In this GoPro HERO 9 Black, we're going to be taking a closer look at a former flagship model from the kings of action cameras. This cam will be instantly recognisable to anyone with even a passing interest in this kind of thing, as will the basic functions, but GoPro has cranked up specs almost everywhere compared to its predecessor as well as adding Apple-esque design tweaks to what was already a potent platform. The headline feature, however, is the addition of a front-facing screen, to enable self-tapers to frame themselves in shot.
This isn't the best GoPro on the market. It sits in the middle of the current range – head to our GoPro HERO 8 Black review and GoPro HERO 10 Black review for a look at the models above and below it in the lineup.
There have been some increasingly strong efforts from competitor brands, but GoPro still dominates our best action camera ranking with its incredibly robust, feature-packed cams, led by the HERO range. And despite not being quite the latest and greatest the H9 is still an absolutely excellent action cam. Read on for our in-depth GoPro HERO 9 Black review.
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: price and release date
The GoPro HERO 9 Black launched on 16 Sept 2020. It's available to buy direct from the brand or via retail partners around the world. Like all the HEROs, there's a big discount if you purchase your HERO with a 1-year GoPro subscription (here's more on if a GoPro subscription is worth it). The RRP is as follows:
- UK: £329.98 (with subscription) or £429.99
- US: $349.98 (with subscription) or $449.99
- AUS: A$559.95 (with subscription) or A$699.95
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: design
Same old, but different – the GoPro HERO 9 Black manages to follow the design cues of the last handful of GoPros, but with some vital tweaks, most noticeably the full-colour, forward-facing 'selfie' screen. This is a rare instance of GoPro lagging behind the competition – DJI introduced one with its first action camera, the DJI Osmo Action, which launched around the same time as the HERO 7 (i.e. years ago). This little screen immediately differentiates the HERO 9 from its predecessors.
Next door to the new screen, that newly-boosted 23.6MP sensor might look similar to the HERO 8 at a glance, but there's a surprise in store – the lens cover is back, and in Gorilla Glass too. A simple twist not only allows you to swap out scratched lenses, or upgrade them to something more hardcore (head to the next section for more on the Max Lens Mod).
The overall build quality – as you'd expect – is excellent, rubberised industrial corners blend into un-markable matte plastic, while critical areas such as the battery cover and mounting tabs are comfortingly solid alloy. Those mounting tabs will be familiar to GoPro HERO 8 users, and will be just as well received, folding flat for storage but easily extended and clamped for use. While the HERO 9 is no giant, it is slightly larger in every respect than the HERO 8, but is packing not only a more powerful sensor, but also another 500mAh in the battery department, and a 16% larger rear screen to boot – all round improvement.
Another improvement is the packaging – the HERO 9 is GoPro's first camera to ship without plastic packaging, instead arriving in a zippered travel case – one less accessory to lay out for, and less packaging to wrestle with – win, win.
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: features and usability
As you'd expect from a GoPro, the controls are beautifully simple to operate, even with just two buttons – power/mode on the left side and record start/stop on the top right. There are four pre-loaded Capture Presets (Standard, Activity, Cinematic and Slo-Mo) that let you jump right into recording the action without getting bogged down in endless settings, which has long been a key USP in GoPro's favour. There are up to 10 slots available for your own custom settings if you need them, catering for the professionals too.
By linking to the GoPro app via Bluetooth, and over Wi-Fi for more intensive meddling, you can remotely control the camera, preview shots and share them direct, as well as make edits on the go. Finally, you can create 1080p livestreams immediately, with presets for social channels including Facebook and YouTube as well as a manual option for the perennially awkward.
In a particularly well-timed nod to the remote-working world of the ‘new normal', GoPro has added the ability to use the HERO 9 as a cabled webcam. Add the USB-C charging cable and the GoPro Webcam desktop app and you're up and running. A particularly useful magnetic mount in the shape of a crocodile clip provides the perfect screen mount for this, adding an extra bit of value for professional vloggers and casual Zoom-callers alike, as well as a handy dual-use faff reducer when travelling.
Speaking of faff-reducing, that bigger battery might be responsible for piling on a few grams, but it does add a claimed 30% battery life. In testing, battery life on the HERO 9 was strong, enough for shooting multiple videos at full 5K quality and hundreds of images at a time, and the test model came with an additional battery pack for additional juice when out and about. The only snag there is that without an external charger, the battery can only be charged onboard (via USB-C), forcing you to switch batteries in the camera to juice up both. The battery door does just clear the mounting screw even if mounted the wrong way round, so it's not necessary to remove the camera from your favourite mount to charge, whatever your preferences.
The only real negative of the HERO 9 is that the solid build quality does notch up the weight, making this a pretty chunky device. That's not an issue in many cases, but some mounting situations (like on the side of a lightweight helmet) will make you notice that 158 grams more often than you might like. The GoPro Android app is surprisingly finicky about connections too, occasionally losing connection and finding it tricky to reconnect, although this was during intensive testing as opposed to normal use.
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: video and stills
It almost goes without saying, but the HERO 9 does indeed knock out incredible quality video and stills. This is in part due to the significant bump in sensor resolution, but the real stars of the show are GoPro's backroom work with presets and software tools. Hypersmooth and Timewarp will be familiar to HERO 7 and HERO 8 owners, but here they're both upgraded once again (now both on V3) and deliver noticeably better results even on stock settings.
