GoPro Hero 12 Black Review: Fine-Tuned Filmmaking Action Hero

RATING : 9 / 10
Pros
  • Built-in tripod screw mount
  • Bluetooth microphone recording
  • Improved video stabilization
  • Significant software improvements
  • Better battery life
  • LOG recording capability
  • Great image quality
  • Timecode sync
  • HDR video recording
Cons
  • A modest upgrade from the Hero 11
  • No GPS

This seems to be the year for modest action camera upgrades, and the GoPro Hero 12 Black is no exception. Given the obvious similarities with last year's model, it's clear that this Hero is more an evolutionary upgrade than a revolutionary step forward. However, as the Hero 11 was already an amazing little camera, and one which remains quite relevant a year later, perhaps an incremental upgrade is all that's called for.

Small though the changes to the GoPro Hero 12 Black may seem, some are nonetheless meaningful, and potentially even essential to certain content creators. The big question is whether or not this is enough to keep GoPro ahead of the competition from DJI and Insta360, who have certainly not been idle in 2023. It's also important to ask whether or not current GoPro owners should consider moving to the new system, or if they might be better off waiting for a more significant leap forward from GoPro. GoPro provided a sample of the Hero 12 Black to test and review.

Fresh coat of paint and new mounting options

The only visual indicator other than the numerical change to differentiate the Hero 12 Black from the Hero 11 Black is the speckled coat of paint on the new camera. It's really more of the Hero 12 Dalmation, and while we appreciate the look of the camera, it also is effectively camo, so it probably would be hard to find if you dropped it in a dark-colored environment. However, it's just as robust as before, so if you do in fact drop it there's a pretty good chance it will survive the fall. It's also rated to be waterproof up to 33 feet underwater, and we never found any reason to question the durability of the Hero 12 Black despite taking it swimming, hiking, and generally putting it in harm's way. Like previous GoPros, the Hero 12 is just as impressively durable as advertised.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade to the Hero 12 Black is the addition of a ¼-20 screw mount, making the camera compatible with most tripods without the need for an additional adapter. Pair this with the fold-out prongs that make the Hero 12 compatible with standard action camera mounts, and it becomes remarkably easy to attach the Hero 12 to just about anything you want. Adding a threaded screw hole may seem like a small thing, but it's a huge boon in practice.

Smooth video with Hypersmooth 6.0

The Hero 12 Black includes upgraded image stabilization capabilities through Hypersmooth 6.0, with AutoBoost and Horizon Lock receiving the biggest upgrades. AutoBoost only applies stabilization when needed, rather than boosted stabilization being constantly enabled. With Hypersmooth 6.0, Autoboost analyzes as much as four times the data as before for improved results.

In linear mode with horizon lock, the Hero 12 will keep your footage level regardless of camera movement, even up to as much as 360 degrees. We found that while using the Hero 12 Black we really gravitated toward shooting in this mode. Coupled with slow motion recording, 10-bit color, and GP-LOG we were able to achieve results that were surprisingly comparable to a mirrorless camera on a gimbal.

It's also worth mentioning how effective we found the voice activation capability of the Hero 12 Black. We had this enabled during our entire time using the camera, but never encountered false positives, and it was able to reliably recognize voice commands.

GP-LOG recording on a wide and tall sensor

Like the Hero 11 before it, the Hero 12 utilizes a unique 8:7 sensor which enables some awesome capabilities, particularly in post-production. Essentially, it allows you to capture both vertical and horizontal videos simultaneously. Alternatively, you can use sensor format to introduce camera movement after the fact. The Hero 12 also adds GP-LOG recording, which coupled with a LUT and 10-bit recording, enables an even greater degree of post-production flexibility.

Thanks to a variety of clever software tricks, the Hero 12 is able to apply various different digital lenses to your footage, going from an ultra-wide hyperview lens to a less extreme superview lens, the more standard wide lens, and the zoomed-in linear lens which heavily corrects distortion.

Resolution and framerate options vary based on other settings, and range from 60fps at 5.3k resolution, to 120fps at 4k, to 240fps at 2.7k, so it's capable of some serious slow-motion video. HDR recording in 5.3k and 4k resolutions is also available with the Hero 12 Black and is very helpful when recording in high-contrast environments.

No slouch when it comes to stills

The Hero 12 Black is also no slouch when it comes to still photography, being able to capture 27MP images in several formats, including RAW for the greatest degree of editing options in post-processing. New in the Hero 12 is the capability to capture photos at intervals in addition to single shots and bursts. This is different from timelapse mode in that it focuses on rendering high quality stills rather than a timelapse video file. 

A very welcome addition to the already excellent timelapse video modes, which include vehicle/star trails and light painting, is the ability for the camera to render a still afterward which is pulled from the last few seconds of the recording. Having both stills and video captured simultaneously when recording long-exposure timelapse is extremely useful. These long exposure timelapse videos are as impressive as ever, and thanks to the greater battery life of the Hero 12 Black, it's now possible to record much longer videos at night.

The high degree to which the Hero 12 is water resistant makes it an excellent camera for capturing still images underwater as well, with its wide-angle lens being highly conducive to photographing submarine landscapes. The overall quality of the still images the Hero 12 can capture makes it a great option on adventures where a more fragile camera or phone must be left behind.

