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Several years ago I purchased a GoPro Hero Session with the intent to use it to record my fly fishing trips and biking activities. It served well for a few trips, but missing key footage opportunities over and over made it more frustrating than it was worth. Without a full display, I could never discern the series of beeps and lights to get it recording in the right mode or at the right time.
For the past several months, I had the opportunity to use the GoPro Hero9 Black, and compared to the older Session it has been a joy to use while skiing, fishing, biking, hiking, walking, and more. It not only has a rear color touch-sensitive display but a front color display that works well for framing the shot when you want to be in it with others. If you need any help figuring out what you can do with a GoPro, then make sure to check out this new article from GoPro.
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I haven't considered an action camera for the last few years because smartphones have amazing cameras and I didn't think there was a need for a dedicated camera. Turns out I was wrong as the affordable GoPro Hero9 Black is priced at more than half the cost of smartphones and has much more flexibility in the design to capture moments to serve as an essential companion to a smartphone. While I've spent time with the camera in many situations, there is a lot more I can do with it and that I plan to do with it over time.
As expected, the GoPro Hero9 Black is a rock solid small brick of hardware and unlike GoPros of the past you no longer need an extra accessory case to add waterproof capability. Out of the box you can charge it up and dive into the water for recording your favorite marine life or watersports activities. There are some convenient design features of the hardware so let's take a look around.
On the back we have a large 2.27-inch color touchscreen LCD display panel. Taps and swipes work to navigate the UI on the camera. The touch responsiveness isn't quite as fluid and instantaneous as we see on smartphones and smartwatches, but intentional swipes and taps have proven to be reliable and repeatable. There is a large bezel around the display with status indicator lights in the far left corner.
Flipping around to the front we see the handy 1.4-inch color display that is useful for framing the shot, especially if you are using the camera for livestreaming, YouTube video creation, or other times when you are the subject of the action. To the right of the display is the large camera sensor with a detachable lens cover. You can swap out the default lens cover for the Max Lens Mod that adds wider field-of-view and Max HyperSmooth stabilization with horizon lock or swap it out for a new one if the default cover gets scratched during your adventures. I had to search around to figure out how to remove the lens cover because just turning it counter-clockwise doesn't work. It turns out you have to pull the cover out a bit first and then rotate it, but even then it's not easy to initiate that first pull out move. Below the camera is a microphone for recording audio content with the GoPro.
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The power/mode button is positioned at the center of the left side. Below this is a drain for water and even though it looks like a door or latch do not try to pry it open and just leave it alone.
The door and latch to access the battery and USB-C port for charging is found on the right side of the GoPro Hero9 Black. When you insert your fingernail you pull down to release the latch and then lift up the door to access the battery and USB-C port. It snaps firmly into place when you close it to keep things sealed up.
The shutter button is found on the top and it sticks up just a bit with a matte finish and red circle on it. There is nothing else on the top of the camera.
A cool feature on the bottom is the integrated mounting bracket, aka folding fingers. Two pieces fold into the bottom of the camera and can be swung down 90 degrees to then serve as the standard two prongs for GoPro mounts. Overall, a very well designed piece of hardware that reduces the need for extra cases or mount attachments to get out and record.
The camera is capable of still and burst mode photos with 20MP output. A plethora of video recording options is present with 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios with wide, SuperView, linear, linear, and horizon leveling, and narrow lens options. You can record as high as 5K/30 fps down to 1080p 240 fps. Video file formats are MP4 (H.264/AVC) and MP4 (H.265/HEVC) with 100Mbps maximum video bit rate. There are also several options for time-lapse video and photo intervals and resolution quality.
Press the button on the left to turn on the GoPro Hero9 Black and the rear display will turn on with a live viewfinder image of what is in front of the camera. The remaining time/images left on your storage card will appear for the currently selected camera option in the top left with the selected camera mode (time-lapse, video, photo) in the center and the percentage remaining battery life in the top right.
