June 29, 2015 - 11 comments

Getting the best from a GoPro

The GoPro was the bane of my working day on films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, but now I'm a consumer I find them great for what they are.  I'm often asked how you process, work with, and get the best out of a GoPro, so thought I'd post my personal guide here.

I'll start with a bit of context and 'reality checking' your GoPro hopes and dreams, before going through the workflow I've settled on.

I've been asked a few times now how I work with the GoPro and get the best out of it, and it does seem like a simple no-nonsense walkthrough on proper GoPro workflow isn't readily available.

So what follows is my guide focusing on the technical details of preparing, shooting and processing your video.  It's not for absolute beginners but people already familiar with terms and programs in shooting and editing.  (Any beginners should be able to search for terms they don't understand, and carry on from there.)

This guide began life as an email to a friend, and now I've made a post of it it's become quite ... large.

It's not a quick guide offering a quick one-button press for 'Auto Awesome Quality!', but instead asks you to put the time and effort in to get the results.  The principle running through this guide is 'quality in, quality out', and part of that means your own effort and thought.

To answer the simple questions of "Should I get a GoPro?  Are they worth it?  Can I make cool videos?  Can I get good quality stuff from it?" the answer is yes ... relatively.

This guide goes through:

Perspective - understanding the limitations of your audience and your GoPro so your hopes aren't built up - and dashed - too much.

Preparation - choosing the right settings and preparing for the filming

Processing - working with quality files, the correct settings, the best tools

Exporting - creating a high quality final movie

Perspective

First, let's humbly put our hopes and dreams for our latest holiday video, crazy stunt or viral-wannabe in context.  Two main points need to be remembered at all times:

  1. Nobody is supposed to be watching your video.
  2. The GoPro is a tiny camera.
Your Audience

People have jobs, chores, family, friends, hobbies, sleep ... lots of other things that they should be focusing on.  All web viewing, even on a nice big desktop screen, is a delay to the thing you should be doing.

And when you think about mobile video viewing, people will probably be watching your video:

  • with "one eye and one thumb" (care of Luke W)
  • while trying to avoid being noticed they're watching it
  • in desperately imperfect conditions...
    • bad lighting
    • bad noise levels
    • finger smudged screen
    • cracked screen
    • pet cat in the way wanting to be fed

Even if your audience start watching your video - just how much of their quality attention will you have, and for how long?  How 'quality' will your video look in their viewing conditions, regardless of how quality it actually is?

Your camera

I left the film industry having ridden the wave of the first proper digital cinema cameras to get significant use (Panavision Genesis on Captain America: The First Avenger, Arri Alexa on Skyfall, Marvel's Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron) but before things got really silly with the next wave of bigger and better digital cameras.

The new Arri Alexa 65 will be used on upcoming blockbuster releases and it has a sensor size of 5.5cm x 2.5cm.  What does that mean?  Well, a single second of captured action becomes 840 megabytes of raw unprocessed data.  A single second.  It's nuts.

Millions of dollars are spent capturing months of action, processing that data, archiving it, restoring it, perfecting it, then distributing it to gigantic screens where people watch the final (huge data size and quality) image immersed in total darkness.

The entire GoPro, on the other hand, is almost the the same size as that new Alexa's sensor.

The GoPro's own sensor measures just 5.75 mm x 4.28 mm, and from that tiny area it tries to generate a huge image and encode it into a compressed movie on the fly.  Which you will then further compress to laughable amounts when you share it online.

Between the audience and the camera itself, we are expecting an awful lot from our GoPro footage.

Bovvered?

And yet despite such contrast between a theatrical camera and experience, and our little GoPro, we still really care about our footage, right?

I returned from my two-month long honeymoon in Madagascar with over 20 hours of footage - and I LOVE what I've shot.  And I want people to love it too, to be amazed at the scenery, the wildlife and be galvanised to go and see it for themselves.

We love our footage because we were there and filmed it, and we want to make it as good as possible so people can watch it and feel like they were there.

