GoPro Protune firmware: a brief test

GoPro finally released the Protune firmware, a couple of days before they announced their new HD Hero3 cams with 4K capabilities. Although the news of the HD Hero3 sort of siphoned all the attention away from the Protune release, the latter is worth at least as much focus.

Protune is cinematic quality. The footage is captured at a higher bitrate (35Mbps) and less in-camera colour grading or noise reduction. GoPro Protune footage when viewed as it’s offloaded looks dull, washed out and not too spectacular. Many amateurs will wonder what the big deal is.

The big deal is that you can now customize the footage to any colour grade you want without losing quality. There’s less introduction of artefacts when applying colour effects, and if you apply the Cinestyle colour grade (Technicolor!) you get absolutely gorgeous results. For pros and semi-pros: you can now work with Log C decode curves.

The Log C curve is a logarithmic encoding of the scene, meaning that the relation between exposure measured in stops and the signal is constant over a wide range. Each stop of exposure increases the signal by the same amount. The overall shape of the Log C curve is similar to the exposure curves of film negatives. Because of fundamental differences between a sensor and negative film, however, the color characteristics remain different.

It’s what allows the GoPro HD Hero2 Protune footage to be considered cinematic, and to be mixed with ARRI Alexa footage shot with the same curve characteristics!

The beauty of Protune is that, if you don’t need the Log C characteristics, you can colour grade the original footage directly in Final Cut Pro X using Irudis’ Cinestyle plug-in. The latter was developed for Canon’s EOS 5D Cinestyle colour characteristic, but using it on the GoPro’s Protune footage gives nice results.

Still, if you aim at highest possible quality and colour rendition, GoPro’s own Cineform Studio is the software to use. If you’re lucky enough to have the Pro version on your machine, you can experiment freely with primaries, white balance, look, and what have you.

Protune puts GoPro HD Hero2 action cams in a realm all of their own. Unless Sony would have something up their sleeve for their own new Action Cam.