Crazy smooth video stabilization • Easier-to-use touchscreen UI • Vertical video capture • Super simple sharing to Instagram Stories

No real battery improvement • Low-light footage is a little soft

The GoPro Hero 7 Black’s built-in stabilization is so good it eliminates the need for expensive and clunky gimbals.

Just when I thought there were no more meaningful ways to improve an action camera, GoPro goes and releases the new Hero 7 Black.

I’ve been using the Hero 7 Black for nearly a month and, hands-down, it’s the best action camera GoPro has ever made. And that’s not just because it’s the newest one (I felt the was pretty skippable). 

Instead of cramming in more resolutions for video or more megapixels for photos, GoPro asked themselves a simple question: What do people really want from a GoPro? 

The answers were no-brainers: gimbal-quality stabilized video, a touchscreen interface that’s easier to use, better app integration, especially for sharing footage to platforms like Instagram Stories, improved audio, and live streaming.

With all of these features, GoPro’s finally made a new action camera that is compellingly better for shooting video than even some of the best smartphones.

GoPro evolution

The Hero 7 Black (right) looks virtually identical to the Hero 6 Black (left) and Hero 5 Black (not pictured).

The Hero 7 Black (right) looks virtually identical to the Hero 6 Black (left) and Hero 5 Black (not pictured).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The Hero 7 Black recycles the same rubberized and waterproof design introduced with the . This time around, though, the camera is actually black to match its name.

It has the same buttons as on the Hero 6 Black: record button on the top, power/mode button on the side, and 2-inch touchscreen on the back. It records to the same microSD cards, uses the same batteries, and charges via the same USB-C port.

The most underrated thing about reusing an old design is compatibility with past accessories. The Hero 7 Black works with all Hero 5 Black and Hero 6 Black mounts, cages, and even the short-lived Karma drone (GoPro and retailers still sell the drone while supplies last, but the company isn’t producing it any more.)

The Hero 7 Black uses the same batteries as Hero 6 and Hero 5 and records to microSD cards.

The Hero 7 Black uses the same batteries as Hero 6 and Hero 5 and records to microSD cards.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

There's a USB-C port for charging and micro HDMI port for video out.

There’s a USB-C port for charging and micro HDMI port for video out.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

$399.99 may seem like a lot at first, but I think it’s a reasonable price to charge for a top-of-the-line GoPro (it sure beats the $499.99 for the Hero 6 Black at launch before it received a $100 price drop). 

GoPro’s also selling a mid-tier and entry-level Hero 7 cameras with stripped down features. The $299.99 Hero 7 Silver shoots 4K resolution video at up to 60 fps with “wide dynamic range,” 2x slow-motion recording, the new simpler touchscreen UI, vertical orientation recording, voice controls, and built-in GPS to name a few features. But it lacks the same gimbal-quality stabilization as the Hero 7 Black and only takes 10-megapixel photos.

The $199.99 Hero 7 White is the new entry-level GoPro. It has the same 10-megapixel sensor as the Hero 7 Silver and all the same features minus the 4K capture (it maxes out at 1080p 60 fps), GPS, and wide dynamic range.

The smoothest video in all the land

Shoots up to 4K resolution at up to 60 fps.

Shoots up to 4K resolution at up to 60 fps.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

With the Hero 6 Black, GoPro switched to its own custom GP1 chip to push video and photo quality to the next level using HDR (High Dynamic Range), while simultaneously providing smoother electronic stabilization to make that footage less vomit-inducing.

The Hero 7 Black again comes with improved image quality for both video and photos, but this time they really pushed the built-in stabilization to the extreme. 

This “HyperSmooth” technology is so good at smoothing out footage, eliminating rolling shutter and handheld shakiness, that GoPro founder and CEO Nick Woodman thinks it’ll kill gimbals because it works even in intense winds and under water, whereas gimbals can’t.

“[The Hero 7 Black] is gonna save our customers hundreds of dollars because they won’t need to buy accessories to achieve that level of stabilization,” Woodman told me. “HyperSmooth is gonna set a new bar for image quality not just in our product category, but a new bar for the entire digital industry as a whole. It’s a pretty big jump not just for GoPro kind, but all [camera] kind.”

And the footage doesn’t lie. Take a look for yourself at the handheld footage below comparing the Hero 7 Black with the Hero 6 Black:

Whereas most cameras rely on optical image stabilization to counteract the vibrations of the image sensor, HyperSmooth is pure software and algorithm-based. It’s similar to Instagram’s woefully outdated Hyperlapse app, which uses math to stabilize timelapses until they look silky smooth. 

HyperSmooth is, of course, leaps and bounds better than Hyperlapse and any of the video stabilization in even the best smartphones. Not to mention, you won’t have to much (if any) stabilization in post with a video editing program like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X.

Here’s footage of me going down a water slide that would have normally been shaky AF, but is super smooth with the Hero 7 Black:

It’s this simplification and democratization of what previously would have required technical skills to operate a gimbal and apply stabilization in post production that makes the Hero 7 Black more intuitive to use. Most people don’t want to buy and learn how to use a gimbal — they just want super smooth footage and GoPro’s giving it to them.

Regular video footage isn’t the only thing that benefits from HyperSmooth. There’s another sweet new feature called “TimeWarp,” which combines HyperSmooth stabilization with timelapses, so you can get sick footage like this without a gimbal or a bulky Steady Cam:

“It’s awesome for travel posts or anything journey-related where normally the footage would be long and drawn out,” says Woodman. “TimeWarp video makes it look fast, hip, and engaging.”

