Every fall, GoPro releases a brand new version of its popular and classic action camera, the GoPro Hero. Some years, it’s a significant release with big changes, and other years, it’s an incremental step forward.
Where does the brand new GoPro Hero 9 fall into place, and should you buy this camera?
Read our GoPro Hero 9 review to find out.
GoPro Hero 9: Overview
Since GoPro is practically the inventor of action cameras, you’re probably at least partially familiar with the GoPro Hero.
It’s always been a compact, rectangular camera that’s rugged – waterproof, crushproof, and made primarily for the outdoors. Listed below are a few significant GoPro Hero camera releases:
GoPro Hero 5
In terms of GoPro history, the GoPro Hero 5 was a significant camera for a couple of reasons.
It was the first GoPro that was waterproof, so you didn’t need to stick it in a waterproof housing for underwater shooting.
Plus, the Hero 5 was the first GoPro with a built-in LCD display screen on the back of the camera.
Every GoPro since the Hero 5 comes with both of these features.
GoPro Hero 7
The next major GoPro release was the Hero 7.
This was the first GoPro camera with built-in HyperSmooth, which promised “gimbal-like stabilization.” Every GoPro with HyperSmooth has amazing video stabilization, even in the roughest conditions. In fact, depending on your personal video quality preferences, you may not even need to use a gimbal or external stabilizer with newer GoPro models.
The Hero 7 was also the first GoPro Hero to include custom shooting presets via the back-facing LCD touchscreen for easy camera operation.
GoPro Hero 9
The latest GoPro release is the first to include a built-in front-facing screen (more on this below). It’s great for vlogging, taking selfies, and composing your shots while standing in front of the camera.
Additionally, the Hero 9 boasts the highest resolution of any GoPro camera. At 23.6 megapixels, the resolution is roughly double that of its predecessors. This allows for shooting higher-resolution photos (20 megapixels) and videos (up to 5K).
From here on out, I’ll be talking solely about the GoPro Hero 9.
Design and ergonomics
Aside from the inclusion of the front-facing screen and the relatively large size, the Hero 9 looks like many other modern GoPros. It has two physical buttons – one on top and one on the side – and a rear touchscreen LCD.
Accessing the camera’s many features is quite simple, thanks to the inclusion of shortcuts and presets that can be accessed via the rear LCD.
The Hero 9 is powered by a rechargeable battery. It can also be charged via the USB-C port, the only built-in port on the camera. If you desire additional ports such as a 3.5mm microphone jack and a micro HDMI port, you need to buy the GoPro Hero 9 Media Mod (more on this below). The Hero 9 uses a single micro SD card to record.
The Hero 9 is waterproof up to 33 feet (10 meters) without a waterproof housing, though dive housing can be used to further waterproof the camera.
Finally, the Hero 9 can be used without a cage, thanks to the built-in folding fingers on the bottom of the camera. That way, you have the mount directly on the camera base.
GoPro Hero 9 Pros
Now let’s take a look at some of the GoPro Hero 9’s best features, starting with:
Best photo and video quality ever
Thanks to the Hero 9’s impressive resolution, image quality is at an all-time high. You can now shoot 20-megapixel photos in both JPEG and RAW format, and videos can be shot at 5K/30p or 4K/60p.
Even if you don’t intend to export a 5K video, shooting at this resolution can be beneficial for post-production. When you shoot at 5K, you can crop your video later without sacrificing resolution. You can also take high-quality still shots from your 5K video footage.
While some may scoff and say that front-facing screens are only important for vloggers, don’t knock it until you try it. Being able to see your composition from the front of the camera will change the way you shoot. It’s especially helpful when you stick the camera in a tight corner.
But if you’re still not sold on the front-facing screen, there’s an option to disable it and simply display camera settings instead.
Shaky video footage has been long gone since the Hero 7 first debuted with HyperSmooth. Somehow, GoPro keeps finding ways to improve HyperSmooth, and it’s in its third version with the Hero 9.
Besides eliminating video shake from sports footage, HyperSmooth helps with another GoPro feature: TimeWarp.
Essentially a moving time-lapse, TimeWarp is great for conveying the passage of time while on the move (think walking, hiking, or driving), and HyperSmooth keeps that footage stable.
