The action sports camera giant’s first 360/VR cam - the GoPro Fusion - launched last September, but was overshadowed by the latest iteration of their all-conquering Hero cameras. Understandably so: after all, action sport cameras that can capture 360-degrees of footage are certainly a niche within a niche - yet while the prospect of wandering around with a screen strapped to our face left us cold, the opportunities showcased by the OverCapture feature made our inner filming geek get a full-on semi.
"The fact that the Fusion is able to capture high resolution video and images in all directions opened up a host of possibilities we’d never previously considered."
The fact that the Fusion is able to capture high resolution video and images in all directions opened up a host of possibilities we’d never previously considered - from in-your-face ones like the ‘tiny planet’ effect, to the ‘angel camera’ POV that appears you have your own personal drone racer as a filmer, to more subtle ways to reframe what you shot in post production. It was was mindblowing. Specifically when they showcased the OverCapture feature: a dude setting up the Fusion on a tripod in a bowl, skating around it, then ‘re-capturing’ from the 3D footage to give a 2D clip which looked like it had been filmed by a homie. The hardware specs, as we’ve come to expect from GoPro, were equally impressive.
Though it's been on sale for a while now, we finally got our hands on a Fusion to test out, and can bring you our opinions on its undeniable strengths, and its (current, at least) weaknesses.
What They Say
"GoPro ushers in a new era of creativity with the announcement of its 360-degree camera, Fusion. With its ability to capture immersive 5.2K 360-degree spherical content, Fusion captures everything around you, so you’ll never miss the shot. And gimbal-like stabilization makes sure it all looks super smooth.
"The GoPro app enables users to control the camera, live preview their shots, and stitch, trim and share content right from their iOS smartphone (Android coming soon).
"On desktop, Fusion Studio (with Adobe Premiere Pro CC plug-ins) enables OverCapture, which lets you re-frame and save traditional fixed perspective videos “punched out" from the large 360-degree video.
"Fusion, together with its apps, enables people to capture and share unique perspectives that are not possible with traditional single lens cameras."
What We Say
At the launch event in September 2017 we were most excited to see what the Fusion was all about, yet not surprised that the Fusion was playing second fiddle to their flagship Hero6. However, the fact that most of the focus seemed to be on the Fusion's use in VR was confusing. Perhaps in our isolated little bubble of snowboarding we’ve missed swarms of people wandering around with VR headsets on, but perhaps not. When the presentation showed what the Fusion enabled you to achieve in good old 2D, though, it was like sneaking a peek into the future.View on Instagram
[Tim Humphreys has recently been dropping Insta-edits showing the framing possibilities that the Fusion offers up]
Fast forward a couple of months and riders like Roope Tonteri, Sven Thorgren and (more recently) Tim Humphreys began to show what the Fusion is able of doing when it comes to capturing snowboarding. When we were able to take one on our recent trip to Les Deux Alpes for our sister site, Onboard, we were excited to see what it was all about. Here's our hands on thoughts...
First up, it’s pretty big (certainly bulkier than the Rylo 360 camera that we recently reviewed) but not overly large. This makes sense: it’s in essence two GoPro Hero cameras stuck back to back, so those components (plus a big battery to keep it all running) results in a larger box, but again it’s certainly not so big or bulky that you’ll struggle carting it around. The two lenses are super wide, each capturing 190-degrees of action, which when stitched together with GoPro’s Fusion Studio software gives 360-degree capture with that fancy ‘removing the pole’ flourish.
The battery lasted longer than we’ve become accustomed to with GoPros - though we used it in summer on a glacier it still had the juice in it when our regular Hero6 had run dry. This is certainly because of the bigger battery, and also because there’s no LED touch display eating up all that energy. Which brings us to another point - yeah, there’s no LED touch display. Going back to the interface familiar to anyone who’s used the older GoPros might seem a step backwards - and it’s certainly less intuitive that a touchscreen that you can review your footy on immediately - but it’s not that big a deal, plus you can connect via the GoPro app if you need to. Connecting to the app was super easy, so for long days on the mountain we’d certainly rather have the extra battery life.
"The quality of the footage was as you've come to expect from GoPros: excellent in bluebird conditions, yet taking a drop when there's cloud cover. Even then, it's still good."
Firing the Fusion up is easy (a long press on the power button) - and there’s also the ‘fast start’ option like on other GoPros where hitting the camera button turns it on and starts capturing whatever mode you set it to. Once on, you can choose between video, photo, and timelapse modes, each of which can be set to a range of resolutions/frame rates/intervals, with the option of enabling ProTune to give you more flexibility in post-production. We’ll come to the resolution part later, but in video you can have video at a whopping 5.2k/30fps. Impressive. The quality of the footage was as you've come to expect from GoPros: excellent in bluebird conditions, yet taking a drop when there's cloud cover. Even then, it's still good.
Bar the couple of drone shots and two scenics filmed with the Hero6, the video above of the 2018 Muzelle Festival in Les Deux Alpes was all shot with the Fusion.
It comes with the good-sized Fusion Grip pole, which also doubles as a tripod. This works fine, but you might want to consider getting a bit more length for more elevated angles seen in Tim Humphreys' videos. When it comes time to start shooting, hit record, point it kinda where you want your main focus to be and it captures… 360 degrees. Once in post you can then reframe how you want, or go full VR/360 if you want.
