Last year DJI (yes, the drone company) threatened GoPro's domain with the Osmo Action, an action camera with a larger rear display and a front-facing display that appealed to vloggers. This year, GoPro's hitting back with the Hero 9 Black.
Physically larger, the Hero 9 Black finally ups the back display size to a roomier 2.27 inches (diagonal); adds a 1.4-inch screen to the front for framing shots; increases the battery life by up to 30 percent thanks to a larger physical capacity; bumps up the resolution to 20 megapixels with 5K 30 fps recording; and — this is what sets GoPro apart from other action cameras — improves features like HyperSmooth 3.0 video stabilization and TimeWarp 3.0 speed ramping.
On top of these already impressive additions, the Hero 9 Black also has in-camera horizon-leveling; "scheduled capture" which lets you schedule the camera to turn on and start recording up to 24 hours in advance (great for recording early morning sunrise or evening sunset time lapses); direct streaming to services like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook; support for GoPro's Media Mod accessories. Oh and, it works as a webcam when you plug it into your computer.
Family of three — The Hero 9 Black joins the previous Hero 7 Black and Hero 8 Black, completing the "good, better, best" lineup. The Hero 9 Black is available today starting at $449.99 and it comes with a hardshell case, a waterproof grip, clip mount, and a microSD card. The Hero 7 Black and Hero 8 Black will continue to be sold for $249.99 and $349.99, respectively. GoPro's also made a big move to eliminate plastic from its packaging.
There's also some other good news: If you pay for a subscription to GoPro's cloud-based media service, the Hero 9 Black drops down to $349.98. That's good for existing GoPro subscription customers, too.
Great for vlogging — My original plan was to have a review of the Hero 9 Black ready for all of you, but GoPro pushed out a last-minute firmware update that improves camera image quality and the touch responsiveness so I'll need to redo the comparison footage I shot. Stay tuned for my review soon.
What I can say without hesitation is that the Hero 9 Black's front-facing display is awesome. It's a small square screen and by default, it's cropped to full screen. But once you change that to 16:9 (black bars be damned), it's so convenient to be able to frame up a shot. There's no guessing what is and isn't in the shot. Naturally, it's perfect for vlogging.
I had some initial issues with the rear touchscreen. My review unit was so sensitive that it'd change camera modes every time I accidentally brushed the back screen with my fingers. It was super annoying. I don't know yet if the new firmware has dialed this down, but I'll know after I retest it.
And speaking of the rear touchscreen: I love that it's larger. The Hero 7 and 8 Black have 1.95-inch displays and they are cramped compared to the Hero 9 Black's 2.27-inch screen. It's better for everything from framing to tapping on buttons.
Longer battery life — I mentioned earlier that battery life is longer. That's true, but there's a catch: the Hero 9 Black uses a new, physically bigger battery. It's not the end of the world, but if you already own extra batteries for older GoPros, you're going to have to buy new ones.
Modular by design — Like the Hero 8 Black you can add on Media Mod accessories to the Hero 9 Black. A light, an external microphone, a bigger display. Really make the vlogging or compact shooting rig of your dreams. The Hero 9 Black goes further with the Max Lens Mod. Twist off the lens and you can add the mod to get a wider field of view and even better Max HyperSmooth stabilization at resolutions up to 2.7K at 60 fps. Basically, you're getting features that you'd only find on the 360-degree GoPro Max.
The secret's the software — I can't yet judge how the image quality from the larger image sensor compares to previous GoPros, but the camera's software is super underrated. The electronic stabilization, HyperSmooth 3.0, eliminates so much more wobbliness that it feels unreal that it's all happening in-body and not in post-processing. Of course, if you want the shakiness in your footage, you are always free to turn it off.
The Hero 9 Black's other features like TimeWarp 3.0, Scheduled Capture and Hindsight are equally powerful. TimeWarp 3.0 lets you choose when to speed up and slow down the speed during recording for real-time speed ramping, scheduled capture automatically turns the camera on and starts recording on a date and time up to 24 hours in advance, and Hindsight starts recording for 15 or 30 seconds before you actually hit the record button on the top of the camera just in case something awesome happens early.