GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500

Alex Alex 17 September
GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500

Just about every month, I'm testing a new camera, but the month that I get an action camera are by far my favorite.

The GoPro Hero 9. It is more robust in almost every single way. It's got a bigger battery, a bigger body. It's got bigger battery photo and video resolutions. And for the first time ever, it comes in a reusable case that is completely plastic free, which honestly, thank God. I, I love to see that, but first bigger thing, it's actual physical size.

It is noticeably larger than last year's Hero 8. A bit thicker, a bit wider, a bit taller.GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500 And this never got in the way of where I wanted to mount it or how it felt to carry it around. GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500And it still has the same size dual mounting prongs for use with all previous action camera mounts you might have.

With the larger size comes a larger back touchscreen too. It's 2.27 inches diagonally. It has that same USBC micro SD card slot and battery compartment on one side, along with the start stop button up on the top and the power and mode button on the side. GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500Underneath the mode button, there's also this like weird latch looking piece that I really thought was removable. It is, it is not. GoPro explained that this is a drain mic. Basically, it's the first mic to drain of water when you go from being underwater to above water so you can get that sweet underwater to above water audio switched on.

Tech is a tool, and I certainly treat it as such and within my two weeks of using the Hero 9 and absolutely not going easy on it, there're no scratches or dings to be found. Overall, the fear of breaking this camera is just nonexistent.

If the lens were to get scratched though, GoPro brought back a feature that the eight didn't have, but the seven did and Oh, well I missed it on the eight, a removable lens cover. GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500I think this creates a much better way of mounting ND filters and lens modes, which I'll get to in a little bit. But unfortunately, if you have ND filters for the Hero 7, they will not fit on the Hero 9. There're no backwards compatibility here.

The next bigger thing, which it also comes in the hardware department and my favorite new feature to the Hero 9 is a front screen. GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500I would say 80% of the time when I'm using a GoPro, I am facing the front of the camera when framing the shot. Which leads to my favorite tradition of shooting with a GoPro. And that's what I call the GoPro face. It's like that first frame that you get when you click record and you're like still kind of like hoping that the shot is like framed well. If you shoot on a GoPro, you know what I mean.

I'm usually putting the camera in a location that I can't get behind to see the frame. And I'll be honest with you, it takes too much time still for me to pull out my phone, to check the frame, to make sure it's all good. And I always just kind of risk it, but with having a front facing screen, I can actually see my frame while mounting the camera. And that is huge. Like dudes, I can not stress this enough. That is huge. And the Osmo Action had this and I loved it on that camera. And I'm just so happy to see it come to GoPros line.

Within the setting's menu, you can also change the screen ratio of the front screen, what information it displays or toggle it on and off. There's a bit of a lag on that front screen when you're recording, but otherwise the colors are vivid. And I was able to see all the information I needed such as battery life and card space very clearly.

With more screens though comes more power use. So GoPro bumped up the battery from 1220 Milliamp Hours on the Hero 8 to 1720 Milliamp Hours on the Hero 9. For heavy use, two batteries will still be needed to get through a full day and much like on the Hero 8, but during my very chill vacation days when I was only turning it on to use it and then turning it right off and really only watching playback. Once I was back at the cabin at night, I was able to get through one day on one battery, which is right on par with the Hero 8. Oh and I also always had both the front and back screens on because why not?

The next bigger thing: resolution. This camera's 20 megapixel sensor can record inGoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500

It's almost too many options. Like I just don't think I could possibly use all of those, but I'm sure there is a use case for every single one. That 5k, that that's new and it is crisp. Personally, I dig the GoPro color option that is super punchy in the saturation and keeps a high level of contrast and pair those vibrant colors with the amazing in-camera stabilization and bingo, bingo. You have some really nice looking footage that if you're out putting in 4K, you can even punch in and reframe a little bit with.

And speaking of stabilization, there is even a bigger, I guess, more robust, hyper smooth 3.0, as opposed to the 2.0 that we had in the eight. And it's still incredible. I mean, I am constantly impressed with hyper smooth.

And new this year is an in camera, horizontal leveling option when shooting the linear frame, which is a bit cropped in from the wide frame. To a point, this keeps the horizon level on the screen, straight out of the camera.

There's also a new duration capture and a schedule capture mode for time lapses and also a hindsight mode, which can save the last 15 or 30 seconds of video that happened before you hit the shutter button. Now the one kind of downside to this is that it does run the battery down just a bit more because technically the camera is constantly recording.

The photos from the 20 megapixel sensor are pretty good. And I was a bit disappointed with the speed at which the HDR photos need to process. And I was not overly impressed with how the shadows are brought up to a bit of extreme levels in HDR mode, in my personal opinion. But with the HDR turned off, the photos are punchy. They're bright and they're crisp. The next step would truly be adding an astrophotography mode to this thing. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge GoPro.

Last but not least GoPro is releasing some modes with the Hero 9 and more specifically, the max lens mode. GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500Now last spring, they released a media mode for the Hero 8, which had a directional mic on it, had HDMI port on it. It even had like a cold shoe mount on it, which is really cool. And they're going to have one of those for the Hero 9 as well, but for the first time ever, they're releasing a lens mode. Anyway, this creates a little bit wider frame on your Hero 9 and it also allows for complete horizontal leveling, no matter the orientation of the camera, because it creates a spherical image onto the sensor. Now with that, you can only record up to 2.7 K, which is a bit of a downfall, but if I'm being honest, my favorite use case of this mode was putting it on the Hero 9 and not telling the Hero 9 that I put it on. And then it created this like awesome circle image that looked like gee fish I love.GoPro Hero 9 review: 5K powerhouse under $500

 GoPro claims that latest version of firmware has some crisper image quality. It has improved exposure. And then it also improved touch sensitivity. I found those all to be true. Footage looks great. Camera's super touch responsive. And the images is of course hella crisp.

So the Hero 9, wow. I mean, they brought that the removable lenses, and they're rolling out modes. It's got a bigger battery, larger sensor. It does 5K video. And most importantly, they finally made the front screen useful. But for all these big improvements, there is a bigger price tag. It's available today, starting at $449 or $349 on GoPro's website when you also purchase a one-year subscription to GoPro plus. Know, in my mind, $449 is still a reasonable price for bigger everything. Sure. You can grab the Hero 8 Black for $350 or DJI's Osmo action for 250, but neither of those cameras can shoot at 5k. And then there's Insta360 One R with that one inch sensor mode for $500, but that's $50 more expensive. And I prefer the color that the GoPro puts out. Add that all up and well, the biggest baddest action camera in the game right now. I think it's the GoPro Hero 9.

Is the GoPro back on top in terms of action cameras? Is it thinking again? Let me know down below. 

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