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GoPro Hero 11 review: One change makes all the difference

Shooting excellent video has never been simpler, yet competitors are gaining ground.

The concept of a camera used only for “activity” seems a bit out of date in modern times. In 2022, social media will rule, and action will be but one aspect of that. Brands with stakes in the game are well aware of this, as seen by the recent GoPro models and the competition. Enter the Hero 11 Black, where everything has a decidedly skate-dad feel to it.

In terms of what’s new, you’re out of luck if your bingo card mentioned “physical design.” Significant redesigns appear to occur every three to four years, but for the time being, the Hero 11 is identical to the 10 save for the addition of a 1 in place of the 0 on the side.

However, there are a few additional shooting modes as normal. The maximum resolution for Super View is now 5K60/4K120 (before, it was 4K/60). Similar improvements are made to still photos, which go from 23 to 27 megapixels. There is also universal 10-bit colour. The astute among you will have noticed that this indicates the presence of a new sensor, which is essential to some of the further new functions listed below. Despite the change from 1 /2.3 to 1 /1.9, the additional megapixels don’t appear to have significantly improved low light performance (and so, no such claim is made). Instead, you now have more pixels at your disposal.

In fact, two of the primary new features are made possible by this bigger, higher sensor: The first is a linear mode 360-degree horizon lock (up to 5.3K/30). On the Hero 10, horizon-leveling was already quite nice, but it is now flawless. This can be employed for artistic effect if your activities frequently involve turning in small spaces or literally whirling your body around. You can really simply forget about all of that now if, like me, you have a tendency to mount your camera wonkily. Similar horizon lock features are offered by both DJI’s new Osco Action 3 and the Insta360, although GoPro’s is available in frame rates like 4K/60 and 2.7K/120, while DJI’s, for instance, bottoms out at 2.7K/60.

The capacity to record in “Full Frame” is the sensor’s second and, arguably, biggest benefit. This isn’t a camera mode in the traditional sense, though you can use it that way if you prefer 8:7, 5.3K video. It’s more of a tool for shooting everything and later “punching out” the desired aspect ratio (or several aspect ratios). With Full Frame, you could, for instance, shoot once and output a 4K, 16:9 video for YouTube and a 9:16 version for Tikor. If you like, both have entirely different framing. Alternately, you could simply kind of set and forget it and frame the shot later.

If you’re not sure which shooting mode to choose, this tool has a lot of promise. I put it to the test by perpendicularly putting the camera to the frame of my bicycle (turning the bike into a dolly of sorts). I pounded out a traditional 16:9 edit and a mobile-friendly 9:16 version after riding passed some very appealing terrain. I was able to remove much of the pavement from the landscape footage, which allowed me to concentrate on the subject. Although there was no loss of resolution and the mobile version still looked better than if I had to cut it out of a 16:9, this particular photo wasn’t deemed fit for portrait. Regardless, the Full Frame function enhanced both videos, and the fact that I could frame them differently inspired me to consider additional creative things I could do with it.

You might find yourself needing to work backwards if there was a drawback. For instance, when picking the aspect ratio I wanted to punch out later, I noticed that I was filling the screen and had to settle for a strange crop. I then made a brief introduction to camera using the front screen to frame myself. Something I would have stayed away from if I had started my recording in a fixed FOV, say 16:9.

In keeping with frames, GoPro has introduced a new “digital lens” called HyperView, which is their marketing term for Field of View. The business first introduced Super View back in 2013, forcing everything on the sensor into a 16:9 aspect ratio. Although it is a little intense, first-person shots definitely feel quicker and more immersive. HyperView is essentially that, although it’s a little crazy because it uses a new, taller sensor.

Obviously, you won’t want to utilize this one for every image, but for some, it should be your go-to. I gave it a try while mounted on my handlebars, and as I passed, it was clear how twisted the trees and buildings were. Even worse, the slightly off-center viewpoints gave the impression that I was viewing a first-person shooter game from the 1990s.

Having said that, I took a second photo while skating around town with the camera hanging low by my board, and I can’t stop watching it. I had the impression that I was inside the cockpit of a small FPV drone due to the close proximity to the ground and the speed and intensity of the objects passing past. Even I, who was travelling reasonably fast in reality, felt the urge to slow down after watching the video.

The opportunity to test another major feature—automatically created highlight videos—might have now been ideal at this point. For a few years now, GoPro has steadily made it simpler to create an engaging edit from the data on your SD card. Now that the business is using artificial intelligence to handle things, it will prepare an edit for you once you reach home and plug the camera in. To use this feature, you’ll need a GoPro subscription, but given that purchasing the subscription along with the camera is currently more cost-effective, not many people should be excluded.