Max Lens Mod 2.0

If the already enormous Hyperview mode or full 8:7 recording isn't enough for you, then there's the new Max Lens Mod 2.0, which launched alongside the Hero 12. This expands your field of view by 36% for widescreen capture and 48% for vertical capture. Using this lens also increases image stabilization capability with Max HyperSmooth, as well as 360-degree Horizon Lock for all lenses, whereas without Max Lens Mod 2.0 it's only available with the linear digital lens.

With the previous Max Lens Mod, available resolution and framerate options were severely limited, and while there are still some limitations on recording with the 2.0 version, they are much less restrictive. You can shoot up to 4k at 60fps or 120fps at 1080p. The Max Lens Mod 2.0 is also much thinner and lighter than the original Max Lens Mod and is both hydrophobic and much more scratch-resistant.

We found the huge 177-degree field of view from the Max Lens Mod 2.0 to be ideal for recording first-person footage, such as a photography expedition where the lens mod allowed us to really capture the moment out in the field photographing birds. It's also great if you want to capture a timelapse of the entire sky all at once. The only way to go wider with a camera than Max Lens Mod 2.0 is with a 360 camera.

Bluetooth audio and timecode sync

The GoPro Hero 12 Black records great audio using its internal microphone array — however, new in the Hero 12 is the capability to connect to up to four wireless external microphones simultaneously via Bluetooth and record audio simultaneously with the internal microphone array in separate channels. An example of a use case for this feature would be if you mounted the Hero 12 on the outside of a vehicle, you could still record your voice through a Bluetooth microphone or headset, while at the same time capturing the ambient sounds outside of your vehicle.

A further feature focused on professional videography is Timecode Sync, which allows you to sync multiple Hero 12 Black cameras to make editing easier when shooting with a multi-camera setup. This will certainly be a boon to anyone looking to capture a particular event or activity from multiple angles, saving a lot of time in post-production.

Better battery life at the cost of GPS functionality

A noticeable omission from the spec list of the Hero 12 Black is GPS functionality, which has been removed for the sake of improved battery life. While this may dismay the folks who need GPS capability, the gains in terms of battery life and longer recording times will be more than worth the tradeoff. The Hero 12 can record for as much as twice the time as the Hero 11 could, depending on your settings. For example, at 5.4k 60fps or 4k 120fps, you can now record for 70 and 58 minutes respectively, while at more sedate resolutions and framerates the recording time gains are only around 15% better.

In practice, this extra battery life was immediately noticeable. We found that on shoots that the previous Hero cameras would have required an extra battery or a recharge, with the Hero 12 and the included GoPro Enduro battery we never really had to worry about running out of juice.

Regarding the displays, there's both a large rear screen and a small selfie screen on the front. Both are crisp and clear, and bright enough to be easily viewed even in bright sunlight.

Excellent software and a worthwhile subscription service

The on-camera interface is fast and responsive, with both easy and pro modes to fit different levels of experience. This makes the Hero 12 highly accessible to new users, while also including all the depth that advanced and professional users expect. We were easily able to switch settings on the fly, and the option to make custom presets to suit different scenarios further streamlined the camera interface. The companion Quik app is fittingly quick and easy to use, and also refreshingly optional. It's one of the best camera companion apps available.

Normally we're highly skeptical of pairing a subscription service with a physical device, but the GoPro Subscription offers so much value for a modest annual fee that it becomes an attractive extra reason to own a GoPro. It includes unlimited cloud storage of your photos and videos at full resolution and will automatically backup footage from the Hero 12 when you plug it in to charge. There's also cloud-based video editing, original music provided by GoPro, and the ability to share your videos directly from the cloud without having to download them onto your device. Additionally, the subscription includes two free replacement cameras should your Hero 12 become damaged, as well as discounts on GoPro products.

Less expensive than last year's model

For the basic camera, the Hero 12 Black will set you back $399.99, or $449.99 for the bundle with accessories, and $479.98 for the bundle with the Max Lens Mod 2.0 (available separately for $99.99). If you've already been a GoPro subscriber for over a year, you can get $100 off the Hero 12 Black. Becoming a subscriber costs $24.99 for the first year, and then $49.99 each year after that.

That baseline price is the same as what you'd expect to pay for the DJI Action 4 and is $100 less than the original launch price of the Hero 11 Black. Given the price reduction from 2022, it would be tempting to call the Hero 12 Black a bargain by comparison, but since the competition has grown so fierce, this $399 price point has seemingly become the new standard for action cameras. The Insta360 Go 3 is around this price range as well, though it is a very different camera in some ways.

Conclusion

The GoPro Hero 12 Black is a fantastic camera, and in many ways, it remains the king of action cameras. However, at the same time, it really isn't a huge jump from last year's Hero 11 Black, with most major improvements being on the software side. We can't help but wish that the false rumors of a 1-inch sensor had been true, as such an enormous sensor would have been a monumental step forward for GoPro. However, there's no denying that the Hero 12 Black is an amazing camera, and in most ways, GoPro remains as top dog in the highly competitive action camera niche.

I've tested and reviewed several generations of GoPro cameras, and I was surprised by how much the experience of using this camera has been improved over previous generations. This feels like a truly refined device, and it's an effortless joy to use. All the little upgrades really add up, and while Hero 11 Black owners may want to skip a generation, it's easy to recommend to everyone else.