It's September, which only means one thing: it's time for another GoPro action camera. In fact, it has come a successor to the excellent GoPro Hero 8 Black and is imaginatively called GoPro Hero 9 Black.
A rather daring take on the company's proven action camera formula, this time around 5K video capture and a DJI Osmo Action-style front display were added to the mix.
There's a lot to compare between 2019 and 2020 GoPro flagship camerasFrom the Hero 9 Black's bulging battery and beefier body to its bigger screen. If you think this is going to be a Hero 9 Black love, you're only partially right: the Hero 8 Black is still a great option, especially if your budget is tighter.
Priced standalone at $449.99 / €429.99 / AUN $699.95, the Hero 9 Black costs around 11% more than its predecessor at launch. But this time there's an added complication, as GoPro pushes its new subscription service (previously known as GoPro Plus).
If you're happy to sign up for a one-year GoPro subscription (which can be canceled at any time), you can pick up a Hero 9 Black for $349.99 / €329.99 / AU$559.95. Interestingly, the same deal goes for the Hero 8 Black, which you now get for a very tempting price of $299.98/€279.98/AU$459.95 (including a one-year GoPro subscription).
So if you're weighing your options, Read on to determine which camera will best meet your high-octane needs., without costing you more than you're ready to pay.
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1. A new design
The Hero 9 Black is about ten percent larger than the Hero 8 Black. Weighing 158g (compared to its 126g predecessor), you feel it as soon as you pick it up, at 71mm wide and 33,6mm deep, it's definitely not the smallest action camera on the scene.
It's still easy to put away though, so it doesn't make much of a difference on its own. But the ripple effect is that your old boxes or mods like Media Mod won't fit the new GoPro. Still, there is a reason it has grown in size.
The Hero 9 Black has a larger touch screen on the back than previous years' Hero flagships: measuring 2.27 inches, compared to 1.95 inches on the Hero 7 and Hero 8.
Unfortunately, we found this to be unresponsive and slow in our first tests, but GoPro says a firmware patch will arrive in November. Still, that extra size is welcome whether you're framing photos or stitching together to quickly change settings.
2. More resolution to play
With its new 23,6 MP sensor, the GoPro Hero 9 Black has nearly twice the sensor resolution of the Hero 7 Black and Hero 8 Black., allowing you to capture up to 5K video and 20,2 MP still images.
An additional resolution does not necessarily mean better image quality, but we found that it provided additional details on the Hero 9 Black.
Shots are now 14.7MP and look usable for social sharing and small prints, as long as there is no motion blur. It may sound insanely big, but the Hero 8 Black runs in 4K, which means 12MP still images, which is also plenty for most social media posts.
If you're into photos, this is where the Hero 9 Black gets noticeably sharper, thanks to its 20MP stills.. In well-lit environments, cropping your photos offers a noticeable improvement in detail over its 12MP counterpart, though overall image quality is very similar.
3. Better battery life
For generations GoPro Hero flagship products have been equipped with 1 220mAh battery. They didn't last long (just over an hour when shooting in 4K), but that was largely forgivable given their compact size. Now GoPro has increased the battery capacity to 1.720 mAh in the Hero 9 Black, which he claims increases his stamina by about 30%.
This translates to significantly better performance when capturing Full HD video, with the Hero 9 Black recording for over two hours and 10 minutes in our tests., compared to the Hero 8 Black, which died after an hour and 30 minutes.
The larger battery size also means that the Hero 9 Black can handle extreme cold better according to GoPro, so it should be a more powerful action camera on the trails.
On the other hand, eWe experienced overheating with our Hero 9 when shooting 5K video. After 30 minutes it turned off and was very hot to the touch, so even if the battery wasn't holding it back, when shooting at full resolution the heat might.
4. A new front screen
Just like the DJI Osmo Action, the Hero 9 Black combines a touch screen with a color front screen, which should help vloggers frame their shots and give anyone who's filming without accessing the rear screen a convenient overview.
