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GoPro Hero9 Black Review

More than just an action camera

GoPro Hero9 Black Review
Review

Price when reviewed

£329.98

$349.98
Check current price

Our Verdict

This is the most substantial update of the GoPro Hero Black range in several years. With 5K video, 20MP stills, 30% more battery life, improved stabilization and much more, the GoPro Hero9 Black is a formidable camera with a wide range of uses.

For

  • No need for waterproof housing
  • Dual Screen
  • 8X Slow-motion

Against

  • Mods are expensive
  • Not great in low light

It’s almost six months since the GoPro Hero9 Black launched, and our review sample has, between lockdowns, been put through its paces.

When it arrived I was a little dismayed by the size increase and the lack of compatibility with last years MediaMod module. A few month’s on and I’m still annoyed at the GoPro’s change in form factor, but at least some of that disappointment has been absorbed by just how good this new GoPro is.

Image quality and specifications might all be much the same with the addition of 5K at 30fps, but this marginally larger GoPro feels far more rounded than previous generations.

Through the winter months, it’s been caked in mud, used for vlogging and as an all important webcam as my MacBook Pro once again died a death.

The differences between this, the GoPro Hero9 Black and the GoPro Hero8 Black are small when it comes to actual specification changes, but for some reason it feels like a camera with a hell of a lot more to offer.

What is the GoPro Hero9 Black?

The GoPro Hero9 Black is the latest incarnation of what is arguably the world’s most popular action camera. And the Hero9 Black might represent the biggest jump in specification and body design since the Hero5 Black.

The new GoPro camera can record video in 5K at 30p and in 4K at up to 60P. Slow motion movies can also be recorded in 2.7K at 120fps. You can also now capture 20-megapixel stills.

The Hero9 Black offers built-in Hypersmooth 3.0 stabilisation technology with in-camera horizon levelling. What’s more, you can use the Hero9 Black from live streaming or as a web cam at 1080p.

The headline specifications are always the eye catchers when a new product is released, but as time passes you settle into the old filming habits and many of those features that seemed essential fade to nothing.

Have I used 5K 30fps since the initial review? No. Why, it’s 30fps and aside from setting the scene it’s pretty pointless. However, there really does seem to be a boost in overall video quality, especially in low light.

The controls and touch screen also seem to be far more responsive than the Hero8 Black, and I have no idea why, but the small Hero9 Black always now seems to be with me.

I’ve become slightly obsessed with the slow motion 1080p, hyper lapse and overall quality of the camera. It just feels like a huge step up from the Hero8 Black.

I liked the Hero8 Black and the fixed, no replaceable lens has stood up to the abuse of a years use relatively unscathed. But, then I’ve been gentle with it, knowing that one face plant would write this GoPro off in one go. That train of thought doesn’t exsist for the Hero9 with it’s removable lens.

I’m still waiting for the lens options, and one day I hope the fluro casings, but the Hero9 is getting close to perfect. I like it.

Is the GoPro Hero9 Black waterproof?

Like previous GoPro action cameras, the GoPro Hero9 Black is waterproof down to depths of 33 feet, or 10 metres.

However, you can purchase waterproof housings at reasonable cost that allow you to take your GoPro much further.

Find a GoPro Hero9 Black waterproof case on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

GoPro Hero9 Black Review

GoPro Hero9 Black Price & Availability

When the GoPro Hero9 Black launched there we’re two options £429 for the camera or £329 for the camera and GoPro online Subscription.

The Subscription gets you GoPro unlimited cloud storage, 50% off GoPro at GoPro.com, and if you smash your camera GoPro replaces it for free. The question is did anyone pay an extra £100 for the camera alone?

It does seem that GoPro has stopped the madness of offering the camera on it’s own for more than with the Sub and on GoPro.com the option for the camera only purchase has now been removed.

You can of course buy the camera from other retailers on it’s own but the price has now reduced significantly.

So now for £329 you can but the worlds most versatile camera and to be honest that’s quite a bargain.

