Thinking about grabbing a new GoPro? Here’s my full GoPro Hero 9 review – including all the new features, tips and whether it’s the best GoPro for travel!
GoPro is THE name in action cameras, and it’s now time to ask is GoPro Hero 9 worth the upgrade?
Well here’s my full GoPro Hero 9 review – including all the new features, pros, cons and whether you should be taking out your credit card to upgrade!
UPDATE: In Sept 2021 the new GoPro Hero 10 was launched, check out my full review (and if it’s worth upgrading to) here
REVIEW: GoPro Hero 9 – Worth The Upgrade?
What’s New With The GoPro Hero 9?
Let’s kick things off with what’s new with the GoPro Hero 9. The marketing slogan for the Hero 9 is “More Everything” – so what’s been beefed up with GoPro’s latest offering?
I’ve highlighted my top upgrades in bold, which I’ll be chatting about in more detail further on in the review.
- 5K resolution (30FPS)
- Front-facing screen (for epic GoPro selfies!)
- Horizon lock
- Hypersmooth 3.0
- Horizon Lock
- Timewarp 3.0
- 30% more battery life
- Detachable lens
- MAX Lens Mod
- 20MP photos
- Hindsight mode
- Liveburst mode
- Scheduled capture mode
- Duration capture mode
- Webcam and streaming modes
So what are my first impressions of the Hero 9? Well the first thing you’ll notice is that size is actually larger than the Hero 8, and it does feel quite a bit chunkier.
After a bit of use though, it’s not a deal breaker, and I’m happy with that trade for a front-facing screen and 30% longer battery life.
And of course that front facing screen is the other big thing you’ll notice right off the back and is a much welcome addition – especially for vlogging.
Shooting wise the back screen has also had a bit of a bump, with a slightly larger display, which is pretty welcome too.
Tech spec wise 5K is an awesome improvement (although admittedly not a super useful one!), but I was hoping for 4K @ 120FPS as well and there’s still no dedicated 3.5mm jack for an external mic.
Overall though it’s the same, rugged, reliable GoPro feel that we all know and love, but packing even more punch.
One other thing to mention here is the fact that GoPro has opted for a more environmentally friendly packaging approach too. Gone are the bulky, plastic orientated display cases that they’ve traditionally come in, replaced instead by a more minimalist and cardboard-based package.
In fact, the main packaging on the new GoPro Hero 9 is also a carry case – so not only is the overall thing more environmentally friendly, it is dual purpose and saves you buying a case for you GoPro too…so kudos for that GoPro!
Pros and Cons Over The Hero 8
When it comes to comparing it with the GoPro Hero 8 – what are the main pros and cons for upgrading to the new Hero 9?
- Detachable lens
- Front-facing screen
- 30% more battery life
- 5K resolution
- Hypersmooth and Timewarp 3.0
- Compatibility with new MAX Lens Media Mod
- Comes in a carry case
- Larger form factor
- Lack of Mod availability (at launch anyway)
Obviously when it comes to upgrading from older models there’s a lot more to consider – but we’ll get to all that later in the review!
Do I Really Need 5K?
So what’s the big deal with 5K and will most users notice a difference?
Well, not only does the new 5K sensor allow you to shoot in 5K, but the more useful option is it allows you to pull out 14MP still from your 5K footage. Now, this is a pretty epic awesome tool, especially for those shooting extreme sports. Instead of chancing it with single shots and bursts, you can simply record all the action and pull out the EXACT frame you want.
Admittedly 99% of people won’t need to film in 5K, or actually even be able to edit it (the file sizes are pretty solid, so only top-end computers and laptops will be able to handle editing in 5K), but being able to grab those high-quality stills gives you another solid tool in the bag.
The improved sensor also allows you to shoot in dedicated 20MP stills and has a vastly improved dynamic range too – adding even more punch to the HDR and Superphoto modes too – making your GoPro even more versatile.
So yeah, most people won’t be too bothered about the ability to shoot 5K and it’s certainly a spec more aimed at power users, but it’s the added advantages of that upgraded sensor that will make difference to both your stills and also dynamic range with filming.
Hypersmooth 3.0 and Horizon Lock
Horizon lock was one of my favourite features of the GoPro MAX – especially when vlogging and doing moving, talking to camera pieces. It’s a great new feature for the GoPro Hero 9 and is even more stable than Hypersmooth 3.0.
Be aware, however, that it does crop your footage in (roughly 10%), so it’s not ideal for all shoots.
GoPro has also paired this mode up with the new MAX Lens Media Mod though to take full advantage of it – more on that in a little bit – but this new mode is certainly something a lot of people will be able to take advantage of and get super creative with.
Timewarp brought all the fun and effects of a Hyperlapse in an easy to use package and the new TimeWarp 3.0 is even better than before.
