Photos and video: Gerard Lagana


GoPro have lead the charge with action cameras, and they really jumped back to the front of the game with the Hero7 Black which I tested a couple of years back. With further advancements with the Hero8 especially in the realm of image stabilisation, I was left wondering where GoPro would go when I heard there was another model coming out.

It turns out, there was a whole lot they could work on. The new GoPro Hero9 Black has better clarity, greater stabilisation, and a bunch more software and tools to make it better for both capturing memories and creating professional photos and videos.

In your hand, the new GoPro Hero9 Black is a little bigger than the previous editions, but that comes with a few key bonuses, like a larger rear touch screen, a front facing LCD screen, a larger battery and probably most importantly, an upgrade to a 23.6MP sensor. This means you can have super clear 5K videos and 20MP photos, if you choose to run the maximum sizes available.

That front facing LCD screen is really handy if you're setting up your GoPro on a bar mount, or in any place where looking through the back screen isn't possible to check the view. It's probably most useful for anyone who has a video blog, and you can even use the Hero9 Black as a live webcam when connected to your computer!

What most of us mountain bikers will really like is the updates to stabilisation software. It was already really good but HyperSmooth 3.0 allows an adjustable level of stabilisation at all frame rates, including 240 frames per second (FPS). So you can run the greatest stabilisation available while still getting those super slow mo edits. TimeWarp 3.0 is another cool setting, allowing changes in frame rates (so, slow mo then back to real speed) while recording. It opens up a lot of options for some cool recording, like filming someone come into a jump, with slow motion capture while they're in the air. You can just tap the screen to change the speed, which is pretty handy.

There's also a removable lens, so you can upgrade to the Max View lens for a wider field of view, and some smart software that helps maintain a level horizon. GoPro have some nifty software that allows you to set a capture time and length, so you can have your GoPro capture sunrise or sunset without bothering your sleeping patterns. Or you could use it to set your camera up trail side when you know you're coming past, for that solo shreddit project you've been putting off. GoPro have also added software called HindSight. If you have the GoPro on but not recording, when you press record it will have captured upto 30 seconds prior to pressing go. That's perfect for never missing the action.

On the trail

There's even more new features, but the big thing is, how does it all work on the trail, and how does that translate to stitching a video together, or getting some cracking photos? There are two features here that really stand out for mountain bikers, and that's the larger sensor and the greater range of stabilisation.

The larger sensor essentially lets more light into the camera, and can allow faster reaction times when moving from light to dark and so on. This means your footage of a fast trail where you're in and out of the trees can be crisper and clearer. It also means if you want to take a screen grab, it will be a proper high resolution image. If you're filming in 5K this means you can grab a frame (a photo) in 14.7MP – which is more than big enough to print as a poster if the photo is worth it. This size drops down as you film in different resolutions. But even if you wind it all the way back to 1440, you can still grab a 3MP photo, which will look sharp enough for any social media platform you use.

In terms of options, it can get a little full on. You choose frames per second, resolution from 1080 through to 5K, and then of course the amount of stabilising you want. Remember that more stabilisation creates a smoother video, and sometimes a little bit of bounce helps the action – so you can set how much you want it stabilised. Then add in whether you want Wide View, Super View... it does become a minefield if you're not making videos day in day out. To make this easier but without limiting options, GoPro let you create 10 presets. You might have a preferred setting for slo-mo captures, and another wider angle one for some mounting positions. You can even programme four short cut buttons on the touch screen to make it fast to select the preset or functions you want.

To make it simpler to hit the trails and press record, GoPro programme four ready to go settings in there for you. Activity was a favourite, using Super View and 2.7K resolution. We did note that when using the 5K resolution you can only use Wide View, but the Max Mod lens should bring that Super View back, which tends to work best for helmet cam or Chesty mounts where you want the widest view possible. There's also a preset for slow motion, and one called Cinematic, which has a 16:9 4K resolution with the Horizon Levelling switched on. It removes the fish eye effect and is really useful if you're making a video using a GoPro and a DSLR as well, to keep the look very similar.

With 240FPS on hand for some super slow mo, there was some reduction in the quality of output. The footage captured was a little blotchy and perhaps the bit rate of recording isn't quite high enough to detail with the higher frame rate and stabilising. It's a whole lot of data to be processing. The result is that the ability to catch clear footage in both light and dark (or in full sun then shadows) isn't as crisp as in say, 120FPS. But being able to film in 120FPS in Super View with HyperSmooth pushed all the way to Boost was really good. If you have a Hero 7 Black, the closest you will get is 100FPS with no stabilisation.

In general though, the clarity of what you can record with still photos or video is exceptional, and there is no doubt that it is the best yet. There's a lot of processing in the tiny camera going on, but thanks to the larger battery, battery life hasn't suffered. If you're making videos to earn or supplement a wage, you'd be crazy to not invest in a spare battery, but the battery life was clearly better than a Hero7 Black and especially better than a Hero5 Session.

The GoPro Hero9 Black has the voice activation as a carry over, and there are 14 commands. Along with the larger touchscreen on the back and the front facing LCD to see what's going on, it makes the GoPro easier to use than ever. Still, there's something about having a larger screen and the familiar touch and sensitivity of the device you use the most – your phone. And I think having the GoPro app on hand still makes for the easiest and most precise adjustments, especially with gloves and in what can be a dirty or noisy environment. The app is very useful for grabbing a photo from a video, or stringing together a short edit. You might even be able to do this on a shuttle ride between runs – it really can be that fast, especially if you use the GoPro Quik editing software.

Verdict

The GoPro Hero9 Black is undoubtedly the most powerful action camera I have used. The large sensor and battery life let it really take advantage of the beefed up software, making more stable and sharper videos, and higher resolution stills. With the greater levels of stabilisation and the customisation you can do with recording settings, the GoPro Hero9 Black is a must-have for anyone who makes a living from videos and photos. If you have been enjoying making videos of your rides and adventures, the Hero9 Black will make everything you shoot look a lot better thanks to the greater clarity of the larger sensor, and you're likely to enjoy the wider range of settings as well. But, if you just like to put your GoPro on your bike and record a trail here and there, $700 is a big upgrade if you already have a Hero7 or Hero8, which are both very, very good. You'd be better served investing the time in editing and understanding what you want to capture. And once you've done that – step up to the GoPro Hero9 and set about making your hero edits. But if you're in the market for a new camera, then step up to the one that is leading the way now – the Hero9 Black.

RRP: $699.95

From: GoPro.com.au

Hits:

Greater clarity, stabilisation and battery life

Easier to use with a larger screen and front facing screen

Functionality way beyond the scope of just action sports

High quality images and video

Misses:

Touchscreen still tough with gloves!

High end capability might be lost on those who want basic POV features.