And you know what?  Despite all my humbling of expectations, you can get incredible results from the GoPro.  Probably the best example I've seen is this brief film made by Phillip Bloom:

The smoothness and steadiness of the filming, not to mention the framing, setting and subject, goes a long way in diverting our attention from the quality of the image itself.  BUT even once you account for the extremely compressed streaming image you're watching - it's a great looking video, that beggars belief it came from such a tiny camera.

So how do you do it?

Preparation

This section may not be much comfort if you've shot all your prized footage already, but a big part of getting the best from your GoPro is getting the right settings for shooting.  Before thinking about editing and processing, you need to ensure the data (i.e. footage) you end up with has the best potential for being adjusted, processed and ultimately improved.

The GoPro is a point-and-shoot fun lil' action cam that you can just turn on, film your cat doing something funny, and share on Facebook - but we're after something better, right?  Then you need to do your homework and fully acquaint yourself with just what your GoPro offers you.

Now, I have the Hero 4 Black and the best resource I found for understanding what I had just spent over £300 on was Abe Kislevitz, at this page:

http://abekislevitz.com/new-features-of-the-hero4/

but most importantly this one, detailing all the various video settings:

http://abekislevitz.com/understanding-video-in-the-hero4/

He does write on other models too, so if you have the 3+ or some such, peruse his site and you'll find the help you need.

From reading Abe's wonderful guide, these are the settings I use on my GoPro:

ProTune

The GoPro can't capture raw footage like the data I was used to in my day job, all you get is an h264 encoded mp4 video file.  However, you can turn on ProTune to make that encoded video file as 'raw' as possible, which mostly means 'flat looking' and as 'unprocessed' as possible.

You may well get a first look at your resulting file and go "euurghh, that looks pants", but bear in mind your mp4 file will now have been captured at a data rate of 60 megabits per second.  112 times less data than the Alexa 65, but it's a good start.

Using ProTune means your tiny little GoPro isn't focusing on making a nice, colour graded, sharpened movie for you to instantly watch as well as capturing the footage in the first place - it's going "Err, okay, I'm just gonna get really hot trying to capture as much information as I can, and you make it look good later, yeah?"

You get (relative) flexibility to lighten a dark image, darken an overblown one, and apply colour, sharpening and scaling using time, thought, computing power and software way above anything the minuscule GoPro could do on the fly.

Think about it - a hulking great Mac Pro armed to the teeth with CPUs, RAM and GPUs, with the latest all-powerful software and unlimited processing time .... versus a camera smaller than a matchbox.  Which one would you trust for making a quality movie?

To summarise the principle for applying these settings: a flat and flexible image on capture, colour and beauty later.

The ProTune settings I've settled on are:

White Balance: Native

Color Profile: Flat

ISO Limit: 400

Sharpening: Low

EV Comp.: -0.5 (but I would over expose for snow scenes, for example)

Size and time

Next, what frame sizes and rates do you use for best image quality?  From the numerous options available, this is what I've settled on:

For "real-time" stuff, i.e. footage where I don't want slow-motion, I will use 4k at 24 frames a second.  4k-24.

"But dude, nobody will watch your stuff in 4k!  What's the point!?"  

Indeed, nobody will watch my stuff in 4k because the final video I output will be HD.  In the articles I linked to, Abe did extensive comparisons and settled on a simple fact:

Downscaling 4k to HD in post produces a much better image than just shooting an HD image.

Aside from resizing benefits, a 4k frame gives you incredible flexibility when it comes to cropping, repositioning and stabilising (more on that later) the footage for an HD master frame.

What's more, this option gives you 24 frames a second as your base framerate, i.e. "real time".  When deciding what other settings to use, it helps to have a "in comparison to..." master setting in mind.  (More on framerates in the Processing section.)

So then, when I am going slow-mo the only question I ask myself is ... how slow is slow?  Imagine I'm setting my GoPro to 'Slow-Mo Priority', just as I set my stills camera to Aperture or Shutter Priority.  The level of slow-mo dictates the frame size - that is, I'll choose the maximum frame size I can get for the speed I want: most bang for my buck.

