The new GoPro Hero 9 Black is finally available in India, but at a higher price of Rs. 49,500, compared to GoPro's earlier flagships models. However, rather than just an iterative upgrade, GoPro has made some big changes in its 2020 model. There's a new sensor, colour displays on the front and rear, and the ability to shoot up to 5K video – all of which sounds mighty impressive.
Should you upgrade to the GoPro Hero 9 Black? Let's find out in this review.
GoPro Hero 9 Black design
I've already talked about the design changes and how the Hero 9 Black compares to its predecessor in my first impressions back in September, so we won't spend too much time on this. The short of it is that it's bigger and heavier than the Hero 8 Black, but is still relatively compact so it can easily be mounted in tight spaces. The larger body has let GoPro use a bigger rear LCD display, but more importantly, the Hero 9 Black features a colour front-facing display for the first time.
The GoPro Hero 9 Black has foldable mounting prongs, which debuted with the Hero 8 Black. There's a mode button and a power button, and a single water-sealed compartment for the microSD card and battery. Speaking of which, the Hero 9 Black uses a larger battery, which is good news, but this also means your older GoPro batteries won't work on this new model. The lens cover is once again removable (it was fixed on the Hero 8 Black), which lets you use compatible lens mods.
Overall, the Hero 9 Black doesn't veer too far from GoPro's tried and tested formula. The bigger displays and battery are all welcome additions. The Hero 9 Black is compatible with all previous GoPro mounts and most accessories. The company is also shipping the camera in a reusable hardshell case, which I'm happy to see.
The GoPro Hero 9 Black has a larger touchscreen than the Hero 8 Black
GoPro Hero 9 Black performance and battery life
Using the GoPro Hero 9 Black is a very familiar experience, especially if you've used the previous-generation model. You can switch between Timelapse, Video, and Photo shooting modes by swiping left or right on the viewfinder. A swipe-down gesture brings up toggle switches to enable voice commands, etc, and also the Settings menu. A swipe-up from the bottom of the screen lets you view the media on the GoPro.
The interface was quite laggy when I initially began using the Hero 9 Black a few months ago, and that hasn't gone away entirely even after receiving a bunch of firmware updates. Touch response is still a bit sluggish at times when it comes to switching shooting modes or opening menus. This gets really frustrating when the camera is mounted in a tight spot and the screen simply refuses to respond to your input, forcing you to use the GoPro App instead.
The new 23.6-megapixel sensor lets you capture 20-megapixel photos, which is a big upgrade from the 12-megapixel photos of previous GoPros. Images look decent provided you give the sensor ample light, since the Hero 9 Black has a narrow f/2.8 aperture. There's an option to shoot HDR photos, and Night Photo mode produces good quality stills in low light as the shutter can be left open for up to 30s. There are also burst and live burst capture modes, with the latter allowing you to extract a frame from a short video clip.
The main new feature of the Hero 9 Black is the ability to record videos in 5K (5120x2880 pixels). Video quality is very good when shooting during the day, and the HyperSmooth 3.0 stabilisation works very well. The Hero 9 Black can also automatically level the horizon in-camera itself, even if it is accidentally mounted at an angle. This only works if you choose the ‘Linear+Horizon Levelling' perspective. With other perspectives such as ‘Wide,' you'll still be able to adjust the level of the horizon via the app. HyperSmooth now lets you reduce the speed of any hyperlapse clip to half (for a slow-motion effect), in addition to real-time speed like on the Hero 8 Black.
Video quality is a bit poor in low light, which was expected. There's quite a bit of noise, and stabilisation tends to introduce a lot of jitter. Low-light recording hasn't ever been GoPro's strong suit, and this continues to be one area in which we'd like to see some big improvements in the future.
There are a few other useful features that can be enabled in most of the main shooting modes. Scheduled Capture lets you set start and end times when the Hero 9 Black should begin and stop recording. This is super useful if you plan on capturing time-sensitive events such as a sunrise or sunset. Duration Capture lets you set a time limit for your video clip, so you can begin recording and don't have to bother about stopping manually. Finally, you can enable Hindsight in video mode to continuously buffer the last 15 or 30 seconds of footage, before you hit the shutter button.
The GoPro Hero 9 Black performs very well but it's also quite expensive in India
GoPro claims the larger 1,720mAh battery should deliver up to 30 percent better battery life compared to the Hero 8 Black. When shooting with similar settings on the Hero 9 Black and Hero 8 Black, I noticed that the new model generally lasted for about 15-20 minutes longer, which is nice. It's hard to gauge the absolute battery life of a GoPro since this is affected by a lot of factors such as the shooting mode being used, whether Wi-Fi and GPS are on, etc. However, in general you should expect to get a longer recording time per charge with the Hero 9 Black compared to the Hero 8 Black.
Every year, GoPro tweaks and improves its main Hero line, and the Hero 9 Black is definitely one of its biggest upgrades yet. The front colour display, larger battery, and improved recording resolution all make it just a little easier and nicer to use. However, these changes come at a steep premium in India. The Hero 9 Black has an MRP of Rs. 49,500, but you should be able to find it for a little less online. Hero 8 Black owners need not rush out and upgrade, in my opinion, unless of course you absolutely need that second colour display or 5K recording.
A few things I would really like to see improve in the next generation are low-light performance and touch response for the interface. Other than these compromises, the GoPro Hero 9 Black is one of the best action cameras in the market, if you're okay with the premium price.