GoPro Max review: Everything an action camera should be

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GoPro makes action cameras, that’s what it’s known for. In recent years it’s released some of its best Hero products, with powerful features at sensible price points. But the company hasn’t stuck with a linear product line-up, as the GoPro Fusion 360-degree camera showed us back in 2018.

So what of the GoPro Max, the next step 360-degree camera which can capture spherical video? As we’ve found out: the Max is a different proposition to the Fusion in the way that it’s used. Is it the ultimate kind of action camera?

What is the GoPro Max?

  • Dimensions: 64 x 69 x 25 mm
  • Built-in 16:9 touchscreen
  • Waterproof to 5m
  • Built-in mount
  • Included lens covers for underwater use

Take a look at its exterior and you might just see the Max as a miniature version of the GoPro Fusion. It has the two cameras, one on either side of the body, stuck in the right corner. The lenses are domed, as you’d expect from a 360 camera, and they ship with lens covers to keep them protected.

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As an added bonus, the camera also comes with a soft microfibre bag to make it easy to carry around. This pouch also comes with additional lens covers designed specifically for shooting in the water. They snap easily onto the lenses, enabling a way to shoot underwater and above the water’s surface simultaneously (with the clear dividing line between the two).

Just like the Hero 8, the Max has a built-in flip out frame on the underside of the camera, so you don’t need to attach any frames or additional accessories just to mount it. It’ll easily screw onto any handle or mount from GoPro’s range using the standard screw.

Another more important inclusion is the small touchscreen on the bottom of its front/back. It means you no longer have to shoot 360-degree video completely blind, meaning you get an easy way to control and frame your shooting. Which is massively important.

Joining the screen is the addition of an advanced microphone system, which GoPro has added to offer more professional quality audio, but also better ambient noise cancellation when you need it to focus on your voice.

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There’s also the durable metal cover, which seals shut the battery and microSD slots, locking them behind a catch. It holds really well in daily use, and needs a good amount of force to release and gain access, so those worried about it being broken easily can rest easy. As can anyone concerned about water seeping in. The Max is waterproof up to five metres and the build makes that pretty clear.

User friendly

  • Easy touchscreen interface
  • Two physical buttons

One of the things we’ve grown to love about GoPro is the company’s attempts to make using its cameras as simple as possible. That’s meant reworking the user interface on the touchscreen, and developing new mobile-first apps that make it super-easy to edit on the go. These same strengths are evident in the GoPro Max.

Because this latest 360-degree camera has a touchscreen on it, actually seeing what you’re filming is possible, whereas on the Fusion it was a case of pressing record and hoping things looked right.

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Just like the Hero 8 Black, there are easy interface elements on the Max’s touchscreen. You can switch between Hero mode – where you shoot from one camera like a regular GoPro – and 360 mode by tapping a little camera icon in the bottom left corner. Then you can flip the view on the screen to switch between the cameras by tapping the icon in the bottom right.

Like Hero you can also adjust the field of view, depending on how wide-angle you want it, as well as quickly selecting what resolution and frame rate you’d like to use. It’s really consumer friendly and not at all difficult to figure out. Even if you’ve never used a GoPro before, you’ll quickly get used to the controls, even if they are a bit tiny and fiddly on that small touchscreen.

There are physical buttons on the camera too, which for the GoPro-experienced will seem immediately familiar. The power/mode button lets you quickly cycle through the shooting modes, while the bigger red button on the top starts and stops recording.

The GoPro app

  • Android/iPhone app
  • Easy keyframe selection
  • Accelerometer framing for easy viewing

It’s safe to say using the Fusion was a learning curve. Initially, you had to install a desktop plugin and app for advanced editing programs like Premiere Pro. It eventually was made easier with an app, but with the Max it’s been made easy right from the outset.

Once you shoot some 360 video, you simply launch the app and view the media. Press play and then move your phone to point within the frame you want to view. It takes very little effort.

Editing the footage, adding transitions, changing the view and angle is all done in a similarly easy way. And being mobile-focused, it’s so much simpler than using a desktop editing suite. And that makes it far less time consuming.

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Once you have your footage downloaded to the phone, all you have to do is choose to edit it by adding keyframes. Play the video, move it around using your finger on the screen, pinch-to-zoom in or out to change the view, and add a keyframe by tapping the little icon at the bottom of the screen.

Once that’s done, it’ll automatically pan and zoom between the starting point and your keyframe. Then all you have to do is keep adding keyframes with the angle and view you want, then save and render on the phone. It’s so easy it’s almost ridiculous.

Photos and video

  • 5.6k 360-degree footage at 30fps
  • 16.6MP stills
  • 2x slo-mo 
  • PowerPan – single take panorama
  • Spherical audio

There’s no doubt that when it comes to shooting with the Max, it’s one of the most versatile action cameras GoPro has ever launched. That stems primarily from the fact that you can use it as either a 360-degree camera, or in ‘Hero’ mode, just use it like a GoPro and using one camera. 

The downside of Hero mode, however, is that the resolution tops out at 1440p, and even then you’re forced to use that in 4:3 ratio. If you want 16:9 video – which is much more typical for the format – then you can only get 1080p as a maximum resolution. 

Short version: if what you want is the highest quality regular video footage, you’re better off saving a little money and buying the Hero 8 Black instead. It has higher resolution video that generally looks better. 

The process of shooting 360-degree video with the Max and what you can do with it afterwards is a lot of fun. One of the things we’re most impressed with is the stabilisation: holding the camera handheld while we’re running or walking sees the footage stay stable and smooth, with only a little smooth movement. With the feature enabled, it also keeps the horizon locked in place, ensuring you’re almost looking at footage that’s the right way around. It’s a testament to GoPro’s work on algorithms that process the movement and footage. 

Once stitched together, the 360-video file comes in around 5.6K resolution, but when you edit into a video for a flat-screen, obviously it ends up being a much lower resolution, so it doesn’t always seem that sharp. 

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If you shoot in nice bright daylight with blue skies, the footage – while a little rough resolution-wise – can look vivid and bright. In overcast conditions, or even in Hero mode shooting 1080p, it appears the camera can struggle to balance out the exposure, backlighting and shadows some of the time, leaving you either with a dark image or one that’s a little too over-exposed and lacking in detail. It’s not all that bad, but it could be better. 

Another of the big advantages of this particular 360 camera is what it enables on the stills front. Of course, you can create 360-degree photos with tiny-planet spherical effect, but you can also create what GoPro calls a PowerPano (a panorama photo it snaps in one press of the shutter). Unlike using a smartphone, you just hold the camera still, and it’ll create the Panorama using the two lenses. 

Verdict

The GoPro Max is one of the most versatile cameras the company has launched to date thanks to its dual-cameras setup. It’s easy to use and easy to edit footage afterwards.

However, if what you want is a standard action camera with regular 16:9 aspect ratio capture, we’d not recommend the Max over the Hero 8 – because the actual video quality and resolution isn’t as good here.

Overall, GoPro has addressed the frustrations that came with the Fusion, making for a dual-camera that’s flexible and a whole lot of 360-degree fun.

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