Specification

  • Camera type : Action Camera
  • Announced: 16th September 2020
  • Max video resolution and frame rate: 5k 30p, 4K 60p, 2.7K 120p, 1440 120p, 1080 240p
  • Video file formats: MP4 (H.264/AVC), MP4 (H.265/HEVC)
  • Max photo resolution: 20mp
  • Max bit rates: 100Mbps (2.7K, 4K, 5K)
  • Screen: Rear: 2.27-inch touchscreen, Front: 1.4-inch colour screen
  • Livestreaming: 1080p
  • Voice control: 4 commands in 11 languages + 6 accents
  • Battery: Removable, rechargeable 1720mAh lithium-ion
  • Storage: MicroSD USH-I
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Stabilisation: Hypersmooth 3.0
  • Waterproof: To 10m / 33 feet
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 71 x 55 x 33.6mm
  • Weight: 124g

Features

The first thing that struck me when starting my GoPro Hero9 Black review is that the action camera is noticeably bigger in every way. And while it may not quite hark back to the bloated size of the pre-Hero5 Black design (with housing), it’s still a considerable size increase.

So much so that it’s’t going to squeeze into those Mods GoPro released last year with the Hero8 Black. The Mods are a thing of the past. In fact, the screen Mod never arrived anyway.

GoPro Hero9 Black Review
GoPro Hero9 Black review

So is the Hero9 Black bigger? Yes. Undoubetdly. But, to be honest, the additional bulk on a device that’s so small – even despite the Hero9 Black’s slight weight gain – isn’t really a hardship.

This is, after all, GoPro, and if the company has made design changes it’s probably for a reason.

GoPro Hero9 Black Review

Aside from the fact that it’s bigger, the Hero9 Black is also quite impressive in use. I’ll run through why in more detail over the course of my GoPro Hero9 Black review, but here are the some of the highlights.

GoPro Hero9 Black Review

Another new feature of the GoPro Hero9 is the battery. According to GoPro, this sees a 30% increase in longevity. Helpfully, as before, it’s also swappable.

I’ve been out with the new GoPro Hero9 with the GoPro Hero8 Black in tow to compare the results of the two side-by-side. What has become very obvious is the extended use I’m getting out of the new GoPro Hero9 Black battery.

Using both cameras with the same resolutions and framerates, and treating them in exactly the same way, the Hero9 normally shows between 25 and 35% battery life remaining when the Hero8 runs out of steam.

This is consistent with GoPro’s claims and it’s really not surprising when you compare the two batteries together. The new one is quite a bit larger.

The side door doesn’t fall off when you open the side, the rear screen is huge, the front screen is impressive and the lens comes off if you scratch it.

It looks GoPro, but it’s bigger, meaner… and I’m hoping better.

Build Quality

At the outset of the review, I instantly ran into a few issues, most of these were addressed with an early firmware update, here’s a brief overview of those issues.

The main issue with the GoPro Hero9 Black is that the touch screen. Looking back at the GoPro Hero8 Black that screen was fast and responsive while the one on the GoPro Hero9 Black is sluggish and slow. Some real finger tapping and pressure is required in order for the camera to respond.

Another bigger issue is that during the early stages of the test the GoPro Hero9 Black has become unresponsive, and the only way to start and stop the camera is to use the mobile app.

Even then on two occasions, the small revolving connecting to camera icon has spun for over five minutes meaning the only way to access the camera is to pull the battery, essentially restarting the camera.

Although far from ideal, the firmware updates are coming thick and fast which is not unusual for a camera when it first launches.

Applying the latest of these updates and all seems to be fixed and those early touchscreen issues seem to be resolved, and so far there hasn’t been one crash or freeze since the firmware has been updated.

Getting started with the GoPro Hero9 Black

Before powering on a quick charge of the camera is needed to ensure a full battery. As with previous GoPro cameras the battery charges from within the camera, although there are external chargers available as well.

As with the Hero8 Black, the battery slots into the side of the camera and this is protected by a clipped side door. The design of this has been greatly improved and doesn’t instantly come away in your hand as it did on the GoPro Hero8.

