Year after year, GoPro releases a new camera. Some years, it’s a hit. Other years… not so much. Regardless, they persevere and this year they have given us another new camera, the GoPro HERO9 Black. This camera is their most advanced camera yet, but is it enough?
A high level overview
Starting off the top, the HERO9 offers a new 23.6 Megapixel (MP) sensor, a big improvement over the 12MP sensor of the HERO8. With the ability to capture up to 5K (5120 x 2880) at up to 100 Mb/s, it offers frame rates up to 240 in HD and up to 60 frames per second (fps) in UHD 4K.
Get $100 off
GoPro has done something quite unique with its initial marketing effort to sell the HERO9. The camera costs $450 if you buy it retail. However, when you buy it from GoPro direct and sign up for an annual subscription to their subscription service for $50, they will sell you the camera for just $300. That means the camera is only $350 total, plus you get unlimited cloud storage, total camera replacement and up to 50% off stuff at GoPro.com with the subscription.
Why are they offering this deal? This is obviously a ploy from GoPro to get you to buy directly from them and get you signed up for their subscription service. Because of the deep discount, it makes it an easy choice to go with HERO9, that is if it’s for you.
What’s new with the GoPro HERO9?
The HERO9 comes with a long list of new features, like a front-facing monitor so you can see yourself when shooting a selfie or a vlog. It upped its resolution in both stills and video with almost 24MP stills and up to 5K 30p video.
The lens is removable and the rear screen is larger than found in the HERO8 by .27 inches. It offers the newest flavor of GoPro image stabilization called HyperSmooth 3.0, along with real-time hyperlapse called TimeWarp 3.0. You can live stream directly from the camera and it can be connected via USB to be your computer’s webcam.
Another cool feature is called HindSight, which guarantees up to 30 seconds of capture before you press the record button. The catch to this function is it adds work to the camera, so likely it will affect battery life.
Lastly, the feature called Scheduled Capture allows the camera to wake-up and capture at a predetermined time. This is a great feature, it means it wakes up at dawn, so you don’t have to.
We understand that GoPro makes these cameras for action sports, so we would be overlooking a typical use case if we didn’t test the camera shooting that way.
We gave the camera to Andrew, one of our sales executives here at Videomaker. He enjoys downhill mountain biking, so he mounted it to his helmet and headed out. At first, Andrew had the camera on auto exposure, which is the default GoPro setting.
However, to gain more control, users have the ability to set the range for a minimum and maximum ISO. This is mostly because the camera just doesn’t look good in high ISO’s. But this also can control the bloom the camera does when going through rapidly changing lighting.
This was what Andrew experienced driving through sparsely leafed shrub oak trees found in Upper Bidwell Park in Chico California, the home of Videomaker. This was the first time we saw how good the stabilization works. We talk more about it later, but without customizing the settings, the camera performed very well. While on his ride, Andrew also shot himself talking about the camera, trying out the front-facing camera. This was a great test to show off how the built-in microphone works. Even with a plane flying overhead, his speaking was clear.
The camera is larger and heavier than the HERO8, but not by enough that it would matter. The larger size does mean that the camera offers a new battery. Unfortunately, if you own a GoPro from the recent past, you can’t use those batteries with this camera. However, with that increase in size, we saw an hour and 25 minutes of life per battery. The camera was hot to the touch, but it did not overheat. Our test was inside in a climate-controlled 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Forward-facing monitor and touchscreen
We are very happy that the camera has a forward-facing monitor. This makes framing for selfies or vlogging easy. Overall, we like this feature. The only issue we have is that the front-facing-monitor doesn’t work while shooting in 5K. The rear screen is slightly bigger than the previous model. However, its touch response is not great, even after an update that said it would be improved. The update made minor improvements, but not enough. We found ourselves taping, touching and sweeping the screen harder and harder, trying to get features to work. We found it easier to use the app on a phone to change the settings.
Outside of the frustration of a hard to use touch control function, the menu is great. It’s easy. Users can set up profiles for different types of shooting, so changing between high frame rate shooting and high-resolution shooting is easy. We used the GoPro app most of the time when changing the functions because of the poor quality touch screen.
With the larger sensor, what do you gain? The first is the resolution. With video up to 5K, users now have the room to reposition or stabilize a shot for a 4K finish. The HERO9 can capture RAW stills, though they are in GPR (GoPro Raw) files. We had to change the extension to DNG to work with Photoshop. We did have the ability to lift the shadows and lower the highlights, but overall the still image from this camera is still lackluster. It would do to capture the moment, but there isn’t anything exceptional about the image, RAW or not.
High frame rates
Another place we saw the image quality was when shootin in high frame rates. We tested this three separate times, thinking it was our setup that was giving us a poor image, but it wasn’t. When shooting in 120 and 240fps the image quality lowers greatly.
TimeWarp 3.0 is an awesome feature that allows users to shoot hyperlapse video. Hyperlapse is when an image is captured then the camera moves and so on, its timelapse with the camera moving through space as well as the subjects. The camera stabilizes and lines up the footage for a very nice and smooth effect. We circled Haley, our managing editor, with no plan other than to circle her desk, and the result looked a lot like bullet time, though it was not a capture of a single moment.
