Review: GoPro HERO9, 5K, dual-screens, 30% more battery life. It’s time to upgrade.

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The GoPro HERO 9 is finally here and this year’s upgrades are impressive. While most years 12 months of R&D results in fairly incremental improvements, occasionally you have a year where a product rethink occurs and 2020 is that year.

If you’re an existing GoPro owner, or been a holdout, now is the time to get on board, because the HERO9 is one hell of a camera. What’s really impressive is this continued investment in pushing the category forward, despite not really having a serious competitor, in action cameras, there’s GoPro, then everyone else.

I’ve had the camera for a while now and it’s time to break down the HERO 9 changes and let you know what I think.

DESIGN

Curves in all the right places

GoPro has made significant changes to the design and made some controversial, difficult decisions in creating the HERO 9.

Front LCD (1.4″)

Firstly we’ll start with that new front-facing screen. While GoPro’s have always had displays on the front, this is now a full-on colour LCD display (not touchscreen) that can show you a direct feed of what your camera is seeing. This makes framing your shot, unbelievably easy.

I’ve often record videos in the car, but even if you’re trying to vlog with the camera, or take selfies with friends, this front display makes it incredibly easy to check what you expect, is actually in the frame. I’m not sure how much of the purchase price you can allocate to this alone, but I’d suggest a significant portion, it really is a great inclusion and one I miss when using my Hero 8 (maybe I need 2x HERO 9s).

Rear LCD (2.27”)

The touchscreen display on the back of the GoPro also got some love, growing 16% in size from the previous model. This makes content much easier to see. Some may still prefer to get an external display or use remote view through the phone, but I certainly appreciated the larger rear display. This serves as yet another justification for increasing the chassis size of the HERO 9.

Increased size

Changing the physical dimensions of a GoPro is a massive decision, one I’m sure was controversial inside the company. By increasing the body size, you immediately render many accessories incompatible and also eliminate some potential use cases. One example is on top of a lego train and fitting through a tunnel, or mounted in a car, squeezed between the roll cage and the windscreen. While these shots may still be possible with some adjustments, it will alienate some owners.

GoPro says this increased size strikes a nice balance between accommodating the larger battery, higher quality internals while impacting a small percentage of use cases. On balance, I definitely agree, the growth in size is justified.

Larger battery 

That larger battery comes in the form of a 1720mAh battery (up from 1,220mAh), this delivers up to 30% longer run times compared to the Hero 8. On first read, 30% may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a significant boost that now enables you to easily film for 1 hour without issue.

With a second display, naturally, the GoPro would consume more battery, however, the growth in the battery capacity works to counter that. One of the big choices you’ll have is the decision to enable that front screen to be always enabled, or let it sleep. If you turn it off or let it sleep after a few seconds, then you can save battery and shoot for longer durations.

It’s also important to consider the larger battery for more casual uses. If you’re someone who grabs the GoPro to film a few minutes here or there, there’s now a much higher chance there’s still plenty of battery remaining, rather than needing to charge between every single use.

GoPro says that when you’re recording in 1080p 60fps, you’ll get around 1hr 41 mins on the HERO 9, compared to 1hr 15mins on the Hero 8.

Larger buttons

For anyone who used the Hero 8, you’ll be pretty familiar with the buttons being difficult to press. The Power/Mode button on the side of the body was virtually flush with the side, making it difficult to detect when not looking precisely at the button.

Thankfully GoPro heard this feedback loud and clear and has addressed it with the HERO 9. Even without looking, you can easily feel the power/mode button on the side of the camera and like the top shutter button, it’s also just straight-up larger, a side benefit enabled by the larger body.

Interchangeable lenses 

GoPro has gone back in time, and once again allowed users to switch out lenses. This time, changing a lens has a camera function that you enable, so the camera software can understand a new lens is in place. The only lens we have officially confirmed is the Max Lens Mod, which offers a wider field of view, but this looks to be just the start of a new platform.

PERFORMANCE

How does it perform ?

While the GoPro has some important changes to design and loads of features, some potential buyers are really chasing the ultimate quality. Thanks to a brand new image sensor, the HERO9 delivers video quality up to 5K quality at 30 fps. 

Other video modes include: 4K60, 2.7K120, 1440p120, 1080p240 and more.

Exceeding 4K is important for a couple of key reasons. As Hypersmooth (now in version 3), works its magic to stabilise your footage, it’s actually cropping part the frame. With 5K quality, you could have your video smoothed, while retaining the 4K quality, that’s huge.

The other benefit of having more quality in each frame of the video is when it comes to taking still frames from the video content. There’s simply more definition in each frame, so if you need to zoom in to highlight an object in your footage, or crop an image from the clip, then you’ll still have lots of pixels to play with. 

Talking about still photography, GoPros may be best known for their video abilities, but are increasingly becoming still camera replacements, now with a 20MP sensor for photos, you’ll get photos with a resolution of 5120×2880 pixels. If you snap a still while recording, you’ll get a 14.7MP image. This should actually give you a better frame than sampling from the video, but depending on your use case, it may not matter.

When it comes to low-light performance, there’s not much of a story to tell, the abilities of the HERO 9 are very similar to that of the HERO 8 in respect to night time shooting.

FEATURES

Stand out features of this camera.

Where do we even start with the feature list? You won’t find the list of features on the environmentally friendly packaging, because it’d need to be a mile long.