As there’s no screen, when you want to check your shots on the hill you’ll need to connect it to the GoPro app via the in-built wifi - you can also use it to control the camera with. While we had no problems whatsoever controlling the Fusion through the phone app (even from several metres away), when it came to reviewing footage or trying to produce short clips or shots for Instagram things started to get more difficult.View on Instagram
[It's not just video - the Fusion can also help you bag some bonkers photos, like this one of Jan Scherrer shot by GoPro master Markus Fischer]
Full disclosure - We knew the Android phone we used (Samsung Galaxy S7) only partly supported the Fusion, so we was expecting to run into a brick wall or two, but while it wasn’t unusable it was certainly frustrating to only be able to peek through the letterbox at what it could be if it worked properly. If you have the new iPhone X your experience would be smoother (GoPro state iPhone 7 and above are compatible), no doubt, but the Android list of compatible devices is not as straightforward as you might think: some older models don’t work, some do but only partially (like the S7), some older models do work, some newer models don’t. If you’re on Android make sure your model is fully compatible or hold off till Android gets fuller support.
Playing back the video worked, but was markedly stuttered (even when downloaded locally to the phone), photos just black screened and though OverCapture worked occasionally, due to the aforementioned stuttering was rather hit and miss. Even if everything worked flawlessly, we'd imagine that moving the frame with the phone or your fingers isn’t going to be as precise as if you get the footage into a computer and create with editing software. For quick social media clips it would be fine, but for better results it makes sense to get the footage into a desktop/laptop.
"For quick social media clips [the GoPro app] would be fine, but for better results it makes sense to get the footage into a desktop/laptop."
If you want to edit your footage on a computer you’ll need to at a minimum download GoPro’s Fusion Studio software, but we found it much easier to work with the files by rendering them through Fusion Studio and then working on them in Premiere Pro with the GoPro VR Plugin installed.
Here, there were some more bumps in the road. Again, the Mac we use to edit is not the newest (that said it’s no slouch) but it hits the Fusion Studio’s minimum requirements, however there were some things we just couldn’t do without having the software crash.View on Instagram
[For this shot of Arthur Longo, we stuck the Fusion on its pole into the hip's take-off, controlled the camera via the GoPro app, and then used the GoPro VR Plugin in Premiere to play with the FOV, yaw, pitch and roll on a selection of keyframes. Shot at 3.2k/60fps to allow the slow motion.]
Importing the footage direct from the camera never worked (no biggie), so we had to copy the contents of the two SD cards (there’s one for each of the Fusion’s lenses) into a dedicated file on our computer and import everything from there. In the software you can colour correct, OverCapture and play with some other settings but, again, we found it easier to just render the footage (effectively stitching together the two cameras’ footage in GoPro’s software), then play around with the framing, FOV options etc in Premiere. However, try as we might, we were only able to render footage consistently at 3.2k/60fps resolution. Attempting at the higher quality 5.2k res constantly resulted in a crash. Though 3.2k might seem plenty, with the post-production control over the footage you have it would be preferable to have the flexibility for zooming in that the higher resolution offers.
"Even at 3.2k resolution, render times are LONG. A 10 second clip took roughly 20 minutes to render."
Even at 3.2k resolution, render times are LONG. A 10 second clip took roughly 20 minutes to render. All that being said, when you do get a rendered file out, playing around with it in Premiere was easy with the VR plugin installed. Just drag and drop the plugin onto the clip and you can go nuts reframing or with the perspective, and easily set keyframes to move through different ones in the same shot.
It’s also worth mentioning that the stabilisation built in to the Fusion is insane. Much was made of the Hero6’s new chip with in-built stabilisation, but it’s even more impressive in the Fusion. We wouldn’t be surprised to see whatever magical sensor sauce they’ve used in here applied to the imminent Hero7 flagship GoPro.
To show you what you can do with the GoPro VR Plugin and keyframes in Adobe Premiere, we went nuts on this short clip of Arthur Longo surfing the Deux Alpes snake. Starting with the default FOV setting of 50, we then jacked it up to 100, and then also messed with the yaw, pitch and roll, before going even more silly.
The potential the Fusion offers up is certainly jaw-dropping, and it delivers on many counts. However, while certainly it adds another tool to a rider or filmer’s arsenal of camera tech, and allows for some interesting new angles and opportunities to get shots you otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t, the question is if the regular punter would appreciate them, or even be able to use them adequately without getting frustrated and leave the Fusion gathering dust.
If you have new, powerful phones and computers you probably won’t experience the problems we did (bar the render times which will inevitably be longer due to the complex stitching that the software needs to do), but if you don’t, you’d be advised to make sure your hardware can get the most out of the Fusion’s functionality. It also needs to be said that to really maximise the Fusion's footage, you shouldn't be adverse to a bit of video nerding. With the right phone you'll be able to knock out impressive clips and edits for social media, but if that's all you'll do then you might be better off shunning the high specs and functionality of the Fusion and getting something like the more affordable Rylo instead.
"It also needs to be said that to get really maximise the Fusion's footage, you shouldn't be adverse to a bit of video nerding."
Of course, dropping €729.99 on a new gadget is not going to be an option for many, but if you have the cash to burn and like filming yourself and your fellow mountain users then it is… maybe. The issues we described above are no doubt negated by having cutting-edge hardware (which if you’re flush you probably have), and the Fusion opens up so many new doors when it comes to re-imagining your footage that the new ways in which you’ll be able to delight/bore your friends will make it worthwhile. Plus the stabilisation is insane, and if you don’t need the super slow motion at 1080p it’s also more than adequate shooting regular video at regular speed, just with the option to go nuts if and when you want to. That said, the technology and image quality it packs in is probably overkill for many punters - we'd say the Fusion is definitely in the 'prosumer' category.
With GoPro possibly close to releasing an updated Fusion (traditionally mid-to-late-September is when they launch new products, though we've heard rumours the Fusion won't get an update till 2019) we’d definitely recommend holding fire till it's clear if there will be a new one imminently. But if you like video nerding, have relatively new hardware and want an action camera that opens up the doors of possibility like few - if any - others can, the Fusion is an insane tool.