48fps (Double 24fps, so that 1 second of 48 captured frames becomes 2 seconds of frames played back at 24 frames-per-second ... make sense?) - 2.7k on Medium FOV setting.

60fps (1 second of captured footage becomes 2.5 seconds of played back video) - 2.7k on Medium FOV setting.

120fps (1 second of footage becomes 5 seconds of played back video: fairly slllllooooooww moooootiiiooonn) - 1080 on Narrow FOV.

Really, that's all I would use, but a recent firmware upgrade does let me set....

240fps - where 1 second of captured footage becomes ten seconds of played back video.  That is really, reaaaalllyyyy sloooooooooowww mmmmmmooooooottttiiooooooon.  The downside is I have to use 720 on Narrow FOV.  The FOV isn't the problem - but the 1280x720 frame size means I'll have to set the image to 150% Scale in my editing application to match my 1920x1080 master dimension.  Image quality suffers from being enlarged so much, therefore it isn't something I would normally do .... but it looks so freakin' cool man!

Steady.....steady.....

Aside from the settings of the GoPro, there is one thing I would seriously consider, and that is something to help you stabilise the camera while you shoot.  You can stabilise the footage after you shoot it, for example I use the Warp Stabilizer tool in Premiere Pro, but it's bothersome both in getting the settings just right and also in extra rendering time.

I haven't bought anything yet, but I'm currently deciding between:

Feiyu's hand held gimbal: http://www.feiyu-tech.com/G4-en.php

and Steadicam's Curve: http://tiffen.com/steadicam/steadicam-curve/ or their Smoothee: http://tiffen.com/steadicam/steadicam-hand-held-stabilizers/steadicam-hand-held-smoothee/

Shooting steady video really helps your final output look great.

Shooting

And what of the shooting?  I won't go in to guiding principles and practices here, just beware of one thing - if you want true slow-mo, then shoot it hi-speed (e.g. 48, 60, 120 or 240 frames-per-second).  All the frame blending and various plugins to help 'real time' footage look slow-mo are no comparison to the real thing.

The main principle behind this entire article is 'quality in, quality out' - shoot in the highest dimensions you can, keep it as steady as you can, make it as interesting as you can.

Processing

You had the right settings, you shot some awesome stuff, and now you can just chuck those mp4 files from your memory card in to your editing software and away you go, right?

Wrong.

The Wrong Source

h264 is a wildly popular codec that gives you incredible quality for a small file size, and it's the format GoPro records to on your memory card.  The first major step in correctly processing your footage to get the best out of it is to realise these are not the files you will be editing with.

(If you want a proper primer in to the technical details of codecs and digital video, the guy who edited Kick-Ass does a really nice video here: https://vimeo.com/15037664  It's several years old now, but the principles still apply.  This article by Adobe goes in to huge depth on the specifics of h264)

The two main reasons are:

  • it's heavily compressed
  • it's not progressive (i.e. there are no distinct frames of video, everything is interpolated from a number of 'key frames')

The biggest upshot of these problems are that editing applications really struggle to work with them.  A frame is not a frame.  The video is data they don't immediately understand.  They are constantly having to work overtime behind the scenes to uncompress, fill in the blanks and interpret the data.  Then, this interpretation will get re-compressed to a different type of video codec that your editing software uses to playback previews to you.

And that's just to see your video - before you even do anything to it!

When you do do stuff, colour correction and the like, that is further manipulation of this whole uncompressed/recompressed mess.  Quality will suffer.

It also takes bloody ages to render and see anything.

It is just a nightmare.

It's not 'quality in, quality out'.

The Right Source

You first need to convert these small h264 files in to larger lesser-compressed ones where a frame is a frame is a frame (i.e. progressive).  A video file containing no guesswork for your editing application - all the required information is present, and there will be no loss of quality when you manipulate, develop, colour correct and output your final movie.

These will be your master files that you edit with.

