Review: With the Hero7 Black, GoPro looks towards stability

Any story about GoPro’s product line is also a story about the health of the public company and this year that story seems to be a more conservative one with the company’s new flagship device the Hero7 Black moving mostly laterally on hardware specs while throwing its focus to software tech like digital video stabilization. The moves seem designed to reduce R&D costs while widening the gap between the low and high-end on the company’s far cleaner new product line.

While there were only so many directions the company could move in technically from the Hero6 Black which shot 4K at 60 frames, the H7 Black is treading water on more than a few specs as the internals take only minor updates all powered by the company’s last-gen GP1 chip. It’s still a fantastic little camera that delivers best-in-class footage but beyond a new paint job and some subtle tweaks to the microphone, the most significant hardware differences are a bump from 1GB to 2GBs of RAM and the addition of a MiFi chip.

This camera may have a giant 7 printed on the side of it, but the device is, at its heart, a very capable old dog with some new tricks. While the camera introduction seems to be a step back in bravado, from a business perspective, the moves GoPro is making with their product line seem to be responsible choices for a company that’s stock price has dropped from just under $12 one year ago to just above $6 today.

Where the company has chosen to emphasize the evolution of the H7 Black is in its software, most notably with what it’s calling HyperSmooth, updated digital stabilization tech that makes use of the extra onboard memory and is so good, GoPro claims, that you won’t need to buy a hand stabilizer like the company’s Karma Grip.

In practice, HyperSmooth definitely makes some improvements over the stabilization tech present in previous generations but the advances are much more subtle to a Hero6 Black owner than someone who owned a Hero cam several years ago. Stabilization was one of my favorite things about the last-gen Hero6; it’s an essential action cam feature but one that GoPro pulled off with style. The fact that they’ve further improved it in a notable way is impressive but it’s hard to see it as a device-mover.

Here’s a look at it in action:

The other noteworthy feature in this release is live-streaming which is possible over WiFi and lets users stream directly from the camera, something that hasn’t been possible in any other GoPro.

Other software updates include a cool TimeWarp mode which further crops the camera’s field-of-view for an ultra stabilized time-lapse. It’s a fun feature that gives users something cool to export to their phone without worrying about further editing.

Photos haven’t really ever been the Hero line’s strong-suit and while the company has made plenty of moves to become more Instagram-friendly, the device is still a video-first camera that is also capable of capturing stills. The addition of HDR color-matching on the H7 makes for some nicer wide-angle pics especially of landscape shots where the sky dominates the shot.

I am a big fan of general UI improvements that the company has made. Everything feels a lot cleaner and designed to be more smartphone-like. There’s a lot less guessing and it all makes for expedited fumbling when moving through modes.

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Across the board, everything else that was great about the company’s last camera is still worthwhile here. Slow-mo is fantastic, waterproofing and shockproofing still get the job done and voice control is a bit messy but a nice bonus. Even if the updates are less headline-grabbing with the H7, for owners of the Hero5 and earlier, this is a killer upgrade in quality.

You’re still going to struggle with big file sizes that you dread exporting to your phone or laptop and a battery that always seems to die at the worst time, but other features have taken some nice subtle steps forward in this iteration. I would imagine this camera’s introduction is less about getting Hero6 Black or even previous GoPro owners to upgrade and perhaps more about giving new customers more reasons to buy the higher-end devices it its much cleaner product line.

Software features like stabilization definitely aren’t the juiciest features to sell new hardware, but this light update for the H7 Black and GoPro’s revamp of its whole camera line aren’t just about making footage smoother, they’re also about stabilizing a company.