Meeting the GoPro Fusion was like meeting my new adoptive child for the first time. I gently cradled the 360 camera, handle attached and swaddled in a soft protective case, with all the care of a new mother. Resolute in my responsibility to care for my new charge, I was determined that no harm would come to it.
By that afternoon, I was terrified of touching the $999.95 gadget again.
Upon unshelling the compact camera from its case, I held it aloft and watched the live preview via the GoPro app on my phone with delighted fascination. The Fusion features two small convex lenses on either side of the square grey device, and achieves its 360 capture by automatically stitching together images from both.
While seamless in most circumstances, this stitching isn’t flawless. Maneuvering my phone to face downward, the live preview showed my spliced and mutilated hand grasping a fragment of the Fusion’s attached handle. The join becomes very noticeable when an object is too close – around 30 to 40cm away – as well as in underwater shots. But by and large it does an excellent job, and it hid most of the handle admirably, resulting in a mostly smooth 360 spherical view.
Done making faces at the lenses, I held down the side power button to turn the Fusion off. The camera is remarkably easy to operate, having only two buttons – one for turning it on and cycling through the menus on its small monochrome screen, and the other for selection and recording.
I wasn’t done recording, though. I was saving the 75-80 minute battery life for my more visually-interesting adventures later that day. Adventures where, unbeknownst to me, I would soon meet my downfall.
A bumpy ride in an ATV. The lens got splashed with mud, but I cleaned it off the best I could. At the beginning can see the join where the car is too close to the camera.
The Fusion is easy to carry, measuring 88.9mm x 76.2mm x 25.4mm and weighing 220g, so I didn’t have any reservations bringing it along in a muddy all terrain vehicle. I stashed the camera in the glove box, leaving its protective carry case sitting uselessly in my backpack at the start of the course.
“GoPros are hardy,” I thought to myself, with all the misguided hubris of a first time mother determined not to coddle her child. “It can handle being immersed 5m in water, so a glove box should be fine.”
It was not fine. While GoPros are generally resilient cameras, they are still pieces of technology that must be treated with care – a fact I had once known but since forgotten. Further, the Fusion demands even more care than your average GoPro, due to its aforementioned convex lenses. While these allow it to capture full 360 video, they also allow it to capture scratches should you relax your vigilance.
An hour later, I was devastated to discover light scratches on the Fusion’s rear lens. I felt as though I had been entrusted with a newborn baby, then promptly dropped said baby on its head. I rubbed at it, hoping to buff it out as you do with cranial injuries, but my efforts were futile.
Shamefully, I admitted my failure to a GoPro representative. “Always rest it on its side,” she told me, stirring up a vague memory of having heard that advice before. In my fascinated inspection of the camera, I hadn’t registered the caution I had been given at the beginning of the day. I was Cinderella at the ball, if Cinderella had been too busy admiring her sparkling new glass slippers to take note of her fairy godmother’s warning regarding her curfew.
The only recourse for repair appeared to be the $199 two-year GoPro Care coverage, which operates on a “you break it, we’ll replace it” policy. This seemed excessive for so little damage.
But I knew the scratches were there, marking my conscience as surely as they marked the lens.
A walk on the beach. The Fusion’s wind reduction resulted in some loss of audio.
The Fusion can record in time-lapse, take photos in night mode, and be operated by voice. It is packed with a accelerometer, gyro sensor and geomagnetic sensor. It has a GPS receiver and decent stabilisation. It utilises four microphones to provide 360 directional audio and while sound has never been GoPro’s crowning glory, being somewhat thin and muffled, it is clear and intelligible.
None of this mattered to me. All I could focus on were those scratches.
“I had such potential,” the Fusion seemed to say to me. “All that potential, and you marked my face. You destroyed me like a jealous stage mum. Now I’ll never be a star.”
