GoPro’s Hero 11 Black is a Great Reintroduction to the Outdoors

GoPro’s Hero 11 Black is a Great Reintroduction to the Outdoors

GoPro’s Hero 11 Black is here, bringing with it not just a generational tech upgrade, but also new features like auto-highlight reels, which make capturing great looking footage easier than ever before.

I’ve got little experience with cameras, aside from the ones that spy on you from the top of your monitor, but that may make me the perfect candidate to give these new Hero 11 Black features a hands-on. This is a great camera for a layperson, especially the athletes and backpackers that make up much of GoPro’s customers: Some folks just need to know that they’re capturing their stunts in high fidelity, and want to leave the rest to filmmakers. Most of what’s new in the Hero 11 Black appeals to a casual audience, while most of the hardcore tech specs are identical to the Hero 10 Black’s.

GoPro Hero 11 Black Specs

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

Under the hood, the most prominent change to the GoPro Hero 11 Black is that it’s now rocking a new sensor that opens up an 8:7 aspect ratio option, whereas the 10 Black only recorded in 16:9 and 4:3. 8:7 lets you capture more of what’s in front of you, and it’s what I recorded all my test footage for this review in. Still, it’s a feature that’s more for editors than camera people, since you’re probably going to want to upload your videos in 16:9 (what most modern displays default to) or, in a pinch, 4:3 (what most older displays used). It’s nice to have more flexibility when cropping footage is required.

What average folks will probably notice the most from the 8:7 sensor is that their photos and photo-grabs (in which you use the GoPro app to easily extract a photo from a video) will be slightly higher quality. The former is now 27 MP, while the latter is up to 24.7 MP. That’s up from 23 MP and 19.6 MP, respectively. I wasn’t too much of a fan of taking photos with the GoPro, but given that much of the camera’s appeal is the peace of mind that it’s passively capturing what you’re seeing, I acknowledge the appeal.

10-bit colour is also here, offering 1 billion shades vs 16.7 million in 8-bit. The iPhone has had 10-bit colour since iPhone 12, so while this upgrade is expected, it’s good to see GoPro keeping up.

Aside from those big changes, the rest of what you’re getting with the camera remains mostly unchanged. GoPro’s stabilisation tech has gotten enough of a touch-up to rebrand to Hypersmooth 5.0, though it’s unclear what exactly goes into that sort of change. You can also push the bitrate up to 120 MBps, although taking full advantage of that will result in some pretty large files. Hyperview and Horizon Lock are the only other new core features. Like Hypersmooth 5.0, these are vaguely improved versions of the Superview (which intelligently adjusts the field of view to look more like what you’d see with your own eyes) and Horizon Levelling modes. Hyperview might also get some benefits from the 8:7 aspect ratio, though GoPro’s not making it clear how impactful the benefit is.

For base resolution options, you’ve got the same 5.3K @ 60 fps or 4K @ 120 fps maxes as before. This is the bread and butter spec casual audiences will gravitate to most, so while it might seem disappointing to see it remain unchanged, there’s also little GoPro can do to improve it without outpacing what modern web players and storage standards can handle.

Slo-mo can go up to 8X @ 2.7K, also just like on the Hero 10 Black. 1080P @ 240 fps is also still available, and there’s minor upgrades to burst frames and 4K/5.3K Superview (which is also still here, if you prefer it) fps counts.

The Hero 11 with its included gear (Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo)
The Hero 11 with its included gear (Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo)

HDR, wifi, and Bluetooth are all still here as well, and the device’s look and feel is almost identical to the Hero 10 Black’s. This includes the pull-out mounting prongs on the device’s bottom, which lets you connect to a compatible gimbal like the Volta. My GoPro Hero 11 Black came with a USB C-A cable, and adapters for connecting it to various accessories.

In one more upgrade that’s not relegated to the camera, GoPro’s formerly optional Enduro battery is now included in the package. While I didn’t have the opportunity to fully drain my camera during testing, it promises to extend recording time by 38%.

Light Painting, Vehicle Trails, and Other Gimmicks

For casual folks unfazed by the 8:7 sensor or 10-bit colour, there’s some gimmicky new software features as well. The most promising of these is auto-highlights, which unfortunately wasn’t available while I was testing but will be coming to past GoPro devices as a general upgrade to the Quik app.

It’s supposed to work by automatically taking footage that you upload to the cloud using the subscription version of the Quik app, and compiling it into highlight reels of intense or special moments. The app does this all in the background, and shoots a notification at you when it’s done. We’re excited to see how it plays out when it’s finally available, and while its inclusion across the GoPro line means it doesn’t necessarily make the Hero 11 Black a better sell, it does make GoPro overall more compelling to folks who haven’t bought in yet.

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

I did get to test light painting, which uses the GoPro’s long exposure mode to form surreal images from light. In the above photo, you can see the result of me dancing around with glow rods in front of the GoPro for a solid minute or so. A more experienced light da Vinci could probably do better.

