Practical Examples of the GoPro HERO5’s In-Camera Stabilization

A headline feature of the new GoPro HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session is the addition of built-in video stabilization. So I've put it to the test. Here are the results.

A headline feature on the GoPro HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session is in-camera video stabilization. It’s designed to smooth out the vibrations and jerkiness you get when you’re filming on the move without a gimbal.

These are by no means the first cameras to have built-in stabilization. The leading smartphones like the iPhones have had it for a long time, as some other action cams also have it; the Sony FDR-X3000, for instance, uses optical stabilization where the lens moves to compensate for vibration, which is a different way of tackling it.

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In both the GoPro HERO5 models, the onboard stabilization takes a software approach. With these, algorithms go to work to smooth out the footage as it’s being recorded. A common side-effect of doing it this way is that if it’s not done well it can end up looking it was shot through jello. You can disable the feature if you like, so you’re not stuck with it if you don’t want it. But there aren’t any options for choosing the aggressiveness of the correction or the type–it’s either on or off.

GoPro is also launching a standalone gimbal as part of its Karma drone package (the gimbal will also be sold separately, without the drone). It’s likely to be far more effective at smoothing out footage because it works quite different, by reducing the movement before it gets to the camera. But it also adds significantly to the cost, whereas the built-in software stabilization is included as a standard feature in both of the HERO5 cameras.

Examples of the GoPro HERO5 Stabilization

I’ve been curious to see how well the stabilization works. But I found that shooting in isolation with one camera made it hard to assess how effective it was. So I decided to rig up a couple of cameras side-by-side to get a direct comparison.

The cameras are on the same dual side-by-side mount, so they’re subjected to the same movement and vibration. The settings are identical in both cameras except for the stabilization feature being enabled or not. They were shot at 1080p60.

Cycling

This is the most dramatic improvement in the experiments I’ve done so far. Even on a relatively smooth, paved road, cycling can add a lot of vibration. But despite the speed and pervasiveness of the vibration, a lot of it often involves relatively little, albeit constant, movement. That’s easier for software algorithms to profile and counteract.

In this example, the onboard stabilization really comes into its own. There are still bumps and some jitter, of course, but there’s a very obvious improvement, with the stabilized footage being much more usable.

I should mention that the cameras were mounted on the bike’s handlebars for this one, not on my helmet, which is another popular way to capture cycling footage.

Driving

At least on a paved road, a car’s heft, tires, and suspension system do a pretty good job of reducing the kinds of constant vibration you get on a bike. So even without the stabilization turned on you can end up with pretty smooth footage (unpaved roads can be a very different matter, of course).

The improvement is less obvious in this one, but it is there.

Walking

It can be very difficult to smooth out the movement in handheld footage because it’s not just vibration that can be the problem–it also moves the camera up and down, side-to-side, and potentially introduces a bit of swinging panning.

Not surprisingly, the resulting footage in this one is still pretty bouncy, although it is better.

Which Video Modes is Stabilization Available In?

Stabilization is not available as an option in all of the video modes in the HERO5s. Most notably, it’s not available in 4K footage or some of the highest FPS options. Here’s the full list for the HERO5 Black:

ResolutionFPSFOVStabilization?
4K30Wide-
25Wide-
24Wide-
SuperView-
2.7K60Wide
Medium
Linear
50Wide
Medium
Linear
48Wide
Medium
Linear
30SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
25SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
24Wide
Medium
Linear
2.7K 4:330Wide
25Wide
1440p80Wide-
60Wide
50Wide
48Wide
30Wide
25Wide
24Wide
1080p120Wide-
Narrow-
90Wide-
80SuperView-
60SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
50SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
48SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
30SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
25SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
24SuperView
Wide
Medium
Linear
Narrow
960p120Wide-
60Wide
50Wide
720p240Narrow*-
120SuperView-
Wide-
Medium-
Narrow-
100SuperView-
60SuperView
Wide
Medium
Narrow
50SuperView
Wide
Medium
Narrow
30Wide
Medium
Narrow
25Wide
Medium
Narrow
480p240Wide-

Worth Noting

The software works by cannibalizing the areas just outside the visible frame as necessary. For that reason, it crops the usual Wide FOV by 10 percent.

You can turn video stabilization on or off, but it’s not reversible later. So, for example, you can’t film with stabilization on and then decide that it has introduced some unwanted effects and that you’d prefer to use a high-end stabilization plugin in Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere later.

If you plan to use stabilization options in Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere, or some other video editing app, you’ll often be better off filming without the onboard stabilization. The original vibration and movement is often actually easier for those plugins and functions to profile than adjusted, post-stabilized footage.

Wrap Up

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how effective the HERO5s’ built-in stabilization is, and in some cases, the improvement is quite dramatic. It’s certainly not perfect–there’s still a bit of the jello effect at times, and it works better on some footage than others, but it’s not bad.

The Karma’s 3-axis gimbal will undoubtedly offer much better performance again, but even if you buy it as a standalone gimbal without the drone it adds a considerable expense at least a few hundred dollars.

The good news is that even without that gimbal the new HERO5s offer much smoother footage out of the box.

Popular Accessories for the HERO5 Black

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This post was last modified on July 10, 2019 10:42 am

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  • if the problem presist do a manual FW update with an empty microSD, this work on my GoPro Hero 5 ( 1080p 30fps but stabilization stop working

  • Any idea on whether the quality of FCPX stabilization is better than what you get from the GoPro 5 stabilized?

    I've been shooting in 4k, expecting to stabilize in post in FCPX, but didn't know if the GP5 stabilization was good enough to save me some time (or if it was better...)

    • I haven't yet done a side-by-side comparison specifically on the same (or side-by-side) footage, but I'm inclined to prefer the extra control you get in FCPX. The catch, of course, is that it's more time and more post-processing to do it that way--doing it in camera is much more convenient. It's also worth mentioning that the in-camera stabilization doesn't work in the 4K modes.

  • I cannot figure out how to turn on Image Stabilization on my new GoPro Hero 5. Perhaps I'm in a mode that doesn't do IS...like 1080 wide. If it's applicable will it show up in the IS mode as an option to turn on or off?

    Also, do you think the image quality is compromised with the IS on? I had an old Hero 3+ and some of my video was absolutely unusable because of the shake. Screw that! But is there a downside to using IS? I know you said it crops wide, but aside from that do you know of any?

    Thanks!

    • There are a few different ways to turn it on, including via the mobile app, etc. For probably the simplest:
      1. Put your camera in video mode. 1080 wide will work fine as a starting point. There's a full list of compatible video modes further down this page.
      2. On the back screen of the camera, swipe from the right side to open options like Protune.
      3. From the Protune screen, swipe from right to left once more to the Video Stabilization screen. The power icon at the bottom of the screen is the toggle. If it's a dark gray, it's disabled. Tap the icon to make it white and enable stabilization. When you go back to the regular video live view, you'll see a stabilization option has been added to the right of the screen.

      As for downsides, it depends. In many uses, it's an improvement. But the stabilization can introduce its own odd jello-like look which you might object to more than the original shake. It all depends on what you're after. If you plan to apply stabilization later in post-processing with something like Final Cut X or Adobe Premiere, you'll be better off leaving it off in the camera.

  • The side-by-side video comparison really helped me in my decision to go for Hero5. Good work with that.

    Iam aiming at buying Karma as well but unfortunately, its not yet available in Indian market.

    • Glad it's helpful. And yes, the Karma will be interesting, but it looks like it's going to be a while before it's available in any market after GoPro had to recall all of them due to some of them losing power mid-flight.

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