Once opened the battery can be slotted in and the door closed and locked creating a watertight seal. It’s a good design and there’s no way that the door can accidentally be opened.

Alongside the battery is the small MicroSD card slot, for those with larger fingers squeezing the small card in and out is quite difficult, but for kids or those with longer nails this process is apparently easy enough.

As with the Hero8 Black the battery door is removable so that the MediaMod can be fitted. The fixing on the hinge is a far better design and while it takes a little more effort to remove and refit it feels far more secure.

When it comes to refitting there is a small technique that makes the process easy. Make sure the camera is sat on its base, then rest the door at a slight angle and push to fit in place. Pushing in at an angle seems to make all the difference to the ease of fitting.

On the design of the GoPro Hero9 Black there are several other interesting updates.

Removable Lens

One of the big disappointments of the GoPro Hero8 Black was the lack of a removable lens. This meant that once a scratch appeared on the lens that was pretty much it.

If you’re using the camera for any type of off-road, water or any sport for that matter, crud, mud and dirt are all going to be thrown at the front of the camera and Gorilla Glass or not, a scratch or two is going to happen.

To have the removable lens back is a huge and welcome step. But, GoPro has gone one further with the launch of the Max Lens Mod, this enables an ultra-wide 155º field-of-view and image stabilisation up to 2.7K resolution. The Max Mod may just be the first of more lenses that we’ll see from GoPro.

That would mean that the GoPro would be the first camera to truly fit into the action camera and interchangeable lens categories!

At present we don’t have the Lens Max Mod, but as soon as we do we’ll bring you an update on the performance. It looks like this lens is far more than a piece of glass.

Large rear touch screen

GoPro introduced the touch screen as an accessory was back in the past, Hero3, possibly before, as an optional accessory. The new design has been around since the Hero5 and when that launched it was far from the first seen on an action camera but it redefined usability.

That interface has changed and simplified over the last few iterations of the camera, but here with the GoPro Hero9 Black, we have a larger screen than we’ve seen before. Still not quite edge to edge but still big.

Again this GoPro screen is bright and clear, and once the firmware update has been applied nice and responsive.

Full-colour front screen

A front screen on a GoPro is nothing new, it’s one of the original GoPro features, but all colour is a first.

Like the DJI OSMO Action, the full-colour screen is able to show you a preview of what you’re about to film, so great for selfies, Vloggers etc. While the screen is similar in use to that of the DJI OSMO Action there are two major differences.

First is that the screen reflects the rear screen, there’s no need to turn it on and off. The other is that it’s limited on framerate so the preview image you see is a little flickery. Whether this is something that will be sorted out through a firmware update will have to be seen.

The image is also a little overexposed, but despite these small issues, it’s a great benefit to the camera.

There are also a few options for the front screen in the settings, a choice of screen saver and orientation, but other than that those options are limited and there’s no way to switch off the screen if you need.

GoPro Mount

The flip-down GoPro mount was introduced with the GoPro Hero8 Black and it makes a successful return here. While the mount is fundamentally the same there have been a couple of minor tweaks.

Primarily when you fold the mounts down they’re perfectly straight, on the GoPro Hero8 Black the moulding meant that there was a slight inward inclination.

This small change makes it far easies to mount the camera in tricky places as you’re not battling with the position of the two mount pins. The stiffness of the hinge also seems to have been greatly improved.

Mic Drain hole

On the side of the camera below the power button is a new feature that looks like a small door. WARNING, this is not a door, so before you reach for a screwdriver and start prizing it open, it’s not a door, hatch, covering its part of the camera, it’s the Mic Drain hole.

Really that’s all you need to know about it for now, unless it starts to clog with mud or creates whistling noises when filming due to the wind.

Powering on and getting started

Tour of new design features done and battery and card in place the next step is to power on and run through the setup process.

The GoPro Hero9 Black setup process is much the same as previous generations and only takes a couple of minutes to run through. Click through the screens, connect to your smartphone with the GoPro App installed and you’re ready to go.

