Max video resolution: 5K/30 fps
Max photo resolution: 20 MP
Image sensor: 23.6MP
Size: 2.75 x 1.9 x 1.6 inches
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Influencers, rejoice! Instagram and TikTok stars who want to put themselves in the center of the frame will find a lot to like with the front-facing display on the GoPro Hero 9.
But GoPro’s latest action camera isn’t just about appeasing narcissistic millennials; it comes with a higher-resolution sensor and a suite of new features to capture smoother, sharper, and more vivid videos.
Editor's Note (Sept. 2021): GoPro has released the GoPro Hero10 Black, which has improved image stabilization, a larger 23MP image sensor, and can record video at 5.3K/60 fps. You can read our full GoPro Hero10 Black review here.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Price and availability
The GoPro Hero9 Black was first available for purchase in September 2020 for $449, or $349 with the purchase of a one-year subscription to GoPro Plus ($4.99/month), which gets you unlimited cloud storage for all your GoPro photos and video, free replacement if your camera gets damaged, and 50 percent off accessories.
GoPro is also offering a Hero9 Black bundle for $499 (or $399 with a GoPro Plus subscription). The bundle includes the camera, a new floating grip, a magnetic swivel clip, an extra battery, and a microSD card.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Design
DJI’s Osmo Action was the first action cam to recognize the importance of a front-facing display, so that influencers could more easily frame themselves in photos and videos.
The GoPro Hero9 has followed suit with a front-facing screen of its own. At 1.4 inches, the Hero9’s color screen is the same size as that on the Osmo Action, and helped when I tried to take a photo or video of myself.
With the Hero8, GoPro’s action camera underwent a significant design change, which has been refined a bit with the Hero9. Like the GoPro Hero8 and the GoPro Hero Max, the Hero9 has foldable “fingers” on the bottom that let you more easily attach it to various mounts and accessories.
GoPro also made the side door on the Hero9 much more secure; with the Hero8, it was prone to flying off when unlatched. Open this door, and you can swap out the battery and access the Hero9’s USB-C charging port, as well as the camera’s microSD card slot.
Another improvement from the previous generation makes the Hero9’s lens cover is removable, which means that you’ll be able to attach third-party filters and the like when they’re available. GoPro itself has the Max Lens Mod, which will provide a 155-degree field of view, and will let you lock the horizon, so you can rotate the camera 360 degrees horizontally, and still get smooth, level video. We're currently evaluating it, and will update this review accordingly.
The Hero9 Black is a substantial camera. Measuring 2.75 x 1.9 x 1.6 inches, it’s both longer and thicker than the Hero8, mostly due to the larger, protruding lens. It’s much larger than the Osmo Action (2.6 x 1.45 x 1.25 inches).
At 5.6 ounces (with battery), it’s much heavier than the Osmo Action and the Hero8 Black, both of which weigh 4.4 ounces. In fact, the Hero9 is even heavier than the GoPro Hero Max, the company’s 360 action camera.
Like previous models, the Hero9 Black is waterproof to 33 feet.
One other pleasant change is that the Hero9 Black comes in plastic-free packaging. Instead, the camera will come in a little travel case, which is much more practical.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Video Performance
The biggest change between the Hero9 and the Hero8 is the larger 23.6MP sensor on the newer model, which lets you capture video at resolutions up to 5K/30 fps, versus just 4K/60 fps on the Hero8.
I took the Hero9 Black on a little end-of-the summer vacation to Cape Cod, and attached the camera to the front of my bike for a few treks to the beach.
The camera did a good job at capturing the bright yellows and pinks of my daughter’s dress as she bounded through a verdant forest. It was a bit overexposed, though, which caused the yellows to be a bit washed out.
The Hero9 also picked up the shimmering plumage from a flock of wild turkeys that happened along our path.
The Hero9’s three microphones did an excellent job at reducing wind noise. While definitely noticeable on a particularly windy beach, the camera was able to cut the sound to manageable levels, while still keeping my voice audible.
In less trying situations—such as when I biked down a hill—I could hear myself and my daughter very clearly.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Photos
Another upgrade between the Hero9 and the Hero8 is the size of the still images you can capture. On the Hero9, you can take 20MP images, 8MP larger than the Hero8. If you’re recording video at 5K, you can use the Hero9 to grab 14.7MP still frames.
You can also choose between fields of view so you can take either a narrow, medium, or wide shot; the latter is so expansive that it’s nearly a fisheye view, and will warp objects in the foreground.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Features
When I first started testing action cameras, I had to contend with jumpy video if I ran, rode, or skied over bumpy terrain. Now in its third iteration, GoPro’s video stabilization is some of the best you’ll find at evening things out. Hypersmooth 3.0, as the feature is called, is even more refined than in older GoPros. Even though it eats into battery life, Hypersmooth is worth turning this feature on if you’re planning on using the GoPro for any sort of activity with motion.
Timewarp 3.0 is the latest version of a feature that combines time-lapse video with GoPro’s motion stabilization, so rather than looking jagged, time-lapse videos are smoothed out. New for Timewarp 3.0 is Enhanced Speed Ramp, which lets you slow down the video to regular speed if you happen to see something interesting you want to examine in more detail. Timewarp 3.0 can also be set to automatically change capture speed.
A new feature in the Hero9 helps you capture events that you’d otherwise miss. Hindsight will capture and save up to 30 seconds of video before the shutter button is pressed.
Scheduled Capture will be a boon for those who don’t want to wake up before the crack of dawn to record a sunrise. Using this feature, you can program the GoPro to turn on and start recording automatically, up to 24 hours in advance. You can use it in conjunction with Duration Capture to specify the length of the video you’d like to record.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Livestreaming and Webcam
As many consumers have tried without success to buy webcams for their home office setups, camera makers have been releasing software to let you use their devices as ad hoc webcams. GoPro released a firmware update that lets you use the Hero8 Black as a webcam, and the Hero9 Black can also be used in a similar fashion. You can stream in either 720p or 1080p. Here’s how to use your GoPro as a webcam.
Additionally, you can livestream from the Hero9 to various services such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook in resolutions up to 1080p with Hypersmooth enabled.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Battery Life
The Hero9’s 1720mAh battery is rated to last up to 30% longer than previous GoPro models (roughly 1 hour and 41 minutes versus 1 hour and 15 minutes); in practice, I found it lasted for a little more than an hour when shooting videos, in both regular and time-lapse modes. Because the battery is physically larger than the one with previous models, you can’t swap in your old GoPro batteries.
GoPro Hero9 Black: Verdict
There are many imitators, but no one has yet come close to knocking GoPro off its perch as the best action camera, and that continues with the GoPro Hero9. While it's large, it's very easy to use, and even though GoPro didn’t invent the front-facing screen, I have a feeling every GoPro knock-off is going to sport this feature from now on.
More than that, though, it’s the GoPro’s image quality, coupled with its comprehensive features, that make the Hero9 one of the best action cameras around. However, all these new features, plus a larger battery also make the Hero9 one of the heaviest action cameras around. Given all it can do, though, I imagine many will accept that compromise.