So there’s a new GoPro and it’s called the Hero 10 Black.
The new action camera looks exactly like the previous one, the Hero 9 Black. Actually, no — the center section of the body is a darker black, and the GoPro logo and “10 Black” branding on the side is now a bright blue. Maybe the color is supposed to remind us it’s waterproof and that we should be doing more extreme things with it.
Whereas the Hero 9 Black was a major leap forward for a GoPro camera with its front-facing color display and ability to screw on a Max Lens Mod for even zanier stabilization, the Hero 10 Black is unequivocally a performance upgrade. Aside from a more scratch-resistant and hydrophobic water-shedding glass lens cover, and support for wired content transfer to phones, all of the new features are internal.
The new action camera can record video at double the framerates for 5.3K and 4K resolution at 60 fps and 120 fps, respectively, compared to the Hero 9 Black’s 4K/60 fps. The Hero 10 Black takes higher resolution 23-megapixel photos versus 20-megapixel shots on the Hero 9 Black. Image quality for videos and photos has been tuned for better details like more natural colors and less artificial sharpening. GoPro’s “HyperSmooth 4.0” in-camera stabilization smooths out footage even more with in-camera horizon line correction. And crucially — maybe the feature most people will likely gloss over — is the more powerful custom GP2 chip. It gives a significant boost in speed to capturing with a GoPro.
I’ve got no issues with an internal upgrade — it also means all previous Hero 9 Black mounts and accessories are compatible — but only if GoPro sticks the landing on their claims. Does the Hero 10 Black deliver the best captured content in an action camera? As always with GoPro, the answer is yes and also no.
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Video comparison: Hero 10 vs. Hero 9
To cut to the chase: Objectively, the Hero 10 Black captures better video than the Hero 9 Black. True to GoPro’s claim, colors are less saturated and more realistic. There’s better contrast, less image noise, and less of that crunchy oversharpened look that the Hero 9 Black spits out. White balance isn’t as warm. And HyperSmooth 4.0 irons out even more jiggle. Just watch the above video comparison between the Hero 10 Black and Hero 9 Black and you’ll see the improvements GoPro has made.
GoPro attributes the improvements made to image quality to its GP2 processor, which uses local tone mapping algorithms to produce videos with better exposure across the board. While I didn’t have an opportunity to take the Hero 10 Black on any extreme sports excursions like surfing or skydiving, I was still impressed with the final clips.
Low-light performance definitely has improved with less visible noise and better contrast. But there’s still a lot more that can be improved with low-light video, especially when it gets dark. But then again, who’s using a GoPro in the dark? Not even the latest iPhones can capture video in the dark well; it’s a limitation to the small image sensors inside of GoPros and a concession that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
You will feel the speed of the GP2.
Mostly, you will feel the speed of the GP2. The touchscreen is more responsive, switching modes is quicker, and capturing starts and finishes faster.
In case you need reminding: Resolution isn’t everything. More megapixels doesn’t mean better image quality. It means more pixels to view on higher resolution screens and print out larger, but if unless you’ve got a big, high-res screen or plan to print massive, it’s preferable to have cleaner photos with more accurate colors, better white balance, less noise, etc.
To me, though the Hero 10 Black can take 23-megapixel photos, I’m not seeing massive improvements. Sure, if you look closely you can see less image noise in Hero 10 Black photos and the color and white balance are just a bit more accurate, but not by a whole lot. In the below shots, it’s tough to make out the differences. Most of the frame looks good, but look at the upper right corner and you can see the Hero 10 Black doesn’t do as good of a job exposing the bricks on that building.
Low-light is improved, but not always necessarily better. While there’s more contrast and better shadows to reflect the correct luminance, I found many of my low-light shots to be less sharp on Hero 10 Black than on Hero 9 Black with softer details. It’s really hit or miss to know whether a low-light shot is tack sharp or soft until you review them on your phone or computer.
High Dynamic Range photography aka HDR also looked worse on the Hero 10 Black versus the Hero 9 Black. In shot after shot, the Hero 10 Black failed to expose the sky, leaving it overexposed. At first, I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, but nope, it’s almost as if the HDR mode isn’t even doing anything. It’s hard to say which one is the better HDR image in the second comparison set of the lake. On the one hand, the water and sky are better exposed with more dynamic range. But on the other hand, it’s so dark and the details in the trees and its reflection are completely lost to shadows.