The camera has all of the typical GoPro field of view (FOV) options. There is superview, wide, linear and narrow. We found linear was the most usable and typical FOV we wanted, though when mounted to a helmet or to a body harness, the superview and wide are very helpful with capturing the full action. Linear flattens the horizon, so you don’t have a distorted field of view.
GoPro calls their image stabilization HyperSmooth. With the HERO9 you get version 3.0. We are super impressed with it. With HyperSmooth, there is a substantial difference and the image doesn’t have anything strange as a result of the correction. They even offer boost mode, which creates a slight crop. The stabilization GoPro has been able to put into this camera is as close as you can get to a gimbal, and we don’t just throw around that type of talk. It’s impressive.
Using our DSC Labs Xyla 21 dynamic range chart, we shot the HERO9 to see how much dynamic range you could expect to get from the camera. Each line in the chart indicates one stop of dynamic range. We observed 9 stops of dynamic range from the HERO9. We wouldn’t expect much more than that. Though it’s not amazing, it’s not disappointing either.
Doing an ISO ramp from ISO100 up to ISO6400 while letting the shutter speed counter the increase in light, we tested to see when noise is introduced into the picture at high ISO’s. The HERO9 showed minimal noise up to ISO800 with everything above ISO1600 offering chroma shift that will appear with the noise.
So, what does this mean for the HERO9? In many use-cases for a GoPro, an abundance of light is typical, like when outdoors doing activities. Once you bring the camera indoors, you can expect the image to degrade quickly. Today’s mirrorless cameras typically look good up to ISO 6400, but DSLR’s often perform similarly to the HERO9. The low light performance is acceptable for the typical use of this camera.
The market once was littered with GoPro knock offs. Although plenty of them remain, most don’t come close to the features a new GoPro offers. However, we are going to look at two that are as close as it gets, yet both of them have more in common with the prior GoPro, the HERO8, with a few exceptions.
First up is DJI. Known for their stellar drones, DJI makes a nice action camera too, the Osmo Action 4K, which costs $245 and has a forward-facing monitor, shoots up to 240fps in HD and up to 60fps in DCI 4K. It shoots DCI 4K—not 5K like the HERO9— and has only a 12MP sensor. It has a smaller battery than the HERO9 with a difference of 530mAH. But, it has a slightly better underwater depth rating of 36 feet.
The Insta360 ONE R 4K costs just $300 and can capture HD up to 60fps in UHD4K and also has a forward-facing monitor that can shoot up to 200fps in HD. It shoots up to UHD not 5K like the HERO9 with its 12MP sensor. It has a smaller battery with a difference of 420mAH. However, it has a shallower underwater depth rating of 16ft to 33 in the HERO9.
The final say
The HERO9 Black is the best GoPro yet. The stabilization is fantastic, the longer battery life is great and the front-facing monitor is a great addition. We were disappointed in the quality of the image when shooting in high frame rates, when an abundance of light is not available. The touch function was not ideal but could be easily executed through the phone app.
We like TimeWarp, it’s a fun feature that could be a good tool for storytelling. Although not groundbreaking, the low light performance was a stop greater than we expected and it’s easy to operate. Regardless if you are a veteran professional or a kid with a dream, the GoPro HERO9 Black is going to be a great tool to get it done. By offering it with insurance and cloud storage for a discount, GoPro is begging you to buy one. If you need the best action camera in the market, you can’t beat the HERO9.
- Forward-Facing Monitor
- 5K capture
- Longer battery life
- Reduced image quality in high framerates
- Touch function on rear monitor
Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
Run and gun videography where conditions are unpredictable and agility is key
Online Video Production
A well-produced YouTube video, for example
Casual Video Production
Home video, vacation highlight reels and any other project that is minimally planned
PRICE: $450 or $300 with $50 subscription yearly subscription ($5 a month after) for a $350 total
- Sensor: 1-Chip CMOS
- Sensor Resolution: 23.6 MP
- Recording Media: 1 x microSD/HC/XC (256 GB Maximum)
- Video Format:
- 5120 x 2880 at 24/25/30 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 4096 x 3072 at 24/25/30 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 3840 x 2160 at 24/25/30/50/60 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 2704 x 2028 at 50/60 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 2704 x 1520 at 50/60/100/120 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 1920 x 1440p at 24/25/30/50/60/100/120 fps (MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- 1920 x 1080p at 24/25/30/50/60/100/120/200/240 fps (MP4 via H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC)
- Audio Format: WAV
- Display Type: Fixed Touchscreen LCD
- Size: 2.27″
- Secondary Display Front: Live-View Monitor
- Shutter Speed: 1/25 – 1/2000 Seconds (Photo)
- ISO Range: 100 to 6400
- Burst Photo: 30 Photos / 3 Seconds
- Image Stabilization: Digital
- Waterproof Depth Rating: 33.0′ / 10.0 m (Camera)
- Built-In Mic: Yes
- Built-In Speaker: Yes
- Wi-Fi: Yes
- Outputs: 1 x USB 3.0 Type-C
- Battery: Rechargeable Battery Pack, 1720 mAh
- Charging Method: USB
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.8 x 2.2 x 1.3″ / 71.0 x 55.0 x 33.6 mm
Weight: 5.6 oz / 158 g