GoPro has long been a dominant player in the action camera space, but of late, the company has been struggling with poor sales and has also dropped out of the drone market. VR is a new vertical for GoPro, and it’s betting big on the Fusion, its new 360-degree camera. The Fusion went on sale internationally late last year, and although GoPro is yet to make it available via retail channels in India like its other cameras, you can get a unit shipped here. Priced at $700 (roughly Rs. 44,600), which doesn’t include the cost of shipping, is the Go Pro Fusion worth the steep price? Find out in our review.
The design of the Fusion is quite different from what we're using to seeing with the company’s Hero line of cameras. For starters, it’s a bigger than the typical rectangular GoPro Hero models, and is heavier. The entire body has a rubberised finish so it should be able to handle minor falls. It's also waterproof up to 4.88m (16 feet). There is an 18-megapixel sensor with a fish-eye lens on both the front and the back of the Fusion for capturing 360-degree footage. These lenses bulge outwards and don’t have any scratch protection so you’ll need to be very careful while handling the camera. GoPro ships a carry case with the Fusion for this very reason.
There’s a small backlit display on the front which shows you the current shooting mode, battery level, number of remaining shots, and other details. It isn't a touchscreen, which is a bit of a step back from the Hero6. This means you’ll have to navigate the menus with the Mode and Shutter buttons on the camera, like you do with the Hero Session series of cameras. There are red status LEDs on the front and back to tell you whether the camera is recording or capturing an image. There's a bracket at the bottom with mounting fingers that can be used to attach the Fusion to any GoPro mount, but this is removable so you can keep the Fusion standing upright on its own.
The GoPro Fusion gets a much bigger battery than the Hero6, at 2620mAh, and it slots in from the right. There are microSD card slots on either side of the battery, and both need to be occupied in order for the Fusion to work. The reason for this is that footage captured by the two sensors is saved separately on the individual cards. It’s only when you copy the footage to your phone or PC and use GoPro's software, that 360-degree images and videos are actually stitched together. Naturally, this does take a toll on the device you're rendering on, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. GoPro recommends Class 10 or higher cards, and the maximum capacity it can support is 128GB (per slot).
There’s another smaller flap on the left of the camera which protects the USB Type-C port. Finally, there are three microphones on the top, and a speaker grille at the back. Just like any other GoPro camera, the Fusion feels premium and well-crafted. Its size makes it quite conspicuous but is still manageable when mounted on a bike helmet, for example.
The Fusion ships with a good starter kit. In the box, you’ll find two adhesive mounts, a Type-C cable, a pouch for the camera, and a multi-purpose handle called the Fusion Grip. The latter can be used as a tripod or selfie stick, and its telescopic arm can extend to give you more flexibility. The build quality and finish of the Fusion Grip are great. It feels sturdy and well made, even though it's mostly plastic.
In order to test the Fusion, GoPro sent us two 32GB Lexar microSD UHS-II cards for this review. Its best to use two cards with identical capacities in the Fusion since if one of them fills up before the other, you won't be able to record more footage. This also poses another potential issue - if one of the cards gets corrupted for any reason, you’ll only have one half your camera footage. Ideally, we would have liked to have some in-built storage, especially considering the cost here.
The menu system will be familiar to navigate if you’ve used any recent GoPro camera. You can use the Mode button to cycle through shooting modes, and the Shutter button to start capturing. In video mode, you can shoot spherical vidoes at up to 5.2K (4992x2496) at 30fps, or 3K (3000x1504) at 60fps. In photo mode, you can choose between the auto, burst, and night photo settings. With the latter, you can adjust the shutter speed and field of view. In most shooting modes, you can enable a feature called Protune which lets you manually set the ISO and exposure compensation values if you need more control over the lighting.
The Fusion works just like any other GoPro. You can sync it with the GoPro app on Android or iOS over Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth to see live video from the camera, just like a viewfinder. You can also change settings such as the GPS status and screen brightness. You can use voice controls, check the free space on the card, and update the firmware of the camera as well. However, the list of mobile devices that support Fusion is limited. For iOS, you’ll need an iPhone 6s or newer, and only some recent iPad models are supported. For Android, support is a bit bleak at the moment as there are only a handful of flagship-class devices that can work with the Fusion. You can see the full list of supported devices on GoPro's website.
We tested the Fusion with a Google Pixel 2 XL as well as an iPhone 6s Plus for this review. While the Pixel 2 XL managed to render the live feed and stitched 360-degree video without heating up too much, the older iPhone 6s Plus struggled to keep up, and this caused it to heat up very quickly. Speaking of heat, the Fusion itself gets warm even when it’s idle and heats up a lot when shooting videos or timelapses. 360-degree images can be shared only to Facebook, whereas videos can be trimmed for YouTube (up to 90 seconds) or Facebook (up to 30 seconds). You can also capture a 360-degree still frame from the video and share it. Images and video downloaded from the camera reside within the GoPro app so there’s no way to access them through your phone’s gallery or share them through other means.
If you want to extract the 360-degree image and video files, you'll have to use the desktop app called Fusion Studio. The software is available for Windows and macOS, but it needs a lot of work. On Windows 10, the program would simply refuse to detect the camera despite multiple attempts, and we initially had the same problem on a Mac as well, although being persistent eventually paid off. A workaround for this is to manually copy the files from the microSD cards to your PC and then import them into Fusion Studio. This is a bit of a hassle but at least it works. After doing this, you're in for a long wait while the software generates a preview by combining the footage from both microSD cards.
