GoPro Max Review

The GoPro Max is fun and simple to use, and anyone will be able to capture professional-looking footage.

GoPro Max Review
Review

What is the GoPro Max?

The Max is GoPro’s new 360 camera, which replaces the Fusion. The GoPro Max builds on the groundwork the Fusion laid, offering 5.7K 360 video at

The Max also inherits the GoPro Hero8 Black’s HyperSmooth stabilisation mode and, crucially, can now stitch your 360 images and video in-camera.

GoPro Max Price & Availability

The GoPro Max price tag is £479.99 / $499.99. You can buy the GoPro Max and its accessories at retailers such as Adorama, B&H Photo Video, Park Cameras and Wex Photo Video.

 

 

Features

On paper, the GoPro Max is very interesting. It builds on the already impressive specifications the Fusion brought to the table, yet also rectifies that camera’s shortcomings. The Max is a 360 camera, yet it’s also an action camera and inherits a lot of the signature features from GoPro’s market-leading Hero Black range.

And it’s with these features, such as HyperSmooth stabilisation, that the Max really presents itself as a highly credible option for videographers, not just 360 enthusiasts. The biggest issue that many people have with action cam footage is that they shoot from one location and create dull moves.

The Max is really easy to use and you can create a video that cuts from one angle to another. This means anyone can create an interesting movie from just one mounting position. But lets take a closer look at some of its key specifications.

In-camera stitching

Thankfully, GoPro has recognised the biggest limitation with the Fusion and rectified it with the Max. The GoPro Max uses just one memory card and stitches all content within the camera. The Fusion was quite cumbersome. Each lens and sensor recorded media to a separate microSD card.

By default, the GoPro Fusion separates your files into GoPro_Front and GoPro_Back folders. But to stitch content you must make sure all files are in the same folder, and only then does it work.

If you’re one of the early purchasers, you’ll get a notification when setting up your Max that you need to make a critical firmware update before using the camera. You do this through the GoPro app, and this update adds the capability to stitch your 360 content in-camera.

I’ve only just started using the GoPro Max, but already it’s proving infinitely simpler to share your images and videos with the world. And it’s for this reason that I believe the Max will be a game-changer for 360 content.

Stills & Video resolution

The GoPro Max captures 16.6 megapixel still images (5760 x 2880) and can shoot 360 video in 5.6K resolution at 30fps. This is actually 6K footage, but it renders at 5.6K after it is stitched in-camera.

It’s worth noting that when shooting in Hero mode – where the Max functions as an action camera using just one of its dual lenses – resolution is limited to 1440p at 60fps or 1080p at 60fps.

In other words, you can shoot 360 video in 5.6K resolution or standard footage at up to 1440p, but you can’t record 4K.

The Max also supports HEVC video format, which produces smaller files while prioritising image quality.

Can the GoPro Max livestream?

Yes, the GoPro Max can livestream Full HD video video just like the GoPro Hero8 Black.

GoPro Max Audio

The Max features six microphones built into its body to capture spherical audio. What’s more, you can prioritise audio from one side of the camera.

New touchscreen display

There’s also a new dedicated touchscreen for playing back your footage, which is certainly a unique addition to a 360 camera. Most 360 cameras rely on your smartphone for this capability, so the addition of a touchscreen puts the GoPro Max in its own league.

GoPro Hero8 technology in the Max

GoPro has also taken the opportunity to include some of the signature technology of its Hero action cameras. First and foremost is its new HyperSmooth 2.0 stabilisation technology.

Max HyperSmooth promises to ‘remove the need for a gimbal’ by providing stabilisation across three axes. It also now provides an automatic horizon leveller and is available in all resolutions and frame rates. We’ve tested HyperSmooth extensively in the Hero Black cameras, so we will be very keen to see in these tests if the technology rates the same.

TimeWarp is another mainstay of the Hero Black range. You can click here to read how GoPro’s TimeWarp works. Max TimeWarp, in essence, provides fluid movements through time so that time-lapses aren’t jerky. It also features a built-in scene detection.

Other key features of the GoPro Max include a PowerPano mode for making 270-degree panoramic images, four digital lens sizes (Narrow, Linear, Wide and Max SuperView), 14 voice commands, built-in GPS and the ability to re-frame your 360 videos from any vantage point as traditional videos.

GoPro Max Review: performance

Build Quality

The GoPro Max is smaller than the Fusion and perhaps the most significant feature of its body design is that it uses the new folding fingers we saw added to the GoPro Hero8 Black. The folding fingers mean you can now attach different mounts and accessories directly to the camera.

The GoPro Max body is very reminiscent of the quality we’ve come to expect from the Hero Black cameras. It features the classic rubber grip and, upon closer inspection, some stylised upgrades over previous GoPro cameras. For instance, the GoPro logo, previously stamped on the front of both the Fusion and Hero Black cameras, is embossed on the Max. This is a small detail, of course, but gives the feeling of quality.

The Record button on top of the Max is also raised, making it easy to find with a blind finger. Next to it are two microphones.

On the front of the Max, above the textured GoPro logo, is a larger microphone and the front lens. On the back is the rear lens and another large microphone. These are situated above the new touchscreen LCD.

The new touchscreen display seems very responsive, and is quite bright. The display shows you which mode you’re in, your resolution and frame, your battery life, space on the memory card, a circular arrow for switching between lenses for your main point of view and even a self-timer icon for getting your hands out of the way before a shot is taken.