There are quite a lot of such high quality formats to choose from, so wouldn't it be great if GoPro themselves had their own high-quality codec that you could encode to, maybe even using a free app to do so?

Oh look at that, there is.  It's called the Cineform codec.

{A brief aside here, the world of the codec and workflows for it is ever changing, but here below is a simple workflow to introduce you to the main concepts.  I'm sure over time exact methodology will change and improve.}

You can use the Cineform codec using GoPro's own GoPro Studio App, which is free to download and use.  As part of installing this app, you will also get the Cineform codec (which the GoPro company actually bought).  This codec is the format our h264 mp4 files will be converted to.

(Could you use any software to convert the mp4's in to any other kind of high quality codec?  Yes, but given we're dealing with GoPro source files, let's assume GoPro have bought the Cineform codec and made their own app to do the best job at converting their own files in to a high quality intermediate codec.  I'll let you do your own searching and reading about the codec, but a nice starter article is here: https://helpx.adobe.com/premiere-pro/using/gopro-cineform-codec.html)

The converted files will be much bigger files than our source h264 files, so ensure you have enough disk space.  If you recall from above, using the correct ProTune settings means our h264s will have a data rate of 60Mbs/sec (mega bits per second).  There's 8 bits to a byte, so that's 7.5MB/sec (megabytes per second).  A Cineform converted 4k video will be 35MB/sec, a 2.7k will be about 20MB/sec and an HD will be about 15MB/sec.  It does depend on the content of the video, so exact sizes may vary - just be wary that in terms of storing all of this converted video, you're gunna need a bigger boat.

So to summarise, as part of the 'quality in, quality out' process, we convert our recorded h264 files in to a much higher quality file before going in to our editing application, so that we get much higher quality videos coming out of it.

Selecting, Trimming and Saving

Ideally you'll still have your source h264 files on your memory card and you'll only have a few files to go through, which means choosing the good ones (selecting) and picking their best bits (trimming) will be quick and easy.

{A short walk down tangent blvd... If, like me, you've returned from a long holiday you'll have hours of footage across hundreds of clips.  This presents a real problem, because ideally you want to assemble your video (or short film) in your editing application first, and be happy with the bits you've chosen.  Only then would you conform these clips to do a batch conversion encoding them all in to the proper codec and voila, you have your edited film now ready for colour correction and such.

Unfortunately the GoPro app has no means of conforming or batch encoding from an XML or EDL file.  So - what do you do?  Encode all your footage en masse and work with the terabytes of resulting data?  Or convert and edit bit-by-bit?  Or assemble your entire edit then convert all the hundreds of files manually?  I don't know, I haven't decided what I'll do, but it would be great if GoPro could add conforming functionality before I do.  [There may be third party apps, e.g. Adobe offerings, that license Cineform functionality and allow batch conforming and media management that way, it's something I still need to look in to.]}

So let's say you've got a memory card of 10 clips, you mount it to your system and open up the GoPro Studio app.  The manual for this app is actually pretty good and detailed, so I recommend reading it, which saves me the effort of screenshots and really detailed instructions.

A brief summary of the steps I do are:

  1. Have patience.   I find the app a bit buggy and randomly sluggish / unresponsive at times.
  2. Import your new files
  3. Click Advanced Settings and choose:
    1. Image Size: source
    2. Frame rate: 23.976
    3. Speed Up: No
    4. File Format: MOV
    5. Quality: High
    6. Remember: Yes
  4. Click the tiny Change Directory at the bottom and set your destination and directory structure for where you'll be saving these conversions to
  5. Work through each clip, setting an in and out for the bit I want and clicking Add Selected To Conversion List (you set in-and-out, add, then set another in-and-out, add, etc, for the same clip)
    1. Check Rotate/Flip option if needed.
  6. With all my chosen bits in the conversion list, click Convert All.

Ideally that would be that, you now have your master files and you can edit away.

Unfortunately, two stupid things happen.

  1. The Studio App has automatically and immediately applied colour to these clips
  2. These colour settings are "dynamically linked" to the file - so any other app you view the file in will also show these colour changes.

