GoPro Max Review: Have they finally cracked the 360 code?

Nearly two years after the first GoPro 360 camera, the Fusion, comes their second attempt. The GoPro Max ($499) is the next generation 360 camera featuring hypersmooth 2.0, 5.6K video resolution, Hero Mode and a revamped app designed to make using your 360 camera as easy as possible. That last point is an important one because the Fusion was criticised for being too difficult to use for the average person. I’ve been using the GoPro Max for around a month now so I have a pretty good idea of the cameras pro’s and weaknesses. Have GoPro managed to create the best 360 camera ever or are 360 cameras still too complicated to use?

GoPro Max Review

8 Total Score
GoPro Max - It's GoPro's Best Camera Yet

The GoPro Max is two great cameras in one.

PROS
  • High Quality Video
  • Hero Mode & 360 Mode
  • Super Smooth Stabilization
  • Rugged and Waterproof
  • Excellent Editing App
  • Great Audio
CONS
  • Lacks Full Manual Control
  • No RAW or HDR Mode
  • Missing Desktop Software
User Rating: 4 (1 votes)
GoPro Max
GoPro Max
Two cameras in one. The best 360 camera out right now. Includes free SD Card

Specifications

Specs GoPro Max
Video Resolution 5.6K 30fps – HERO Mode: 1440p 60fps/ 1080p 60fps
Photo Resolution 16.6 MP
Stabilization Hypersmooth 2.0
Bit Rate Up to 78mbps
Waterproof Yes, up to 5m
Video modes Time Lapse, Time Warp, Slow Motion, Power Pano
Audio x6 Microphones / Ambisonic Audio
Livestream 1080p
Sensors GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth
Battery Removable – One Hour Video Recording
Memory MicroSD Up to 256GB
Other Features Protune, Voice Control, On screen shortcuts
Price Available on Amazon

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Camera Design

One of the greatest strengths of the GoPro’s Max camera is its design and build quality. Waterproof up to 5 metres without a case and made from protective rubber casing, the Max is built to handle many hostile environments. In the box you’ll also receive lens protectors which will shield the vulnerable lenses from breaking should you drop the camera. The Max is definitely built with action in mind and it’s sufficiently protected.

The Max is larger than GoPro’s Hero range of cameras but still easily fits in one hand. The Max is also the first consumer 360 camera to be built with a full touch screen display. This alone makes the Max the most user friendly camera to use.

You can adjust all settings from the camera as well as view media right after you’ve shot it. With all other 360 cameras you need to connect to a phone in order to preview your video or change settings. The Max also features voice commands which tend to work most of the time, however I still think manual controls are quicker overall.

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Video

The GoPro Max is primarily a camera built for video; either action shots or vlogs, this is what you’ll be using your camera for 90% of the time. Thankfully GoPro have put a lot of effort into making the Max an exceptional video camera with a multitude of options. Some features haven’t made the transition from the previous Fusion camera but overall there is an improvement all-round.

You have two video modes when shooting with the Max; 360 mode and Hero mode. Let’s take a look at both of these and what they should be used for.

360 Mode

The Max is a 360 camera so you are going to be using the 360 mode a lot. This mode will utilise both lenses in the Max to shoot 360 video, you can then re-frame this video to create super smooth, cinematic shots. Alternatively you can upload this 360 video directly to Facebook and YouTube and watch on a VR headset for immersive video. It should be noted that the Max is mostly built around the re-framing process and this is how I’ve been using the camera.

The GoPro Max features two f/2.2 lenses and a video resolution of 5.6K. Frame rate is restricted to 30fps in 360 mode and there’s no way to alter shutter speed. While it’s a shame that there are not as many manual controls as I would like, even in automatic mode the Max produces the best looking video I’ve seen in a 360 camera. The video is sharp, colorful, vibrant and closer to reality than its competitors. In low light environments the camera handles well and doesn’t overexpose or create too much noise in dark areas. The Max utilises a chip designed by GoPro for video processing and likely uses superior quality lenses.

Having this high quality video also allows you to create higher quality framed video, which I’ve found to be the highest quality of any 360 camera so far. Once rendered in 1080p the Max’s re-framed video looks excellent, and when mixed with the unique shots only possible with 360 cameras, makes for some truly amazing video.

The video sometimes struggles when moving indoors and you’ll notice some blurriness. If there was a higher frame rate option then this could be rectified but you’re stuck with 30fps. The Max certainly works best outdoors in daylight. While 360 video still can’t compete with normal video in terms of quality the Max goes some way to bridge the gap and it certainly produces the best quality 360 video of any camera under $500

Hero Mode

Hero Mode is the second major video mode that the Max can shoot in. You’ll recognise the name from the Hero line of cameras that GoPro are famous for. Hero cameras use just one lens and Hero Mode on the Max also uses just one of two lenses available to the Max. This allows you to shoot “normal” non-360 video using the Max. When shooting in Hero Mode you’ll be able to shoot in either 1440p or 1080p. No 4K resolution available like in other Hero cameras, but that would be a big ask. You also have a range of frame rates, including 60fps, 50fps, 30fps and 24fps.

The quality of the video when shooting in Hero mode isn’t the most amazing I’ve ever seen. It’s highly likely that your phone will shoot better looking video than the Max in Hero Mode. So, why use it? Well, for a start you can use GoPro’s Hypersmooth stabilization (more on that later) which works exceptionally well to keep video steady. Also, using the GoPro App you can combine 360 and Hero mode video with excellent results. Hero Mode also allows you slow motion video and an extra timelapse mode.

