The Best Way to Stabilize Your GoPro Hero's Footage

The GoPro Hero 7’s most talked about feature, HyperSmooth, can give gimbal quality stabilization without the need for any external hardware. But if you already own a Hero 5 Black, Hero 5 Session, or Hero 6, a software plugin called ReelSteady GO can bring that feature to your camera.

The contents of the review can summed up with this statement: if you own a GoPro compatible with the software, you should get the software. It delivers smooth and consistent results, while offering plenty of options for refining the output. At $99, it’s cheaper and easier to use than any other competitive GoPro stabilization option. If you have a Hero 5, 6, or 5 Session, this plugin makes your camera competitive with GoPro’s latest in stabilization. If you already own a Hero 7, but want more control over the final product, this plugin gives you the creative control you need over the stabilization process.

What Makes This Method Different?

Image stabilization algorithms have existed for a while, helping steady out shots with different degrees of effectiveness. Most utilities analyze the contents of the image, then shift or warp the frame to counterbalance the movement. While this can work fine for slight shifts, I’ve never been very impressed with the results.

That’s why, when GoPro announced the Hero 7’s highlight feature of HyperSmooth, promising gimbal like results with electronic image stabilization, I was interested. A gimbal adds a lot of complexity, along with an extra battery, while a GoPro has a small and simple form factor. What’s even better is that the tech actually delivers results. Footage with HyperSmooth enabled looks great. With HyperSmooth, or footage from a compatible GoPro stabilized through ReelSteady GO, you can have rock-steady shots without the need to ever balance a gimbal.

HyperSmooth combines the Hero’s large field of view with information from built in gyroscopes to deliver a more accurate stabilization of footage than would be available just from optical tracking. The downsides include losing about 10% of the field of view, as well as the footage being irreversibly altered to smooth it out. If the stabilization doesn’t turn out good or the shot is too tight, that information is lost.

ReelSteady GO, since it works with unstabilized footage, helps ameliorate a number of those downsides. Raw footage is preserved, allowing for tweaks to composition, while the balance between stabilization and cropping can be adjusted after the fact.

The Benefits

GoPro has limited the HyperSmooth feature to the Hero7, but the necessary  hardware is built into cameras going back to the Hero 5. This means the software can breathe new life into an old action camera, or make for a better value when buying a used older model in lieu of the Hero7. Any footage shot on a Hero 5 Black, Hero 5 Session, Hero 6, or Hero 7 can be stabilized after the fact with this plugin.

When shooting for use with ReelSteady GO, almost any mode can be used. Supported modes include: “All “Wide”, “4:3”, and “Superview” modes at a resolution of 1080p or larger, 25fps or more, with in-camera stabilization disabled.”

The software delivers processed footage that is:

  • Gimbal smooth
  • Has the fisheye distortion corrected
  • Allows for centering of the horizon
  • Shot at a higher framerate than HyperSmooth
  • Shot at higher resolutions than HyperSmooth

Is It Worth It With a Hero 7?

Hero 7 users, who already have access to HyperSmooth can still benefit. The much-greater processing power of your computer makes for a better stabilized result, while the software allows for higher resolutions and framerates than can be set in camera.

Using the Application

The interface is simple and quick, with a decent spec computer you're able to quickly process footage. There are a number of sliders available to adjust the effects of stabilization, including smoothness, and cropping speed. Conveniently, I’ve typically been able to just use the defaults to produce clean and stable footage. After stabilization, the original clip remains available, with your newly stabilized clip exported with a new filename into the original clip’s folder.

The finished video looks clean and silky smooth. One important thing to note is that stabilized footage is rendered out with the distortion removed. The output change to a wider aspect ratio is intended to reduce the amount of cropping that has to occur during the stabilization process. I think the distortion removal produces better looking footage, reducing the fisheye look inherent to action camera footage, but this can be important to remember if you’re planning to match stabilized and unstabilized shots.

Test shots while walking, running, mountain biking, and panning all turned out perfect when shot on a GoPro Hero7 at a variety of frame rates and resolutions. In a head-to-head across the same terrain, ReelSteady GO delivered better results than HyperSmooth.

Loading the clips and setting up the stabilization is almost entirely automatic. For footage shot with the GoPro flipped, you may have to manually select to invert the gyroscope data, but this is immediately apparent on playback and can be fixed with 1 click.

A big plus is that the software supports both OS X and Windows, with the exported footage compatible with most any video editor capable of handling .mp4 files. This makes using the software across platforms an effortless experience.

Future Development Opportunities

While the interface is clean and simple, there is the potential for one major workflow improvement. Currently, the software can only process 1 clip at a time, requiring each new clip to be loaded after completion. This can be slow for a large number of clips. I’d love to see a batching action, particularly since I rely on the defaults most of the time, anyway.

Overall, I’m very happy with the development state of the app, since I haven’t experienced any crashes or other issues while testing.

Conclusion

At $99, ReelSteady GO beats the results of any other stabilization program I’ve seen, delivering results that can go toe to toe with a gimbal. Importantly, this stabilization requires nothing more than a GoPro, which can allow for stabilized shots in any conditions.

If you have a Hero 5 Black, Hero 5 Session, or Hero 6, consider getting this program before splashing out $300+ on a new Hero 7 or gimbal. Since the video quality has only had minor improvements over the last few generations of Hero, you can score the Hero 7’s headline feature for far less than an upgrade.

If you have a Hero 7, ReelSteady GO takes the feature you already love and brings it to another level. Getting higher frame rates and resolution, along with preserving your unstabilized footage, make the software a compelling buy for any serious Hero 7 user. I think the stabilized, distortion-free footage looks clean and professional.

Lead image courtesy of Jakob Owens

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3 Comments

Thank you. I'd heard of this app / plug-in and it was in my to-do to explore further, as I've a Hero 6B and Hero 7B, the former seldom used now as the difference in footage a poor comparison, 99% due to stabilisation. I'll give this a go!

Alex Coleman's picture

Definitely give it a try! It should breathe new life into your 6.

as I have a Hero 6B and Hero 7B, the previous only from time to time utilized now as the distinction in film a poor correlation, 99% because of adjustment.(https://cyberflix.biz) I'll give this a go!