Acton cameras are nothing new. Those who need one, already own one and growing the segment has become tough, especially for market leader GoPro. And this is why, the Hero 9 Black is opening a new front, by appealing to Vloggers. The latest GoPro adds a front-facing LCD screen and the ability to shoot videos up to 5K resolution at 30fps or capture 20MP photos. At Rs 49,500, the GoPro Hero 9 Black is more expensive, but is it a better device to make Vlogs? We have been testing the GoPro Hero 9 Back for the past days to find out.
GoPro Hero 9 Back review: Design and build
On the surface, the Hero 9 Black hasn’t changed in terms of design and that is a good thing. It looks like the GoPro I expect it to be and is small enough to slip in my pocket. The exterior frame is metal, with rubber around the edges and on the front. It has a tough build and is made to survive drops; it’s also waterproof up to 33 feet.
Like its predecessor, the Hero 9 Black has built-in mounting clips – they simply fold into the bottom and are secured magnetically. My review unit included a mounting foot and screw, as well as other mounts.
Of course, there are visible changes when you compare the Hero 9 Back with the previous-generation models. For the first time, GoPro has added a front-facing LCD colour screen for framing self-shots. The 1.4-inch colour screen may be small in size, but can be really useful for Vloggers and YouTubers. The logic behind the front screen is to give users a preview of their shots and correct the frame as needed.
The Hero 9 can also be used as a high-definition webcam. On a Zoom call, I found it superior compared to my laptop’s built-in webcam. I don’t know how many people will use a GoPro as a webcam – but it can be really useful for professional gamers who like to broadcast the gameplay to millions of followers.
Then there’s a front-facing microphone on the Hero 9 Black. It picked up my voice clearly, while shooting a selfie video. On the back, there’s a 2.27-inch touchscreen of 320×240 resolution. It’s a bright display and I had no trouble looking at the recorded videos or changing settings even under the direct sunlight.
The power is on the left side and the record button on the top. The side button also toggles between three shooting modes — video, time-lapse and photo. The battery, USB-C charging port, and microSD slot can be found in the same compartment.
GoPro Hero 9 Black review: Mods
One of the best things about getting a GoPro action camera is the ecosystem of “mods” which attaches directly to the camera. There is a large section of mods to choose from, ranging from the display mod to a Max mode. The display mode add a fold-out colour screen, while a “Max” mode brings some of the best features of the Hero Max to Hero 9. The third one is the Light mod which is a battery-powered LED light. The fourth mode is the Media mode which adds a directional microphone, HDMI video output, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
GoPro Hero 9 Black review: User interface
I haven’t seen any camera (including professional DSLRs) as simple as the GoPro Hero 9 in terms of usability. There is no learning curve attached to it and using Hero 9 is as simple as turning on the camera. You will need to use the touchscreen on the back to change settings like resolution and set a frame.
Hero 9 supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect the camera to the phone. It also has a GPS to determine the location. The action camera works with a free mobile app that needs to be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The app essentially allows you to share the captured photos and recorded videos to your phone, and includes an easy to use built-in editor. I particularly liked GoPro’s Quick app, which basically creates “stories” based on highlights from your videos. This is a good option for Vloggers (especially those who cover fashion and tech) who wish to share quick videos without getting into serious edition.
GoPro Hero 9 Back review: Plenty of video recording options
Hero 9’s video recording capability is incredible. You can now shoot videos up to 5K at 30 frames per second. I don’t think I will ever shoot videos at 5K, but I am glad at least the feature is available. Recording video in 5K will be nothing less than magic for professional videographers and travel bloggers. Keep in mind that you need a computer that can decode 5K videos; plus, you will also need to buy a much bigger SD card. The 32GB memory card that comes with the Hero 9 won’t be enough.
For the review, I shot most videos in 4K and 1080p. The good thing about the Hero 9 is that you can shoot videos in 4K in a variety of frame rates. I have noticed that the image stabilisation on this model is a vast improvement over the previous generation models, thanks to the third version of GoPro’s stabilisation tech, HyperSmooth 3.0. So with HyperSmooth 3.0, you get impressively shake-free videos. And in some extreme cases when you realise that there is a need for more stabilisation, just use the “boost” option.
And, of course, you can also shoot slow-motion videos with the Hero 9. When dropping down to 1080p, it pushes the frame rate to 240 frames per second.
GoPro Hero 9 Black review: Image quality
Another neat trick up the Hero 9’s sleeve? Capturing 20MP images, up from 12MP. Yes, you can shoot stills at 20MP in JPEG or RAW. Images are sharp and colours are warmer – but I did not face any noticeable noise in captured photos. In fact, I was surprised to see the quality of the images taken using the Hero 9. While I won’t say the image quality is as good as the one seen on the iPhone 11, the images look sharp and vibrant when viewed on a smartphone. That said, I am glad to see that an action camera can still images, rivalling many smartphone cameras.
Here are some of the stills I took using the Hero 9 Black
GoPro Hero 9 Black review: Battery life
The battery life on the Hero 9 has been improved. The camera now uses the new 1720mAh cell, an improvement over Hero 8’s 1220mAh cell. What does that mean? To give you a perspective, I got roughly 1 hour 30 minutes of battery when recording in 1080p. It is very hard for me to give you exact battery life, because those results vary from different modes and features.
GoPro Hero 9 Black review: Should you buy it?
This year’s Hero 9 dwarfs every action camera produced by GoPro so far. You will find genuine improvements in the Hero 9 like the use of front-facing screen from framing self-shots, a removable lens cover, the ability to record videos at 5K, capturing stills at 20MP, and the much loved HyperSmooth 3.0 stabilisation. At Rs 49,500 the Hero 9 remains a tool for professionals – but this time around GoPro is after Vloggers and YouTubers who have the cash to upgrade to a new flagship camera. But the Hero 9 also faces tough challenges from devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and Sony ZV1 Vlog camera.
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