Technical Reviews

GoPro Hero 12 Black review

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As a heavy user of action cameras, I always eagerly anticipate GoPro’s next big launch. And with rumours saying the 2023 model might boast features like a 1-inch sensor or 4K at 240fps, I was especially excited to see what would be in store this year.

What we actually got was something a lot more subtle, and left me thinking “is that it?” After spending some time with the camera, some of these updates make a bigger difference than you might expect, but is it enough to be worth the upgrade? Here are my thoughts.

GoPro Hero 12 Black gradient

GoPro

GoPro Hero 12 Black

An array of small upgrades make the GoPro Hero 12 Black the best GoPro to date, but only by a small margin. It’s very similar to its predecessor, so existing Hero 11 owners might want to skip this generation, but if you’re a new buyer or coming from an older model, it’s undoubtedly the one to go for.

Pros Way better menu system Improved battery life GP Log and Timecode Sync Built-in tripod thread Can pair with Bluetooth earbuds
Cons No onboard GPS Minor changes over its predecessor

Design

Weight: 154g Waterproof up to 10m / 33ft Integrated 1/4-20 tripod thread, new speckled finish

The GoPro Hero 12 Black has the same chassis as all the GoPro flagships since the Hero 9 Black, so there aren’t too many surprises with this model’s design. What is new this time around, though, is the speckled finish on the Hero 12’s rubbery exterior.

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GoPro cameras typically have a uniform dark grey/black finish, and the blue speckles on this model make it stand out from the crowd. Elsewhere, everything remains the same, including the buttons, ports, battery and displays.

Prior to launch, there were rumours floating around that claimed the Hero 12 would have smaller bezels and a larger display, but that’s not the case. The displays on the front and rear match those of the last few generations, and while both work perfectly well, the large asymmetrical bezels on the rear are starting to look a bit dated.

I had also speculated that GoPro might follow in DJI’s footsteps and add touchscreen functionality to the front display. This comes in so handy on the DJI Action 4, and once you get used to it, it’s hard to stop yourself from prodding at the GoPro’s display. Maybe we’ll see that next time.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (16)

There is one new feature on the chassis, though, and that’s the addition of a 1/4-20 tripod mounting thread, which is cleverly nestled between the usual fold-out mounting arms. It’s a small thing, but it means you can attach your GoPro to just about any camera accessory on the market without needing an adapter, and that’s extremely useful.

Software and features

Improved menu system Bluetooth microphone support Timecode Sync

After spending some quality time with the GoPro Hero 12 Black, I can definitely say that the new menu system is the update that I’m most chuffed with. GoPro’s menus have been unnecessarily confusing for quite some time, requiring you to modify a selection of presets in order to change your settings. It was especially jarring when you switched from an Insta360 or DJI camera, all of which have more traditional settings layouts.

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Thankfully, that’s no longer the case, the GoPro menu system now makes a lot more sense, and as a result, it’s way quicker to get your settings dialled in and start shooting. The presets are still there, if you want them, but they’re now optional, rather than a requirement.

GoPro’s Easy mode makes a return on this model, too, so if you don’t know your bitrate from your shutter speed you can still get the most out of this action camera. The menus are improved in Easy mode, too, and GoPro has added options for shooting in vertical and 8:7 full-frame mode, whereas previously this mode was limited to 16:9.

This theme continues with Hero 12’s timelapse modes, which can now record in an 8:7 ratio across the board, allowing you to crop to vertical, square or horizontal formats after the fact. I’m pleased to see this, as the star trail and light painting modes are some of GoPro’s most powerful and under-utilised features. They’ll now be much easier to crop and share on platforms like Instagram Reels and TikTok.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (23)-1

A brand new feature of this model is the ability to pair with wireless Bluetooth earbuds and microphones. Once paired, you can use the wireless mic to trigger voice commands or, more excitingly, to record audio for your clips. GoPro’s example is the one that makes the most sense, whereby the GoPro is mounted on the outside of a car, and a set of wireless earbuds are used to record the driver’s reactions and narration. Both audio tracks are recorded separately, and you can mix and match between them in the edit.

In reality, the quality of these recordings is pretty poor, and that very much limits this feature’s usefulness. It basically sounds like you’re on the other end of a phone call, and it doesn’t come anywhere close to the quality of a proper wireless mic like the Rode Wireless Go II. Still, in rare situations, it could prove handy.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (19)

Also new is the ability to wirelessly sync the timecode of multiple GoPro cameras. This is an extremely niche feature for professional users with multiple GoPros on set, but, if you happen to be one of those users, it makes working with lots of cameras much easier.

Photo and video performance

Up to 5.3K60 /4K120 in 10-bit colour New HDR video mode and GP Log profile HyperSmooth 6.0

Since the GoPro Hero 12 Black has the same sensor and processor as its predecessor, the footage that you capture with it looks pretty much identical, in the majority of situations. The resolutions and frame rates on offer remain unchanged, too.

