The most potent and versatile action camera is the GoPro Hero 9 Black that you can buy for yourself. Still, collectively its new features don’t offer many real-world benefits to justify the price.
The two most significant upgrades are its new sensors and front display also. That 23.6MP sensor shoots 5K video that gives slightly better detail than the Hero 8 Black in the right position.
But perhaps its most significant advantage is its electronic stability, enabling the Hero 9 Black to deliver the Hypersmooth Boost – GoPro’s most robust stability – in all shooting modes. It becomes the top performer for those who want high-quality 4K (and 5K) video.
Features of GoPro Hero 9 Black:
That new front color display, though not perfect, is a handy new feature for blogging or general shooting. It’s a bit backward and no match for a dedicated artistic screen like the Sony ZV-1. But if you want to frame yourself in many videos, this is probably GoPro for you.
However, some of the new features of the GoPro Hero 9 Black aren’t very polished. Like, the new battery boosts its power a bit, but it’s only a slight improvement, and we found the Hero 9 Black to be more annoying than its predecessors.
While you get some stability with GoPro’s new flagship, its 4K video’s actual quality is no better than the Hero 8 Black. Other features, like scheduled recordings, while useful on occasion, are not yet fully reliable. The most frustrating thing is that we find the Hero 9 Black’s rear touchscreen to be responsive.
Still, the latter is being fixed by the November firmware update, and if the GoPro Hero 9 Black can put some more modest kinks on the iron, then it’s still our number one action camera that can become a pick.
GoPro Hero 5 is the most comprehensive design of Black’s flagship action camera, and the results are mostly positive.
The Hero 8 Black has three significant physical changes by company, a new 1.4-inch color display on the front, a beaver body (to hold its larger battery), and a larger 2.27-inch rear touchscreen.
The good news is that the 1.4-inch color display on the front is a new addition to the wallpaper. Thankfully it’s not touch-sensitive; otherwise, your memory card will fill up quickly, but it does provide live video previews of your scenes and some useful shooting information.
Due to its square view, it is not in the same league as the side-hinged screens shown on the camera like Sony ZV-1, or the screen of your smartphone when mounted on a gymnast like DJI OM 4. While the latter gives you an extraordinary direct view of your entire shot, Hero 9 Black is a rough guide. Enough to make sure your face is in the frame, at least.
All of the previous GoPros had monochrome displays that show shooting information like how much space is left on your memory card, the rest of the life battery status, and your current resolution / frame-rate. Not quite enthusiastic, but more practical if you don’t shoot a lot of videos on the camera.
GoPro Hero 9 Black Battery
Naturally, the new color display comes with more battery demands, which GoPro has prompted the Hero 9 Black’s body size to squeeze into a new 1,720mAh battery. The capacity of that battery is 40% larger than its predecessor of 1,220mAh, which GoPro says is 30% improved in the real-world.
However, these changes come with a downside for anyone upgrading from an older GoPro. The Hero 9 Black is not backward compatible with older GoPro batteries, as they are a different size, so you can’t use the older ones as extras. And the new design, which increases its size and weight by about 10%, will also be great for your old cases or homes.
GoPro Hero 9 Black Updated Lens
GoPro has reintroduced the minimalist removable lens cover, which is cut out of the Hero 8 Black. Whether you’re replacing a slit lens or adding an ND filter, it’s a useful bonus, even though it may not be considered a ‘new’ feature.
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The reason why GoPro has backtracked on its removal is that it has introduced a new Max Lens mode, which screw-on the Hero 9 Black’s lens mount to give you a super-wide field of view and even more robust features. To provide electronic stability, we will update this review when we can spin it.
Overall, the Hero 9 Black features a handy, pocket-sized action camera up to ten meters waterproof and now great for wagging. We’d like to see a little rough overheating and some updates from the edges of the touchscreen.
GoPro’s special has been a combination of its class-leading Hypersmooth stability, first seen on smart software features like Hero 7 Black and Timeworn. While Hero 9 Black improves these features and enhances its versatility, it doesn’t offer a killer reason to upgrade from Hero 8 Black.
The GoPro flagships had 12 MP sensors to the Hero 3 Black in 2012, but the Hero 9 Black took a radical step to push this resolution to 23.6MP with a new sensor. It allows it to shoot 5K / 30P video and take 20MP stills while supporting a more powerful Hypersmooth Boost stabilization mode across all resolutions and frame-rates.
