The GoPro Hero7 Black isn't a major overhaul of last year's Hero6 Black, but more a continuation of what the company started with the Hero5 Black. GoPro could've easily leaned into specs oneupmanship, but instead it's made a camera that's better than the last by focusing on feature requests from its customers. For the Hero7, that translates to rock-solid image stabilization and more ways to shoot and share your shots and do it as fast as possible.
Being the most feature-packed camera in the 2018 product line, the Hero7 Black keeps its top-end price of $399, £399 and AU$499. You're getting more for your money now, but that really doesn't take the sting out of the price. However, alongside the Black, GoPro announced the Hero7 Silver and White models priced at $299 and $199, respectively. They replace the Hero5 Black and the baseline GoPro Hero released back in March and have similar features to those models.
4K60, 1080p240 and 12-megapixel photos
While there are a couple big changes with Hero7 Black, none of those problems are bumps to resolution or frame rates. It can record video at up to 4K 2,160-pixel resolution at 60 frames per second, which can give fast action a smoother look. If you're into slow-motion clips, you can record in 2.7K at 120fps and 1,080p at 240fps. Photos are still 12 megapixels, too, and can be shot in bursts at 30fps.
These higher resolutions and frame rates require a reasonably powerful computer for playback and editing. Also, GoPro switched from the H.264 video codec to the newer H.265 codec also called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) to save on storage space while keeping quality the same. HEVC is natively supported on Windows 10 and MacOS High Sierra/Mojave as well as on Android 5.0 or higher and iOS 11/12, but again, your computer, phone or tablet will need a strong processor. You can read more about HEVC on GoPro's support page.
No more Jell-O
The GoPro Hero5 Black was a complete overhaul from the Hero4 Black. GoPro got rid of the clunky polycarbonate housing and made the camera waterproof and ditched the add-on touchscreen for a built-in one. It also added voice control, GPS and much-needed electronic image stabilization (EIS).
The EIS improved in the Hero6 and it's so good in the Hero7 Black, GoPro named it HyperSmooth. It's awesome at controlling shake from vibration, such as you would get from a handlebar or chest mount, and I never saw a hint of wobble. For most people, it takes away the need to get GoPro's $300 Karma Grip gimbal.
Using a motorized gimbal will still make video look smoother, but it also adds a somewhat floaty quality (and it's more to carry). HyperSmooth clips have a little shake to them still that makes them appear more natural and while it occasionally looks a little jerky, I'll take that over nauseatingly unwatchable shakiness any day.
HyperSmooth isn't available for frames rates faster than 60fps, but it is available up at resolutions to 4K. You can also shoot at 1080p at 120fps with its standard EIS, which still looks good and certainly better than nothing.
GoPro took the shake out of audio, too. Though audio improvements tend to get glossed over, the Hero7 is noticeably better when it comes to the quality of voices and music. GoPro said it worked to eliminate unwanted vibration noises to prevent pickup of mechanical vibration and preserving the true-to-life sound.
New waterproof membranes were used to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, too. However, in water and windy environments like motorsports, you'll experience a similar audio performance as Hero6 Black, GoPro said.
Time-lapse videos on the move
GoPro's cameras have had the option to shoot time-lapse photos and videos for awhile. But the Hero7's stabilization works so well that GoPro was able to add a motion time-lapse video mode called TimeWarp. If you're familiar with Instagram's Hyperlapse, it's the same idea.
You can set TimeWarp to speed up what you're recording by 2x, 5x, 10x, 15x or 30x. For example, if you set it to 30x, 5 minutes of recording creates a 10-second TimeWarp video. And because it's all stabilized while shooting, the results look really smooth despite the fast movement.
HDR photos when you want 'em
Although the Hero6 could shoot HDR photos, you only had the option of having it off or on auto. In auto, the camera would always use it except in low-light conditions. The Hero7 is a little smarter and gives you more control and it, too, gets a marketing name: SuperPhoto.
If you want HDR on at all times, you can now do that. Or you can let the camera decide when to use SuperPhoto when it's optimal for your shot based on the scene, light conditions and action. You can turn it off altogether also and shoot in JPEG or GoPro's raw format. One other small photo feature: GoPro finally added a 3- or 10-second self-timer so you don't have to use the time-lapse setting just to get in your shots.
A more social shooter
With the Hero5 and Hero6, GoPro was focused on making the most connected cameras possible. That included things like making it faster to connect to your phone or tablet and transfer content, having your shots transfer automatically to your device if you want and sharing to Instagram Stories directly within the GoPro app.
Adding to that, the Hero7 Black will let you live stream to Facebook Live as well as any service that works with an RTMP URL including YouTube, Twitch and Vimeo. It requires a Wi-Fi network or a personal hotspot and can stream at 480p or 720p.
The Hero7 can now shoot vertically, too, so it's ready for posts to Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Now, as you rotate the camera, the image will rotate with it horizontally and vertically. So to go vertical, you just turn the camera on its side and press record or take a photo.
Lastly, to make capturing short shareable clips easier, GoPro added the option to limit clip lengths to 15- or 30-seconds. A countdown on the front display lets you see just how much time you have left.
Switch shooting modes like your phone
Are you used to how you change from photos to video to timelapse on your iPhone? Good, that's how the interface now works on the Hero7. Just swipe left and right on the screen to jump between modes. Once you're in the mode you want, shooting settings -- resolutions, frame rates, stabilization and so on -- are only one or two taps away.
The new interface will only be on the Hero7 models and if you're coming from a Hero5 or Hero6 it'll take some time to adjust. And if you get fed up and frustrated like I did, you always have the option to shout at the camera with voice commands to change shooting modes instead.
Battery life: Same old song
Guess what? If you were disappointed by your GoPro camera's battery life in the past, the Hero7 is not any better. With all these features -- Wi-Fi, 4K, high frame rates, GPS, HyperSmooth stabilization -- there's a power penalty: The more you ask of the camera, the shorter your battery life will be. To be fair, GoPro has done a decent job of bulking up on capabilities while keeping battery life relatively good. Still, you'll want to travel with a spare pack or two and maybe invest in GoPro's Supercharger.
All the little things add up
GoPro definitely added enough to the Hero7 Black to make stepping up from an older or lower-end model worthwhile. The stabilization is the killer feature that will benefit any user, while the rest of the new features fall into the nice-to-have category. The Hero6 Black's stabilization worked really well and although the HyperSmooth is better, I'm not sure it'll be worth it for most Hero6 owners to upgrade. I'll know for sure after some more testing and I'll be back with a final verdict.
Note: Jim Lanzone, CEO of CBS Interactive -- which operates CNET -- is a member of GoPro's board of directors.