- The new GoPro HERO11 Black and HERO11 Black Mini cost $500 and $400.
- Rugged cameras are still compelling alternatives to smartphone cameras.
- The HERO11 uses its bigger sensor to add great new features.
GoPro's new rugged action cams add some seriously neat features, but their basic phone-beating feature remains unchanged.
The smartphone has replaced many gadgets, from phones to iPods to cameras and plenty more. But so far, GoPro remains, despite the many advantages of phone cameras. The GoPro HERO11 Black and HERO11 Black Mini add Field of View and a much-improved Horizon Lock. These are software features that could—theoretically—be copied by a phone maker. But is that likely? Not really.
The smartphone has several advantages over a GoPro for shooting and sharing video. One is that you can share footage as soon as it's captured. Or you can edit it first, in the app of your choice, without any clunky transfer process. The video is, of course, already saved on your phone.
That's probably the number two reason phone cameras beat all regular cameras, not just action cameras. The number one reason is that you already have a phone, and you have it with you. Add to this the ever-improving robustness of phones, from waterproofing to dust-proofing to drop resistance, and they're very capable action cameras, but they're still not as good as a purpose-built unit.
"Phones are great and GoPros are great, phones are so great that we keep contacts and emails and texts and music and countless useful apps on them, so ask yourself if you want to drop that from height, dunk in water or hang it outside a vehicle at speed and there is the answer," says GoPro fan Sandsbebe on the GoPro SubReddit.
But there are plenty of disadvantages, too. One is that a phone with a glass screen, and perhaps a glass back, is never going to be as tough as a purpose-built, ruggedized device. Another is that something like a GoPro is designed to be mounted and to film you. A phone's selfie cam is almost never its best camera, for example, and mounting a phone to point at you while you waterski, or just walk down the street, is quite impractical.
And then there's the fact that you're risking an expensive phone that is also your iPod, your banking device and wallet, your guitar tuner, your communicator, etc.
Rugged Good Looks
The new GoPros pack a bigger sensor and some upgraded camera resolutions, but the best features are the Field of View and the Horizon Lock. Horizon lock means the camera always knows which way is up, even when you have lost all sense of direction. Or if you just mounted it on a wonky helmet.
It works like this. The new HERO 11s have a new sensor that's much taller than previous sensors, almost making it square. By chopping a smaller rectangle out of this full sensor, you can rotate that rectangle 360˚. This means you can rotate the camera as much as you like, and the image stays level. Combined with image stabilization, this makes it almost impossible to get a wobbly, upside-down shot.
"Love the idea of a square sensor—no more worrying about portrait vs. landscape at the point of taking footage," photography enthusiast Biohazard says on a DPReview forum thread on the new cameras.
Field of View, aka HyperView, is also interesting. It uses the entirety of the new squarer sensor and squeezes that almost-square image down to a 16:9 rectangle. The result is a video that includes a bigger field of view but which also seems to be a super-wide-angle.
These features use software to take advantage of custom-designed hardware, which is precisely how the iPhone’s camera works. The difference is in the intent. GoPro makes its tradeoffs and compromises in service of action videography by adding a squarer sensor and not having a screen or apps that are good for editing or sharing. The iPhone’s compromises are made in service of a thin device, with cameras that work in tandem with a powerful computer to make its images good enough.