GoPro has been the industry standard for action cameras for over 15 years. It was only a few years ago that brands like DJI and Insta360 started making action cameras with more features that challenged GoPro’s lead. However, this year GoPro has developed the most powerful action camera by far.
The GoPro Hero 9 is more robust in almost every way: larger battery, larger body, larger video and photo resolutions. For the first time ever, it comes in a reusable, plastic-wrapped case that is great for earth, dirt and air. This GoPro inspired me to explore.
Yes, this camera inspired me and never stopped me, so much so that I wish I had more exciting things to do. Building on years of action camera knowledge, GoPro has finally mastered a hardware experience that has never frustrated me while sticking to software that, while taking a bit of getting used to, offers endless resolution and frame rate capabilities.
However, the Hero 9 is more expensive at $ 449.99 or $ 349.98 if you sign up for a one-year subscription to GoPro Plus, which is included in the discounted price for the first year and is $ 50 per year thereafter. That’s $ 50 more than the Hero 8, $ 200 more than DJI’s Osmo Action, and $ 20 more than the Twin Edition of the Insta360 One R.
First bigger thing: its actual size. The Hero 9 is significantly larger than last year’s Hero 8. A little thicker, a little wider and a little bigger. However, this never stopped me from where I wanted to mount it or how it felt to carry it around, and it still has the same dual mounting prongs that are magnetically tucked on the bottom of the camera. That means you don’t need a separate case or case to attach accessories like you did on Hero 7 and older models.
With the larger size comes a larger touchscreen on the back, 2.27 inches diagonally. It has the same USB-C port, microSD card slot and battery compartment on one side, as well as the start / stop button on top and the power and mode button on the side. There’s also this weird piece on one side that I thought was removable, but it’s not. GoPro calls this the “Drain Mic” and explains that it is designed to drain itself after the camera is submerged. This should make for clearer audio when you get out of the water.
Tech is a tool and that’s why I treat it as such. In the two weeks I’ve tested the Hero 9, I’ve looked at it as much as I did with my own gear and it has no scratches or bumps.
However, should the lens get scratched, GoPro brought back a feature of the Hero 7 that I really missed on the Hero 8: a removable front lens cover. With the Hero 9, you can remove and pull the cover that sits over the lens with a hard twist. This provides a much better way to mount ND filters and lens accessories, such as the Max Lens Mod GoPro, which will be released this October. Unfortunately there is no backward compatibility, so the ND filters on your Hero 7 will not fit on the Hero 9.
The last major hardware change and my favorite addition this year is the front-facing screen. I would say that 80 percent of the times I use a GoPro, I’ll be looking at the front of the camera when framing the shot. I’m always way too impatient to go to the GoPro app on my phone and see my pictures. Therefore, an instant view on the front of the camera is very useful. You can change the aspect ratio of the front screen and the information displayed or switch it on and off in the Hero 9’s menu. There is some delay on this front screen when recording or using Hindsight mode, which saves the previous 15 or 30 seconds of footage captured by the camera before clicking the record button. Otherwise, the colors are vivid and the information is clear.
More screens mean more power consumption, so GoPro has increased the battery from 1,220 mAh in the Hero 8 to 1,720 mAh in the Hero 9. The Hero 8 was known to heat up during normal use, but despite having a larger battery pack, I didn’t experience how the Hero 9 feels hot. With heavy use, two batteries are needed to last a full day. During my very cool days of testing, where I turned the camera off while I wasn’t using it and didn’t see the playback until the end of the night, I was able to get through a full day on a battery that was properly on par with the Hero 8.
Next bigger thing: resolutions. There is just about every resolution and frame rate combination you could need on the Hero 9. The 20 megapixel sensor can record 5K 30fps, 4K 60fps and up to 1080p 240fps. I spent most of the time filming in 5K with the default GoPro setting.
The 5K footage is remarkably sharp. I dig the standard color option which increases saturation while keeping high contrast. Combine the vivid colors with the amazing stabilization in the camera and bingo bango, you have really good looking footage straight out of the camera. Also, when editing our test video in 4K, I really liked the fact that I had a little more room for the reformulation.
In terms of stabilization, there’s also a more robust HyperSmooth 3.0 out this year. I am always amazed at this stabilization in the camera, and new this year is an option for horizontal leveling in the camera when recording in the linear frame, which is slightly cut off from the wide frame. This makes it really easy to keep the horizon straight on the screen.
There’s also a new continuous capture, time-lapse schedule capture mode, and the new review mode. The battery is discharged a little faster when the Hindsight mode is activated because the camera is constantly recording.
The photos from the 20 megapixel sensor are good. HDR photos take a long time to process, and I wasn’t overly impressed with the way the shadows are taken to extreme levels in HDR mode. However, when HDR is switched off, the photos are powerful, bright and razor sharp. At night, however, the camera works a little slowly and leaves the photos blurred and grainy. A great next step for GoPro would be an astrophotography feature. I ask too much
Finally, there are a few new mods for this camera. Last spring, GoPro released the Media Mod for the Hero 8 with an integrated directional microphone, HDMI outputs and a cold shoe holder. This October they’re releasing a $ 99 Max Lens Mod, the company’s first lens mod.
The Max Lens Mod brings an even wider frame to the Hero 9 and, due to the spherical image it records on the sensor, enables horizontal leveling regardless of the orientation of the camera. However, you can only record up to 2.7 KB with it. I didn’t find it much wider than the Hero 9’s widest setting, but I enjoyed putting it on and not telling the Hero 9 to switch to Max Lens Mod mode so I could record video with a strange sick guy can have circle frames around it. Check out the video above for examples of what this looks like.
So the Hero 9. GoPro brought back the detachable lens, rolled out mods, put in a bigger battery, a bigger sensor, 5K video and most importantly, it finally got a useful front screen. But for all of these big improvements, there is this bigger price to pay.
Considering the upgrades, $ 449 is still a reasonable price for what you get. Sure, you can buy the Hero 8 Black for around $ 350 or DJI’s Osmo Action for $ 250, but neither of these cameras can record at 5K. And then there’s the One R from Insta360 with a 1-inch sensor mod for $ 500, but I prefer the color that the GoPro brings out more and the Hero 9 is $ 50 less.
When you add it all up, the Hero 9 is the biggest, baddest action camera out there – a camera that makes me want to keep up.
Correction: An earlier version of this article states that you need to purchase an annual subscription to the GoPro service in order to receive the discounted price for the Hero 9. That’s wrong – the first year is included in the purchase price and then $ 50 per year after that. We regret the mistake.
Photography by Becca Farsace / The Verge