GoPro Hero 9 Black hands-on: All the tools to tell your story

by Joshua on July 16, 2021
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 Joshua /CNET

When GoPro designed the £449 Hero 9 Black, it decided to just go big. Instead of trying to shoehorn more performance into the compact Hero 8 Black, the Hero 9 is taller, wider and heavier, and it's totally worth it. It's an all-around better camera, but most importantly it finally tackles the main gripe most people have with the tiny action cams -- battery life. 

The Hero 9 has a larger battery pack than past models in size and power. It's got a 1,720-mAh battery pack versus the Hero 8's 1,220-mAh pack. Small cameras only have room for a small battery, but by going bigger with the body, this pack will last 30% longer than the Hero 8's. GoPro says it works better in the cold, too. I don't have hard numbers yet but it's clearly better than before.

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The Hero 9 Black's battery is noticeably larger than the Hero 8's pack (left). 

 Joshua /CNET

The selfie screen I've been waiting for

One of the few advantages DJI's Osmo Action camera had at launch was its front display so you can frame shots from in front of the lens. Akaso's Brave 7 LE has a similar display and Insta360's One R lets you flip its single screen to the front. Now GoPro is on board with a 1.4-inch front-facing display in addition to a larger rear touchscreen. 

The front display can be set to show your camera status just like past models. It can also give you a full picture of what you're shooting or fill the screen with whatever is in the center of your frame. And you can have both displays on at the same time if you want or shut it off to save your battery. 

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 Joshua /CNET

More resolution but for good reasons

GoPro used a 23.6-megapixel sensor in the Hero 9 Black. The Hero 8 has a 12-megapixel sensor. That's a big jump and adding more megapixels to a small 1/2.3-inch image sensor isn't a great idea for image quality. But in this case, paired with GoPro's homegrown GP1 processor, the extra resolution is used to improve the performance of features such as its HyperSmooth image stabilization and add new ones including in-camera horizon leveling.  

That said, it does shoot 20-megapixel pictures including HDR and raw, and it'll capture 5K-resolution video (5,120x2,880 pixels) at 30 frames per second along with 4K60, 2.7K120, 1,440p120, 1,080p240. 

 

5K is nice even if you don't need 5K

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This is a 14.7-megapixel frame grab from the Hero 9's 5K video. 

 Joshua /CNET

I don't regularly use 4K resolution for video so when GoPro said it was introducing 5K on the Hero 9 Black, I gave a shrug. My lack of enthusiasm aside, GoPro says a lot of people are asking for 5K now so that's what you get with the Hero 9 at 24 or 30 frames per second. If you wanted 5K video, now you've got it. 

For people like me, there's an incentive to use it when you want to capture both video and stills. The 5K video frames are 14.7 megapixels so you're getting great video and the option to grab photos, too. I was actively paddling a kayak in the picture above and what you're seeing is a frame from in between my strokes.

 

I'm addicted to the Max Lens Mod

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Shot with the Max Lens Mod in SuperView mode. 

 Joshua /CNET

One of the reasons the Hero 9 Black is larger is because GoPro went back to using a removable lens cover. (It's a feature that was dropped from the Hero 8.) Making it removable means if you scratch it, you can easily twist it off and replace it. It also means you can add other lenses on top of the Hero 9's like the new $100 Max Lens Mod. 

The Max Lens reproduces the capabilities of the lenses on GoPro's Max camera, giving you an expansive picture with little distortion and amazing video stabilization at up to 2.7K resolution at 60 frames per second. (You can see the full-size version of the image above, which is a frame from the 2.7K video). Additionally, with its horizon lock on, the camera can spin 360 degrees and you'd never know it from the picture -- it stays right-side up.  

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Scheduled Capture lets you catch a sunrise even if you're not awake for it. 

 Joshua /CNET

New ways to not miss a moment

Along with all the shooting modes in the Hero 9 Black, GoPro added three new tools: Scheduled Capture, Duration Capture and HindSight. HindSight is similar to the LiveBurst feature in the Hero 8, and now the Hero 9, that captures 1.5 seconds of video before and after you take a picture. For HindSight, it stores a 15- or 30-second buffer for video. As you press record it starts with the video stored in the buffer. 

Duration Capture lets you set a timed recording from 15 seconds to 3 hours. Scheduled Capture lets you pick a time you want the camera to turn on and start recording automatically -- perfect for sunrises and sunsets or anything else you don't want to miss because you won't be there to press record.

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