the image frame over the footage, cutting off the corners to stabilize the video. You loose the very edges of the frame, but it’s not much of an issue thanks to GoPro’s very wide field of view. The best part is that it still works in 4k 60. This new tech also adds a brand new camera hyperlapse feature, which GoPro calls TimeWarp video. Normally, getting hyperlapse shots (those sped up, warp speed looking videos) took lots of expensive gear and a skilled operator. With the Hero7’s stabilization tech, even just walking with your hand out and holding the camera results in a perfect video with a stable horizon. It’s pretty damn cool stuff and gives amateur film-makers an even more powerful tool.
GoPro has billed it as “gimbal like” stabilization, and we’d have to agree. I can’t wait to never use a gimbal again. Eliminating one more battery that needs to be charged and one more temperamental piece of kit is always a bonus when it comes to mountain biker’s packing. Since getting the Hero7 Black, I haven’t used a gimbal once, and I don’t plan to again. Please see Craigslist for a very beat up and well used GoPro Karma grip.
It isn’t that the Hero7’s in camera stabilization completely negates the use of a gimbal. Gimbals are still smoother on those buttery walking/running shots, or on extremely rocky trails. However, if you’re not relying on smooth video to make a living, the Hero7’s built in stabilization is more than sufficient. If you still want to use a gimbal with this camera however, make sure you turn off the GoPro’s internal stabilization since the two will fight each other.
While I wish my life was cooler in the past few weeks, I did my best to use this GoPro for as much video and photo taking as possible between evacuating from a recent firestorm and the messy clean up after returning home.
User Interface and Experience:
GoPro has been making incremental chances to both their camera and app UI’s to improve ease of use and ease of content sharing. The Hero7 gets menu tweaks and interface changes that make it feel familiar and more like your smart phone.
The full sized touch screen makes it easy to change settings and see what you are recording. GoPro’s app also has the same setting functions, so you can use whatever works best for you. I found that the GoPro screen was a little small to use, so I’d grab my phone and make changes there. The app also lets you update your camera software quickly and easily. It’s always nice to have options, especially when the camera is mounted on a chest mount or some other rig and the screen isn’t accessible. The settings are easy to locate and understand.
I love the voice command feature. It’s great for times when you’re riding and don’t want to reach down and mess with the camera. Simply say, “GoPro take a burst photo” or “GoPro capture video” and you’ll never miss the shot again! Sure the voice commands aren’t perfect when you’re riding at speed, but we only had the camera ignore us a hand full of times. It’ll even tag highlights in your videos if you say, “That was sick!” or other similar phrases. Be warned however, as turning on the voice activation does hurt battery life on this camera. With lots of additional features and processing functions, yet the same battery size as the previous GoPro’s, this camera doesn’t have the best battery life.
While most people are buying this camera for its video capabilities, this thing is a solid little tool for photos. All the images in this review are unedited and taken straight from the GoPro Hero7. The Hero7 Black can shoot in burst, time lapse or long exposure and lets you control everything you’d control on a normal camera in the Pro Tune section of the menu. While the image sensor is unchanged from the 6 (it wasn’t bad to begin with) the changes to the camera’s ability to compose multiple images into a single well exposed one is awesome and really helpful.
Shooting landscapes where the ground is darker than the sky results in way better images that keep more detail from each section compared to older Heros. The HDR function doesn’t work as well for action or portrait shots, but for landscapes it’s a huge help. Because it combines multiple images, there can’t be large movements. So no action shots and no shooting from a moving vehicle with HDR on. However, Hero7 also lets you shoot in RAW file formats if you plan to edit the photos in a program like Photoshop, and there’s great dynamic range preservation so you can easily get the perfectly exposed scene.
These shots are samples with and without the HDR Super Photo settings turned on. It’s hard to tell them apart, but the HDR photo definitely has brighter shadows. The first photo is with HDR on, the second is with it off. This thing gives my IphoneX a run for its money, and I think shoots better quality photos overall. It also fits right on my chest or helmet, and takes photos with voice commands, which is a huge benefit. Not to mention it puts up with a serious beating.
After spending more time than I’d like to admit staring at and editing Hero5 and Hero6 footage, I’ve got a good handle on what’s what. That said, the digital image stabilization on the Hero7 is not only impressive, but game changing. There I said it, and here’s why. Nothing is worse than pushing yourself only to find out your gear failed and you missed a shot. By eliminating the gimbal, you’re able to simplify your set up and get the shots more often. No more charging a gimbal, dealing with complex motors that balance your camera, or having things bump the gimbal and ruin your shot. With the Hero7 you get similar stability without any of the complication. It works just as well in the narrow fields of view as it does in 4k Super View too. The best part is that it’s continually getting better. Since it’s software-based performance and not hardware-based stabilization, GoPro can continue to tweak and improve performance. We’ve already had two updates since owning this camera.
Though I don’t think most people will bother, the magic of video on this camera really happens when you go and turn on the Pro Tune settings. These settings let you manually adjust the camera’s white balance, shutter speed and ISO. If you really get tricky and combine that with the use of ND filters, you can get footage that looks just as good as the GoPro commercials. They aren’t using special tricks or faking footage, they just have good color grading people and use ProTune. Even without ProTune on, this camera performs right out of the box. During challenging lighting conditions like dappled forest light, the Hero7 still leaves with usable footage and captures the scene just like you saw it.
Another big area of improvement is audio. While audio on a GoPro will always be hindered by the water proof membrane that covers the mic, this generation makes a big leap forward especially in heavy wind. Voices are clear, and ambient noise isn’t overwhelming.
The Wolf’s Last Word
An already good camera just got even better, setting itself firmly in the position as the best action camera on the market. With the addition of HyperSmooth image stabilization, GoPro made the next big leap forward in action cam technology. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and my gimbal is getting sold. For aspiring creators looking to get the most bang for their buck, you can’t beat a GoPro. Tools like TimeWarp give you ability to have pro level video tricks in a relatively affordable and easy to use package. If you have anything older than a Hero6, the jump to the Hero7 is absolutely worth it. We can’t wait to keep using ours to share better bike reviews and trip coverage with all of you! Stay tuned for a video review coming soon.
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