Think of an action camera, and you’re probably thinking of a GoPro – and for good reason. Over the last ten years, GoPro has pioneered the ultra-portable camera market, cramming cutting-edge tech into devices smaller than a matchbox.
But in 2021, there’s competition from the likes of DJI, Sony, Insta 360 and others. Should GoPro be your first stop when it comes to action cameras? What's The Best's Curtis Molrich puts it to the test.
Build quality and durability
If you’re familiar with GoPros, the Hero 9 should feel very familiar, as it looks a lot like the Hero 8 and Hero 7 before it. Slightly larger and heavier this time around, GoPro’s new flagship keeps the same build quality we’ve come to expect from the brand – and in several areas, it’s more robust. For example, the battery and memory card hatch feels more solid than before, and its increased footprint makes it reassuringly heavy at 158g.
Build quality is key for the Hero 9 as, unlike some previous GoPros, it doesn’t necessarily use or require a case. The Hero 9’s mounting points are neatly stowed in its bottom surface, so although your existing GoPro cages won’t work, the points you attach them to should be compatible.
The Hero 9’s screen is also protected, but by a removable lens protector as previously seen in the Hero 7 – and weirdly left off the Hero 8. That means it’ll be far cheaper to fix any lens damage on this GoPro than on its predecessor.
Take a closer look at the Hero 9 and you’ll find some other subtle upgrades. The rear screen is now 2.27-inches which makes it around 20% larger than the one on the Hero 8. Turn it around and there’s also a 1.4-inch display on the front of the camera – putting this GoPro in the same category as the Akai Brave 7 LE and the DJI Osmo Action camera. Too small for serious composition but ideal for framing, it’s another useful addition. Need more battery life, and it’s possible to make it a ‘status only’ display.
The best price for the Hero 9 right now is £359.99 from Argos, but there are also some cheaper used options available on Amazon.
Performance and specs
Inside, the Hero 9 gets the specs you’d hope for from the ultimate GoPro. A 23.6 MP sensor means the flagship GoPro can capture 5K footage at 30fps. It’s as crisp as you’d expect, though produces extremely large files – we’d settle for the only slightly less crisp 4K footage at a smoother 60fps.
And if you’re really into smoothness, you’ll love HyperSmooth 3.0. Simply put, it’s the latest version of GoPro’s constantly refined stabilisation technology and it’s even better in the Hero 9. Featuring super smooth stabilisation when walking, jogging or riding, it’s one of the best features of the GoPro Hero 9.
It also now includes Horizon-locking, which keeps the horizon of your footage will level even if the camera is turned over 180-degrees. On paper, it’s something of a gimmick, but spend some time with it and it’s able to unlock some interesting creative avenues – particularly if you use an extension pole.
Colour-wise, expect the same bold punchy hues by default, like every other GoPro before the Hero 9. It’s an acquired taste, but one that tends to work with the footage most action camera users will be shooting.
Less impressive is the Hero 9’s low-light footage. Slightly grainy and lacking the crispness of daylight footage, it’s one of the main drawbacks of having a larger 23.2MP sensor.
TimeWarp 3.0 makes for slightly improved timewarps, though we didn’t this feature as much, and the GoPro lasted between 90-100 minutes per charge.
If you’re already very familiar with GoPros then at around £350, the Hero 9 is worth checking out. However, those new to the action camera scene may do best to check out competition such as the DJI Osmo Action and the Insta360 One first.
Action cameras such as the incredible Insta360 One R and the extremely affordable Osmo Action mean getting an action camera isn’t as simple as buying the latest GoPro anymore – and the Hero 9 doesn’t do anything to change that.
However, GoPro’s latest flagship does keep up to the competition, and in some areas, it beats it; HyperSmooth 3.0 continues to be in a league of its own, 5K is nice to have, and after an update, we found the touchscreen on the Hero 9 slightly easier to use than that of the Insta 360. Software-wise, we also found GoPro’s Quik app provides a much easier experience than some of the competition.
What to read next:
Curtis Moldrich has worked in the technology sector for the last few years, reviewing and testing the best audio gear, laptops and gadgets at titles including The Telegraph, Mixmag and Expert Reviews. Now the online editor of CAR magazine, he's a keen sim-racer, too.
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