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GoPro Fusion review: this camera will change the way you shoot video

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I had already flown all the way to Nepal, caught a somewhat dodgy small plane to a small town and then a death-defyingly dodgy plane into the mountains, I had already hiked for a few hours up a riverbed into those mountains when, catching sight of a rickety suspension bridge I was going to have to cross, I remembered something I wish I had remembered long before I got on the plane in Sydney.

I am utterly, heart-poundingly terrified of heights, and have no business embarking on an adventure in the Himalayan mountain range where the number one natural resource is world-record-breaking height, and the number two natural resource is gravity.

So when the world’s number one maker of adventure cameras, GoPro, releases a new 360-degree camera for which the tagline is “Relive Reality”, I find myself duty bound to warn you: be careful what you do with this camera, the GoPro Fusion.

Be sure to choose a reality that you actually want to relive when you’re recording it with the Fusion, and not some hellish reality you never want to even think about again.

The mere thought of reliving my Himalayan hiking fiasco, of strapping a virtual reality headset to my face and watching 360-degree videos so I can experience all that terror all over again, well it has my pulse racing just writing about it.

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So it’s another of the GoPro Fusion’s taglines that I’m going to focus on in this review of the camera, not just because Reliving Reality isn’t something I’m all that keen to do, but also because this other tagline captures what is truly magical about the Fusion camera.

Shoot. Then Point.

The Fusion is a small camera, roughly 8cm by 8cm by 3cm (which is actually quite large by GoPro’s diminutive standards), that has a 180-degree lens on the front and another 180-degree lens on the back, that shoots two 180-degree videos which it then stitches into the one, 360-degree video.

It’s not unusual in that regard. A number of other 360-degree cameras, such as Samsung’s Gear 360, work the same way, though it must be said that the GoPro Fusion is unusually good at the stitching process. As long as you’re not filming underwater (the Fusion is waterproof, but something about the way water diffracts light completely buggers up the stitching process, leaving you with whopping great seams) and so long as one lens isn’t in direct sunlight while the other is in shade, you’re often hard-pressed to tell where the footage from one lens ends and the other one begins.

The Fusion doesn't just produce videos. You can create some pretty amazing stills, too.
The Fusion doesn’t just produce videos. You can create some pretty amazing stills, too.

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Images at the edges of each lens’ field of vision is, unsurprisingly, much less sharp than the images directly in front of each lens, but all the footage is remarkably usable. GoPro even goes so far as to remove from the 360-degree video the selfie stick you use to hold the camera, somehow stitching the video around the stick so it looks like the camera was just floating in space, somewhere above the hand that was holding the stick.

With this video, you could easily* create a 360-degree video of some reality you experienced – you jumping out of a plane, for instance, or you walking across some terrifying, rickety old suspension bridge in Nepal – and share it with your family and friends, so all they have to do is don some sort of virtual reality headset (we used a Samsung Gear VR, but a Google Daydream headset should also work) and relive that reality in all its terrifying, 360-degree glory.

(*Note that “easy” does not mean “quickly”. Using GoPro’s Fusion Studio software on your PC, you can easily extract 360-degree footage from your Fusion camera and render it for, say, YouTube. But once you hit the render button, it might still be several hours before your PC actually spits out the 360-degree YouTube video, especially if you use the highest-quality, 5.2K video setting which produces massive files. Exactly how slow it is depends on how long your clip is, and how fast your PC is, but by way of example, one of our videos took three hours to render.)

Using a VR headset to view a 360-degree video is pretty amazing. You’re basically inside the video, and can look up, look left and right, even down if you’re not too chicken, and see everything the camera saw, any way you want to see it.

In the box you get the Fusion camera, a telescoping selfie stick that opens out to be a tripod, a case, two mounts and a ...
In the box you get the Fusion camera, a telescoping selfie stick that opens out to be a tripod, a case, two mounts and a battery.

It’s amazing, but it’s not very convenient, and even if they could be bothered the first time, there’s little chance your family and friends will want to strap on a VR headset every time you encourage them to relive your stupid “oh look at me I’m really brave walking over this suspension bridge” reality.

360-degree terror

Not to mention, if you do render out a 360-degree video, the chances are you will be in it, and everyone will be able to see the look of abject terror on your face as you walk over that bridge. Or is that just me?

Nope. Reliving Reality is for schmucks.

Much more magical, though, is to use a feature called OverCapture, which lets you turn your 360-degree videos into conventional two-dimensional videos that can be more readily shared with your family and friends.

Though you can use it on a PC, OverCapture is at its best when you use it on a mobile phone, and at the moment only iPhones support it, but GoPro promises that an Android version is coming soon.

What you do is this:

You load up the 360-degree video in the Fusion app on your phone, and play it on the phone’s screen the way you play any 360-degree video, moving the phone left and right, up and … down … to change your point-of-view to any angle inside the video you want. You can look back at the person holding the camera, you can look ahead to see what they were looking at, you can tilt and pan and zoom in and out, anything you like, all inside this 360-degree video that’s playing.

Amazing and addictive

What’s remarkable (and incredibly addictive) about OverCapture is that you can record all of that, all the tilts and reverses and zooms you’re doing in real time by moving your phone, and render it all out as a 2D video so other people can see what you did.

And what you did, in essence, was shoot a 2D video inside a 360-degree video. The original video, the one shot in 360-degrees, captures everything, and then after the event you hop inside that video and shoot another one with your phone, filming just the angles you want.

It’s freaky and it’s amazing, but it’s incredibly effective.

And GoPro really does mean it when it says “Shoot Then Point”. If you’re videoing some action happening in front of your eyes, you’re going to be tempted to move the Fusion to following the action, but we’ve learnt you’re much better off if you keep the Fusion still and then later on, after you loaded the video onto your phone, use your phone to follow the action.

Yes, “Shoot. Then Point” really is a much better tagline for the Fusion than “Relive Reality”. Of course, you can and you will relive reality using OverCapture, but it will be the reality you choose, showing only the angles that capture your reality, and you, in the best possible light.

In my case, the reality would be a video with no mountains, no bridges and no precipitous drops. Just the sky. Hours and hours of footage looking up at the clouds. It sounds like heaven.

Twitter: @DLLabs

GOPRO FUSION

  • Likes Changes the way you think about shooting videos. Pretty good image stabilisation.
  • Dislikes Android support is very sketchy.
  • Price $999.95

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