So, you got yourself an action camera, but the footage doesn’t look anything like what you saw in the promotional videos? Modern action cameras like a GoPro are incredibly capable. But even the best action cameras won’t capture good quality videos by themselves.
The secret to high-quality, professional-looking cinematic action camera footage are manual settings. Like with any camera, fully automatic settings will not produce the best results. You as the camera operator need to set boundaries in the menu because the camera doesn’t know what it’s shooting.
This is why I wrote a step-by-step article for the best video settings on a GoPro Hero 11 and the DJI Action 3, among others. Everything I learned by making over a hundred videos for the Suspension Traveler Youtube channel is also condensed down into one handy PDF:
But this is about fixing problems you may encounter when out filming and coming back with footage you’re not entirely happy with.
Let’s get into it.
Is a GoPro considered a professional camera?
GoPro cameras are used by professional filmmakers for specialized shots. Due to size and versatility, they can capture difficult angles and action shots at a high image quality that no handheld cinema camera can achieve. Smooth stabilization and 10-bit colors are appreciated pro functionalities.
So, don’t be fooled by the size and unassuming looks. These tiny cameras pack an incredible punch. You just have to know how to use them effectively.
Do GoPros have good video quality?
GoPros are known for amazing video quality and cutting-edge image stabilization. They’re designed to work well outdoors in difficult and changing lighting conditions. However, the smaller sensor is not as capable in low-light situations compared to bigger handheld cameras.
How to make GoPro videos look professional
Manual settings are the key to making GoPro videos look professional. Especially White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Color Profiles and Framerate make a big difference between amateurish and cinematic footage. Editing is another crucial component for a final professional touch.
In order to do that, film intentionally – set up the camera correctly before pressing record – and with the edited end-product in mind. Knowing what to look for and how to shoot for the best final result comes with experience and knowing your gear and editing style. So feel free to experiment.
My first couple of videos with a new camera or with new mounting gear always tend to look like crap until I figured out how to use it effectively.
Why you should use Protune
“Protune” or “Pro Controls” is essential to high-quality GoPro footage. Dialing in individual settings manually allows one to create professional videos. You should take advantage of your GoPro’s full potential by using Protune settings, even if you don’t use all settings that are available.
The 3 most important action camera settings:
- Manual White Balance at approximately 5500K for daylight
- Flat Color Profile for true-to-life colors
- Lower Exposure Compensation (EV Comp) to prevent overexposure
If I had to distill the huge number of options GoPros have to offer, these would be the top 3. They have the biggest impact and should never be left on automatic, in my opinion.
Number 2 may require a more detailed explanation on my part.
Why you should shoot in GoPro flat colors
GoPro’s flat color profile looks true-to-life straight out of camera. It preserves detail in the shadows and highlights allowing for better color grading. The “Vibrant” color profiles is generally too saturated and high-contrast, resulting in a blown-out image that’s hard to edit and look at.
You may get away with using the “Natural” profile. Especially in low-contrast lighting situations, it can look well as it is. But the higher the contrast in your scene, the flatter profile you should use. Vibrant looks unnatural in any case, I find.
Color Grading for Action Cam Videos
Make your POV footage pop with custom color grades!
Download my FREE LUT specifically for MTB videos:
What resolution to set your GoPro
Shooting in more resolution like 4K or 5.3K is generally better than a lower one. Especially since digital stabilization crops into the frame, outputting less effective resolution than desired. Though, more storage, a fast enough SD card and editing computer are required for higher resolutions.
1080p or 2.7K resolution
2.7K video resolution is the minimum recommended on a GoPro. 1080p or Full HD leads to a washed-out image, especially with digital stabilization turned on as this crops into the frame. To preserve detail and clarity, choose a minimum of 2.7K and preferably as high as possible for the desired framerate.
Is it worth recording in 4K?
It’s well worth recording GoPro video at 4K or Ultra HD. Not only because it’s usual now, but also to have footage that’s future proof. It’s also important to record at a high bitrate to actually capture detail. High over low bitrate makes more difference than 4K over 2.7K resolution!
