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GoPro's new Hero9 Black gets a boost in image quality and battery life, making it a powerful camera that's fun and easy to use

Les Shu   

GoPro's new Hero9 Black gets a boost in image quality and battery life, making it a powerful camera that's fun and easy to use

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  • The Hero9 Black is GoPro's newest flagship camera, capable of shooting videos up to 5K and photos up to 20 megapixels.
  • The resolution increase was made possible with a new 23.6-megapixel sensor — the first upgrade since 2012.
  • The Hero9 also has a bigger battery than its predecessors and a new color LCD on the front for previewing your shots.
  • GoPro also enhanced a few existing features while adding some new ones that improve the shooting experience.
  • In our tests, we found the increased resolution notable in videos and photos, and the battery provided almost 30 more minutes of recording time.
  • The improvements make the Hero9 a far more capable camera than before, without sacrificing the fun of shooting with it.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

GoPro's new Hero9 Black camera brings some big changes. It is using a new 23.6-megapixel sensor — the first sensor upgrade since the Hero3, in 2012. Its new battery offers 30% more power than its predecessor. While the form-factor is familiar, there is now a color LCD on the front that gives you a preview.

Thanks to the new sensor, the Hero9 can now shoot higher-resolution videos — up to 5K. Photos also look better. There are also new modes and accessories that enhance the shooting experience.

While the Hero9 in some ways isn't a giant leap from last year's model, in other ways it is. These improvements have allowed the Hero9 to step out of the action cam relegation to become a powerful, standalone camera for everyday use. It won't beat the higher quality of a DSLR with a larger sensor and quality lens, or the convenience of a smartphone, but there's plenty of traits unique to the Hero9 — rugged exterior, small size, and fun shooting modes — that you won't find elsewhere.

If you've been holding out for a souped-up action cam, the Hero9 Black is it. And like all Hero cameras, it's fun to use.


The Hero9 maintains the trademark small, boxy design of past Hero cameras, and the rubberized exterior introduced with the Hero5. To accommodate the battery the Hero9's dimensions are a bit larger than the Hero8, not to mention heavier. I used to describe older Hero cameras as pocket-friendly, however, that's becoming less and less of the case with newer models.

On one side, there is the battery compartment where you'll also find the microSD card slot and USB-C port for charging and data transfer. On the other side you'll find the power button and a redesigned microphone that helps drain water faster — it looks like a button or lever, but don't try to pry it open. Along the top is the shutter button.

I love the built-in mounting system, which GoPro describes as folding fingers. Introduced in the Hero8, it lets you mount the Hero9 with nearly all GoPro accessories. When it's not needed, they simply fold away. Older Hero cameras require that you put it inside a mounting "cage." I usually have a GoPro Shorty mini tripod attached as a way to easily hold the camera.

I was happy to see GoPro reengineered the battery compartment door. It's removable, but it doesn't pop off as easily as the Hero8's. The spring-loaded latch system makes it easier to open while simultaneously providing a strong seal against dust and water. If you leave it open — say, for charging or connecting to a computer — make sure you're doing it in a safe and clean area.

Taking a page from the DJI Osmo Action, the Hero9 now has a color front-facing LCD, which you can use to make sure you're in the shot for selfies, vlogging, or TikToks. This 1.4-inch LCD is useful if you're standing up-close to the camera, but if you shoot mainly from the camera, it's not as practical. In older Hero models, the front LCD showed basic camera info; now, that info is laid over the camera's live-view, albeit in small font. I never found the front LCD to be handy for status info, and due to the small font, it's even less so now.

The touchscreen on the LCD is larger than the Hero8's, but the size difference is hard to differentiate. I appreciate that it remains a good quality display that's sharp, however. I found the touchscreen not as sensitive and responsive as previous Hero models with rear displays; GoPro said an upcoming firmware update should fix this issue.

The Hero9 is waterproof down to 33 feet and is dust-, cold-, and drop-resistant, making it a go-anywhere camera. Physical buttons require a hard press to activate — this is because they're sealed and also to prevent inadvertent presses.