I couldn’t agree more. I love shooting timelapses with my iPhone, but the most annoying thing has always been that I either needed to bolt it to a tripod or deal with the shaky footage. Now, I never have to compromise again and it’s made me want to go out and shoot more.

Just look at how epic this TimeWarp video tour of the Steve Jobs Theater looks (especially the very last part):

I also really like that the Hero 7 Black can record vertical videos natively and doing so only requires turning the camera 90 degrees. The entire UI rotates when you hold the camera vertically.

Vertical video for sharing to Instagram Stories or Snapchat. Hell yeah!

Vertical video for sharing to Instagram Stories or Snapchat. Hell yeah!

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Moreover, the Hero 7 Black also has built-in live-streaming to Facebook. The livestream quality is so-so. As long as you don’t expect crispy livestream video, it’s fine.

As far as I can tell, the only real downside to the Hero 7 Black’s recording capabilities is that low-light footage still leaves a lot to be desired. Almost all of my low-light footage shot with the Hero 7 Black was soft. By comparison, the same footage from the Hero 6 Black is grainier for sure, but it’s not as soft. See for yourself in the comparison video below shot in New York City’s dim Grand Central Terminal train station.

There are some other upgrades in the Hero 7 Black such as improved audio — GoPro says they redesigned the microphones to capture more dramatic bass and clearer mids – and I can definitely hear a difference when comparing footage with a Hero 6 Black. But the Hero 7 Black’s still an action camera and audio is still gonna sound muffled in most action-packed situations.

Simpler, smartphone-inspired interface

Super smooth video stabilization is easily the best and only reason to get the Hero 7 Black, but I also want to give GoPro props for redesigning the entire touchscreen interface.

Woodman says they modeled the Hero 7 Black’s interface after smartphones. That means using swipes to switch between modes and bigger buttons that are easier to tap.

If you know how to use swipe and tap on a phone, you won't have trouble using the Hero 7 Black's new touchscreen-friendly interface.

If you know how to use swipe and tap on a phone, you won’t have trouble using the Hero 7 Black’s new touchscreen-friendly interface.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The entire Hero 7 Black interface is just so much simpler to understand. Swipe left and right to switch between timelapse, video, and photo capture. Tap on-screen buttons to adjust settings like field of view (FOV), resolution, and framerates. Swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up the camera’s quick toggles and settings. And when you swipe up from the button to open up the gallery, videos automatically start playing.

Even little details like the battery icon is more smartphone-like. It’s green when the battery is full, yellow when it’s running low, and red when it’s almost out of juice.

If you know how to use a smartphone you’ll have zero trouble figuring out the Hero 7 Black — something which can’t be said for previous GoPros, which practically required a degree switch shooting modes and settings using the physical buttons.

So easy a 5-year-old could figure it out.

So easy a 5-year-old could figure it out.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

You can still use the physical buttons — there’s still a big record button on top and a mode button on the right side — if you don’t want to use the touchscreen or if your hands are wet or dirty, or maybe you’re wearing gloves. But the touchscreen is just more intuitive and lets you get right to recording instead of asking you to spend time learning how to use the dang thing.

Connecting the Hero 7 Black to a smartphone is also way simpler and faster. Same goes for transferring footage to a phone using the GoPro app. And speaking of the GoPro app — it’s been dramatically overhauled to be easier to use with features such as cutting a clip down to 15-seconds for Instagram Stories that are clearly made for the always mobile, always connected generation.

My favorite is the ability to overlay fun speed information and min maps onto a clip. Here’s one I shot just as I was landing in San Francisco: 

The best action camera

So worth the money.

So worth the money.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

In recent years, people have asked me a very reasonable question: Do I need a GoPro if I’ve got a perfectly capable phone for recording video?

And to be honest, my answer’s always been kinda lame — usually something like “it’s easier to mount on helmets and cars and stuff” or “it’s more rugged” or “it’s got a wider field of view so you can squeeze in more stuff on screen.”

Don’t get me wrong, these are all true. But these aren’t really good enough reasons, especially if you already own an older GoPro. If you don’t care about more resolution or slightly better color reproduction, then why buy a new one? Or if you’ve got a good smartphone camera and don’t do any kind of extreme sports or stunts, do you really need a GoPro? 

The Hero 7 Black really distinguishes itself from a smartphone camera.

This time around, I think Hero 7 Black really distinguishes itself from a smartphone camera. The stabilization, while still a little lacking for low-light recording, is stupendous. Compared to shaky and difficult-to-watch footage shot with an older GoPro or smartphone camera, the Hero 7 Black’s stabilized video is actually enjoyable. I want to go out and shoot a short film with all kinds of epic pan and sweep shots just because I know I don’t need to use a gimbal or invest in a crane.

The redesigned touchscreen interface and better smartphone app connectivity features also make the Hero 7 Black the easiest and friendliest GoPro I’ve ever used to date. Which is a big deal because if you’ve ever used a previous generation GoPro before, you know how frustrating those can be sometimes.

Besides sharper low-light capture, if I could make one improvement, it’d be battery life. Kudos to GoPro for using the same battery as the Hero 6 Black and Hero 5 Black, but I’d have liked to see it last longer. The Hero 7 Black lasts up to two hours, which is typical for a GoPro and fine if you’re only recording in short bursts, but still could get better. 

There’s always gonna be tradeoffs between a camera this small and its capabilities. Is the Hero 7 really gonna kill off all gimbals? I doubt it (not immediately at least). Professionals will always want more control over their cameras. But for the general consumer who wants super smooth video and doesn’t want to spend a crapload of time editing and post-processing their footage? The Hero 7 Black is the right camera for the job.

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