first published www.verge.com
- New design doesn’t require special housing for mounts
- Image stabilization is even better than before
- New Mods attachments provide more versatility
- Camera gets very hot while recording
- New fixed lens isn’t as easy to repair as prior models
- May not be as rugged as earlier GoPro cameras
Since the Hero 5, GoPro cameras have been waterproof up to 33 feet without the need of an additional housing, but in order to attach it to anything, you needed to put the camera in a plastic frame. The frame provided the two little loops at the bottom, which you’d put a screw through and attach it to any number of bracket-type things. No more! The Hero 8 is designed to be frameless. It has its own built-in loops at the bottom of the camera that fold in and out. This is very convenient, as I have several times found myself digging through everything I own to find a frame. The caveat is that you do need to tighten the screw down a bit harder than normal or you may get some wiggle with the camera.
The redesign makes the Hero 8 slightly thinner than the naked Hero 7 front to back (28.4mm vs. 33mm), but it’s also slightly wider and taller (66.3mm by 48.6mm vs. 62.3mm by 44.9mm, respectively). It’s smaller than the Hero 7 when it’s in a frame, though, and considering you need the frame to do pretty much anything, the net result is that the Hero 8 is a lot more pocketable. One of the ways it achieved this was by making the lens slightly lower-profile, but the trade-off is that the front lens element is no longer removable. Since the Hero 5, you’ve been able to remove that and buy a cheap replacement if it ever gets scratched or cracked. The new front lens element is thicker and made with Gorilla Glass, and GoPro claims that it is twice as impact-resistant. But on my first review unit I managed to get a little nick on the lens, and I’m honestly not even sure how. It wasn’t enough to mess up the image, but still. The camera being 4.6mm more svelte doesn’t feel worth the risk.
The other major physical difference is that there is now just one big door on the side of the camera that covers your battery, microSD card, and USB-C port. GoPro will soon be releasing a handful of Mods that will snap in where the door goes. A Media Mod adds a higher-quality shotgun-style microphone, a 3.5mm mic port, and two cold shoes. In those cold shoes, you can slot a front-facing external monitor (“Display Mod”) or a 200 lumen LED “Light Mod.” You’ll lose waterproof capabilities when the Media Mod is on (though the light itself is waterproof and can be used separately from the camera), but this is a play to attract more vlogger types, and I think it will appeal to a lot of them. I wasn’t able to test these accessories, though, so the jury is still out.
The Hero 8 Black also uses a new type of battery. It’s the exact same size and shape as before, and it packs the same amount of power (1,220mAh). Aside from the blue bottom, it isn’t immediately obvious what has changed. “The difference is that the new battery allows for a higher discharge rate,” GoPro’s rep told me. “That higher discharge rate helps enable HyperSmooth 2.0 in all resolutions and frame rates. The HERO8 Black battery is, however, backwards compatible to cameras back to the HERO5 Black. And likewise, batteries from HERO5 to HERO7 are compatible with HERO8 Black, but the user will get a warning that certain features will not be enabled.” So, that’s kind of a bummer for those of us who have collected a bunch of batteries from the last few generations.
With the new lens on the Hero 8, GoPro elected to redesign its auto white balance and color tuning. This is especially evident in skin tones, the reds in dirt, the blues in the sky, and greens in leaves. Overall, the default GoPro color has a punchier, more dramatic look. Skin and dirt are both warmed significantly, while skies remain super vibrant. Detail is excellent overall. But at the same time, I think the contrast is pushed a bit high. Highlights are nearly blown out, while shadows are significantly darker than they were with the Hero 7. I think it generally has a nicely graded look, and footage looks more lively and cinematic, but I imagine most DPs will want to use the flat color profile to have more flexibility in post.
Because the camera no longer has to sit in a frame, GoPro was able to move the main mic to the front of the camera, just under the lens. It definitely has the nicest sound for any GoPro since before the Hero 5, when the built-in waterproofing required that a membrane be added to protect the mics. Even when I was riding a bike with the mic pointed away from me, into the wind, it picked up my voice far better than before. It’s a noticeable improvement. I suspect the Media Mod will perform even better, too.