Gadgets | December 1, 2020 8:48 am

Review: GoPro Finally Gets It All Right With the Hero9 Black Action Camera

The gripes you had with all the previous models? Consider them solved.

GoPro Hero9 Black action camera
You need a second camera besides your smartphone. The GoPro Hero9 Black could be it.
GoPro

Here’s your fun fact of the day: The first-ever GoPro camera was 35mm. Yes, like 35mm film. That was back in 2004.

The first digital GoPro, as we think about them today, was released in 2006, but with mass adoption of the most recognizable action camera not taking off in earnest until the next decade, I think we can say the company has a good 10 years of testing its mettle in the marketplace — thanks to all of us strapping them to surfboards, helmets when we jump out of planes, and classic cars when we interview comedians while drinking coffee. 

At the end of that decade, what we find ourselves with is the GoPro Hero9 Black, the latest iteration of the gadget. To anyone who hasn’t picked up one of the action cameras in years, it may look just like every other model upgrade; that is, only slightly, almost indiscernibly different than the one before. But after being an early adopter of the brand’s original Hero camera, finally upgrading to the Hero7 and recently reviewing this new Hero9, I’m happy to report that GoPro miraculously, finally, got it all right.

What I mean by that is: GoPro did gangbusters once people realized you could strap their little video shooters to just about anything — planes, animal harnesses, fireworks — but once that novelty wore off and competitors started eating their lunch, it looked like they would go the route of the Discman. That forced them to innovate more than they may have if they still fully owned the category of palm-sized, beat-em-up cameras, and with the Hero9 Black, they’ve finally fixed all of the personal gripes I’ve had with the various gadgets over the years.

My Favorite Features in the GoPro Hero9 Black

There are countless comprehensive reviews out there on YouTube and tech blogs (we are talking about a perfect vlogger camera, after all), but here’s what I appreciate most about the latest model:

  • Front-facing screen: I remember using GoPros before there was any preview screen on the back (the days of hitting record and hoping for the best), so now having both a touchscreen back and the brand-new, 1.4-inch front-facing LCD feels like the cameras have gone from a niche product into a contender in the second-camera space. No longer are GoPros just for the action-oriented, they’re now ideal for travelers, YouTubers, weekend warriors, and just anyone looking for a supplementary camera to their smartphone (more on that below). 
  • Bigger size = better performance: The Hero9 is slightly bigger than the Hero8, which may have been a con back when everyone was trying to make the smallest camera possible (Polaroid Cube, anyone?), but now it’s clear the slight size increase is more than worth it for the performance benefits (iPhone 12 Pro Max, anyone?). There’s longer battery life, better in-camera stabilization (HyperSmooth 3.0), a more responsize touchscreen on the back, a maximum resolution of 5K video at 30 frames per second, a maximum slow-motion capture at 240 frames per second, and a lot of that has to do — in the most basic sense — with a size bump.
  • No case necessary: Anyone who used the Hero8 will know this, but in case you haven’t been comparing every new model, the GoPro now features a built-in mounting system. No longer do you need a case to screw the camera onto a base — just flip down the toggles on the bottom, hook it to your mount, and you’re ready to go. (That ready-to-roll design includes waterproof capabilities down to 33 feet.) For anyone who has forgotten their case, or appreciates gear that doesn’t require a lot of superfluous parts, this is a big deal. 

Do You Need a GoPro in Your Life?

That’s always been the question with GoPro: it’s an interesting little contraption, but is it necessary? That query has become even more relevant than ever as our smartphones have become, for some creatives, legitimate movie-making and photoshoot studios. But even if a smartphone can capture photos and video in just about any situation, most people understand that what they’re getting with that product is a compromise. It’s fine, but it’s not great. And if we’re all paying hundreds of dollars or more for these gadgets, we deserve greatness — even if all we’re doing is filming our new quarantine puppies.

As a second-camera option, GoPro has become one of the essentials with its new Hero9 Black. Everyone should have a second camera to their smartphone, but which one you choose depends on a number of factors. If you’re a millennial or Gen Zer yearning for a time before the internet, you might want a film camera or even disposables. If you’re a family man only interested in still images, a small digital point-and-shoot from Sony or Canon might be your best bet. However, if you need something you can take with you when you don’t want to ruin your phone, but something that can share clips and images immediately after to said phone, something that has countless features (from HindSight to Horizon-Leveling) that you’re willing to put in the time to figure out, something that can survive rain, mud, salt water and hard impacts, then you’ll be glad to have the Hero9 Black.

There are a number of places to buy the Hero9, and during the holiday season prices can change quickly at different retailers, so here are the best places to check. Be aware that some may offer extras, like SD cars or mounting options, which will affect the price.

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