Not only can you take advantage of the Horizon Levelling for even better composed TimeWarps but you can now enter and exit real time mode by using the button on the side, allow you to smoothly switch between the two whilst filming.
Two seemingly small improvements, but both will make a big difference in creating even more stunning Timewarps if that’s your thing.
Front Facing Screen
Now this is probably the most anticipated GoPro feature for a long time and the GoPro Hero 9 finally has a front facing screen.
For vloggers this is going to be reason alone to upgrade (more on that later!) but for the average GoPro user it’s going to make using your GoPro heaps simpler too, by allowing your to easily see how you’re framing your shot
Not only is this great for talking to camera pieces – but it’ll really up your GoPro selfie game too!
It’s not a huge screen, but its certainly enough to get everything framed correctly, which is going to make your GoPro footage that much better and useable.
One issue I have encountered with the front facing screen though is I have noticed quite a bit of lag in the image. It’s not a huge deal but is a bit of a niggle and something I hope GoPro can quickly fix with a software/firmware update.
New GoPro Media Mod (Well Kind Of!)
Another awesome feature GoPro has carried over from the Hero 8 is the Media Mod range. Obviously, with the front-facing screen, the LCD mod isn’t really needed (unless you want even more real estate for viewing your shots), but the LED is still compatible.
The biggest advantage of the GoPro Media Mod is the ability to plug in an external mic option (for me, that’s the Rode Wireless Go paired with the Rode Lavalier Go) for way better audio quality. I was hoping that GoPro might include a dedicated 3.5mm audio jack input, but the Media Mod is a good bridge for the moment.
However – and super frustrating for Hero 8 users – is the fact the change in size and form on the Hero 9 means you’ll need to reinvest in the new Hero 9 Media Mod, which is something you’ll have to factor into your pricing. The new Hero 9 Media Mod will set you back US$79.99 / £79.99 / AU$129.95
The Hero 9 Media Mod does have improved weather resistance (not waterproof by the way!), but still, that extra outlay is a bit of a kick in the teeth for those who waited ages for the original Media Mod release, which was pretty delayed.
…and stock levels of the Hero 9 Media Mod also look to produce some significant delays too, which is pretty frustrating.
Detachable Lens + MAX Lens Mod
With the launch of the Hero 8, GoPro frustrated quite a few users by making the lens cover part of the overall body – meaning it wasn’t detachable and therefore was an absolute pain to replace if you scratched it!
Luckily GoPro listened, and the detachable lens has made a return on the Hero 9 – which is great news.
With the reintroduction of the detachable lens comes an awesome new Media Mod too – the MAX Lens Mod.
Essentially this allows you to mimic the MAX Hero Mode (previously only accessible on the GoPro MAX) by swapping the lens over to one with a 155° field of vision. In easy to understand terms, it’s a super wide-angle lens which will capture even more of the scene you’re shooting.
Pair this up with the Horizon Levelling option, and you have a super stable, super wide-angle option – great for action sports (and one of my favourite GoPro surfing accessories) and another reason why the Hero 9 is the best GoPro for vlogging.
At the moment the Max Lens Mod is still in limited stock, but will set you back US$99.99 / £89.99 / AU$159.95
Is The Audio Any Good?
One of the biggest ongoing downsides of shooting with a GoPro has always been the standard of the inbuilt audio. There have a been a few work arounds – including the rather ill thought out 3.5mm audio jack adaptor – and of course the recent addition of the Media Mod.
But for those who don’t want to shell out on all that and deal with external audio input, is the audio on the GoPro Hero 9 improved?
Well it’s better than the Hero 8, but only marginally so.
From the test I’ve done it’s obvious that the inbuilt audio is still one of the biggest issues on the GoPro range, and although I’m sure it’ll be acceptable for most people it’s far from perfect and if you’re really wanting to use your Hero 9 with audio I’d strongly recommend the Media Mod and an external audio input.
Do My GoPro Mounts Fit The Hero 9?
As with the GoPro Hero 8, the new GoPro Hero 9 is backward compatible with 99% of your GoPro mounts as it still takes advantage of the folding fingers.
The change in form factor and larger sizing does, however, mean any cage or full casing mounts/accessories will need to be rebought. Annoyingly for any Hero 8 users, this also includes the new Hero 9 Media Mod and also the Hero 8 Supersuit/Dive Housing too.
But for the most part, your most common mounts are still useable with the Hero 9.
A Couple Of Issues…
Whilst testing out the Hero 9 there were 2 issue that I flagged up whilst shooting with it.
The first I’ve already touched on – the lag in the front facing screen. Basically the video has a slight delay in it – which although not crucial for shooting, could get rather irritating, especially if you’re moving around and using it to keep things framed correctly.