Features of the HERO9 Black are:

HyperSmooth 3.0 with in-camera horizon leveling 

Have you ever seen pilots who mount a GoPro in their cockpit and do barrel rolls? It’s actually a little hard to watch, making the audience a little dizzy. With a new horizontal leveling feature, the smarts in the GoPro can tell where the horizon is and level out the footage. It sounds like crazy technology but is actually really impressive and easy to watch.

Naturally, HyperSmooth 3.0 does a great job of smoothing out movement in your footage, right in the camera, so there’s less, or no post-production necessary to fix shaky cameras. It’s important to remember that a steadicam to achieve this level of smoothness (you can literally run with it) cost tens of thousands of dollars and now that’s being done in a GoPro.

TimeWarp 3.0 featuring Real Speed and Half Speed  

Timelapses are some of the most impressive GoPro footage to watch. The reality is there are times where you want time to fly (say on a highway drive where not a lot happens), but segments of the footage where you speak to the camera (like stopping for lunch) that would require a start/stop disruption and editing after the fact.

GoPro is responding to this with a great new feature that can warp the time and leverage your audio to determine where it should playback at normal speed, like when you’re talking to the camera. Not everyone will have a use-case for TimeWarp, but this will prove for some serious creativity on the platform.

1080p Live Streaming, 1080p Webcam mode 

GoPro recently enabled GoPro Hero 8 to be used as a webcam and that same feature is coming to HERO9. Thanks to that front display, it’s easy to frame your shot ahead of joining the meeting. Just install the software, connect your camera and you’re away. The Windows version of the webcam utility is still in beta, but a new build has just been released that allows you to choose the field of view and looks to be much more stable.

HindSight

Capture up to 30 seconds of footage before you start recording. Even if you press the Shutter button too late, you’ll still get the shot.

Scheduled Capture

Set it and forget it—simply select the start and end time for a time lapse, video or photo up to 24 hours in advance.
The camera will toggle back on when prompted, and you can grab it later.

Duration Capture 

Choose the exact length of time that HERO9 Black will record from 15 seconds to 3 hours. Or, if you don’t have an end in mind, just set it to unlimited and let the good times roll.

LiveBurst
Record what happens 1.5 seconds before and after your shot, then pick your favorite single frame for the best pic or a share a 3-second 4K video. 

Voice control with 14 commands in 11 languages + 6 accents 

One of my favourite features is the hands-free operations, mount the camera, then when you’re ready, just say ‘GoPro start recording’ or ‘GoPro take a photo’. Having this available in more languages in accents means more GoPro customers are able to leverage voice.

3 microphones with advanced wind-noise reduction

Audio has never been a strength with GoPro, particularly made hard by the fact their cameras are waterproof. This time around, there’s some big improvements with 3 microphones to help reduce wind-noise. There’s also now the option to record in Stereo + RAW audio. You’ll also find a larger speaker at the rear of the camera, for improved audio playback 

Expandable 

The HERO 9 is compatible with the Max Lens Mod, Light Mod, Display Mod and Media Mod for HERO9 Black.

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

This camera hits so many home runs, it’s like GoPro read the minds of consumers (or spent ours reading the subreddit). This makes it really hard to find issues with it, however there is one I need to point out, by way of feedback to GoPro.

When I unboxed the HERO9 (bundle edition), the cover says 20MP/5K, so I turn on the camera, jump straight into the quality presets and don’t find 5K, weird. After some trial and error, I found my way to add a custom preset, where you can indeed set the camera to record in 5K.

Given how much of a headline feature this is, I really expected this would be front and center, or at least a preset when I turn on the camera for the first time.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

The GoPro HERO9 Black is on sale internationally starting today on GoPro.com and at select retailers around the world. The camera retails for RRP A$699.95 or on GoPro.com for A$559.95 with the purchase of a one-year subscription to GoPro. Existing GoPro subscribers can also take advantage of the A$559.95 pricing at GoPro.com. 

GoPro will continue to offer the HERO8 Black at an RRP of A$529.95, or A$459.95 with a one-year GoPro subscription; and HERO7 Black at RRP A$399.95. The GoPro Max will also remain on sale.  

OVERALL

Final thoughts

What GoPro have done with the HERO9 is nothing short of amazing. In writing this review, I looked back on the history of GoPros and when you look at V3 and V4 GoPros, it is amazing just how far we’ve come in the past 5 years.

Between the new front display, the extra battery life, the increased quality, and the laundry list of new features, I really expect the GoPro HERO9 to be a smash hit for the company. That’s a pretty weird prediction during a global pandemic where indoors has been much more of a feature of our lives than outdoor action sports.

There’s really so much new here that this camera feels like a serious step-change from the years gone by. Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or never bought a GoPro in your life, I couldn’t recommend this product highly enough, in fact, this may the highest review score we’ve ever provided.

Do yourself a favour, go buy it (on subscription to get the discount), then just cancel if you don’t find value. Personally I’m really looking forward to the release of the new Media kit and using the GoPro to create more YouTube content.

Here’s the GoPro HERO9 launch video.

More information at GoPro.com.

9.6
GoPro HERO 9
The Good
  • Longer battery life
  • Front screen
  • Video / Still quality
  • Webcam capability
The Bad
  • Didn't come with a 5K preset
  • Design
    9.8
  • Features
    9.9
  • Performance
    9.5
  • Value
    9.2
Categories
HardwareReviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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