“The Hero9 Black is as good as it gets, but its major improvements over the Hero8 have hardly any practical advantages.”
Larger rear window
Higher capacity battery
Supports Max Lens Mod
24MP still images
More bulky compared to Hero8
5K video feels pointless
Incompatible with Hero8 Media Mod
The GoPro Hero9 Black is here and in some ways it’s a bigger leap forward than I expected. It brings the first new sensor in several generations and adds a front LCD screen. There is also a new Max Lens Mod accessory that gives the camera a near hemispherical field of view.
But I have to ask myself. Will anyone really care?
On my last GoPro review for the Hero8 Black, one viewer commented something like, “You still do these things? I thought you stopped around the Hero4.” It’s a feeling that not just casual gamers on YouTube Even my editor was shocked when I told him I was reviewing the Hero9, he’d just been talking about the Hero5 and suddenly realized that it was referencing a camera that was four generations out of date.
After spending some time with the $ 450 Hero9 Black, I’m still not sure where I stand. It’s hands down the most powerful action camera yet, but some of the changes are controversial – even frustrating.
Function over form
The Hero8 Black was a big deal. It introduced the first physical redesign of GoPro’s popular line of action cameras in several generations, making it smaller, slimmer and integrating the mount directly into the camera.
The Hero9 Black undoes a large part of it.
It is heavier than the Hero8 and larger in every dimension, although it retains the built-in bracket and also comes out a bit smaller than an older Hero7 in its required mounting frame. The removable lens cover, which was removed from the Hero8 to keep the camera slim, returns. This enables the support of the Max Lens Mod mentioned above, but also makes the Hero9 look more like a Hero7. The result is a camera that looks out of date when seen next to the Hero8.
GoPro has at least made the most of the Hero9’s extra space by adding a higher capacity battery, enlarging the rear LCD screen and of course adding a front LCD screen. Overall, it involves more hardware changes than I would have expected for a camera line that was completely redesigned a year ago.
However, some features have been compromised by the Hero9’s bulkier body, and it’s not just the tighter fit in your pocket. The GoPro Media Mod, one of the main upgrade accessories of the Hero8, does not fit the Hero9. Instead, you’ll have to buy a new, Hero9-specific version of it, which is disappointing.
More power, more pixels
GoPro’s slogan for the Hero9 Black is “more of everything” and it sure sounds right. The 23.6 megapixel sensor enables 5K video recording at 30 frames per second, and the new battery extends the operating time by 30% compared to the Hero8. But more doesn’t always mean better and I’m not buying the hype about increased resolution. On paper, 5K sounds like a noticeable jump, around 15 MP in each frame compared to 8 K in 4K.
But in practice I couldn’t really tell you the difference.
Video compression and lens softness were already limiting resolution factors in previous GoPros. The ease with which an action camera is used – usually with a lot of movement in the shot – also means that extra resolution isn’t always an advantage. And with the focus on editing and sharing content via GoPro’s (admittedly very good) mobile app, higher resolution slows the process down.
GoPro seems to be at least a little open on this and touts the 5K video function to extract still images with higher resolution. It may be a more practical use of the feature than 5K video recording for 5K video. Essentially, you can capture 15 megapixel still images at 30 frames per second.
With the Hero9, I would not expect a significant jump in image quality, even with an additional resolution of a thousand lines.
I would like to believe that GoPro takes into account the needs of professional filmmakers alongside those of the average customer when it comes to putting 5K into a camera, but I wouldn’t expect the image quality to increase noticeably with the Hero9, even with an additional thousand lines of resolution . It’s not that the sensor is physically larger, so noise outside of bright light is still an issue. Video data rates are still around 100 megabits per second, whether in 4K or 5K, so compression remains a limiting factor. And perhaps most importantly, the lens isn’t sharp enough to take full advantage of 4K, let alone 5K. Plus, with the electronic stabilization, you’re sacrificing some sharpness to get rid of camera shake – a worthy compromise to be safe, but another blow to 5K. Or even 4K.
In my tests, both 4K and 5K footage looked soft – the 5K footage only allowed me to continue zooming in on softness, which is pointless. When normalized to 2K resolution, there was an almost imperceptible difference in pixel peeping one frame at a time, which seemed to have a bit of an advantage when rendering text, but that was about it. So I have to conclude that 5K just doesn’t seem worth it for video or extracting still images.
As for the actual still mode, I noticed a much bigger difference between the 24MP sensor on the Hero9 and the 12MP sensor on the Hero8. But it’s nothing earth shaking and the benefit disappears once you’re in less than ideal lighting as the Hero9’s noise reduction seems to be even harder than the Hero8’s. For this reason, when comparing the cameras indoors, I preferred the Hero8 photos to the Hero9 photos.
Let’s make the time jump again
Of all the updated features in Hero9 Black, TimeWarp 3.0 is my favorite. TimeWarp is the Hyperlapse video function built into GoPro that is used to record stabilized time-lapse footage. Version 2.0 in the Hero8 was already a favorite of mine. Two major enhancements have been introduced: the ability to automatically set the time-lapse speed based on camera movement and the option to slow down the video in real time at any point during the recording with the push of a button.
TimeWarp 3.0 goes one step further. Not only can you slow down to real time, you can also slow down to half speed for slow motion. The ability to mix time-lapse, real-time, and slow-motion videos into a single clip without editing makes this GoPro a GoPro.
