GoPro Protune Photo Color: GoPro Color vs Flat

Some GoPros, like the HERO9 Black, offer a choice between two color modes in the photo mode: GoPro and Flat. Here are some examples and when they're best used.
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Several of the latest GoPro models offer a choice between two color modes in the photo mode: GoPro and Flat. So what’s the difference and when would you use them?

GoPro HERO10 Black!

GoPro has released the GoPro HERO10 Black. It's the latest in their line of flagship action cameras. It sports the new GP2 processor for faster performance. Shoots 5.3K60 and 4K120 video, 23MP photos, has improved low-light performance, and HyperSmooth 4.0 video stabilization. And it shares most accessories with HERO9 (same battery, housing, Media Mod, etc).

The HERO10 Black is available for order directly from GoPro.com. The MSRP is $499.99, but you can get it for $399.99 with 1-year subscription to GoPro or if you're already a GoPro subscriber.

I have more details here, and you can read about my experience with the HERO10 overheating here.

You’ll only see these options if you turn the Protune module. On most GoPros that support Protune, this option is found under the Photo mode settings. This separate from the Protune options for recording video.

GoPro App Protune Settings

Protune is GoPro’s name for a group of settings that provides more fine-tuned control over several aspects of the shooting such as sharpening, color, ISO, etc. With some exceptions, as a general rule of thumb, you probably only want to turn Protune on if you plan to do further processing in post-production. With some of the settings, if you just share the footage or photos without doing any post production they can actually end looking worse than if you’d left Protune off.

The color mode setting is a perfect example. If you shoot with the default GoPro color mode, the image will be vibrant and contrasty. If you shoot with the Flat color mode, the image will be, well, flat and the colors will look washed-out.

Here are some examples. The first one was shot with a HERO5 Black:

GoPro HERO5 Black Protune Color - GoPro

GoPro HERO5 Black Protune Color - Flat

Here are some more examples shot with the HERO4 Silver and Black cameras. The feature works the same way with newer models, although the sensors have improved somewhat in later models.

Protune: Color GoPro

Protune: Color Flat

GoPro Protune: Color: GoPro

GoPro Protune: Color: Flat

Protune: Color GoPro

Protune: Color Flat

As you can see, the most obvious difference is in the contrast. That is also why the colors appear less saturated. What it’s trying to do is retain more detail throughout the image without the risk of losing details in the shadows or blowing out the highlights. The result is an image that actually retains more image data but doesn’t look as impressive.

Which GoPro Color Mode to Use?

When Protune is turned off, the GoPro Color option is what’s applied automatically. It gives that contrasty, colorful, punchy look.

So why would you ever want to use the Flat mode if it makes the photos look worse? If—and really only if—you plan to process the images later in something like Lightroom or some other image processing app where you’re going to adjust things like exposure and contrast. Or if you want to retain that option for later. There’s nothing at all wrong with processing images shot with the GoPro color modes–it’s just that the Flat mode gives you a bit more flexibility in preserving tones.

The GoPro HERO4 lines don’t have RAW mode—the HER05 models do—so this is a step in that direction while still using JPG. If you plan to share the photos with minimal or no processing, you’re much better off leaving the color setting on the default GoPro mode—your images will nearly always look better. An exception would be if you’re deliberately aiming for a low-contrast, washed-out look, but that’s definitely a niche approach and doesn’t apply to the vast majority of photos taken with a GoPro.

Lightroom Preset

Of course, the standard GoPro look might not be what you’re after. But if you’re using Lightroom and want a preset that takes images shot with Protune’s Flat setting and processes them to approximate the look of the GoPro color setting, you’re welcome to try this preset I put together.

It’s not perfect, and I’ll likely tweak it a bit yet, but it’s a reasonable starting point. The images sometimes come out a touch lighter than the real GoPro-setting equivalent, which is easily fine-tuned by dropping the Exposure slider ever so slightly and moving the Blacks slider slightly to the left. If you’re not sure how to install a preset, here’s a good guide.

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