Horizon levelling is now baked into the camera, not just the app, and is immediately noticeable. Using the GoPro-supplied RC buggy in testing creates astonishingly smooth and watchable footage even in extremely bumpy situations, more akin to a professional rig than an action cam. That impression is boosted when grabbing frames from 5k video, which due to the oceans of resolution available still come out at 14.7MP/16:9, like you're running a high-end SLR. Also like an SLR, the burst function for stills is impressive, augmented by LiveBurst (from the HERO8) that captures 1.5 seconds of the action before and after you hit the button, making sure you don't miss the best bit of the action.
This package so far adds up to a powerful and competent device, but GoPro has packed in yet more, with Hindsight and Scheduled Capture tools. The latter brilliant for time-lapse shots, just set and forget, while the former adds real magic to the mix, enabling you to capture up to 30 seconds of footage before you hit the shutter button – a huge boon for those of us who realise too late that something awesomely video-worthy just happened.
There's more good news too, as the occasionally-buggy voice controls of the HERO7 and HERO8 are now improved. Although limited to 14 key commands, the voice control in quiet environments works perfectly, although less well in noisier situations, which are the times when it really needs to work seamlessly.
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: mods and accessories
There are plenty of accessories and additions to get stuck into. You can pick up a mount for every eventuality at this point, but there's also GoPro's own range of accessories to get stuck into. A new addition with the HERO 8 is the Max Lens Mod, a whopping 155 degree FOV that delivers 'unbreakable' video stabilisation. This Mod also boasts a 'powerful horizon lock', that works even when the camera is rotated a full 360 degrees.
There are also HERO 9-compatible versions of all the Mods that launched with the HERO 8. So, an attachable LED light that maxes out at 200 lumens (see our full GoPro Light Mod review for more on that one), and another attachment to improve audio capture via a directional mic (check out our full GoPro Media Mod review). You can also add another two-inch front-facing display via the Display Mod, if the included second screen isn't big enough for you.
Finally, the HERO 9 can be used with the GoPro Volta mount, which launched later, and combines tripod grip, battery pack, and remote control.
GoPro Hero 9 Black: alternatives to consider
With any GoPro purchase, your first questions are probably going to be, 'should I pay more for the newer version?' and 'can I get away with paying less for an older version'?
The big change with the HERO 10 was the introduction of a new chipset, which translates to an all-round zippier camera, with faster transfers and quicker boot times. You're also getting a whole bunch of smaller feature improvements – our GoPro HERO 9 Black vs GoPro HERO 10 Black will fill you in on the specifics, and help you decide whether it's worth the higher price for your uses.
In the case of the HERO 8, there are the main thing you're missing out on by going cheaper and older is that integrated front-facing screen. The HERO 9 also has a better battery and a better sensor, although we suspect it'll be the second screen that's the decider for many people. Those who don't have a need to that could certainly seriously consider saving a bit of cash by going to the older model. Our GoPro HERO 8 Black vs HERO 9 Black comparison runs though the differences in more detail.
If you're on a tight budget is key, the HERO 8 is more likely to attract a GoPro deal, too, especially when the HERO 11 gets released. If it's still too pricey and you're happy to opt for something more basic, our best budget action camera ranking has a bunch of decent options worth considering.
If you're curious about shooting in 360-degrees, check out our GoPro MAX review and see how the two styles of camera compare in our GoPro HERO vs MAX face-off.
While GoPro's HEROs dominate the market, there are of course other brands to consider too. Our pick of the best GoPro alternatives around has plenty of suggestions, all of which offer something slightly different. We especially enjoy Insta360's fiddy-fun modular approach (head to our Insta360 One RS Twin Edition action camera review for a closer look).
Verdict: should I buy a GoPro Hero 9 Black?
As ever with a new GoPro edition, it's hard to not like the HERO 9's newly-honed imaging abilities, and the supporting software just keeps getting better and better. Overall GoPro has done one thing very well here, and that's make the 9 seem substantially better than the 8 (which will obviously see a significant price drop now that the new, more desirable model has arrived).
Unlike previous models though, the step-up that the HERO 9 brings is across the board, and that front-facing screen will make the HERO 9 a no-brainer for those wanting to capture properly-framed direct-to-camera moments. The new horizon levelling, smoothing technology really does make a vast difference to the quality of video you'll capture while moving.
GoPro HERO 9 Black review: specs
Weight: 158g (no frame required)
Dimensions: 71.0W x 55H x 33.6D (mm)
Video: 5K30, 4K60, 2.7K120, 1080P240
Max video bitrate: 100Mbps (5K, 4K)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
App: GoPro App integrated with Quik
Horizon levelling: On Camera + With the GoPro App
Digital lenses: SuperView, Wide, Linear, Linear + Horizon Leveling, Narrow
Burst: 20MP Auto, 30/10, 30/6, 30/3, 10/3, 25/1, 10/1, 5/1, 3/1
Time Lapse: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 seconds; 2, 5, 30, 60 minutes
TimeWarp 3.0: 2x, 5x,10x 15x and 30x recording speeds
Night Lapse: Auto, 4, 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds; 1, 2, 5, 30, 60 minutes
Touchscreen: 2.27" LCD rear, front Color LCD With Live Preview
Waterproofing: 10m (33ft) without a case
Voice control: Yes
Battery: Removable 1720mAh lithium-ion
Stabilisation: HyperSmooth 3.0 with High and Boost options
HDR: SuperPhoto, auto HDR processing
Live Streaming: Yes, via app
Other: Portrait mode, auto orientation
Memory storage: MicroSD with at least class 10 or UHS-I rating