The big question is, how does the footage look? Well, if you have a HERO6 Black you know, as the 6 and 7 share the same GP1 sensor, but since I don’t I was quite impressed. I did note that there’s a certain way you have to set up the camera to get the image that I was impressed with, but that’s not hard is it? I’ve listed my recommendations further down.
In low-light, like at the concerts or walking around at night, you’re not going to be in much luck. At high ISOs the footage becomes incredibly splotchy and loses a lot of detail, but this isn’t surprising. In the case of the concerts, the extreme shifts in both lighting intensity and color essentially made the footage unusable; at high ISOs the sensor just couldn’t shake it and would blow out very quickly. Low-light performance has become one of the de-facto requirements of professional cameras these days, and while the GoPro could be considered somewhat “prosumer”, it’s still an action cam at heart so we can’t rightfully judge it against higher-tier cameras. 800 is probably the highest you’d want to risk, with 400 being the safety zone and 100 being your “base”.
That being said, when properly exposed the image that you can get from the HERO7 Black is not only very high quality but grades nicely as well. The daylight-lit snowboarding footage I got in 4K cut together flawlessly with the C100 footage (as noted below, 4K/HEVC/Flat Color were the best settings). In other words, if you’re going to be using a GoPro for your production work, make sure the scene is lit. As you should with any shoot. So, after this and further testing, what settings did I learn were best?
// I had to start with this because it’s kind of important and not necessarily focused on anywhere. With h264 you’ll max out at 60mbps, whereas with HEVC you can get all the way up to 78 in certain scenarios, and as HEVC is a more robust compression algorithm, each mb/s goes a lot further than with h264. Visually there is a difference as well: h264 looks more contrasty/saturated than HEVC, and in most cases less contrast is preferable. As HEVC is a newer format, certain computers might have a hard time playing it back, or may be unable to play it back natively at all. In other words, if you shoot high speed or 4K 60fps you’re using HEVC regardless, but if you’ve got an older computer or it’s under-powered, stick to h264. Here’s a chart of some likely resolutions/framerates you may use, with their bitrates listed with ProTune on and off, as well as in h264 or HEVC (h265).
(*) No Stabilization (**) Bitrate with ProTune Off/On in mbps
// Yes. Always. ProTune will make sure your footage is recorded at correct settings with the highest bitrate available for your format. In some cases that’s the difference between 45mbps and 60mbps! As far as sensitivity, I’d say go with ISO 100 being the Minimum and Maximum, with 400 being your max in darker situations. You can reach past 1600 into 3200 but it’s going to look very, very blotchy even at 24fps 1/48. I’d also potentially advocate for a -0.5 EV Comp to protect the highlights as they blow quickly. If you’re in dynamic lighting situations, go ahead and lock the shutter speed so the GoPro isn’t constantly trying to equalize. Move the sharpness to low and do that yourself in post. Also, be sure to set your White Balance to the appropriate setting for the scene every time! If you’re not sure, or it’s going to change a lot, set it to 4000K or 4500K. Flat color is recommended.
// Aside from being the highest resolution, it’s also encoded at the highest bitrate when ProTune is turned on. You’ll get the best bitrate at 16:9 60fps or 4:3 30/24fps, but if you go with h264 or any other frame rate you’re getting 60mbps anyway. In that case, go ahead and shoot whatever framerate you’d like, but again I’d recommend shooting flat and forcing HEVC recording if your computer can jive with it, as it’ll give you the nicest and most gradable image. You’ll have to shoot Wide FOV at 4K, but you can correct this in post easily (about 0.408 in DaVinci’s Distortion Correction OFX, and around -23 in Premiere’s Lens Distortion effect, as an aside). If you need Linear FOV, head to 2.7K.
Another recommendation would be to get some ND filters. You can either get a cage with a threaded filter front (like a 52mm or so usually), or you can simply remove the replaceable front-glass and put on a purpose-built ND filter in its place instead, keeping everything nice and small. As we can’t control the f-stop of the camera, the ND filters allow us to keep the shutter speed low. Essentially, this results in a more “cinematic” quality of motion, as opposed to a choppier “action” type of look. From there you should be good to go and your footage will be looking its best, especially after a nice color grade.
You can see example footage from the various scenarios mentioned in this article in the video embedded above. Overall, I’d say GoPro has finally made the camera it knew it could make with the HERO7 Black. As I mentioned, the low-light and battery life could use some work, but it’s finally a camera I don’t really have any complaints about, and they’ve even added some unexpected features that I like (such as the removable glass and power by an external source). I obviously haven’t used every action camera out there, but right now I feel like you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than the HERO7 Black.