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Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 things to know about GoPro's latest action cam

Nine iterations in, is GoPro's Hero range still on top?

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 things to know about GoPro's latest action cam
17 September 2020

The arrival of the GoPro Hero9 is set to send shockwaves through the action cam market.

With no less than four cameras in our best action camera shortlist, GoPro has held onto its high-octane crown pretty much since it popularised the category, despite fierce competition from the likes of DJI and Sony.

Nine iterations on, and the newly announced GoPro Hero9 Black packs a larger 20MP sensor than 2019’s Hero8 Black, and is now capable of 5K video capture. It’s also got a bigger battery, larger touchscreen and a new front display, perfect for anyone picking one up for vlogging.

Available from September 2020 for £429, or for £329 with a £50 subscription to GoPro PLUS, the Hero9 Black isn’t cheap, costing £50 more than last year’s £379 Hero8 Black on launch - discounting the discounted option.

So what makes the all new Hero9 Black worth the extra cash, especially given the fact you can pick up its predecessor for as little as £300 if you shop around?

1. Screens - bigger and more

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 Things to Know about GoPro's latest action cam

One of our biggest gripes with past GoPros was screen size - dinky cameras with dinky screens; pocket-friendly but definitely not finger-friendly. The new Hero9 Black finally switches things up, increasing the main touch display from 1.95 inches to a much more generous 2.27 inches.

The menus have also been redrawn slightly to take advantage of this extra size, so whether framing your videos or prodding at toggles, it’s just a better, easier to read experience this time around.

It isn’t just the rear screen that’s been boosted though. GoPro has added a square front screen to its Hero9 Black, so you can frame things up with confidence even if you can’t see the touchscreen. Also packing no less than three microphones, the Hero9 Black is GoPro’s best camera to date for vlogging.

While early versions of the camera are experiencing less sensitive touchscreens than GoPros of old, a fix is expected to roll out in November 2020.

2. Sharper stills and video

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 Things to Know about GoPro's latest action cam

The new GoPro Hero9 Black sports a large 23.6MP sensor - almost double the resolution of the Hero8 Black. This bump in spec means the latest GoPro can shoot video at up to 5K, and capture 20.2MP photos.

This isn’t just a numbers game though. Thanks to its 5K video resolution, video grabs taken from Hero9 Black footage are 14.7MP - higher resolution than stills from the Hero8 Plus, so you may never have to decide between switching from video to photo mode again.

While on paper, the video resolution is only marginally better than that of the 4K Hero8 Black, for any GoPro photo takers, you’ll definitely notice the upgrade, with those 20MP photos giving you plenty of freedom when cropping into your shots.

3. Battery boost

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 Things to Know about GoPro's latest action cam

For generations, GoPro Hero flagships have sported 1220mAh batteries, lasting around 90 minutes when shooting at Full HD resolution. In turn, a day out filming definitely demanded a power bank or spare batteries - not ideal when all you’re wearing are boardshorts. While old GoPro’s battery performance was largely forgivable owing to their compact size, now, GoPro’s bumped up the battery capacity of its Hero9 Black to a much healthier 1720mAh, adding a bit of heft to it in the process. .

This boosts Full HD filming to in excess of two hours, and while increased resolutions result in reduced longevity, the Hero9 Black always outperformed the Hero8 Black in our tests.

The all-new, bigger battery can also handle sub-zero temperatures better than GoPro batteries of old, though one point to note, on a hot day, it might not be the battery that limits your shooting. Our Hero9 Black was able to grab about 30 minutes of 5K capture when it was 30°C before overheating.

4. Mods mods mods

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 Things to Know about GoPro's latest action cam

Introduced alongside the Hero8 Black, GoPro’s Mods add heaps of functionality to the action cam line. You’ll be glad to know, while old Mods won’t all work with the new Hero9 Black, thanks to its bigger body, all your old favourites are back, along with a nifty new Max Lens Mod.

To recap, that means you can pick up a Media Mod for external audio recording, a directional microphone complete with wind shield, an HDMI-out, plus two cold shoe mounts. If you want a bigger selfie screen, the Display Mod gives you a 2-inch view so you can better frame your vlogs, and the Light Mod is a 200 lumen light that functions all by itself, or when attached to the Media Mod.

The Max Lens Mod is exclusive to the Hero9 Black, and with it, the camera can shoot at up to 2.7K resolution (60fps) with a 155˚ field of view. It also locks your horizon line, just like the GoPro Max - GoPro’s 360 camera, so even when you rotate the camera, the horizon looks level. You can pick one up in October 2020, and it’ll cost $99, with UK pricing TBC.

5. Party tricks

Hands-on GoPro Hero9 Black review: 5 Things to Know about GoPro's latest action cam

The GoPro Hero9 Black doesn’t need a Max Lens Mod for basic horizon levelling. If you activate linear levelling, you can keep your horizon beautifully horizontal, even if you have a wobble or two while filming.

Next, Hindsight. This smart feature can capture up to five seconds of footage before you press record, so missing moments could be a thing of the past. Hindsight works across all resolutions, and can be toggled on or off with an on-screen shortcut - simples.

Finally, the Hero9 Black can now operate on a timer with Scheduled Capture. Set the start time, and whether you’re grabbing a timelapse, video or photo, your GoPro will fire up all by itself and start capturing.

At £429 or £329 off with a £50 GoPro Plus membership, the Hero9 Black is a pricier option than last year’s Hero8 Black.

That said, if you want sharper everything, a selfie screen to help you frame your vlogs and the best GoPro battery life on offer, it could be the perfect action camera for you.