Specifications of the GoPro Hero9 Black

Sensor: 23.6 megapixels

Image processor: GoPro GP1

Video resolution: 5K, 4K, 2.7K, 1440p, 1080p

Photo resolution: 20 megapixels

Displays: 2.27-inch rear color touchscreen LCD and 1.4-inch front color non-touch LCD

Audio: Three microphones with noise reduction

Dimensions: 2.8 (W) x 2.2 (H) x 1.3 (D) inches

Weight: 5.6 ounces

Waterproof: Down to 33 feet

Power: Rechargeable and removable 1,720mAh lithium-ion battery

Storage: microSD

Port: USB-C (power and data)

New features

Longer battery life

One enduring complaint about action cameras is the short battery life. With the Hero9, GoPro has extended battery life by 30% over the Hero8 Black, thanks to a larger battery. GoPro says the battery holds up better in extreme cold. Depending on usage, that could get you up to at least 20-to-30 minutes more shooting time, and you don't need to put the camera into an eco-mode to achieve this. GoPro says the battery holds up better in the cold.

In my test, I set the Hero9 to shoot a video continuously, in 1080p at 60 frames per second. From a full charge, I was able to shoot for approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes. This is an improvement over previous generations, where the most I could get is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. Mileage could vary: If you're using Wi-Fi with a paired smartphone or shooting in higher resolution, that could shave a bit off the battery life.

The bigger battery also adds a bit more weight. It's not cumbersome but you do feel the difference when you compare it against the Hero8 or when attached to a body mount. Unfortunately, for Hero8 owners, if you like to carry spare batteries on your shoots, it means you'll need to invest in new ones, as the older batters are not compatible. Also, it can get extremely hot if you're doing continuous shooting.

Like previous Hero cameras, you can charge the Hero9 with a portable battery pack. This is ideal for long, continuous shoots like time lapses.

20-megapixel photos

Under the right conditions, GoPro cameras can capture very good-looking still photos. With the larger sensor, the Hero9 can now shoot 20-megapixel photos, an increase from 12 megapixels in previous Hero models. This means larger photos with better detail and contrast; I didn't notice any artifacts like purple fringing, which is something more common is very old Hero models.

In my tests, under ideal natural lighting conditions, the Hero9 shot photos with accurate colors and good exposure — although you can expect some overexposure of the sky if you've got a massively bright sun ahead. It's when you get into lower-light conditions, like during dusk hours, where you'll see noise when the photo is viewed at 100%.

Although the sensor is larger than the one in previous Hero cameras, it's still considered physically small. Because small sensors take in less light, in very-low-light situations you'll see a lot more noise and murkiness, especially if you're hand-holding the camera. That's not to say photos are totally unusable: If you stabilize the Hero9, it can shoot decent photos that you can use on Instagram. The Night Photo mode works surprisingly well, and we've even managed to photograph starry nights.

You also have the option of shooting in high-dynamic-range (HDR) or uncompressed RAW. These are not new features but they give photographers additional functionality. HDR captures multiple photos at different exposures to create an enhanced image, while RAW gives advanced users greater control during editing. The issue I have with GoPro's RAW file system is that it's based on Adobe's DNG format, so you'll need Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

Photography is an underrated feature in GoPro cameras. While the image quality may not be a drastic improvement over a smartphone, the ability to change the field of view and use the camera in rugged conditions make it far more versatile than a smartphone or even regular cameras.

5K video

Video, of course, is GoPro's main draw. GoPro cameras have been capable of shooting 4K for some time, but the Hero9 is the first to offer 5K at 30 frames per second. Again, this is made possible with the new 23.6-megapixel sensor. Besides higher-resolution video, the increased pixels let you grab a 14.7-megapixel still image from a 5K video.

There are advantages to shooting in 5K, particularly for videographers, YouTubers, or anyone working with video in some fashion. While most people are still watching in 1080p, shooting in a higher resolution helps to future-proof your content. And, when you downscale a 5K video to 1080p, all those extra pixels help to create a higher-quality image than if you were to shoot in 1080p natively. Even a 5K video viewed on a 4K TV will look slightly better, and in the future, a 5K video will look better on an 8K TV than a 1080p video would.

I've been impressed with the video quality from the past few generations of GoPros, and the Hero9 is no exception. Whether it's 5K, 1080p, or time-lapse, the image quality is very good and motion is smooth. But you'll definitely notice the sharper quality in a 5K video over 1080p. It's not as noticeable if you're posting to Instagram — it's why I shoot mainly in 1080p — but more so if you're watching it on YouTube on a TV. (Note that YouTube, Instagram, and most social networks apply some type of compression, so there will be a loss in quality that's not the fault of the camera.)

