GoPro Max Test: A smarter, more user-friendly 360 degree camera
“360 still has to grow up, but the GoPro Max is a step in the right direction.”
Excellent mobile app
Great image stabilization
Good audio quality
Robust and waterproof
Keyframe-based reframing controls
The video quality is okay
No subject tracking
Every new 360-degree camera that comes onto the market promises to be the one that does immersive video right. No one has yet kept that promise. We chose GoPro earlier to be the savior the format so desperately needs, but the 2017 merger, GoPro’s first 360-degree camera, left something to be desired.
Two years later, GoPro takes the lessons of fusion and packs it into the smaller, cheaper, and more user-friendly Max. It’s a hybrid camera that can be used in 360 mode or in “Hero” mode, where it’s more like one Standard GoPro Hero camera works, albeit with a resolution of only 1080p. As with many other 360 cameras today, the spherical footage of the Max can be re-framed in the post so you can “steer” the camera and add pan, tilt, and zoom effects.
This is a step in the right direction for GoPro. However, the Max is haunted by the usual ghosts of the 360 format and does little to advance the segment. 360-degree videos cannot be seriously edited yet. While the Max is $ 200 cheaper than the Fusion, at $ 500 it seems to be more of a toy for early adopters than a creative tool that you have to have.
An optimized approach
It is clear that GoPro has thought a lot about the design of the Max, both the hardware and the software. It’s smaller and lighter than the Fusion, which makes it more suitable for extreme sports where GoPro cameras are often found, but it’s still significantly larger than the Hero8 Black.
Surprisingly, the GoPro Max has an integrated touchscreen that allows you to preview the footage and control the camera. It also shares the Fusion’s offset lens design, which is said to support the accuracy of stitching the two hemispheres together. Even better, since the Fusion relied on a separate memory card for each camera, the Max has a single MicroSD card. Sewing is now done in the camera and no longer in the post.
This is good news, but it goes without saying that it can be combined in the camera with a single memory card. Cheaper 360 cameras like those from Rylo and Insta360 have been doing this for years.
GoPro is the outstanding mobile app. It is much more powerful than it was at the time of the merger, and finally includes keyframe-based editing to convert 360 content into standard, fixed-frame output. The GoPro reframing tools are the simplest of all the 360 degree cameras I use.
You can set camera angles and fields of view at different points in the timeline. The app automatically pans, tilts and zooms between them. You can also choose how to perform this animation with options for Linear, Easy In / Out, or Jump Cut.
With the GoPro app, you can seamlessly edit your Max footage with standard GoPro Hero clips or videos on your phone’s camera roll. It’s a much more comprehensive editing experience than what Rylo or Insta360 offer.
Although the control of the Max is the most streamlined and sensible of all 360 cameras, some functions are missing. For example, GoPro does not offer automatic motif tracking, although I wouldn’t be surprised if such a feature would be added in the future. On the hardware side, there’s nothing crazy about Insta360’s crazy accessories, including an arrow-shaped bracket that lets you throw the camera through the air for bullet-time effects.
GoPro is targeting another customer with the Max. Unlike other 360 cams, it’s waterproof without a case and definitely feels more durable than the Rylo or One X.
Performance and picture quality
The Max records spherical videos with a resolution of 5.7 KB, but this number can be confusing. It sounds like a lot of pixels, but all of these pixels are spread over a spherical area, so every aspect in that area has a much lower resolution. Wide-angle perspectives look the sharpest, but “enlarging” – which only trims the image digitally – leads to a clear blurring.
The Max has a slight advantage over the competition because it does not suffer from aggressive compression, but it is certainly not perfect. Don’t expect the same level of detail as a GoPro Hero.
Stitch quality is a sore point with any 360-degree consumer camera, but the Max isn’t bad. Disappointingly, it’s not as good as the Fusion’s desktop-based seams, which were almost perfect (but absurdly slow). However, it is much better than the Fusion’s mobile sewing, although objects near the camera, such as B. Your hands are still distorted. In addition, differences in lighting from one lens to the next can cause color shifts between the two hemispheres or lens effects that end abruptly on the stitch line.
On a positive note, the image stabilization – called “Max HyperSmooth” – is great. 360 has an infinite range so that videos can be re-framed without having to throw pixels away. This ensures better electronic stabilization than with a conventional camera with a fixed perspective. Not only does this smooth out your most extreme mountain bike tours, it also means that hyperlapse videos – as GoPro calls TimeWarp – look incredibly good.
In fact, TimeWarp is one of the coolest features of the Max. As with standard 360 footage, you can re-frame TimeWarp clips to zoom and pan the hyperlapse. It’s a neat effect that makes your viewers wonder how you did it. Unfortunately, the Max does not have the Hero8 Black’s ability to automatically select a hyperlapse speed based on camera movement. So you have to manually select 5X, 10X etc.
Audio is another area where Max shines thanks to a new spherical microphone system. The dialogue was clearly expressed even in windy situations. With 360 cameras, audio often feels like an afterthought. So it’s nice to see that GoPro is making real efforts.
The GoPro Max is a significant improvement over the Fusion, but not a big step forward for immersive imaging. It offers an excellent user experience with a reasonable number of creative modes and functions, but suffers from the same limitations of 360 cameras that we have been dealing with for years. The resolution is only acceptable and the stitch quality is acceptable.
I was hoping for more. To correct the 360-degree format, cameras have to shoot with a resolution of 8K or more. The efficient storage and processing of this type of footage can exceed the possibilities of today’s telephones. Companies like GoPro who want to offer a seamless mobile experience with the best possible quality are in a difficult situation.
360 remains a novelty for the time being. It can create some eye-catching content that looks great on Instagram, but it doesn’t seem to be the revolutionary format that we always expect.
Is there a better alternative?
If you only want to deal with 360, both the Rylo and the Insta360 One X cost $ 100 less than the GoPro Max. These cameras are not sturdy and waterproof and don’t have built-in monitors. Otherwise, they offer many of the same features – in some cases more like Rylo motif tracking and a variety of unique mounts for the One X. However, GoPro offers the most comprehensive mobile editing experience, and that alone could be worth the additional cost.
How long it will take?
From the point of view of durability, the Max should last for years. It is well made and built to survive a rough lifestyle. From a technical point of view, however, 360 still has a lot to do, and it won’t be long before new cameras exceed the Max’s specifications.
Should you buy it
No. The GoPro Max is a solid 360-degree camera, but the format doesn’t make sense to most people. GoPro’s Hero8 is still the way to go if you want to record your adventures.