Horizon Leveling and Scheduled Capture
A new feature on the Hero 9 is Horizon Leveling. When enabled, this automatically keeps your video’s horizon straight.
Since the camera tends to be mounted on a moving subject, keeping the horizon straight is something that many GoPro users often struggle with.
Scheduled Capture is another new feature that allows you to schedule ahead of time when the GoPro should start shooting. It’s especially helpful for creating time-lapses.
Improved internal microphones
Ever since the GoPro was designed to work without a cage, the sound quality has gradually improved. The Hero 9 has three built-in internal microphones, and they do a great job of picking up audio. The only time the audio seems muddled is after the camera has been submerged in water.
If you want to get the best possible audio out of the GoPro, you can do so by adding an external microphone. However, for that you’ll need to buy the Media Mod (discussed below).
Starting with the Hero 8, GoPro began releasing Mods to add features to its cameras.
The main Mod is the Media Mod, which is aimed at vloggers. This Mod includes cold shoe mounts for adding accessories, a micro HDMI port, a 3.5mm mic jack, and built-in microphones.
Despite the added cost, the Media Mod delivers on its promises and turns the GoPro into a viable vlogging camera.
(Most of these Mods are intended for newer GoPros, so if you own an older GoPro, be sure to check its compatibility before purchasing Mods.)
Lots of third-party accessory options
Since GoPro has been around for so long, there are tons of third-party accessory makers selling all kinds of things to expand the functionality of GoPro cameras.
Some accessories are specific to GoPro models (i.e., form-fitting cages), but many accessories, such as mounts, lights, and microphones, can be used with every GoPro out there.
No camera is perfect, and the GoPro Hero 9 is no exception. Let’s take a look at the drawbacks of this action camera:
To accommodate a larger battery and the front-facing LCD, the Hero 9 is the biggest GoPro ever. It’s still a small camera, but its slightly larger size means that any previous form-fitting cages you might own will no longer fit.
You’ll also have to buy Hero 9 batteries and a battery charger.
Poor low-light shooting
While the GoPro Hero 9 has a larger megapixel count than previous GoPro Heros, it performs miserably in low-light conditions. If you want to shoot photos or videos after the sun goes down or indoors, use the Light Mod or consider a different camera.
In my experience, most modern GoPros are prone to freezing bugs, and the Hero 9 is no exception.
The good news is that there’s a fast way to reset the camera should it freeze:
Simply hold down the Record and Power buttons for a few seconds, and the camera will reboot.
Almost immediately after the Hero 9 came out, GoPro released a statement saying that two firmware updates would be on the way before the end of 2020.
These firmware updates promised fixes such as:
- Increased touchscreen sensitivity
- Image quality improvements for 4K shooting
- GPS accuracy
- Scheduled Capture bug improvements
- External microphone compatibility with the GoPro mic adapter
- More possible fixes on the way
One firmware update was released in October 2020, and the second was delayed from November to December 2020. In GoPro’s own words, “The more we test HERO9 Black in the field and the more feedback we receive from users, the more we identify little upgrades that will have huge impacts on the user experience.”
Not everyone will find the issues listed above to be a problem, but if you’re suffering from any, just know that a fix is on the way.
Should you buy the GoPro Hero 9?
Now that I’ve gone through the bulk of this GoPro Hero 9 review, it’s time to ask:
Who should think about purchasing the Hero 9?
If you have an older GoPro…
If you have a model older than the GoPro Hero 7, the Hero 9 will seem like a huge upgrade.
Not only is the image quality better, but you’ll also have a touchscreen with presets for easier control, buttery-smooth video, and better sound quality.
If you have the Hero 7 or 8, there’s no need to upgrade unless any of the key features, such as the front-facing screen or 5K video, have appeal.
If this is your first action camera…
For those new to the action camera market, you’re in luck – because there are a lot of good options. There’s the cheaper DJI Osmo Action or the modular Insta360 One R, both of which are excellent picks. It’s worth researching both of those cameras to see if they better fit your needs.
However, if you want a tried and true action camera that has the best image quality, stability, and sound on the market, then the GoPro Hero 9 is the best that money can buy. You can grab it here.
What do you think? Are you interested in purchasing the GoPro Hero 9? Let me know in the comments below!