GoPros are best known for their video capabilities, but as I’ve written before, they’re actually very capable photo cameras as well. Recent models have been gradually adding new features and improvements to their photo shooting capabilities. Some models can now shoot in RAW format, not just JPG. Some also have some variations of extended dynamic range capture, whether it’s called WDR (wide dynamic range) or HDR (high dynamic range).
GoPro likes using superlatives when they’re naming things–“hero,” “super,” “hyper.” (How long until “ultra” and “uber” make appearances?) But the names given to the features don’t always make clear what they do, and sometimes they can add confusion. The HERO7 Black, for instance, has both SuperPhoto and SuperView. They’re not the same thing or even much related. SuperView refers to an extra-wide-angle field of view available on some GoPro cameras when shooting video with some resolution/framerate combinations. SuperPhoto is a feature available when shooting photos. It’s a suite of automatic image enhancements that can improve the photos that come out of the camera.
There are three main tools that make up SuperPhoto’s bag of tricks. The first is HDR. The point of HDR is to try to bring out more detail in shadows and highlights. HDR has something of a reputation for garish, unrealistic-looking images that definitely aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they don’t have to be like that. Done more subtly, it can actually make the image look more natural because it’s closer to the dynamic range we’re used to seeing with our eyes. So instead of a bright sky simply blowing out to white, you might be able to see some color and detail in clouds and blue sky. The same with shadows. Instead of a person’s face just being too dark to make out properly, it should bring out some detail.
The HERO6 Black first added an HDR mode–before that, the HERO5 Black had a less effective version that they called WDR (wide dynamic range). Both HDR and WDR are entirely automated processes–you have no control over things like tone mapping or local contrast as you do with full-blown HDR software like Photomatix Pro or Aurora HDR. And it’s all handled in the camera. There’s no need to manually shoot bracketed exposures or apply the HDR algorithm–once you have the HDR option enabled, the camera takes care of it all.
Another tool in SuperPhoto’s bag of tricks is local tone mapping. This is a staple of HDR software and many image enhancement apps. It boosts the contrast in selected parts of the image, typically around areas with high detail and high-contrast transitions like lines. The overall effect is to make the image look sharper and crisper (although it’s different from the sharpness setting).
Finally, SuperPhoto can use multi-frame noise reduction. This is a similar idea to HDR in that multiple images are captured in rapid succession, and the best parts are taken from each to merge into a single resulting image. But in this case, it’s done to reduce the negative effects of image noise at high ISOs. This has been one of the core approaches to noise reduction for a while now, although it obviously only works at the time of capture when there’s still an opportunity to capture multiple frames to use.
There is one final possibility: that it decides that the photo doesn’t need any enhancing at all and will therefore pass it through untouched.
In general, you don’t have much control over how SuperPhoto works its magic. There’s no ability to tweak individual settings or even determine which tool is used when. And you don’t get a report after the fact that explains what was used. You just end up with an enhanced image. Hopefully, the results are better than if you hadn’t used SuperPhoto.
There is one exception: you do have the option to only use the HDR option exclusively without using the local tone mapping or multi-frame noise reduction. You can find this as an option on the same screen as you turn SuperPhoto on or off.
To show the effects, here are some side-by-side examples. All of these were shot with two GoPro HERO7 Black cameras mounted side-by-side. One was using just the basic photo mode (with JPG output), with the other using SuperPhoto turned on (which, again, is JPG output. I’ve not done any post-processing on these–they’re as shot.
In this first example, the most obvious difference is that the HDR has recovered some detail from the blown-out highlights in the columns at right. You can also see a little more local tone mapping contrast in the statue and ceiling that make those details more defined.
[caption id="attachment_23301" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23302" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
You can clearly see the effects of the local tone mapping in this one with the added detail on the granite wall at right.
[caption id="attachment_23305" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23306" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23311" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23312" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
SuperPhoto does have the option of not doing anything at all, but sometimes the effect is just very subtle. If you look closely, there does appear to be slightly more local contrast defining the edges a little better (and darker) on the statue. You can also clearly see a difference in the texture of the concrete slabs on the ground.
[caption id="attachment_23308" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23307" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
This one has added a slightly orange color cast, something that the older WDR system is quite prone to do. It has also added more defined edges to the pattern in the dome.
[caption id="attachment_23309" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23310" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
There’s not much difference between these, but if you look at the trees and their reflections lining the sides of the Reflecting Pool, you can see the difference.
