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Lifewire / Jonno Hill
5K at up to 30fps
Front-facing full-color LCD
No protective housing
So-so low light performance
Middling still image performance
The GoPro HERO9 Black is a class-leading action camera with excellent 5K video performance and incredibly smooth stabilization, but a combination of a high sticker price and a lack of protective housing make it a questionable upgrade from the HERO8 Black.
We purchased the GoPro HERO9 so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
One generation ago, with the introduction of the HERO8 action camera, GoPro decided to adopt a cageless design, make the device itself waterproof, and build mounting hardware right into the body. Now, the GoPro HERO9 Black takes things a step further, making the body of the device larger for the first time in quite a few generations. GoPro more than makes up for the minor size increase with a bevy of new features, including replaceable lens covers.
Is it worth it to upgrade to this action camera? For a lot of users, I believe it will be, although not without a pretty hefty premium.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: at 2.8 x 2.2 x 1.3 (HWD) inches, the HERO9 Black is certainly larger than the HERO8 Black (2.6 x 1.9 x 1.3 inches), but it’s still a very tiny action camera, especially for the recording capabilities.
With this size increase, GoPro gives us a larger battery (good for 30 percent more battery life), support for detachable lenses, and a generous front-facing LCD screen with a live preview. The HERO9 Black retains the “Folding Fingers” at the bottom of the device. Introduced with the HERO8, these tabs fold out from the bottom of the body to allow you to quickly mount the camera and start filming.
A lot of the recent changes to the GoPro have been in favor of ditching the protective housing, a prior requirement for waterproofing in older models, and instead trying to bake all the benefits straight into the body of the device itself. On paper, I like the spirit of this design direction, but the truth is that the GoPro was far more secure inside the protective housing—particularly against impacts and scrapes.
How would I know this, you might ask? Well, it certainly isn’t because I tried to mount the GoPro HERO9 Black to a bicycle and made it three feet before it tumbled off the handlebars and cracked the rear screen. Don’t be ridiculous, reader.
GoPro is happy to sell you the old protective housing as an added accessory for $50, but this kind of feels like an insult in a device that costs $449 and used to come with it for free.
One of the most notable new improvements in the HERO9 Black is the inclusion of the front-facing LCD screen. It would be easy to write this off as a gimmick made for the selfie-obsessed, but in practice, this new display is tremendously useful.
First, yes, the new display does make the HERO9 Black infinitely more useful for vloggers and selfie-takers. GoPro knows that they are always in danger of being crowded out by smartphones. Their relentless advancement of new camera features and functionality is undoubtedly a protective measure.
Sure, they already have their core audience of users that continue to put the “action” in action camera by jumping out of planes and mountain biking through treacherous ravines full of freshly sharpened knives. But what about the mommy bloggers and the adventure foodies? What about the 9-to-5ers that want to record their yearly kayaking trip?
This new display makes it easier to use the GoPro HERO9 Black as a webcam for your Zoom meetings.
The front-facing LCD screen makes it easier to see exactly what you’re recording in real-time and to adjust the framing of your shots. It’s the whole reason we take selfies instead of turning the camera around and taking a timed exposure. The rear camera always has a better image quality, but convenience beats quality almost every time.
This new display makes it easier to use the GoPro HERO9 Black as a webcam for your Zoom meetings and a primary camera for your Twitch streaming sessions. Those two things alone make it a lot easier to justify the HERO9 Black.
The rear touchscreen display is also slightly larger, making it just a little easier to navigate through the menus without getting a headache from pressing the wrong buttons.
At the end of the day it’s the best that GoPro has to offer at any price.
The GoPro HERO9 Black requires very little effort to start using for the first time. The only hiccup when initially taking the device out of the box and setting it up for the first time was with the door latch on the side of the device, which requires a surprising amount of force to open, so watch your fingernails. Behind this door, you’ll find the battery, microSD card slot, and the USB-C charging/sync port.
To start the device, you have a couple of options: The power button on the side or the recording button up top. When pressed, the recording button turns on the device and starts recording immediately—handy for when you need to jump straight into the action.
Lifewire / Jonno Hil
It takes roughly 3 hours to charge the battery from empty, which can be done using the supplied USB-C to USB-A cable. You will, however, need to supply your own power brick if you’re not using a computer to charge.
The big new feature enabled by the new sensor in the GoPro HERO9 Black is the ability to shoot up to 5K video at 30fps. For reference, 5K is 5120x2880 pixels, compared to 4K at 3840x2160. Many will say this is an upgrade for upgrade’s sake, but there are still some minor practical advantages to recording at this new resolution.