My first port of call is always to set the resolution and frame rate, on the Hero5 and 6 there was quick access to these from the main screen, now you have to delve into the menu and circumnavigate around the presets.

I preferred the older style of the interface in this respect, far fewer taps and options.

However, as most people only swap the resolution and framerate settings on occasion, this isn’t a major issue.

Options selected filming can start with a short press of the shutter button. If the camera is off then the shutter button will also act as the power button, booting the camera, 3-4 seconds and starts recording.

Stopping recording involves a short press of the shutter button, it’s all as simple as that.

Touch screen interface

GoPro has adjusted the interface layout a few times since it’s launch with the GoPro Hero5 Black. I’d like to say it’s more refined with each release but unfortunately, it just keeps getting more complicated.

On the first iteration, the framerate and resolution were on the home screen, tap and you could adjust. Now you need to delve into the menu, tap a preset and then adjust the resolution and framerate.

One-click has become three.

While there is customisation for the four shortcuts that appear in each corner of the display there’s no option to assign any of these to framerate or resolution which is a shame.

Otherwise, the touch screen works in the same way as previous GoPro Hero’s;

Swipe left or right to switch between Time Lapse, Video and Photo
Swipe down to access the main menu
Swipe up to review the video and still capture

To change settings for each mode you tap on the info bar at the bottom which takes you to the preset screen. Here you can select a series of predefined filming modes, Standard, Activity, Cinematic etc.

Each of these presets has been configured with optimal resolutions and framerates. If you want to adjust any of these you tap the small pen which takes you straight through to the settings.

Performance

Out on the trail and the camera is decidedly GoPro, here’s a quick look at the quality of the footage.

5K at 30fps but showing at 4K 30fps due to YouTube limitations at that resolution. The quality of the footage is impressive and even at 30 frames per second Hypersmooth kicks in to stabilise and smooth the motion.

In this situation where the cameras really being put to the test with the quickly changing light conditions and motion you can’t help but be impressed by the small sensor and processor.

Shooting at 5K gives even more scope for re-composition in the edit, it might not be the 8K we’ve been dreaming of, but it’s still pretty good.

4K at 60fps is the setting that has really replaced 1080p at 60fps. Again the footage looks great, however, you can see it struggles with the high contrast areas at the tops of the trees, and it is all a bit overexposed on the standard settings, but there’s plenty of quality here.

Slowing the footage down to a more standard 30fps playback and the motion is silky smooth, with some good scope for standard footage. You can also see the speed at which the GoPro is able to automatically adjust exposure.

4K at 30fps, compare 30fps up against 60fps and really it’s hard to see the difference if any in the quality. 30fps at 4K from the GoPro Hero9 Black is just superb, plenty of detail, good balanced colour and ideal for anyone wanting to shoot a Vlog, blog or anything of that type.

Pushing the small GoPro Hero9 Black to the limits with 1080p at 240fps.

After the first early morning attempt, this footage looks much better, it’s still overexposed, beyond a simple tweak of the settings but it’s not bad.

One of the issues here as you’ll see from the GoPro Hero9 Black footage at 1080p 240fps is that Hypersmooth exits the building, that means that all the shakes and rattles appear in the footage.

While the footage it self may have been fine on the quality front if the camera was nice and firmly on the ground, here attached to the bike it’s pretty much unusable aside from the fact I can demonstrate this resolution and framerate in use.

Another observation from having tried to film at this framerate earlier in the day is the GoPro needs good light, otherwise your footage is going to look washed out and pixelated.

This is a little more comfortable, Hypersmooth is back doing it’s job stabalising the footage and the results although slightly overexposed are impressive.

When it comes to slow motion shot from a moving object then the GoPro Hero9 Blacks 1080p 120fps is the one to go for.

This used to be the go to frame rate and resolution for any action sports enthusiast enable smooth motion action footage with the ability to slow down to half speed through playback.

Although lower in resolution that todays standards it still has its uses and is ideal for those editing and sharing the footage from their mobile phones.

1080p 30fps is very standard – not a great deal to say aside from the quality is good.

