If you’ve never bought a GoPro before, will the new Hero 8 Black model, out Oct. 20, be the one that finally sways you to spend $400 on a durable camera to capture your most exciting moments on the go? Probably not, if you ask me.
But let’s back up a step — I am perhaps the worst person to review the new GoPro. I’ve never taken a helicopter up the face of a mountain in Alaska to snowboard down an “avalanche wall.” I’ve never been surprised by a great white shark alone on my longboard.
Sending me on this “Spring Break Party Cruise” would be like sending me to hell, but worse, because I’d have to take videos of it.
My idea of an action sport is sitting very quietly in meditation on a yoga mat while my guru whispers affirmations. It’s very relaxing, but there’s not a lot of photo opportunities in inner peace.
In other words, I am not the textbook GoPro user. But I’ve always wanted to try one. The video looks crisp. People look like they're having fun. Who wouldn’t want that? So I was excited to try it out. I was really curious if I, a brisk walker at best, could find some use for the best action sports camera on the market.
Let’s run through the features. The camera sports a 12-megapixel camera, the same as the Hero 7 Black (and as Apple’s iPhone 11) and shoots footage at 100 megabits per second. Like last year’s model, it’s waterproof to 33 feet and comes with voice control, 8x slow-motion filming, GPS, and stereo audio recording.
What all this means is that if you are knocked off a whale-watching cruise while filming, you will still capture clear, sharp footage and sound — assuming you fall no more than 33 feet into the water.
The big changes from previous GoPros are what the company bills as HyperSmooth 2.0 — image stabilization across all levels of resolution and frame rates, a one-tap slow-motion filming mode, and LiveBurst, a camera mode which allows you to take a 3-second videos or the best frame from the series as a photo — which, if you’re like me, a scrub at taking photos and video, is pretty nifty. In plain English, the camera does a lot to make it easy for you to shoot better. Also new this year is a built-in mount for accessories at the bottom of the camera, with two little folding fingers that pop out and pop back flush when not in use.
Speaking of scrubitude, the Hero 8 Black now comes with preset shooting modes that take some of the guesswork out of shot selection: standard, activity, cinematic, and slo-mo. Standard works for day-to-day videos that focus on people, activity is for fast-paced sports shots, cinematic is wide-angled for landscapes, and slo-mo is 8x slower than real life. And what used to be known as the Quik video-editing app, previously downloaded separately, now comes built into the GoPro app to handle video editing, a chore under even the best of circumstances. It's all good stuff.
On the downside, the battery life drained awfully quickly in my tests — about an hour and a half before I had to recharge it. And the thing got surprisingly hot to the touch while I was using it. Ouch.
But that may not be the market that really matters here. The more important question is: If you’ve never thought about buying a GoPro, will the Hero 8 Black convince you to take the plunge down the avalanche wall?
That would certainly be good news for the company, which has faced difficulties in recent years. The stock price has slid precipitously from an all-time high of $93.85 a share in October 2014 to its current price, at around $5 a share. After layoffs, the company began turning quarterly profits again, but its long-term health remains tied to sales of its flagship product.
I spent a few weeks playing around with camera, mounting it to my wrist with a strap, carrying it around to snap photos, and holding it on a long selfie stick.
What did I discover? Burst photo was pretty nifty for taking shots of ducks at Lake Merritt on my morning runs. But who wants to look at a photo of a duck? I don’t. It’s just a duck. I liked having the preset video modes, but I mostly came up empty with things to film.
As we said about iPhones, if you like the GoPro, spend what you can afford and buy the newest device. If the DJI Osmo Action is already your camera of choice, it’s not clear to me that these incremental improvements would be enough to lure you to switch models.
The Hero 8 Black is really cool. It’s a pro-grade camera in a tiny, rugged frame. It’s incredibly well designed. If you like GoPros, this is the best one they’ve ever made. If you’re ready for a new one, you should buy it. If you’ve never taken the 33 foot deep plunge, I don’t know if there’s enough here to lure you.