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GoPro Max shoots 360 video, but that's not the reason to get it

At least, it's not the only reason.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When GoPro announced its Hero 8 Black camera at the beginning of October, it also revealed a new dual-lens 360-degree camera. GoPro took everything it learned from users of its Fusion 360 camera and created the Max, which is essentially a smaller, lighter and all-around better version of a 360 camera. But it's better if you don't think of the Max as a 360 camera. 

The Max's dual cameras can be used to capture 360-degree videos and photos, but more importantly, you can use its app to turn that 360-degree video into standard widescreen clips while also easily reframing to whatever subject you want to focus on. Since you're capturing the whole scene, you can basically create the look of multiple camera angles without moving the Max from a single position. 

Read more: Best vlogging cameras of 2019

For example, I shot some 360 video walking in New York City holding the Max out in front of me. With that single clip, I can pan from myself to the people in front of me, up to the buildings above or to the ground below with little more than swiping to the subject I want to reframe on and marking it with a tap on the timeline. And this is all done in GoPro's updated app, so I don't have to pull it into anything else to create clips. There is desktop software for Mac and Windows if you do want to work on a computer instead. 

So that's one use for the front and back cameras. But you can also shoot just through the front camera or through the rear camera that's above the built-in touchscreen. That means you can use it just as you would a GoPro Hero camera or as a vlogging camera. This is why GoPro bills the Max as three cameras in one: a 360 camera, a Hero camera and a vlogging camera. A tap on the screen lets you flip back and forth between the two cameras as well as switch from a single camera to 360, though you can't do these switches while recording. 


The Max SuperView is GoPro's most immersive lens ever. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Max is waterproof to 5 meters (16 feet), which is half the depth of the Hero 8 Black. However, the Max improves on that camera's SuperView, motion time-lapse called TimeWarp and image stabilization. It also has six mics that enable shotgun-mic audio performance, and an insane horizon-leveling feature that keeps your picture level no matter what. The camera can rotate upside down to right-side up, around and around, and you'd never know from looking at the horizon. 

Then again, the Max's features when used as a single Hero-style camera pale in comparison to those of the Hero 8 Black. For example, its single-lens video resolution and frame rates top out at 1080p60 (or 1440p60 with 4:3 framing). If 16:9 4K-resolution is a must-have for you, this won't get you there. Same for HDR and raw photos for now. (You can get some pretty amazing 270-degree panoramic shots without motion artifacts, though). Basically, while they share some features, don't buy a Max thinking you'll get a Hero 8 Black and a 360 camera for $500. At least, not at the moment. 

The Max feels like more of a work in progress than the Hero 8 Black, so I would expect new capabilities to roll out eventually. I just got my hands on the camera and I'll be back with a full review after I've tested it more with full details on video quality and such. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to hit me up in the comments. 

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