This video really shows the GoPro Hypersmooth in action. It’s a mix of Hypersmooth in Boost mode, Standard and off. As you’ll see the results are impressive. I’m impressed!

What else is new on the GoPro Hero9 Black?

As ever, the new Hero9 Black features are mostly slight boosts in technology but there’s an all-new GoPro imaging sensor and improvements made to software and battery. But, as we’ve seen from GoPro before, these small enhancements can deliver big video quality upgrades.

In the last release, the Mods took center stage, taking some of the fanfare away from the incredible new GoPro design. Here again, some of the technology updates like the sensor and improved Hypersmooth will be outshone by the 5K resolution and the new Max Lens Mod.

But before we take a look at that new Mod, lets run through what you can expect from the new barebones camera.

The GoPro Hero9 Black can shoot 4K at 60fps. If you’re familiar with the GoPro family of action cameras you’ll know that this is nothing new, but, it can now also shoot at 5K 30fps, that’s a big resolution hike for such as small camera.

GoPro Hero9 Black review

If you’ve seen the pictures then you won’t be able to miss that new small screen. This may well be a bit of a catch-up move with the DJI OSMO Action already having a similar feature. On the new GoPro Hero9 though, it’s bigger and we’ll find out if it’s better during our testing.

Hypersmooth 3.0

In the last couple of GoPro releases, Hypersmooth image stabilization has gone from strength to strength with this groundbreaking feature now in its third iteration. After Hypersmooth 2.0 it’s hard to see how it can improve further but GoPro seems to be confident.

As before the new GoPro packs in a host of slow-motion features at a variety of resolutions including 8x slow-mo at 1080p. This means that 1 second of recorded footage can be stretched over 8 seconds which is impressive. Essentially, that’s 1080p at 240fps. In the past the quality of the footage has been a little ropey, to say the least, so it’ll be a good test of the new sensor.

Shooting stills

As usual, the GoPro Hero9 Black can shoot still image, this time at resolutions up to 20Mp. As before, you can shoot in raw or Jpeg format and there are Super photo and HDR modes.

GoPro Hero9 Black

Familiar Design

The design introduced with the GoPro Hero8 Black runs through to the GoPro Hero9 Black with what looks like little major changes, at first glance at least.

Again there’s no need for a waterproof housing or cage, the new camera is waterproof up to 10m. If you do need to go deeper then there is a waterproof housing available.

While at first look the camera suggests it is much the same at the Hero8 Black, it has the same form factor at least, the Hero9’s two screens are a touch larger than before. I’d still like to see that rear screen stretch edge-to- edge though.

As with the Hero8 Black, the Hero9 Black features a built-in mount which can be flipped down when needed. This is a neat feature and has been highly successful with the Hero8 despite some early reservations.

Again we see 1080p live streaming, this is really essential for action cameras now and, of course, the functionality of this is vastly increased by the introduction of the Mods with the last camera.

GoPro Hero9 Black front display

The Hero9 is fully compatible with the mods that are already released and the all new Max Lens Mod. This looks really exciting and fits to the front of the camera lens enabling a far wider POV. It really does look like an excition addition but does come at a price £89.

It also raises a few questions, for example one of the major flaws of the GoPro Hero8 Black was the inability to remove the front lens. This meant that once scratch it was either an expensive repair bill or a new camera.

I’m looking forward to seeing if the Lens mod is part of the solution to this issue.

Voice control is back and we’re looking forward to seeing if the vocab of this handy feature has been enhanced.

New Battery

Another big feature is the battery, this sees a 30% increase in longevity and is of course swappable.

I’ve been out with the new GoPro Hero9 over the past week with the GoPro Hero8 Black in tow to compare the results of the two side-by-side.

What has become very obvious is the extended use I’m getting out of the new GoPro Hero9 Black battery.

Using both cameras with the same resolutions and framerates and treating them exactly the same, the Hero9 normally shows between 25 and 35% battery when the Hero8 runs out of stream.

This is consistant with GoPro’s claims and really not surprising when you compare the two batteries together. The new one is quite a bit larger.