For instance, it gives you the wiggle room to crop out or zoom into the frame while still maintaining 4K resolution—very handy when you didn’t get the framing of your shot quite right. Like its predecessor, the HERO9 Black can also record 4K at 60/30/24fps.
The most sensible objection to the new 5K recording mode is that the maximum bit rate tops out at 100Mbps whether you’re shooting 2.7K, 4K, or 5K, making compression the limiting factor more so than resolution. For anyone shooting anything action-oriented, I’d choose 4K/60 over 5K/30 any day of the week, just because having twice as many frames is far more useful than having a bit more resolution.
The GoPro HERO9 Black has certainly improved the overall video quality, but don’t expect any miracles here either. The video quality still suffers from quite a bit of noise in anything but sunny conditions and is subject to a noticeable amount of softness that is obvious when you play back the footage on a big screen.
Stabilization is one area where GoPro really stands out from the crowd. And let’s be honest—they really need to do well here given the nature of how action cameras are used. The HERO8 made a big leap forward with HyperSmooth 2.0, and the HERO9 takes arguably an even larger leap with HyperSmooth 3.0. I was very impressed with the results that I was able to get out of the HERO9 Black.
Even when riding on a cobblestone path bumpy enough to give me a headache, the footage itself looked shockingly smooth. This is definitely a different league of stabilization than you might be used to on older action cameras or even newer smartphones that brag about their stabilization performance.
Even when riding on a cobblestone path bumpy enough to give me a headache, the footage itself looked shockingly smooth.
Moving from the 12MP still images on the HERO8 Black to the 20MP on the HERO9 Black definitely registers a noticeable difference. I don’t personally take a lot of still photos when using a GoPro, but for those that use the photo mode for time lapses instead of video, this is a very nice upgrade. The process for taking time lapses remains wonderfully simple, and the settings are a breeze to navigate.
Moving from the 12MP still images on the HERO8 Black to the 20MP on the HERO9 Black definitely registers a noticeable difference.
If there’s one single reason to pick the GoPro HERO9 Black over the competition, it’s got to be TimeWarp 3.0—GoPro’s hyperlapse function. It combines all of GoPro’s strengths into one feature, from ease of use to rock-solid stabilization.
The HERO8 brought us TimeWarp 2.0 and with it a host of useful features like automatic speed selection and the ability to tap to slow down to normal speed. The HERO9 takes things one step further by allowing you to speed ramp down to half speed. Being able to create such a dynamic video without having to edit anything is a huge boon for on-the-go creators.
Another great feature to have is hindsight. This allows you to capture up to 30 seconds of footage before you remember to start recording. We’ve all been in situations where we missed the shot because we weren’t quick enough with the shutter button, and GoPro gives us a second chance with this feature.
Retailing for $449, the GoPro HERO9 Black is certainly not an inexpensive action camera. It’s a little more than we would have hoped given the somewhat incremental improvements and the fact that it breaks support for accessories made for the HERO8 due to the change in body size.
Currently, however, GoPro is pushing for the adoption of their subscription program and is offering the HERO9 Black for $349 with an included 1-year subscription. To be clear, both the camera and the subscription cost $349 in total, a $100 discount over retail. In addition, they are throwing in an extra battery and a 64GB microSD card.
Why are they doing this? The GoPro subscription is a $50/yr subscription that includes unlimited cloud storage, 30-50 percent off the store, and no-questions-asked camera replacement—good for two replacements per year. You still pay a fee if the camera is damaged. Presumably, GoPro is betting that after a year of the service, you’ll want to keep paying for the subscription. Seems like a no-brainer to me for the $100 discount, but it’s up to you if you want to get involved in another subscription you might have to cancel in the future.
On paper, the HERO9 Black has everything that the HERO8 Black has, but just a little bit better: 5K video, smoother HyperSmooth, better TimeWarp, 20MP stills. And yet, if you owned a HERO8 Black already, it’s really difficult to make the decision to upgrade. The video quality is really very similar, and all the upgrades seem minor when it comes time to take out your wallet.
Things are further complicated by the fact that the Media Mod for the HERO8 isn’t compatible with the HERO9—along with any other accessories that rely on the shape of the device being the same.
Nonetheless, if you are making a brand-new GoPro purchase, either as a first-time buyer or as someone that hasn’t upgraded in a few cycles, get the HERO9 Black. At least as long as GoPro is selling them for the same price as the HERO8 with the subscription bundle. If you are a current HERO8 Black user, however, I’d sit this one out.
The best GoPro has to offer.
Ultimately the GoPro HERO9 Black is a fantastic action camera that improves on just about everything that we like about using a GoPro. We could argue that it doesn’t do quite enough for the price or that they aren’t generous enough with accessories, but at the end of the day, it’s the best that GoPro has to offer at any price.
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