With the introduction of the HERO8 action camera a generation ago, GoPro decided to go cageless, make the device waterproof, and integrate mounting hardware right into the body. The GoPro HERO9 Black takes things even further, increasing the device’s body size for the first time in several generations. With a slew of new features, including replaceable lens covers, GoPro more than makes up for the minor size increase.
Is upgrading to this action camera worthwhile? I believe it will be for a large number of users, though at a significant cost.
Design: Bigger isn’t always better
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the HERO9 Black is bigger than the HERO8 Black (2.6 x 1.9 x 1.3 inches), but it’s still a small action camera, especially when it comes to recording capabilities.
GoPro gives us a larger battery (good for 30% more battery life), support for detachable lenses, and a large front-facing LCD screen with a live preview with this size increase. The “Folding Fingers” at the bottom of the HERO9 Black are still present. These tabs, first seen on the HERO8, fold out from the bottom of the body, allowing you to quickly mount the camera and begin filming.
Many of the recent GoPro changes have been in favor of removing the protective housing, which was previously required for waterproofing in older models, and instead attempting to bake all of the benefits directly into the device’s body. On paper, I like this design direction’s spirit, but the truth is that the GoPro was far more secure inside the protective housing, especially against impacts and scrapes.
You might wonder how I would know this. I know it isn’t because I tried mounting the GoPro HERO9 Black to a bicycle and only got three feet before it fell off the handlebars and cracked the back screen. Reader, don’t be ridiculous.
GoPro is happy to sell you the old protective housing for $50 as an add-on, but this feels like a slight in a device that costs $449 and used to come with it for free.
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Display(s): A welcome addition
The inclusion of a front-facing LCD screen is one of the most notable new features in the HERO9 Black. It’s easy to dismiss this as a gimmick for selfie-obsessed people, but in practice, this new display is extremely useful.
Yes, the HERO9 Black’s new display makes it infinitely more useful for vloggers and selfie-takers. GoPro is well aware that they are constantly at risk of being crowded out by smartphones. Their constant development of new camera features and functionality is unquestionably a safeguard.
Sure, they have a core audience of users who continue to put the “action” in action camera by jumping out of planes and mountain biking through treacherous ravines filled with freshly sharpened knives. What about mommy bloggers and adventure foodies, though? What about the office workers who want to document their annual kayaking trip?
The GoPro HERO9 Black can now be used as a webcam for Zoom meetings thanks to the new display.
The LCD screen on the front allows you to see exactly what you’re recording in real time and adjust the framing of your shots. It’s why, instead of turning the camera around and taking a timed exposure, we take selfies. The image quality of the rear camera is always better, but convenience almost always wins out.
The GoPro HERO9 Black can now be used as a webcam for Zoom meetings and a primary camera for Twitch streaming sessions thanks to the new display. Those two factors alone make the HERO9 Black a lot more appealing.
The touchscreen display on the back is also slightly larger, making it a little easier to navigate through the menus without getting a headache from pressing the wrong buttons.
At the end of the day, at any price, it’s the best GoPro has to offer.
Setup Process: Simple and quick
It takes very little effort to get started with the GoPro HERO9 Black for the first time. The only issue I had with the device when I first took it out of the box and set it up was with the door latch on the side of the device, which requires a surprising amount of force to open, so be careful with your fingernails. The battery, microSD card slot, and USB-C charging/sync port are all hidden behind this door.
You have two options for starting the device: the power button on the side or the recording button on top. When you press the recording button, the device turns on and begins recording right away—perfect for when you need to get right into the action.
The battery takes about 3 hours to charge from empty, and you can do it with the included USB-C to USB-A cable. If you’re not charging with a computer, you’ll need to bring your own power brick.
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Video Quality: A small bump
The ability to shoot up to 5K video at 30 frames per second is a big new feature enabled by the new sensor in the GoPro HERO9 Black. 5K has a resolution of 5120×2880 pixels, whereas 4K has a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels. Many will argue that this is merely an upgrade for the sake of upgrading, but there are some minor practical benefits to recording at this higher resolution.
It allows you to crop out or zoom into the frame while maintaining 4K resolution, for example, which is useful if you didn’t get the framing of your shot quite right. The HERO9 Black, like its predecessor, can record 4K at 60/30/24fps.