GoPro Hero 12 Black vs GoPro Hero 11 Black (1)

There have been improvements made to the in-camera stabilisation, and GoPro says that with the introduction of HyperSmooth 6.0, the camera now analyses four times the data to aid in the smoothness of its AutoBoost functionality.

In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to notice much of a difference. The GoPro Hero 11 Black already had some of the best stabilisation in the business, and this is just as impressive. I feel like it has a tendency to give a wider FOV with AutoBoost turned on, and the transitions might be marginally smoother, but it’s not game-changing.

The GoPro Hero 12 Black also adds HDR video recording, allowing you to retain more detail in the shadows and highlights of contrasty scenes. Recent GoPro cameras already do a pretty great job with handling dynamic range, and shooting in HDR mode enabled didn’t give quite the difference that I had hoped for. You can see the difference if you’re looking for it, but it’s very small.

In certain scenes with extremely heavy backlighting, I can imagine the HDR mode being useful, but seeing as it limits you to 5.3K30 / 4K60 and also disables HyperView in 5.3K, I’ll probably end up using it quite rarely.

What does make a bigger difference, for my needs, is the addition of GP Log. It’s the first time a GoPro camera has come with such a flat and gradable profile onboard, and it adds some extra flexibility for those who like to tweak the colours of their clips or use LUTs.

Alongside the Hero 12 Black, GoPro also introduced the Max Lens Mod 2.0. This is an optional accessory, which will cost you an extra $100 (cheaper bundle deals are available) but it might be the single biggest upgrade to arrive with this generation.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (31)-1

If you’re not familiar with the Max Lens Mod, it’s essentially an extremely wide-angle lens adapter that replaces the standard GoPro lens protector. When attached, GoPro does some software magic to make the most of it, like allowing for horizon-locked stabilisation at much wider FOVs.

The second generation of this accessory is a massive upgrade over the original, for a start, it’s physically smaller and lighter, while also having twice the scratch resistance. But, it’s the extremely wide FOV that has me the most excited. It now takes advantage of the 8:7 sensor to offer Max HyperView, with a stunning 177-degree FOV at up to 4K60 (the original maxed out at 2.7K60).

If you film a lot of POV shots, especially using a chest mount, this is a must-have accessory. Everything looks faster and more impressive and you can squeeze even more into the frame. It’s also brilliant for vertical shots, using the new vertical shooting mode, as it’s wide enough to capture your feet for a really unique perspective.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (33)-1

Battery life

70 minutes of continuous recording with HyperSmooth 6.0 on at 5.3K60. 58 minutes of continuous recording with HyperSmooth 6.0 on at 4K120. Over 90 minutes of continuous recording with HyperSmooth 6.0 on at 5.3K30. Over 155 minutes of continuous recording with HyperSmooth 6.0 on at 1080p30.

GoPro claims that the battery lasts up to two times longer than it did with the Hero 11, despite using the same 1720mAh Enduro battery. In practice, it’s slightly more complicated, and the battery life will vary depending on which settings you select.

Regardless, it’s an improvement across the board, and it’s far less likely to overheat, too. When the camera first arrived, we were in a bit of a hot spell in the UK, and the camera never came close to overheating while shooting at high settings in direct sunlight. Now that the temperatures have dropped a bit, the thought of the camera overheating never crosses my mind.

GoPro Hero 12 Black (12)

The way in which this has been achieved could prove to be a dealbreaker, though. GoPro has removed the onboard GPS unit, which has been present in all of its cameras since the Hero 5. GoPro says that most of its customers don’t use the speedometer, altimeter and route stickers that this feature enables, but I do from time to time, so I’m not too pleased about this.

Of course, its removal does mean better battery life and thermals, so if you never use it, it makes a lot of sense to ditch it. It’s just important to be aware that there’s not currently a way to enable GPS features on the Hero 12. Maybe we’ll see a remote accessory in the future like the one DJI just released, but for now, those wanting GPS functionality will need to stick to the Hero 11.

Verdict

While the GoPro Hero 12 Black is a bit of an underwhelming update, the truth is that I still love it. The Hero 11 Black was already my favourite action camera, and the small changes made here are well thought out and make a real impact on how the camera feels to use.

The biggest upgrade, in my view, is the updated menu system which is much easier to navigate. I also love the inclusion of a tripod thread, the flatter Log profile and the ability to record timelapses in 8:7. The Max Lens Mod 2.0 is brilliant, and I have enjoyed shooting with that the most, it’s a shame that it’s an additional cost, but it’s definitely worth considering if you like to shoot super-wide.

Some of the other features, like Timecode Sync and Bluetooth headphone pairing, as cool as they are, will only really be useful to a small subset of buyers. The HDR mode and HyperSmooth improvements are pretty subtle, too. For this reason, I can’t imagine existing Hero 11 owners rushing out to buy one. However, if you’ve skipped a few generations, the Hero 12 Black will be a massive upgrade.

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