Action cameras that promise to provide immersive 360-degree video have had a steep climb for all contenders up to this point. GoPro, with their Fusion model, took a step in the right direction but didn’t quite hit the mark. Fast forward a few years and the company now has a more solid offering in the form of the GoPro MAX.
The GoPro MAX promises to give the user, not just 360-degree video, but also the basic workings of a regular action cam, along with a cheaper price than the original Fusion. The video quality in this little unit may only be rendered at 1080p, but there’s a lot more going on under the hood, such as reframing footage after the fact, with zoom, pan, and tilt as options.
This small unit has a lot of potential, but the question is: can it produce quality 360-degree footage while still being a worthwhile 360 camera? Also, the GoPro MAX doesn’t want to tread on the toes of the rest of the GoPro line up, so it will be very interesting to see how this little camera measures up against the other GoPro offerings.
As the GoPro MAX features two back-to-back lenses, it is slightly larger than the HERO8 Black but much smaller than the older Fusion model. A handy rear touchscreen has been added to control basic functionality and access the menu system, with all footage being written to a single memory card.
Capturing high-quality 360-degree footage on this camera is one thing, but editing also has to be up to scratch, which is where the GoPro app comes in. The app is very easy to use, with scope to change camera angles and order of animation, while also being able to edit in any other video of you may have on your smartphone. Auto stitching of footage can be performed in-camera or via the GoPro app, making the whole experience seamless, even for the beginner.
The GoPro MAX is built with outdoor usage in mind, with full weatherproofing and easily accessible doors for the memory card. The camera also has some useful feet which can be attached to a wide variety of GoPro accessories.
There’s the option to use just one of the lenses on the MAX to shoot more traditional action footage. The ultimate video resolution ends up at 4992 x 2496 at 25 and 30 fps and still images at 5760 x 2880.
The cam features different viewpoints, which include Narrow, Linear, Wide, and Max SuperView. The HyperSmooth image stabilization is one of the best in the business, with almost gimbal-like steadiness. Additionally, ‘spherical audio’ is available, which uses six microphones to record sound in all directions, along with a regular microphone input.
Footage from the MAX can also be streamed in a variety of ways. Traditional USB and HDMI output ports have been included, along with Wi-Fi to easily share footage online.
There’s no denying that the GoPro MAX is chock full of features, which also include Horizon leveling, motion sensors, voice control, and live streaming. This means that the feature-packed GoPro MAX will give you plenty of scope for optimizing your 360-degree footage, but ultimately, it’s how this footage is rendered and how easy it is to transfer to regular viewing mediums.
The GoPro MAX in Use
The official specs say the stitching resolution of video is 5K and 5.7K for still images. This sounds very impressive on paper, but all those pixels are spread out across the whole 360-degrees.
For general viewing of video the resolution isn’t so bad, but zooming in is like traditional digital zoom, where one point of focus steadily becomes softer. However, producing video footage with fine detail close-up as it is in general view would mean gigabytes of image data, which would grind to a halt most smartphones or tablets.
The actual stitching ability built into the GoPro app works quite well. There are instances of near object distortion and changes of light around a scene can sometimes trip up the stitching process. But, in general for an automated process, the stitching app performs a better job than expected with reasonable horizontal alignments.
Where this camera really stands out is with the ‘Max HyperSmooth’ image stabilization. This isn’t just helpful with regular footage, but it also lends a helping hand to align all footage.
One of the useful features is TimeWarp. This is essentially hyper-lapse videos, which can be reframed, with options to zoom and pan, producing very impressive results.
Audio on this device is better than expected and while wind noise is present, voices come across clearly with the built-in microphones. It’s good to see that GoPro has put thought into high-quality audio as well as the video experience.
How Does It Compare?
GoPro isn’t the only brand on the market to offer a 360-degree camera in their lineup. Possible alternatives are the Insta360 One X and the Rylo 360. Both of the latter don’t have built-in screens and while they both offer lots of similar features, they don’t have the fully rounded experience of the GoPro MAX.
The GoPro MAX also wins out for its wonderful stabilization system and editing abilities, both in-camera and with the app. The MAX may be the most expensive, but it feels like the most rounded solution of the lot.
|GoPro MAX||Insta360 One X|
|Stitching||Internal and external||Internal|
While the GoPro MAX is a major advancement in 360-degree video, it can also be seen as more of a stepping-stone device. It’s definitely a more rounded and feature-rich solution than the GoPro Fusion, but the resulting footage should be seen as more of a general view, than pro-level video.
To produce the sort of resolution where we can see fine detail when zoomed in, would mean a big jump up to 8K quality, which is beyond the scope of the smartphones currently available. For now, the GoPro MAX is for those who want the 360-degree experience, in a not-so-costly bundle, which can also double up as a basic action cam.