A year ago, GoPro introduced a very good smoothing algorithm designed to work as a digital six-axes gimbal, Hypersmooth. This year, the HERO8 Black tries much harder with Hypersmooth 2.0, Timewarp 2.0, digital lenses, presets, better night photography and more.
The HERO8 has a new form factor that’s about 10% sleeker than the HERO7. The enclosing cage has gone and the camera now mounts with built-in folding fingers. The latter looks is a clever, logical design step-up and an efficient one at that, but you must make sure to tighten the mounting screw well to avoid a slight wiggle.
The HERO8’s battery and SD-card are now inserted at the side of the device. The big door is removable to connect with the new “Mods”, a new system of accessories that let you add lighting, audio input and a front-facing screen. A new, tougher and better lens sits in its slightly bigger protection cage.
With this better lens, GoPro introduces digital lenses which are, in reality, cropping modes. The results are excellent but, in photographic terms, a real zoom or exchangeable lens would have been better. The digital lens functionality offers four virtual zoom factors to frame an activity or scene. The camera automatically sets the optimum cropping area. Whereas the HERO7 in 4K mode only offered Wide at 60fps and Wide and Superview at 30fps, the HERO8 offers Wide (16-34mm) and Linear (19-39mm) at 60fps and SuperView (16mm), Wide and Linear at 30fps. Starting at 2.7K/60, you also get a new Narrow (27mm) angle.
GoPro fine-tuned the algorithm on their GP1 chip to deliver HyperSmooth 2.0 with Boost and TimeWarp 2.0. The HERO7 only gave you a choice between automatic smoothing and none at all. The HERO8 Black has three levels of stabilisation: On, High and Boost. I tried all three of them and found that every type of smoothing gives you more natural results than the HERO7. That’s no small feat, as the HERO7’s stabilisation was already incredibly good — as good as using a Karma grip.
TimeWarp 2.0 automatically adjusts speed based on motion, scene detection and lighting. You can even slow down the effect to real-time and then tap to speed it back up. TimeWarp 2.0 is available in four resolutions: 4K 16:9, 2.7K 4:3, 1440p 4:3 and 1080p 16:9. Leaving the rest of the settings in Auto mode results in the camera figuring out the best speed versus the recording time, but you can also set the speed yourself. To slow down the effect and speed it back up, you just tap one button on the screen. I tried Timewarp 2.0 with the slow down feature and the results looked much better than doing this in post.
The HERO8 has also gotten a more intuitive control screen with presets. You can create your own, but the naming of presets is not free, so you can’t type a preset name that makes sense to you Giving the GoPro app on your smartphone or tablet that power would have been even better as people don’t necessarily associate “Cinematic” with a setting of 4K/30fps and Protune turned on.
In Photo mode, the HERO8 has been improved as well. However, in my opinion, the default settings of the presets don’t do justice to the improvements. The default ISO minimum setting is at 100, which is good, but, just as with video, the HERO8 will decide if it needs to set a higher ISO for the best results and the default maximum setting is at 3200 ISO. That turned out way too high for beautiful JPEGs without ugly noise — remember, this is a tiny sensor and small sensors are noisier by definition.
Once I turned down the max ISO setting to 400, JPEG photos came out very noise-free and with beautiful colours when I left the Protune colour setting to GoPro. And I got a stunning result from the RAW setting. One note in that respect: I’m on a Mac with no access to Adobe software since they switched from licences to a subscription model. That means I don’t have direct access to GoPro RAW files. Even DxO Photolab 3 still has no module for it. I checked the RAW image quality by converting the file with Adobe’s DNG Converter first and subsequently opening it in Capture One Pro 12 (DxO’s doesn’t support DNG either).
What else is new with the HERO8? A new front-mic placement which is supposed to enhance audio performance, especially in high-wind situations. I can’t say I heard much of a difference with the previous model, but there wasn’t any wind to speak of when I tested it, so I could be wrong. Anyway, I think that you’ll need the Audio Mod to really enjoy brilliant sound.
Last but absolutely not least, there is a big improvement under the hood: the HERO8 Black shoots 4K/30/60 footage at 114Mbps and 1080p/30 at 65Mbps. The maximum video bitrate on the HERO7 and HERO6 Black was 78 Mbps. The higher bitrates put the HERO8 on a same level as a high-end ENG camera or above a Sony RX0. The high bitrate has a clearly visible effect on an output with more detail and just better quality overall.