GoPro has done it again. When there doesn’t seem to be anything more to pack into one of the smallest cameras in the world, they add 5k, horizon levelling and a front screen. Yet again, they set the bar for action cameras and all other companies are left to hang on.
GoPro Hero 9 with GoalZero Sherpa 100AC battery
The first GoPro came out in 2006 (well 2005 if you count the 35mm film version) and has defined the action camera market since. Aside from DJI releasing a front screen first in 2019, GoPro has lead the pack the entire way.
I’ve had a number of GoPro’s along the way, starting with one of the old Wide’s, 3+, Hero 8 and now Hero 9. I see a lot of technology in my work and travels but it still blows my mind to see the clunky Wide with it’s waterproof cover filming in 640×480 transform into the Hero 9 we get today.
Not only being one of the best action cameras, the GoPro is really turning into one of the best small cameras for backpacking too. While you can’t zoom in much with it, it can do almost anything else.
What are all the features? What’s it like to use? Should you upgrade from your 8 to the 9? Let’s dig into it.
Hero 9 Specs
- Video modes
- 5k 30/24
- 4k 60/30/24
- 2.7k 120/60
- 1080p 240/120/60/30/24
- Waterproof to 33 feet
- Hypersmooth 3.0 with horizon leveling
- 30% Larger battery
- Larger back screen
- Removable lens cap
- Front screen
- $529.99 CAD ($399.99 USD)
5k video is, you guessed it, just a big high resolution than 4k. These numbers really just refer to the video resolution being around 5000 and 4000 pixels across. 1080p video is actually 1920 pixels across so you could basically call it 2k.
When filming for small videos just for phones 720 or 1080 is plenty to get a good image but if you want to go bigger or want to zoom in on your video clips then you’ll need more pixels to do that. Filming at 2.7k or 4k will let you zoom in and still have a good picture for a 1080p video. But what if you wanted to make a 4k video and be able to zoom in a bit sometimes?
If you filmed those clips at 4k then you’d be out of luck. But if you filmed them at 5k, like the Hero 9 has, then you’ll have some extra space to pan left and right or zoom on with your shots when you edit them.
5k video is big enough that if you like a still image from the video you took you can still pull 14 megapixel photos from your video.
The Hero 9’s sensor was upgraded from 12 megapixels to 24 megapixels which helps enable some of these new options.
Compared to the Hero 8, the 9 has gotten a big bigger. It’s slightly thicker, slightly taller, and slightly heavier. To accommodate the 2 screens and larger battery, the whole thing had to get a little bigger. GoPro says the 40% larger battery leads to a 30% boost longer battery life
Because it’s got exactly the same mount on the bottom as the 8 and all the other GoPro mounts it’s still compatible with all the mounts you already own. If you have a frame that fit on older GoPros, it will be too small for the 9.
The battery has a larger capacity at 1,720mAh, slightly larger than the 1,220mAh in the 8. But what we know from our phones is that increased battery size doesn’t always lead to longer battery life. The Hero 9 has a bigger back screen, more powerful front screen and is doing more inside with some of the settings so does it actually lead to better battery life?
Depends on your settings.
On the most basic settings on both cameras, 1080p 24fps in linear mode with the front screen off on the 9 and both screens sleeping after 1 minute, my Hero 8 gets 2 hours record time. It’s just sitting on the desk recording 1 long clip with the screen off most of the time. The Hero 9 recorded 2:20 minutes in the same situation.
Probably the biggest update on the Hero 9 is the front screen.
GoPros have had front screens for the settings and menus for a long time but this is the first version to have a full color screen that shows what the camera is filming seeing. This is great for quickly seeing your settings and what you have framed in the shot. It’s easy to see when you’re cutting your head off or you’re heading out the side of the shot.
The front screen is 1.4 inches across and, while not massive, is plenty to see what you’ve got in the frame. It isn’t touch so it’s just used to see settings and the framing of your shot. It sucks to be vlogging or ripping through a nice section of single track only to realize that your head is cut off or the camera has shifted a bit and the framing is off.
