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Hands on: GoPro Max review

GoPro gets more versatile with a 360 camera

What is a hands on review?
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Early Verdict

The GoPro Max could be the next evolution of two product categories - 360-degree camera and action camera. GoPro's innovation when it comes to in-app editing transforms 360-degree footage into something anyone, irrespective of expertize, can enjoy and can make look truly dynamic. While we're yet to stress test it in low light, first impressions after a few days of use are looking good.

For

  • 360, action and vlogging cam
  • Innovative app experience

Against

  • No 4K 16:9 capture
  • Pricey

The GoPro Max is a new breed of 360-degree camera, combining much of what made the GoPro Fusion great, while remedying many of its shortcomings, most notably the arduous edit process its footage required.

Complete with a new app experience, you can now create incredible, sweeping clips that transform footage once relegated to VR headsets into something that looks sensational on a flat screen.

It also doubles up as a traditional action cam, and even a blogging solution according to GoPro; but does it really? We’ve been using it for three days, so here are some initial thoughts ahead of our full review.

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Pricing and availability

Compared to the flagship GoPro Hero 8 Black action camera, the Max is a lot pricier, coming in at $499 / £479.99 / AU$799.95. 

It's already available to pre-order, with units shipping to most markets from October 24. In the US, however, retailers will receive shipment a day later, with the GoPro Max on shelves there on October 25.

Design and screen

Loaded up with a lens either side, a matte rubberized body and a 16:9 screen, the GoPro Max is surprisingly compact given the fact it can do so much. 

It functions like a standard action camera, a 360-degree cam and a vlogging camera, much like the DJI Osmo Action with its selfie display setup. 

At the top of the body there's a record button, to the left there's a power/mode button, while to the right is the battery flap. The Max shares the Hero 8 Black’s excellent flip-out mounting arms at the base, and features no less than six microphones dotted around its body.

Slide open the battery slot, and you’ll find the microSD card slot and a battery compartment which takes a 1,600mAh battery, larger than that of the standard GoPro Hero 8 Black, though smaller than the cumulative capacity of the Fusion's two batteries.

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Given its different dimensions, the Max doesn’t support the same Media Mods introduced to the Hero 8. Its lenses are also less scratch-resistant than that of the Hero 8 Black, though it does ship with dual-lens covers for peace of mind and safe stowage. 

We’re delighted GoPro has loaded up a 16:9 screen vs the taller screen the Hero 8 packs. It isn’t the sharpest around, but it is touch-sensitive and as responsive as it needs to be.

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Video capture

Starting with the Max’s main point of differentiation - 360-degree recording, which allows it to capture 5.6K footage. This means, when using it as a traditional action camera, its resolution is capped at 1080p 16:9 or 1440p 4:3. Instantly, this will likely put off traditionalists in need of a flexible 4K setup.

That said, for anyone okay with Full HD, the Hero Max offers huge amounts of customizations pre-shooting. For starters, you can choose between four digital lenses - 13mm, 16mm, 19mm and 27mm.

You can fire up horizon levelling so content is always facing the right way, even if the camera is literally spinning, and there are ProTune features. These give you the option to change the video’s bitrate, shutter speed, white balance, and much, much more. 

In turn, while footage captured by default has a ready to ‘gram’ Canon-esque feel to it, if you’re after more of a cinematic look, you can drop the contrast and saturation. 

Unlike the GoPro Fusion, which was two cameras recording two pieces of video and stitching them together, the GoPro Hero Max captures one 360-degree stream, making it more power-efficient to capture and edit.

Having reviewed the footage, single-lens capture looks solid, with respectable clarity for Full HD content, though when you go to town on the 360-degree video, pinching and zooming when editing in the app, you’ll want to be careful not to get too close or things might start to get a bit crunchy. That’s not to say anything else around does a better job of catering for flat displays with 360 video, but this should still be noted.

Meanwhile, the stitching line is noticeable, but only really comes through in final edits if you’re zoomed in on it. Pull out wide, and you’ll be hard-pressed to make it out.

As for the new HyperSmooth Max image stabilization, it seems unshakeable whichever mode the Max is in, though we're yet to run side-by-side tests with the DJI Osmo Action - check back for those in the full review.

Finally, photos are captured at around 5MP, though we're yet to compare them with those from the standard Hero 8 Black and DJI Osmo Action.

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App support and battery life

The GoPro app, available for iOS and Android, may be the same for the Hero 8 and Hero Max, but it functions very differently when it ingests 360-degree footage. You can edit it with keyframes and smoothly pan and zoom across your footage, so even if you shoot with absolutely no intention, you can create a finished product that looks considered and dynamic.

The 360-degree footage can also be edited using more traditional applications like Premiere Pro at a computer, but given what GoPro’s done with its own app, we’re not sure why most users would want to.

Meanwhile, with a 1,600mAh battery, if you’ve got a full day of shooting, you’ll want to pack one or two spares. That said, if you’re planning on some sporadic 360-degree capture, a bit of vlogging and limited Wi-Fi connecting with your phone, then you could get a full day out of it on a single charge.

As with other GoPros, the door is removable and with a USB-C charging port, it can power off an external battery pack, charging faster than it discharges. That said, just make sure you keep that cable wrapped around your grip and out of frame.

Early verdict

We’ll be updating this in the coming days after casting a more critical eye over the footage captured on the GoPro Hero Max. That said, we can confidently say that it's the first device we’ve used that makes 360-degree footage this usable, and it's incredibly impressive on any device with a screen.

We would have loved higher-resolution, 4K capture from individual cameras, but at this stage, that’s our main gripe with this all-seeing action cam.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.