One downside of action cameras is that they can produce grainy footage, especially in low light conditions. Noisy video footage is one of the most common issues when filming on GoPros. In this article, we will share actionable tips to help you instantly improve the quality of your GoPro footage and make it less grainy for free. Here’s the quick version:
For other tips on how to improve your GoPro footage, check out my article here. These tips will help you get the most out of your GoPro camera.
Why your GoPro footage is grainy or noisy
Too little light hitting the camera sensor is the main reason why GoPro footage is grainy. High ISO is one way the camera compensates for this, turning up the light sensitivity but also creating visual artifacts like grain and noise. Other reasons include high sharpness or low resolution.
Low light: Action cameras are notoriously bad in low-light situations. This is due to the physics of their size. The small sensor in GoPros simply cannot capture as much light as a bigger one used in handheld cameras with large sensors like full-frame or even medium-frame cinema cameras. This is an inherent limitation of small cameras like in action cameras or phones.
But there are ways around this. Even in pitch black riding conditions:
High sharpness looks different than noise or grain, but also can be very jarring to watch. It’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint why or what in an over-sharpened video looks off. It’s the distinct hyper-sharp look that looks very unnatural as our eyes don’t see such fidelity. More importantly, added digital sharpness makes noisy footage even worse.
Low resolution can also look mushy, blurry or grainy. Especially using digital image stabilization, which crops into the frame, reducing the output resolution. That’s why higher resolution is always recommended in combination with GoPro Hypersmooth stabilization. The video resolution in the settings isn’t always the one you effectively get after the stabilization crop.
How to make videos less grainy or noisy
Before we get into the multiple ways you can achieve less noisy GoPro footage, we need to understand camera exposure so we know what the camera does and how we can operate it effectively.
- ISO: Amplifies light sensitivity digitally. Lower is better. Higher ISO brightens the image but leads to noisy, grainy footage.
- Shutter speed: How long the aperture opens for each frame. The longer it’s open, the more light can get to the sensor. A minimum of 2X the framerate is recommended to avoid overly blurry video.
I recommend setting both ISO and shutter to automatic my guide to the best GoPro Hero 11 settings optimized for mountain bike POV filming. Because it’s an outdoor action cam, designed to move, it needs to adjust exposure to changing lighting conditions. Only for a steady tripod shot, manual shutter and ISO are viable.
That basically equals to “Aperture priority” mode on a regular camera, since the aperture is fixed on a GoPro.
Reduce the maximum ISO range to 1600 or lower.
Setting an ISO limit is your best bet to avoid noisy GoPro footage. We don’t want to set one specific ISO value so the camera can still adjust exposure outdoors. Luckily, with pretty much all of the top action cams right now we can still set limits to how far it goes by using the ISO range.
Beware: Some marketing slogans may say “improved low-light performance”, refering to the camera having a higher ISO limit (looking at you, DJI Action 3 with ISO 128.000). While technically true, anything over 1600 already gets grainy and hard to watch. Ideally you’ll want to stay below 800 on these small sensor cameras.
Set a slower shutter speed.
The slower the shutter, the brighter the exposure but the worse stabilization will work. So, this is a trade-off. GoPros generally default to higher shutter speeds because stabilization requires sharp individual frames without motion blur. So it’ll bump up ISO first and then lower the shutter if it must.
And it’s doing a decent job, so setting the shutter to a specific value may only help in very dark situations. Sadly no minimum or maximum values can be set. For the minimum, orient on the “180° rule” of filmmaking. In layman’s terms it means having a shutter speed of exactly double the framerate. So, 1/50 for 25fps, 1/60 for 30fps, 1/120 for 60fps, 1/240 for 120fps as the minimum shutter.
Turn image stabilization to low or off.
This is another big difference maker, often overlooked. Turning the stabilization off, the camera will automatically go lower on the shutter speed, simultaneously allowing lower ISO.
I personally often set the ISO limit up to 3200 if the sun’s going down or I’ll ride into very dense shaded woods with little sunlight. That’s me prioritizing stable footage over a grain-free one.
Of course, if your choice is between grainy and completely blurry footage, noisy is still usable.
Set sharpness to low.
So, you film in shaded woods and your GoPro needs to go up to the max of ISO 1600 max. It shouldn’t look too bad, but watching back, the video is extremely grainy. Time to look at the sharpness setting!
Because it makes noisy footage even worse! Since it’s a digital effect added on top, that brings out tiny details and creates a hyperrealistic look. It looks higher resolution (kind of cool) but brings out details you wouldn’t see with your eyes. So, kind of unnatural. Since it’s a processing effect, that can easily be added, if you wish, better leave it out before it makes your video look worse.
Color Grading for Action Cam Videos
Make your POV footage pop with custom color grades!
Download my FREE LUT specifically for MTB videos:
Use flat color profile.
On a similar note, high contrast has a similar, although not quite severe effect. Lowering the contrast helps hide noise. And the “Vibrant” and “Normal” color settings definitely have punchy colors and mega contrast! Flat is the lowest built-in contrast you can get and has so many more advantages like color grading.
Increase video resolution.
We touched on this before when describing how GoPro stabilization works: essentially lowering resolution on favor of stable video. That’s why going with Full HD 1080p is definitely too low if any kind of stabilization is used. A minumum would be 2.7K, with 4K looking really crisp, even with stabilization working at it’s max, like with the horizon leveling mode.
Set EV-Compensation to -0.5 or -1.0
Another trick is to tell the camera it’s okay to underexpose by setting a negative Exposure Value. I’d argue to use -0.5 anyway as a baseline, so don’t be afraid to go as low as -1.0 or even -1.5 on older GoPros. They tend to overexpose anyway.
By setting negative EV basically tells the camera it doesn’t need such a high ISO or low shutter and it will go a little easier on those.
Shoot in well-lit environments or bring extra lighting.
This one’s is about knowing what your little action cam can handle, and what it’s not designed for. Low-light situations definitely aren’t a strong suit. So if you must film in those anyways, you need to help out. Like by bringing additional lights. Bright, string headlamps,
Remove noise using a video editing program.
If all this fails and you did capture footage that turned out grainy, there’s still hope. But it’s not as easy as getting the exposure correct right in camera. You’ll need a video editing program (like the free DaVinci Resolve) to remove noise after the fact.
Look for a mask, overlay or slider named “Luminance Noise”, “Noise Reduction” or simply “Noise”. Explaining how to do this would go over the scope of this article, so I’ll link a video guide on how to do this in DaVinci:
Bonus: Don’t use ND or CPL filters.
This is kind of a no-brainer, but I should mention those for completeness sake. ND filters are obviously designed to let less light into the sensor, allowing for slower shutter speeds and more motion blur. Exactly the opposite of what we talked about up until now! So off with those when light gets low.
While Polarizer filters have another job (reduce glare and reflections), they do often add a dark hue. Essentially darken the image a bit as well. If in doubt, remove your CPL to avoid noise.
So, there you have it. By following these 9 tips, you should be able to significantly improve the quality of your GoPro footage and make it less grainy. Remember to always shoot in the best lighting conditions possible, and when you can’t adjust accordingly.
Additionally, try experimenting with different settings and modes on your GoPro to see what works best for your particular shooting situation. With a little bit of practice and patience, you can create stunning, high-quality footage with your GoPro camera. Happy filming!