While Hero Mode certainly isn’t the main reason to buy the GoPro Max it’s certainly a welcome addition. This is the only 360 camera out right now that can utilise one of its lenses in this way and essentially makes the Max two cameras in one.

Timewarp / Timelapse

One of the main video modes of the GoPro Max is Timewarp, and it’s one of my favourite features. Timewarp is essentially a moving, stabilized timelapse. You record a timelapse while you move with your camera then re-frame it in the App. When done correctly the results can be quite stunning. You can record a Timewarp in 360 mode, allowing you to pan around the entire field of view, or in Hero Mode where you can return to normal speed at certain points.

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Photos

Compared to the Max’s video capabilities photography focused features seem somewhat lacklustre. That’s not to say the Max can’t take great looking photos – it can – but there are some missed opportunities.

360 Photos

The GoPro Max can shoot 16.6 megapixel 360 photos. This resolution isn’t particularly impressive and there are competitors out there that can shoot up to 20 megapixel images and higher. having said that, the quality of the optics in the Max are such that it makes up for lower resolution with improved dynamic range and low light performance.

360 photos shot with the Max are vibrant and dynamic, if a bit pixelated around the edges. Certainly when viewed on a mobile device the images look excellent but on a larger screen you may notice the lower than ideal resolution.

Unfortunately GoPro have omitted several features that could have made the max an excellent 360 photography camera. There’s no automatic HDR mode, a feature that made the Insta360 One X a great camera for photos. There’s also no RAW Mode which would allow a more advanced to get the best image possible using editing programmes. These features may be coming in  future update (The One X added RAW mode several months after release) but for now you’ll have to make do with standard jpeg images.

Power-Panos

One photo mode that is unique to the Max is the Power Pano. This mode allows you to take a single 270 degree panorama in one shot. They look similar to the panoramas you can shoot with your phone, however instead of taking multiple images and stitching them together (usually with many errors) the Max shoots a seamless Power Pano in a single shot.

The photos aren’t the best quality you’ll ever see but they are fun, and thanks to the screen you can take some pretty unique selfies.

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Sound

When announcing the Max GoPro made a fuss of its audio capabilities. They claimed that the Max could record audio at the same quality as a shotgun mic; this is quite a claim as most internal camera audio is pretty poor. The Max features 6 microphones scattered around its body which is in itself quite impressive. This allows the max to record 360 amibsonic audio which works great with 360 video. But how does it sound? In my tests the Max does indeed perform far better than any other action camera in the audio department. Voices sound clear and crisp an the wind reduction technology works a treat.

It might be a stretch to say the audio is as good as a shot-gun mic (maybe a cheap one) but it’s certainly more than good enough for vlogging and you won’t need to carry any external audio equipment

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Stabilization

Hypersmooth 2.0 is GoPro’s new software stabilization technology. It featured in the last version of the GoPro Hero range and now it’s been added to the Max. 360 cameras are particularly ideal for stabilising video because the capture more pixles which can be used for stabilization. Hypersmooth does an amazing job of keeping your video steady while doing activities that other cameras would struggle with. If you are a surfer, skater, biker, climber or you want to record any kind of fast moving activity, then the GoPro Max will be able to capture smooth video even in the most challenging on situations.

Vloggers too will be happy because you’ll be able to move around with your camera without worrying if it’s moving or shaking too much. In essence the Hypersmooth stabilization makes the Max an awesome camera for both action shots and vlogging. Where the Max struggles is low lit indoor environments where you’ll notice shakiness and vibrations while moving.

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App & Software

What makes the GoPro Max a pretty great camera isn’t the hardware but the re-vamped app which allows for very vast video creation. You can combine multiple videos, add music, titles, text and transitions within just a few minutes. The App is also able to automatically create and combine the best parts of your videos. The GoPro App is also where you’ll re-frame your 360 video and GoPro have made it as easy as possible to do so.

The App has a multitude of options including changing speed, color, adding filters and combining multiple clips together. Overall the GoPro App is the best App for editing 360 video I’ve come across.

While the GoPro App gives me little reason for complaint, the desktop app that GoPro developed is another story. For a start the main editing program is not available for Windows yet (apparently it’s coming soon) and the GoPro Exporter (which turns your 360 files into usable video files) has some features missing. You can only export your video in HVEC format and not MP4. Again GoPro says these features are coming soon but I’d expect them to available on release.

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Summary

The GoPro Max has huge potential and is already the easiest 360 camera to use. It has among the best video quality of any 360 camera out now and its App is perfect for creating high quality video quickly. The camera is almost perfect for vlogging thanks to stabilization, a front facing screen and full 360 filming. You get two cameras in one thanks to Hero Mode and the audio is surprisingly high quality. While overall I’m happy with the camera and will continue to use it, it’s clear that GoPro wasn’t quite ready when the release day came. There have been complaints that some features are missing, particularly desktop software. There are also some pretty basic features such as full manual control over shutter speed when shooting video and the lack of HDR or RAW options when shooting photos.

I’m expecting GoPro to continue to support this camera with some pretty big updates, but this isn’t an absolute given. Overall this camera is worth the $499 price tag if you are looking for a next generation 360 action camera.

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Price and Where to Buy

GoPro Max
GoPro Max
Two cameras in one. The best 360 camera out right now. Includes free SD Card

See Also: GoPro Max vs Insta360 One X


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360 camera expert, 360 photographer and lover of banoffee pie. Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for awesome 360 content.

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