So GoPro MAX is now officially out. There are a ton of 2D reviews out there by 2D videographers or YouTubers — big influencers that might not have any experience in 360 VR content creation, or just don’t have enough 360 cameras to compare to really show the image quality, stabilization, stitching quality of the GoPro MAX among all the others 360 cameras. GoPro MAX is a mind-blowing camera if you never use a 360 camera before. But if you put that with other 360 cameras, is GoPro MAX still stand out? There are cheaper or even better options out there, should you buy the MAX for 360 or even 2D over capture video production? This article will explain this.
To view the result in 360 VR, please watch this video below:
This is just a quick overview to point out the obvious of MAX for you to look at. The obvious advantage of the MAX is its dynamic range and color. I love the GoPro color and it always looks rich and pops. I think the color in MAX is even better than the Fusion. Highlights vs shadows are the biggest improvement of MAX. Look at the sun and compare it to the dark areas in the bushes, everything is well exposed. Later you see both Fusion and ONE X can not match this even blend of light. This is thanks to their newly improved EAC projection with extra overlap for post color blending to get rid of the common stitch line and better exposure matching between front and back lenes. This is probably the most impressive improvement of the MAX — as no other 2 lenses 360 camera can do that. This makes MAX the best seamless over capture 360 camera — from the stitching standpoint.
There are optical flow stitching artifacts especially in the nadir and zenith or top and bottom of the picture. Look up at in the sky and you see what I am talking about. Later on, you don’t see this problem in both Fusion and ONE X. ONE X is famous for its nadir stitching — aka invisible selfie stick. MAX is not there yet. The sky is my big concern tho, b/c this means you can not hook the MAX upside down and fly it with a drone. The ground will have stitching artifacts that make the drone footage unusable.
Now we have GoPro Fusion — which is only $299. Besides dynamic range or exposure blend which only available on MAX, the Fusion look identical to MAX. If I do not do a one after another comparison, you probably can not tell which one is which. So the GoPro marketing says the MAX is 5.6K — but it is not true. The final ProRes or Cineform 422 render is only 5376 by 2688 — which is 5.3K — a little bit better than Fusion 5.2K in 30fps. But Fusion can do true 5.6K in 24fps. So in number, the Fusion is higher resolution than MAX — thank to that 2 SD card setup. MAX does use EAC projection that can have 25% quality increase in the final result — or at least that is what they say in their article. But watching this in a VR headset, in ProRes with Premiere and Oculus Rift S — the original source file does not look better than Fusion in terms of sharpness and compression artifacts. I provide the download link below if you want to check it in your VR headset.
BUT, around the stitch line where the focus chart is, you can see Fusion get really blurry — it can not keep the sharpness around the edge of the lens. For MAX, even the stitch line area is sharp. And the stitch line blends way better than Fusion. Also, there is chromatic aberration around the stitch line area in Fusion — not in MAX. The stitching quality is most the same as they both use D.wrap.
So I think MAX really stand out when you look at the left and right stitch line, in term of sharpness, exposure blending, and stitching quality. This is an obvious advantage of the MAX. Good job GoPro. But is this worth extra $200 with lower resolution compared to Fusion? Well comment below and tell me what you think.
Now we have the Insta360 ONE X — a popular 5.7K 360 camera. Even tho the resolution is higher in the ONE X, there is no visible quality improvement on the ONE X compared to MAX. Actually, I personally think the sharpness in Fusion and MAX is better than ONE X — deal to lower compression artifacts. MAX is using H.265 as source compression inside the camera — so 60mbps bitrate is actually close to 90mbps in ONE X. Again the age-old argument of Insta360 ONE X actual sensor resolution is really unknown. By looking at this in a VR headset, sharpness is mostly the same. MAX again has better edge sharpness — and really shows when compared to ONE X — which you know already — ONE X does not have the same stitching quality compared to Fusion. So MAX has huge advantage in terms of stitching and edge image quality compare to ONE X. Plus MAX has fewer compression artifacts thanks to HEVC — same advanced codec technology use in Insta360 Titan — the overall image quality is better in MAX. Not by a lot. Just a tiny bit. If you are looking at the center of the lens — you probably can not tell. Well, there is why both focus charts here are off the side.
Quickly we jump to HDR mode in the ONE X. HDR video allows ONE X has a better dynamic range — as you can see in the shadow behind me. But the same exposure blending issue — ONE X is not doing so well with the sun shining directly to the lens. So the whole HDR video look waste out compare to MAX or Fusion. Other YouTubers love the HDR mode, but personally I will stay away. You can not do HDR with an 8 bit sensor.
Lastly, we have the Vuze XR — another 5.7K 360 camera. They are a US-based company just like GoPro. Judging from the image quality, Vuze XR is a little bit blurry compared to MAX or ONE X. I think Vuze XR is better as a VR180 camera — for 360, it is not so much. Stitching wide, VUZE XR also not as good as MAX, Fusion or ONE X because of the big gap between the lenses.
Now for the bonus point, we quickly jump to Insta360 Titan in 5K. Even tho with exact same resolution to the MAX — you can tell the details is way way better in the Titan, especially in the distant object. I know this is not a fair comparison. But it really puts you in the perspective that sensor size and lens quality play a very important part in the image quality in 360 VR. GoPro MAX is a fun consumer camera. But it still has no place in the professional world simply because of its resolution limitation and small sensor size. You can only do some much in ISP (image single processor) and software advancement. GoPro MAX really sets the bar high in both of these areas — but it falls short in the actual hardware specs. This leaves competitors like Insta360 and Kandao space to come take the crown. Yes, MAX is the best consumer 360 camera right now in the market — but for how long?
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