The Fusion's USP is familiarity. It is a GoPro through and through.
GoPro Fusion also works great as an handheld device thanks to its stabilization algorithm.
However, it does not natively stitch videos and needs an app on a PC to pull that off.
Storytelling as an art has evolved significantly in the past few years. Gone are the days when creators had to rely on two-dimensional images and low resolution videos to tell their stories. These days, all you need is a smartphone to produce quality content but for serious professionals, there are two companies enabling content creators to be more innovative. Yes, I am talking about DJI and GoPro, two companies at the forefront of introducing new ways in which content creators could tell their story.
With its compact yet incredibly powerful drones, DJI is creating new ways in which people could produce aerial shots. With its waterproof and compact cameras, GoPro is making easier to capture movements and under water activities. What makes products made by DJI and GoPro stand out is their compact design and ease of use. You just buy them and get started. There is often no learning curve attached with these devices, which turns average people into creative professionals. I can say these two companies have single-handedly changed the way creators produce their content.
For this review, let’s talk about GoPro in particular. There is now a common thread between people cycling, skiing and Scuba diving; they use a GoPro Hero camera to record their activity. What makes them distinctive in the market is their compact form factor and ability to be connected to a car’s windshield or the front of a skateboard. But where do we go from here? Back in 2015, I got a chance to test the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift Developer Edition. My single biggest takeaway back then was that these devices offer a new experience but lack content, whether that is apps or media content.
A VR headset gives its users ability to move around a space freely but to exploit it’s true potential, there must be content and to produce such content, there is a need for gear or camera equipment. While DJI is not taking a shot at this segment, GoPro has dived into it with the launch of Fusion camera. As the name suggests, the GoPro Fusion does the work of fusing videos for an immersive experience. It is a camera capable of producing 360-degree videos and one that can dramatically change the future of content. In this review, I am trying to answer two questions: 1. Is the GoPro Fusion any good? 2. Do you really need a 360-degree camera? So, let’s get rolling on this immersive ride.
Design and Packaging
If you have ever seen a GoPro camera then you will recognize the Fusion as a GoPro product with relative ease. In fact, while repackaging the device to be sent back to the company, I noticed that it comes in two different types of packaging. If you buy it from GoPro directly then you will get a more generous package with contents laid out in a nice fashion whereas an online e-commerce platform might opt for a slightly compact packaging. No doubt that GoPro’s packaging is really nice but eventually, it’s the contents inside that matter.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty first. Apart from the GoPro Fusion camera, GoPro also includes a tripod/selfie stick (let’s call it a pole henceforth), two sticky mounts (similar to what you get with any Hero camera), GoPro thumb screw, a carrying case, USB Type-C charging cable and a massive battery. I say massive because batteries on the Hero 5 or later look tiny in comparison.
In the past, I’ve used a 360-degree camera called Ricoh Theta and in front of it, the GoPro Fusion looks chubbier and more powerful. It features a rigid body enclosed in a plastic casing (at least that’s what it feels like) and weighs around 226 grams, making it one of the heaviest 360-degree cameras around.
When you see it side-by-side with a Hero 5 or Hero 6, the immediate distinction would be it’s two lenses placed on either side of the device. Each of these spherical lenses are capable of recording 4K videos but the final result is set to 5.2K at 30 frames per second.
One of the integral part of Fusion’s design is the mount which attaches to the camera. It is important to know that this is meant to be used with the pole. GoPro has designed the device in such a way that it’s software easily removes the pole from the shots captured by the camera. I tried shooting with and without the pole and it is easy to say that with the pole is a better experience.
How does it work?
I think calling Fusion just another 360-degree camera would be a mistake because it is a GoPro at its heart, the only difference being it’s dual sight sensors. The camera works similar to any other Hero camera with a mode and capture button. The mode button helps configure the camera or switch between photo, video and time-lapse recording mode. The mode button also lets you manage settings and enable features like voice control and WiFi connection.