Is it better to shoot 4K 30fps or 1080p 60fps?
Even for action camera shots, 30p is recommended over 60fps. Cameras usually capture a higher bitrate at a lower framerate. 60 FPS also lead to a clinical, crisp look that’s unnatural. It’s generally used only for Slowmotion. Stabilization now works well with 30 frames as well.
Why your GoPro footage is choppy
High shutter speeds or certain framerates like 24p are common reasons for choppy GoPro footage. High shutter speeds eliminate natural motion blur and capture only crisp frames. And while 24 fps may look cinematic, it can also look jarring for shots with a lot of movement like POV video.
Faster shutter speeds may be required to prevent overexposure. GoPros don’t have other internal methods to reduce light sensitivity when ISO is already at 100 (it’s lowest). The higher the framerate, the faster the required shutter speed.
How to make GoPro videos smoother
Lower framerates, slower shutter speeds and high stabilization make GoPro footage smoother. 30 FPS are considered smooth, especially with Hypersmooth on high. For shutter speeds, a minimum of 240 is required for stabilization to work well during high-impact activities.
ND Filters that reduce the light hitting the camera sensor are a great external method to keep shutter speeds low. From my own testing, I found that ND4 is usually the best result, while ND8 is generally too much and breaks stabilization while riding my bike. Freewell is the only brand offering single ND Filters for GoPro, so I got their ND4.
Speaking of which.
Why GoPro videos look blurry
Shutter speeds too slow, fast direction changes and low stabilization make GoPro footage look blurry. Slow shutter speeds below 120 are not enough for the digital stabilization to work. This can be a result from low-light situations like dark shade and night.
Unfortunately, GoPros don’t have the option to set minimum shutter speeds. One way to prevent blurry video footage is to set the ISO to automatic or increase the range to the maximum. This allows the camera to increase ISO (light sensitivity) enough to maintain shutter speeds for the stabilization to still work.
This is a trade-off tho as high ISO has its drawbacks.
Why your GoPro is so grainy
High ISO is the main reason why GoPro footage is grainy. High ISO is necessary when the camera otherwise cannot capture enough light. Since the aperture is fixed, ISO (light sensitivity) and shutter speed are the only variables to control light input. Low-light situations usually lead to this.
How to make GoPro less grainy
Slow shutter speeds, low framerate or additional light can help getting a clear image. Anything that keeps ISO as low as possible will prevent grainy footage. High framerates (and faster shutter) do the opposite. High ISO is a sign of not enough light hitting the small camera sensor.
But there is a limit to all of this. The small sensor size of a GoPro physically limits the amount of light it can capture. This is why GoPros are known to have a bad low-light performance compared to full-sized cameras.
Why GoPro videos look bad on YouTube
Low bitrate and low resolution are the main reasons why GoPro videos look bad on Youtube. Since the platform degrades videos by compression, the quality will always be slightly worse. This is why the highest-quality GoPro settings and optimized video editing export settings matter.
In short: Record at a resolution as high as possible and at the highest bit rate. Garbage in, garbage out is definitely true here.
How to make your GoPro sound better
Turning built-in wind noise reduction off is critical to making any GoPro sound better. This way the camera uses both microphones for stereo sound and doesn’t distort audio unnaturally For separate audio editing, current models feature RAW stereo audio recording.
Now, bikers will run into a specific issue here as wind noise is a constant for us.
How to stop GoPro from making a wind noise
Mounting a foam wind muffler over the GoPro’s microphones is a simple, cheap and effective method to eliminate wind sounds. This way the camera can record stereo audio without the software distortion. External mics tucked away from wind is another great, but more complicated way.
For professional-level audio recording on your GoPro, external microphones are the only way. Even if the waterproof mics have gotten better constantly. Simple lavalier mics like the popular Purple Panda or a mini shotgun mic are viable solutions for mounted or handheld filming.