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GoPro’s new Hero 8 Black does more of the work for you

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No frame or housing required

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Photo by Brent Rose for The Verge

GoPro has announced its newest camera, unsurprisingly called the Hero 8 Black. The California camera company has packed a lot into the same flagship price point of $399, with a new integrated mounting system, a refreshed software experience that requires fewer taps, and the ability to shoot up to 4K footage at 60 frames per second or capture startlingly steady footage, thanks to an improved version of the company’s HyperSmooth digital image stabilization.

The Hero 8 Black is available to order today, October 1st, and it starts shipping on October 15th. It will sit alongside GoPro’s new $499 360-degree camera, the Max, and the Hero 7 Black, which now costs $299. The Hero 7 Silver will round out GoPro’s lineup at $199, while the Hero 7 White is being discontinued.

The Hero 8 Black looks very similar to its most recent predecessors, but those looks deceive. In fact, there are a lot of little changes that should add up to create a much different experience when compared to past Hero cameras.

One of the biggest is that the Hero 8 Black has optional “Mods,” which will let users tack on accessories like a GoPro-designed microphone, an LED light, or a flip-up screen. (More on those here.) But for people who just care about the camera itself, this is what’s in store.

The biggest change to the physical design of the camera this year is that it can now be mounted to any GoPro mount on its own, without a housing of any kind. GoPro took the two mounting “fingers” that slot into the company’s mounts and integrated them into the body. They snap down when you’re ready to mount the camera, but they flip up flush to the body (and are held in place by magnets) when you want to use the Hero 8 Black on its own.

The lens of the Hero 8 Black doesn’t protrude quite as much as the one on the Hero 7 Black, and it’s also not removable. GoPro says it made the glass twice as hard as the glass on the Hero 7 Black, so it shouldn’t need to be replaced.

The Hero 8 Black also uses a new battery, GoPro’s first in years. It’s the same shape and capacity, but it’s more powerful. The new camera can draw power out of the new battery at a faster rate in order to help with some of the most intense shooting modes.

On the software side, GoPro’s executed a number of impressive changes. Front and center is the new version of HyperSmooth. The digital image stabilization feature that made its debut on last year’s Hero 7 Black garnered pretty rave reviews by making footage look super smooth without lots of noticeable warping or loss of resolution. GoPro has pushed the envelope even more with HyperSmooth 2.0, though. Footage shot on the Hero 8 Black with the new HyperSmooth enabled makes Hero 7 Black footage look almost jittery. GoPro teased the ability to ditch a handheld stabilizer last year, but this year, the company really means it.

GoPro also built in more control over HyperSmooth, with the ability to set it to “high” or even turn on a “boost” mode that crops in even tighter for extra-stable footage. Best of all, HyperSmooth is now available in all shooting modes.

The company was able to improve HyperSmooth in part by changing the way the image sensor interacts with GP1, the company’s custom-made processing chip. The Hero 8 Black is the third camera to use GP1, and the improvements to HyperSmooth show there’s a lot more the company can do to exploit owning more of the image processing stack, according to Pablo Lema, GoPro’s vice president in charge of product management and user experience.

The HyperSmooth-aided “Time Warp” feature that GoPro debuted on the Hero 7 Black gets its own refresh on the Hero 8 Black, too. It will now automatically adjust the speed of the footage based on data from the camera, and there’s a new option to tap the touchscreen mid-Time Warp recording to snap into “real time” footage for when you want to focus on something instead of blowing right past it.

GoPro also added a new Live Burst feature, which largely mimics Apple’s Live Photos. In this mode, the camera saves 1.5 seconds’ worth of still images before and after you hit the shutter button, making it harder to miss the exact shot you want.

The Hero 8 Black ticks pretty much every box when it comes to resolution and specs. It shoots 4K footage at up to 60 frames per second, including at 100 Mbps bitrate for the first time ever. It will shoot 240 frames per second at 1080p for super slow motion footage. The Hero 8 Black can live stream at 1080p, up from 720p on the Hero 7 Black.

One drawback to all these resolution and frame rate options is that it can be overwhelming. So GoPro added a “presets” drawer that users can access with a quick swipe of the finger. The camera ships with four already dialed in, but they can be easily tweaked, and the camera can store up to 10 at a time. GoPro’s ProTune settings are also now found here.

“The number one question we get in our customer support calls by a long shot is: ‘What settings should I use for what?’” Lema told The Verge. “Our cameras are very powerful devices. The permutations of frame rates, resolutions, and lenses, [turning] ProTune on or off. It’s nauseating.” Lema said his team “took whole brain trust of GoPro” and boiled everyone’s favorite settings down to the four presets that ship with the camera. “They’re not meant to be exhaustive, but they’re meant to be the first guiding suggestions from GoPro that says, ‘These are how you should probably use the camera first.’”

In that same vein of emphasizing simplicity, GoPro has rebranded the different field of view options on the Hero 8 Black. It now refers to them as “digital lenses,” and users can toggle between them with just a few taps, from super wide all the way to a more narrow view.

On the photo side, the Hero 8 Black captures 12-megapixel snaps, and users can now shoot RAW photos in time-lapse and burst modes instead of just in regular photo mode. The company says the Hero 8 Black’s HDR photos will look much better now, too, because it’s no longer using third-party processing algorithms to merge multiple photos, which was leading to “ghosting” artifacts in pictures with movement

“With Hero 7 Black, we were doing HDR in what I would say was an educated, but not super scientific, way,” Lema said. “But with Hero 8 Black we’ve truly changed the way we actually read the sensor to make it so that the HDR ghosting is almost completely eliminated.”

Last but not least, GoPro has once again overhauled its mobile app. It recently combined its Quik editing app with the main camera connection app to create one app that does pretty much everything. Lema calls it the “biggest software initiative we’ve had at GoPro since we’ve had a mobile app.”

A lot of these changes feel like they’ve come from a place of confidence, which has not always been the case for GoPro over the last few years. The overwhelming success of the Hero 7 Black — it was GoPro’s fastest-selling camera ever — has helped put distance between the company and more unstable times, like the recall and ultimate demise of its first and only drone, Karma; multiple rounds of layoffs; and the growth and subsequent culling of a crowded product lineup. The company also has its finances trending in the right direction, having recently upgraded its outlook for the second half of 2019.

Now on solid ground, GoPro is obviously willing to try some new things, like releasing a new 360-degree camera into a market that isn’t fully receptive to the idea, or investing money into developing a new system of Mods that could change how a GoPro gets used (and who buys them) or making tweaks to how a GoPro camera works. That approach will help GoPro fend off any new competitors (like DJI, which entered the action camera market this year) while staying strong as smartphone cameras get even better and more versatile.

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