Once processed, you’ll see all your clips in the left pane, and various options to render them on the right pane. Longer videos are saved as multiple clips of seven minutes each on the cards, but when you view them in Fusion Studio, they shows up as a single large video clip. Once selected, you can trim the video, adjust the yaw, pitch and roll, and tweak the colour properties. You can even try to stabilise video if you need to before rendering the final output. At this stage, you can choose the type of codec (H.264, CineForm '422 High' or ProRes 422), resolution, and audio format (stereo, 360 audio) you want.
Overcapture on iOS lets you crop standard-aspect videos out of 360-degree footage for easier sharing
The Fusion has one more cool trick up its sleeve, and that’s the Overcapture feature. Currently only available in the Fusion Studio desktop app and on iOS, it lets you create standard-aspect videos from your spherical footage. You can chose from multiple aspect ratios including 16:9, 4:3, and square, and even set the type of projection to Little Planet or Fisheye for some very interesting effects.
Rendering a regular 16:9 video clip using Overcapture is quick, but if you wish to render a 360-degree clip, your wait time depends on how powerful your PC or device is. On our mid-2015 iMac with a Core i5 CPU and 16GB of RAM, a five-minute 360-degree clip being rendered to 4K (from 5.2K) took more than an hour. Our iMac might not have the latest specs, but this is still an impractically long time.
On a Windows 10 laptop with an 8th Gen Core i7 CPU, rendering previews was quicker but exporting the same five-minute file with the same settings as on the Mac, took about 45 minutes. Fusion Studio is also extremely glitchy and unpredictable. It hung a bunch of times when trying to watch footage, and scrubbing through the timeline wasn't very responsive in longer clips. The program often stopped responding, and we had to force-quit it on the Mac.
Processed images look good, and stitch lines weren't visible for the most part. Objects that are placed too close to the camera appear a bit warped when stitched, but as long as you have the camera away from you or your subject, you should be fine. When using the Fusion Grip, most of the pole is invisible because it's right below the two lenses, so it looks like your hand grasping a handle that isn't attached to anything.
Image quality is good in daylight, and the Fusion manages to meter scenes well. Colours are also nicely saturated. Under direct sunlight, a portion of the sky can appear a bit burnt out but everything else is very legible. In low light, there is a bit of visible noise but overall, the level of detail is still quite good. The burst and timelapse modes work just as they do with other GoPro cameras.
Video quality is also excellent during the day, and stitching is handled well. In low light, details take a bit of a hit but quality is still decent. Video can be played using the Fusion VR player app, or if you're on Windows 10, the default video player now supports 360-degree video playback as well. Do keep in mind that if you have the Fusion mounted on a helmet, the area around the helmet will appear a bit warped since it's too close to the lenses, but everything else is rendered well. Video is smooth and you can add more stabilisation in post-production.
Stitching videos is resource-intensive on the device you’re using. Again, our Pixel 2 XL didn't get too hot, and a seven-minute video took about 16 minutes to process. However, the iPhone 6s Plus often failed to import videos longer than two minutes, and would get very hot.
Stills and videos are saved in the JPEG and MP4 formats respectively, and you even have the option to shoot in RAW, though this does increase the time taken to save shots. 360-degree footage eats through your storage space pretty quickly. We filled up our 32GB cards with a mix of photos, burst shots, and a some 5.2K footage totalling to about 50 minutes. A seven-minute clip shot at 5.2K resolution typical comes to about 2.8GB in size per lens.
We encountered a few bugs in the current firmware of the the Fusion. For example, the red status light in the front would stay on when the Fusion was powered off, and at times, random conversations would trigger voice commands, causing the device to switch modes or start recording.
Despite its large battery, we managed to get only about an hour worth of continuous usage when recording at the highest resolution. This was with Wi-Fi on but GPS and Protune turned off. Charging the Fusion takes about three-and-a-half hours using a standard wall adapter. Like with other GoPros, even having the camera on but idle for a while will cause a noticeable dip in the battery life. Thankfully, the Fusion turns itself off after seven minutes of inactivity.
The GoPro Fusion is the company’s first attempt at a 360-degree camera, and while it does capture very good footage, it’s not the easiest camera to live with. First, there’s the need for two microSD cards at all times. Then there’s the software, which has a long way to go, especially the Fusion Studio desktop app. Let's not forget, you'll be needing a powerful desktop and smartphone if you want to work with the footage that this camera captures. App support on Android is limited to a handful of flagship phones right now, and Overcapture, which is a crucial feature, is yet to make it to Android.
At the time of this review, the Fusion can only be purchased officially in India by getting it shipped directly through GoPro’s website. This means you’re paying $700, plus shipping (which is either $80 or $130 depending on what you choose) which works out to about Rs. 50,000. This puts it in the same ballpark as other 4K 360-degree cameras such as the Ricoh Theta V and the Nikon KeyMission 360. GoPro tells us that it does plan on selling it through local online and offline channels, but for now, this is the only way to get your hands on one.
Right now, the Fusion is too expensive for what feels like an unfinished product. The hardware is solid but the software has a lot of catching up to do. It would make sense to wait a bit and see how things improve with software updates over the coming months, or whether GoPro has a follow-up version of the Fusion planned for 2018.
Price (MRP): $700 (roughy Rs. 44,700) + shipping
Ratings (Out of 5)