The front screen can be turned off if you want to conserve battery life. Or it can show a basic settings screen, a centered view of what’s being filmed or a widescreen view with black bars at the top and bottom.
The 2.27-inch back screen is slightly bigger than the 1.95-inch display on the Hero 8. It’s still got the large bezels compared to the DJI Osmo Action but a bigger screen is always welcome. The menus on the 8 and 9 are easy to navigate and figure out where you are. It doesn’t take long to learn the menus and which swipe gets you where.
The responsiveness of the touch is good, just like the 8 but there’s still a slightly delay in it. With products like flagship phones and tablets these days, there’s no thinking about how hard to press or where to swipe, you just do it. I find there’s still a bit of playing with the GoPros to figure out how hard to push and where to start swiping.
Hypersmooth 3.0 with Horizon Leveling
One of the most amazing things about the Hero 8 was Hypersmooth 2.0. It was so close to gimbal level stabilization, leagues above anything else I’ve ever used. The stabilization on the 8 was similar to the DJI Osmo Action, though on the Action it required a bit more crop, or cutting off the edges of your shot.
The stabilization on the Hero 9 is better still, the best in anything I’ve tested. There are 2 things at play here. Hypersmooth 3.0 smoothes out the jitters, the bumps and keeps things nice and centred. In the Hero 8 it would smooth things out but if you were on an angle, the footage was on an angle.
Enter horizon leveling in the Hero 9.
Horizon levelling figures out what is level and automatically shifts your video so when you wobble holding the camera, the footage looks like its steady. You can wave the camera nearly 45 degrees to either side and it will look exactly like the the camera was being held steady. This for all those times skiing, surfing or running when you can’t keep the camera perfectly level filming (like every single time).
One of the craziest parts of horizon levelling and the Hypersmooth stabilization is that it’s done in the camera real time. There’s a slightly delay showing the finished product to the front screen but it’s ridiculously fast. Most other cameras in the past have had to export to powerful programs on desktop computers to stabilize the footage. Now just turn it on and go.
Scheduled Capture and Duration Capture
Scheduled Capture lets you set a time to start recording video or timelapse and it will start automatically. If you want to capture a sunrise but don’t want to haul yourself out of bed, set up the GoPro the night before for the time you want and hit the sack.
Even better to set it up with Duration Capture which lets you record for a specific amount of time. You don’t have to use them together but they are great when paired together. Maybe you only want 20 minutes of the sunrise from 6am. Set it to start at 6am for 20 minutes. Then you can wake up and have a nice cup of coffee before checking the camera that already did a timelapse of the sunrise for you.
20MP photos with Superphoto
The upgraded camera sensor can now pump out 20 megapixel photos with a few different photos modes. GoPros used to really only be an option for video but now they can actually be used for everything.
One of the photo modes, SuperPhoto will select the best options for your photo between HDR, local tone mapping, noise reduction or nothing. HDR is useful when there’s really bright parts to the photo and others that are really dark. The camera will the automatically take multiple images and combine them to light the darks and lower the highlights with the goal of a nicely exposed photo.
Local tone mapping tries to detect where parts of the photo would need more detail and increase that. Noise reduction is useful in low light. ISO will increase drastically in low light to make the shot bright enough but raising the ISO (camera does this automatically) will increase the noise too. Go too far with the ISO and the photo will become a noisy mess. The noise reduction will detect this and reduce it.
HindSight and LiveBurst
One of the problems with recording video with an action cam or with any camera really, is just recording too much. Anyone who own’s a GoPro can attest to the fact that the majority of the footage they capture is just lead up to the key moment. That wave, air or bail is what you want. The minutes or hours of footage leading up to that just gets deleted.
A new feature with the GoPro 9 is called HindSight and it can see into the past.
HindSight operates just like dashcam in a car and is always recording. But it’s always deleting most of the footage too. It never keeps any of it. Until you press the shutter button. After something happens you want to keep, you press the shutter to ‘start’ recording. It automatically keeps 15 or 30 seconds of the rolling recording before you pressed the shutter button.
