GoPro is used to battling DJI and Insta360 in a Squid Game-style battle for action camera supremacy, but this year, an unexpected competitor has entered the fray: Apple.
This week we saw the arrival of the long-awaited GoPro Hero 11 Black, a direct successor to what is, to us, the best action camera you can buy. But just a week earlier, Apple had upset GoPro by releasing its iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro smartphones with a brilliant new video feature called Action Mode.
The feature is effectively Apple’s take on GoPro’s HyperSmooth technology, a powerful form of digital video stabilization that works by cropping the camera’s wide-angle view, leaving the outer edges of the frame free to correct for shake and vibration.
This creates a gimbal-like effect without needing extra accessories, with HyperSmooth being a staple of GoPro action cameras since its first introduction in the GoPro Hero 7 Black in 2018.
Has Apple, then, finally conquered the lucrative stock photography market? Tim Cook and company would certainly like to think so, but the reality is a little different. While the iPhone 14’s action mode was certainly impressive in our initial tests, it comes with more limitations than the stabilization effects possible on the Hero 11 Black. And the latter, of course, maintains a degree of durability that Apple smartphones just can’t match.
Why is Apple’s Action Mode more limited than GoPro’s HyperSmooth? For starters, Action Mode primarily uses the iPhone 14 Pro’s ultra-wide (13mm) lens, which has a relatively small 1/2.55-inch sensor. ). Both settings mean you need a lot of light for Action Mode to work effectively, and you’re likely to struggle (or be entirely unavailable) in dark environments.
The Hero 11 Black, on the other hand, has a larger 1/1.9-inch sensor, which means its HyperSmooth feature can work in moderately low light. It’s still not brilliant in these situations, mind you, but you’re sure to get more versatility from the GoPro than the iPhone when you’re in the mountains, on the water, or anywhere else you like to get your adrenaline pumping.
This 1/1.9-inch sensor, and in particular its 8:7 aspect ratio, also gives the Hero 11 Black wiggle room for more stabilization tricks, like the impressive 360-degree Horizon Lock.
The GoPro Hero 10 Black already uses ‘Horizon Leveling’ technology to correct distorted images up to 45 degrees, but the Hero 11 Black takes the feature a step further, keeping images straight even when the camera rotates 360 degrees.
This works with all resolutions and frame rates (except for 5.3K/60p, 4K/120p, 2.7K/240p, or 1080/240p where you’ll get standard horizon flattening for angles up to 27 degrees) and in our brief experience testing the Hero 11 Black, we were very impressed with the effectiveness of Horizon Lock.
Apple’s Action Mode doesn’t give you the same degree of freedom to move the iPhone’s camera up, down, left, and right without losing stable orientation. Granted, most users won’t be throwing their devices into a horizon-altering spin – and Action Mode has any scroll correction – but the inclusion of Horizon Lock on the Hero 11 Black marks another small victory over the iPhone as an action camera.
The same goes for the amount of control you can exert over the GoPro’s stabilization level. The Hero 11 Black offers varying degrees of HyperSmooth – standard, Boost and AutoBoost – which allows you to tailor stabilization to specific activities.
For example, you don’t always want a super smooth floating effect for things like mountain biking, where a little judder can create a more realistic look. The Hero 11 Black – unlike Apple’s Action Mode – allows for more relaxed cropping, and these different strengths of HyperSmooth are available at virtually any resolution, frame rate or digital lens.
At the moment, the GoPro’s stabilization also trumps its rival Apple in resolution options. The Hero 11 Black offers stabilization for footage at up to 5.3K/60p, compared to just 2.8K on the iPhone. Then there are the extra effects at your disposal with GoPro, like TimeWarp, which combines time-lapses with HyperSmooth to let you capture super-stabilized time-lapse videos as you move through a scene.
Of course, the GoPro’s durability is also a factor. Apple reinforces the structural integrity of its iPhones annually, but there’s no way a four-figure iPhone 14 Pro can be taken to the mountains or water without some form of added protection.
The Hero 11 Black, however, is ready to rock right away. Its housing is virtually indestructible – we tested its scratch-resistant lens cap during a particularly twisted mountain bike incident, and the camera remained completely pristine – and its built-in mount makes attaching to action things like handlebars and surfboards a breeze.
To be clear, we’re certainly not discrediting Apple’s Action Mode. We were happy to see the feature announced at the company’s September launch event, and so far it has proven to be an effective (if not gimbal-level) method of casual stabilization in our initial testing.
We also expect to see Action Mode become much more powerful in the coming years – Cinematic Mode, for example, was recently upgraded to 4K resolution, having been limited to 1080p at launch.
But Apple’s first major foray into action videography remains, for now, a feature designed primarily to enhance images captured while walking and running. Action Mode isn’t, as some have suggested, the GoPro’s killer – at least not for those who engage in more adventurous (read: more outdoorsy) sporting activities.
The Hero 11 Black offers better quality video, more granular control over stabilization and a host of useful effects like Horizon Lock and TimeWarp, in addition to the obvious durability benefits granted by its robust design.
Apple’s new brilliant mode may well eat into the Hero 11 Black’s appeal to vloggers, which could affect the popularity of GoPro’s Hero 11 Black Creator Edition and other vlog cameras like the Sony ZV-1. Between a cinematic mode and an enhanced action mode, the iPhone 14 series could definitely earn a place among the best vlog cameras.
We’ll be doing a more comprehensive side-by-side comparison between the GoPro Hero 11 Black and the iPhone 14’s action mode soon, so stay tuned to for our final verdict. If you’re trying to find out how GoPro’s new flagship really differs from its predecessor, you can also check out the GoPro Hero 11 Black vs Hero 10 Black comparison as well.