To remedy this, you click "Proceed to Step 2".

For each converted clip in the left sidebar you now need to do two things:

  1. Select the clip, and in the Presets panel/list, click None
  2. To be doubly sure nothing is being applied click the big Reset All button

Once you've done all that, you can close the Studio App (you don't have to save your project, but you can if you like).  Don't look at/play your encoded files just yet, as I'll explain what you've ended up with in the next section.

Congratulations, you're one step closer to quality!  You've prepared for your shoot by choosing the correct settings, made sure you shot good stuff, and now you have the highest quality files to edit and work with.

Editing Setup

There are so many versions of so many different editing apps that my next step may not apply to you.  I'm using Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, which like all the 'old school' apps uses a codec behind the scenes to encode your edit in to and show you your movie as a preview.  (I'm not terribly up-to-speed on Premiere CC, FCPX or the latest Avid offerings, but I believe the trendy kids nowadays are 'resolution independent', which basically means my next step may not be applicable.)

Editing apps work by taking the edit decisions you've made (i.e. cuts and assembles in your timeline), applying them to the source files, then showing you the output.  What's vital to understand is that to show you the output, it creates 'preview files' which are rendered little movies, encoded with a specific codec.  That's right, there's yet more compressing and encoding going behind the scenes, each time you hit 'play'.

A vital step to ensuring smooth playback, quick render times of your previews, and accurate feedback of the movie you're making is to tell your editing application to use the same Cineform codec that your source files are made of for making its preview files.

For example, if we have as our source, some 1920x1080 Cineform Quicktime files, and we have a timeline set to 1920x1080, and we also tell our editing application to use as its 'behind the scenes preview codec' the Cineform one - then the source matches the preview file, and no actual conversion will have to be done behind the scenes.  No uncompression, interpolation, interpretation, manipulation then recompression.  No guesswork.  No render times.

Now, most of our files will probably be a larger dimension, so there will be some work in downsizing a 4k image in to an HD timeline, but it's far, far less work than starting with h264 files.

In Premiere, you do this by opening up Sequence Settings, and in the Video Previews box set your codec to GoPro Cineform Codec.  If you like play around with other options, but bear in mind these are just settings for previewing files - the main thing is getting the right codec.

Searching how to do this for your own editing software should quickly return the answer.

About Time

Another setting to consider is framerate.  This can get a little tricky to understand.

Movies are just lots of photographs played back so quickly that humans can't detect the separate images and instead just see a smooth movie.  I won't get in to the history of it all here, but different countries, technology and devices have used different speeds of playing back the separate images - different framerates - and so various standards have emerged.

From my work in film, and from the reach of Hollywood, the major standard is 23.976fps.  It's often called 'filmic' because we've become so accustomed to it that anything using it evokes the feel of a film.  Anything higher, like 48fps or 60fps, feels very .... un-filmy.  I didn't see The Hobbit in 48fps, but I've seen TVs in that ghastly 'smooth view' setting, or the new breed of YouTube videos in 60fps (like this one, choose 1080p60) and indeed - it doesn't feel like a film.

You may recall 23.976fps is also the setting I chose in the GoPro Studio App when converting my h264 files.  So if I had a clip in 48, 60, 120 or 240 frames-per-second - what's happened to it?

Let's take an example shot of my cat jumping in the air - I recorded 5 seconds of action, but at 48fps.  The converted clip will now be 10 seconds long with a framerate of 23.976 (just think 24).  There were (5 x 48) 240 frames of captured action, and playing those frames back at a rate of 24 per second gives me (240 / 24) 10 seconds of playback.  To our brain, we perceive this as slow-motion.  I shot something in high-speed to create slow-mo.

What's great about this is it's ultra smooth, genuine slow-mo.  I could film 10 seconds of my cat jumping at 24fps, and then slow-down that clip to double its length to 20 seconds of playback - but there aren't enough actual frames of captured action to have 24 separate frames per second for 20 seconds.  Frames will be doubled up, 1 frame shown per 1/12th of a second (or 12-frames-per-second) and our human brain loses its persistence of vision and we no longer see a movie, just a series of images being played back in a st-ut-ter-ry-ma-nn-er.

