Video clips from our GoPro Hero 6 test
Action cameras are a great tool for catching all the action of your riding adventures. Their compact size and rugged construction lend themselves well to motorcycle exploits. I personally carry one on all my rides because the cameras are easily stashed in a coat pocket, backpack, or tool bag. They can be mounted in a multitude of ways on the bike or your body. I don’t always take off on a ride intending to use it but I like to have it for when those “I wish I had a camera” moments arise. Those times are more often than not.
Those of you who have never used an action cam may ask, “Why do I need one? I have a smartphone on me all the time and that works fine.” Sure it does, but your phone doesn’t offer the dynamic first-person view, durability, mounting options, adjustable video and photo settings, or quality these units offer. It should also be mentioned that the apps used in conjunction with these cameras provide nearly seamless integration with your smartphone. Besides, do you really want to risk having your phone hit the tarmac because it slipped out of your hand while you’re trying to catch your riding buddy on the move? It could be a costly lesson to learn that smartphones really aren’t meant for “action.”
GoPro has been at the forefront of the action-cam game since its inception. 2004 saw the San Mateo, California, company release its first camera; it actually used 35mm film! 2006 was the birth of its first digital model, the Hero. Since then GoPro has basically owned this segment of the camera market due to constant development and innovation.
Those familiar with GoPro products will say the new Hero 6 looks exactly the same as its predecessor, the Hero 5.
Not quite. Outside is the same rugged, waterproof-to-100-feet body with 2-inch touchscreen on the back. Inside is where the magic is packed. For the first time GoPro designed and built its own image processor, the GP1. Previously it had been using a processor manufactured by a supplier. This resulted in somewhat limited performance and quality compared to what GoPro wanted.
With the GP1 processor, the Hero 6 is claimed to have improved image quality, better dynamic color range, enhanced slow-motion and image stabilization among other improvements. That’s where myself and this test come it. I would see if this was just typical new product hype or fact.
The first thing I noticed once I began using the Hero 6 was that video and photo had much better color range and was much more vivid and crisp than the Hero 5. Then I started fiddling with the various video settings, namely the new higher frame rates. Specifically the newly added 240 fps (frames per second) at 1080p. Simply put, I was blown away. Please see the opening clip of Rusty Butcher jumping his Sportster in the video sample of this article. The footage was stunning. Crisp, smooth, and clear ultra slow motion that added a whole other element in the storytelling these cameras are used for.
GoPro claims the electronic image stabilizer built into the Hero 6 works nearly as well as a gimbal. That is a tall claim to live up to. It wasn’t far off from that claim though.
In the past I have used the Karma Grip Stabilizer and Hero 5. I have mounted this setup onto my backpack strap and handlebars and received some buttery-smooth footage from it. So I mounted the Hero 6 by itself in the same ways and was quite surprised. It actually worked really, really well at getting rid of the bouncing and jerking associated with some spirited riding over bumpy roads. It didn’t stabilize quite at the level as if it was attached to the Karma Grip, but it worked well enough that leaving the Karma at home was not going to subtract from my video missions.
As much as this is an “action cam” it also does well at subjects that are quite still. A feature that is not well known and utilized enough is the “linear” field of view that can be used for photos and most video settings. The linear mode gets rid of the traditional GoPro fish-eye look. It creates a more natural perspective with a straight horizon. It is still wide angle; it just doesn’t get distorted.
Another feature that adds to its value as a normal-use camera is its new zoom mode. Although the zoom is digital rather than optical, I found that using it on the lower end of its range yielded virtually no loss in quality and made it a much more versatile tool. The touchscreen monitor and its live view enables you to see what you are shooting and frame accordingly. Another feature that makes it a great multi-purpose camera.
Interestingly there are four ways to control the Hero 6: using the buttons on the top and side of the body, using the touchscreen on the back, with the app on your smartphone, and voice control.
What? Voice control. Yes you can talk to it. It offers basic commands such as turning off and on, recording video, and taking photos. You can’t tell it at what settings to do these things; it defaults to whatever settings are currently in use. Obviously voice control isn’t much use while riding a motorcycle, but it’s a pretty cool feature off the bike.
The touchscreen is operated with taps and swipes that everyone is accustomed to. The smartphone app and the buttons on the body are what I use the most. While the camera is mounted on my helmet, handlebars, or backpack strap, I use the app to adjust the settings and check out the field of view and tweak that if necessary.
While actually riding I will use the button on top of the camera to start and stop recording and the side button to scroll through different functions. It may seem a little involved, but it becomes second nature after a few rides.
Two common questions that are always brought up in relation to action cams are, “How do you get the video and photos off of it?” and “How do you edit it?”
It’s all pretty easy, more than you think actually. All files can be transferred from camera to phone via 5GHz Wi-Fi. In my testing the Hero 6 transferred stuff twice as fast as the Hero 5 and was much more stable at doing it. With GoPro’s QuikStories app, you don’t even have to physically edit video yourself. It has the capability of automatically downloading your latest videos and creating a video all by itself. Really. It will even add music. Once it creates the video you can fine-tune the editing if you so desire.
While I use different editing apps and software (I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to editing) I tried QuikStories a handful of times just to see how it all worked and was impressed. For the average consumer who is not a professional videographer and editor, this app is magic. You literally don’t have to do anything expect sync the app with your phone and it kicks out great video.
So is the GoPro Hero 6 the best action cam ever? I would say yes without a doubt. It produces video and photos at a fantastic quality that has never been seen in action cams. It is the best choice for experienced users and newbies alike. Its improved image quality, amazing slow-motion effects, and wide range of features make it a must-have for the experienced action-cam user. Its ease of usability and amazing QuikStories app make it effortless for a new user to produce entertaining content like no action cam before.