These days, the idea of a camera just for “action” feels like a bit of an anachronism. In 2022 social media is king, and action is a just one subsection thereof. You only need to look at the last few GoPros, and the competition, to see that brands with skin in the game are all too aware of that. Enter the Hero 11 Black, where everything feels a bit grown up, in a skate-dad kinda way.
As for what’s new, if you had “physical design” on your bingo card, you’re out of luck. Substantial redesigns seem to come along every three or four years, but for now the Hero 11 looks exactly the same as the 10 just with a 1 replacing the 0 painted on the side.
As usual, though, there are some extra shooting modes. SuperView is now available right up to 5K60/4K120 (previously 4K/60 was the max). Similarly, still images receive a boost from 23-megapixels up to 27. There’s also 10-bit color across the board. The shrewd among you will have spotted that this means there is a new sensor and it’s core to some of the other new features below. Despite the move up from 1 /2.3 to 1 /1.9 those extra megapixels don’t seem to have really translated to improved low light performance (accordingly there’s no such claim). Instead you have more pixels to play with.
In fact, this new, taller sensor is what enables two of the main new features: First is 360-degree horizon lock in Linear mode (up to 5.3K/30). Horizon-leveling was already pretty good on the Hero 10, but now it’s absolute. If your activities involve a lot of tight corners or literal body spinning this can be used for creative effect. If, like me, you’re just prone to wonkily mounting your camera you can really just forget about all that now. Both DJI’s new Osmo Action 3 and the Insta360 offer similar horizon lock features, but GoPro’s is available in frame rates such as 4K/60 and 2.7K/120, whereas DJI’s, for example, tops out at 2.7K/60.
The second, and probably bigger advantage to the taller sensor is the ability to record in “Full Frame.” This isn’t a camera mode per se – although it can be used as such if you like 8:7, 5.3K video. It’s more of a tool for shooting absolutely everything and then “punching out” the aspect ratio you want (or more than one) after the fact. With Full Frame, you can shoot once and pull a 4K,16:9 video out for YouTube and then a 9:16 version for TikTok, for example. Both with completely different framing if you wish. Alternatively, you can kinda set and forget, and then just frame the shot after the fact.
This feature has a lot of potential, especially if you’re not really sure what shooting mode to go for. I tried it out by mounting the camera on my bike perpendicular to the frame (turning the bike into a dolly of sorts). I rode past some interesting scenery and then punched out a conventional 16:9 edit and a mobile-friendly 9:16 version. The landscape clip came out pretty good as I was able to cut out a lot of pavement and focus on the subject. The mobile version still turned out better than if I had to crop it out from a 16:9, and of course there was no loss of resolution, but this particular shot didn’t end up being suitable for portrait. Either way, the Full Frame feature improved both videos and the fact I could frame each of them differently definitely got me thinking about other cool things I could do with this.
If there was a negative, you might find yourself having to think backwards. For example, I did a short intro to camera using the front screen to frame myself, but when I was choosing the aspect ratio I wanted to punch out later, I realized that I was filling the screen so had to settle for a weird crop. Something I would have avoided if I was recording in a fixed FOV like 16:9 from the start.
Keeping things frame-related, there is a new “digital lens” (which is GoPro’s marketing language for Field of View) called HyperView. Way back in 2013 the company introduced SuperView which shoehorned everything on the sensor into a 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s a bit intense, but does make first-person shots feel faster and more immersive. Well, HyperView is essentially that but for the new, taller sensor and it’s a bit bonkers.
You will absolutely not want to use this one for everything, but for certain shots it should be a go-to. I tried it while mounted on my handlebars and it was very noticeable how warped trees and buildings looked as I passed. Worse, those slightly weird angles made the video feel like I was watching a 90s first-person-shooter game.
That said, I did a second shot with the camera hanging low by my board as I skated around town and I can’t stop watching it. The proximity to the floor and the pace and intensity of objects as they passed by made it feel like I was in the cockpit of a tiny FPV drone. Even I felt like I needed to slow down after watching the video, despite knowing in reality I wasn’t going particularly fast.
Now, this might have been a great time to test another flagship feature – automatically generated highlight videos. GoPro has gradually been making it easier to turn the contents of your SD card into an interesting edit for a few years. Now, the company is taking things into its own (AI) hands and will rustle up an edit for you once you get back home and plug the camera in. You’ll need a GoPro subscription to take advantage of this feature, but given it’s effectively cheaper these days to buy the sub with the camera that shouldn’t keep too many people excluded.
Unfortunately, at time of writing this, the feature isn’t available to test.
