Shit always goes wrong when you think you’re at your most stable. That’s what it feels like with any new sport. I’ve rollerbladed before, but skating is a first, so it takes a bit of getting used to. I’m zipping along, and everything’s fine, up until the point I come off the track and roll to a stop. Then I’m flopping over onto hands and knees, already feeling the sting of scuffed palms, and I look to my right. My camera was in my right hand. The sensor was the first to hit the ground, glass first.
I turned it around, and it’s fine. My GoPro was fine, except of course for the small scuff on the plastic surrounding the lens. This is what GoPros are for, those people who have no business doing what they’re doing, where their own folly causes carnage to their digital devices. Now GoPro is back with the $400 Hero12 Black, and it’s bringing a few new features that make it more applicable to the influencers who want to show their extreme lifestyle with a new vertical format, a new interval photo feature, and a few extra additions to make the device more compatible with various mounts and wireless audio devices.
To be clear, I don’t regularly handle many GoPros, at least not extensively, though I do end up being around them quite a bit. I fence at a small historical sword fighting club, and while nobody’s wearing them on their fencing mask or chest for fear of smashing one open with a length of steel, GoPros are a mainstay for recording bouts. That being said, The Hero12 is very much an iteration on last year’s Hero11. It uses the very same processor and battery, and most of the big additions to last year’s action cam such as the 8:7 aspect ratio are here again but with a few more capture modes enabled. GoPro is still promising more than an hour of continuous shooting even at the 5.3K, 60 FPS setting—twice as long as last year’s model—but as always that could be limited by how hot it gets.
I took the device out for a spin in various contexts with GoPro’s team as well as on my own, seeing how well it does on a cloudy day, at night, indoors, and under the sun of a hot, sunny day so I can offer some of my impressions. Bottom line: I found the Hero 12 is still a solid choice for shooting
We should first go over what’s new on the Hero12, because everything else has been here since 2022. The new action camera has a 9:16 vertical framing which works even when the device itself is horizontal. This functions well for taking a walk-and-talk video for TikTok or YouTube Short formats, but there are limitations. The vertical footage only works in 2X slo-mo compared to the max of 8X for wide-angle shots. It also won’t work with the built-in horizon lock setting that adds HyperSmooth 6.0 image stabilization.
I used it for capturing some footage of me biking across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan and some reaction shots hiking the Sam’s Point ice caves in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, but for anything that involves bouncing and rumbling, you’ll want the extra image stabilization. You can also take vertical Time Warp, Light Painting, and Star Trails footage in the vertical format, which is nice, though I would have appreciated having horizon lock enabled for Vertical shots as well.
As far as completely new additions, there’s an Interval Photo mode for capturing photos at fixed intervals, but much the same can be accomplished by taking frames from videos. The feature might be good for folks who want to capture footage over a long period of time, but for my purposes, I found it rather superfluous.
The Hero11 brought us the 8:7 aspect ratio for shooting much taller video than the usual 16:9 aspect ratio that’s standard for most digital video formats and smaller 4:3 for ultra-compressed video. The idea with 8:7 is users will be able to crop out what they want from a video later, but it also helps share the wide angles that GoPro has become known for capturing when on the move. Just like last year, the base resolution options include a max of 5.3K at 60 FPS and 4K at 120 FPS. You can get up to 8X slo-mo on 2.7K.
Then there’s the Max Lens Mod 2.0, the new and improved $100 addition that’s supposed to emphasize the superwide, super tall POV. I found the image quality remained consistent when running 4K at 60 FPS, even with the larger FOV. The HyperSmooth feature still works to mostly stabilize footage. The HyperSmooth 6 is supposedly analyzing four times as much data as HyperSmooth 5, but it still won’t save you from rampant rumbles as I’ve found when hopping curbs when biking up Manhattan’s Hudson perimeter. You can also still shoot vertical footage with the Max Lens Mod, but I found it excessive for the selfie capabilities the feature is there for in the first place.
How useful Max Lens Mod 2.0 will be depends on the use case, but take it out for extreme vistas and you won’t be disappointed. For close encounters, it’s mostly overkill. What surprised me most was the little-mentioned addition of the integrated ¼-20 mounting threads. This means it will work with any kind of regular tripod-type screw mount. While I had access to a few simple GoPro mounts that work with the mounting fingers, knowing it worked with my regular tripod was a real help when I didn’t have a large platform handy. Just as well, the cam also supports up to four Bluetooth-connected devices at once, including mics and earbuds.
