GoPro HERO vs GoPro Max: what kind of action cam do you need?

We pit the latest GoPro HEROs against their 360-degree sibling, the GoPro Max

GoPro HERO vs GoPro Max
(Image credit: GoPro / Future)

In this GoPro HERO vs GoPro Max face-off, we're going outline the key differences between the two main types of cameras made by the action camera kings, to help you decide which is right for you.

GoPro's HERO cameras have consistently led the action cam field since they were first launched. With each new flagship, GoPro makes multiple iterative improvements as well as the occasional headline upgrade (examples of the latter being the HERO 9's built-in, front-facing view screen, and the HERO 10's upgraded processor). The brand set the bar high, and most of today's GoPro HEROs share mostly the same features, even if the older models have slightly less advanced versions.

So when it comes to choosing the best GoPro for your needs, is it worth looking beyond the HERO line? Launched in late 2019, the GoPro Max is the successor to GoPro's original (and now discontinued) 360-degree camera, the Fusion. While the Max is unlikely to beat any of the current HEROs in a straight fight on conventional terms, it does offer a host of creative capabilities that no HERO camera can match. 

In a battle of GoPro Max vs GoPro Hero, which wins out? Read on to find out. This comparison will focus on the official lineup at time of writing – find out more about each camera in our GoPro Max review, GoPro HERO 10 Black review, HERO 9 Black review or HERO 8 Black review.

GoPro Hero Black vs GoPro Max: design

At 64 x 69 x 25mm (WxHxD), the Max is bigger than any HERO action camera. It's essentially the same width and depth as the HERO 8, but 20mm taller. While the HERO 9 Black is 5mm (more or less) bigger than the HERO 8 Black in every dimension. All three cameras share nicely smoothed edges, a grippy, rubberised finish and an extremely robust construction.

Unlike earlier GoPro incarnations which required fitting inside a frame in order to be attached to mounts and the like, all of the cameras here feature GoPro's frameless design which directly connects with accessories via twin fold-out 'fingers' that hinge out from the base.

Weight-wise, the Max comes in at 154g, which is surprisingly a little lighter than the HERO 9 Black’s 158g, while the HERO 8 weighs in at 126g.

GoPro HERO9 Black

(Image credit: GoPro)

GoPro Hero Black vs GoPro Max: features

Lacking an integral front-facing screen, the HERO 8 Black is not recommended for bloggers. While you can attach a flip-up screen by purchasing GoPro’s Display and Media Mods, it’s cheaper to go for the HERO 9 Black which comes with a front-facing view-screen built-in.

Like the HERO 8 Black, the twin-lensed Max is only equipped with a single touchscreen at the rear. Handily though, you have the ability to flip between views from either lens, which makes it easy to frame yourself in shot using the screen and the rear lens.

Many of GoPro’s excellent software facilities, such as HyperSmooth stabilisation and TimeWarp hyper-lapse video, are utilised by all three cameras. However, the HERO 9 Black has the most up to date versions and boasts additional functionalities.

All three cameras are fully waterproof without requiring a housing. But while the HERO cameras can handle depths of up to 10m, the Max is only designed for submersion up to 5m.

GoPro Max

(Image credit: GoPro)

GoPro Hero Black vs GoPro Max: video and stills

Technically, both the Max and the HERO 9 Black can shoot 5K video. However, the Max only reaches this figure (5.6K) when recording 360-degree video. In conventional HERO mode, it offers a much lower maximum resolution of 1140P at 30FPS, or 1080P at 60FPS. The HERO 9 Black offers true 5K video at 30FPS and like the HERO 8 Black, 4K at 60FPS.

While it does have a much lower conventional resolution, the Max’s 360-footage is truly draw-dropping and has huge creative potential, capturing the camera’s entire environment at once, rather than merely just what’s directly in front of it. While the 360 footage can only be viewed via the GoPro app or a VR headset, you can output conventional video from the app, complete with shifting points of view.

It’s a similar story on the stills front. While the Max can take stunning 360-degree photos at 16.6MP, conventional photos are limited to 5MP which fares badly when compared to the HERO 8 Black’s maximum resolution of 12MP and the HERO 9 Black’s 20MP.

GoPro Hero Black vs GoPro Max: which should I buy?

Price-wise, at RRP and barring any cheap GoPro deals, the Max is the same price as the HERO 9 Black in the US and Australia, and pricier than any HERO in the UK. Note, all these are based on the prices when you sign up for a GoPro subscription when you buy – purchasing without a subscription costs a fair bit more in all cases (for more, see: Is a GoPro subscription worth it?).

  • HERO 8 Black: GBP £259.98 / USD $279.98 / AUD $419.95
  • HERO 9 Black: GBP £329.98 / USD $399.98 / AUD $659.95
  • HERO 10 Black: GBP £349.98 / USD $349.98 / AUD $559.95
  • GoPro MAX: GBP £379.98 / USD $399.98 / AUD $659.95

If you’re after conventional footage and stills at the highest resolutions available from any action camera, your best bet is to stick to the HERO range. Head to our GoPro HERO 8 vs HERO 9 explainer to help you choose between the two top models.

Should you want to get more creative with your footage and stills and don't mind a lower video and photo resolution, then the Max is well worthy of your consideration and the best 360 camera available. 

Rich Owen

Rich Owen has been frantically riding mountain bikes since the early 90s and is a former editor of What Mountain Bike magazine. He’s also a surfer with over 20 years’ experience and lives near North Devon’s best beach breaks.