Something that we can talk about are the new night lapse modes. There are three in total: Star Trails, Light Painting and Vehicle Lights. All three are pretty explanatory and they add some welcome additions to the standard time-lapse options, but I’m going to guess these aren’t really things most folk will be using regularly, though they can make for some good creative B-roll type shots or fun things to share when you’re in a location with low light pollution (or near a crazy motorway intersection at night we presume).
We’ve come this far without talking about how the videos and photos actually look. GoPro image quality has come a long way in recent years. Last year there was a noticeable improvement in sharpness. And while there’s no real change this time around, colors do seem to pop a little bit more, without the slightly over-saturated look of older cameras. That’s likely thanks to the new 10-bit color which will be appreciated by pro users having more data to crunch in post.
HyperSmooth, once again gets some love, with the software-stabilization now in its fifth iteration. Honestly, at this point the stabilization is so good that it’s hard to tell how it’s improved. Mentally I’ve written off any GoPro before the Hero 7 as I just can’t go back to pre-stabilization days. Just know that videos look as smooth and steady as you likely ever need.
Perhaps you haven’t used a GoPro before, or since the dark days when there was only a small monochrome display on the front. In which case, using a modern model can be a bit overwhelming as there are a lot of features and shortcuts crammed into the rear display. To help with that, GoPro introduced “Easy” mode which uses a single preset for each of the three main shooting modes (Time Lapse, Video, Photo).
Easy mode doesn’t make it instantly clear what FOV or framerate you’re shooting in, but it’s 5.3K/30 at 16:9 according to a test video and the small text in the “speed” shortcut menu that I’ll get to in a minute. Time Lapse defaults to Time Warp (stabilized videos made from still images), which is probably the most useful of the lot, so that makes sense. Photos default to SuperPhoto which is GoPro’s own “automatic” mode so that also makes sense.
Despite the lack of menu options, you’ll still find shortcuts to change the “speed” (slow motion) and the amount of Horizon Lock (or not) to use. Likewise, in photo mode you can still change the FOV if you wish and add a self-timer. I’m never going to complain about having a more accessible option for those that don’t want to be bombarded with choice, but regular users probably want to stick to Pro mode.
Whichever option you choose, it’s no good if the battery doesn’t give you time to enjoy it. That cheesy transition is me introducing the regular battery-life section. Last year the company introduced a new extreme weather “Enduro” battery as an additional accessory. Now, that battery is the standard cell for the camera.
Despite the name, the claims are ambiguous, stating a battery life improvement of up to 40 percent. That seems to be specifically tied to the performance under more intense temperatures. The most “extreme” weather I was able to test in was regular 94-degree summer heat. I had a few outings where the camera was on constantly and recording with GPS activated, save a few occasions when I was changing settings and so on. This includes plenty of connecting to the camera with my phone and pulling media wirelessly. On average, the GoPro lasted for about an hour and a half which isn’t quite as long as I’d hoped, but it is a 20 percent increase over last year’s camera in similar testing (minus GPS).
This, of course, is constant use with all the wireless/GPS on. If you’re turning the camera on and off throughout the day, not shooting in maximum resolution and not using the app heavily like I was, you can reasonably expect something decently north of that. Either way, given the new battery comes as standard there’s at least a small saving here over having to buy it as an accessory.
Which naturally brings us onto the overall value proposition. The good news is, the Hero 11 Black costs the same as last year’s flagship: $399.98 with a subscription or $500 without. There’s literally no reason to buy it without the subscription though as far as I can tell. However, even at the lower price, the Hero 11 Black is more expensive than the Osmo Action 3 ($329) and the Insta360 RS 4K bundle ($300).
One hundred dollars (or two, potentially) is a pretty wide spread for competing products. GoPro has the richest ecosystem of the three cameras mentioned above, but the rivals broadly sidestep this with compatible mounts. When it comes down to features, there’s a lot of overlap, but I have found GoPro’s are the better balance of practical-yet-creative. But as noted above with things like Horizon Lock, the specifics can vary from brand to brand.
What’s less in doubt is the dilemma if you were thinking of upgrading. If you’re coming from the Hero 10, there’s maybe not enough of a step forward to make it worthwhile just yet. If you’re coming from an older model, like the Hero 8 and before, the decision is much easier.
As much as this feels like an iterative update in many ways, we’ve had two years of fairly strong revisions with the Hero 9 and Hero 10. In tandem, the competition from DJI and Insta360 has really started to put some serious pressure on GoPro. The result is that it is possibly the best time in history to be buying what was formerly known as the action camera.