So all of our clips now have a framerate of 23.976 frames per second.  For our 4k videos that were shot in 23.976 they retain their 'real time' feel.  Everything else is varying degrees of 'slow mo'.  (After viewing a 240fps source in 23.976fps slow-mo, your 48 and 60 fps clips may not look very slow-mo any more - they are, don't worry.)

The main upshot of all of this is another setting for your sequence/ timeline - its framerate.  Make it 23.976 fps.

Editing - Smooth and Slow

I'm assuming you know how to use your editing app of choice.

Two main things I do are stabilise, and speed ramp slow-mo clips.

Stabilising

Premiere Pro has a Warp Stabiliser tool (as I mention above, ideally you stabilise on shoot rather than in post) that is a bit fiddly to get just right, but is effective is stabilising your footage.  (A search will return numerous articles on how to use it, Adobe's own are alright).

A slight hurdle is that to apply the effect, the sequence dimension must match the clip dimension.  So if I have a 4k clip in an HD timeline, I won't be able to apply the effect to it.

A workaround is the following steps:

  1. Set the desired in-and-out for the clip in the source monitor (this effect takes ages to render, so it's best to do it to just the bit[s] you want, rather than one long clip) and Create Subclip (right-click on the image in the source monitor).
  2. Right click the create subclip in your project bin and click 'New Sequence from Clip'
  3. Open that new sequence, and you can then apply the Warp Stabiliser to the clip in it.
  4. Adjust settings as desired
  5. Wait for it to render....
  6. You can now place the stabilised sequence in to your master sequence
    1. You can scale the stabilised sequence as needed so it fits un-cropped in to your master sequence.

Voila - stabilised video.  You see now why it's better to have a gimbal of some sort when you're filming...

Speed Ramps

Plopping your slow-mo clips in to your timeline is cool - lovely slow-mo playback.  Sometimes you may want to play around with them though, and have a clip begin 'real-time' and then gradduuaallyyyy become slow-mo, stay slow-mo, before then speeding up at the end.  Or vice-versa.

This quick video shows you how, in Premiere Pro at least.  Again, search for your own app if you don't know how and the answer will show itself.

Just remember your percentages.  48fps source clips played at 200% will be 'real time'.  60fps played at 250% will be 'real time'.  120fps played at 500%, and 240fps sources played at 1000% will be real time.  If you do use speed ramps, bear these numbers in mind to keep things smooth and natural looking.

(One annoying upshot of converting your source clips in the Studio app is when they come out as 23.976, Premiere will list them in your project bin as having a 23.976 source framerate.  Unless you rename your clips accurately [at whichever stage you like] then it's easy to lose track of which clip was shot at which framerate])

The Story

So with basic assembly editing, trimming and fine tuning, then stabilising and perfecting slow-mo, you'll have a watchable video.

If it's a short video of interesting/funny subject matter, then your audience's attention may hold.  If it's any longer than a minute or so, please, please, please consider trying to tell a story to keep your audience engaged.

(I've returned from my honeymoon with over 20 hours of footage and thousands of photos.  Am I just gonna cut and cut and cut until I have something half an hour long?  No.  I'm going to take the time (it will probably take umpteen months as a hobby project) to craft a proper travel documentary, using proper methodology.  I'm going to work out the story I want to tell, then craft a 20-30 minute film from my footage.  With narration, motion graphics - I really want to do justice to the experience I had, to the audience I want to show it to, and also to my memory so I'll have something decent to watch for the rest of my life.)

This guide focuses on the technical details of making a film look good - but never, ever forget the power of storytelling in making a quality looking film worth watching.

Making it look good

Colour correction.  An artistry and craft all to itself.

My general steps would be:

  1. Use in-built tools, such as levels, three-ways etc, to colour correct your various clips so they are balanced to your satisfaction.
  2. Use a proper third-party tool to then apply a quality grade to your clips and movie.

