GoPro HERO3 Black Edition – 4K, Protunes and CineForm Studio Propel The Action Camera To Cinematic Heights
Back in 1999, GoPro Founder and CEO Nick Woodman wanted to create a camera that would enable surfers to take high quality stills and in 2004, GoPro released its first camera, a 28mm wrist camera that shot 35mm film. As digital technology exploded, the small upstart company became synonymous with the social media generation with over 3 million cameras being sold. (A new GoPro video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.)
But for indie filmmakers, GoPro’s fixed lens and “good enough” technology wasn’t worthy of producing cinematic movies.
Holding Out For A HERO3
Typically at media junkets for camera companies, journalists sit in air-conditioned boardrooms taking notes as corporate executives conduct Power Point presentations on imaging sensors and lens mounts. To launch their new camera, GoPro invited journalists from all over the world to take part in a Land, Sea and Air adventure that included swimming with sharks, flying in fighter jets and racing motorcycles at 130-mph around the Sonoma Raceway. It’s one thing for journalists to get excited about the presentation of a new camera system but it’s unthinkable for them to fear for their own lives. In short, it was a media event for the ages!
I’m sure you’ve seen the big announcement for GoPro’s new HERO3 Black Edition camera. With a price tag of only $399, the specs are truly amazing. For one, the camera is smaller, lighter and twice as powerful. The tiny action camera shoots 4K at 15-fps, 2.7K at 30, 25 or 24-fps, an MP4 codec whose 45-Mbps bit-rate rivals the 5D Mark III’s ALL-I codec, built-in WiFi, improved low-light performance, and can shoot 12-megapixel stills. The HERO3 is no longer your daddy’s wearable camera anymore.
One thing HERO cameras have lacked in the past is monitoring. You pretty much had to point the camera in a general direction and hope for the best. From a cinematographer’s point-of-view, how can you care for your image if you can’t frame or see it beforehand? Now, the HERO3 is compatible with GoPro’s new LCD Touch BacPac (sold separately for $79.99) that enables you to monitor your shots while still the keeping the HERO3 compact and light. Because the HERO3 is so small the LCD Touch BacPac is equally small but for filmmakers, it’s still a no brainer to have this accessory. More importantly, the LCD’s touchscreen enables you to navigate the HERO3’s menu settings instead of using the Shutter and Power buttons and the miniscule front display. (If you’re a HERO user, you know exactly what I mean.) Also, while shooting in the new 4K or 2.7K mode, I was able to monitor my shots while shooting but I wasn’t able to play them back on the BacPac until I offloaded the shots to my computer.
If you don’t have the LCD Touch BacPac or if you want to monitor your footage, change settings, and start and stop the camera remotely, another exciting release is the GoPro App. Currently only available for iOS (Android app is due soon), the GoPro App lets you use your smartphone or tablet as a live video remote for both motion and stills. The great thing about the HERO3 is that the WiFi BacPac is already built-in so the camera can create its own WiFi signal and you’re nearly good to go once the app is opened. The app also has access to GoPro’s popular video and photo of the day. GoPro is smart enough to realize that instead of trying to replace the smart phone for motion capture, it’s best to work with them in creating more exciting videos.
GoPro has been planning a new stage of targeting professional filmmakers for the past few years. Filmmaker/photographers Vincent Laforet and Chase Jarvis were part of the media event’s discussion panel, as was Deadliest Catch cinematographer Cameron Glendenning, who has used GoPro cameras extensively on his show.
One of their biggest advancements for filmmakers has been the CineForm Studio application and Protune firmware upgrade, which were both released for the HERO2. Protune enables the camera to function more like a professional digital motion picture camera system. GoPro partnered with Technicolor in developing a more neutral or flatter look that is similar to what Technicolor did with the CineStyle profile for the Canon 5D Mark II to give you more flexibility in color grading, especially with shadow and highlight details.
GoPro acquired compression and workflow technology company CineForm last year in order to develop an intermediate codec that was better suited for post. With Protune integrating with CineForm Studio, a filmmaker now has more professional-like color correction controls, as well as customizable preset looks that will add a cinematic quality for your action shots, especially if you shoot in the HERO3’s RAW mode.
Shooting in RAW with Protunes and working with CineForm, I really loved implementing the fun preset looks. Just to be clear, the RAW setting on the camera is not a RAW file but only a RAW-like look that enables you to use preset filters or to make changes in color, contrast, saturation, exposure, etc.
For my Land adventures at the media event, I shot my footage at 2.7K (2704×1440) in the Protunes mode with the RAW filter. In CineForm, I transcoded the MP4 images to 1920×1080 CineForm 422 codec, which is similar to Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files but can be used in Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer, Sony Vegas, and more. From there I used various filters and exported the finished files to import into my NLE. The Protune filter in CineForm is sort of like a finished LUT that is applied to your RAW-like file. It gives your image proper color balance and saturation while retaining more dynamic range.
With these two features in place, GoPro not only positions itself to dominate the action sports/social media platform but they also establish a prominent position in the professional filmmaking community.
On The GoPro
It’s been often said that the best camera is the camera that you always have with you. The smartphone obviously takes the crown in this category.
And you’re probably thinking that even though this camera sounds pretty amazing, besides the resolution, what’s the difference between shooting a video with the HERO3 and a smartphone? According to Woodman during the panel discussion, the difference is that your smartphone is a reactive camera rather than proactive. With an iPhone, you might see something cool and think, “That would make a cool photo.” Snap. The majority of GoPro shooters plan ahead for their shoots, often setting up a series of logistics to make the shot feel as immersive as possible.
Although you could, it’s probably a given that you would never shoot an entire narrative movie with a GoPro. But with the HERO3’s 2.7K resolution, 24-fps, and RAW-like filter, you could easily incorporate HERO3 shots into an ALEXA or EPIC timeline without missing a beat. And for that, the HERO3 is truly disruptive technology.
So what’s on the agenda next year, GoPro? How about a trip to outer space?