GoPro Hero9 Black Price

Do you want to get the GoPro9 Black cheaper? Then it appears that GoPro has found a way of selling the camera at a major discount, but there is a catch.

The GoPro subscription service actually offers great value for money and only costs £49.99 a year or £4.99 a month. For that you get to buy the camera for £329.98 if you take a one year sub. So essentially you can buy the camera and subscription for £50 less than you buy the camera on it’s own.

If you need more reasons to save yourself £50, then with the subscription you get equipment replacement, essentially smash it and GoPro replaces it. There’s also unlimited cloud storage for your GoPro footage, enhanced live streaming plus 50% off mounts and the lifestyle gear.

You can also check out our GoPro Hero8 Black review here

Verdict

The GoPro Hero9 Black is bigger better and more than any previous GoPro camera. It’s essentially an action camera on steroids and what has become obvious through this GoPro Hero9 Black review is that GoPro has gone all out to beat the competition.

My first impression of the GoPro Hero9 Black was a slight disappointment that once again GoPro had launched a series of products with such promise only to disband them a year later.

The MediaMod that I looked at last year may have been plasticky, but in use and concept, it was good. GoPro has obviously realised this, but at the same time realised that for the GoPro to progress at this stage it needed to bulk up.

MediaMod still exists, obviously, but it’s a new version designed for the bigger frame of the Hero9.

However, once you start to use the GoPro Hero9 Black you can see the huge advantages and advancements that GoPro has made.

The design is refined, the bigger screens front and back, the fix to the hinged battery door and greater precision for the GoPro mount pins all make for a better product in use.

Despite a few early issues with the responsiveness of the touch screen and a few all-out freezes the firmware updates seemed to do the job of fixing these issues.

While the performance is exceptional there are a few small points to note when using the camera.

The first is that during this test some of the team found that while documenting the process of delving in and out of menu screens, the camera became really hot, especially the base mounts.

We’ve put this down to the screen being continually on for more than 30 mins, but if this has happened to your’s then please let us know.

The other point is that while we saw a marked improvement in the battery life, it really is up by at least 30% again using the menus and without filming the battery started to drain at speed. Is this again due to the dual-screen?

Heat and draining aside, as these are both issues that arise when using the camera in a less than usual way the overall battery performance was excellent.

Video quality is the real focus of the GoPro, it’s known for being the best and the GoPro Hero9 Black reinforces GoPro’s dominance.

One of the big questions we get asked is always is the GoPro as good as a DSLR? You can read more about that here. 

The answer is no, the small sensor and processor do an amazing job, but when it comes to low light a mirrorless or DLSR will dance the GoPro into the ground.

The first footage I shot with the GoPro Hero9 Black was on a misty early morning ride, and adjust the settings to combat the low light and contrast and the footage looked mediocre.

An hour later as the sun broke through the quality of footage vastly improved, the painter like daubs of pixels smoothed and exposure settled.

In similar conditions, the mirrorless Sony A7 III captures stunning low noise images full of detail, tone and colour in both stills and video. But, then it’s not attached to a bike flying through the forest.

The GoPro Hero9 Black is another step-up in the world of action cameras. The interchangeable lens makes it a worthy upgrade to the GoPro Hero8 Black and overall it’s a far better if bigger product.

At present we haven’t seen a new DJI OSMO Action, and with Yi, Garmin and TomTom have been quiet for a few years, at present, there’s nothing else on the market that comes close to GoPro.

Before I finish there is one more point to add. When GoPro started it was all about action, they were the first big-budget action camera manufacturer to push and really succeed at the genre.

But now with the new features, GoPro is far more than just an action camera, it’s a filmmakers tool. Features such as HyperSmooth and TimeWarp enables stunning results with little or no technical knowledge.

The MediaMod, new one, along with the Screen and Light Mod enables you to create an incredible vlogging platform and a relatively cheap price.

The evolution in the direction that the GoPro Hero8 Black started a year ago continues as this small go-anywhere action camera really is becoming the camera for everyone everywhere.

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