If nothing happens then it doesn’t keep anything but if that banger moment fires then you hit the shutter and you’ve got 30 seconds before it too. In the settings you can set it to keep 15 or 30 seconds before. Depending on what you’re doing you’ll want more or less leadup to the moment you want to keep.
LiveBurst is the same kind of idea but for photos. It records, dash-cam style, until you press the shutter button, keeping 1.5 seconds before and after or 90 shots. You can scroll through the shots to see which one is the keeper or just use it all as a 3-second 4k video clip.
Time-lapse with TimeWarp 3.0
Time-lapse isn’t new with GoPro. They do them well. What has been updated is GoPro’s TimeWarp feature.
TimeWarp is essentially a stabilized moving time-lapse or hyperlapse. You can be hiking or walking along a street and taking a time-lapse. If you wanted to stop the time-lapse take a quick video and then get back to the time-lapse, that used to be a problem. Now it’s easy.
TimeWarp now has a realtime feature that lets you pause the time-lapse, do a quick video clip with audio, and then resume the hyperlapse. This is the kind of thing that shows GoPro is really listening to how people use their features and are willing to update with fixes that really address the problems.
Starting with the Hero 8, GoPro started producing attachments called Mods. With the 8 there was a frame that let you easily attach a microphone, light and flip up display. With the 9, they’ve kept those mods (though the flip up display isn’t much use with the front screen) and added a Max Lens Mod.
Unscrewing the lens cover and adding on the Max Lens gives you an ultra-side 155 degree field of view and crazy 360 degree horizon levelling. You can spin the camera 360 degrees and it will keep the horizon level.
The Media Mod with the microphone is the same style as the one for the Hero 8 but is slightly bigger to accommodate the 9’s larger size.
Obviously packaging has little to do with the performance of this camera but it certainly has an impact on the planet. In years past GoPro’s have always come in a hard plastic case that was pretty to look at but was hard to open and harder to recycle.
Now the whole thing is packaged in a hard travel case with a zipper that makes is a perfect size for hiking or travelling with the GoPro. I wish it came with some sort of soft dividers inside the case like a camera bag so you could partition off areas for the camera and accessories but it’s just a big open case. Without being wrapped up the camera and mounts just bounce around inside. Regardless, it’s much better than the previous packaging.
Around the zippered case, is a small piece of cardboard with the label and product information. Easily opened. Easily recycled. Definitely a good change GoPro.
What size microSD card do you need?
How much video you get on your microSD depends on what what size video you’ll be recording. With a 32gb card you’ll get about 1:20 of footage at 1080p and 1 hour of 4k. With the batteries lasting over 2 hours, you’ll need 2 cards to use a whole battery. 32gb is usable but I’d recommend at least 64gb.
With a 64gb card you’ll get about 2 hours 40 minutes at 1080p and 2 hours at 4k. With the battery lasting just over 2 hours, you’re going to run out of battery juice before you run out of card space.
This is all dependent on your settings and what you do with the camera as you record. Things like stabilization, horizon levelling and lighting up the screens use up battery power. If you have multiple batteries and cards, then you can record for days. Just don’t format the full ones.
GoPro is in a league of its own when it comes to performance. There are certainly many cheaper alternatives that offer less performance and fewer features but are they worth it?
DJI released their Osmo Action in 2019 and it’s a solid camera. When stacked up against the Hero 8 it was a great alternative. I had good stabilization and the front screen. Now that the Hero 9 is out, the Osmo Action needs a bit of an update. Hopefully DJI will release another version and keep the competition going.
Akaso also has been quietly releasing it’s own action cameras. The Brave 7 LE now has a front camera and is a solid little camera for less than half what a GoPro costs. It’s not got the same features as even a Hero 8 but for the price it’s a great little camera.
Should you get a GoPro 9?
If you don’t have a GoPro yet, then the 9 is certainly an amazing camera to start with. The Hero 8 is a great option at this point with nearly all the same features as the 9. It won’t have the same stabilization or horizon levelling and the lens cap doesn’t come off.
With the Hero 9 only $50 more on their website and some other vendors that would be the way to go for me. The larger battery, removable lens cap and improved stabilization it’s the best action camera you can buy today.