GoPro has finally unleashed its new flagship cam: the GoPro HERO 9 Black, an update to the 2019 GoPro HERO 8 Black. The GoPro HERO 9 Black launched on 16 Sept 2020 across the globe, while the GoPro HERO 8 Black was launched on 15 October 2019, just under a year before. Unsurprisingly, the HERO 9 boasts some substantial upfront performance improvements over the older flagship, as well as a wide range of enhanced tools and some entirely new functionality, most noticeably a full colour front-facing screen. However, there’s plenty of life in the old HERO 8 Black yet.
While specs-wise the HERO 9 Black is undoubtedly the best GoPro on the market – and actually, the best action camera in general – right now, is it worth the extra cash? And if you find a hot GoPro deal on the HERO 8 (perhaps on Amazon Prime Day 2020, when it finally arrives), should you go for it, or will you regret not having the biggest and best model? Read on for our full GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black showdown, in which we take a look at what separates the two cameras, in terms of design, features, usability, video and still quality, and price.
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GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black: Design
The design of the GoPro HERO 8 Black versus GoPro HERO 9 Black is outwardly very similar indeed, with the pair looking almost identical at a distance. Up close you’ll be hard-pressed to spot many differences too, apart from the elephant in the room – the GoPro HERO 9 Black’s front facing colour screen. Unfortunately that’s a big deal indeed, bumping off one of the major complaints about the HERO 8 (especially compared to the DJI Osmo competition), as well as being genuinely useful for any first-person camera work. Less obviously, the GoPro HERO 9 has reinstated the removable lens cover, which just twists off for deep cleaning, replacement, or upgrade to the new Max Lens Mod.
Elsewhere, you’ll notice that the HERO 9 is bigger – much bigger – in every dimension – 4.7mm wider, 6.4mm higher, and 5.2mm deeper. The rear touchscreen has been packing on the pounds as well, jumping from a 1.95" on the HERO 8 to a substantially larger 2.27". Though this might seem minimal in text form, in the hand it’s very obvious, half a centimetre in every direction adding substantial bulk to the HERO 9. In addition, the HERO 9 is 28 grams heavier (in part due to a larger battery, boosted by 30% to 1720mAh), also adding some extra beef to the equation. Weirdly, the extra weight is barely noticeable in the hand, but the size certainly is – the HERO 8 feels tiny in comparison to the HERO 9.
Elsewhere the similarities continue, the well-executed bunny-ear mounting points of the HERO 8 have been grafted successfully onto the HERO 9, USB-C charging under the battery hatch, micro-SD slot and the same rubberised button configuration in both units. That battery door is broadly the same, but with a slight tweak, the HERO 9 has a much more pronounced bar across the side, giving better grip to open the hatch – much less fingernail-intensive. Elsewhere the Power button on the HERO 9 has been slightly raised, making it much easier to find by touch alone – a helpful tweak.
Overall, the GoPro HERO 8 Black is smaller, lighter and slimmer, but loses out on battery capacity and that front-facing colour screen, as well as behind-the-lens firepower too.
GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black: Features and usability
There are plenty of similarities here too between the old flagship and the new challenger. Both units contain the same powerful GP1 Chip, will sync with the GoPro app over Bluetooth and WiFi, and are waterproof out of the box to 10m. They both feature Improved HDR, smoothing tech (Hypersmooth 2.0 on the HERO 8 and Hypersmooth 3.0 on the HERO 9), the same noise reduction tech via three hardware microphones and offer Timewarp (as with smoothing, the HERO 8 gets TimeWarp 2.0, the HERO 9 gets a boost to 3.0).
In many ways the HERO 8 makes up some ground here, it’s smaller and lighter than the HERO 9 and delivers plenty of bang for buck, as you’d expect for a former flagship product. However, the HERO 9 still has the edge due to the sheer number of small upgrades that GoPro has packed in here, any one of which could be your killer feature. Webcam mode might just be that, or scheduled capture, or hindsight – all of which add layers of capability to the HERO 9 that the 8 just doesn’t have.
Speaking of which, perhaps the biggest chunk of firepower the HERO 9 brings is in-camera horizon levelling, which not only immediately improves pretty much every single video you’ll shoot, but means that it’s natively better, while the HERO 8 has to rely on the app to achieve horizon levelling – a substantial difference.