The front screen of the Hero 9 Black is not touch sensitive and is also not smooth when previewing 5K video capture. You also can't turn it off in settings, which could be annoying if you just want to focus on saving battery power. That said, it will expire after a minute, just like the rear screen.
As with the monochrome front display on the hero 8 Black, the Hero 9 Black also displays shooting resolution, frame rate, percentage of battery remaining, and remaining memory card capacity. You can also choose between a preview of the entire scene (with a letterbox look) or a cropped center section of your view. We definitely prefer the former, but it's nice to have the option.
5. Returning the interchangeable lens cap
The Hero 8 Black ditched the Hero line's removable lenses to a mixed response. For 2020, GoPro didn't just go back to the old interchangeable lens optionInstead, he created an interchangeable lens mod called the Max Lens Mod.
Out of the box, the Hero 9 Black's field of view is narrower than the Hero 8 Black's, but with the Max Lens Mod, the Hero 9 can shoot at up to 2.7K resolution (60fps) with a field of view of 155 degrees.
The Max Lens Mod also supports horizon lock, like on the GoPro Max, which (somehow) keeps the horizon line level even when the camera is rotated in a 360-degree motion. Available in October 2020, the Max Lens Mod will set you back $79.99 / €79.99 / AU$129.95.
6. Slightly improved stabilization
GoPro's HyperSmooth image stabilization is the best we've seen on any action cameraAnd when GoPro introduced Boost, a cropped, lower-res way to get even steadier footage from the Hero 8 Black, fans rejoiced.
Hero 9 Black now runs with Hypersmooth 3.0 and Boost active at full 5K resolution. This is an improvement over the Hero 8 Black, which has Boost limited to 4K/30p (and only in wide view, rather than Superview).
Perhaps the main benefit of the Hero 9 Black's extra resolution is that it gives you wiggle room to apply those clipped stabilizations in more demanding situations. If you don't shoot much in extremely hectic situations, the Hero 8 Black's stabilization may be more than enough for you. But downhill mountain bikers are likely to seek out the Hero 9 Black.
7. Leveling the horizon behind closed doors
We've already talked about the new Max Lens Mod, which enables GoPro Max-style horizon lock on the Hero 9 Black, but you don't need a Mod to level the basic horizon.
Right out of the box, GoPro's new action camera can level your footage using built-in sensors, something the Hero 8 Black could only do in the GoPro app. While this doesn't keep your extreme turns in a stable bubble level, moderate inclines make up for it nicely.
8. Go back in time
If you've played Prince of Persia, Sands of Time, think of Hindsight as the action camera equivalent of Time Dagger.
A flagship feature of the Hero 9 Black, Hindsight can capture up to 30 seconds of footage before your finger hits the record button., so you don't have to rush and fumble around in the action fire to capture the action.
Easy to activate, you can set a back shortcut on your viewer, so it can be easily turned on and off and it works in all resolutions.
Meanwhile, Hero 8 Black users will only have to get out of the way by pressing the record button. And they will potentially fill their flashcards trying to pinpoint the perfect moment.
9. The Hero 9 Black's bag of tricks doesn't end there.
Another feature missing from the Hero 8 Black is scheduled capture which, as the name suggests, allows for scheduled recording, all controllable on the camera.
Set the Hero 9 Black to start capturing a time lapse and fifteen minutes before sunrise you can take a break while the Hero 9 Black wakes up on its own. It could also be useful if you plan to use multiple Hero 9 Blacks to start recording an event at exactly the same time to make it easier to sync.
The old favorites are back too, just this time, in their third evolution. HyperSmooth 3.0 and TimeWarp 3.0 have seen incremental improvements over the Hero 8 Black, with the latest incarnation of TimeWarp now recording audio when slowing down time-lapse footage to half actual speed.
Whether you buy the Hero 8 Black or the Hero 9 Black will depend on your needs and your budget.. If you really want the GoPro or the most complete vlog, then the latter is the best.
That said, if you want great 4K video and more than adequate in-body stabilization at a lower cost, the Hero 8 Black represents the better value of the two. Especially with GoPro's current subscription offer.