[caption id="attachment_23303" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23304" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
I was somewhat surprised that the effect wasn’t more dramatic for this one. I know it was trying to do HDR because it was shooting multiple frames (I could tell because, in other shots, I moved the camera too quickly after pressing the shutter and ended up with motion blur as it struggled to merge mismatched frames.)
[caption id="attachment_23299" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto ON[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_23300" align="aligncenter" width="678"] SuperPhoto OFF[/caption]
Here’s another example, with the basic photo, SuperPhoto version, and HDR version side-by-side. All taken on a HERO7 Black in quite dim but contrasty lighting.
So Why Not Just Use SuperPhoto All the Time?
So if SuperPhoto creates better-looking photos right out of the camera, why not just leave it on all the time? There are five main reasons.
- It Slows You Down. The images are processed after you push the shutter, so there’s a lag of a few seconds while it analyzes the image, applies its enhancements, and then saves the image file to the memory card. That lag is very noticeable if you’re shooting fast-moving action or even if you just want to see that the photo was sharp or someone didn’t walk into the frame.
It Reduces Battery Life. It’s a lot of processing, and that uses a lot of extra power. That, in turn, means that you’re going burn through the limited battery life even more quickly.
The Subject and Camera Need to be Still. The HDR function relies on taking multiple rapid captures, taking the best parts from each, and merging them into a single image. If there’s movement between the shots, either because the subject or camera moved, you’ll most likely end up with a blurry photo. This isn’t always going to be an issue because SuperPhoto doesn’t use its HDR if it decides that the scene doesn’t need it. But since you have no control over which of its tools it uses when, there’s a good chance of running into this issue. So SuperPhoto wouldn’t be a good choice for a lot of action shots, for instance.
It Doesn’t Work with RAW. SuperPhoto enhancements only work when outputting to a JPG file. By definition, RAW files don’t have post-processing applied to them.2 So if you turn on SuperPhoto, it will automatically ignore the RAW setting and save only a JPG. Maybe one day GoPro will change the functionality such that you can save both a RAW version and a separate SuperPhoto JPG version (perhaps with superphoto added to the filename to get around the issue of RAW image editors being able to optionally ignore JPGs of the same filename when shooting RAW + JPG). But for now, if you turn on SuperPhoto, it will only save a JPG (somewhat confusingly, turning on SuperPhoto doesn’t actually disable to the RAW option–it just ignores it).
It Doesn’t Work with Protune. If you’re using Protune options for shooting photos, you can’t use SuperPhoto at the same time–it’s one or the other.
It also doesn’t work with burst modes, night photo, or the various time-lapse modes.
GoPro HERO7 Cameras Compared
|HERO7 Black||HERO7 Silver||HERO7 White|
|Resolution / Max fps||4K / 60|
4K (4:3) / 30
2.7K / 120
2.7K (4:3) / 60
1440p / 120
1080p / 240
960p / 240
720p / 240
|4K / 30|
1440p / 60
1080p / 60
|1440p / 60
1080p / 60
|Max Bitrate||78 Mb/s||60 Mb/s||40 Mb/s|
|File Format (Codec)||MP4 (HEVC / H.265)|
MP4 (H.264 / AVC)
|MP4 (H.264 / AVC)||MP4 (H.264 / AVC)|
|Audio Track||WAV + AAC||AAC||AAC|
|External Mic Compatibility||✓||-||-|
|HDMI Video Out||✓||-||-|
|Max Photo Size||12MP||10MP||10MP|
|File Format||RAW (.gpr)|
|In-Camera Image Enhancement||SuperPhoto||WDR||-|
|Top Burst Mode||30 / 1||15 / 1||15 / 1|
|WiFi / Bluetooth||✓||✓||✓|
|USB Port Type||USB-C||USB-C||USB-C|
DESIGN & BUILD SPECS
|Dimensions||62.3 x 44.9 x 33 mm||62.3 x 44.9 x 28.3 mm||62.3 x 44.9 x 28.3 mm|
|Weight||4.1 oz / 116 g||3.3 oz / 94.4 g||3.26 / 92.4 g|
|Battery Type||1220 mAh||1220 mAh (non-removable)||1220 mAh (non-removable)|
- GoPro SuperPhoto is not related to the Microsoft Superphoto app that adds image effects. ↩
- Post-processing can be applied to the thumbnail previews that are usually (but not always) embedded with RAW files, but that is just a courtesy preview and isn’t a direct reflection of the underlying RAW data. ↩