While all these new toys/tools might sound endlessly complex, GoPro has done a fantastic job of making them usable quickly and easily with the default presets, with the result that you’re not endlessly fiddling with them to get good footage. To put it another way, the HERO 9 is more usable than the HERO 8 because of the enhancements, not in spite of them – and that’s no easy design feat.
GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black: Video and stills
While the GoPro HERO 8 won plaudits for usability, the GoPro HERO 9 uses that extra weight and size to deliver a crushing knockdown in terms of...well everything really. The HERO 9 packs in an astonishing 23.6 Megapixel sensor, which not only puts 5K30 video on the table, but also means you can screengrab that 5K30 video and still walk away with 14.7MP stills. That’s pretty punchy stuff, and with 20MP stills too, there’s nowhere to hide with the HERO 9. Unsurprisingly, last year’s HERO 8 has less firepower here, tipping the balance in favour of the HERO 9.
In addition, GoPro has added a wide of bells and whistles to beguile those keen to upgrade, including (of course) that new selfie screen, which adds usability, glossiness and actual practicality in one fell swoop. It’s also been a point of contention for the HERO 8 throughout its lifetime, with competitors such as the DJI Osmo able to steal a march.
But there’s more packed in too, just under the hood, with scheduled capture and hindsight both being game-changing tools in certain situations. Useful in almost all situations is the HERO 9’s new in-camera horizon levelling, which adds gimbal-like stabilization without the faff and bulk of a large mount. This might be a vital attribute for the hardcore action camera crew, but it’s handy for much more pedestrian video clips, especially coupled with Hypersmooth 3.0.
That said, the HERO 8 is still an impressive camera, as these stills taken with each of the siblings – on a normal resolution screen it’s hard to tell the difference. Only when you really blow them up do you realise that the HERO 9 is creating a JPG file that’s a third larger, nearly a thousand pixels larger on each axis – this is serious resolution for when you need it most.
GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black: Price and accessories
The GoPro HERO 8 Black was launched on Tuesday 15 October 2019 RRP £379.99 / $399.99, but that has now been officially slashed to at £329.99, or £279.98 with a one-year GoPro subscription (£4.99 per month).
HERO 9 Black release date was Sept 16 2020 globally, at the following price points:
- UK: £429.99 or £329.98 if you buy a subscription to GoPro Plus
- US: $449.99 or $349.98 if you buy a subscription to GoPro Plus
- AUS: $699.95 or $559.95 if you buy a subscription to GoPro Plus
Existing GoPro subscribers can also take advantage of the £329.98 pricing.
A key similarity between the two cameras is the ability to add GoPro ‘Mods’ to boost performance. The HERO 8 Black had the option to clip on a Media Mod directional mic, and a Display Mod, consisting of a 2” front facing display, as well as a Light Mod.
The HERO 9 takes this a step further, accepting the very same HERO 8 Light Mod – which adds 200 lumens and 200 lux 1m to optimise lighting ($49.99/£49.99), and having specific versions of the Media Mod for HERO 9 Black (£79.99) and Display Mod for HERO 9 Black (£79.99) – both available at launch. In addition, the HERO 9’s removable lens can be switched for the chunkier, augmented Max Lens Mod (£89.99), a lens that offers a massive 155 degree FOV and ‘unbreakable’ video stabilisation, as well as a ‘powerful horizon lock’. The HERO 9 Max Lens Mod will be available in October 2020.
Should I buy the GoPro HERO 8 Black or the GoPro HERO 9 Black?
So now to the key part of our GoPro HERO 8 Black vs GoPro HERO 9 Black faceoff: which one should you buy? When it comes to the crunch, the HERO 9 is a much better camera than the HERO 8 – unless pure size and weight are the most important factors to you. In addition, GoPro’s official pricing package incorporating GoPro Plus makes a compelling argument in favour of the HERO 9, only £50 separating the two. For social content creators, extreme sports enthusiasts, athletes and vloggers the HERO 9 has better tools, better battery and a better sensor that package up to deliver a better result.
However, this betterness means that the HERO 8 will be seeing some big discounts as we head into Black Friday 2020 and the Christmas/New Year 2021 sales. So if you’re looking for a bargain backup or a set-and-forget shooter that you can leave in harm's way without too much walletary pain, the HERO 8 will be a strong choice indeed.