Why Do GoPros Split Videos into Segments?

If you're wondering why your GoPro is breaking your videos up into smaller segments, it's not an error and you're not doing anything wrong. It's normal--here's why.

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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.

The segments can be easily and seamlessly rejoined in editing software like GoPro Studio, Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere. The camera is not actually stopping and starting recording, and there should be no lost frames that give away the break.

So Why do GoPros Cut the Video Files Up?

There are two overlapping parts to the answer. 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.

But there’s also a practical limitation. If GoPro’s didn’t break footage into chapters, you wouldn’t be able to shoot more than about 9 minutes of video at a time at the highest settings. That’s to maintain file system compatibility.

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?

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).

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.

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 HERO8 Black, for instance, you’re going to fill up 4GB pretty quickly. In some video modes that shoot at up to 100 Mbps video bitrate, it’s as quickly 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 GoPro’s don’t actually use FAT32 in every instance. But they still aim to be compatible with FAT32. 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.

And if you’re tempted to try to format your card with a different filesystem that supports larger files–say, NTFS–don’t. Your GoPro won’t power on. You need to stick with either FAT32 or exFAT.

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.

More GoPro Tips & Tricks:

This post was last modified on October 5, 2020 10:39 am

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  • the extra step is pretty obnoxious in an already labor intensive workflow. This is the main reason I no longer use go pros.

  • You can use ffmpeg to recombine files without re-enconding them. It takes seconds instead of several minutes or more, and produces zero quality loss. With the right options you can even keep the gps data attached.

    • Thanks for the tip. I haven't used ffmpeg with HEVC, but I see that it should now work. Will give it a try.

  • All of Sony's action cameras record one large file. No chaptering and out of hundreds of days worth of recordings over the past 3 years I have never had a single file corrupt.

  • Hello, my 7 black gopro also does this. In the Camera the entire video appears and on the PC it appears only up to 8.53. Even in QUIK it also only appears 8.53. Is there any other solution to this if it is not editing the videos? She actually recorded another file with the rest of the videos.

  • The filesize will be larger when you use the high resolution and framerate options (or, more technically, it's the bitrate that determines the filesize). While there's no one-click way to copy them to make them fit, it is certainly possible to convert them into another file that's much smaller (or "transcode", more specifically). There are a lot of different ways to do it, but with 71GB files, the free online versions aren't very practical. A better option is an app that will do it on your computer. There's an enormous number of them available that will work, but one I'd recommend is Handbrake, which is free and open source and comes with a bunch of different presets that will help you get a smaller file. Another option that still relies on a wireless connection which will take a while with a such a large file (and be sure to use wifi rather than your phone' data plan) is to use the GoPro mobile app to share to something like Youtube. As part of the upload process, Youtube will transcode a much smaller version of the file.

    To save yourself this step next time, it's worth reducing the video mode down to something like 1080p60 with Protune turned off. That's still going to create a big file--about 27GB for 2 hours of recording--but that's still a lot smaller than your 71GB file.

  • I have the go pro 7 black. I captured 2hr softball games but the files equal 71 GB. Is there some way to reduce file size to be able to put on a thumb drive or share. I have 2hr movies that are barely 1.5 GB, I dont understand.....Help!!

  • Massively regret buying my GoPro, what a waste of money, never connects to my laptop. Spoke to customer service and it took about the hours to get it sorted, they said it was my laptop. Next time I went to link it to my laptop again I had the same issues. I’ve now tried to link it with three different computers all the same problem and now I’ve recorded a long video with it had to be in one segment but it only loads up 9mins. What an absolute joke of a camera.

    • As a work around take the sd card out of the camera and copy to your PC. THen open that with Fusion Studio

  • What is the best quality setting do you recommend for day car driving from inside and outside the car ? (GoPro Hero Black 7)

    • A high framerate (eg. 60fps) will help with fast-moving scenes. Unless you plan to apply stabilization in post, the HyperSmooth stabilization should help quite a lot.

  • Very un happy Gopro user on account of the segmenting issue. For crossfit recording workouts they must be UNEDITED period. Clipping segments together is a violation and the video is rejected. If I could return the camera for a refund, I would. Had I known this issue existed I would have passed on the camera.

      • CrossFit workout videos can be helpful later for when your doctor wants to see exactly what kind of nonsense caused the injuries they're treating.

  • Well done! And, fantastic explanation! It makes sense now, why my Hero 4 chunks my videos into 8:52 minute "chapters".
    I really appreciate your solving the mystery.
    Good on ya!
    Cheers!
    ~Rick

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