GoPro has already made a couple of cameras for VR video, but they're not the kind of things most people will want to use or be able to afford. The GoPro Omni is six GoPro Hero4 Blacks locked in a large custom frame, and costs more than . For our sort of holiday footage needs, that's a hard pass, thanks.
The upcoming GoPro Fusion, though, is far more accessible, and won't make you look like a James Cameron wannabe as soon as you take it out of your luggage.
It's a small brick of soft-touch plastic, a bigger brother to the GoPro Hero5 action camera with more prominent fisheye-style lenses on the front and back. There's no removable Gorilla Glass armour, as you get in the normal GoPro, so this is one action camera you won't want to send flying down a mountain after being a bit too bold with your on-bike selfies.
That said, the sides are rubberised to soak up some impact force and it does seem small enough to use just about anywhere, such as attached to a bike helmet.
Not your average 360 action cam
"With Fusion our idea is to make it as easy as possible to create a cool spherical video," says Patrick Lengenfelder, GoPro's media relations manager. Those familiar with already-released 360-degree action cams like the Samsung Gear 360 and Nikon KeyMission can't help but notice the GoPro Fusion is a bit larger than some of the competition, though, which seem only a bit bigger than their lens housings. It's the Spongebob Squarepants of 360-degree cams.
Our hope is that this means that, like the Hero5, it'll simply be better and less prone to overheating than most out there. Plus, despite the increase in heft, the Fusion will be compatible with a "broad range" of GoPro mounts and accessories suggesting this will be just about wearable.
It's the Spongebob Squarepants of 360-degree cams
Right now that's just a hope. We asked about the lens specs, the size of the sensor the GoPro Fusion uses and its low light abilities, and on all fronts Lengenfelder came back with "this is something we want to keep as a surprise", or a variation on that theme, because the camera isn't set to be launched until October or later.
However, we do know this isn't just a 4K 360 camera like its competitors. The GoPro Fusion captures footage at 5.2k resolution (at 30fps). Extra resolution is always a bonus when the footage may well end up being viewed through a VR headset, which shows up any lack of detail very clearly.
When 360 goes flat: Overcapture
That's not the only reason for the increased pixel count, though. There's also Overcapture, GoPro's own nod to the idea that most people don't have a VR headset, and that flicking through a Facebook or YouTube 360-degree video using a phone screen or trackpad isn't exactly a great experience.
Overcapture lets you edit together a multi-view 1080p epic out of the 'raw' spherical footage. "When you've finished you have a spherical video and you can choose what you want to punch out as an HD 2D video," says Lengenfelder. "You don't have to frame while you're shooting, but do it afterwards."
As well as being able to switch between parts of the scene, you can pan across areas to add a bit more visual drama, and even transition smoothly between different fields of view. 360-degree footage flattened into a screen-filling view looks mad, more like a computer game than normal video. There are already a few demos of this in action on YouTube, and the results are far more engaging than vanilla action cam footage.
Overcapture shifts one of the most important parts of cinematography into the post-processing phase. Lengenfelder says it's the "biggest feature we're promoting". It's not just an add-on but a core part of GoPro Fusion.
Thinking a bit more about what it's like to use an action camera, and how you're not going to shift an action camera's angle when tearing down a mountain on a snowboard, the appeal of Overcapture is quite obvious. You can have the editing power of a multi-cam setup in a single box.
Using the GoPro Fusion
GoPro isn't quite ready to show us how this works in person, but judging by recent changes in the GoPro's app operation, you can expect it to be easy, quick and built into the Fusion app. "We are investing heavily in mobile. We see the smartphone as the new computer. People will be editing on their smartphones, watching videos on their smartphones, and they will operate their cameras on their smartphones as well," says Lengenfelder.
There's no mystery about the on-camera operation of the GoPro Fusion, though. It has many of the same buttons as the GoPro Hero5. There's a Mode button on the side and a quick shutter button on the front, which will turn the camera on and start shooting with a single press.
The Fusion does not have a rear LCD display for any sort of live image preview, although hopefully you'll be able to preview part of the scene in the mobile app using a Wi-Fi Direct connection. There's just a monochrome front screen that'll show basic stats like the battery level, current mode and the amount of storage available. 5.2K video will consume a lot of data, so you'll need a 'large' memory card.
As part of the GoPro Fusion package, you also get a light rubber/plastic tripod and a neat little neoprene carry case. There's no word on the price yet, but Lengenfelder does say, with a smile, "at the end of the year it'll eventually come out, in a limited amount." It won't head straight to countless high street shelves like the Samsung Gear 360.
360 news calling
There are already Fusion 360 cameras out there, though, as part of a pilot programme. "For now the pilot programme is targeted at professionals because we want them to play with it, give us feedback, and refine the user experience to make it accessible for a broader audience," says Lengenfelder.
Those in on the pilot programme include "a couple of big American news outlets, Getty images and a couple of global players as well. They're the first to actually use it. And there's a second wave of partners to be included this summer."
Lengenfelder says that right now there aren't filmmakers in on the pilot, but looking at what directors have done with the GoPro Hero models to date, there's certainly potential for a Fusion to end up on a film set. Or ten.
Did you know that parts of The Martian were shot using a GoPro? Ridley Scott seems to be a big fan of the dinky action cameras, having gone on to use them while shooting Alien: Covenant. That's right, a movie with a $100 million budget used cameras you can buy on the high street for a few hundred quid.
At first, GoPro's suggestion that easy editing of 360-degree footage into 'flat' 1080p video is one of the Fusion's key features seems a head-scratcher. If you buy a 360 camera, won't you want to shoot in 360 degrees?
However, it shows GoPro's dedication to making something useful for the average person, not just someone making videos for those who own VR headsets. Or those who don't care that watching their 360 videos on Facebook is as comfortable as cleaning your teeth with a pencil. The GoPro Fusion goes a lot further than the series of flat screen-friendly views Samsung offers in the Gear 360.
Will it be the best consumer-grade 360 action cam, though? It's far too early to tell, with elements like its lens and sensor quality, water resistance, battery life and, of course, price still a mystery. However, there's enough promise here to make the GoPro Fusion one of the most exciting action cams in ages.
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