Of course, shooting 4K or 5K with a small camera isn't the same as using a larger, expensive high-end camera. The advantage of the Hero9 is that it's a budget option and it can be used in more places due to its small size, not to mention it's much easier to operate.

Removable lens cover, Mods

With the Hero8, GoPro introduced the concept of Mods, which are accessories that help enhance your shooting experience. These include a built-in directional mic with mic and HDMI ports (Media Mod), a flip-up LCD (Display Mod), and LED light (Light Mod). The Hero9 offers the same accessories, however, with the exception of the Light Mod, they require a new purchase as the Hero8 Mods are not usable with the Hero9.

GoPro brought back the removable lens cover, which it ditched in the Hero8 in favor of a fixed design. This allows you to attach the new Max Lens Mod, which provides a 155-degree ultra-wide view with low distortion and increased stabilization (Max HyperSmooth). The Max in the name derives from GoPro's Max 360-degree camera, where the technology stems from.

The Max Lens Mod also lets you rotate the Hero9 360 degrees while keeping the subject leveled (horizon lock) — in playback, instead of you spinning around in a circle, it's the frame that spins around you while you stay still. I'm not sure how often people will use this function, but having seen the insanely awesome videos GoPro users have made, I wouldn't be surprised if the answer is many.

In-camera modes

Besides the hardware upgrades, GoPro also updated in-camera functions as well as adding a few new ones.

My favorite function is TimeWarp, a time-lapse video mode that was first introduced in the Hero7 Black. Unlike a traditional time-lapse video that's made from a series of photos shot at an interval, TimeWarp is a video that's fast forwarded and it looks more fluid. Hero9 introduces TimeWarp 3.0, which lets you slow down to a normal speed with audio or half speed, during key moments in a video you want to capture more of. It's not a big update, but it's still very fun to use.

GoPro has done a great job with its image stabilization system, HyperSmooth. With the Hero9, HyperSmooth 3.0 improves it further, keeping your video from bouncing around even if you do. And with the new Linear and Horizon Leveling Mode, it'll keep your shot in a straight line as well.

New to Hero are HindSight and Scheduled Capture. When HindSight is enabled, the camera continuously records up to 30 seconds. Oftentimes, a user presses the record button too late when they want to shoot something without a moment's notice. HindSight solves the issue by always recording ahead of time. This is ideal for moments like, say, whale watching, when you can't predict when something might happen.

With Scheduled Capture, you're essentially setting a timer for when you want the camera to start shooting. This is handy for things like shooting sunrises or the night sky, when you would rather sleep in. You can also set the end time.

GoPro recently introduced software that lets you use the Hero8 as a webcam for Mac and Windows computers. That same software will also work with the Hero9, so if you're also in the market for a webcam, this is one high-quality alternative that works well with Zoom, Google Meet, and other popular web-based conferencing apps.

Performance and use

Operating a GoPro Hero has always been about simplicity and ease-of-use, and that continues to be the case with the Hero9. Even though the hardware and functions have become more complex and diverse, to use it, all you need to do is turn it on and press the shutter button. Heck, you can even just hit the shutter and it'll power up.

There are certainly far more features than before, but thanks to a larger touchscreen, you'll find more on-screen buttons that give you direct access to often-used settings, as well as four that users can customize. The Hero9 uses the same interface introduced in the Hero8, which is designed to minimize tedious menu navigation to find what you need, like changing the focal point of view. Despite all these functions, it's actually easier to use than something like the Hero3 and Hero4. With voice control enabled, which works really well, you can just tell the camera to start recording or take a picture.

If you are a casual user who doesn't want to play with settings, you can use Capture Presets to pick the type of shot you want, from Standard to Activity, Cinematic, and Slo-Mo. As the name suggests, the presets are tuned to the common settings that most users would need for those particular shots. I like to use Capture Presets as a starting point and then fine-tune them further until I get my desired settings.

The Hero9 is not only fun for casual use, but it can be amped up to shoot some serious video. It's not a huge departure from the Hero8, but using both side by side during testing, I couldn't help but notice that extra weight. For everyday use, this isn't a big concern, but I can see how it would bother me if I had to, say, attach it to my wrist.

GoPro App

No camera company has perfected the smartphone companion app like GoPro — period. The GoPro App pairs with the Hero9 easily and quickly, and with it, I can control the camera, as well as download clips and photos to create shareable videos, all within the app. (Tip: The GoPro App is also what I use to quickly edit and create short videos from clips I shot with my phone and other cameras.)