Of course, larger resolutions don’t necessarily mean better image quality. Other factors, including image processing, lens quality, and sensor size, can have an equally significant effect on the result. This device comes with a 1 / 2.3in sensor, which is the same size as its predecessors, making the 1-inch edition module for the Insta 360 One R much smaller.
But that new 23.6MP resolution is still the key that unlocks the Hero 9 Black’s headline features. There is no doubt that in good lighting and perfect conditions, its 5K / 30p mode, especially when paired with a ‘high’ 100 Mbps bit-rate, can expand more than any GoPro so far.
It’s also a resolution boost that gives the Hero 9 Black the extra pixels needed to support Hypersmooth Boost stability, which will out-judge the mountain bike riders in both 4K / 60p and 5K / 30p modes. It is simply not possible on Hero 8 Black.
GoPro Hero 9 Black Performance
While the Hero 9 Black has many new features, it doesn’t bring much bigger performance features than the Hero 8 Black – or the one that will be very noticeable in your videos.
That doesn’t mean the Hero 9 Black isn’t a great action camera, just because its upgrades don’t necessarily justify its two predecessors’ premium. For example, Hypersmooth 3.0. Stability is still excellent and ideal for shooting first-person games, as long as you don’t mind the ‘float’ look.
But combining Hypersmooth Boost in 4K / 60P and 5K / 30P modes may not be a big deal for most people, as setting Hypersmooth ‘high’ in most cases is enough to make any judge smooth.
Along with the Hero 8 Black in the battery test with us, both cameras shoot 4K / 30p with Hypersmooth, we got an extra 12 minutes from the Hero 9 Black. And that included a small overheating break for the new model, which we didn’t get on the Hero 8 Black.
We also had a very hot stop when shooting 5K / 30p video, the Hero 9 Black needed a cool after 28 minutes of continuous shooting. There is a complete recovery after five minutes of shooting, and shooting 5K is much more demanding than any other mode of GoPro. But if you want these days to last, it’s still wise to pick up an extra battery or an external USB charger. With mixed, intermittent use (shooting videos, stills, and time-lapse), our Hero 9 Black lasted about 4-5 hours.
But, there are no real improvements in the high-frame shooting. We had love to see a 4K / 120p mode for some crisp slow-mo footage, but it’s still only possible at 2.7K resolutions.
Again, Hero 9 Black captures some good quality slow motion clips that are great for breaking down your social media videos. But the general rule applies – like its ancestors, it’s best done in bright sunlight, as higher ISOs in the evening will turn your clips into a noisy, messy mess.
The Hero 9 Black device is an action camera for making the best videos, but it’s a no more significant upgrade than the Hero 8 Black.
The new 5K / 30p mode gets more detail than any other GoPro flagship, especially when you switch to a higher 100 Mbps bit-rate mode. File sizes aren’t particularly impressive thanks to efficient HVCC codecs in some areas, although they can be very demanding on your computer.
Indeed, if image quality is your primary concern and you want the best detail from any action camera, then Hero 9 Black might well be worth the investment. For most people, Hero 8 Black and Hero 7 Black is the best in this category. After all, all three cameras have the same size sensor. And as good as GoPro’s hyper smooth stability is, even a small judge can be enough to boost that resolution.
When shooting 4K / 30p on both Hero 9 Black and Hero 8 Black, we sometimes actually prefer the latter’s video. Outside the box, the Hero 9 Black footage may appear more processed and overshared, below to reduce the potential for some more aggressive noise. Taking more photos with the same size sensor can improve the detail, but it can also increase the amount of noise that needs to be managed.
We also found that Hero 9 Black tends to be more prone to bright scenes, especially in the sky, then Hero 8 Black.
Still, you won’t be disappointed with the footage you shoot on Hero 9 Black, especially in its 5K / 30P mode. Hypersmooth stability remains the best you can get from an action camera, and the level of the horizon in the camera is a useful addition.
The new sensor also lets you shoot random photos of up to 20MP and captures 14.7MP frames from your videos. While it offers a slight increase in detail over its predecessors, the Hero 9 Black is not a big step in photography.
You get all the options as before – the option to shoot in linear mode to correct the wide-angle distortion, super photo to retrieve some highlight details. In good light, the results are excellent, with sharpness and crisp detail in the frame.