The vimeo vid at the start of this post uses FilmConvert.

What's nice about it is it has a preset for GoPro as being your source camera, with ProTune flat settings.  So it's going to interpret your source footage properly, then apply any of the numerous film looks you want to it properly.

You can use your GPU to render, it has its own colour correction tools, does filmic grain properly, and generally gets really nice looking videos.

Use whichever tool you're happy with, there's tons to choose from.  For the time being, I'm using FilmConvert and am happy with the results.

Exporting

We are almost there.  So far we have:

  • Ensured recording settings allow us to capture the highest quality, most flexible, clips for processing
  • Transcoded those captured clips to a very high standard intermediate codec that allows serious manipulation and processing with no loss of quality.
  • Set our editing software correctly so processing and previews are quick and accurate
  • Set our timeline properly so our clips keep their filmic look and we can speed ramp with accuracy.
  • Used proper stabilisation and colour correction methods and tools

The final step will be to ensure we export our movie with the correct settings.

Export File Format

I'm assuming you want to upload your movie to YouTube, Vimeo or some such for sharing around online.  (If you want to put your movie to DVD, Blu-Ray or theatrical presentation, then I guess you know what you're doing.)

Software and settings are changing/updating all the time, but at the moment, this is what I do.

Format: h264

That's right, after all of our hard work with high quality files, now is the time to compress our movie down in to a format that is easy for sharing.

(One option is to export as something fully uncompressed, or some other high quality intermediate codec, and then convert to h264 using an app you prefer/trust for its h264 quality (e.g. ffmpeg or some such).  It's up to you.)

Most important of all: Video settings

These are settings I pick in Premiere Pro CS6 export options once I've chosen h264 as my export format.  Again, if you're using a different app, search to find answers if stuck.

I export my movies as HD (1920x1080) 23.976 fps Progressive, Square Pixel.  Profile: High, Level: 4.0

Aside from that, there are three crucial settings that above all will dramatically affect the quality of your output.

1.)  Render at Maximum Depth

I won't get in to the specifics here, but how red is red?  How black is black?  These answers will be defined in your video by numbers - and the more numbers used to describe red, green, black - the better the quality of those colours - and so, overall image - will be.

Ensure this option is checked.

2.)  Use Maximum Render Quality

Have you ever resized an image in Photoshop, or something, and seen all those options for exactly how the resizing will be done?  Bicubic, bilinear, nearest neighbour, automatic, smoother and sharper....WTF?

Luckily for your export, you only have to worry about one option: checking the box called 'Use Maximum Render Quality'.

For all of your various clip dimensions that you have scaled down to fit your HD timeline, this option ensures they will get scaled with the highest quality.

You make think it's not important, but a lot of people rightly say that this option above any other has the greatest impact on your overall video quality.

3.)  Bitrate: VBR 2-pass

Again (you may sense a theme here) I won't get in to the specifics of bitrate encoding and passes.  Suffice to say your options (at least mine in Premiere) are:

  • CBR, stands for constant bitrate
  • VBR 1-pass, stands for variable bitrate, one single pass
  • VBR 2-pass

Ignore CBR.

VBR 1-pass basically means the software is doing the encoding at 5.29pm on a sunny Friday, all of its mates are down the pub, and it just goes:

"Errr, quick quick quick, right this part I'll encode with this much quality, this part looks fine doesn't need much, oh bugger that shot needed loads but I've done it now, oh never mind nobody'll notice, that bit goes like this, this bit like that, bob's your uncle, fanny's your aunt and done, phew!"  

Text to mates: "Hey u guys on my way now.  Just did them a VBR 1-pass, LOLZ!"

It encodes your final movie as it analyses it on the fly, making decisions there and then.  This is typically awful for the parts of your movie containing high motion, high detail, quick changes and cuts ... basically it's just awful.  Don't use it.

VBR 2-pass is the puppy.  This time, your software had a cracking weekend down the pub, has had a nice Monday morning catchup with its colleagues, and now devotes the rest of its week to encoding your video.

