(Pocket-lint) – GoPro has finally done it: put a colour screen on the front of a camera, bringing it more in line with the DJI Osmo Action, and while it was at it decided we needed a bigger battery too. That means you can finally see yourself when you’re filming, and you can shoot for longer.
With that said, its predecessor – the Hero 8 Black – was and still is a great action camera. So should you stump up the extra for the 9 or will the Hero 8 do everything you need it too?
Design and Displays
- Hero 8: 66.3 x 48.6 x 28.4mm
- Hero 9: 71.0 x 55.0 x 33.6mm
- Hero 8: Monochrome status screen on the front
- Hero 9: Colour live preview screen on the front
- Both: Built-in mounting arms
- Both: Colour touchscreen on the back, Hero 9 larger
- Both: Waterproof to 10m
The Hero 8 Black was an important product for GoPro, freeing the company from the constraints of needing to fit its tech into a specific size body, just so it would fit in the mounting accessories. Instead, it built-in mounting arms to the bottom of the camera, allowing you to mount it to all the accessories, without a clip-on shell, and that has returned in the Hero 9.
That’s seen GoPro increase the size of its flagship action camera by a noticeable – but not huge – amount. It’s a few millimetres taller, wider and thicker than the 8 Black, but the trade-off should prove worth it for the bigger battery and more powerful internals. Plus, the bigger screen and colour screen on the front.
Speaking of those displays, the latest model’s front screen is full colour and can be used as a live preview display, while the 8 Black has the more traditional monochrome status display which only shows you status information.
Both cameras feature a similar design in terms of button and port placement. They both have the shutter button on the top and the mode/power button on the left edge. However, the mode/power button on the 9th gen protrudes more from the surface and is much easier to press and to feel without looking. The Hero 8’s button is flush with the surface, and so virtually impossible to find by touch.
Just underneath that, the Hero 9 also has a speaker designed to pump out water, similar the feature Apple has used in its watches for a while. So if you do take it underwater to test its 10m depth resistance, it will expel any water that seeps into the speaker channels.
Video capture and streaming
- Hero 8: Up to 4K/60 FHD/240 footage
- Hero 9: Up to 5K/30, 4K/60, FHD/240
- Both: 1080p live streaming
Both Heros support a wide range of resolution and frame-rate combinations at various focal lengths, thanks to the ‘digital lenses’ that are built into the software.
As far as resolution goes, the Hero9 is the champ here. It can shoot up to 5K resolution at 16:9 ratio with wide, linear and narrow ‘lenses’. At 4K resolution, it can go up to 60 frames per second and up to 240 frames per second at 1080p. It can also shoot at 2.7k resolution, and various resolutions using up to4K at 4:3 ratio. Hero 8 is similar, except it maxes out at 4K resolution. It also doesn’t feature horizon levelling feature available at certain settings.
Both cameras can be used for live streaming and both can do so at 1080p resolution. Both also use a combination of EIS and algorithms to stabilise footage using a feature called HyperSmooth. With the Hero 9, that’s been boosted further, making it even smoother than before while also offering the horizon levelling feature. What’s more, if you buy the additional Max lens you get horizon levelling on everything, even when you rotate the camera 360-degrees.
Stills and performance
- Hero 8: 12MP stills
- Hero 9: 20MP stills
- Both: SuperPhoto + HDR
- Both: RAW support
- Hero 8: 1220mAh battery
- Hero 9: 1720mAh battery
- Both: GP1 chip
There are two big performance upgrades with the Hero 9: Photo resolution and battery life. It has a 20-megapixel sensor versus the 12-megapixel sensor on the previous model. Similarly, it has a higher capacity battery, with an additional 500mAh on top of the 8th gen’s 1220mAh battery to give a total of 1720mAh.
GoPro says you’ll get an extra 30% video capture time from that battery, and that is definitely useful when it comes to action cameras. There’s nothing worse than running the battery flat during a downhill biking session.
Both cameras have the same image/data processor – called the GP1 – and they both support RAW image capture as well as GoPro’s advanced HDR image processing.
- Hero 8: $299 with a subscription ($349 without)
- Hero 9: $399 with a subscription ($499 without)
The most cost-effective way to buy a new Hero camera is with an annual GoPro subscription. If you buy the Hero 8 with the subscription, the camera will cost you $299/£279, while the Hero 9 is $399/£329. If you buy the cameras without the subscription, the Hero 8 is $349/£329 and the Hero 9 is $499/£429.
Given the added value of the subscription – which gets you unlimited cloud storage, a replacement camera when yours breaks and accessory discounts – it makes complete sense to opt for that with the lower upfront outlay. You get 12 months subscription paid for in advance with that price. GoPro is obviously hoping users stick around for more than a year and keep subscribing afterwards.
Given the price difference, the Hero 8 Black is actually very good value for money. It’s $100/£100 cheaper than the Hero 9 but does a lot of the same stuff.
With that said, with its new colour screen, higher resolution sensor and longer battery life the additional outlay is definitely worth it for the Hero 9. Especially when you consider that its price with the subscription is only a little higher than the price of the Hero 8 Black without a subscription.
If you want the best action camera going, grab the Hero 9. If you’d rather save the cash, or if you’re coming from an older model like the Hero 5 or Hero 6, the Hero 8 will do you just fine and is still a major upgrade on those two.
Writing by Cam Bunton.