GoPro’s The first foray into 360-degree action was the GoPro Fusion, and while it was a strong initial offering, the new GoPro MAX ($ 499) is an entirely different – and vastly improved – immersive action camera, The skilled videographer and Voices alike has a lot to offer. The MAX does have tradeoffs, but taken together it offers arguably the best overall combination of feature and value for the travel and adventure vloggers who don’t want to break the bank or carry a large amount of gear while they get it out and about.
It’s hip to be square
The form factor of the new GoPro MAX is both familiar and different to fans of the company’s Hero line. It’s almost like you have two heroes stacked on top of each other, with a square box instead of a small rectangle. The design supports both the dual optics with which the GoPro achieves 360-degree coverage and the integrated touchscreen display, which can also be used as a selfie viewfinder in hero mode.
The sturdy housing can withstand submersion in water up to 16 feet deep and is also splash-proof. There are also extra protective lenses for the two dome-protected cameras in the box, which GoPro recommends for protecting optics in potentially messy environments. Both the front and back of the camera have grilles for microphones that can pick up 360-degree audio when the camera is working in 360 mode or act as really impressive directional microphones when vlogging or working in Hero mode.
Like the new Hero 8, the MAX also has integrated GoPro accessory holders that can be folded out of the bottom of the housing. This ensures that you don’t have to pack the MAX in an external cage to attach it to the multitude of GoPro mounts available. This reduces the bulk and the amount of stuff you have to pack when taking it out the road.
The rubberized coating ensures that you have a firm grip on the camera when using it without accessories. GoPro’s easily accessible and well-placed external buttons allow you to control the shutter and power supply while using them in even the most untidy of circumstances. Replaceable batteries allow you to charge some and keep some ready to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities to get great footage.
360 or not to 360
The MAX is a very capable 360 degree camera that rivals some of the best on the market. The sewing is done automatically, and in conjunction with the MAX Grip + Tripod, it even removes uncomfortable stitch lines where you grip the camera. With the help of their software, you can then use the 360-degree footage to create many compelling effects as you edit, including panning and switching between views, zooming in and out, and peeling off the final changes you can’t even get with one a few different cameras and shooters could go at the same time.
Even so, there are some limits to the 360-degree shot: you can see where the GoPro software merged the two wide-angle shots to get even the slightest effect, for example. And while the tools GoPro provides for stringing edits together are surprisingly easy to use, you’ll need to spend some time to get the most out of the tools available. Beginners can easily create slightly confusing cuts before they get their bearings.
The beauty of the MAX, however, is that 360 is just one of the features it offers – and it actually sets the stage for much more interesting things that most users get a lot more value from. One of the most important is HyperSmooth which, when combined with MAX’s exclusive horizon adjustment feature, results in the smoothest, highest quality stabilized video footage you can get with any camera without a gimbal.
By default, the horizon orientation on the MAX works in both landscape and portrait orientations, and switches between these orientations when you rotate the camera 90 degrees. However, setting the orientation to landscape allows you to rotate the MAX freely and the horizon stays level, with the footage remaining smooth and steady – to an almost creepy extent.
There can sometimes be a slight noticeable blur when panning from one orientation to the other in captured footage. However, this is barely noticeable and only occurs when you turn a full 90 degrees. Otherwise, the horizon will be preserved and the footage will stay smooth no matter how much movement, bounce, or jitter you have in the camera. It’s amazing and should be experienced in person to really appreciate how much technology has gone into this cause.
The perfect run-and-gun mix
This is one of the reasons why you might want to take the camera with you when you are on the go. But not all MAX offers are in this regard. GoPro used 360 recording to implement what are known as “digital lenses” that change the field of view and adjust the distortion for final results that can really change the look and feel of the video being recorded. There’s a new “Narrow” mode that is even more limited than the typical “Linear” mode that GoPro offers, and a new Max SuperView mode that goes way beyond the previous limits for a really dramatic look.
Since the camera records 360 content at 6K, you won’t get 4K resolution when it is reduced to Hero mode. However, you get up to 1440p and 1080p options, which are sufficient for most vlogging and travel logging purposes. This is one area that needs to be compromised in order to get some of the flexibility and convenience you get from the MAX, but in my opinion this is a worthwhile compromise.
As mentioned before, you also get a sturdy camera that can even snorkel with you, as well as a built-in selfie screen and powerful microphones (in the video above, you will notice that the sound degrades a bit when you detect water). . It really seems like GoPro went out of their way to make sure that when you want you can just grab the MAX and get out of there without worrying about packing accessories that go through the shorty tripod or goes beyond the MAX handle I mentioned.
GoPro’s Fusion was a compelling camera for a certain group of users, but the MAX seems to flip the script across the GoPro range. In short, the MAX seems like a great standard option for anyone new to action cameras or looking for a comprehensive all-rounder that is easy to learn but gets more powerful over time.
The MAX’s amazing stabilization is probably also better suited for vlogging and social video than the actual action camera set because it’s so fluid and nifty. You can change the degree to which it triggers, of course, but overall, MAX seems like just one device that, with its built-in software, can do magic for budding content creators who’d prefer to leave the DSLR and gimbal at home – or who would never thought of having a pick up in the first place.