For the first day or so, it will just look at the video it has to encode and goes:

"Hmmm, this bit is fairly okay and doesn't need that much work, but this bit looks *mental* and will need a lot of my time to do properly, this bit it is fairly complicated, that bit looks okay..."

Then after it's analysed it (i.e. its first pass) it then does a second pass of the actual encoding, knowing which bits it can heavily compress, and which bits need as much data as possible to make them look good.

That's not the most technical way of explaining it, but hopefully it gets the point across.

Use VBR 2-pass.

That just leaves you with sliders to set Target bitrate and Maximum Bitrate.  These are the numbers the software works to when deciding 'a lot of data needs to be spent encoding this part' or 'this bit looks okay' - how much data will be used to encode?  What is the rate of bits (i.e. 1s and 0s) per second to describe the video ... the bitrate.

Ensure you are clear as to the denomination of bitrate: is it kbps (kilobits per second) or Mbps (megabits per second).  1 Mbps = 1000 kbps.

So what numbers should you use?  A bit hard to say, as when you upload to Vimeo and YouTube they will re-encode your movie again to their own standards (which are changing all the time, so I won't comment here on which is better to use).

To give you a safety blanket, set the target to 10 and the maximum to 15 (Mbps).  But feel free to do your own searching for the latest recommendations.

And then .... wait.

You've got top quality sources, with some top quality effects, being encoded using top quality settings.  This will be a kind of ... leave it encoding over night wait.

Enjoy

I can't put it any simpler than that - enjoy the fruit of your labours!

You have gone above and beyond with your video and never settled for second best.  Even if it's some little viral wannabe that's only 10 seconds long, you've treated it with respect and a level of professionalism that, if anything else, you can pass on to your friends, and use again when you really do want to make something quality.

Congratulations!

You've approached making your video the correct way, from perspective and preparation to the editing and output, you've practiced 'quality in, quality out' and you absolutely will get the best out of your little GoPro.

Just ... don't be too disheartened when you see the Alexa 65 footage on a 50ft cinema screen and wonder ... why doesn't my GoPro footage look that good.

Notes

Tech is always changing so some of this may no longer be relevant.

This wasn't a beginner's guide, but anything that catches you out just have a search - the answers are out there.

It's been suggested I do a YouTube video walkthrough of this for further clarity - do you agree?

I myself am still fully exploring my GoPro, and have yet to fully begin making my short travel doc and definitely 100% settle on a workflow, but if I discover fundamentally different/better processes then I will update this.

 

Comments

Lutz
August 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

What is the better solution? Applying the anti-fisheye in GoPro Studio or in Adobe Premiere?

Comments are closed.

    willjohnsnow
    August 4, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Hello, thanks for reading and asking!

    I haven’t done a comparison myself so can’t comment I’m afraid. In GoPro Studio it’s just a checkbox option and I don’t know how well this one-size-fits-all option works. I do it in Premiere because I get complete control. But I haven’t done a comparison so don’t take my word for it – try it for yourself and let me know 🙂

    Comments are closed.

      Lutz
      August 6, 2015 at 11:26 am

      Thank you very much for this awesome article. It’s one of the best sources for professional GoPro data handling i have found!

      I will do some tests!

      Comments are closed.

        willjohnsnow
        September 6, 2015 at 4:10 pm

        Hi Lutz

        Thanks for your kind words, I hope you have fun and success with your GoPro videos. Email me with any thoughts you have after trying out the workflow for yourself.

        Comments are closed.

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September 22, 2015 at 2:53 am

Thanks very interesting blog!

Comments are closed.

KAllen
September 26, 2015 at 6:02 pm

WOW that was awesome Will!!! i learned a lot from your article. i’m trying to figure out my Hero4 Black videos & this put me on the right track. Thank you very much.

Comments are closed.

    willjohnsnow
    September 27, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for commenting, glad to help. I hope it all makes sense, when I have time I’d like to make a quick video walkthrough of the process as well. All the best with your videos.

    Comments are closed.

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Comments are closed.