This post is not a sponsored post, but the GoPro Hero 9 camera was provided by GoPro.
When I wrote the initial newser for the GoPro Hero9 Black (read it here!), I was very impressed by the camera’s specs. The HyperSmooth 3.0 stabilization system, improved battery life, even 5k/30 fps video, if you needed it—this stuff was sci-fi only a generation ago.
So, when GoPro offered to send me one to test, I was excited to work with it. I’ve messed around with a few of the lower-end cameras over the years, and was curious to see just how capable the Hero9 Black would be, considering I know nothing of videography, and I’m also a crap photographer. This review is from that perspective; if you want a more experienced viewpoint, check out rtwpaul’s excellent write-up here.
Out of the box
After opening the box and charging the camera, I started the connection process to my smartphone. Download the app, press the appropriate buttons, and the camera and phone instantly recognize each other, and connect via Bluetooth. So far, so good. The initial connection was easier than just about any other gadget I’ve used.
You can control the camera via the app, but the first few times I had the new GoPro out, I didn’t sync it with my phone. I just used the camera’s onboard interface, and found it refreshingly simple. For a few weeks, I packed the camera along when I was doing early-winter bushcraft projects, and filmed the kids playing around the house, just so I could get familiar with the camera’s buttons and options.
The touchscreen on the back is easy-peasy for basic stuff; however, if you really want to get into the camera’s more complicated settings, you’ll want the app. Before you start filming your motorcycle rides, I suggest you run through rtwpaul’s article on settings, and configure your Hero9 Black accordingly, if you’re a noob like me. It’ll cut some time off the learning process.
On the trails
Sadly, it’s winter here on Canada’s east coast, and that means motorcycle riding is mostly done until spring. However, I did manage to get out for a ride on Christmas Eve; I was getting a bad case of cabin fever, and I wanted to see if the GoPro’s in-camera stabilization would work, especially during the cold.
Previously, I’ve used four different action cameras: two Waspcam cameras, a Contour Roam2 and a Sena Prism Tube Wifi. The Waspcams are relatively fidgety to turn on/off in-flight, and they’ve rightly been discontinued for their poor overall quality. The Contour Roam2 had an easy sliding on/off switch, but alas, only takes 720p footage, so it’s been retired. The Sena also had an easy, sliding on/off switch, and takes decent 1080p footage . . . but like the Contour, the camera body is extremely vulnerable to dust getting into that switch. And it only shoots 1080p footage as well.
The GoPro Hero9 is almost as easy to operate in-flight as the Contour and Sena cameras; get the GoPro into standby mode, and there’s an audible beep when you press the top bottom to begin filming, and another when you press the top button to turn it off. There’s no guessing as to whether you’re actually filming (you can turn the beep off, if you want). I got through the day, even had a slow-speed get-off (which I unfortunately didn’t record), and the camera made out fine.
Looking at the footage
So, how did I make out with my initial riding adventure with the GoPro? When I got home and looked at the footage, I was impressed.
I’d used a chest mount, so I wasn’t expecting much footage to be too shaky, but the HyperSmooth stabilization made it even better than I imagined. Same goes for the horizon leveling function. I signed up for GoPro’s subscription service, uploaded the footage to the cloud, and then started editing on my phone with the GoPro app. You can see the initial result below:
From the time I spent monkeying around with it, it seems the GoPro app is really only aimed at producing simple clips for social media, not any serious work. Having said that, it’s packed with capabilities to fast-forward footage, change exposure and other settings—basically, the same level of jiggery-pokery that comes with an Instagram filter.
I think there’s some way of including the original sound, but I wasn’t able to figure it out. You’re going to notice there’s no engine sound (instead, you get ill beats from The Sound Defects). After digging around on Google, it seems other users have the same problem. I’m sure it’s something I missed, but eventually I got tired of looking, and just published the video.
You can see the footage above is only 1080p, despite being filmed at 4k. That’s because the Android version of the GoPro app downgrades the video; from what I can figure from GoPro’s own guides, I believe the iOS version will export 4k.
By the way—just for kicks, I ran the same video clips through the Adobe Rush app on my phone. The free version of Rush offers less functionality than the GoPro app, but as you can see, at least you can hear the engine.
Long term learning
So, based on the first few weeks of fooling around with the GoPro Hero9 Black, what’s my opinion of it?
First off, I can’t believe GoPro can sell this camera so cheaply. At time of writing, GoPro sells the Hero9 Black with a one-year membership in GoPro’s subscription service, and an extra battery and 64Gb SD card thrown in, all for US $350. That’s a lot of money for a toy, but it’s insanely low-priced considering what you’re getting.
That’s the hook GoPro uses to attract customers. The camera’s HyperSmooth 3.0 function, the horizon leveling and other powerful onboard capabilities will deliver stable, good-looking footage, as long as you’ve got the settings right (and it’s not that hard).
But on the flip side, even if your camera takes nice footage, you’ve still got to assemble that footage into a coherent video. Having the video camera doesn’t make you Bruce Brown. You’ve got to learn what to shoot, and you’ve got to learn what to do with that footage afterwards.
This is where I found myself frustrated with the process. While the GoPro and my Samsung S9 phone connected easily, I found it difficult to do much with the footage until I signed up for GoPro’s cloud storage. At times, the communication between the phone and camera became very buggy, even with the app and Hero9 fully updated.
This could be because the S9 isn’t the latest-gen phone, or it could be because it’s an Android device; I’d expect the GoPro app to work best on iOS, because that’s how the mobile world works. Or it could be because I’m not a techie, but I don’t think that’s the issue.
Instead, I think buyers need to realize buying a GoPro Hero9 is only the first part of making decent moto films. You can use the GoPro app to make shorter stuff to share on social media, or quick YouTube hits. That’s not a bad thing; the GoPro Hero9 Black is excellent for vlogging, thanks to its front-facing screen. If you want to do quick updates from the road, share short riding clips, that sort of thing, this camera will work well and you won’t have to invest huge amounts of time learning how to do that. This is probably what most buyers actually want from their GoPro.
However, you’ll need a proper computer and editing software if you want to move into making actual films. You’ll need to spend money, and have time to learn how to edit properly. Filmmaking is easier and more accessible than ever before, but that doesn’t mean you can just point the camera and have a modern version of On Any Sunday.
Still, this camera means that option is now much more easily accessible to today’s filmmakers. Riders like Lyndon Poskitt, Noraly Schoenmaker and others have already taken ADV filmography to the next level with GoPro’s gadgets. They, and other riders like them, now have an even more powerful tool in their hands.
The bottom line
Although I’ve had a few action cameras over the years, none were GoPros, and none used GoPro’s subscription service. Yet, with a bit of help from rtwpaul’s guide, some YouTube tutorials, and Jorden Hetrick’s book on the camera (pictured above), I found it straightforward to use. Despite some minor frustrations with the app, it’s powerful enough for what most users require. So, from a noob’s perspective, this camera is pretty idiot-proof. It might not turn you into a proper filmmaker, but it can set you on your way, and if nothing else, you can make some cool Facebook/Instagram/YouTube clips along the way.