Along the left side of the display are a timer, lens, and speed options. Two more icons are shown on the right side that control image type (including RAW), zoom level, HindSight, and more. These four shortcuts can be customized using the connected GoPro Quik smartphone software too. Tap one of the icons to view the various options, which may require a scroll up or down, and then tap to change the particular setting. It's very easy and intuitive to change settings, but there are quite a few options so make sure to read the manual for all of the details on the modes.
The center bottom on the viewfinder shows your selected mode (time-lapse, video, photo) and primary setting. For still photos, we see default options for wide, LiveBurst, burst, and night photos. The default for video includes standard (1080p/24fps/SuperView), activity (4K/30fps/linear), cinematic (4K/30fps/linear plus), and slo-mo (1080p/230fps/wide). Tapping on this lets you re-order these options and add/remove them too so that you can fully customize the camera software for your most used modes (up to 10) and settings. I recommend you spend some time figuring out your most used options for quick switching on the go.
To easily switch between the three main modes (time-lapse, video, photo) you simply swipe left and right on the main display. A swipe up takes you into review mode where you can see your last captured content that is still saved on your microSD card. Swipe right and left to view your other content.
Swipe down from the top to view a display of eight quick controls and then swipe from right to left to view buttons for connections and preferences. Preferences accessed here include general (beep volume, QuickCapture, video compression setting, time, date, and more), voice control toggle, display options, region, mod controls, and more.
Speaking of voice control, simply say "GoPro", followed by capture, stop capture, start recording, stop recording, take a photo, start time-lapse, stop time-lapse, video mode, photo mode, and much more (14 commands available). The microphone is in the front and I've had good success when in a quiet environment or speaking close to the mic, but voice control performance hasn't been that stellar.
A couple of settings available in the extensive camera software are HindSight and LiveBurst. HindSight lets you capture up to 30 seconds of video footage before you start recording so you can make sure you don't just miss that one moment or create some fun bloopers. The LiveBurst option is similar and records 1.5 seconds before and after your still photo. You can then scroll through frames to find the perfect short or even share the entire captured content as a short video.
While you can use a GoPro Hero9 Black as a stand-alone camera, the GoPro Quik smartphone software significantly enhances the experience and is required for some things, such as software updates. The software has seen regular updates and improvements since I started testing the camera and it is quite powerful.
When you launch the smartphone app then you will see your downloaded content with the ability to view your GoPro account settings. The Mural feature launched in December 2020 and gives you a streamlined view of your content with the intent to help you enjoy and share your content rather than capturing it and forgetting about it.
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Tap the top right icon in the software to connect to your GoPro camera in order to control the camera from your phone. You can enable a live preview of your camera, which can be very useful when your camera is set up somewhere and you want to remotely control it.
A very useful feature of the smartphone software is the ability to quickly set your camera preferences on the large display of your phone rather than the small display of the GoPro. I love the ability to customize each specific camera setting to your detailed requirements. This includes enabled HindSight, scheduled capture, timer, duration of capture, and even customizing the four shortcuts that appear on the viewfinder of the GoPro Hero9 Black. Your smartphone greatly simplifies the overall GoPro experience.
Live streaming from your camera through your smartphone is also supported through GoPro.com, Facebook, YouTube (you must have at least 1,000 subscribers), Twitch (iOS only), and RTMP. You need accounts for the service you wish to stream through with the GoPro.com option requiring a GoPro annual subscription.
Another way to optimize your GoPro Hero9 Black experiences is to consider using GoPro Labs where features are possible to optimize certain situations. These features are not yet present in the default camera software, but you may find them useful. I personally used the QR code control feature to create a code for a specific delayed action video to record the launch of a new Staten Island ferry launch in Florida where the GoPro Hero9 Black was secured to a steel bollard with the magnetic mount located about 200 yards away from where I was going to be standing in a safe zone. You can see a short video clip of this event below.