Because I can now access so many of the settings easily from the Hero9's touchscreen, I don't use the app as often to control the camera, as it requires a few minutes to pair and set up. But, for things like time lapses, when you need to control the camera remotely, or conduct a live-stream broadcast, the GoPro App is handy.

I also enjoy using the app's movie-creation function (Quik Stories) to turn my footage into Instagram-ready videos. You don't even need to edit if you're short on time: Just pick the clips and photos you want, and the app turns it into a shareable video, with music and transitions. I usually fine-tune the settings, but a short movie can be had in just a few minutes.

Normally, 4K and 5K files tend to be large and difficult to edit. Because GoPro is using HEVC compression, the files are manageable enough to be edited in the GoPro App. If you want to offload the footage to a computer for editing, it must support the HEVC format.

Price and availability

The GoPro Hero9 Black is available now for $450. You can get it for $350 if you purchase the GoPro Subscription for one year. Normally $10 a month, the GoPro Subscription is a good deal: It includes a no-questions-asked replacement, discounts on GoPro accessories, cloud storage, and live-streaming through the service.

For this review, I tested the Hero9 Bundle. For an extra $50 ($500 or $400 with one-year subscription) you get a 32GB SD card, extra battery, handle, clip mount, and travel case, in addition to the camera. These are all handy accessories to have, which is worth the small additional cost.

The bottom line

Despite the welcome hardware upgrades, the GoPro Hero9 Black isn't drastically new. Instead, it's a camera that continues to refine by advancing what it has while throwing in a few new things — one that helps GoPro step out of its "action" category and into a standalone camera for everyday use. Despite all that's new, the camera embodies the same spirit as its predecessors.

Perhaps we'll see a totally different Hero camera in the future — you could argue that's already here, with GoPro's Max 360-degree camera — but the Hero9 remains a camera that is fun and easy to use, while giving you features to do even more, if you want it to.

Should you buy it

If you are a casual user who purchased a Hero8 Black within the past year, you should hold off unless there's a new feature you must have. While there's a lot to like in the Hero9 Black, the Hero8 is still a terrific camera with many of the same features and shoots great-looking videos. Vloggers or anyone who likes to shoot videos of themselves may want to trade in the Hero8 for the Hero9's front-facing LCD.

If you're upgrading from an older Hero, it's your first action cam, or you need a camera with more versatility and flexibility than a smartphone or DSLR, the Hero9 should be on your shortlist. It's not only full-featured and easy to use, but the seamless integration with the GoPro App and future-proofing specs, like 5K video, make this a good investment.

What are your alternatives?

If you have a tight budget but would like to stick with GoPro, the obvious alternatives would be either the Hero8 or Hero7, which remain in the lineup as lower-cost options. Both shoot terrific video up to 4K and feature the GP1 image processor that also powers the Hero9, while the Hero7 can also handle lower resolution down to 720p. In terms of use, the Hero8 is closer to the Hero9, although you won't get the bigger sensor. The Hero7 uses an older mounting system, while the Hero8 lets you use dedicated Mods to enhance the shooting experience. I've used both cameras and found them to be terrific.

For those who want a GoPro alternative, there's the DJI Osmo Action and Insta360 One R. The Osmo Action is most like a GoPro Hero: It has two LCDs (front and back), reliable image stabilization, screw-on lens filters, and HDR video modes. The downside is a so-so app experience and it's not as feature-rich as the Hero8 or Hero9.

The Insta360 One R is the most radical of the current crop of action cams. It uses a modular design that lets you turn an action camera into a 360-degree camera or a high-end camera with a large 1-inch sensor (both separate purchases). The LCD is tiny and it's not as responsive as either GoPro or DJI, but it's compact and incredibly flexible. If your main purpose for getting an action cam is to shoot high-quality video, however, you may want to stick with a GoPro.

Pros: 5K video, 20-megapixel photos, longer battery life, improved battery door, easy and fun to use, great-quality videos and photos, excellent smartphone app, compact and durable, versatile for everyday shooting, can be used as webcam

Cons: Heavier and bigger than previous models, battery can get really hot, touchscreen not as sensitive or responsive (GoPro plans to address this with firmware update), not compatible with previous Mod accessories, mic input and HDMI output require optional accessories


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