Secondly is the lack of responsiveness of the rear touch screen – which is noticeably less responsive than the Hero 8 and didn’t register a lot of touches and gestures. This is especially annoying when setting up your new GoPro and tweaking the presets – which allow you to quickly switch between your most used settings.
That being said though (and quite weirdly) was the fact when I was shooting in water, the touch screen actually seemed improved over the Hero 8 and older GoPros!
20th Oct 2020 UPDATE: GoPro have now released a firmware update which has fixed the touch screen issue, which is a massive relief!
I’m REALLY hoping that GoPro manage to fix both issues pretty quickly and easily with a software/firmware update (the DJI Osmo Action had a similar issue on launch with the front screen which was quickly fixed), and although neither issue is a total deal breaker, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking to upgrade your existing GoPro – and it might be worth holding out until the issue is resolved.
Two other gripes that I have with the Hero 9 are the fact there is still no inbuilt 3.5mm audio jack (as the inbuilt audio is still not great) and also the lack of availability on the Media Mod and MAX Lens Mod at launch.
The audio jack I can live without due to the Media Mod adding this availability (even though it’s an extra cost) but the fact 2 of the biggest marketing features of the Hero 9 aren’t readily available at launch is a huge blunder by GoPro. Even more so if you consider the fact the Hero 8 Media Mod – which was a huge selling point at the Sept 2019 launch – wasn’t properly available until mid April 2020!
Fingers crossed GoPro don’t force us to wait that long to unlock the full potential of the Hero 9!
GoPro Hero 9 Pricing
So what will the GoPro Hero 9 set you back?
Well, the launch price of the Hero 9 is $449.99 / £429.99 / AU$699.95
BUT GoPro has a pretty epic offer if you buy direct from their site – US$349.99 / £329.99 / AU$559.95, including a year’s GoPro subscription (formerly GoPro Plus).
This also then gets you up to 50% off any GoPro accessories too (for the full duration of your subscription and including the new Media Mod and MAX LensMods, once they’re available), as well as the replacement service, so that’s a pretty epic deal, so get that while you can!
Should You Upgrade To GoPro Hero 9?
From Hero 5 and below – YES
For the Hero 5 and below, you’re going to notice a HUGE difference upgrading to the Hero 9 for Hypersmooth alone. If the front-facing screen isn’t a big deal taking advantage of the price drop on the Hero 7 and Hero 8 is also something to consider.
From Hero 6 – YES
Again Hypersmooth alone is worth the upgrade, but as with the Hero 5 and below, it’s about weighing up whether the extra cost of the Hero 9 is worth the screen and features over a reduced price Hero 8 or even Hero 7.
From Hero 7 – YES
From the Hero 7, the Hero 9 is still a big upgrade, and if you’re serious about your filming, then it’s a good time to get involved with Hypersmooth on all resolutions and frame rates. If you were already toying with upgrading to the Hero 8, skip right through to the Hero 9 if these are part of your thinking.
And then, of course, you have the front-facing screen too, which is an awesome new addition.
From Hero 8 – Maybe
Upgrading from the Hero 8 is where things get tricky. Ask yourself if you honestly need the advantages of a 5K sensor, or is it worth saving the money for now?
For those who have already heavily invested in their Hero 8 with the Media Mod setup, it might be worth waiting it out until the Hero 10 to soften the blow of having to rebuy everything!
For some people, the front-facing screen is reason enough to upgrade – especially if you’re using a GoPro for vlogging – and the MAX Lens Mod may also be a big consideration with this too.
From GoPro MAX – Maybe
The Hero 9 takes a lot of the advantages of the GoPro MAX and offers them in a smaller package, which for some, is worth it straight off the bat. For the most part though, the MAX offers most of the same advantages of the Hero 9, so it’s going to be a budget question more than a practical one.
My Final Thoughts
Is the GoPro Hero 9 the best GoPro ever?
Without a doubt, yes.
The 5K sensor, return of the detachable lens, the addition of the MAX Lens Media Mod, and heaps of solid upgrades like Horizon Levelling make the Hero 9 a powerful tool for videographers as well as the front-facing screen making it even more appealing for vloggers.
Is it the perfect GoPro?
Well, still not really.
The need for the pricey Media Mod instead of a dedicated 3.5mm jack is still an annoyance (especially having only had the Hero 8 Media Mod for 6 months!), and not offering up 4K @ 120FPS was a bit of a disappointment.
That being said though, in the world of technology (and I have to say this is certainly not just GoPro) we pretty much have to accept a drip-feed of improvements alongside a singular big jump (in this case 5K) rather than all our wish list being provided in one go!
Unfortunately, progress is very much throttle in favour of profit.
So even though it’s not the perfect GoPro, it’s the most perfect GoPro currently available, and is still the best action camera on the market.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of what it can produce and taking advantage of the upgrades in my video edits.
Are you going to be getting the GoPro Hero 9?
Which features are you most stoked for?