Once you turn on the Fusion 360 camera, it is as simple as pressing the capture button at the front. In the case of Fusion, GoPro is referring to both the lenses as front and rear. If you are wondering why, it’s because GoPro presents information captured by either lens as raw footage for post-production. Also the footage from the front lens goes straight into SD Card 1 while that from rear lens goes into SD Card 2. In addition to those video files, GoPro Fusion users also get .WAV file for audio, .LRV file which stands for low resolution video and .thm file which acts as thumbnail.
Speaking about those two lenses, GoPro has placed them in such a way that there is an offset between the details recorded by either of them. This is in stark contrast to other 360-degree cameras which have either lenses aligned opposite to each other. This offset does not affect the footage but does help remove the pole from processed output. It is highly recommended that you check whether GoPro is perfectly aligned with the pole before you start shooting.
Right next to the front lens, there is a small display that shows important information including the mode you are shooting and battery life of the camera. As a thumb rule, always keep this side with the display facing the most important aspect of your video. By default, the footage starts playing from the angle recorded by this side of the camera.
Quality of footage
In terms of quality, the Fusion records 5.2K videos at 30 or 25 frames per second. You can change the output to 3K at 60 or 50 frames per second. The final output seems to be a 5.7K file but Fusion is rendering the video only in 5.2K for output video. This might seem limited in terms of resolution but it is safe to say that the device records some of the finest video out of the box. The above 360-degree video is shot in a moving vehicle without using the GoPro pole. The handheld footage uses accelerometers to add stabilization, which is a nifty feature since you will be shooting a lot of movement with a 360-degree camera.
Where it does a relatively poor job is the way it handles those output videos. While most 360-degree cameras let you output a single 4K 360-degree video by default, Fusion users will need to do that stitching manually via a separate app. By default, the footage is also available as a MP4 file encoded using H.264 codec as opposed to H.265 codec used by 4K 60fps on GoPro Hero 6.
There is also an option to shoot time-lapse video using a dedicated mode where users specify the interval as to how frequently the Fusion captures a shot. This is video time-lapse mode and it is recommended using a more frequent interval than a less frequent shutter action since the output could end up being jittery or out of context. The Fusion is particularly good with recording audio where it remaps the audio in the right direction.
GoPro Fusion software and mobile app
If you have read till this part of my review then you would have concluded that I like the GoPro Fusion and you will be right to make that conclusion. I like the idea of the GoPro Fusion, a 360-degree camera that works well and has a familiar GoPro-esque design but the truth is, it not that easy to like this device when it comes to actually outputting your video. GoPro has built a really great hardware in the form of Fusion but the software is a major letdown.
It took me nearly a week to figure out and get started with GoPro Fusion software. While 360-degree cameras from brands like Ricoh and Garmin stitch the video captured from both the lenses on device, GoPro relies on its separate software to achieve this same action. On Fusion Studio, GoPro users will have to manually import the videos and then render them. In a way, this is a good approach since you get options to choose the platform to upload – be it YouTube or Facebook.
However, you will have to make do with things like slow export time. Also, you need a computer that has the latest configuration to process all of those 360-degree files fast enough. In my case, I tried at least half a dozen computers and ended up achieving the end result on a gaming PC powered by a 7th generation Intel Core i7 CPU along with discrete NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU. Also, it took me a lot of reading and multiple phone calls to the folks at GoPro to figure out how to get it done. I am surprised that GoPro ended up complicating a lot of things that could have been simplified at the back end.
Let’s get this thing out of the way: GoPro is the best in the business when it comes to making compact cameras that take quality images and videos. There is just no second thought about it. However, in the case of Fusion, it seems to have built a superior hardware and failed to complement it with a usable software. I would have preferred to see GoPro stitching the video on the device itself and allowing to offload it to a computer and letting users share it to platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
But the bigger question that needs to be answered is: do you really need a 360-degree camera? I would argue, you don’t. There is no proven advantage to having a 360-degree footage and dismal sales of VR headsets just don’t warrant investing a lot of money on such devices. If you are focused on 360-degree video concept then go ahead buy the Fusion (and learn to get accustomed with its software) and if not then any other GoPro Hero camera would be a better purchase.