It’s possible that GoPro could correct this with a firmware update in the future. But at the time of this writing, HDR looks worse to my eyes even if the Hero 10 Black image has far less noise.
I mentioned before that the GP2 enables faster capture. You can literally see the difference in speed when you’re taking a photo. On the Hero 9 Black, when you take a SuperPhoto, the camera throws up a “Processing SuperPhoto” loading screen for a few seconds after the click. I almost never saw it on the Hero 10 Black and I was able to take 2-3 shots in the same time it took the Hero 9 Black to finish processing one. Look at the below set. I pressed the shutters on both GoPros at the same time, but only the Hero 10 was able to freeze the taxi before it advanced forward.
The Hero 10 Black uses the exact same 1,720 mAh battery as the Hero 9 Black. That’s a good thing if you’ve got a bunch of them — you don’t need to buy new ones. The downside to the same battery capacity is that the Hero 10 Black chews through it even faster. Like way faster.
With both the Hero 10 Black and Hero 9 Black charged to 100 percent, I took to the streets to record side-by-side clips in their highest video resolution, 5.3K/60fps and 4K/60fps, respectively, while taking photos at their native resolution output.
In almost a week of aggregate testing, the results were the same: the Hero 10 Black burns through battery twice as fast as the Hero 9 Black. It’s no wonder the bundle that GoPro sent me came with an extra battery ‘cause I would have been screwed without it. Dropping the resolution on the Hero 10 Black down to 4K/60fps to match the Hero 9 Black cut down on the drain, but only by around 25 percent.
The lesson here: Get yourself a bunch of spare batteries if you’re picking up a Hero 10 Black. You’re going to need them.
On a brighter note, I really appreciate the more accurate battery indicator. On the Hero 10 Black, the indicator changes percentage whenever you switch shooting modes. For example, when the battery was at 75 percent in video mode, it changed to 82 percent in photo mode. In comparison, the Hero 9 Black shows the same battery percentage in all modes, which is not helpful. Kudos to GoPro for sweating the details!
Not just a camera
Like any gadget, the tradeoff for more power usually comes at the expense other features. In the case of the Hero 10 Black, the video quality is better than ever and performance is smoother and faster. The compromises are photos that don’t always look better and the battery takes a major hit at higher resolutions and framerates.
But buying a GoPro isn’t just about the camera or image quality anymore. For years, GoPro has been reinventing itself as a one-stop video/photo capture experience. Half of the GoPro experience is a Hero action camera, but the other half is an even bigger and more important selling point.
This other half includes GoPros doubling as webcams and livestreaming cameras (now, more useful than in The Before Times). Buying a GoPro Subscription ($50 a year), which is arguably one of the best services I’ve ever seen for any gadget since it includes unlimited cloud storage at full-res and auto-uploads, up to 50 percent discounts on products at GoPro.com, free camera replacements (no questions asked?!), and unlimited use of GoPro’s Quik app for editing content. GoPro subscribers even get hefty discounts on new GoPros. Find me a better subscription for $50; there’s no protection plan or cloud service of this kind of value for any kind of gadget, period.
GoPro has been reinventing itself as a one-stop video/photo capture experience.
Factor this side of the GoPro experience into the Hero 10 Black and the $399 price, which includes a subscription to GoPro Subscription, is a complete steal. GoPro also has a $449 bundle with accessories like the Shorty tripod, a magnetic clip, a 32GB microSD card, and an extra battery. You have to be a complete bonehead to pay $499 for the Hero 10 Black sans GoPro subscription and $599 for the bundle also without the service.
Look, the Hero 10 Black has its blind spots. But so, too, has every GoPro before it. When has a GoPro ever not burned through batteries? Or when has photo quality ever not been secondary to video quality? I present my comparisons not to say the Hero 10 Black isn’t the best action camera you can buy — it totally is for video — but as evidence for Hero 9 Black owners who likely don’t need to upgrade. If you’ve got a Hero 8 (or older) that’s not cutting it or some other brand of action camera, the Hero 10 Black is the one to beat. Together with all that you get with GoPro Subscription for $399, the Hero 10 Black may be the greatest camera value of all time.