As mentioned below, you can save money on the GoPro Hero9 Black by purchasing a GoPro annual subscription. You will also see the subscription offer in the smartphone app so let's answer the question about what this is and if there is value in the subscription.
The GoPro annual subscription is priced at $49.99 per year and offers a few things that seem to make it worth the price. You can store 100% of your GoPro footage at 100% captured quality on GoPro's servers with the ability to backup the content from the app, the camera, or the website. Given how easy it is to use the camera and the vast amount of still and video capture options this alone seems worth the $50 fee per year.
One thing I found while using the GoPro Quik smartphone app is that there are some features in that software that are limited for non-subscribers. GoPro subscription customers receive access to advanced editing tools, including GoPro music, themes, filters, and more.
GoPro also offers subscribers significant discounts on mods, mounts, cases, batteries, and even the cameras. Savings can be as high as 50% off so if you buy lots of mounts and extra batteries the subscription can easily pay for itself.
Live streaming of your GoPro content can offer others a way to experience your adventures in real-time from the comfort of their homes or other locations. With a GoPro subscription, you can stream to the GoPro.com site and provide a private link to your stream, which is a great option for those who don't want to share their activities with the world.
Lastly, the GoPro subscription includes a no-questions asked camera replacement policy. There is a fee for a damaged camera replacement, $99 for a GoPro Hero9 Black, but GoPro offers two replacements in a subscription year. Lost cameras are not included since you must return the broken camera in order to receive a replacement. This policy offers some peace of mind and should encourage you to use your camera to its full potential.
There used to be decent GoPro alternatives, like the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 or various Sony action cams. DJI has the 2019 Osmo Action for $199 with many similar features and functions of the GoPro Hero9 Black. GoPro offers nearly twice the camera resolution and longer battery life, but that DJI price is nice.
The GoPro Hero9 Black is available for $399.99 with occasional free microSD card offers. If you add the GoPro annual subscription ($49.99) then GoPro takes $100 off of the Hero9 Black and throws in another battery. $349.98 for the GoPro Hero9 Black, a 64GB microSD card, an extra battery, and a one-year GoPro subscription is a pretty sweet deal. For $50 more you get a magnetic swivel clip, floating hand grip, and camera case.
There are a ton of accessory options for the GoPro Hero9 Black and many are now available at reduced prices from the standard prices. I had the chance to try out the Chesty mount that wraps over your shoulders to capture hands-free content from your chest, the head strap and quick clip that mount to your head for that perfect fly-fishing shot, and the Shorty tripod that also serves as a 8.9-inch selfie stick.
One unique feature of the GoPro Hero9 Black is the removable front camera lens cover. You can add a filter, such as the Hero9 Black Max Lens Mod that provides improved HyperSmooth stabilization and an ultra-wide 155-degree field-of-view.
The GoPro Hero9 Black has exceeded my expectations and has encouraged me to capture more content than if I was simply using my smartphone camera. While a smartphone camera is great for many things, there is clearly a market for an action camera that is much more portable, more durable, and more affordable. The mounting options seem almost limitless and provide content creators with the ability to be creative with the capture and editing of footage.
I continue to explore ways to use the Hero9 Black and find myself seeking outdoor adventure opportunities that I can capture with the camera. It's clear that I will be purchasing one of these cameras for myself and also subscribing to the annual service since there is a lot of value in both.
Fly fishing season on local rivers just kicked off a few weeks ago and I'll be heading out with the GoPro Hero9 Black on my hat and then on my net as I capture trout fishing success to share with my family and friends who can't get out to stand in the fast clear waters of local rivers.
GoPro did a fantastic job with the improvements in the GoPro Hero9 Black and I recommend you check out some of the cool software features in GoPro Labs as we get a glimpse of what is to come in future updates. If you are looking for a very capable camera for capturing more than extreme adventures, the GoPro Hero9 Black is highly recommended.