GoPro also says professional creators will have an easier time editing videos with automatic timecode sync among multiple GoPros and GP-Log encoding, though those features are beyond my purview as a photographer. Essentially, the GoPro Hero12 is much better at acting like a more traditional camera than ever before. Unfortunately—as has long been the case with GoPro’s action cameras—you won’t necessarily get the same image quality as you can with larger devices, especially if you’re just playing with the camera’s default easy-to-use settings.
The 1720mAh Enduro battery—the same as the Hero11—does feel substantial for such a small device. I once accidentally left it shooting in my living room in bright light for about 40 minutes, and it was left with about 40% battery. The company promises it can do 70 minutes from a full charge at 5.3K at 60 FPS compared to 35 minutes from the Hero11. You get a little less than an hour at 4K and 120FPS on the Hero12, but half that on last year’s camera.
Even then, it’s smart to conserve battery, and GoPros do have a few features like QuikCapture that let you start recording without first having to turn the device on. If you also shoot for short clips, I’ve found that the device should be fine lasting for a full day of adventures.
However, the device still gets hot. I’ve plugged it into the wall outlet to let it charge—which is also the only way to upload videos to the company’s proprietary cloud service—and I flinched trying to pick it up as if I had just touched a hot pan. On a hot day when hiking out at Sam’s Point, I could feel the device picking up heat when recording at the max settings, though I was only recording for a few minutes at a time. I can imagine it might start to get extra hot while running long when exposed to the sun. I’m also concerned by how hot it gets when charging, which unlike taping video is not something I can regulate as easily as turning the GoPro off.
The actual image quality you get from the Black 12 is what we’ve come to expect from GoPro. With default settings, footage taken indoors can look somewhat grainy, especially under low-light conditions. Under bright lights and sunny conditions, I’ve found the image seemed to capture a fair bit of glare and lens flare. My footage of the caves at Sam’s Point involved a lot of transitions from dark to light, and on automatic settings, the GoPro struggled to keep up. That’s not to say I expected the world from GoPro. Indeed, I found the picture quality ranged from fair to good, at least for my own use cases, but it’s important to know what the limitations are.
The GoPro is still capable of capturing light painting, but I’m too unskilled at the art to be willing to show any of my attempts here. In dark conditions, the camera works much better stabilized on a tripod than in motion. The image stabilization wasn’t able to truly keep up with me rollerblading in Rockefeller Center, leading to streaky video footage.
I also got to test the Max Lens Mod 2.0, a $99 peripheral that essentially expands the height and width of video to a surprising degree. Turning on the Max Lens Mod mode on the Hero 12 grants you access to 177 degrees of FOV. There are 16:9 Max HyperView and Max SuperView settings that also incorporate the HyperSmooth stabilization. Ignoring all that “hyper” and “super” naming scheme, the lens blows out the image to capture some rather impressive vistas, though it does also emphasize the fish eye-ness of the wide angle a fair bit more under those settings. GoPro promised its redesigned Max Lens Mod is more durable and water resistant than the other version, and I personally had no problems with blemishes in my admittedly short time using it.
The other half of the GoPro ecosystem is the subscription-based Quik app. Those who pay for for the $25 yearly subscription (which becomes $50 after the first year) receive unlimited cloud storage for all their video and images. These are automatically uploaded to the cloud when both your GoPro and phone are connected to WiFi, and the camera is plugged in.
The feature is incredibly handy, especially for those who don’t have a device to read the GoPro’s SD card. More importantly, GoPro is now releasing a Quik desktop version of the app, making it that much easier to get the footage off GoPro and into a full video editing suite. That feature won’t be coming until November for Macs. Windows users will need to wait until next summer to get the integration, which is a small shame as it will be a very nice addition to the camera’s software suite.
GoPro does include a rather simple editing suite inside the app itself that comes with a few pre-built themes and music selections. They won’t let you create anything truly original, but it’s nice for creating simplified highlight reels you can upload to your socials.
Every time you upload a bank of footage, GoPro automatically cuts together a reel that uses some brutally derivative music and transitions that would seem awkward even by the standards of old-school skateboard demos. The automatic edits didn’t analyze the footage for the most dramatic part of each clip. In my fencing footage, GoPro always seemed to highlight two people circling each other and never somebody getting hit. Though it’s nice to have as an example of what not to do when cutting clips, there’s no real reason to bother with the suggested video edits.
The GoPro Hero12 Black works well for the contexts you expect it to. It’s still durable and easy to use, two of the most important things for capturing clips of your extreme antics. Used conservatively, the device will last for a while without needing to swap a battery or charge, but I’m personally more concerned about how hot the device can get before shutting off. I imagine myself using the Hero 12 for sharing my own adventures with friends, up until the point I inevitably destroy the lens with an ill-timed blow with a length of steel.