A lot of nice touches have gone into the touchscreen, and this is looking like a huge upgrade over the Fusion.

On one side of the Max is the Mode/Power button, and on the other is a robust compartment door that houses the Max’s removable 1600mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Inside is also the microSD card slot and a USB C charge port.

The Max comes with a cloth carry pouch, as well a pair of lens caps. One of these sets of lens caps is translucent and and be placed over the lenses to protect the glass in extreme environments; however, they will slightly reduce image quality.

Overall, the Max lives up to GoPro’s high benchmark of build quality and, again, gets right some of the things the Fusion got wrong. Recording content to one memory card greatly simplifies things, and the addition of the touchscreen display is worth the cost of the upgrade alone, even before you consider all of the new Hero Black technology inside.

Performance

Even at the start of my GoPro Max review there were clear indications that it’s a serious upgrade over the Fusion. The touchscreen is superb. Using it in bright light, it is clear and easy to see. The navigation within the LCD is very intuitive and simple to use.

GoPro’s revamped app also makes the shooting experience so much easier. I couldn’t use my then-flagship Huawei P20 Pro to control the Fusion for a year after the camera launched because the app didn’t support my phone. That was incredibly frustrating. This time around, the app and camera connected instantly. All the camera controls are on hand, and it’s a very pleasant experience getting it all set up.

Here’s a handy tutorial where I go into more depth on how to set up the GoPro Max for the first time.

Having shot a number 360 images and videos in a range of conditions, the image quality looks great. Footage has that crisp, clear GoPro quality we’ve all come to expect from the Hero Black range. I did notice the Max is prone to purple fringing when shooting in some locations with extreme contrast, but the effect isn’t too bad. And overall, the Max performs pretty well in most light conditions.

Filming video in 360, you can export your footage in 5.7K or 4K resolution via the GoPro Player desktop app. The detail in this footage is fantastic: rich colours, nice dynamic range, detail in the highlights and shadows.

Switching from 360 to Hero mode lets you shoot video in a standard format, and here you’re limited to 1080p or 1440p resolution at up to 60fps. It would be nice to have a true 4K option in Hero mode, but the HD video quality is still very good.

Along with the in-camera stitching, this option to swap between 360 and Hero modes for video are what make the Max such a significant upgrade over its predecessor, the Fusion. It’s so versatile, like having a 360 camera, an action camera and a vlogging camera all in one. It’s so convenient to be able to swap between lenses and microphones via the app (in Hero mode).

I’m tempted to recommend the Max as the best camera for vlogging the next time I’m asked. It’s versatile, image and audio quality are superb, but it’s also just so easy to use. Whereas the Fusion was burdened by complexity, the Max is a simplistic tale of two menus and some shortcut icons. Your granddad would figure it out in no time.

Watching my kids watch various YouTubers of varying quality, I can easily see how the GoPro Max could instantly make many vloggers’ footage look more professional. Stabilisation, for a start. So many vloggers walk with their camera; many often run. The footage is difficult to watch.

The Max employs the same built-in HyperSmooth stabilisation as found in the Hero8 Black, as well as a new Horizon Levelling technology. And they’re both so insanely good. Have a look at my short test of these below. I ran the same stretch of rocky terrain with the Max mounted to my head. On the left, HyperSmooth and Horizon Levelling are turned off. On the right, they’re turned on. Just look at that difference. Enabling these is the simple press of a button, and it will make any vlogger’s, YouTuber’s or thrill-seeker’s footage look instantly more cinematic.

What’s more, the option to re-frame your 360 footage and follow endless points of view adds yet more versatility.

Am I gushing? There are some points to improve on, of course. The aforementioned lack of 4K video recording in Hero mode. Sometimes it didn’t pick up my voice commands when there was background noise. The lenses aren’t as tough as the Hero8 Black’s (though you do get some lens guards in the box). And either I have fat fingers or the Max’s touchscreen doesn’t always swipe the way I want to swipe.

But overall this is such a major refinement of the Fusion, one can’t help but be impressed. Huge kudos to GoPro for going all in with this. The GoPro Max is fun and simple to use, and anyone will be able to capture professional-looking footage.

GoPro Max Sample Photos and Video

 Below are some sample videos and 360 images shot with the GoPro Max.

Verdict

The GoPro Max is a major achievement for the action camera maker. It was launched at the same time as the Hero8 Black, and the flagship action camera got the top billing; but in my opinion, the Max is the most groundbreaking camera GoPro has launched in years. I tend to vacillate between my Huawei P20 Pro and Nikon Z6 as my go-to cameras, but lately the Max has always been in my pocket, my bag, on my head, even!

The street price has already come down a little on the GoPro Max, and I feel it’s worth every penny. It’s got something for everyone, and is a worthy addition to anyone’s kit bag.

Should I buy the GoPro Max?

Up until January 2020 there was nothing else out there that can really compete with the Max’s versatility and image quality. However, Insta360’s modular ONE R 360 camera + action camera, 1-inch sensor and selection of ‘mods’ add-ons makes a compelling case. The ONE R begins shipping in February, so we will be very keen to test it and pit it against the Max.

But, yes, I would say you can feel confident buying the GoPro Max that it will fulfil all your needs. For all of the reasons in the 2000 words above. Its image quality should be on par with the ONE R, but also, the Max benefits from the vast ecosystem of GoPro mounts and accessories.

 

Summary
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GoPro Max

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