Note: This article was first published on 13th October 2018.
Unless you’re Paul Greengrass, don’t shoot with a shaky camera. Wobbly videos look amateurish and induce vertigo in its poor viewers. It’s why videographers go to great lengths to stabilize their cameras, from mounting them on monumental tripods to bearing gimbals on harnesses.
Professional gear gets a bit much, but these days the image stabilizers in our smartphones and digital cameras do wonders for stabilizing footage. We won’t be shooting the next Jason Bourne movie with these, but they get the job done for cute — and steady — baby videos.
The new GoPro Hero 7 Black promises to take image stabilization one step further with something they’re calling Hypersmooth. I’m always skeptical of electronic image stabilization, especially one that comes with a re-brand. But after trying it for myself, I have to say that Hypersmooth is for real.
In the video below, the Hypersmooth video is so smooth that it looks like I’m riding on smooth ground. But check out how much my helmet is bobbing; that’s how much the camera is actually shaking.
From running to jumping to biking, Hypersmooth produced stable footage that still looked natural. The problem with using a gimbal is that it sometimes produces unnatural footage — the horizon remains level even when somebody leans into an action, for example, and you don’t get the sense of shifting movement.
The Hero 7 Black, however, keeps the lean as well as keeping the video stable, so you’ll see the horizon tilt and you feel as if you’re really moving. GoPro says that the camera isn’t just doing straightforward electronic image stabilization, but is actively analyzing the image and your movements to produce stabilization that stays true to the motion.
In the video below you can get the sense that I’m running. Whereas with a gimbal, I’d be gliding.
Another new feature is TimeWarp or a fancy name for what everyone else calls Hyperlapse. The challenge with shooting Hyperlapse is keeping a steady point of view so that it doesn’t break as the camera moves. The Hero 7 Black helps achieve this by shooting video, not photos, and using Hypersmooth to keep the footage stabilized, then speeding the whole thing up.
I’m a timelapse idiot, but the Hero 7 Black made it easy even for me to start shooting TimeWarp. You select the speed at which you want the video to be sped up, and the GoPro has quick estimates on how long a video will turn out. At 30x, for example, five minutes of recording will create a 10-second TimeWarp video.
It’s easy to swap to TimeWarp mode too, as a simple swipe of the screen will switch between TimeWarp, Video, and Photo modes. The entire interface has been redesigned to be much easier to use. It’s so good I wish that the Japanese camera companies, who are notorious for clunky UI, would hire GoPro’s team as consultants.
All this shooting around does come with a cost. The Hero 7 Black is small, and so is its battery. GoPro’s official stats place the battery life at 45 to 50 minutes for shooting at 4K/60p. It gets better if you shoot at lower resolutions, 2.7K/60p, for example, nets 60 to 65 minutes, while 1080/60p gets 85-90 minutes.
I’d suggest getting an extra battery, but only the flagship Black model comes with a removable battery. The Silver and White editions have built-in batteries. You can plug a portable battery in to charge the GoPro, but it won’t charge during recording.
And did you know the Hero 7 Black takes photos? It takes photos. Some people take amazing photos with it. I found it produced some beautiful images in good light, but shooting super wide-angle isn’t for everybody. But in low light, both videos and images get noisy. A modern flagship smartphone might even get you cleaner images in dim light than the Hero 7 Black.
So why shoot with the Hero 7 Black instead of a smartphone? Well, the Hero 7 Black is hardier. I wouldn’t risk jumping into the sea with my iPhone. Technically the iPhone can handle it, but my heart can’t. Because of its compact size, the Hero 7 Black can go places and grab angles that bigger cameras can’t. But mainly because it’ll capture astonishingly (Hyper)smooth videos that aren’t just hype.