In addition, you can now record audio during real-time sections of a TimeWarp. This makes the function much more flexible. I hike a lot – the closest to extreme sports – and TimeWarp is a great way to capture a hike, which otherwise leads to pretty boring footage. The ability to record audio during the real-time segments means I’ll never miss my astonished reaction to a double rainbow or the sound of a rushing waterfall where I previously had to fully rely on a song.
The ability to mix time-lapse, real-time, and slow-motion videos into a single clip without editing makes this GoPro a GoPro.
TimeWarp 3.0 is by no means the only new software feature. The HyperSmooth stabilization is also available in version 3.0 and now offers a horizon adjustment in the camera. Other new features fall under the new PowerTools category, where you’ll find features previously limited to GoPro Labs’ experimental preview program. This includes Scheduled Capture and Continuous Capture, which work together to fully automate a Hero9.
With the scheduled recording, you can schedule a time for the camera to turn on and start recording. This is great for capturing everything from an early sunrise to a rocket launch. With continuous recording you can set a recording time between 15 seconds and 3 hours. After this time the camera switches off automatically.
The other new PowerTool feature is called HindSight. This is a buffered video mode that saves up to 30 seconds of footage before the record button is pressed. This mode is most useful when you’re trying to capture a crucial moment, such as E.g. a skateboard trick but not sure when it will take place. With HindSight, you can pause the press of the recording until shortly after the moment sets in, which drastically reduces the amount of junk footage.
It’s hard not to apologize when someone who’s lost $ 160 on a Media Mod and a Display Mod adds a front-facing screen to their Hero8 Black. The built-in front screen of the Hero9 not only makes the LCD mod superfluous, but also does not work at all with the media mod of the Hero8.
But it’s not all bad news. The $ 99 Max Lens Mod, coming out in October, is something really new and unique to the Hero9. The Max Lens Mod was named after the GoPro Max 360 camera and gives the Hero9 Black a touch of spherical video. It can’t be converted into a full 360 degree camera like we saw with the modular Insta360 One R, but it does offer a super wide field of view of 155 degrees. It enables Max HyperSmooth even at resolutions of up to 2.7 KB for even greater stability and horizon alignment that works even when the camera is rolling a run.
GoPro Hero9, standard lens
GoPro Hero9 with Max Lens Mod
A Max Lens Mod was made available to me for this test, which ensures a much wider and more stable image. I’m not sure if this is a necessary investment, however, as the Hero9 is broad and stable on its own, but there will likely be some niche apps that can benefit from it.
A new way to shop
GoPro offers customers two different ways to purchase the Hero9 Black. You can pick it up yourself for $ 450. However, when you add an annual subscription to GoPro Plus, that price drops to just $ 350 – including the subscription price. To be clear, it is cheaper to buy a Hero9 and a GoPro Plus subscription than to buy a Hero9 yourself.
On the surface, this sounds like an incredibly valuable proposition. The subscription, typically $ 5 monthly or $ 50 annually, gives you access to unlimited cloud storage, inexpensive replacement for broken cameras, and significant discounts on accessories.
For anyone considering a Hero9 Black, it pays off immediately.
Plus is GoPro’s attempt to move to a product-as-service model, which is growing in popularity across all types of tech hardware, from smartphones to game consoles. This increases friction for a customer who may want to switch to a different brand. If you sign up for GoPro Plus and later cancel, you’ll need to be ready to move all of those cloud files to another location.
So don’t make the decision to sign up lightly, but for the right type of customer, GoPro Plus has always paid for itself over time. And for anyone considering a Hero9 Black, it pays off right away. The Hero8 Black and Hero7 Black have also been added to this promotion.
My opinion on the GoPro Hero9 Black may be overwhelming, but that’s just because the Hero8 Black was already such a solid camera. Glad to see that GoPro has put an emphasis on quality of life improvements such as: B. a higher battery capacity and the return to a replaceable lens cover, but I miss the Hero8’s slimmer profile.
The other updates mainly concern limited use cases. The front screen is a welcome addition for vloggers, but not a requirement for most customers. The Max Lens Mod is cool, but not a must and certainly not a replacement for the actual GoPro Max. After all, the additional resolution is not that important for still images or videos.
The software improvements are certainly nice, but not every feature will appeal to every customer, and none are things that technically couldn’t be added to the Hero8 through the firmware (and some already existed under the GoPro Labs umbrella).
I was a big fan of TimeWarp 2.0 in the Hero8 and I love the TimeWarp 3.0 in the Hero9 even more. But for me a Hero8 Black with TimeWarp 3.0 would be all I need. If the Hero9 has a feature that you can’t get anywhere else, it might be worth it for you, but I’m not sure I should pay $ 450 (or $ 350) to access the updated version of the one feature that I really want to pay.
Is there a better alternative?
No. And that’s the thing – even if I personally don’t find it that exciting, the Hero9 Black is as good as it gets. It’s just that last year’s model was already better than what most people needed.
How long it will take?
Like any action camera, the Hero9 Black can take knocks, but the rubberized exterior is easy to scratch. Expect a replacement in 12 months, but there’s no reason the Hero9 won’t be useful for several years.
Should you buy it?
Only if you don’t have a current GoPro. The Hero9 Black is easy to recommend for new GoPro customers or customers upgrading from much older cameras. However, owners of a current GoPro camera shouldn’t need an upgrade. For most of them, I don’t expect it to be worth it.