If you’ve ever recorded longer sections of video on your GoPro camera, you will have found that video gets split up into smaller segments. Precisely how long the chunks are depends on the video mode you’re using and which camera model.
To anticipate your first question: No, the camera is not actually stopping and starting recording, and there shouldn’t be any lost frames that give away the break. Good software like those above should join the segments seamlessly.
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So Why do GoPros Cut the Video Files Up?
It’s true that cutting the video streams into chunks–and the need to have to rejoin them–is a bit of a pain. So why on earth does GoPro do it?
There are two overlapping parts to the answer.
Reducing the Risk of Lost Data
The first is that it’s a safety precaution. By splitting up the video it reduces the chance of you losing all your footage if the file gets corrupted somehow. It’s called chaptering, and the idea is that if one chapter gets corrupted the others should still be okay because they’re separate files. So you’ll lose one egg instead of the whole basket of them.
The second is to maintain wide compatibility. If GoPro’s didn’t break footage into chapters, you wouldn’t be able to shoot more than about 6-9 minutes of video at a time at the highest settings.
The newer models of GoPro use chapters of a maximum size of 4GB. Earlier models use smaller sizes. That 4GB limit isn’t some random number they dreamed up. So why use that number and not, say 25GB? Or, like some cameras, no limit?
Maintaining Maximum Compatibility
The answer has to do with maximum compatibility and the limitations of the filesystem used on your memory card. By far the most widely compatible filesystem these days is known as FAT32 (for 32-bit File Allocation Table).
For various reasons, GoPro has decided that they want their cameras to maintain compatibility with the FAT32 file system.
FAT32 is quite old–Microsoft first rolled it out with Windows 95–and it lacks some of the sophistication and features of newer file systems such as exFAT. Nevertheless, it has things going for it: it’s reliable, it offers solid performance, and, most importantly, it is very widely compatible.
That last point is crucial, because it means that you can put your memory card in pretty much any computer and be able to read it without having to install extra software. Whether you’re using Windows, Mac, or Linux, a FAT32 external hard drive or thumb drive or memory card should work. So nearly all consumer devices aim to be compatible with FAT32.
GoPro Labs has added an experimental feature that’s available for the HERO11/10/9/8 Black and Max cameras if you use the corresponding beta firmware. It lets you increase the chapter size to 12GB.
Keep in mind that it’s an experimental feature and might not always work as expected on all cameras. You can find more information about it here.
But FAT32 has a limitation hardcoded into it: the maximum file size that it can handle is 4GB. Back in Windows 95 days, that seemed pretty huge. These days, not so much.
If you’re recording high-definition video on a GoPro HERO12 Black, for instance, you’re going to fill up 4GB pretty quickly. In some video modes that shoot at up to 120 Mbps video bitrate, it’s as quick as seven or eight minutes. If you’re using smaller or lower-quality settings, you’ll get more footage before you hit that 4GB threshold.
That’s why GoPro breaks its videos up. Once you get to 4GB, it’ll tie off that segment and start a new one. Once that new one gets to 4GB, it’ll start another. And so on, until you stop the recording, the card fills up, or your battery runs out.
A wrinkle is that GoPros don’t actually use FAT32 in every instance. And it’s quite technically possible for a camera to detect the filesystem and adjust its behavior. Some larger cameras, such as Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony mirrorless cameras–will save 4GB segments when a SDHC card is used (i.e., 32GB or smaller) but use a continuous stream when larger, SDXC cards, are used.
But GoPro has decided that for now, at least, their cameras will stick a lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all approach.
So all current and previous GoPros aim to be compatible with FAT32 at all times. For 32GB memory cards and smaller, GoPros will format the card as FAT32 (the 32s are just coincidence here–they’re referring to different things). But 64GB memory cards and larger use a revised, newer version of FAT known as exFAT. ExFAT actually allows for much larger files. But it’s not going to do much good having those much larger files if then try to copy them onto a computer hard drive or memory backup device that’s formatted for FAT32. So GoPros don’t take advantage of the fact that exFAT can accommodate much larger files.
Put more succinctly, if you format a 32GB microSD card in your GoPro, it will format as FAT32. If you format a 64GB memory card in the same camera, it will automatically format the card as exFAT. In both cases, the GoPro will still limit the maximum filesize to 4GB.
So if you’re finding that your long videos are ending up in shorter segments on your memory card, it’s not an error and you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s just the camera working around the limitations of the FAT32 filesystem. And it can also be a good thing. Splitting a long video into several smaller files reduces the risk of the all-your-eggs-in-one-basket problem of having one single large file becoming corrupted and losing everything.
How to Join GoPro Video Segments
There are a few different ways to put the segments back together. Putting them on the timeline of a video editor like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro will treat them as seamless clips.
If you’re shooting with an older model GoPro that encodes its files with the H.264 codec, you can join them using the free app MP4Joiner.
But newer GoPros have moved to HEVC (aka. H.265). For that, you’ll need something more powerful. I’d recommend starting with GoPro Quik, which is free. But if you already have an even more powerful app like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro or DaVinci Resolve, those will also easily handle this task. Some video converter apps will also include this functionality, and I’ve put together a guide to using Wondershare UniConverter for joining GoPro video footage here.