Unfortunately, at time of writing this, the feature isn’t available to test.

The new night lapse modes are something we can discuss. Star Trails, light painting, and vehicle lights make up the total of three. All three are fairly self-explanatory and provide some welcome additions to the traditional time-lapse options, but I’m going to guess that most people won’t be using them on a regular basis. Nevertheless, they can make for some interesting B-roll shots or entertaining things to share when you’re in an area with minimal light pollution (or near a crazy motorway intersection at night we presume).

We’ve come this far without discussing the appearance of the videos and pictures. In recent years, GoPro image quality has significantly improved. The sharpness last year significantly improved. The colors do seem to jump a little bit more this time around, without the slightly oversaturated appearance of prior cameras, even though there isn’t much of a change overall. That’s probably due to the new 10-bit color, which pro users will love having more data to process in post.

The fifth edition of the software-stabilization, Hyper Smooth, receives some attention once more. Since the stabilization has improved so much, it’s difficult to know how much. Since I just cannot return to the days before stabilization, I have mentally written off any GoPro model prior to the Hero 7. Just be aware that videos appear as steady and smooth as you will probably ever need.

Perhaps it has been a while since you last used a GoPro or since the gloomy times when there was only a little monochrome display on the front. In that case, operating a contemporary model could be a little intimidating due to the abundance of features and shortcuts packed into the rear display. GoPro introduced “Easy” mode, which employs a single preset for each of the three primary shooting modes, to aid in that (Time Lapse, Video, Photo).

Easy mode doesn’t make it immediately obvious what FOV or framerate you’re shooting at, but a test video and the brief wording in the “speed” shortcut menu that I’ll get to in a second say that it’s 5.3K/30 at 16:9. It makes natural that Time Lapse’s default setting of Time Warp (stabilized films created from still photos) would be the most beneficial of the bunch. Super Photo, GoPro’s own “automatic” mode, is the default setting for photos, which also makes sense.

You may still utilize keystrokes to alter the “speed” (slow motion) and the amount of Horizon Lock to be used despite the lack of menu options. Similar to video mode, you can still adjust the FOV and add a self-timer in photo mode. Regular users will definitely want to continue with Pro mode, but I’m never going to complain about having a more accessible option for people who don’t want to be overrun with options.

Whatever you decide, it won’t matter if the battery doesn’t allow you enough time to appreciate it. I’m just making a corny transition to introduce the typical battery-life portion. The business unveiled a brand-new “Endure” battery for adverse weather conditions last year as an additional accessory. That battery is currently the camera’s standard cell.

Despite the moniker, there is some ambiguity in the claims, which state a battery life improvement of up to 40%. That appears to be directly related to how well something performs in hotter environments. The 94-degree summer heat was the most “extreme” temperature I was able to test in. With the exception of a few occasions when I was changing settings, etc., I had a couple expeditions where the camera was always on and recording with GPS enabled. This involves a lot of wireless media retrieval and connecting the camera to my phone. Although the GoPro’s average battery life wasn’t nearly as long as I’d hoped, it was still an improvement of 20% over the camera’s performance in the same tests last year (minus GPS).

Naturally, this is constantly in use with all of the wireless and GPS on. You may probably expect something a little bit north of that if you’re switching the camera on and off during the day, aren’t shooting in high definition, and aren’t using the app as much as I was. In any case, there is at least a minor savings here compared to having to purchase the replacement battery as an accessory.

Which gets us, naturally, to the total value offer. The good news is that the Hero 11 Black is priced at $399.98 with a subscription or $500 without, the same as last year’s flagship. However, as far as I can see, there is absolutely no need to purchase it without a membership. The Hero 11 Black is more expensive than the Osco Action 3 ($329) and the Insta360 RS 4K bundle ($300) even at the cheaper pricing.

The price difference between competing goods is fairly large—by as much as $100 (or even $200). Of the three cameras described above, GoPro has the most robust ecosystem, but the competitors largely get around this using suitable mounts. There is a lot of overlap when it comes to features, but I’ve discovered that GoPro’s offer the superior practical/creative balance. But as was already mentioned, specifics might differ from brand to brand with items like Horizon Lock.

The dilemma if you were considering an upgrade is less debatable. There may not have been enough of a stride up from the Hero 10 to make it worthwhile just yet. The choice is much simpler if you are switching from a previous model, such as the Hero 8 or before.

Although this upgrade appears repetitious in many respects, the Hero 9 and Hero 10 have undergone two years of rather significant modifications. Together, the rivalry between GoPro and DJI and Insta360 has begun to exert significant pressure. As a result, it may be the ideal moment ever to purchase what was originally known as the action camera.