The most compelling argument against the new 5K recording mode is that, regardless of whether you’re shooting 2.7K, 4K, or 5K, the maximum bit rate is 100Mbps, making compression the limiting factor rather than resolution. I’d choose 4K/60 over 5K/30 any day of the week for anyone shooting anything action-oriented, simply because having twice as many frames is far more useful than having a little more resolution.
Although the GoPro HERO9 Black has improved overall video quality, don’t expect any miracles here. In all but sunny conditions, the video quality suffers from a significant amount of noise, as well as a noticeable amount of softness that is visible when watching the footage on a large screen.
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Stabilization: A standout feature
One area where GoPro stands out from the crowd is stabilization. And, let’s be honest, given the nature of how action cameras are used, they really need to do well here. With HyperSmooth 2.0, the HERO8 took a big step forward, and with HyperSmooth 3.0, the HERO9 takes an even bigger step forward. I was blown away by the results I was able to achieve with the HERO9 Black.
Even when riding on a bumpy cobblestone path that gave me a headache, the footage was surprisingly smooth. This isn’t the same level of stabilization as you’ll find on older action cameras or even newer smartphones that boast about their stabilization capabilities.
Even when riding on a bumpy cobblestone path that gave me a headache, the footage was surprisingly smooth.
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Photo Quality: A noticeable improvement
The difference between the 12MP still images on the HERO8 Black and the 20MP on the HERO9 Black is undeniable. Although I don’t take many still photos with my GoPro, this is a great upgrade for those who use the photo mode for time lapses rather than video. The process of taking time lapses is still incredibly simple, and navigating the settings is a breeze.
The difference between the 12MP still images on the HERO8 Black and the 20MP on the HERO9 Black is undeniable.
Features: More to celebrate
TimeWarp 3.0—GoPro’s hyperlapse function—has to be the best reason to choose the GoPro HERO9 Black over the competition. It combines all of GoPro’s best qualities, from ease of use to rock-solid stabilization, into a single feature.
TimeWarp 2.0 was introduced with the HERO8 and included a number of useful features such as automatic speed selection and the ability to tap to slow down to normal speed. The HERO9 goes a step further by allowing you to reduce the speed of the camera to half speed. For on-the-go creators, being able to create such a dynamic video without having to edit anything is a huge plus.
Hindsight is another fantastic feature to have. This allows you to record for up to 30 seconds before forgetting to start recording. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve missed a shot because we weren’t quick enough with the shutter button, and with this feature, GoPro gives us a second chance.
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Price: Expensive, with a caveat
The GoPro HERO9 Black is not an inexpensive action camera, with a price tag of $449 (). Given the incremental improvements and the fact that the change in body size breaks support for accessories designed for the HERO8, it’s a little more than we expected.
However, GoPro is currently promoting their subscription program by offering the HERO9 Black for $349 with a one-year subscription included. To be clear, the camera and subscription together cost $349, a $100 savings over retail. They’re also including an extra battery and a 64GB microSD card.
Why are they acting in this manner? The GoPro subscription costs $50 per year and includes unlimited cloud storage, 30-50% off in the store, and no-questions-asked camera replacements—good for two per year. If the camera is damaged, you must still pay a fee. GoPro is probably betting that after a year of using the service, you’ll want to keep paying for it. For the $100 discount, it seems like a no-brainer to me, but it’s up to you whether you want to get involved in another subscription that you may have to cancel in the future.
GoPro HERO9 Black vs. GoPro HERO8 Black: Steps forward, steps back
On paper, the HERO9 Black has the same features as the HERO8 Black, but with a few improvements: 5K video, smoother HyperSmooth, improved TimeWarp, and 20MP stills. However, if you already own a HERO8 Black, upgrading is a difficult decision to make. When it comes time to take out your wallet, the video quality is very similar, and all of the upgrades seem minor.
The fact that the Media Mod for the HERO8—along with any other accessories that rely on the device’s shape being the same—isn’t compatible with the HERO9 adds to the confusion.
Nonetheless, if you’re buying a GoPro for the first time or haven’t upgraded in a few cycles, get the HERO9 Black. At least as long as GoPro continues to sell them for the same price as the HERO8 with subscription. If you already own a HERO8 Black, I recommend skipping this one.
The Final Word
Finally, the GoPro HERO9 Black is an excellent action camera that improves on almost every aspect of using a GoPro. We could argue that it doesn’t do enough for the money or that the accessories aren’t plentiful enough, but at the end of the day, it’s the best GoPro has to offer at any price.