In a similar vein, there’s also long exposure modes for capturing vehicle light trails and star trails. I, unfortunately, didn’t have many great opportunities to test these in NYC. The light pollution here is too intense for the latter, and traffic is as unpredictable as it is abundant for the former. This results in jumbled messes or vehicles turning corners before you can adequately capture their trail. On highways, though, I imagine the effect works quite well.

Most of these features are unlikely to be more than diversions for most, and are likely more there to be selling points for those unfazed by the generally incremental hardware bumps. I can see that auto-highlights feature being of genuine use to plenty of the folks in that audience, though.

Eye in the Sky with the GoPro Hero 11 Black

To test the GoPro Hero 11 Black, GoPro had me film from the sky, sea, and land. GoPro instructed me to film in 4K @ 60 fps with the 8:7 aspect ratio, which I was all too happy to do as I wanted to test out the key new feature rather than rely on software to crop my raw footage for me (I’m currently putting together a more in-depth video review with our video editor, in which we’ll go through footage from the different modes, and will update this hands-on with a link to it once it’s live).

In my source files, the footage I captured is stunning. I’ve always appreciated seeing Manhattan from the sky, and the GoPro footage comes closer to capturing that experience than I’ve ever gotten with a phone. That’s thanks, in large part, to GoPro’s stabilisation tech, which intelligently crops your image’s edges to keep the frame steady.

Colours are accurate, and the 4K detail almost looks cinematic to my untrained eye. But having been in that shaky helicopter, I’m most impressed by how smooth my footage looks, which fits GoPro’s niche as an action cam. Here’s a video I took with my iPhone 11 on the same flight, for comparison.

While the quality is roughly the same, if not better thanks to Apple’s computational photography, the difference in stability is clear. I did have my GoPro on a Volta gimbal while shooting, but I doubt that alone would explain the difference I saw here.

On the High Seas with the GoPro Hero 11 Black

I took my sea footage in a speedboat circling around the coast of Manhattan, and while the vistas aren’t as stunning, the stability is perhaps more impressive here. You can’t see it much in the above footage, but I was frequently bobbing in and out of my seat like I was on a roller coaster during this ride, yet all of my footage is as stable as the clip above. The above clip also shows how well the Hero 11 Black handles sunset, which leads me into my final test footage.

Night and Land with the GoPro Hero 11 Black

I ended my evening testing the GoPro Hero 11 Black with a nighttime walk along the High Line, a former elevated railway that’s been turned into a park on Manhattan’s West Side. GoPro’s not advertised for nighttime detail, but the above clip is probably the most quintessential “New York” of the whole day, with laughs from nearby bars, eerily deserted nighttime streets, and distant sirens. I was impressed by how well the 11 Black captured the vibe here. On foot, the 11 Black’s footage is arguably too shaky, even with stability enhancements, but upon inspection, most of the bobs in this clip are in time with my footsteps, which adds some tactile verisimilitude to my footage.

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

You can also use the GoPro Hero 11 Black as a camera, although judging from the above photo of my cat, you’re likely better off going for a smartphone. Details are muddy, and while the fish-eye effect on corners might be acceptable for video, it becomes hard to justify in a static image.

Should I Buy the GoPro Hero 11 Black?

The GoPro Hero 11 Black runs $AU799.95 for most buyers, and $AU649.95 if you have a GoPro subscription, which costs $US50 ($69) a year and will also get you access to cloud storage and thus the auto-highlights feature. That’s exactly the same pricing scheme that the GoPro Hero 10 Black uses, so if you’ve not bought into GoPro yet, then this is the version to opt for.

If that sounds too costly, you can also opt for the Hero 11 Black Mini, which is a new model that costs $AU499.95 less than the standard version but lacks displays. To see what you’re shooting with the Mini, you’ll have to use the Quik app, although I wasn’t given a Mini to test this feature.

The Hero 11 Black Creator Edition, meanwhile, costs $AU929.95 for GoPro subscribers and $AU1099.95 for everyone else and comes with a bunch of extra gear including a Volta and external light.

All three versions are available now, although if you’ve already got a Hero 10 Black, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason to upgrade. Features like light painting are likely to get old soon, while auto-highlights requires a subscription and will likely not appeal to power users. The 8:7 sensor has some appeal, but will also be too niche for many.

If you haven’t bought into GoPro yet, like me, then the Hero 11 makes a more compelling case. Its gimmicks likely won’t be worth hundreds of dollars to most, but its potential as an action cam is as strong as ever. Having not used one before, I spent most of my time with the Hero 11 Black stressed out about whether it would accurately capture some of the gorgeous sites I was seeing, and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my footage. That’s not something you can always expect on a smartphone, and in a post-pandemic world where many are itching to get back into the outdoors, maybe that’s enough.

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