Ashamed, I turned to my $599.95 Hero6. While the Fusion is targeted toward professional filmmakers, the Hero6 is more suitable for your average consumer. No 360 capture, but well-equipped for more humble recording aspirations. Less flashy, more manageable. A single flat lens, lighter, half the size, and a familiar form factor to anyone who has used a previous Hero. A practical, preferable pick for a callous user. I had tasted the life of an elite, and I had retreated in fear.
I tucked the Fusion safely into its case, where I could cause it no further harm.
On Friday, I was to go parasailing. I had never done this before, and was excited not only to be attached to a giant kite and dragged behind a boat, but also to capture footage of the entire experience from the air.
As we loaded onto the vessel and headed out, eyes on the horizon and GoPros in hand, I flicked through my Hero6’s LCD touch screen. I’d taken it jet-skiing that morning, and wanted to check the footage. Then I noticed it.
“I only have five minutes of recording time left!”
I could still take my familiar Hero6 up with me, but then I’d have to be content with a very short recording time, and I didn’t know how much footage I’d want. Still tucked safe inside its case, the Fusion called to me from the bottom of my backpack like a siren calling a sailor to their doom.
“Just take the Fusion,” advised the others on the boat, who did not know what horrors I had inflicted upon my camera. “You’ll want it up there anyway. Get an awesome 360 selfie.”
They were right. I was in the best situation I’d ever be in to use a 360 camera. If I didn’t use it now, when would I? I couldn’t just leave it in its case forever. That would only transform it from a GoPro into a Sad Paperweight of Shame. A phenomenal waste.
There was nothing for it. I had to use my Fusion.
A steady shot from the GoPro Fusion. Still shots such as this are where the Fusion does best.
By the time I floated back down to the boat, my white-knuckled grip on the Fusion’s fully-extended handle had relaxed. I had reached the final stage of grief – acceptance.
Because all I’d had to do was hit record and hold the camera out, I’d had to make my peace with the fact that the footage I captured would be the footage I captured, scratch and all. I could fiddle with settings such as the ISO and exposure, and had earlier, but they would make little difference in this case. (The Fusion typically requires minimal adjustment anyway – the average videographer shouldn’t need to mess with the settings too much.)
I had stopped recording and turned off the camera after a few minutes, concerned with how warm it had gotten (though it would later get even hotter when downloading the footage). Even if the footage was marred by the scratch, I had to work with what I had. Hopefully I would be able to salvage something usable from it.
A tiny planet. Conversely, you can also make a circle of sky surrounded by your oversized head.
Later, using the OverCapture function in the GoPro app, I converted the 360 video to a traditional 2D video by moving my phone around the virtual scene as if recording it for the first time. I waited to do this in the privacy of my home, as from an outsider’s perspective I’m sure I looked as though I was using my phone to hunt ghosts.
Like everything else about the Fusion, OverCapture was phenomenally easy to use. I simply downloaded the 360 footage to my phone via the GoPro app (a straightforward but time-consuming process), hit the OverCapture button, and watched it back, directing and framing the shot.
OverCapture wasn’t completely smooth, with the video freezing and stuttering as I recorded it. And the app uses a ton of power, draining my phone’s battery even whilst plugged in.
However, the video it produced was smooth. While simple to operate, the Fusion’s ease of use belies its power. It can record 5.2K resolution MP4 videos at 30 FPS, or 3K at 60 FPS, both of which provide clear and detailed video in bright colour. This wasn’t apparent from the initial fuzzy playback on my mobile, but it was much improved after I’d converted it to 2D. Results were also much better when the camera was kept still and stable, or moving slowly – jostling could cause the edges of the image in particular to appear slightly warped.
Manipulating the footage with my fingers, I’d zoomed out to create a tiny blue planet. A clear and complete 360 view of sea and sky, my bare legs dangling below me, the multi-coloured parasail wing billowing above.
And somehow, despite the scratch that so upset me, the video was as clear as day.
The GoPro Fusion is currently available for preorder, and will be available in store from April 2.