A release of a new GoPro HERO Camera is always a very exciting event for me – after all, each subsequent camera adds some extra extras that make it even better than before. However, the image quality itself has not improved since generation 6. So what about generation 9? Curious to find out? Please read on my GoPro HERO9 review.
I've been using GoPro cameras since the HERO2 was released and my main use case is mountain biking and some water sports. Image quality and slow motion skills have always been the main factors for me to use GoPro cameras as no competitor has yet managed to hit the GoPro benchmark – which is a great achievement given the red ocean of competition in this market with numerous brands, who offer cheap imitations.
The latest GoPro HERO9 Black sets new standards in terms of image quality and offers a new 23.6 megapixel sensor that enables 20 megapixel photos and a new 5K video mode (5120 × 2880) with up to 30 frames per second – For the full list of specifications please click here for Jakub's article.
GoPro HERO9 Black 5K 24p mode (ProTune, “Flat”, “Medium” sharpness, -0.5 exposure) – beautiful and detailed, precise colors – beautiful! Image credit: CineD
According to the datasheet, the frame rates / slow motion features haven't improved since the HERO6 Black – but I had high hopes for improved image quality in the HERO9 Black because of the new sensor. In previous generation models, the 1080p240 mode was a pixelated pulp (which looked like SD footage), 2.7K 120fps was fine, and only 4K 60fps looked really great.
Therefore, in this review, I will only focus on the image quality of the various modes and image stabilization. Photo modes, time warp and time lapse were not tested. It also goes without saying that GoPro has a nice app that can be used to control the camera, download footage, cut and upload a small movie.
The GoPro HERO9 Black Redesigned Body
The biggest news in the new case is a front LCD screen that allows you to frame your shot when you put the camera in a hidden location – that's a big plus!
A new front screen that allows you to precisely design your recordings. Image credit: CineD
The HERO9 Black case got a bit bigger too, but that also means the LCD size on the back is bigger, which is good!
Size comparison of the GoPro HERO9 Black (left) and Hero8 Black (right). Image credit: CineD
Unfortunately, the new larger rear touchscreen doesn't respond as quickly. I hope a future firmware upgrade will fix this.
The larger body now has a larger battery that has 40% more capacity than the previous generation batteries – that looks great on paper. I didn't do a scientific test, but on site I found that the battery life was on a similar level to the Hero8, which I ran in parallel.
GoPro HERO9 black interchangeable front glass is back. Hopefully ND filters will be available soon as the HERO9 is not backward compatible. Image credit: CineD
The HERO9 Black has the interchangeable front lens glass back and this is a very welcoming thing to do. The reason I didn't update my current GoPro to the previous Hero8 Black was because of the lack of this feature in this camera. However, the new front glass is not backwards compatible, which means that you can e.g. Previous generation GoPro ND filters on HERO9.
Overall, the quality impression is great as always – the new HERO9 feels super solid. It will certainly require abuse of the field without any problem …
Image quality in different modes – HERO9 Black versus Hero8
For all of the statements below, I used ProTune, Flat Colors, Medium Sharpness, HEVC, and High Bit Rate settings for the HERO9 and Hero8 cameras.
To compare the GoPro Hero8 and HERO9 side by side, I mounted both of them with my chest on a common rail. Image credit: CineD
Let's get this out of the way first – the new 5K mode at up to 30 fps (5120 × 2880) looks great. The color science, auto white balance, and image detail are all superb and definitely a huge improvement over the previous one.
Comparison of GoPro Hero8 (left) and HERO9 (right) – color accuracy and automatic white balance have been significantly improved on the HERO9. Image credit: CineD
The bar has been raised again in 5K! It doesn't have the overly sharp look that so many other action cameras show. 5K is recorded in the HEVC (H265) codec, my recordings had an average bit rate of 99 Mbit / s.
That situation changes in 4K – oddly enough, the 4K mode is a little too sharp and looks richer in contrast and rougher. The Hero8 Black in 4K resolution looks much better to me in comparison.
GoPro Hero8 (left) and HERO9 (right) 4K 24p comparison – the Hero8 picture looks better to me. The HERO9 image is a little too sharp and looks harsh. Image credit: CineD
So I recommend shooting 5K with the new HERO9 Black!
Slow motion functions
The following resolutions and frame rates are available:
- 4K up to 60p
- 2.7 K up to 120 fps
- 1080p240 frames per second
Everything stabilized with Hypersmooth, even when Boost mode is available. There are also the following field of view options: SuperView, Wide, Linear, Linear & Horizon Leveled and a "Narrow" mode, really nice!
Sounds great, but I was really hoping to see improved picture quality, especially for the 1080p240 mode, which in the past looked more like SD than HD.
GoPro HERO9 2.7K 120p mode – the best compromise between image quality and slow motion functions. Image credit: CineD
Unfortunately, that's not the case – 1080p240 and 2.7K120 still look very similar to previous generation cameras, and 4K may look even worse – only 5K look a lot better. See the pictures below:
GoPro Hero8 (left) and HERO9 (right) in a 1080p240 comparison – both look the same, muddy pixel chaos. Image credit: CineD
Image stabilization – Hypersmooth 3
When filming on a mountain bike, the wobbling of unstabilized footage is a problem to such an extent that it cannot be corrected afterwards without significant image degradation.
This is why GoPro invented the Karma Grip gimbal a few years ago – a product that produces amazingly stable footage, but has significant flaws in its usability. The Karma Grip was abandoned a little later when GoPro introduced Hypersmooth, the image stabilization function in the camera.
Hypersmooth works amazingly well, so it can replace a gimbal on some shots. But not for everyone – I certainly disagree with the GoPro marketing claim that "we killed the gimbal". Karma Grip footage is much better stabilized in all shooting situations than any previous version of Hypersmooth.
Spoiler alert – this statement also applies to the latest generation of Hypersmooth 3 in the new HERO9 Black.
Please check out the video above – in 5K mode, Hypersmooth 3 is a step back from the Hero8 Black, in 4K mode it's definitely an improvement.
At least on the mountain bike, the shaky 5K material of the HERO9 looks more spectacular 😉
GoPro HERO9 Black – Audio
Audio is always the weakest point of all action cams. However, with the HERO9 Black, the audio quality has definitely improved. I was quite surprised to see that the audio was fine even at higher speeds without the usual wind clipping.
GoPro HERO9 Black Image Credit: CineD
So let me summarize. The new generation of the GoPro Hero 9 Black with its new 5K mode raises the bar again in terms of image quality. Image details, color science, and auto white balance in 5K are superb!
The high frame rate modes are very similar to the older generation HEROs – even the HERO6 already had all of these modes – image quality hasn't improved since then.
Last but not least, image stabilization. This is a mixed bag. Hypersmooth 3, as GoPro calls it, has taken a step back compared to the previous Hero8 Black (when filming with the HERO9 in 5K). In 4K, it took a step forward.
It therefore depends on your use case which of the above functions are important to you.
Let's keep in mind that shooting great footage has never been easier – don't worry about focus, exposure, shaky footage, white balance (manual overrides are possible), water, or putting the camera down – just shoot! It's great fun and easy to use these cameras these days.
Overall, the new GoPro HERO9 Black offers astonishing features in a small, high-quality housing with significantly improved user-friendliness due to the additional front screen. All in all, I can recommend it without reservation!
What do you think of the new features and image quality of the GoPro HERO9 Black? Are you considering upgrading your current action cam to the new model? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.