GoPro Hero 9 review: Vlog the apocalypse and have fun while doing it

Leave the bulky mirrorless or DSLR at home. It'll only slow you down when you're running from virus-infected zombies.

2020 has taught us one thing: prepare for the worst. You've got your mask, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and a stocked pantry. Now you need a camera that can capture this hellish nightmare without breaking down on you. You need a GoPro Hero 9 Black.

A bigger mirrorless or DSLR is going to weigh you down when you're running from the zombies, errr, virus. The Hero 9 is small, rugged, waterproof, and shoots up to 5K resolution. It's built for doomsday scenarios. The battery lasts longer than the previous Hero 8 and there's a screen on the front for vlogging. Nobody's gonna believe you survived the apocalypse if you don't vlog it.

The Hero 9's normally $450, but you can easily find it on sale for $400. Why not use your phone? You don't wanna waste its battery, dummy.

The Hero 9 is the biggest upgrade to the GoPro since the Hero 5 introduced the integrated rugged and waterproof design in 2015. The Hero 9 is a little larger in all directions than the Hero 8 Black (pictured), but that's to fit a front-facing screen, bigger battery hatch, and new image sensor.


The size of the color LCD on the front.

The back touchscreen is bigger too: 2.27 inches versus 1.95 inches on the Hero 8.

For GoPro, the color screen is new. In the action camera world, it's catch up to DJI's Osmo Action, which was the first to put a color screen on the front for framing footage.

The mounting system is the exact same as past GoPros so all of your old clips and clamps are compatible.

I highly recommend pairing the Hero 9 with a Shorty tripod. It's the perfect accessory for vlogging with this camera.

Battery life is longer (about 30 percent compared to the Hero 8 Black). That's because the battery is literally bigger. The downside: any old GoPro batteries you own won't work with the Hero 9.

One of the most underrated features is the modular system. Twist the default lens cover off and you can add the Max Lens Mod, which not only widens the field of view, but adds even better electronic stabilization from the Max 360-degree action camera.

Using the Max Mod is like adding half of the GoPro Max's capabilities. The mod does cost a pretty penny: $99.99. So you better really need the extra FOV and stabilization.

The front camera is great for vlogging and taking selfies. You no longer need to shoot wider and crop in later. What you see on the screen is what you get. It took forever for GoPro to get with the times, but it's here and it's good. Nothing to complain about.

But what you really want to know is how the Hero 9's video compares to the Hero 8. Is it really that much better? Let's take a look at the stabilization.

Hero 9

Video stabilization is noticeably smoother versus the Hero 8 Pro. You can also see dynamic range is better on the Hero 9 than the 8.

Hero 8

It's no contest. The Hero 8's HyperSmooth stabilization was great a year ago, but looks like total jank city when pitted against the new stabilization on the Hero 9.

Hero 9

The improved stabilization isn't always super obvious. In less shaky conditions, it's nearly as smooth as the Hero 8.

Hero 8

The Hero 9 for sure captures smoother video in bouncy situations, but the Hero 8's can sometimes hold its own.

The Hero 9 Black's biggest weakness remains low-light video. As soon as the light fades, you can be sure your footage is going to be dark and grainy.

There's a bunch of other fun video upgrades like speed ramp controls for TimeWarp capture and the ability to schedule the camera to turn on 24 hours in advance. The latter is great for recording sunrises and sunsets. The Hero 9 wakes up and records while you get some extra sleep.

Let's also not forget the Hero 9 takes higher resolution 20-megapixel photos. But from what I've seen, they're actually worse than the 12-megapixel photos from the Hero 8. In the next few sets, you can see the Hero 8 takes better HDR photos.

Hero 9

Hero 8

The sky is properly exposed in the Hero 8 photo and blown out in the Hero 9 image. The Hero 9 produces a brighter photo, but that doesn't mean the details are sharper. Let's zoom in on both shots.

Hero 9

Hero 8

At a glance, the Hero 9 photo looks alright. But take a closer look and just what is going on with my skin? The image processing is so aggressive it's mushing all the details and turning them into worm-like oil paintings. (We've seen this bad image processing in new phones like Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.) Just to be sure, I took many more comparisons. Here's one more from another day.

Hero 9

Hero 8

Hero 9

Hero 8

There's clearly some kind of step back for HDR. The sky is overexposed again. The Hero 9 photo isn't as squiggly in this second set, but it goes overboard with the image sharpening. It's like someone sprayed my face with salt and pepper. Does any of this matter when you post it to your Instagram? Not at all. But it's becoming a trend that more resolution ≠ better photos.

In all seriousness, whether you're documenting the world burning down or just trying to start as a YouTuber, vlogger, or creator, the Hero 9 Black is a great little camera. This kind of stabilization is unheard of in such small cameras.

It's got some limitations, but the Hero 9 is hands down the best action camera you can get. I rarely leave my house without it now since it slips in my pockets so easily. Just in case some crazy shit goes down and I need to vlog it. Hey, you never know!

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